Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Ministerial Message: Big Sunday—Read All About It!
September 10, 2015, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation

2014-06-29 19.39.09Dear Visitors, Members, Families and Friends of UUSS:


Well, we did it!  We made it back home.  Last Sunday the sanctuary was full of people, full of energy, and full of love.  Even though it was Labor Day Weekend, we had well over 300 folks—good thing we expanded the space.  We had a large crowd in Religious Education, coming together as a learning community for  anew year.

This Sunday is another very big day, and it will be hot—good thing we installed insulation and air conditioning!  Thank you to the leadership groups, dozens of UUSS volunteers, generous donors, and hardworking staff members for getting us to this moment.  Lucy and I are gratified by and proud of this congregation.

I want to metion two losses in our UUSS family.  As I announced last Sunday in the pastoral prayer, our longtime member Ed Blanchette passed away last week after a long decline, from heart failure.  Our condolences to his wife, daughters, friends and family.   As you know from the Unigram, we lost our UUSS friend Tom Griffin a few weeks ago.  His memorial service will be Saturday, September 26, at 3:00 PM at UUSS.   Doris Janes has told me that memorial contributions to honor Tom may be made to St. John’s Program for Real Change, which he strongnly supported. We extend our condolences to Doris and the rest of Tom’s family and friends.

I hope you stay safe and cool and can “Spare the Air” and spare the stress this weekend.  Take care!

Yours in service,


Rev. Roger Jones, Senior Minister

Below is a reminder of what to expect this weekend.  For information about Adult Enrichment programs and other opportunities for connection ehre, please check the monthly Unigram Newsletter and the weekly Blue Sheet Announcements by clicking on the titles.

This Sunday Morning

September 13 (at 10:30 a.m.) is our annual Ingathering Service, when we have a service with all ages.  Bring a small bottle or jar of water to represent your summer activities, whether near or far.  This all-ages worship service includes the ritual of the mingling of the waters and the reading of the Memorial Honor Roll, to acknowledge UUSS members and friends who have died since last year.

The service is for all ages, though our Nursery is always staffed for infants and toddlers, starting as early as 10:15.  Krystal and Annie look forward to seeing you. After the service during Coffee Hour there is a drop-in time in Spirit Play.  Parents, kids, grandparents and ALL interested UUSS folks are invited to drop by Room 7/8 to learn about this enriching Religious Education ministry at UUSS.  Our RE Programs begin September 20, though the Junior High Youth Group starts September 27.

Sunday’s Building Dedication Ceremony

The Re-Dedication Ceremony begins at 3:00 p.m. and is for all ages.  It will last up to an hour and include music by our UUSS Choir, Keith Atwater, Ina Jun (piano), Ross Hammond (guitar), Kathryn Canan (recorder) and others.  It includes a dedication ritual, and greetings from local leaders.  The Rev. Doug Kraft offers a story.  The sermon is “From Sanctuary to Caravan,” by the Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley.  Our UUSS Choir has commissioned a choral song by UU musician/professor Lucy Holstedt.

About our Guest Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Terasa G. Cooley was named Program and Strategy Officer of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in 2013. She was a parish minister for fif­teen years (Detroit, Chicago, Hartford and Bridgeport, CT), served as a district executive for five years, and became director of Congregational Life at the UUA in 2010.  She is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist with a BA in English from the University of Texas, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a D.Min. from Hartford Seminary.

My personal note:  Terasa [ter-AY-sa] Cooley and I have been friends since 1994, when I was a seminary student in Chicago and she was minister at the nearby UU church.  She mentored me in several important ways, as she has done for many clergy and lay leaders, especially young adults, LGBT UUs, and UUs of color.  Many of her friends, myself included, are encouraging her to run as a candidate for president of the Unitarian Universalist Association next year.

Other information:  The Hon. Eric Guerra will bring greetings from the City of Sacramento, and the Rev. Jason Bense will bring greetings from a neighbor church and St. John’s Program for Real Change.  And, did I mention the music?

The service is for all ages, though there is audio in the Welcome Hall and Library if your child vociferously objects to the ceremony!  It will last an hour or less.  Refreshments and finger foods to follow!

Special Gift for the Celebration

We are invited to make a special gift in honor of the success of the renovation project.  Checks may be made to UUSS.  See the colorful box in the Welcome Hall during the morning service, or bring your gift for the offering at the Re-Dedication. You may designate a person in whose honor or memory you wish to make a gift, or any reason or occasion you wish to honor by your gift.  If you are not able to attend Sunday but wish to make a gift by credit card, you may contact our Bookkeeper, Michele.

We celebrate and give thanks for all of the

generosity, work, love and care which have brought us to this moment.


Excited about tomorrow’s talk after church
August 8, 2015, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

So happy to welcome back Rev. Dr. Jay Atkinson to give a talk  about our religious heritage in Poland in the 1500s. A Unitarian movement in exile, the Polish Brethren had no church but had a printing press.  Consequently, liberal religion had spread through Europe before their church in Poland was crushed. Jay’s Powerpoint shows historic sites, current day Unitarians in Poland, and UU pilgrims from here who went on a tour that he and another scholar guided last summer. At noon in Pilgrim Hall at 890 Morse. Jay will be at church with us at 10:15 too.  Freewill donations accepted.  Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento (UUSS)​ August 9, 2015

General Assembly Report by Rev. Roger Jones, clergy delegate to GA from UUSS
July 9, 2015, 7:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

About 4,600 Unitarian Universalists recently gathered in Portland, Oregon, for the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Two dozen UUSS members made the trip, attending varied workshops, worship services, lectures, public witness events, and having personal conversations with UUs from near and far.

GA is part business meeting and part revival meeting. It’s a church convention, and a trade-show for spiritual progressives.

UUSS provided 9 of the 1,700 lay and clergy delegates for the business meetings. Delegates changed the UUA bylaws to limit donations and spending for election campaigns for president of the UUA. Next election:  June 2017.

Delegates also debated a proposal by the UUA board to add a board-appointed committee and thereby eliminate an independent Commission on Appraisal. This elected commission chooses and issue to study and then reports findings and recommendations to the whole denomination. Delegates debated, and a majority voted NO–no change to the Commission on Appraisal.

Every two years GA delegates choose an issue for three years of study and action. Our congregations are urged to dig into the issue and report back. Some choose to do so; some don’t. The resulting statement is debated, amended and then approved by vote. By this work, the delegates make a proclamation of where we stand as a denomination. We call it a Statement of Conscience. The title of the latest one is Reproductive Justice. As reported in the UU World, it espouses the human right to have children, not to have children, to parent the children one has in healthy environments, and to safeguard bodily autonomy and to express one’s sexuality freely.” The statement explicitly acknowledges “reproductive justice” as a concept developed by women of color.

As I noted in my July 5 sermon on democracy, delegates also selected three Actions of Immediate Witness to urge congregational attention: Support the #BlackLivesMatter Movement; End Federal Detention of Immigrant Children and Families; Support Local Climate Justice Protests (including the native Lummi Nation’s opposition to coal extraction).

Read reflections and responses from some of our UUSS delegates and other GA attendees here in the Comments section.

Roger’s Remote Office Hours Friday at Nugget
June 4, 2015, 8:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This time I’m in South Land Park. Stop by the Nugget Market at 1040 Florin Road, in Lake Crest Village shopping center. Friday, June 5, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. I’ve not been there yet so I’ll figure out whether to sit outside or in the inside café. If you’d like a personal appointment with me before or after that time, just let me know. I’ll be at UUSS for my usual hours on Thursday, of course, but I have back-to-back meetings!  That’s why I schedule these coffee session as supplemental events.

In May my two Remote Office Hours sessions brought

-6 people to the Raley’s Cafe at Hazel and Madison in Fair Oaks.

-4 people, two dogs, and one person by phone call to Insight Coffee Roasters at the Pavilions.

Let’s see what happens in the South Area!

Roger’s Remote Office Hours Thursday
May 20, 2015, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Thursday, May 21, 11:00 to 1:00 PM, at Insight Coffee Roasters in the Pavilions shopping center, 566 Pavilions Lane, off Fair Oaks Blvd. (Not the downtown site!)

This is less remote than the last location and this means I won’t get lost on the way. I hope you don’t! It’s a lovely place and not far from a few sandwich spots if you want to grab someone to go grab a sandwich or a salad. Remember, if you wish for a personal appointment, I can meet you before or after these hours, or make an appointment to meet you at UUSS. Also, I’m old fashioned enough that I enjoy talking by phone also!

My congregation and Tuesday’s Big Day of Giving!

Although religious organizations like UUSS do not participate in the Big Day of Giving on Tuesday, May 5 in the Sacramento region, you can be sure that many individual UUs from our community are participating as donors!

A wide range of local not-for-profit organizations seek special donations on this one special day:  performing arts, education, environmental, domestic violence, food and shelter, community service and children’s organizations and a few other categories.

Personally I serve on the local YMCA advisory board, and I know how important the Y is to kids, families, and seniors, especially those of low incomes.  I attend many concerts and plays in this area. They enrich our community and my own life.  I know many hardworking human service professionals and volunteers who serve important local organizations.  I admire what they do.  All these organizations make this region a great place to live.

Last year our shared Big Day generosity generated $3 million in special gifts!  This year the goal is $5 million.  It matters that we give on this day, as each organization stands to gain special matching funds and prize money (for having the largest number of givers, for example).

This Tuesday is “24 Hours to Give Where Your Heart Is!”

Add a comment below stating two or three of the local organizations close to your heart that are part of the Big Day of Giving lineup.  Learn more at

Yours with thanks,

Rev. Roger


FEBRUARY 3, 2015

Dear Members and Friends,


• We’ve added 50 new members since May. Worship is deep, joyful and lively. Our Greeters welcome new visitors every Sunday—even at our temporary home.

• Our dynamic duo of ministers has yielded new surprises in our worship and programs. We can build on this progress by fully funding Rev. Lucy’s position at UUSS.

• Our music program is blossoming now, with a growing choir and amazing duets and soloists. Next year, we strive to fund a Choir Director position once again.

• The new Spiritual Deepening Circles have 100 participants. Adult Enrichment has brought more than 125 people together. Theater One has staged a great variety of plays—more now than last year, when we had a full stage and auditorium!

Religious Education volunteers and staff give generously of their talents and love to our children and youth. We seek to support UUSS families even better.

• Our talented staff works together with high spirits to support the congregation in pursuit of our UUSS mission: we come together to deepen our lives and be a force for healing in the world.

• Our Earth Justice Ministry, Kids Freedom Club, and other social-action groups have brought people together to learn, organize, serve and give of themselves.

Our pledges of monetary support make it all possible. Starting Sunday, February 8, members and friends will make pledges to the operating fund for the 2015-16 year.

Funding our UUSS goals for success in the new budget year calls for an average pledge increase of 10%. We know that hardship has affected some of our households, so we also appreciate that many others will stretch in order to make an increase larger than 10%.

In shared commitment, both of us will increase our household pledges to UUSS.
Your pledge is your decision. Pledges of all sizes are valued and appreciated.

What we ask is your generosity.

Generous giving makes possible so much within and beyond our congregation. Thank you.

We can keep this congregation shining in the coming year. Let it shine!

Yours in service,

Roger Jones, Senior Minister, and Linda Clear, Board President

PS—Please read the Pledge Form for 2015-16. Fill out your Pledge Form and bring it to the next Sunday service or mail it to the office at 2425 Sierra Blvd., Sacramento 95825.  Your monthly pledge of support will keep UUSS thriving… from month to month, from year to year, and from generation to generation. Thank you!

Pastoral Prayer for UU worship service December 7, 2014
December 9, 2014, 9:02 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Roger

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Please join me for a time of contemplation in word and silence, followed by music.

Notice the feeling of your body on the seat which is holding you. Relax your eyes and face. As I offer these words of prayer, notice your breathing, and your neighbors’ breathing, the breath of life.

Spirit of Creative Hope, God of Love, be with us now and in the days to come.

For the gifts of life and this new day, we give thanks. Let us be mindful of our blessings, and happy for the blessings of those around us. At the same time, let us keep our hearts open in kindness for those enduring a time of grief or despair.

We lament the loss of life in Ferguson, Cleveland, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and on the streets of too many cities. We lament the terrorist violence in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.          Let us resist easy answers and hold a space for grief and heartbreak. So many people are longing for answers to the sense of a persistent experience that that the deck is stacked against them. There are too many parents now grieving for their lost sons, and fearing for their living ones.

In our land and around our global home, so many are feeling just about out of hope for a new day of peace and fairness. Let us summon the compassion and courage we know to be necessary in every time of trial.

We long for a day when all communities can feel safe, when parents of all children of all ethnicities and all genders in every land can be free of worry and heartbreak. We long for a day of trust, understanding, justice and fairness. May our longings grow into prayers for courage, deeds of human solidarity, and seeds of hope renewed.

On this day of rest and in this place of meeting, may we feel the blessing of every gift of life. May we share this life with generosity and grace, intention and hope. So may it be. Amen.

Now let us take a minute of stillness together, breathing and sharing the precious gift of life.

Music: “God Bless the Child,” by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.

-Ross Hammond, guitar

Food and Farm!
November 9, 2014, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Eating Mindfully and Sustainable Agriculture, Inspiration | Tags: ,

Wow. When I sat down after the church service with a bowl of soup and chatted with a couple of young women, I hadn’t expected they would say that they had a hard day of work on the farm all day Saturday, slaughtering turkeys. But indeed they had. Then I learned more about their calling to plant good food and cultivate a thriving community (and ecosystem). (I stole that wording from their card and the blog.) Check them out. Pastor Cranky enjoyed the pumpkin and squash postings and he can’t wait to learn more.
Happy November!

Racist Big Government Crushes Minority Neighborhood– in Romania

A Unitarian Universalist I know sent me this summary and this link.  It’s pretty terrible, so I hope we can raise awareness and voices of protest.

Over 100 people living in a yard of houses on 50 Vulturilor Street, Bucharest, Romania, were forcefully evicted on Monday, September 15. The community has decided from the outset to protest and reclaim their rights. This fundamental right has been gravely violated when local police brutalized several members of the community on the 15th and the 16th of September. Among those targeted were children, elderly persons and persons with disabilities. The evicted have currently no genuine alternatives for relocation. They consider the treatment of officials a blunt breakage of their rights and a racist act given that most of the evictees identify as Roma So far 50 Romanian organizations joined the solidarity network progressively built with the evicted community on Vulturilor Street, either by asking local authorities to find immediately an adequate housing solution or by helping the people resist and organize in the street. The community is determined to keep protesting until their demands are met and the housing issue becomes a priority for the state and local authorities! More details here:

They need money for food, medicines, tents, blankets, sleeping bags (wet and they keep changing), diapers for babies, plastic foils, fuel.

Minister’s May Newsletter Message: Where there’s a Will, there’s a Way!

I’m overdue to redraft my Last Will and Testament. I also should create a Trust.

Since doing my will in 1991, things have changed. My nephews have grown up. They are out on their own, and their parents have done quite well, so they are not in need of all my assets. For 17 years, I haven’t even been in the Midwestern UU church that I listed as a beneficiary in my will long ago. Now I have a new congregation that is near to my heart and whose mission inspires my actions. This one!


Other things have changed. Since those days, I’ve become a graduate of one UU seminary and I feel very close to another one. I want them to continue to produce “all the ministers that are above average” for a long time to come.


At UUSS, our 50-year Master Plan for the Buildings and Grounds is visionary and beautiful, and the amount of resources necessary over the years for it will not be small. What made this plan possible in the first place were bequests of beloved members and friends of UUSS, now departed. You can see all their names on the metal Gratitude and Appreciation tree sculpture in the lobby.


Our fundraising consultant, Rev. Bud Swank, told me that we need an organized program to invite people to consider and plan on leaving a bequest or other legacy to UUSS with instruments like wills, trusts, mutual fund beneficiary designations, etc. This will ensure the Master Plan has sufficient resources down the road. I decided to get going on this need myself.


I don’t expect to die soon, but I don’t want to neglect putting down on paper the decisions that could put my assets to use in the service of my liberal religious values and in support of the mission and continuing ministry of this congregation.


If you’d like to talk to a minister about the kind of legacy you would like to plan for the future of Unitarian Universalism, please be in touch with one of us. I’m glad you are here now, in person. I look forward to seeing you soon on a Sunday. Take care!


Thank you for being part of UUSS.


Yours in service,




Pastoral Prayer for UU worship service, July 20, 2014

Rev. Roger Jones, Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Now please join me in a time of contemplation, in words and silence. Notice your feet on the floor and your body in the seat. Notice your breathing, in and out. Relax your eyes, whether open or closed.

O Spirit of the calm summer clouds, ease our souls, as we gather in reflection and in hope. We give thanks for those around us in this community of encouragement and welcome.

We give thanks for the gift of life and the gift of this new day.

Life is fragile and fleeting, and many of us are thinking of those we have lost, perhaps recently, or some time ago. Let us make the sound of their names now at this time and, by our speaking, let us bring them into the space of our sanctuary with us.

Life holds many kinds of challenge. We hold in our hearts those who need our good wishes and help for all kinds of struggle, and we offer our own burdens to compassion’s warm embrace. We ask for serenity, courage, and wisdom as we make each new step on the journey of life.

Life brings occasions for joy and gratitude. Let us call to mind the milestones and celebrations that lighten our spirits. Whether speaking aloud into the sanctuary or whispering to ourselves, let us now speak of our joys or those of others.

Many another’s good fortune lift our own hearts in praise of joy.

Life brings change to this hallowed spiritual home. As this congregation prepares to vacate this building for a year of construction, we recognize the dedication of our volunteers and staff members. Their vision, purpose, collaboration, reliability and generosity have brought us to this point of promise. We give thanks!

At the same time, we must look beyond these walls to the desperation and agony afflicting the human family. We lift up the people of many tragic scenes, including three in recent weeks or days. A Malaysian jetliner was destroyed by a missile fired from separatist rebel-held areas of Ukraine, killing hundreds of innocent adults and children. Fighting in the Gaza Strip in Palestine is now in its 13th day. The Israeli military and Palestinian Hamas militants ratchet up the violence, with Hamas missile strikes into Israel and a military incursion of tanks and troops into Palestine.   At last report, the lives lost include at least 5 Israelis and 336 Palestinians, including 65 dead children. [As of July 21, per the New York Times, 27 Israelis and 556 Palestinians have been killed.]  It was the killing of teenagers from both sides that sparked this wave of pain and chaos. It makes the heart weep.

On the United States border with Mexico, hundreds of thousands of Central American youngsters arrive as refugees from the destitution and violence of their home cities and villages.   While fragile children wait for mercy, U.S. government leaders vacillate and fight.   While some citizens argue, others go to guard the children or send money for basic needs.

We lift our voices to the sky to call for a world without violence. We long for a renewed wave of dignity and healing to cover the human family. We extend prayers for peace to all places of conflict and oppression, near and far.

May each of us have the courage to do what we can. May we choose the ways of peace and courage.

Now let us take silence together for a minute. May we come home to our breathing.   May we come home to the feelings of being alive. Now May the breath of life breathe in us a new sense of hope and the motivation to make that hope a reality. Blessed Be and Amen. Namaste.

Learning Spirituality from Plants! Flower Celebration Sunday Message

Homily (Sermonette) by Rev. Roger from UUSS Flower Communion Sunday, June 2, 2013 (All-Ages Worship Service)


Writing in his journal in 1859, Henry David Thoreau says that “the mystery of the life of plants” is like the mystery of our own human lives. He cautions the scientist against trying to explain their growth “according to mechanical laws” or the way engineers might explain the machines that they make.   There is a magic ingredient, to go along with air and sun, earth, water and nutrients. There is one part miracle to every living thing, he says. The force of life. A force we can feel and recognize, but cannot create or control.

For my birthday I received a planter from our Religious Education staff person, Miranda.   To ensure its longevity I left it in her office, and it has flourished. But when she departed for two months in Ghana, a post-it note appeared on the planter: Roger, remember to water me.

            I am not reliable around green things. I have nearly killed off a cactus—a small one I got last Christmas. I remember when I was little, in school, planting seeds in Dixie cups with dirt an inch deep.   Watching the sprouts, helping them along; it was fun. Then, a few years later, a friend of the family helped me plant a garden in the back yard: green beans, tomatoes, onions. Delicious, for one or two summers.

But my horticultural karma was all downhill from there. In high school I mowed grass for a few neighbors and friends of my mom. One family had a large yard around their large house. They asked me to pull or cut out the weeds growing close to the house.  This was before the days of the weed-whacker, which would have been fun to use. Using my bare hands—not fun. So I drizzled gasoline on the weeds near the outside walls, all the way around. Killed all their weeds. Filled the house with fumes, I found out later.

To the good fortune of the plant kingdom, in my adult life I’ve never had a yard or a garden, nearly always lived in an apartment. Here in the church’s community garden, which we call UURTHSONG, a few summers ago at lunchtime I helped myself to a few meals of tomatoes and chard, but I haven’t dared to plant a garden plot.

I know many of you garden, with lovely flowers and gorgeous vegetables. You have citrus and plum and fig trees and so many other kinds. Some of you are Master Gardeners. Some of you sell plants for a living, or you work in landscaping and grounds-keeping.

Some of you volunteer with plants, like our member Jerry, who spends many a weekday tending the flowerbeds and flowerpots here at the church. Some of you, like Nancy and Gail, give tours at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center on the American River Parkway, among other outdoor places. Annie and other UUSS Waterbugs tend our thirsty trees and bushes year after year.

As I noted, my experience with plants is questionable, so I can’t be sure what it’s like for people who put hour after hour into the lives of growing green things. But this is what it might be like.   Planting, tending, watering, weeding, harvesting, transplanting… it involves a mix of your own physical power, and the patience to wait and see what happens. It calls for intention and effort, and then for humility.

            One cannot bring plants into bloom, or force them to bear fruit. You have to learn enough to know when and where to plant them, how much water and fertilizer to give, how much to weed, when to prune or plow over, and of course you need to know what not to do.

You do your part, waiting, watching, tending. You wait on the force of life. You wait on a miracle, an everyday ordinary miracle. Seeing a vine crawl, blossoms yielding fruit, colors calling for bees and other pollinating insects. Miracles happen a lot. But we can’t make them happen. We can’t make life happen.

I wonder if this is a helpful way to think about our spirituality. There are new and modern resources for spiritual growth, and there are ancient practices.   We can draw on all of them, of course.   Yet the main ingredient is paying attention. Watching ourselves, noticing reactions, sensations, desires. Observing the world around us—the plants, the people, the traffic, the sunlight. Gently tending to the needs around us.

Preparing ourselves.

Perhaps we can think of spiritual growth from the perspective of a faithful gardener.   Not a prizewinning perfectionist whose work is on the cover of a magazine. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I bet most of us aren’t up to that much effort in spiritual practice (or in gardening).

I’m thinking of a gardener like a humble companion, a curious visitor. As a humble gardener tending our own growth, we remember to check in with ourselves, on a regular basis. We notice the world around us. We tend our gardens. We wait in humility, and we remember to practice patience. We don’t worry about explaining too much, about figuring ourselves out, as if we were machines, predictable and controllable. We don’t try to fix, only to encourage, nurture, water and feed.

We can’t make plants grow, but we can help them, and watch the miracle happen. We can’t force ourselves to grow spiritually—and we certainly can’t make somebody else grow. But we can be present and attentive. Be intentional. Notice what might help, or ask. Practice a bit more patience.

Then, we can enjoy the results. We give thanks for what we are able to harvest, thanks for the results of our waiting and watching.

Give thanks for the ground of our being. And celebrate every ordinary miracle.

So may it be. Blessed be. Amen.


Senior Minister’s Message: A Big Deal! {Newsletter column from May 2014}

We easily achieved a quorum of members at the April 6 meeting of the congregation. After her introductory remarks, Linda, UUSS Board President, received a motion and a second for authorization to borrow up to $1.1 million to ensure sufficient financing of Phase 1A of the Master Plan for the Building and Grounds. This was a big deal!

After much respectful discussion from supporters of this motion and those expressing opposition, Linda called for a vote by hand. The results were 93 yes, 7 no, 2 abstain. Thanks to all for your enthusiasm and caution, your questions and ideas—thanks for your participation!

With this approval, we can set about doing two things:

1)    raising donations to minimize the amount of borrowing and to save on annual interest costs. We may launch a second two-year capital giving campaign for this purpose.

2)    getting ready to build; moving to our Home Away from Home by fall. The Master Plan Building Committee is working on all of this. Stay tuned for announcements.


I am confident the results of our Building Project will be worth it:

  •  A bigger, brighter, welcoming space for all the spiritually progressive and spiritually hungry folks who will come looking for a place to belong and connect.
  • An energy-efficient facility, plus bike racks, and better drainage—putting our green principles into practice. The facility will be more accessible and safer.
  •  More space so we can all meet together in a service and for fellowship activities. A beautiful sanctuary to give spiritual comfort in times of stress or grief.
  • A larger profile in the region as a beacon of liberal religion and service to the local community. More facilities to support our social justice ministries.

Because I think the result will be worth it—and because I like avoiding debt—I am thinking how deeply I can dig into my assets to increase my level of participation in the Building Fund. I know that many of you are thinking about that as well.

I know that not everyone can make a large gift. That is okay! We would never ask you to make a gift that you don’t have. However, we can all be generous, so we hope that everyone will find a way to participate in a way appropriate for them.

Your moral support, encouragement, good questions and creative ideas also matter very much. This is how we build the beloved community.   Thank you for your giving and your vision.

Thank you for being part of UUSS.

Yours in service,


“In the Flow” Jazz Festival Concert–at UUSS—Sunday night, May 11

UUSS is co-hosting two concerts.  See our website to find out how to get to us.

On Sunday night, May 11, we will be one venue for Ross Hammond’s annual In the Flow weekend jazz festival. The headliner is Dwight Trible, who will sing at services in the morning. UUSS will get half the ticket sales. The artists keep all the revenue from sale of recordings. There will be no alcohol, but if a UUSS volunteer group wishes to sell snacks as a fundraiser, let me know.

Ross will also coordinate and host a concert on Sunday evening, June 8, by a UU couple from Iowa known as Gate House Saints, with an opening act by local talent. UUSS will make money on this event as well.  If you can help out on June 8, please contact Ross. If you haven’t heard Ross on guitar in church on a Sunday, see for his local venues.

“Enchanted April” in Sacramento — Theater Review
April 19, 2014, 8:41 am
Filed under: Theater (Plays

Our church’s own Theater One company, founded in 1960, launched this play last night on our stage.  “Enchanted April,” by Matthew Barber, was a Tony Award nominee for best play recently and it has won other awards.  Based on a 1922 novel, it also was a movie in the 1990s.

It takes place in London and in Italy in 1922, just a few years after the devastation of the First World War, which left many woman in widowhood.  But it’s still a man’s world, as we learn from the bored, frustrated married woman among the main characters.   Two of them reach out of their isolation to rent a castle together for a ladies-only retreat on the Italian coast.   Themes include marriage and gender roles, duty vs. freedom, religious piety vs. joy in life, and the transformation from self-limitation to daring self-expression, and from mistrust to friendship

I see a lot of theater in town and am glad to have seen this play too!   It’s a very enjoyable romantic comedy.

Tim Anderson’s lighting, set design and construction are amazing and beautiful, the results of many weekends of work for this local Elly Award winner and church member.  Sound effects are effective, and the music is lovely.  Lisa Karkoski and Mike Erwin, lay leaders at UUSS, have brought out the gifts of the script and of their gifted ensemble of actors.  I had not seen or met most of the cast before, as they are from the wider theater community and not members of my church.  All of them  inhabited their characters just right (highlighted by very good costuming)–lovely and moving performances.

Our Theater One regulars David Paul and Ron Galbreath played the leading ladies’ husbands, both going through a personal transformation after their wives have asserted themselves as autonomous beings and rent a house together in Italy for the month of April.

“Enchanted April” runs Friday & Saturday nights at 8:00 PM:  April  25, 26; May 2, 3.

And Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM:  April 27, and May 4.

Buy tickets at church after the 9:30 or 11:15 AM service or at



Chalice Lighting Words, Ordination Ceremony, March 29, 2014

Words for Chalice Lighting by Roger Jones

Ceremony of Ordination of Amy Moses Lagos to the UU Ministry

Saturday, March 29, 2014, in San Francisco

Good afternoon. When Amy Moses-Lagos was growing up in Springfield, Illinois, she attended the Abraham Lincoln Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist, now the Abraham Lincoln Congregation.

I know this, because when she was six, I was one of her Sunday School teachers there, when I was younger then, than she is now. Of course, this means that of everyone in this room who has had a formative influence on Amy as a Unitarian Universalist, I had the earliest influence, and therefore I guess the most profound…unless you count her mother, brother and sister, who are also here

Back then, in that congregation, at the start of every Sunday service, a child would lead the congregation in words for lighting the chalice.

Those words, and ours today, are combined from two sources: the late Rev. Elizabeth Selle Jones, now departed, the minister emerita of our church in Livermore, and from a Passover Haggadah, whose words are in the gray hymnal.


This flame affirms the light of truth, the warmth of community, and the fire of commitment.  [Selle Jones]

Please repeat each line after me:

 May the light we now kindle -PAUSE

Inspire us to use our powers -PAUSE

To heal and not to harm, -PAUSE

To help and not to hinder, -PAUSE

To bless and not to curse, -PAUSE

To serve you, Spirit of Freedom!


So may it be.

Breaking news: More Saturday dinner tix available for UUSS auction, plus a UU justice conference Saturday


Good news from Glory, our head chef for the New Discoveries auction dinner.

We have enough tickets left and enough fresh ingredients purchased that if you have not yet reserved or bought your ticket, you are LIKELY to be able to get one at the door! To be certain, you may email Elaine in the UUSS office today or call her at 916-483-9283.

Doors open and silent bidding starts at 5:30 PM. Dinner served at 6:30 PM. The live auction starts after dinner with Rev. Lucy as auctioneer. TOMORROW, April 5!

Dinner tickets $20. Kids under 12 eat for free. For the live auction only, tix are $10.

Professional child care provided at no extra charge in the Room 11 Nursery! If you’re coming you might email Miranda so she can let our caregivers know whom to expect.

I hope to see you! Let’s give our thanks to our hardworking team of auction volunteers for making this big event possible.


UU Economic Justice Summit Saturday, April 5, in Walnut Creek

The UU Justice Ministry of California’s new executive director extends an invitation to the UUJM economic justice summit for UUs from around the state. It features inspiring worship, area experts on suburban poverty and food inequality, and the Robert Reich documentary, “Inequality for All.” The host minister is the Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris, of Mount Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek. It will be over in time to make it back for the UUSS Auction & Dinner. Read about it at

April Newsletter Highlight #2 — From Grasshoppers to Goats — An Explanation

Some of you have been asking me about the goats you have seen on our church campus recently. They are truly adorable but are here for a more practical purpose.

They are not here every day but are brought here three days a week and watched (herded) closely. We have been blessed, finally, by rains and by new green growth of grass on campus. Unfortunately, our UUSS Grasshoppers —the teams of grounds keeping volunteers— need some new people to help out in the wake of retirements of longtime volunteers. (Call Elaine in the Office if you are curious about what the commitment and the tasks involve.) While waiting to get a larger group of human Grasshoppers, we have bought a small herd of goats to keep the grass and weeds cut back.

This purchase will NOT affect the funds available for the Building Project! The funds for the purchase of the goats have come out of the fundraising line in the operating budget. The goats will be… uh, gone before this Saturday night’s Auction Dinner.

Speaking of the dinner, you have one more day to buy tickets from the UUSS Office, since April 2 is the deadline and today is April 1. Thank you.

April newsletter highlight #1 — Senior Minister’s Message: A Big Step and a Bold Future


On April 6, our members vote on whether to authorize UUSS’ borrowing of up to $1.1 million to close the funding gap for our Building Project. A big step.

I don’t like debt! I pay my credit cards off each month (except when I forget). I don’t like construction and remodeling either. After two months of living in piles of papers after moving to the senior minister’s office, my friends came from the Walnut Creek church last fall to do an “intervention” for me. Call it a forced makeover.


However, the results have been worth it in my office (If you know the before and the after, you know what I mean.). I am confident the results of our Building Project will be worth it:

  • A bigger, brighter, welcoming space for all the spiritually progressive and spiritually hungry folks who will come looking for a place to belong and connect.
  • An energy-efficient facility, plus bike racks, and better drainage—putting our green principles into practice. The facility will be more accessible and safer.
  • More space so we can all meet together in a service and for fellowship activities.
  • A beautiful sanctuary to give spiritual comfort in times of stress or grief.
  • A larger profile in the region as a beacon of liberal religion and service to the local community. More facilities to support our social justice ministries.

Because I think the result will be worth it–and because I like avoiding debt–I am thinking about how much more deeply I can dig into my appreciated assets and increase my level of participation in the Building Fund. I know from conversations that many of you are thinking about that as well.

I know that not everyone can make a large gift. That is okay! We would never ask you to make a gift that you don’t have.

However, we can all be generous, so we hope that everyone will find a way to participate in a way appropriate for them.

Your moral support, encouragement, good questions and creative ideas also matter very much. Your presence here is what matters most. This is how we build the beloved community.

Thank you for your giving. Thank you for being part of UUSS.

Yours in service,


UUSS Campus Renovation & Expansion Project – Cost & Financing Issues–Meeting this Sunday

Frequently Asked Questions for the Congregational Meeting–February 23, 10:30 a.m.

 1.      What is the status of the building project?

As of today, the project is paused, or on hold.  Jackson Construction, the general contractor we have engaged for this project, has provided us with cost estimates for Phase 1a that significantly exceeds the money we have raised to date.  This financial “gap” is approximately $1.1 million.  Before proceeding any further, the members of Implementing the Master Plan (IMP) Committee and the Board of Trustees (BOT) decided it was necessary to pause the project and come up with a funding strategy to close this gap.  This means the construction and move to the Sierra Arden United Church of Christ will not start in May of this year.  A new start date for these events has not been determined.

2.     Where does the gap come from?

The Capital Campaign, sale of the duplex apartments and the identification of UUSS Endowment and Bequest funds resulted in a budget for the project of $2.0 million.  However, Jackson Construction estimates that general contractor costs and competitively bid subcontractor costs for our project will total $3.1 million.  Jackson Construction evaluated our design for a renovated Main Hall/Sanctuary building, landscaping, parking lot and utility repair and improvement–and the costly changes we are required to make by the County–and told us they estimate the project costs would be approximately $3.1 million.  This estimate includes almost $600,000 in infrastructure improvements and costs for parking lot repairs, a new fire hydrant, raising the level of the floor, and sidewalk, gutter and curb installation on Sierra Blvd – all required by our use permit from Sacramento County.  The remainder of the gap is a result of higher construction costs than expected for some of the items, but not all.

3.     What are the options?

The IMP and BOT members have identified 4 alternatives:

A – Raise and/or borrow the additional funds to finance the project as currently designed;

B – Raise and/or borrow additional funds and re-scope the project to match those funds;

C – Re-scope or scale down the project to match only the currently available funds;

D – Stop the project completely.

4.     What is being done now to evaluate the alternatives?

Leadership teams from the IMP/Building Committee and the BOT have initially rejected alternative D.  Due to the time, energy, work and cost already expended, and the great need for repair, upgrade, code compliance and accessibility, it was decided that walking away from the project entirely would be a strategic mistake.  Furthermore, the energy and momentum demonstrated from the calling of Roger as the new Senior Minister indicate strong congregational support for moving forward and growing as a presence in the larger community.  The aging grounds and facilities we have here need to be updated and modernized for the future, and this project is critical to that effort.

A small group of lay leaders has been exploring the option of borrowing from various lenders.  The UU Church in Davis experienced a similar challenge of cost increases with their building project and their members have been very helpful to us in sharing their knowledge and experience.  Members of the IMP team and the Finance Committee have been in touch with lenders and have received indications that we could successfully secure a loan.  In addition, we believe a renovated campus with a new commercial kitchen would result in much higher rental income and would be a strong argument in our loan application.  We also have a strong recent history of annual pledging and giving to the church.

Borrowing for this project would add loan payments or new debt service obligations to our annual budget and the impact of this increase is being analyzed.  The results of pledges made in the current Stewardship Month will be important information to consider our ability to make loan payments.  Our Capital Campaign team is considering options for additional fundraising.

The IMP Committee is exploring new designs for the Sanctuary and Welcome Hall that would reduce the number of structural changes planned in the original design.  This could lower the overall costs.  The use of the RE wing for housing all of our office staff is also being explored as another cost-saving step.

5.      What should UUSS friends and members be doing to stay informed? 

There will be a congregational meeting Sunday, February 23,between the services at 10:30 a.m.  We hope many of you will attend.  This meeting is designed to bring everyone up to date on the project and share more background and context regarding the information in this document.  There will be a brief period to ask questions at the meeting.  Members involved in this project will be available in a classroom this Sunday after the 11:15 service to answer additional questions and solicit ideas and input from you.  Another conversation is being planned for a Sunday in March.  Members should ask questions and share their opinions on the alternatives since this “home remodel” will affect all of us.

This project will transform UUSS for many decades and the support of the congregation is critical to its success.  We all need to be engaged and informed since balancing our annual budget while investing in the future is not just the responsibility of the BOT but one that belongs to the entire congregation.

6.     What is the background of the Master Plan?  What about the Capital Campaign? 

UUSS focus group conversations led to the congregation’s adoption of a long-range plan in 2008.  In 2010 members unanimously approved the 50-year Master Plan for our campus.  The plan included renovation of the existing Main Hall to retain the character of our UUUSS home and to save on the costs of a new structure.   In 2012, a fundraising consultant conducted a feasibility study and then supported us through a successful capital campaign among members and friends.  In 2013 members voted to sell the duplex apartments and use the proceeds for this project.

At 3:00 p.m. Sunday, March 16, lay leaders will hold a Capital Campaign Update.  We will invite those who missed the 2012 campaign.  All members and friends are welcome.

Icons and Agitators: Maladjustment to the Way Things Are–UUSS Sermon for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sunday

Rev. Roger Jones, Acting Senior Minister

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

January 19, 2014

Hymns: #116, I’m on My Way; #155, Circle Round for Freedom; #1018, Come and Go With Me

Choir:  Hush!  Somebody’s Callin’ My Name


Prelude:  Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Meditation:  Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Offertory:  Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

Postlude:   It Is Well with My Soul



What fascinates me about the study of history is learning how the social advancements we consider to be normal, to be “the way things are,” did not come about easily.  To people who lived in the past, the achievements of equality and fairness that we take for granted were not assured or guaranteed.  Indeed, every step toward equality involved struggle and upheaval.

Should women have the right to vote and run for office?  Of course!  Few in public life would now say that’s a debatable question.  But until 1920, the road toward voting equality was messy and full of setbacks.  Some states allowed voting, others did not.  After the Senate approved the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and enough states ratified that amendment, voting equality became the way things are.  Twenty-five senators had voted no, but history moved on, passing them by.  Many women who had begun the struggle in the 1800s were dead by then. They had given themselves to a cause that would outlive them.  Success was not predictable or guaranteed.

Likewise, ending American slavery was not predictable or guaranteed.  Nor were any of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, of which Martin Luther King Jr. was the most prominent and inspiring leader.  But after we expand the circles of opportunity and freedom, it becomes easy to talk as if justice was obvious and success inevitable.

It is tempting to frame the history of a struggle for freedom in sweet words and warm images.  We can use the words of daring women and men not to urge us to achieve more, but merely to comfort ourselves, to make ourselves comfortable with the status quo.

We can use the words of heroic people only to honor them, while we avoid hearing them.

Martin Luther King worked against racism and segregation.  But he also preached against militarism and economic inequality.  According to scholar Michael Eric Dyson, in the later years of his brief life Dr. King’s views grew more radical.  Upsetting his colleagues and staff, Dr. King became one of the first high-profile leaders in America to oppose the American military involvement in Vietnam.  King highlighted the hypocrisy of suppressing freedoms in the name of protecting freedom.  We could not defend freedom by supporting rule by generals in Southeast Asia, he said.

Many politicians and the press ridiculed him for expressing his opinions about the war.  They questioned the ability of a southern black Baptist preacher to analyze international affairs (according to Dyson).  However, King had a Ph.D. from Boston University.  He had won the Nobel Peace Prize.  The historian Taylor Branch writes that King was the “the moral voice of America,” more than any office holder or elected leader.[i]   His opinions mattered, and he felt compelled to speak out.

His colleagues didn’t want his involvement with another controversy to dilute and distract from civil rights.  They feared he would alienate the Congress and President Lyndon Johnson, who had been a forceful supporter of the civil rights agenda.  Indeed, Johnson did feel betrayed by King’s opposition to the war, according to Dyson.[ii]

King’s response to his critics was this:  “I have worked too long now and too hard to get rid of segregation in public accommodations to turn back to the point of segregating my moral concern.” By articulating the linkages among types of injustice and oppression, he raised our discomfort, raised our national tension.

This was Dr. King’s gift and his role as a leader.  He could orchestrate a mix of tension and inspiration, the right blend of discomfort and conciliation.  To change, America needed challenge.  This took standing up and sticking his neck out.  That is a challenge that many of us can recall having in our own lives from time to time.  Dr. King did it for all our lives, for our common life and the common good.  Many times, Dr. King said:  “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”  Such words, and his commitment to them, unsettle my comfort with the way things are.

Since his assassination in 1968, Dr. King has been turned from a strategist and an agitator into an icon. Leaders from all across the political spectrum and the range of religions now salute Martin Luther King.  It’s easier to honor someone who’s dead.  You don’t have to listen to him for real.   Leaders from across the spectrum make their own assertions about what Dr. King wanted for our society and what he would want.  This is what you can do with icons. With real people who carry out real movements for change, you have to wrestle.  They make us uncomfortable.  They unsettle our adjustment to the way things are.

We may be comfortable imagining Dr. King and his challenges to the America of 50 years ago, but what would his challenges be for us today?  What tension and what inspiration would he bring to us?

In King’s last years, he addressed poverty and economic injustice.  He launched the Poor People’s Campaign and argued for another March on Washington, like the one in the summer of 1963, but one lifting up economic injustice and poverty.  Men on King’s staff opposed this campaign—and they were all men on his staff.  They feared it would be a disaster, generating only the resistance of Congress and the anger of President Johnson.

According to Michael Eric Dyson, in 1966, King admitted that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had failed to improve the condition of poor blacks.  He said that progress had been “limited mainly to the Negro middle-class” (Dyson, 87).  With his Poor People’s Campaign, King endeavored to focus on the need to lift all people out of degrading poverty, including all black people.

He saw people as connected, no matter our identity and life circumstances.  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is how he said it.  “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

In private, Dr. King told colleagues that he believed America must move toward democratic socialism. However, in public he did not use the term socialism.  The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had waged a campaign to discredit the movement by smearing Dr. King as a Communist sympathizer.        King did not have Communist sympathies or alliances.  Communist regimes were anti-democratic, and Communist theory was anti-religious.  King said:  “I didn’t get my inspiration from Karl Marx.  I got it from a man named Jesus.”  He said that Jesus was “anointed to heal the broken hearted” and to deal with the problems of the poor, and those in captivity” (Dyson, 130).  In this spirit, King called for job creation programs, for full employment and for a guaranteed minimum income.

Dr. King said that full-time work should yield a person enough money to support a family.  In the years since 1980, for most of this nation’s people, income and wealth have stagnated, even shrunk when you consider the eroding effects of inflation.  Wealth has been concentrated more and more in the hands of a smaller percentage of people at the very top.  Two years ago, the Occupy Wall Street Movement brought to public attention the idea of the 99% and the 1%.  At the top, the 1%, are those who have gained by the shifting structures of economic policy, international trade agreements, tax breaks, and lax regulation in the financial services industry.[iii]

Meanwhile, for a growing mass of people, it has become harder to support a family on full-time work, even if two parents work full-time.

If Dr. King were alive right now, perhaps he would embrace campaigns for better funding of public schools and a restoration in financial aid for college.   Perhaps he would lead campaigns for a single-payer health care system available to all and for a higher minimum wage.  In pursuit of economic fairness, he might advocate for regulation of the financial services industry, and a reform of crop subsidies to move away from industrial agriculture and toward smaller, sustainable farms.  Perhaps he would speak for these goals, but I can’t be sure.

Such goals have come to seem less radical in these times, as ordinary American have grown more desperate, and as more working people feel the loss of economic security, and the loss of food security.  I am sure Dr. King would have would have made us uncomfortable.  He would have turned up the tension that political leaders feel about these issues.  Maybe he would call for more subsidized housing for low-income families and more mental health care for the lost souls wandering and sleeping on the streets.  He said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

If he were speaking to most of us right now, would he ask us if we need all the square footage many of us enjoy in our homes?  Would he challenge us for having a car of our own and the petroleum to run it, given what oil extraction does to local and global environments, not to mention to indigenous tribal communities who live near oil wells?  Would he ask us if we couldn’t still do okay financially without investing in portfolios that grow by pushing down worker’s wages and benefits, and by tearing down rain forests for beef grazing?

In India, Martin Luther King met with Mohandas K. Gandhi, to learn about the “soul force” of nonviolent resistance, which had been a tool of the Indian Freedom Struggle.  King saw dissent and rivalries among Gandhi’s inner circle, something he would find among his own leaders and staff members at home.  And he saw the massive poverty of people sleeping on the streets in Calcutta, hungry children and begging parents and elders.

Ten years ago I traveled in India, during a sabbatical for five weeks.  In cities around the country, I saw masses of barely housed and homeless and hungry people.  Many were begging, but some only were sitting in the heat, exhausted.  I even saw some of them weeping.  What came to my mind on my journey was the idea that most Indians seemed to accept this as normal, inevitable, the way things are.  There will always be destitute people around you.  Your task is to learn how to refuse the destitute, walk around them, ignore them.  The task of one who is not hurting in that way is to do anything except ask why such hurt persists.   If this is the way things are, you need not imagine how to change the system or why.  I could be wrong about Indian social attitudes—I bet I am wrong—but it made me think about us.

I see people begging for money at street intersections around here, holding cardboard signs.  I see more of them at more corners than I did just a year ago.

In thinking about India, I’m thinking about the person I saw Friday night at my apartment building in a sleeping bag, lying in the car port by the dumpster.   I’m doubtful that a handout of money would change such a situation.  But I wonder how normal we have let it become that so many people live on the street.  Is this now the way things are?  Is the choice now merely whether to give a dollar, or smile, or look the other way?

Is the question no longer, how did we let this happen?  Is the question now just whether to call the cops or the landlord so the person can be rousted from beside our dumpster, and find another dumpster to sleep near?

In May of 1966, Dr. King addressed the ministers and lay delegates of the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist Association, meeting in Florida.   Every year the General Assembly holds a major lecture, the Ware Lecture, and he gave this lecture in 1966.[iv]

He called on our congregations to assert the basic sinfulness of racial segregation, refute the idea of racial superiority, and engage in action on legislation to expand the circles of equality and fairness.

And he cautioned us against the “myth… of exaggerated progress,” the idea that we’ve arrived.   He said:  “We should be proud of the steps we’ve made…. On the other hand, we must realize that the plant of freedom is only a bud and not yet a flower.”   He said we cannot stop with the way things are.

He spoke about the psychological term or label of a maladjusted personality.  He said:  “I must say to you this evening, my friends, there are some things in our nation and our world to which I’m proud to be maladjusted….  I call upon … all people of good will to be maladjusted to those things until the good society is realized.”

He listed the problems of life in America to which he wished we could remain maladjusted.   He said:   “I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, and leave millions of people perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

King’s life, and the deeds of so many people in the struggle for civil rights, unsettled a country that had adjusted to the way things are, as if it was always how things were going to be.

His words and life and the movement he led continue to challenge us to pay attention, take steps toward healing, stretch ourselves and let ourselves feel discomfort and maladjustment/ for the sake of a better world.

King said that life’s most urgent and persistent question is, “What are you doing for others?”  His legacy is the legacy of standing up for others, and standing up with others.

This legacy should discomfort us, and unsettle us, but it shouldn’t paralyze us.  His words and deeds should not freeze us in a sense of smallness or shyness or shame.  We should hear his words as the call to community, the call to standing up with others.

Part of the King legacy is the fact that today many organizers, leaders, volunteers and advocates of all generations are doing this work, bringing attention to unfair and unsustainable conditions.

I give thanks for those who give of their time in service, their treasure in generosity, and their courage and hope toward a better country and a better world.  I give thanks for those who dedicate their lives to the needs of others and those who risk their lives for the betterment of all of us, everywhere.

May the deeds of all those who struggle, serve, hope and give of themselves give us the courage not to get too adjusted to the way things are.  May their deeds challenge us.

May they awaken us into attention, imagination, action and courage.  So may it be.
























[i] Branch, Taylor. The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

[ii] Dyson, Michael Eric.  I May Not Get there with YouThe True Martin Luther King, Jr.  New York:  Free Press, 2000.

[iii] See more analysis and stirring comment in columns by Chris Hedges on

Breaking News: UUA Rethinks Trinity
Today the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, indicated that there is serious consideration of undoing the Unitarian heresy his denomination was founded on.  “When you think about it, God as one is just less effective.  You can get so much more done if God is in three persons. Our lawyers are researching alternative names and websites, like Trinitarian Tunaversalists.  We can eat fish on Fridays or on any days, or never at all if we are vegan, so why not put Tuna into  our name?”   A Vatican spokesman said Pope Francis was open to this development.   “In the Catholic Church, we take anybody.  Why not some former heretics?  And we could always use a few more Prius drivers.  It’s good for the soul.”
What about the reaction out in the Unitarian Universalist hinterlands?  When contacted by the press, Rev. Roger Jones of Sacramento said that he has no opinion on the matter until he determines whether 90% of his congregation thinks it’s a good idea.  “Until January 26, I am sticking with my usual talking point:  Unitarians believe in one God at most.”
Now back to the news about unemployment benefits.

The Spirituality of Expectation–What Are You Waiting For? UUSS Sermon for December 8, 2013

 NOTE:  Many folks did not hear this sermon because the California International Marathon made it very hard to get to church.  It closes Fair Oaks Boulevard from Folsom, CA, to the Capitol.  Traffic near the church slows down as race fans try to find parking to walk over to Fair Oaks and as the police make drivers detour at both of our nearby intersections.  The first hymn was my conciliatory nod to the Marathon, but it remains an annual frustration!

 UU Society of Sacramento

Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2013

Shared Offering benefits St. John’s Shelter Program for Women & Children

Hymns:  #348 “Guide My Feet (While I Run this Race),” #100 “I’ve Got Peace Like a River,” #352, “Find a Stillness,” #91, “Mother of All.”


“Do you know what message I am going to preach to you today?”  This is what the great Islamic Mullah said as he looked out on the people gathered for Friday prayers.  Nasruddin, the Mullah, appears in many Sufi stories as a wise trickster and sort of a goofball.  He asked the crowd this question, and they shook their heads—no.  He said: “Well, why would I waste my time speaking to people who don’t know my message? Go home!”  They did, but they invited the great Nasrudin to come back the following Friday.

“Do you know the message I am going to tell you today?” he asked.  Yes, yes!  We do!  they smiled.  “Go home!” he shouted. “Why would I take the time to repeat what you already know?”

This troubled the congregation.  They really wanted to hear from this wise Mullah!  So they made a plan.  The next jumah, the Friday prayers, they had him back.  He asked, “Do you know what I am going to say to you?”  And half of them shook their heads no, and the other half nodded and said yes!              “Finally,” Nasrudin said.  “Now, those of you who know what I am going to say, turn to those who don’t know what I am going to say, and tell them.”  And he left.

This is a story about one kind of expectation—an assumption of the way things are.  It’s when you are counting on something—and in this story, you don’t get it.  Something else happens from what you expect.

On Monday I was at a Catholic retreat center in with a group of UU clergy colleagues.  In the dining hall we found these little plastic containers of coffee creamer.  On the cover it reads:  “Non-Dairy Creamer.”  Under that it says, “Contains Milk.”

This wording led to speculation on our part.  Can you get milk without a dairy?  We laughed it off, and someone found a carton of 2% milk and a box of soymilk.  We were amused by this experience of having our expectations upended.  We didn’t get what we were counting on.

That’s one kind of expectation.  The other kind of expectation is the experience of waiting.  The Reverend Dr. Christina Hutchins is a professor at Pacific School of Religion.  A year ago she gave a sermon on Advent, the season of waiting for Christmas.  She said that the experience of waiting is a complete and authentic spiritual experience on its own.  It is not merely the delay of an event, not the denied gratification of an authentic experience. Expectation is a complete experience on its own.  Like all spiritual experiences, it’s worth paying attention to it.  This is the spirituality of expectation—finding wisdom in the waiting, seeking to gain from the journey along the way.

Right now we are waiting for Solstice and Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Kwanzaa and so on.   Growing up in a mainstream Protestant household, Christmas was what I waited for.  But in truth, I just wanted to get it over with!  This Thursday morning I will be one of the speakers at the UUSS Alliance’s holiday lunch program.   Alliance chairperson Vivian Counts invited four of us to tell of a holiday memory from our lives.  I’m glad there are three others talking, because I can’t think of any inspiring Christmas memory from the years before I was a minister.

As a child I dreaded the loneliness I felt when school was out for those two weeks.  Television was the distracting technology of those days, and the TV often was on, but it did not satisfy.  I craved the many shiny packages under the tree, but after tearing into them on Christmas Day, the emptiness inside me felt even sharper.  The alcohol abuse and animosity among my relatives made me feel as if I was walking on eggshells.  For me, Christmas was to be gotten through.  My family  went to church many Sunday mornings, but somehow it never occurred to the family to go to church on Christmas Eve, nor to attend  any community concerts or special programs in our town.  Had we done such activities together, it might have given us a little spiritual nourishment.   Perhaps by this Thursday’s Alliance meeting I’ll remember some suitable holiday memories to tell.  If not, I could ask the gathering, “Do you know what I am going to say to you today?”  Then they can tell one another.

Among the human family, with the broad variety of conditions and situations in which we find ourselves, we human beings have all sorts of waiting to do.  We have many ways to experience waiting, ways to think about our waiting, and make use of the time.

People in prison are people who are waiting—waiting for their sentence to end, waiting for a friendly visit or a letter, waiting for the next meal.  For some, the wait is a long time.  Yet in that time of waiting, some prisoners are lucky to find a way to grow.   Some have access in prison to theater arts and poetry, or to study for a GED or a college degree or to learn, simply, to read and write.  It’s my impression that prisons are some of the places where people are most likely to begin an intensive spiritual search or to deepen one.  Great spiritual classics have been written in jail– by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Apostle Paul for example.

I’ve read and heard many ex-inmates testifying that a spiritual practice is what saved them.  In prison many people experience conversion to Islam, or accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, join a 12-Step group, or begin Buddhist meditation.  The online congregation known as the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship supports a prison ministry by mail, and some UU congregations have their own ministries to nearby prisons.  In a book about Buddhism behind bars, one convicted felon writes that mindfulness meditation has been a tool for him in prison, and a blessing.  His waiting for the end of his sentence is the occasion of his practice in mindful awareness.  Sometimes, he says, they throw him in solitary confinement, a common management practice in prisons today.  Solitary sounds frightening and lonely to me.  Yet this man says that he tries to think of it as an opportunity for a deeper practice of mindfulness.  This blows my mind!  Those in confinement have no choice—only the choice between awareness of the moments at hand and suffering in agony about the long wait for confinement’s end.

Nelson Mandela spent 26 years in prison under the white Apartheid government of South Africa.  What a long, uncertain wait!  His passing last week at age 95 makes me want to learn about that experience, as well as other details of his life in the freedom struggle in South Africa.  I want to know what sustained him.    He could never be sure if he would live his entire life in prison, be released, or be executed.  Did Mandela know his people had not forgotten him?  Did he know that activists around the world were demanding his release?  He practiced the spirituality of waiting.

A friend has told me a story about Mandela’s time in confinement.  After some years, he was transferred to the Robben Island prison, infamous for its harshness.  He found himself doing hard labor, with other political prisoners. Their task:  breaking rocks in a quarry, pointless.  Robben Island also held other inmates, those convicted of murder, armed robbery, sexual assault.   Many were members of criminal gangs with reputations for terrorizing other inmates.  They tried to push the political prisoners around, take their food, or disrupt any political conversations.  By this harassment, they were trying to provoke the activists to reacting.

Members of these gangs labored in the quarry, but in separate groups from the political activists.  One day they began singing a song, taking a popular tune and changing the words to mock the political prisoners.  They were again trying to provoke them into a reaction.  And they got one.

The political prisoners decided to fight back–by singing.  In response they chose a rousing, familiar song.  Typically it was not a political song, but in this context, they charged it with political accusations.  The two groups competed by singing, back and forth.  For several days, these opponents confronted one another–in song.  Nelson Mandela later claimed that his men had much better voices, with wonderful harmony.  He and his group would often get lost in their music-making.  They would forget all about the gang members, who had taunted and threatened them.  Soon the gang members became quiet.  They only listened, as the political prisoners made music.  The singing brought peace.

When the prison guards figured out what was happening, they demanded that the music cease.  They didn’t even allow whistling.   In the stillness that followed, it was clear to Mandela that fears had melted away.  By pushing back, creatively, the political prisoners converted hostile opponents into people with a shared plight, a shared condition of confinement and waiting.  By choosing creative action, Mandela’s colleagues sang away their passive despair and their fear.  They brought meaning into their time of waiting by choosing to be creative.

When I think about the waiting of people in such painful situations, it’s embarrassing to say I want to get the month of December over with!  It puts into clear perspective my feelings of dread of the loss of daylight, my irritation with holiday commercialism, my frustration with traffic, like the slow traffic on this Marathon Sunday here in our neighborhood.  I say to myself:  So what!  How lucky I am only to have to wait for traffic to move!          The Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh writes that waiting in traffic at a red stop light is a chance to practice being mindful.  Red light, notice the moment.  Notice our experience of sitting in the car or waiting at the cross walk.   Red light, notice the moment.  Blessed be the red light, great companion of our waiting!

What are you waiting for?  Most of us are waiting for something… a job, a pension or Social Security, a baby to be born or an adoption agency to call with good news.  We wait for an upcoming trip, happiness, our next birthday, this semester’s grade report.  We wait for a diagnosis or lab results from a clinic, for moving day, for Christmas Eve.  Most of us are waiting for something, most of the time.   Meanwhile, we have days and moments in which to live and move and have our being, we have a journey called what’s going on right now.

Personally I am waiting for January 26, the day of the congregational vote here at UUSS, on my candidacy to be the called senior minister.  I’m now in month number six of my seven-month job interview with you.  It’s a long wait.  Part of me would like it to be over.  But you and I have seven months of life to live and ministry to do before then, while we wait.

So I am doing my best to enjoy the journey, enjoy the moments of ministry that pass before that big day.  After all, if I were walking on a sidewalk under a tall building and moving men were maneuvering a grand piano out of a window and it slipped out of their control, and it fell on me, my waiting would end right then.  This example, this wise warning, is handed down to us in the sacred scripture of the Warner Brothers cartoons, with which I grew up.

Given the uncertainty of anything we are waiting for, why not choose to pay attention?  Give some attention to the complete, authentic experience of waiting?  Explore the journey of our experience of each day.

Sooner or later, what we are waiting for does not arrive, or we do not arrive at that point.  The piano falls.  The traffic light turns red and does not change back to green.  In matters of life both great and small, we will end… before we reach the end.  To do authentic waiting is a challenge–and a paradox.  It means we need to invite patience, be gentle, and practice curiosity.  Yet given that we cannot count on reaching every goal, every end, it seems we should not wait on some things.

We should not wait to live with courage.   Should not wait to speak the truth and speak with kindness.  Not wait to live as our conscience and heart are asking us to live.  We should not wait to be grateful.  Not wait to be generous.  Not wait to take care of our health and our spirits.

We can stretch ourselves, open our hearts, and practice a bit more courage as we wait.  By the way we live in the time of waiting, we can prepare ourselves better for whatever we might be waiting for.

We are waiting for Solstice, when the night is longest, and the days begin to have more light once again.  Meanwhile we have a new day to welcome, every day.   We have sundown by 5 PM and sunrise by 7 AM, and a day full of whatever it brings, with the touch and flavor of waiting as an authentic part of the experience.

The experience of expectation is an authentic and complete spiritual experience by itself.  Waiting for the green light, for the holiday, for the solstice night, is not the delay of the prize or its absence; it holds a prize all its own.  With awareness, we can move toward wholeness in the moment.  On every day of our journey, we can pause to notice what is already here, and give thanks.  And give thanks.  So may it be.

Time of Darkness and Light– UUSS Sermon from Sunday, December 15, 2013

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Music:  Hymns:  #226 “People, Look East,” #118 “This Little Light of mine,” #1008 “When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place.”  Solo:  “The Dark” by Mary Grigolia, sung a capella by Rev. Lucy.

Litany of Darkness and Light    (see at end)


I sat looking out the kitchen window well before 7 in the morning, just last week.  I felt the chilly air seeping in, and a mug of warm tea in my cold hands.  I was ready to watch the morning light emerge, was waiting for the sunlight to change the look of everything.  But I felt sadness.  The tea had caffeine—how long would it take to change my mood, if it could?  This mood was not of deep grief, and not a heavy burden of depression on my shoulders, yet it was a decidedly not-fun feeling of sadness.   I said my morning prayer anyway.

I gave thanks for the gift of life and the new day, for a night’s rest in a warm, safe place.  I lifted up the names of parishioners who need good wishes or prayers, brought their faces to mind, plus those of colleagues, friends, and relatives.  I stated my intentions for living the day with gratitude, generosity, curiosity and kindness.  The light was now making the street visible, and showing the colors of the cars parked on it.

Then it occurred to me:  that pre-dawn darkness was just the right place for my sadness.  The shadows could receive it.  The shadows could let the sadness move, in its own gentle way.  Had it been 7 AM in June or July, the sun would have claimed the whole scene by now.  It would be urging me into the many tasks of the day:  Get going, look alive!  But the morning darkness of December seems to say, “Take it easy and slowly–I am taking it easy and slowly, after all.  Let it be.  Feel what you feel in this moment.  You will notice how it changes.”

Soon it was bright and clear, and my day was on its way.  And it went fast.  The night came in the middle of the day—5 o’clock.  Wait!  I’m not finished with my day yet!

For years I have resisted and resented the early evening.  I’ve dreaded the shrinking hours of daylight, starting in early November, when we set our clocks back an hour.

But as this December Solstice approaches, I try to appreciate what can happen in the dark.  I would like to mention a few of the gifts of the time of darkness, but first I want to say:  it’s not a gift for everyone, no matter what a preacher or a poet might say.

Like many people, a friend of mine has a clinical, biological reaction in the winter darkness, called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It does not help that she lives at a latitude even farther north than we do, and it’s cold there, for a long time.  You know what they would call the chilly weather we’ve had this past week?  Springtime (without the mud).

She sits under a special kind of lamp every day, to give her body and spirit some extra rays of light.  In retirement she has the time to travel, so she spends a few weeks in the winter visiting friends in warm, sunny places.  When she can save up enough money and find a cheap deal, she takes a trip to a warm country.  Not speaking Vietnamese, she made her way around villages in Vietnam by pointing and smiling.  In the sunshine of Egypt a few years ago, she heard people speak with hope right after the overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.  She enjoyed the January summer of Argentina, taking in the spray of Iguazu falls, the marvel of a glacier, and some penguins in their stiff cuteness.  Rather than cursing the dark and cold, she follows the sun.  Of course, this is not an option for most people, and she gives thanks for the privilege to do so.

It’s important to note that seasons of darkness and cold can be very hard on the spirit, hard on the emotional health of many people around us.  It may not only bring up grief or painful memories of past experiences, it may bring depression that weighs on our minds and even on our physical bodies.  This can happen to people young or old, in any occupation or stage of life.  When other ways of dealing with the shadow side of this dark time don’t seem to help us, it may be worth seeing if anti-depressant medicines, psychotherapy, or a 12-Step recovery group can make a difference for us.  Whether as individuals or as families, we can look for professional resources and community support as we pursue emotional healing, personal growth, and the ability to accept the gift of life with joy.

Personal growth can happen in the dark times and places.  Seeds will sprout in the cool dark of the earth, and begin their journey toward the light.  As a tree stretches toward the sun, it also grows downward, inward, into the dark earth.  We can be like the trees.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “In winter we lead a more inward life.”

Another friend of mine lives not so far north, so the weather’s not as cold and the nights not as long.  Yet the winter darkness does mean a change of her pattern of living, toward a more inward life.   She spends more time under the covers, reading a book propped on the pillow next to her.   In the living room she brings out candles and a string of holiday lights.  They remind her of our inner light, of an eternal spark.  Believing that winter is the best time for exercise, she puts on layers and goes out for a brisk walk.  The leaves crunch underfoot, the air chills the skin of the face, the nose runs.

In winter, she says, we need exercise to stimulate our endorphins.  Of course, we can be tempted to medicate our mood by drinking more alcohol and eating more, especially sweets and other carbohydrates.  But the boost we might feel by consuming alcohol and sweets can have a down side.  It can make us feel worse—edgy–after the boost wears off.   This December I am taking some of her advice.  Of course, I may never stop my holiday consumption of cookies, cake, fudge and anything else any of you might wish to make for me.  But I’m eating more almonds and pecans and not forgetting my veggies.  And I am having less alcohol, and drinking less often.   I’m not crazy about green tea, but I’ve been drinking so much of it lately that soon I may turn the color of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

One Unitarian Universalist family I know has created their own Solstice tradition.  With candles and cloths they make an altar of their table.  They bake a light brown, round ginger cake—dense and only an inch thick.  They serve it on a large round plate with a rim glazed with dark blue like the sky, and specked with stars.  They pass the cake around, each one cutting a piece for the next person, who indicates by nods and silent gestures how large of a piece to cut.

As the cake is served, what is revealed underneath it in the center of the plate is a round red sun.  The sun returns!  For Solstice dinner, they eat only foods with round shapes, evoking the sun.  They read prayers to the divine light and sing chants to the source of returning warmth.  The parents hide little suns around the house and the kids go searching for them.  By finding a likeness of sun, they are bringing the sun back, helping it return.  This family does not rely on the dominant culture to tell them what they need to do or to buy for making spirits bright—they create their own traditions.  Any of us can be creative.  We can join with nature and with other people to create our own light, and share the light, now in the dark of winter.

For many people, winter is a time for making soup and other warm foods, and eating more of the fresh foods that our season brings out.  In California we have so many winter crops.  Those in cold climates now can benefit from quick transport of fresh foods, but in the old days they kept food in the root cellar, and dried meat and beans from the summer crop.

Back home in Indiana, my mother’s fridge held many frozen foods for our winter meals, and this was fine.  But around the corner from our house, my uncle and aunt had shelves of clear glass jars with green beans, tomatoes, corn and other produce they had canned in the summer.   My uncle Roger had been a cook on a ship in the Navy during the Second World War.  As a boy I helped him in the kitchen, including his major undertaking of putting up all that food, with Mason jars boiling in big pots of water and other steps for cleanliness and safety.  That was a summer activity, but the memory of it warms me in the winter.

Now I can see that we were storing sunshine in shiny glass jars.

The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time the eye begins to see.”

The darkness can help us to see the truth… that we are not in control of everything.  We can be so busy in our lives, have so many expectations.  So many technologies at our fingertips and conveniences in our daily experience can lull us into thinking that there is an online menu tab for peace of mind or an iPad application for wisdom, courage, and grace.

The world does not revolve around any of us, including me; nor does earth rotate at my command.   Its creation is a miracle and a blessing. The operation of the heavens is a wonder.  And it all goes on without my permission or involvement. It will go on without me.  The darkness comes and goes—my cursing it or my blessing it affects only the condition of my own spirit.  The season’s advice to me:  you need not be in control, and in fact you are not in control.  Let the darkness hold the future.  Let go!

We can be intentional about living in the darker season. This is why candles appeal to us:  the darker it gets around them, the more they show their beauty.   Looking at a candle flame, or a string of lights on the tree or around the window, we can think about the meaning of light, and the bringers of light—like our nearby star, the human mind and heart, the source of love and light eternal, the creative spark, the divine fire of courage and compassion.

Solstice rituals use fire and food and song—to bless the darkness with beauty, while praising the cycles of the seasons of the earth.   People hang lights at Christmas to praise the source of life, celebrate the story of the star of Bethlehem, and remember that sun and warmth will return.

On Christmas Eve at UUSS, our sanctuary fills with members and their friends, and with guests we see only once a year.  In the weeks leading up to it, folks ask me the time:  seven o’clock, same as always.  They ask me if we will light candles and sing “Silent Night,” at the end.  Of course!  We will make a circle around the walls of the sanctuary, and exchange the light with one another, and then enjoy the darkness, filled with song and silence, and with faces illuminated by the flames.

Folks never ask:  will we sing the carols and hear a homily, will we have some instrumental music, prayer and silence and an offering?  All those things are like the setup to the “Silent Night” candle light finale!  Yet without those elements, the finale would be weak.

Without the darkness, our candles would be weak.  Likewise, without the embrace of the darkness, we might not have the reminder to plan ahead, create meaning in the season, and reach out for fellowship and support.  The darkness holds an invitation to let go of all that we cannot control, and accept with serenity all that we can’t change.

At my kitchen window, in my early morning watch for the light, the dark of winter seems to say:  “Take it easy, and go slowly–I am taking it easy, and going slowly, after all.  Let it be.  Feel what you feel in this moment.  You will notice how it changes.”

The dark of winter is a time to consider the sources of light we can count on, and give thanks for them.  It’s the season for tasting the warmth of nourishing food, made by human hands from the gifts of the earth for our sustenance and our joy. It’s a season for creativity, planning ahead, self-care and care for others.  It’s a time for digging deep and for reaching out toward others with compassion, openness, and kindness.

It’s a time for patience and letting go of control, for releasing the past and opening to the mystery of the future.  May we all be so blessed.

In the days to come, may you welcome the gifts of light and warmth you can bring into the darkness.  May the days and nights ahead bless us with light, learning, warmth, patience and peace.               Blessed be.


Litany of Darkness and Light


Part A (Before silent meditation/prayer)


Voice 1:  We wait in the darkness expectantly, longingly, anxiously, thoughtfully.

Voice 2:  In the darkness of the womb, we have all been nurtured and protected.

All Voices:  May we feel comfort in the darkness.


It is only in the darkness that we can see the splendor of the universe– blankets of stars, the solitary glowing of distant planets.

In the darkness of the night sky we feel beyond time – in the presence of the past, and with the promise of the future.

May we feel hope in the darkness.


In the solitude of the darkness we may remember those who need our love and support in special ways–

 the sick, the unemployed, the bereaved, the persecuted, the homeless, those who are demoralized or discouraged, those whose fear has turned to cynicism, those whose vulnerability has become bitterness.

Sometimes in the darkness we remember those who are near to our hearts – colleagues, partners, parents, children, neighbors, friends, congregation members.   We pray for their safety and happiness.  We offer our support.

May we know healing in the darkness.



Part B (After musical interlude following sermon)


In the quiet darkness of the night, we may hear that still, small voice within.

In the blessed darkness we may be transformed, changed by what we face in the dark.

May we feel the challenge of the darkness.


In the darkness of sleep, we are soothed and restored, healed and renewed.

In the darkness of sleep dreams rise up, calling us to possibilities, calling us to know our connection to the world.

May we feel joy in the darkness.               

Sometimes in the solitude of darkness our fears and concerns, our hopes and our visions rise to the surface. We come face to face with ourselves.   We find the road that lies ahead of us.

Sometimes in the darkness we wonder about the important things, the deep things, and inexpressible things.  We watch for glimmers of hope and glimpses of grace.

May we feel renewed in the darkness.  May we be guided by the light of our hearts.  Reflecting the divine love that shines at the heart of life,  let us reach out to this troubled world with compassion.

New Century Hymnal, adapted

Back to the Future– Re-thiking and re-learning congregational mission and purpose with major cultural shifts and progressive religious decline

This article comes from the Alban Weekly, an email from the Alban Institute, of which I’m a member.  It’s by a well known mainline church consultant whose lectures and workshops I have attended.  Of course UUSS is not in decline but poised for new growth and a renewed mission in the larger community.  But Unitarian Universalism has barely held steady over recent decades as other liberal denominations have lost hundreds of thousands of members–or not replaced the members who have passed away.

This is an excerpt of the article, which is adapted from one of his books, Adapted from A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope by Peter L. Steinke, copyright © 2010 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.

Back to the Future
by Peter Steinke

At a workshop I was leading, a woman stood up and said, “If 1950 were to return, my congregation would be ready.” Succinctly, she summarized a nagging problem for many churches. The context in which congregations now find themselves is quite different from 1950. “How we do church,” though, has been quite persistent: Become a member of the local congregation, contribute money and effort, participate in communal events, volunteer time and goods, and worship regularly or at least several times a year. This pattern of “church” continued for decades in North America, but then things changed quickly.

There once was a world where the church functioned according to what some have called the “attractional” model (others have named it the participatory model). People come to a place, consume the spiritual goods, and serve as patrons to “meet the budget.” But a shift has happened. North American culture has taken new turns.

We are living in a new context where old certainties are disappearing, old institutions are less dependable, old assumptions are questionable, and old neighborhoods are less cohesive. Logically, if not spiritually, we may even have to allow for the possibility that these dislocations could be part of God’s new creation. It may be God working through the unknown …. taking history into unexpected turns.

The challenge of change for a congregation on a steady downward slope is precisely to redefine and redirect its mission. They have to realize that decline is not an end to mission. Yes, they are mere shadows of their past. Yes, rethinking mission is difficult, for congregations are burdened by big or deteriorating buildings, smaller staffs, a paucity of young families, and a shortage of hope. But expansion is not the sole gauge of mission orientation. One problem with this thinking is the belief that, for congregations, all things are equal. But congregations are not in the same place, same stage, or same circumstance. That’s not reality.

Congregations may hanker for a technique that will bring about results they want to achieve; they want to replicate what has been discovered by someone else: “Give me a copy of the wonderful plans.” Seeing what those plans have done for others, they want the same result—but without going through the process that got the others to that point. The shortcut of imitation certainly bypasses a lot of pain. How churches hunger for precisely this situation!

Meaningful, lasting outcomes are the result of the journey and the learning that takes place. Maybe a word of caution should be stamped on all programs: “Not transferable.” Transition time is life’s curriculum. Being on the path opens new insight; being on the path, not the steps one takes, is the very condition necessary for learning.
… The process of thinking, testing, and exploring contains the lessons. Congregations need to remember that no handbook is available on freelancing mission. Only by going out, being there, and seeing from a fresh angle will the process lead to learning. Discovering how to respond to shifts and changes is the learning. Self-confidence is a byproduct. But growth is in the struggle, the push, and the journey.

Holiday Cards of Compassion and Connection
December 4, 2013, 8:14 pm
Filed under: Inspiration, Social Action & Social Justice | Tags: ,


A greeting card can mean so much to immigrants detained by ICE


Not all can visit the local immigrant detainees, incarcerated due to their undocumented status.  But anyone can send cards to one or two (or three!) of them at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.


The UU Faithful Friends / Amigos Fieles committee is launching Holiday Cards of Compassion & Connection. Any member can send a card and a brief message of remembrance to isolated detainees — 140 currently held in Sacramento.


To take part in this simple gesture that will mean so much to recipients, chat with JoAnn on Sunday, either between services or after the 11:15 service.  She will be at the right side of the worship hall and will even provide the cards if you’d like.

To learn more about Faithful Friends/Amigos Fieles, members and pledging friends of UUSS may call the UUSS Office to request a copy of the shared worship service that four of us did on August 18m, 2013.



Trees Full of Angels or Infinity in Your Hand — UUSS Sermon

 UU Society of Sacramento

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Shared Offering for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes

Dance with Music:  Sarah Bush Dance Project with “Sing When the Spirit Says Sing” by Sweet Honey in the Rock and “The Last Bird” by Zoe Keating.

Hymns:  #126 “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” #21 “For the Beauty of the Earth,” #163, “For the Earth Forever Turning.”

Reading (followed by “The Last Bird”) with Dance: William Blake:

To see a World in a grain of sand,

And a Heaven in a wild flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour…



“A spiritual awakening is taking place in the world today.”  So writes Macrina Wiederkehr, a Catholic sister who lives in a Benedictine monastery in Arkansas.  She says: “An authentic yearning to touch the depths of who we are is urging people to seek out ways to rekindle the soul.”   In her book about “seeing the holy in the ordinary,” she finds this a “promising sign” for the future.  But as a spiritual teacher, she does offer a warning.

She explains:  “I am concerned about the many people today who are lured to extraordinary spiritual phenomena that are manifested, … in sensational ways.  Stories abound about visions and trances, weeping statues, rosaries turning gold.  Celestial beings are emerging everywhere, and angels are in danger of becoming trendy.”  In other words, across the wide landscape of spirituality, she sees a few “cautionary flags.”  These flags look like angels. Too many angels for her, and she’s a nun!  Too many supernatural events.

Of course, questionable accounts of unnatural occurrences have been splashed on the cover of tabloid newspapers in the supermarket for decades.  Now the Internet provides a nonstop supply of sensational spirituality.  This may not be just a harmless and amusing distraction.  It can be spiritually dangerous.  This is because, when we look outside our own lives for spiritual validation, we may neglect our own gifts.  We may diminish the ability to find meaning in our own lives and comfort in our everyday surroundings.  When we seek the sensational, out there, we cannot explore the depth of our own souls, in here.

The nun seems to say:  You want miracles? Go down to the river or up to the mountains.  Visit a local park, or a nature preserve, and look up at the trees.  You want angels?  A tree is “full of angels,” Sister Macrina says.  She’s talking about leaves, flowers, and fruit, about the miracle of growth and the web of nature.  There is holiness in the here and now.  Whether we identify as religious or not, too many of us today are suffering from a lack of noticing the grace of the world at hand.

Yet she is not blaming us, only diagnosing a problem for us.  She says:  “The fast pace of our lives makes it difficult for us to find grace in the present moment, and when the simple gifts at our fingertips cease to nourish us, we have a tendency to crave the sensational.”

Yes.  It’s hard to find grace in the moment if we’re struggling “in the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life,” as Henry David Thoreau pictured our situation, and he was writing back in 1854.  We live with a stressful pace of life, and the distractions of technology, media, and a consumer culture that doesn’t know the meaning of enough.  We feel the tensions of economic uncertainty, the growing inequality of wealth, the pressing demands on our time.  We see suffering around the world, and in our own towns and in our circles of care and kin.

So much can weigh on the spirit.  We need spiritual comfort and nourishment.  I know I need it, and I think some of you feel the same way.

Sister Macrina’s message reminds me of something from our own religious tradition.  The Unitarian Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson made a similar pronouncement.   In 1838, a few years after he left parish ministry, he spoke to the graduating class at the divinity school at Harvard, nearly all of them freshly minted Unitarian ministers.

In Boston in 1838, Unitarianism was barely two decades old.  Many Unitarian ministers still believed that Jesus of Nazareth had conducted supernatural miracles.  Even some Harvard professors still taught the miracle stories as literally true events.   To the Boston Unitarians, even though Jesus was not God, the fact that Jesus conducted miracles was evidence of God’s favor.  The miracles proved that the moral teachings of Jesus were true.  This name for this doctrine is supernatural rationalism.

Emerson would not have it.   According to Emerson, “the word Miracle,” as most churches use the word, “gives a false impression.”  By their worn-out literalism and limited imaginations, he said, they’ve turned the word miracle into a  “monster.”

A true miracle is the life of a human being, of every human being.  A true miracle is visible through nature.  A miracle, he said, must be on par “with the blowing clover and the falling rain.”

Whatever faith you preach or practice, Emerson said, “[that] faith should blend with the light of rising [suns] and of setting suns, with the flying cloud, the singing bird, and the breath of flowers.”

You want miracles?  Go outside on a clear night and look up!  Emerson said:  “Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their almost spiritual rays. [Any person] under them seems a young child.”

The Reverend Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar is a Unitarian Universalist from New Hampshire.  She says that children are inherently spiritual beings.  Naturally open, children are predisposed to experience the world as a place of mystery and wonder.  They are “natural poets and natural mystics,” she writes.  They can become totally absorbed in the progress of a caterpillar or the movement of the clouds, losing all sense of themselves.” (Nieuwejaar, 65)

Nieuwejaar recounts a story about Howard Ikemoto, who is an artist.  He said: “When my daughter was seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work.  I told her I worked at the college, that my job was to teach people how to draw.  She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, ‘You mean they forget?’” (Nieuwejaar, 62, citing Gregg Levoy)

As an adult, Henry David Thoreau kept and cultivated his childlike wonder.  As another of our Transcendentalist spiritual writers, Thoreau devoted his time to doing just enough ordinary work to sustain his life, and used the rest of his time to reflect on his life.  Thoreau said:  “I see, smell, taste, hear, [and] feel that everlasting Something to which we are allied, at once our maker, our abode, our destiny, our very Selves.”

The good news from our Unitarian Transcendentalists is this:  everyone has the right to a sense of connection to life, to all the forms of life around us, to the Mystery of life.  We may not wish for mystical visions, but in any case the sense of connection and wonder is not the privilege of the few.  The wonder of life should be available to all, here and now.  It should be open to us if we but open our hearts!

Yet some people may still ask—what’s all the spirituality stuff about?  Some of us may feel left out, uncertain, non-mystical, un-poetic, even spiritually inadequate.  Sometimes I can be one of those people.  As today approached, I worried what to say in my sermon about seeing the holy in the ordinary.  But then I decided to take some time, a few moments every day to slow down and watch. Slow down, take some time.

As I sit in the morning light at the kitchen window of my apartment, I decide to trust that miracles will reveal themselves to me, or at least I will be able to say I tried to be open to them.   Just outside the window between the sidewalk and the street is a big tree with narrow tapered leaves.  This week, they look so yellow and full on the tree, even though the tree has shed many already.  A few of its leaves still have a trace of green in them, but mostly it’s a big ball of yellow fire coming out of long, rough angled brown limbs.  Wow–I have a kitchen window with a big bright yellow tree just outside!  How did I forget that?  Even though I’ve sat at that window more than at any other window in my apartment, for five years, it feels as if I haven’t noticed it before.  Noticing.  I want to remember to notice.

This is what I take from the notable spiritual teachers of our heritage and those less famous ones who on Sunday mornings are seated in the chairs of this sanctuary, this Unitarian Universalist congregation.  If we are open to noticing the feel of every day and every night we’re given, maybe we can sense the power and energy around us.  If we decide that we wish to take some time to slow down, sometimes, we might be surprised.

Thoreau said:  “We are surrounded by a rich and fertile mystery.  May we not probe it, pry into it, … a little?” (Journal 1851)

Thoreau did his daily chores, but he did not let practical concerns get in the way of his open study of life.  He said:  “The things immediate to be done are very trivial.  I could postpone them all/ to hear this locust/ sing.”  How wise he was!  And how lucky, that he did not have to worry about making a house payment.  And how convenient that he did not have children to shuttle to school or medical appointments or athletic practice.  How lucky that he did not have to prepare a sermon to deliver on Sunday!   His simple and single life made it easier.             Yet he was not writing to boast about his spiritual depth, he was writing with care and compassion for our shared spiritual hunger.  He was suggesting:  Just say that you wish to notice life’s miracles.  Just be open.  You deserve it.  You deserve to be nourished by the ordinary miracle of life.

This past Thursday morning I rose early, shaved and brushed my teeth, and walked to the nearby YMCA to exercise.  It still was mostly dark outside, but sunrise had begun.   I walked to the corner and turned east.  The dawn sky was cast with a bold purple-pink light.  A long stretch of wide, flat ruffled clouds glowed with that beautiful color.  I gasped:  “Oh my God.”  I usually don’t speak out loud when I’m walking alone, but I did.  As I turned another corner, heading south, I kept my eyes on that view, knowing that as the sun and clouds moved the view would not last much longer than my walk to the Y, where in any case I would be indoors.

I must confess that right after I gasped at the texture and color of the dawn, I felt a sense of relief.  I thought:  “Sermon illustration!  I found an ordinary miracle with days to spare before Sunday. Whew.”  Perhaps I was not as deficient in the spirituality department as I had feared.

Perhaps it made a difference that I had told myself that I wanted to notice.  I had made the intention, had actually said that I wish to be open to seeing ordinary miracles.

There are many ways to experience the holy in the ordinary.   Whatever that might be for you….  Merely take time–with others or by yourself–for a practice, an activity, or a pastime that has no obvious practical purpose.  Just say to yourself that you wish to be more open to the miracle of ordinary life.

Thoreau asked:  “What kind of gift is life unless we have spirits to enjoy it and taste its true flavor?”  [8/10]

There are many ways to make our spirits ready to enjoy the gift of life.  Let us remember that we deserve this enjoyment.   You deserve it, and I do, and so does everyone alive on this earth.   May we strive to shape a world more just and fair, in which the whole human family can taste the true sweet flavor of life.

May we live with openness to the miracles of the ordinary day.  And, being open to them, let us enjoy them, and give thanks.   So may it be.              Blessed be, amen and Namaste.

Works Cited

Emerson, Ralph Waldo.  “Divinity School Address,” July 15, 1838.  See

Nieuwejaar, Jeanne Harrison. Fluent in Faith. Boston: Skinner House, 2012.

Thoreau, H. D. A Week on the Concord & Merrimack River  and Walden.

Wiederkehr, Macrina. A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009, p. ix.



Wow, am I tired! But a good tired. Happy Thanksgiving!

Our holiday at UUSS began with a brief circle worship in the Fahs Classroom, a first for us since I’ve been here and perhaps for a very long time.  We had 14 folks for candle lighting, music, silent contemplation, readings of scripture, poetry, devotional reflections.  We remembered those who are departed and named those who are away from us this holiday, and named what we are thankful for.

Then the decorating of the main hall began, and more folks came in to bring dishes of food, plus the turkeys and hams that volunteers had cooked at home.  We began just after 2 PM with words of welcome, a reading from the back of the hymnal and a song.  We had about 75 people, including at least four grandchildren of church members plus friends and relatives of members.  We had new and long time members.  Every table had its own unique centerpiece.

And we had food.

There was WAY too much food.  And I ate WAY too much food.  I rested and table hopped before feeling that I could justify any dessert.  By then there was less of it.  Just as well.  For the past two hours we have been cleaning, tossing, recycling and storing.  Thanks to Randy, who comes every year and runs the dishwasher/sanitizer for hours.  He’s still there. Soon I’ll go over and lock up the building and set the alarm.   My feet are tired.  I can’t imagine that I can sit and read without dozing off and it’s not even 6 PM!

God bless us, every one.

Local Holiday Music Concerts or Performances by Unitarian Universalists and our Friends in Local Groups

Feel free to add your choral, instrumental, dance, theater or other group’s blurb for holiday events. Include the website address, of course.  You may email it to me for posting, or just post it yourself by putting it in the Comments section.   I will publicize a link to this blog posting so UUSS folks can go to one place to see all that is available.   Break a leg!  –Rev. Roger


Kathryn Canan  is a long-time member of UUSS, a former Board member and Adult Enrichment Chair, and now serves on the Candidating Committee.  She’s also a musician in many venues and a teacher.

Kathryn Canan, recorders and flutes:
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2 p.m., Capitol Rotunda with Renaissance Choir of Sacramento, Free.

Saturday, Dec. 14, 7 p.m., Pioneer Congregational Church, Songs of the Season, benefit.

Sunday, December 15, 1-2 p.m. Capitol Rotunda with Sacramento Recorder Society

Thursday, December 19, 7 p.m., with Renaissance Choir of Sacramento, Christ the King Retreat Center, Citrus Heights.

Wed, Dec. 11 and 18, 5 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 22, 1:30, caroling at Nevada City Victorian Christmas

Rick and Paul are lay leaders from the North Bay UU Fellowship in Napa.  They come all the way to Sac to rehearse and sing with the Gay Men’s Chorus.  Rick and I have been talking about having them sing at UUSS on a Sunday in 2014.  

The Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus will be presenting its concert, “Cool Yule (A Big Band Theory)” early next month.  Performances will be at the First United Methodist Church of Sacramento, corner of 21st and J Streets in Midtown, these dates and times:
Friday, December 6 — 8 p.m.
Saturday, December 7 — 8 p.m.
Sunday, December 8 — 4 p.m.
Tuesday, December 10 — 8 p.m.
The program features a lot of seasonal tunes arranged with a big band jazz/swing style uptempo feel — you’re sure to love it!  There will be some surprises on the bill as well.
Tickets are $40 for VIP seating, which includes a pre-concert reception; or $25 for general admission seating.

Please visit to purchase tickets.  They are also available at The Gifted Gardener, 18th and J Street.


Meg Burnett is a member of our UUSS Board of Trustees and our Program Council.  She’s our volunteer choir director.  And she is president of her chorus organization.

River City Chorale:  “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Directed by Dale Morrissey

Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 7:30 PM–Northminster Presbyterian Church, 3235 Pope Avenue, Sacramento

Saturday, Dec. 7, 7:30 PM–Faith Presbyterian Church, 625 Florin Road, Sacramento

Adults $15 if preordered, at the door for $20.  Youth under 12 are $5.

Discount for orders of 10 or more tickets.  see to order yours!


Rev. Lucy Bunch–our Assistant Minsiter at UUSS– is a member of Sacramento Master Singers.  She often leads our singing on Sunday morning or offers an a capella solo!  

Sacramento Master Singers:  The World of Christmas

Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, at 3:00 PM; Saturday, Dec. 14, at 8:00 PM; Sunday, Dec. 15, at 3:00 PM; Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7:00 PM.  All the above held at St. Francis Church at 26th and K Streets. Order tickets at

Master Singers Children’s Holiday Concert:  Jingle All the Way!  Saturday, Dec. 14 at 2:00 PM.  Order tickets at

Master Singers:  The World of Christmas at the Harris Center in Folsom–December 22.  Order tickets at

#5 (with 3 listings!)

Tom Derthick, UUSS member and bassist

12/7-8: performances by the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento. As opposed to various styles of holiday music, CMS always does a all-Baroque concert of popular classical concerti and chamber music. This year features Bach’s E major violin concerto with Kineko Okimura, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with William Barbini. I will be in the tutti (backup band). Saturday at Bet Haverim Temple, Davis; Sunday at St. Paul’s Church (right next to the Convention Center, 15th and J); both shows 7:30.

Also opening this weekend: Sacramento Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Last year, the ballet used recorded music for all performances to save money. Needless to say much December employment for professional musicians was lost, and many audience members were very disappointed. This year they are trying an experiment: for about half of the shows, live music will be provided by the Sacramento Philharmonic (12/7, 8, 12, 15, 20 and 23) at a slightly higher ticket price…but without the riveting score performed live, you miss half the experience! Be sure you support the live music shows!

Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra December 14th, 8 PM at Memorial Auditorium–the premiere choral ensemble in Sacramento presents its annual Home for the Holidays Concert. Don’t be late and miss the candlelight entry of the chorus! Happy Holidays! Hope to see you at one of these events!

Death, Loss and the Spirituality of Mortality, sermon at UU Society of Sacramento, Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hymns:  #1003, “Where Do We Come From?”;

#123, “Spirit of Life”; #86, “Blessed Spirit of My Life”.  Also, parody of “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Nicaea) by Christopher Raible:  “Coffee, Coffee Coffee,”  verses 1 and 3.

Choral Music: Autumn Vesper, words by Emily Bronte, music by Audrey Snyder

Shared Offering  for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes.

Testimony by Diane O.

Jean’s mother, Lucille, was lying silently in her bed, her breathing labored, and her face was pinched in pain.    Her morphine didn’t seem to help much.

We kept her lips moisturized, and frequently dabbed her face with a warm washcloth.  We placed a soft cuddly toy in her hand to hold.  We had created an altar of sorts on her rolling bedside table with her favorite objects, fresh yellow roses in a vase, and photos of those she loved including a picture of her husband, Warren. When we repositioned her each time we made sure Warren was in her line of sight.

We made up the futon and spent the night in Lucille’s room.   We startled throughout the night anytime Lucille’s breathing seemed to stop but then she would take in a deep breath.   By morning we were all exhausted.

Jean had left the room momentarily as I finished repositioning Lucille.   I leaned over and carefully wrapped my arms around her so I wouldn’t add to her pain.  I cried as I told her I loved her and was glad she had come to live with us.

I told her I loved Jean and would take care of her for the rest of my life.

I whispered to her… that I was worried about her struggling so hard to live.   I Told Lucille that it was time to dance a Strauss waltz with Warren again.  He was waiting for her, and she would be safe.

I tucked her covers, wiped my tears off of her face and gently kissed her cheek. When Jean returned we left her alone to quietly rest while exiting through the door of her bedroom onto the porch.   A few minutes later I looked through the door and noticed the cuddly toy on the floor.  –Jean!!!!!!!    We rushed to her bed.  Lucille had moved on to a gentler plane of existence to join her husband and family.

Good-bye, Lucille, and thank you for teaching us about the honors we are bestowed in life.

[Addendum: Death and I are familiar old friends.  Death is as beautiful in its pain and sorrow as is the joy and promise while holding a newborn covered with placenta fluids screaming its first cry.   This little story is meant as an adieu  to Lucille as much as a thank you for teaching us to live, dance, laugh and cry with honor when life can be a struggle. ]


Sermon by Roger Jones

            This has been the weekend of All Souls Day and All Saints Day in the Christian calendar.  In the Pagan tradition, it is the time of Samhain (SOW-in), the time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest.  In Mexican cultures, the Day of the Dead, or el Dia de los Muertos, is a time to laugh at mortality, remember our ancestors, and celebrate life with art, music, food and fellowship.  Our mortality is the cause and the reason for all of these ritual days

            We are all bound together–all of us–in the common experience of being alive, and knowing that each one of us will die, and having to make some response to this reality.  With those words I begin most of the memorial services at which I officiate.

            Death comes to us all.  Loss hurts us all, sooner or later.  Yet it is not easy to talk about death, especially if it’s near.  To speak about our vulnerability to loss and death… perhaps this makes us feel even more vulnerable.

            Yet when we take the risk to open our heart, we may gain a stronger heart.  When we dare to reach out in times of loss or fear, we may find a warm embrace, a kind word, or a quiet, listening presence from another person.  To exchange such gestures of welcome and honesty is a spiritual gift.  It can be a source of spiritual growth.

            All of us can be enriched by the honest gifts of sadness and love, the mix of memories, gratitude, grief, and fear which are part of dying and part of mourning a loss.   One of the gifts of being a minister is the invitation to hear what it means to lose a dear friend, colleague, family member or another loved one.  Also, it is an honor to bear witness to the feelings and thoughts of a congregation member who is facing the end of life.   These experiences have enriched my life.  They nourish my spirit, with gratitude for the gift of life and for the moments I have with others.  As a young person, I was afraid of life in many ways.  As a minister, learning about loss, death and grief has deepened my love of life.

            I think the main ingredient is honesty.  I learned this the hard way, and only in looking back over the years.

When I was nine years old and my brother was in his junior year of college, he married his high school sweetheart.  This was against our father’s wishes and loud protestations, but I had a new friend in my young sister in law. Her name was Lynn.  I had fun watching movies and shopping with her, and going to stay with them in their new mobile home.  Within two years they had a baby boy, and I was an uncle.  They gave him my middle name.  Not long after that, my brother’s wife began having serious physical symptoms.  Weeks and weeks of tests at the university medical center revealed a rare type of cancer.  Because my father was a physician, he learned from his medical colleagues that her prognosis was fatal.  He told my mother; Mom told her sister.  In a moment of upset, Mom told me, sort of.   Standing over the bathroom sink, crying as she brushed her teeth, she blurted out:  “Lynn might have something terminal.”   Nobody else in my or my sister in law’s family heard it straight, including her.   My parents did not talk any more with me about what was happening.

Photographs from her baby son’s first birthday party show that the illness and the treatments for it had withered and weakened Lynn.  Three months later, she died.  I don’t know how or when the denial about her fatal condition ended.  I think she asked “Am I going to die?” and they told her no.

Those were the days when medicine was heroic and its inadequacies were cause for hushed words.  As I recall, many people with a terminal diagnosis spent long stretches in hospitals and often died there.  Death was a shameful enemy, something to fight so much that you couldn’t let up for a moment, even to talk about it.  As a boy, I didn’t know how to talk about it, didn’t know when or with whom it would be okay to talk about my sister in law’s prognosis, or my fears, or my love for her.  I was an invisible witness.  I was not an invited or included participant in this family drama, even though I had been foretold its conclusion. I was thought of as too young to visit her in the hospital.  Had I been able to go, it might have been a source of comfort for her, as well as for me.

When she died, my brother called my parents on the phone from the hospital.  I listened in on the telephone extension in another room.  After my parents expressed their sorrow, Mom told her son, “Come on home, Honey.” Then my mother called her sister, long distance. I listened in on their conversation too.  I wanted to hear how you say these things, and how one reacts to the news.  Just after my aunt said “Hello,” Mom said, “She’s gone.”  My aunt let out a sigh full of pity.

My sister in law died with the best medical care in the state, but maybe not the most complete care.  It was a time when people felt censored from speaking openly about death.  It was a time when the concept and practice of hospice care was just coming out of exile.    In the western world the first hospice opened as early as the 14th century, in Europe.  Of course, people around the globe have been dying at home instead of in an institution through most of history, with family and care-giving team often one and the same.  The modern ministry known as hospice has made it natural once again to face dying and mourning with honesty, and to face it as an opportunity for growth.

Hospice teams include medical, social service and religious professionals and trained volunteers. They strive not only to ease the last few months of patients’ lives, but to help them experience as much presence, kindness, truth and love as life can hold.

I wonder how my sister in law’s family and my family might have been enriched by a more open approach when she was dying. Instead of keeping everybody apart in our separate fears and sadness, we could have invited one another to come together.

The hospice movement has made a tremendous difference in how North Americans live with loss, and live through our own dying process.  Hospice programs are sustained by voluntary donations and by government grants, in recognition that health care includes care for our experience of the end of life.   Even if we are not a client of hospice care, its philosophy has affected our medical establishment and legal system.  No longer must we expect that every effort will be made to prolong life when the prognosis is that someone will die.  No longer are so many people afraid of talking openly about the coming separation.  We have more tools and encouragement to speak about loss as it approaches, to express appreciation, regrets, and forgiveness, to say farewell and “I love you.”

Of course, many of us die unexpectedly from an accident or murder or another violent cause, or from a sudden health crisis.  But many of us have a slow decline into death.  If this is how my death will occur, I hope to benefit from hospice care when my time comes.  The humorist Woody Allen says:  “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  Thanks to the hospice movement, more people have more courage to be closer to death when it happens, at our own passing or in losing a loved one.

Orson Scott Card is a contemporary science fiction writer.  In his short story Mortal Gods, space aliens have come to earth.  They have established themselves in American cities as friendly neighbors. They build homes that look like houses of worship—temples, churches, mosques.  The aliens, however, are not human-like at all.  They are slithering green blobs that look like bunches of seaweed. These smart aliens inform humans that it’s not feasible for us humans to visit any planet with life on it, as getting to the closest one would take 500 years.  That’s how long it took the aliens, and the reason they could make it here is that they never die.  They are immortal.

The aliens meet an old man, a human one, and they explain their observations of us.  When human beings die, we leave behind the things we have created, built, given away.  The aliens, on the other hand, must endure the decline and loss of everything they create and give.  Nothing they build can outlast them.  For this reason, they worship human beings.  To these alien observers, because we are not immortal, we are worthy of worship.  Death causes us to fear, but it gives them cause to revere our lives.

Even though you and I are not slithering green bunches of seaweed, we can learn from them, from those long-lived aliens.  We can praise and honor human life precisely because it is going to end.  We can affirm life, even in the face of death and even with the knowledge that we will lose what we love.  We can affirm life by going places in our world, communities, relationships and our hearts where life is not fun or clean or easy.

As the Dalai Lama writes: “No matter what is going on,” the opportunity remains to “develop the heart.”  Every day holds opportunities to develop the heart, pay attention, listen to life, listen to others, show kindness.  Every day is a new chance to be generous, and to speak with courage, honesty and love.  Life continues to offer such opportunities, both in the fullness of health and in those times when we face the end of life or the loss of another person.

We are all bound together–all of us–in the common experience of being alive, and knowing that each one of us will die, and having to make some response to this reality.   Let our response be that of coming together across the gaps of grief, uncertainty, or fear.

By coming together we affirm that we are connected.  Connected to one another and to all those beyond these walls, those living on this earth, those who are gone, and those who are here after us.

Together, let us rely on the power of love to help us face mortality with grace and embrace life with gratitude.  Together, may we strive to live with honesty, generosity, kindness and courage.

So may we live.  So may it be.  Amen and blessed be.

at UUSS, Which Minister Oversees What Programs and Staff Positions?

By the Acting Senior Minister

Given the revenue challenges in last spring’s budget preparations, we have only 1.5 ministry positions this fiscal year, versus the two ministry positions that UUSS enjoyed the prior 10 years.   Fortunately, we have an ideal match for our needs in our Assistant Minister, the Rev. Lucy Bunch.  She is here on a year’s contract on a half-time basis.

Lucy supervises our Bookkeeper, Facilities Coordinator, and Congregational Support Coordinator, who in turn oversee other dedicated staff members.  She leads our biweekly staff meetings.   Lucy provides ministerial support to the Finance Committee, Property Management, and Implementing the Master Plan (for our building project and the related relocation for the year when the renovation takes place).

Lucy will preach eight times this year and is at worship on the Sundays when she is here.  Often she leads a hymn or sings a solo.  As time allows, Lucy provides support to other committees.  She’s available for pastoral care, especially for any stresses and needs related to the many transitions we have begun or have gone through already.

As Acting Senior Minister, I supervise the Assistant Minister, the music program and staff, and the dedicated Religious Education Coordinator, who in turn supports our nursery staff and many volunteers.

I provide ministerial support to our volunteer teams for Stewardship, Religious Services, Music, Adult Enrichment, Child/Youth Religious Education, Social Responsibility, Family Promise, “Faithful Friends” Jail Visitations, Lay Listening Ministry, Membership/Greeters, Theater One, fundraisers, and the Endowment Trust.

I write the Ministerial Message for emailing to all.  I lead the Newcomers’ Orientation to Membership.  What am I forgetting?

I provide much of the pastoral care and, sadly, conduct our memorial services.  I’d like to do some baby dedications, soon!  In the senior minister position, I continue to be the minister who oversees Religious Education and All-Ages Community Building.  You could say that I am still a family minister–but for me, “family” now means the whole congregation!

Lucy and I both serve as ex officio members of the Board and Program Council and meet with the Executive Committee, which gives us input on management issues.  We share a Committee on Ministry, which meets monthly to reflect on the pulse of UUSS and the congregation’s overall ministry.  Lucy and I meet often, as well

I appreciate her wisdom, talents, commitment and energy!  I appreciate all the staff and volunteers who serve UUSS!

See you in church,


“Unitarian Universalism” and “Unity” Churches — similarities and differences

Sometimes people will ask me if UUism is the same as Unity.  It’s not the same, but there are several similarities. 

When I began a spiritual search as a young adult in a new city in 1985, I visited both a Unity Church and a UU Fellowship regularly.  I took a night class using the book The Story of Unity.  I liked both congregations, and though I retained a couple of friends in Unity, I was drawn to make a commitment as a member to the UU Fellowship.  At the time the UU congregation had a more explicit and regular mention of social justice and issues of the common good–a more external focus than an inward one.  Since then, I chose to pursue spiritual growth through various avenues, and our UU movement has expanded its embrace of spiritual and theological exploration, while never leaving behind the urge to build a more just world and promote understanding among different religions.   I think local Unity Church congregations may be less socially conservative than some of them used to be, and I know many of them have done good work in community service and interfaith relations.

Here is my take on the differences.  

Unitarian Universalism (UUism) has been more of an institution-based movement from the beginning, while Unity has been more of a message-based movement, with an extensive publishing outreach that touches people beyond its churches.  Of note is Unity’s “Daily Word” devotional booklet.

The Unity School of Practical Christianity was founded by a married couple in the late 1800s, as part of the New Thought Movement, which includes Christian Science.  Unity started as a movement, and became a denomination.  Its Unity Village headquarters is in Kansas City.

Unitarianism was a theological break within congregational churches, rejecting Calvinism, starting in the early 1800s.  While William Ellergy Channing delivered a foundational sermon in 1819, a manifesto of sorts, entitled “Unitarian Christianity,” there were many other founders of this liberal Protestant sect in the Congregational churches in Massachusetts.  The use of reason in studying scriptures, the humanity of Jesus, and the dignity of every person were founding ideas.  Less than 20 years later, the Transcendentalists added more ideas to the tradition.

 Universalism also was a revolt against Calvinism, and it started in the late 1700s.  It spread more like a movement of ideas, though new churches were started along the Connecticut River Valley.  Founding ideas were a denial of hell as a place for the dead and an affirmation of the boundless love of God as a loving, non-condemning parent.  Both denominations grew and spread across the continent, and merged in 1961.  Boston is the location of our denominational headquarters. 

Neither Unity nor UUism are considered orthodox or traditional expressions of Christianity, though both had Christian origins. 

Many conservative Christians explicitly say that both traditions are theologically and spiritually dangerous heresies.

Both UUism and Unity affirm goodness in everyone and divine love for all.  Both have a diversity of concepts of the divine in their literature and in their congregations.  However, there are very few UUs who like terms like Father or Lord, and Unity is often comfortable with it.
UUs include many self-describe Religious Humanists–who are atheists or agnostics and don’t respond to God language.  Most UUs, especially Humanists, disagree with the idea that there is a soul separate from the body. 

Unity, as a modern descendent of Gnostic theology, often includes expressions affirming that a soul exists apart from the body.  UUism does not have an official teaching on this, but I think most are not Gnostics.  Many UUs also are uncomfortable with the Course in Miracles, or would be if they took it.  It is popular in Unity and in Religious Science, another New Thought movement.

Unity and other New Thought churches affirm many of the spiritual ideas of the American Transcendentalists, many of whom were Unitarians, like Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson. 
But the spiritual philosophy of the Transcendentalists is only one thread of our heritage, and many UUs think it is too idealistic or too mystical for them.

Unity strives to be inclusive of the wisdom of all faiths, and so do we.   But Unity’s background and primary connection is Christian, and many of our Humanist atheist or Jewish UUs are uncomfortable with that connection on an explicit and regular basis.  While most UUs do recognize the liberal Christian origins of both sides of our UU heritage, they value our inclusive embrace of the wisdom of diverse traditions.  Humanists and theists and all others who are committed UUs join together in affirming the baseline of humanistic values in the UU faith tradition.

Most people who tried out a UU church and ended up in a Unity church made the move because they sought a more spiritual focus and spiritual practice, and explicit, regular talk about spirituality.  They may have found UUs too “cerebral,” and not “spiritual” enough–that is, with more head and less heart, and they found more heart in Unity.  I’m busy most Sundays, so have no recent eyewitness experience!

Unity affirms human possibility and human goodness, and we UUs strive to affirm that. However, Unity has a more optimistic view of human life which some UUs would find naive.
James Luther Adams (a minister and professor who saw the evils of the Nazi takeover first hand) and other modern UUs have stressed the tragic dimension of the human personality and human life.  In my experience, Unity teachings disavow evil as a real force in human life.

While many UUs would say that every event or accident or phenomenon has causes that can be explained, most of us would not agree that everything happens for a reason or according to a plan, while I often hear “Everything happens for a reason” in Unity and other New Thought traditions. Some things do not happen for a reason–they happen, and sometimes they are terrible.  We are here to reduce harm, ease suffering and help those to whom bad things do happen.

UU process theologians assert that there is an infinite variety of possible outcomes and events, rather than a plan for any person’s life or a plan for the planet as a whole.  Process theology imagines a Divine Lure toward the good, but the outcome is up to human choice, causal relationships in nature, and randomness.

I think the religious landscape is enriched by the presence of Unity churches and Unity publications.  We are not the same but our similarities are important and worth affirming.  Thanks to my Unity colleagues in ministry for all the leadership and care you provide. 

How to Remember Your congregation in Your Will


Many of our members have included UUSS in their trust, will or other estate planning documents.   This generosity ensures that your community will remain a strong presence of liberal religious values and spiritual hospitality in this region.

Share the following suggested wording with your estate planning attorney to add to your will or living trust if you would like to support the congregation’s mission, ministry and programs after your lifetime.  This information is provided by the UUA’s Office of Legacy Gifts.  Click the link for more information.   Here is the suggested language for a will.

“I give to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, 2425 Sierra Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95825, the sum of $_____  (or _____ percent of the rest, residue and remainder of my estate), for its general purposes.”

Cofee, Coffee, Coffee–Wake Up & Smell the Coffee– a Fun-raiser to replenish coffee at UUSS Nov. 3

This is a fun-raiser!  Bring a can or bag of drip grind coffee or make a tax-deductible donation of $10 or $20 to help us replenish our supply of condiments, cups, and tea.   Before each service on Sunday, November 3.  (This is the “fall back” day—set clocks back 1 hour on Saturday night.)

We’ll have fun with this fun-raiser, singing the UU song  “Coffee, Coffee, Coffee.”   Let me know if you think singing this parody hymn is a bad idea for the service.

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

(sung to the tune Nicaea (known in the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”)

words by Christopher Raible

Click here for the tune

And read the words here:

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee,

Praise the strength of coffee.

Early in the morn we rise with thoughts of only thee.

Served fresh or reheated,

Dark by thee defeated,

Brewed black by perk or drip or instantly.

Though all else we scoff we

Come to church for coffee;

If we’re late to congregate, we come in time for thee.

Coffee our one ritual,

Drinking it habitual,

Brewed black by perk or drip instantly.

Coffee the communion

Of our Uni-Union,

Symbol of our sacred ground, our one necessity.

Feel the holy power

At our coffee hour,

Brewed black by perk or drip or instantly.

Pastoral Prayer for UUSS service Sunday, September 8, 2013

On these warm and shining days, it is a blessing to draw the breath of life.   Let us give thanks for this day and for all our gifts.  Sitting near us are fellow seekers on the journey toward wholeness, joy and hope.  We give thanks for this time to be still and reflect with one another.

We come together, in part, for celebration of the joys and achievements of life.  On this opening day of a new year of Religious Education, we give thanks for a committed corps of adult volunteers and for so many full-hearted youth, children, and babies.   Today we say farewell to four homeless families after a week of hospitality here through Family Promise, and give thanks for the generosity of our many volunteers.  At this time, let us call out and give voice to the glad occasions of our own lives and of those people we celebrate.   PAUSE.

On many hearts are those who need healing and care.  We embrace those among us mourning a loss, living through transitions, tending an injury, worrying about jobs or finances, facing an unwelcome diagnosis, wrestling with addiction, or working a recovery program, one day at a time.  We send our love to you.  We send our love to all who are healing from surgery and other treatments, including Mary, convalescing after a broken hip.  Tami, home after surgery.  Ginny, regaining strength after a heart attack.  Jerry, back with us after a long bout of pneumonia while out of the country.  Now let us speak the names of others on our minds.  Whether whispering to ourselves or saying a name aloud, let us bring into the space of our sanctuary those who need our loving wishes. PAUSE.

On this day also we hear of wars and rumors of wars.  So many are living with fear, pain and loss in zones of conflict, including the civil war in Syria.  Wedded to power, the Syrian tyrant kills children and adults without mercy, even with chemical weapons, dealing death and agony to hundreds.  A hodgepodge of rebel forces, understandably outraged, now has grown to include extremists.  They use weapons, fighters and money from terrorists; they bring boys into battle and scar their souls.  We, as caring people, feel helpless.  American leaders debate an American military action, bombing.  Such an action seems to have no clear objective, but has many unforeseen risks.  Many of us may protest against military action, but we must also grieve the bloodshed that continues.  There is no good answer to this dilemma.  Who can say?  There may be no answer at all.  Certainly, no answer can make us pure.

We contemplate this tragedy in humility and in mourning.  Now two million Syrians, having fled the strife of their nation, try to stay alive and sane in refugee camps.  Let our hearts reach toward them.  Let our efforts our nation’s generosity hasten to their aid and their survival.  As we speak for nonviolence, let us pray for mercy.  As we long for mercy, let us act for healing in all the ways we can, wherever we may be.

In all the choices of life, let us act for healing and wholeness, and give thanks for all our gifts.  On these warm and shining days, as we draw the breath of life, let us remember how fragile is the gift of life.  Now let us take a minute of silence, just for the simple gift of being alive, here, together as members of the human family.  Amen.


Roots and Wings: Annual Ingathering and Water Communion

Ingathering Sunday, August 25, 2013

Prelude                                             Prelude from Suite Bergamasque

-Claude Debussy

Nicholas Dold, Guest Pianist

Invocation                                                              Rev. Lucy Bunch

We come together this morning to remind one another
                    To rest for a moment on the forming edge of our lives,
To resist the headlong tumble into the next moment,
        Until we claim for ourselves awareness and gratitude,
Taking the time to look into one another’s faces
        and see there communion: the reflection of our own eyes. This house of laughter and silence, memory and hope,
        is hallowed by our presence together.

-Kathleen McTigue

*Hymn #347                                                             Gather the Spirit

-Jim Scott

Welcome & Announcements                                Rev. Roger Jones

            Welcome to UUSS.  I am Roger Jones, happy to serve here as the acting senior minister.

Whoever you are, and however you arrived here, and whatever you may be seeking, please know that you are welcome here.  This congregation strives to be inclusive regarding the diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices reflected among us, as well as of gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural background, economic situation, and political opinion.  We strive to see diversity as a source of strength and richness.

With me today making the service possible:  Rev. Lucy, Religious Services Committee members Deirdre   and Diane  , and Erik  , our Sound Manager Ian , our new Board President, Linda .

Our two music staff members are not here today, so I am happy to introduce you to our guest pianist and a brand new Californian, Nicholas Dold. Read about him in Thursday’s Ministerial Message email or in the order of service.

We also give thanks to the ushers, greeters, coffee and tea servers– today and every Sunday.  We offer special thanks today to the salad makers for the lunch of salad, bread and dessert that will follow the service.  Thanks to Glory  and Keith for planning and putting this on, along with her volunteer team.  [Other groups will be invited to sign up to put on a Salad Sunday.]

This lunch is a mini-fundraiser for the church, with a sliding scale of donations ranging from 4 dollars per person to 4,000 dollars per person.  Trust me, this lunch will be worth it!

Three important conversations after the service, for your salad-munching consideration.  Please see the Blue Sheet.

Coming of Age orientation for youth interested in this special program for making friends across the generations, developing UU identity and building your own set of beliefs and articulating them.

There is an American Friends Service Committee presentation on the 49-day hunger strike in California prisons by prisoners protesting the widespread use of solitary confinement in our State.

Our Implementing the Master Plan team offers you a Master Plan Update – here in the Sanctuary.  First part of our master plan is our outdoor Labyrinth.  Diane Kelly-Abrams invites you to come Saturday morning till 2 PM on September 7 to help lay the bricks and finish the Labyrinth.

In two weeks, on September 8, we move back to a schedule of two Sunday services.  Religious Education for youth and children will take place during the 9:30 service.

Today’s service is our Ingathering Service, when we kick off a new church year in our congregation.  This is our welcome service.

If you have been away the past few months, welcome back.  If you have been taking the summer off from church…I hereby forgive you.  Almost completely.  And I say, welcome back.

If you are just now visiting us for the first time, checking us out, looking for a spiritual home, we extend a welcome to you.  Every person sitting here has been in the same situation as a first time visitor, and we have hung around and kept coming back.  We invite you to fill out a Newcomer Form at the Welcome Table in the back after the service, and to make a nametag for yourself after the service.  We invite you to please stay afterwards so we can get to know you.

Greeting with the Hand of Fellowship

Now please we ask you to put your cell phones on their most reverent setting for the rest of the worship service.  It would be nice to have an awesome review on Yelp about our congregation or a happy Tweet about the service, but please wait until afterwards.

Now I’d like to invite you to reflect on the freedom and power that each one of you has.  No matter whether you are a brand new seeker here or a long time church member, young or old, rich or poor or somewhere in the middle, you have the power to give an amazing and welcome gift to a few other people. And that is the simple gift of the words, “Good Morning!  Welcome!”  You could make it better if you introduced yourself by name.  Let’s try that now.  Please rise as you are able and reach out and greet a few other people.

*Hymn (words on insert)                       Spirit of Life/Fuente de Amor

-Carolyn McDade; Spanish trans. Ervin Barrios

Our Mission, Values and Covenant

We come together to deepen our lives
and be a force for healing in the world.

We value the goodness in everyone,
the openness and curiosity that illuminate that goodness
and the love and courage that sustain us.

We, an intergenerational community, travel together

with open minds, open hearts, and helping hands.

We value justice, compassion, integrity and acceptance.

We seek spiritual growth, intellectual stimulation,

caring and laughter.

To these ends we pledge our time, talents and support.

Commissioning of Rev. Lucy, Assistant Minister

See separate attachment

Prayer and Meditation                                                     Erik B.

Gift of Music                                  “Ondine” from Preludes, Book II

-Claude Debussy


Sermonette:  Roots and Wings


            Our song “Spirit of Life” sings: Roots hold me close; wings set me free.   That’s what I’d like us to think about for a few moments.  Roots and wings.

The writer Brian Nelson says:

People think of the roots of their lives as fixed, while their lives keep growing toward the sun.  But roots keep growing, too, in unexpected ways and directions….  Your story changes as you grow and learn new truths about yourself.  Even as your wings set you free, make sure that you keep track of the … ways in which [you are] grounded.

One of the reasons we seek out religious communities, I think, is to put down roots and spread our wings.  We practice new expressions of ourselves.  We find opportunities to learn, reflect, put our gifts to use, and stretch ourselves.  When we first get involved, we may not know what to expect, but if we stay engaged with anything for a time, opportunities for growth appear.  Opportunities to stretch our wings appear.

I first became a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation when I was 24, starting my first career, living alone in a new city in the middle of the Illinois prairie.  People in the church were friendly, and after my first visit, some called me by name.  It helped that I wore a nametag, of course, but as a new person in a strange town it was nice to hear the sound of my name.

After a number of visits, an usher asked me if I could help:  to hand out the order of service, and receive the offering.  A simple thing.  But let me tell you, the first few times I walked the offering basket up and down the aisle, I felt as self-conscious as if I’d been singing a solo or giving the sermon.  It was a small step, but I was exercising my wings.

The result?  I began to learn that I could stand up in front of a group of people I didn’t know… and survive.  And of course I would get quite used to standing in front of church people.  It started in that congregation.   One more thing:  I felt useful, I sensed more ownership of the place.  I started to grow roots.

Looking back, I find it odd that they asked me only to be an usher, but never to serve the coffee.  Was it easier to trust a newcomer with collecting money than the making coffee?  I don’t know, but I suspect all we had back then was instant coffee, anyway.  After all, it was 1985 in the Midwest.  The trend of really good, brewed coffee had not yet begun.

Also back in the 1980s, coming out as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person was more daunting and lonely than it may be now for a lot of people.  I had begun edging out of my own closet three years before, mostly to myself and my friends in college.  I had little practice speaking my truth in other settings.  Here I was, in a conservative city in a new job, and in a new church, in 1985.  But in truth, most of the barriers were in my own mind, most of the fears in my own heart.  I needed practice at being myself and feeling accepted.  Our church had a series of Sunday morning discussions–a small circle of chairs bringing together all those who showed up on a given day for a given topic.

One Sunday a lesbian therapist from the church led a talk about homophobia.  I found myself contributing to the conversation among these new people in a way I had not experienced before.   I used the words “we” and “us” when speaking about LGBT people, rather than keeping my words at a safe, academic distance.  Nobody shuddered; the walls did not fall in.

In that circle of kind people, I stretched my wings and hopped out of my nest of self-silencing.  It was a subtle change, but also part of a lifelong transformation into a happier human being.  Some time later, I began working on a committee, and became friends with a shy middle-aged woman.  She spoke to the group about her brother who had died, but spoke only vaguely.  Later she told me that he had contracted HIV, which was nearly always terminal back then.  Having been married, he had remained in the closet through death, and the family was holding this great secret, adding to the grief of their loss of him.  Yet for his sister, the burden lifted a bit when she spoke to me, because I had opened up.  Thanks to that church, she and I both grew stronger wings.  We both poked our heads out of the nest of our own fears and vulnerabilities.

A year later the Religious Education Committee asked me to teach Sunday school.  First and second graders.  Who, me?  I had barely seen a first grader in years, let alone try to have a conversation with one of them.

Did that committee see the potential in me?  Who knows–they merely might have been desperate.  Of course, desperate was how I felt.  Yet I had a co-teacher – a dad in the church.  He was easy going and reliable.  We had a book of lessons to guide us.  Some props required, but the lessons were planned.  We would talk every week in advance of Sunday:  who was leading what, who should bring what.  I survived that year, and so did they.  I learned things, and left with fond memories.

Not all congregations help everyone spread their spiritual wings, of course.   Especially when it comes to religious ideas and personal expressions of spirituality.  Some discourage the stretching of wings.

On the other hand, there are plenty of ways beyond a congregation to stretch your wings in 21st century North America:  hobbies, sports and cultural organizations, book clubs, Yoga studios, personal trainers, community colleges, website courses.  But here in a congregation you may wander into a way to spread your wings that you had not been looking for.   Rather than doing a methodical review of opportunities on local websites, and finding an opportunity that you choose, in a community like this one, in a congregation, the opportunity may find you.

You may grow in a way you were not seeking to grow.   Learn lessons you were not looking for.  A benefit of a larger congregation like ours is that we have diverse ways to participate, many opportunities to learn, grow, try out new things, serve, and help out.  You can get involved here in one activity for a while, and if later you feel ready to try something else, we’ll try to help you do that.

Outside of a congregation, if you drop out of a book club, you may not see the people again.  If you give up Yoga class, you may lose your Yoga classmates.  In a congregation, you might slip out of an activity, but you are still part of the community.  You have roots!

Even better, you can use one commitment in order to decline another.  I’m sorry, I can’t install paving stones in the labyrinth next Saturday out in the hot sun with you.  I’m co-leading a workshop at the UU church in Davis, which by chance is indoors in the air conditioning.  Sorry!

[In truth, the Labyrinth is in a well-shaded area here.]

For some folks, the opportunity for growth provided by the church could be… just sitting in one place for an hour.  For others, the stretching of wings could be the invitation to rise to your feet and sing with a room full of people.  Or to greet a few others and say, “Glad to meet you.”   Even if you don’t know for sure that you’re glad about it, you do know it feels good to be greeted, so you decide you will reach out.

In this place, we can watch one another stretch and reach and spread our wings.  We can encourage one another.  If we stumble or flop, we can catch one another.  If we are the ones flopping or falling, we might feel others easing us down to a soft landing.

And while all this is going on—the stretching of wings and the efforts at flight—something else happens.   We get rooted!  As we encourage others and receive encouragement, as we strengthen the wings, we deepen the roots.  We ground ourselves.  Roots grow as we add to our life story by the moments we spend with others.  At a shared meal, we nourish the roots, not only by the food, but also by the fellowship aroundthe food.

Roots grow as we let ourselves be known.

Most of us, I hope, begin to realize that we belong.  We experience a deeper sense of connection and rootedness, not only to a community, but to Life and the spirit and the whole human family.  As we stretch our wings, we deepen the roots of belonging to Life.

The presence of others makes a difference.  All those with whom we invest our time and our gifts can support the roots as we dig deep into life.  And we can do that for others.  You can do that.  Your smile, kind word, outstretched hand, your voice lifted in word and song, can do that.

On this Ingathering Sunday, I ask you to remember that your presence matters to others around you.  Even to those you have not yet met.

We come together to receive encouragement for ourselves, but by showing up, we also extend encouragement to others.  Just by coming together, you help others to dig deep roots into life and stretch out the wings of the spirit.   What a blessing it can be, when we come together.

So may it be.   Blessed be, amen, and Namaste.

Shared Offering

This congregation has a tradition of giving away half of every Sunday morning offering to an organization doing good work in the larger community beyond these walls.   For this month, the month of August, we share the offering with Sacramento Family Promise.  This is a program of hospitality and support services to homeless families with children, including school for the children and assistance in finding employment, stable housing and self-sufficiency for the parents.  Several families will be staying overnight with us in our church buildings for a week starting next Sunday night.

Your generosity today will keep this important program thriving and successful.  Thank you for making a difference.  The shared offering will now be given and received.

Offertory                                                       Cancion y Danza No. 1

–                                                                              -Frederic Mompou

Roll Call and Water Communion Ceremony—Rev. Roger

See separate attachment

           In a congregation of our size, transitions are always taking place, even in years when we don’t have a construction project in the works.

In addition to the good news of Lucy’s joining our ministry here, we also have the sadder news that Eric  has announced his resignation from the position of Music Director.   He’s held this job since 2011.  Last week he wrote to our Board and staff members, and his letter to the congregation will appear in the Unigram.   Next Sunday will be Eric’s goodbye service with us—one service at 10 o’clock.  The Music Committee is planning a farewell for him after that service, with cake.  Please come.  Also, if you would like to contribute money toward a gift, you can see Judy  today after the service.  Next week, we will honor and thank him, and I bet he will sing to us.

Other transitions in the life of our congregation, every year, include the passing of a number of members and friends, and family members of congregants.

You will find an insert in your order of service entitled In Loving Memory.  This is our roll call of those who have died since last year’s Ingathering Service.  If you think of a name that should be added, or if you have in mind others who died in years prior to the last one, we will take a moment after the roll call.  As we conclude, our Board President will pour into this empty vessel some of the water that has been collected from Ingathering Rituals in years past.  This jar includes the waters brought here by people we have known and lost over the years. And after today it will be mingled with the waters that you will pour into the vessel in a few moments.

Now please join with me in saying these names one at a time, with a brief pause to hear each name in our heart.

[Unison speaking of the Roll Call.]

At this time, if you are holding in your heart other loved ones who have died, we will take a few moments to hear the sounds of their names spoken into the space of our sanctuary.  [PAUSE.]  May their memory be a blessing.

[President Linda  pours about half of the tall jar into the cylinder.]

Water Communion Ritual—Rev. Roger

If you have brought a small container of water, this is the time when we will mingle the waters together.  Whether you are bringing or just remembering waters from oceans visited, glaciers, lakes, local rivers, or a local tap, you are invited to mingle the waters.

If you didn’t know about this ritual, forgot, or didn’t read the newsletter, there are containers of water up here for your use.  Please line up on both sides, and when it is your turn, use the microphone, alternating between right and left sides, and speaking loudly.  You may say “This water is from _________” or “This water represents ______.”

At the end I will say a blessing.

*Hymn   There’s a River Flowin’ in My Soul, and It’s Tellin’ Me that I’m Somebody

-Rose Sanders, arr. Kenny Smith

Led by Rev. Lucy

[words are at #1007 but we didn’t use the hymn supplement book]


           If you are comfortable, please join hands or just be with us for this Benediction.  At the end, you may be seated for the Postlude, or you may come back to the Lobby.

In the days to come, take the time to consider when and how you are deepening your own roots and your own sense of belonging to life and to community.

Consider opportunities to stretch yourself and try your wings.   And remember that your presence makes a difference.  Your presence can help others to find a place to put down roots, and can help us all to try our wings.

As you go out beyond these walls, may you see blessings around you, and may you know that you bring a blessing into this world we share.

Postlude                                             Prelude in c-minor WTC vol. 1
-J. S. Bach

Recap of UUSS Summer Worship Services 2013

This past summer we had a variety of service topics, styles and speakers.  We said farewell to Doug in June and to Eric in September.  

Religious Diversity:  Whether in sermons, special rituals, or with meditation, prayer or Yoga practice in the service, we covered a variety of religious traditions and perspectives, including longtime Unitarian Universalists and UU children showing how they put their faith into practice in the ways they try to make a difference in the world.


May 26–Grievable Deaths (Memorial Day), Roger’s sermon.

June 2 — Czech Unitarian Flower Celebration (Flower Exchange), Roger’s sermon, plus a 10-year salute to our Grasshopper Groundskeeping volunteers

June 9 — Doug’s last dialogue service

June 16 — Worship Committee Ensemble Service:  Father’s Day

June 23 — The Common Good?  Part 1 (Adam Dyer, Starr King School for the Ministry, with my participation)

June 30 — Doug’s Farewell Message (Concluding 13 Years of Ministry with UUSS)

July 7 — Rev. Bob Oshita, from the Buddhist Church of Sacramento

July 14 — The Death of Me: A play in place of a sermon, offered by Theater One with Roger’s participation on the other parts of the service

July 21 —  Becoming Love’s People (Rev. Meghan Cefalu of UU Community of the Mountains, in a pulpit exchange with me; Roger preached “Money and Life” in Grass Valley)

July 28 —  Yoga Etc.:  Care for the Body is Care for the Spirit with Paige, Roger, and UUSS Monday Yoga class members

August 4 — The Common Good? Part 2, with Adam Dyer

August 11 — Faith Theatricals:  Tell a New Story, by Rev. Sonya Sukalski, with Roger’s participation.  Blessing Ritual for Youth Departing Sacramento for the First Year of College

August 18 — Touching Hearts Through Bullet-Proof Glass:  Visiting Immigrants Held in Federal Detention in Local Jails:  Roger, JoAnn, Mary Helen, and Joan.  Blessing Ritual for Youth Departing Sacramento for the First Year of College

August 25 — Annual Ingathering Water Ceremony.  Buddhist Metta Guided Meditation by Erik B.  Roger’s Sermon “Roots and Wings.”  The Water Ceremony has Earth-based themes and was first created several decades ago as a feminist ritual at a UU women’s organization’s retreat.

September 1 — Modern Slavery:  Kids Making a Difference:  Roger, Aliya, Ben and other UU kids  from the Kids’ Freedom Club.  Pastoral Prayer by Petra.   Farewell solo by Eric S.

Now what?  Two services starting September 8:  9:30 and 11:15 AM.  Religious Education for Children and Youth at 9:30 AM.  Nursery Care during both services.

The Surprise of Emptiness–and the Reassurance of Others

Acting Senior Minister’s Newsletter Column  September 2013


I didn’t expect I’d miss them.

The male-female couple in the apartment across from mine moved away in May, taking the calico cat they had inherited from previous neighbors.  Due to allergies, they made her a bed in a box outside their door.  During the day, she lounged around in the courtyard.  She visited neighbors like me.  She was the community’s kitty.

They and I often chatted in passing, and waved to each other from our living room windows, but we never “hung out.”   After moved in, she brought me two cupcakes.  When I was away on a trip, they noticed, and asked about it.

That same week, the neighbor downstairs moved to a Section 8 apartment across town.  She had filled the courtyard by our two doors with flowers and potted plants.  I hid a key under her Kwan Yin statue.  She lent me her ironing board, and I lent her a listening ear now and then.  Now I have some of her surplus plants around my front steps.  We were friendly, but not friends.

I was not prepared for the feeling of personal emptiness after both of their apartments became empty.  I entered the courtyard on arriving home and look toward their doors.  Inside my place, I looked out the window for them.  Going out, I expected to greet the dozing kitty. But they were all gone.  I missed them.

Wow!  I had gradually become attached to them.  Their presence had been reassuring to me.   Part of what made my apartment into a home.

This makes me think of church, and all the people who choose to make it a spiritual home.  Most of us come here because we are seeking, hoping, and wanting to receive something for our own lives by participating.   That is natural.

But there’s more.

We get attached to each other, even if we don’t know everybody’s name.

By coming here on Sundays and at other times, by giving the gift of your simple presence, you are making a difference to others.

Your presence at UUSS is a source of comfort and reassurance to other people at UUSS, even people you do not know.

Thanks for all that you do and all that you give.  And most of all, thanks for being here!

See you in church,


PS—Don’t forget:  We switch to our two-service schedule on Sunday, September 8.  Religious Education starts, at the 9:30 service.  Thanks to our RE volunteers!

Birth, Breath, and Death — New Book on Lessons of Life as a UU Doula Midwife

I’ve been in conversation with Amy and thought I’d pass this along.  Read an excerpt of her book in the Fall 2013 UU World magazine.

Philosophy, religion and love infuse this thoughtful set of observations. –Kirkus Reviews
Amy Glenn has brought her own great sensitivity and heart to the portals where we enter and leave this life, and to the loving presence that is our source. Filled with a wisdom that touches into the great mystery, “Birth, Breath, and Death” is a poetic and beautiful reading experience. –Tara Brach, Ph.D. Author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge
I found myself re-reading, lingering, pausing to think and to settle into the peace and love that pervades every word in this little but powerful book. She probably doesn’t begin to consider herself A Teacher, but I would gladly sit at her feet and just soak up her inborn and learned wisdom. — Peggy Vincent, Midwife and Author of Baby Catcher
Amy Wright Glenn sensitively and poetically explores the nature of our most profound experiences. These reflections on life and death are not of dry theory but are informed by the depth and richness of her own life –both personal and professional.  Reading this book, I am brought ever closer to what I call “home” – that place of clear seeing and knowing from within, the place where I deepen my relationship to Self and the world around me.  –Sudha Carolyn Lundeen, Soulful Life Coach and Senior Kripalu Yoga Teacher Trainer
Amy has a poet’s heart and voice.  She integrates this lyric voice into a moving memoir of life experiences: her own and those she has witnessed in her work as mother, wife, doula, teacher, and chaplain.  I resonate with so much of her story, having made my own path out of constrictive religious bonds, and through my own passages of self-exploration and growth.  I also resonate with Amy’s ability to merge head and heart in her reflective process. I recommend Birth, Breath, & Death to any person who appreciates well-crafted narratives of growth and transformation, especially those professionals engaged in the work of spiritual and physical nurture. –Tedford J. Taylor, Clinical Ethicist, Chaplain, Director of Pastoral Care & Training
If you like narrative non-fiction about real women doing real work, their struggles, fears, failures and triumphs her story is for you. The energy of birth crackles on every page. Amy has delivered one amazing book. –Patricia Harman CNM, Author of The Midwife of Hope River, Arms Wide Open; a midwife’s journey and The Blue Cotton Gown
Amy Wright Glenn is a seeker who takes us on an adventurous journey in this compact, insightful and inspiring book. We travel with her into self-discovery and into the healing of wounds from childhood—the destination is an openhearted motherhood. She has written a lovely book. — Kathryn Black, Ph.D. Author of Mothering Without a Map
“Birth, Breath, and Death” is one extraordinary little book. I hope it will find its way into many, many hands: mothers-to-be, midwives, physicians, nurses, educators, doulas and healers of all kinds. Amy Wright Glenn writes about birth and birthing ourselves, as well as our babies. Five stars.” –Suzanne Arms, Director of Birthing The Future and Author of Immaculate Deception New York Times Best Book of the Year

Remarks to the Sacramento County Planning Commission


On our UUSS Master Plan and request for

a use permit for phase 1a of the building project

By Rev. Roger Jones
Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Monday evening, August 12, 2013

[Following presentation by Jeff Gold, Architect]


Good evening, and thank you for your service.

My name is Roger Jones and I having been serving as a minister to this congregation since 2008.  Currently I serve as the acting senior minister.

Our church was founded in 1868 by 17 families in Sacramento.  Now we are a community of more than 400 adults, children and youth.

In the late 1950s, when we bought our current property on Sierra Boulevard, that parcel and those around it were farmland, with a few houses.  We built our main meeting hall in 1960 and added an education wing a few years later.  Except for those few homes that already stood on large parcels, the neighborhood grew up around us.

The master plan that you are considering today would be our first major improvement and renovation in a half century.  We are excited about it.  Last year, members and friends of the church committed $1.3 million in a capital fundraising campaign for the project.  Gifts ranged from $100 to over $100 thousand.

From the outside, nearly every house of worship can seem like an institution that exists only for its members, with a focus on what goes on inside.  While we do have a caring community in the church, we are also committed members of the larger community.

Many of our local neighbors come over to our wooded campus for a brisk walk or a stroll away from the street.  Some neighbors walk their dogs, push their babies in strollers, or help their kids learn to ride a bike with training wheels on our parking lot.





Several not-for-profit organizations hold monthly meetings in our classrooms.  Often we’re the site for funerals or memorial services for leaders from the local community and other folks who may not have had their own house of worship.

In the 1960s, our church founded a community theater, which continues to stage two productions every year in our main hall, with good attendance from the larger community.

One thing I’m very proud of is this:

At every Sunday morning service we give away half of the freewill donations in the offering basket to local charities.  This is above and beyond what members pledge to the church operations.  In this last fiscal year we contributed $25,000 to 13 not-for-profit organizations through the Shared Sunday Offering and Christmas Eve giving.

During the holiday season we also collect food, clothing, toys and money for local charities.

Along with several other houses of worship, we are a host for Family Promise.  Four times a year we welcome homeless families with children for a week of dinners and overnight accommodations on our classroom floors.  During the day they attend support programs or school downtown.

Personally, I participate in Sheriff Jones’s Community and Faith-Based Advisory Board meetings, and in my first year on the job I attended the District Attorney’s Citizens’ Academy program.

Our annual budget supports 15 full-time or part-time staff members, all of whom are county residents.  A number of our employees live just walking distance from the church, and several families from our congregation are homeowners in the neighborhood.

Our vision of an improved and renewed church campus is a strong statement of our commitment to be involved citizens, responsible stewards, and good neighbors.

Thank you for your consideration of this vision.


Caring for the Body Is Caring for the Spirit, UU sermon, Sunday, July 28, 2013

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

-Songs:  “Ven, Espiritu de Amor,” “Comfort Me, O My Soul,”  “Touch the Earth, Reach the Sky.”

-Yoga Practice in the Service with Paige Labrie

-Reflection on a Tai Chi Contest by Lonon Smith

-Testimonies about Yoga Practice by Jerry & Patty

  • Reflections on Chair Yoga by JoAnn Anglin

What I like is how each lesson is both dependable and surprising.

The order of the moves varies, but they still have a flow and rhythm, so it becomes like following a partner in a dance.  And it ends up feeling logical, as if that is the perfect order for that day’s motions.

I walk for an hour 3 days a week, but aside from gardening and occasional house work, most of my ‘activity’ is done while sitting – writing, reading, driving, conversing or on the computer.

Then at chair yoga, I get a real sense of where my body is, and a heightened feeling of its core, the centering connection for all the other movements. And I think this helps my sense of balance overall.

Another good thing is that there is no emphasis on perfection – just an opportunity to do what you can, and maybe a little more.  We are many shapes and sizes and abilities in our chair yoga class, but our instructor helps us see our possibilities – in a way, she introduces us to parts of our bodies that we didn’t realize were there.

And finally, we get reminded to breathe deeply, which is not as automatic as one would think.

And you know, another word for breathing is ‘inspiration,’ the same root from which ‘spiritual’ comes.

-Pastoral Prayer and Meditation by Roger Jones 

Please join with me now for a time of contemplation in words and silence.

Notice your feet on the floor and your body in the seat.  Become aware of your breathing.            After these words, we will take a minute of silence, and the silence will be followed by music.

O spirit that breathes in us, we are alive!

Let us give thanks for this new day of life.

O love that moves in us, we are here.

Let us give thanks for each person around us,

as they give thanks for our presence.

O ground of being, hold us and sustain us

as we live each day with joys and sorrows, longings and hopes.  Help us take one step at a time, living one breath at a time.

O spirit of compassion, show us the strength dwelling in our hearts, the courage to behold the tragedies and perils of our human family….  Among other events, we call to mind the ongoing strife in Syria, the killings in Egypt, the train crash in Spain.

We strive to extend our care to those who grieve or those who suffer in body, mind or spirit within these walls with us, and those far beyond these walls.

We touch this earth with gratitude for its beauty, and we are mindful of its countless inhabitants, mindful of all the forms of life on earth.

Now in the moments to come, let us be in stillness and become aware of our breathing.  Aware of our neighbor’s breathing.  Aware of our common breath, which is the breath of life.

Let us take some time in that silence which is more than the absence of sound but which is the source from which we all emerged and to which we eventually return.   Amen.

  • Sermon by Rev. Roger Jones

An Effort

Paige has been teaching Monday Yoga here at our church for a number of years.  She also volunteers several Sundays a year in our Spirit Play religious education program.  [The fees for Monday Yoga are modest, and a good value, by the way.] We appreciate the gifts of her time and attention, and her grounding in her own spiritual practice.

People attending Paige’s Monday morning session at 10:00 use chairs for seated Yoga and for stability while standing—chair yoga.

On Monday night at 6:30, it’s the more familiar kind of Yoga.  We used to refer to these classes as Easy Yoga. Then I went to one of them!  “Easy” was not my experience.  So now I say, let’s call it Mat Yoga, and bring a mat if you have one.  Of course, when a new person enters a class, an attentive Yoga teacher like Paige will notice how the person is doing and will give extra encouragement and instructions that are more thorough.

But any kind of Yoga remains a challenge, and that is its purpose.  After all, the root of word YOGA, from the ancient Sanskrit, means an effort!  It also means a joining, as Paige told us.  But it is an effort, and of course all disciplines do take effort.

It’s the same for any spiritual practice as it is for any physical practice, whether it’s an exercise workout or physical therapy.  Honoring and caring for one’s inner life takes intention, effort, patience, and some discipline.   Honoring and caring for one’s physical body also takes intention, effort, patience and some discipline.

Walking and mindfulness

I have always enjoyed walking, and try to walk when I have that choice, such as when running an errand.  Rarely do I just go for a walk as a practice for its own sake, for just slowing down and calming my spirits.  But in classes on mindfulness meditation I’ve been taught that walking can bring us to the present moment, noticing every step, moving with intention and ease.

While walking, or even while running, we might notice our breathing, notice how the parts of the body work together.  We might also notice how the ground holds us up, how the earth sustains us, and welcomes us.  We might imagine the whole round earth on which we move, along with so many other beings.

If we walk with friends, children or other loved ones, we can appreciate the chance to be together, either walking briskly to get the heart pumping, or gently to slow down and take it easy—sometimes both.  We can talk, and then we can walk for in silence for a time.

Whether together or alone, running or walking is a way to cultivate peace and gratitude as well as to promote our health.  With mindfulness, if we pay attention to where we’re walking or running, we’re less likely to fall in a hole or trip on a rock.  I’ve done such things while running or walking, because I treated running or walking only as a way to get someplace, or only as a way to exercise.

With mindfulness, we can honor the motion of the body and see it for the miracle that it is.   We can do this by walking.  We can do this by any kind of exercise.  We can do this by sitting still.  Just by noticing the body and the breath, and giving thanks for it.  If we can do anything more than sitting still–if we have the time and the ability and health to exercise regularly–we can count ourselves lucky.

Swimming and life

The intentional exercise practice I have sustained the longest is swimming.   In my mid-twenties I started going to a pool a few times a week.  To be sure, there have been phases when I thought I was too busy.  And I have tried other exercises—weights, treadmills, stretching, even using a professional trainer.  But swimming is what I have come back to.

When I think about what happens to me in the pool, I can appreciate the spiritual experience of it… of being held by the water and buoyed up in it, of having a glimpse of a different world under water.  My favorite thing during the workout is to swim the first length of the pool all underwater, on only one breath.  Sometimes I can swim back, doing a second length on a second breath.  When I do, I feel my arms and legs screaming for oxygen.   I know I’m alive.

But I must be honest with you.  I didn’t start swimming as a spiritual practice.  I did it because I was afraid that I would die of a heart attack at a young age, like my father.  Just as when, during my 20s, I obsessively avoided salt and cholesterol, swimming laps was a fear-based habit and a fierce one, so I could stay alive.  There are worse habits, aren’t there!

I’ve done my lap swimming at various YMCA facilities in the cities in which I’ve lived.  Many private health clubs have pools, and they may have newer, bigger facilities, but I like supporting the Y’s mission of building strong kids, strong families and a strong community.   I like seeing neighbors, kids and families taking care of their bodies and spirits, and taking care of one another.              Furthermore, unlike many private clubs, the YMCA always has lifeguards to watch over us while we swim.  Someday I might need one.

In my 20s and 30s, when I lived in Chicago, my habit was to stop off at the New City YMCA during my subway ride home from work.   That Y was on the near north side, with towers of sad-looking public housing nearby in one direction and upscale condos, cafes and shopping centers in the other direction.   At that younger age, I swam longer at a stretch than I do now, and more vigorously.  I pushed myself.

In that YMCA, on the white cinderblock wall above and next to the pool, running its entire length, were painted graphics of dolphins and fish.  And painted above them, in big block letters was this message:  “God Loves Us!”  (Exclamation point.)  Perhaps it was intended for the kids from the public housing projects.  Perhaps it was intended for all of us.  Of course it was.

Sometimes, near the end of a workout, as I pushed myself to do a bit more, a bit faster, I’d look up and read those words.  Then I would feel the energy of that affirmation in my legs and arms.  I’d feel the love of life in my thumping heart, and in the breaths I was taking.  God loves us!  I am alive!  I am so glad I can do this!

That message on the wall renewed my perspective on what I was doing.  It was a reminder, a refresher.  I was not only trying to forestall death by a heart attack.  Not only trying to guarantee a longer life.  I was alive.  I was living, in that moment.

As Paige says, honoring the body, caring for the body, is honoring life.

Pain and Aging: Swimming Less

Unfortunately, in my late 30s and early 40s, I developed neck and shoulder pain while swimming.  It hurt when I turned my head to breathe.  For months I neglected it.  I pushed on through, kept swimming.  Finally the pain was sharp and chronic enough that I took several months off.  After medical examinations, a cortisone injection and many treatments of physical therapy… not much progress.  Finally an MRI scan showed that I have degenerative disc disease in my neck.  So far I have avoided neck surgery.  Since then I’ve managed my condition well enough to be able to swim.  I now use a snorkel that goes right down the middle of my face, so I can breathe without turning my head.  Also, I don’t swim for as long a session as I used to, or as vigorously.  I take it more easily.

At some point in my life I may not be able to swim as much as I do now.  At some point I may not be able to swim at all, or even make it to a YMCA or other location for exercise.

At my current YMCA, I’ve become friendly with several of the regular swimmers and other members and staffers.  We chat and visit.  Sometimes we notice when a fellow member no longer comes to exercise as often as before.  Then we notice, they no longer come at all.  Such a decline and loss of ability is natural, unfortunately.  It’s inevitable for most of us.  It can be frustrating, depressing, saddening, painful.

It is my hope, as I become less able to use my body in the years to come, that I will not hate it, but will remember to honor it in thought and word, and in whatever efforts I’m still able to make.           Whatever happens, we can still honor the body that we were given.  We can give thanks for it.      The march of time, the wages of chance, the inequities and unfairness of the varying conditions of life on this earth—such things can reduce the options we have.  Still, we can give thanks for this gift of the body.  We can honor it.  To care for the body is to care for the spirit.

The body is the vessel of our mind and spirit, our channel for the life force.

Our bodies and the breathing of our bodies connect us to all other beings, to all that is.  Life is a gift, and so is the body.  Let us be good stewards of this good gift.   So may it be, blessed be, and amen.

A Benediction by Rev. Mark L. Belletini

Go in peace.
Live simply, gently, at home in yourselves.
Act justly.  Speak justly.
Remember the depth of your own compassion.
Forget not your power in the days of your    powerlessness.

Do not desire to be wealthier than your peers
and stint not your hand of charity.
Practice forbearance.  Speak the truth, or speak not.
Take care of yourselves as bodies, for you are a        good gift.

Crave peace for all people in the world, beginning     with yourselves,
And go as you go with the dream of that peace alive             in your heart.

–#686, Singing the Living Tradition

Minister’s Newsletter Column: Gratitude, Generosity, and Tipping the Scales of Equity

As I sat in my favorite pub, I contemplated whether to leave a generous tip or just an adequate one.  “Would that extra dollar make more of a difference to the server, or to me?”

Summertime for many of us is a time of travel, dining out, recreation and entertainment.  For many others, it’s a time for landing a seasonal job, or finding a few extra hours of work in a restaurant, motel, bar, or valet parking lot.  Such extra work may help to feed the family, pay rent, cover medical costs, save up for school, or enjoy some recreation time.

Most of those venues do not pay much to their workers.   Restaurant servers rely primarily on tips.  A café of empty tables yields very small wages!  Hotel maids clean and turn around rooms in 30 minutes, risking injury with heavy mattresses.

I admire the energy and hard work of people who give their time and talents in service to me and to others.  I try to say “thank you” and show patience when it might help.  I also try to leave a generous tip.  In a motel I leave a couple of dollars on the bed every morning, unless I really have made a mess.  I tip if someone carries my bags, but in the motels I use, that’s not likely.

The standard gratuity these days for restaurant meals is 15% of the total bill for adequate service, and 20-25% for very good service.  (The total bill includes the tax.)  For terrible service… talk to the manager.

My nephew Scott has worked in food service at various levels for over 10 years.  I was amazed when he told me that dining patrons often leave without paying the tab!  He also confirmed a newspaper article that said we should leave a tip in cash, as restaurants may not pass on the full amount of the tip to the server if it’s on a credit card.

Showing gratitude and generosity is a way to affirm and promote our sense of inter-dependence.  It’s a good personal practice at any time, whether away on vacation or visiting local eateries.  It’s good for our own spirits, and it makes the world a better place.  Blessed be!

With gratitude,


When “Spiritual but not Religious” is not really enough: a Colleague’s Perspective

At the  June meetings of the UU Ministers’ Association, we had an entertaining and inspiring (as well as challenging) talk by the Rev. Lilian Daniel, a liberal Congregationalist minister from a Chicago suburb. Her somewhat snarky blog post of 2 years ago went viral. Her more recent book includes that but has a lot of other, more charming anecdotes and reflections about church community and the calling of parish ministry. Anyway, take a look:

“Bringing Life into Bloom”: Flower Communion Sunday: Homily, Celebration of Grasshoppers (Grounds-keepers), Pastoral Prayer

Unitarian Universalist Society, June 2, 2013                                                                      Hymns: 

#38, Morning Has Broken; #2, The Sweet June Days; #175, We Celebrate the Web of Life

Service Included

Religious Education Volunteer Appreciation

Minister’s Homily

Flower Communion (Flower Exchange Ritual)

Grasshopper Grounds-keeping Volunteers’

10 Year Anniversary Celebration

Pastoral Prayer


Writing in his journal in 1859, Henry David Thoreau says that “the mystery of the life of plants” is like the mystery of our own human lives.  He cautions the scientist against trying to explain their growth “according to mechanical laws” or the way engineers might explain the machines that they make.   There is a magic ingredient, to go along with air and sun, earth, water and nutrients.  There is one part miracle to every living thing, he says.  The force of life.  A force we can feel and recognize, but cannot create or control.

For my birthday I received a planter from our Religious Education staff person, Miranda.   To ensure its longevity I left it in her office, and it has flourished.  But when she departed for two months in Ghana, a post-it note appeared on the planter:  Roger, remember to water me. 

            I am not reliable around green things.  I have nearly killed off a cactus—a small one I got last Christmas.  I remember when I was little, in school, planting seeds in Dixie cups with dirt an inch deep.   Watching the sprouts, helping them along; it was fun.  Then, a few years later, a friend of the family helped me plant a garden in the back yard:  green beans, tomatoes, onions.  Delicious, for one or two summers.

But my horticultural karma was all downhill from there.  In high school I mowed grass for a few neighbors and friends of my mom.  One family had a large yard around their large house.  They asked me to pull or cut out the weeds growing close to the house.   This was before the days of the weed-whacker, which would have been fun to use.  Using my bare hands—not fun.  So I drizzled gasoline on the weeds near the outside walls, all the way around.  Killed all their weeds.  Filled the house with fumes, I found out later.

To the good fortune of the plant kingdom, in my adult life I’ve never had a yard or a garden, nearly always lived in an apartment.  Here in the church’s community garden, which we call UURTHSONG, a few summers ago at lunchtime I helped myself to a few meals of tomatoes and chard, but I haven’t dared to plant a garden plot.

I know many of you garden, with lovely flowers and gorgeous vegetables.  You have citrus and plum and fig trees and so many other kinds.  Some of you are Master Gardeners.  Some of you sell plants for a living, or you work in landscaping and grounds-keeping.

Some of you volunteer with plants, like our member Jerry, who spends many a weekday tending the flowerbeds and flowerpots here at the church.  Some of you, like Nancy and Gail, give tours at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center on the American River Parkway, among other outdoor places.   Annie and other UUSS Waterbugs tend our thirsty trees and bushes year after year.

As I noted, my experience with plants is questionable, so I can’t be sure what it’s like for people who put hour after hour into the lives of growing green things.  But this is what it might be like.   Planting, tending, watering, weeding, harvesting, transplanting… it involves a mix of your own physical power, and the patience to wait and see what happens.   It calls for intention and effort, and then for humility. 

            One cannot bring plants into bloom, or force them to bear fruit.  You have to learn enough to know when and where to plant them, how much water and fertilizer to give, how much to weed, when to prune or plow over, and of course you need to know what not to do.

You do your part, waiting, watching, tending.  You wait on the force of life.  You wait on a miracle, an everyday ordinary miracle.  Seeing a vine crawl, blossoms yielding fruit, colors calling for bees and other pollinating insects.  Miracles happen a lot.  But we can’t make them happen.  We can’t make life happen.

I wonder if this is a helpful way to think about our spirituality.  There are new and modern resources for spiritual growth, and there are ancient practices.   We can draw on all of them, of course.    Yet the main ingredient is paying attention. Watching ourselves, noticing reactions, sensations, desires.  Observing the world around us—the plants, the people, the traffic, the sunlight.   Gently tending to the needs around us.

Preparing ourselves.

Perhaps we can think of spiritual growth from the perspective of a faithful gardener.   Not a prizewinning perfectionist whose work is on the cover of a magazine.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I bet most of us aren’t up to that much effort in spiritual practice (or in gardening).

I’m thinking of a gardener like a humble companion, a curious visitor.  As a humble gardener tending our own growth, we remember to check in with ourselves, on a regular basis.  We notice the world around us.   We tend our gardens.  We wait in humility, and we remember to practice patience.  We don’t worry about explaining too much, about figuring ourselves out, as if we were machines, predictable and controllable.  We don’t try to fix, only to encourage, nurture, water and feed.

We can’t make plants grow, but we can help them, and watch the miracle happen.  We can’t force ourselves to grow spiritually—and we certainly can’t make somebody else grow.  But we can be present and attentive.  Be intentional.   Notice what might help, or ask.  Practice a bit more patience.

Then, we can enjoy the results.  We give thanks for what we are able to harvest, thanks for the results of our waiting and watching.

Give thanks for the ground of our being.  And celebrate every ordinary miracle.

So may it be.  Blessed be.  Amen.

The Flower Communion

Speaking about enjoyment of the results of our work, the Unitarian Flower Communion is about sharing and enjoying flowers with others.  Many of you brought fresh flowers and placed them up here in these vases.  All of you will be invited to take a flower with you which someone else has given.  Even if you didn’t know to bring a flower today, we have plenty to go around.  Don’t be shy.            Also called the Flower Celebration, this ritual was created 90 years ago in Prague, by a Czech minister and his wife, Norbert and Maja Capek.  Born a Roman Catholic, he became a Baptist at age 18, and soon entered the ministry.

Norbert and the family came to the United States in 1914 and stayed for seven years.  They joined the Unitarian church in Orange, New Jersey.  In the 1920s the family returned home and built a Unitarian church in Prague.  The church grew to have 3,000 members, and it helped other ones to start.  Because Capek had many former Catholics, Protestants and Jews in this liberal movement, he wanted to create a ritual in which all members could participate without any reservations, in order to bind the members closer together in spirit and fellowship.  They created the Flower Communion and began celebrating it every year on the first Sunday of June.

During the Nazi occupation, the Capek family became activists, and Norbert spoke out from the pulpit.  In 1941, the Gestapo arrested Norbert and his daughter, Zora, who was 29.  She was sentenced to a forced labor camp, and her father was executed in the Dachau concentration camp.  After the war, Maja Capek moved to the United States, and she brought the Flower Communion with her.  She introduced it at our church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Today on the first Sunday in June, we will celebrate this ritual.



Grasshopper Groundskeepers Appreciation

Rev. Roger Jones, Sunday, June 2, 2013

[last names omitted for the online/printed version]

Once upon a time in the history of this congregation, there was a budget shortfall.  Imagine that!   It was 10 years ago.  As members conversed in the congregational budget meeting, David and Clair  conceived a plan.  The church could avoid paying $1,200 per month for lawn mowing and cleanup– if a volunteer group could answer the call to do the work.

These two began calling members and friends on the phone.  They recruited five teams to be scheduled on a rotating basis, with four or five people on a team.  This meant that each team would work less than once each month mowing and trimming.

Despite a few pitfalls, they persisted.  Over the years, as many as 85 men and women have been part of these teams, keeping the campus tidy and saving the church lots of money.  These happy and sweaty volunteers call themselves The Grasshoppers.  In the early years, Carol made a logo for tee shirts.

Also involved back then… were Velma (of blessed memory), Aggie and Sally.  Around the same time, Annie began the Waterbugs; these are the volunteers who water many of the plants on campus.   In past years, the Grasshoppers and Waterbugs have been thanked with dinners hosted by volunteers, or catered, or held as potlucks.       Nancy wrote a Grasshopper song to the tune of the Davy Crockett theme song.  We’ll sing it after the service, out on the patio.

Please, everyone, join us after church for a slice of grasshopper cake.   Don’t worry–it’s not made out of grasshoppers.

Now we honor those men and women who’ve been Grasshoppers for the full 10 years. These people were on the original teams, and they are still serving.

They are:

Jeff Dave Fred Pete Dick Clair

Delmar—He keeps the machinery operating.

John—He is the coordinator.

Sally— She is Scheduler in Chief.

After the service, you all can enjoy cake, look at our tractor, and give your thanks to our Grasshoppers.  AND, yes, you CAN find out what it would mean to join a Grasshopper team or be a Waterbug.  Maybe you’ll even sign up.

I believe that our oldest Grasshoppers are nearly 90, and our youngest Grasshopper is nearly 60.  So think about it.  We invite you to be part of this ministry.  It’s a ministry of caring for our church grounds while making friends, building community and, of course… saving money, for important things, like dessert.

Blessed be.

Pastoral Prayer

Last names of living people are omitted for the online version of this but spoken aloud.

            Please join me now for a time of contemplation in community.  You are invited to settle your bodies in your chair, feel your feet on the floor.  Relax your eyes, or close them if you wish.  Notice your breathing.  A few times in this prayer I will invite you to speak the names of people, places or events on your heart, whether you whisper them to yourself our call them out so others may hear what you say.

Spirit of Life and Love, we give thanks for the gift of life, and this new day.

In this new month, let us greet each day with curiosity and practice patience with ourselves and with others.  The sweet June days have come to us in this region with hot sun and gentle breezes.  In other places, powerful winds or heavy rains have devastated neighborhoods and taken many lives. To those grieving and struggling in the wake of disaster, we send our prayers of care.  We give thanks to those tending their needs with food, shelter, medical care and monetary help.

Let us remember the fragility of life on this planet, which we share with our human kin and other forms of life.  Help us tend our home with care. We send prayers for peace around the globe, and out into our own cities and neighborhoods.

In this congregation, we extend our condolences to those living with loss.  In early May, Delmar and Joan lost their son Scott, at age 49.  He used to help his father maintain our mowing equipment. We give thanks for him and hold his family in our care.

At this time we may have other names on our hearts of those we have lost recently and those lost some time ago.  Now into the space of our sanctuary, let us call out the names of those we mourn and remember.  [Names spoken aloud.]

May their memory be a blessing.

We lift up those dealing with financial or health problems, chronic pain, loneliness, or uncertainty about the road ahead.  There are people on our hearts who need good wishes, prayers, or gestures of care.   Ruth is frail and receiving care at home.  We send our love to Ruth.  At this time we say the names of others we know, whether whispering to ourselves or speaking their names and needs aloud in the space of our sanctuary.  [Names.]

May they feel encouraged in their struggles.  May we find the courage to reach out and the grace to give the simple gift of listening.

We recognize, also, that life has its joyful milestones.   Many of the younger people in our lives are celebrating commencements at all kinds of schools and at various levels.   Let us mention aloud those who are graduating at this time.  [Names.]

As our voices rise with joy, let us also remember those young people who struggle with school, those who face high barriers to achievement, those who are beset with addictions or other dangers to their well-being.  May they find encouragement and healing.  Let them all know:  they are loved and worthy of love.

Others among us may be recognizing different celebrations and reasons for gratitude.  Let us speak the names or events that give us good cheer into the space of our sanctuary at this time.  [Names.]  May another’s good news give to all of us cause for joy.

Spirit of Life and of Love, give us hearts full of gratitude, kindness and courage for the living of our days.

In the name of all that is holy and all that is human, blessed be.  Amen

ArtWorks! Comes back. But How Can “Religious Education” Be Religious When We Are Not Talking about “Religion”? –>this is Part 1 of 3

Since 2009, our summer Religious Education (RE) program has been ArtWorks

Artists in our congregation introduce children and youth to their medium and work, and to engage the group in trying out that art form.  These arts include, among other things, painting, fabric, sculpture with mixed media, origami, crafts, music, and acting.

A question has intrigued and challenged me:  Where’s the religion?

What does all this have to do with religious education?

First, I want to say (paraphrasing Dr. Maria Harris):  that the curriculum is the whole life of the church.  The congregation is teaching all the time, in all its program areas and activities.    The congregation teaches by how it worships (and with whom), what it says and what it doesn’t think to say, how it celebrates and mourns,  how its members treat one another, how it relates to music and the other arts, how it responds to the larger culture, and how it reaches out beyond its walls (and whether it does at all).  If we all do these things together, and reflect together on what we are doing and why, we are a community of learners–all of us–and we are providing RE to one another.  Whatever is going on…there is a religious or spiritual lesson there.

So, if all we do here becomes part of  the Religious Education of the whole church, what is our purpose?

What are the intentions behind what we choose to do?

The following explains what is most important in my eyes:

Ours is a fragmented society.   Americans are lonelier than many other cultures, and our loneliness is increasing.   We are more isolated than folks have been in all of human history.   I know the Web connects people in unprecedented ways, but after hours in front of a screen with no in-person contact, I can’t say I feel more connected than I did 20 years ago!

Economic relocation and dislocation interrupt friendships.  Our transience and mobility mean that many do not have strong roots anywhere.   Consumerist individualism does not fill the void of not having people who know us as we truly are.  In light of this, the progressive church’s number one purpose is not the transmission of knowledge, but the practice of community, the rare and real experience of belonging.

Ours is an age-segregated society.   Rare is the household that includes more than parent and child these days, but in years past extended families of three generations often shared a home.   It’s common these days for grandparents and grandchildren to live far from one another, and rare to be in the same town.  In contrast to village culture in other lands, or the days of neighborhood friendships in our own country, today’s children are unlikely to have ongoing relationships with adults who aren’t their parents, school teachers, or (sadly) social workers.  Elders with no grandchildren (or none living nearby) might see a few that come by once a year for Christmas caroling at the retirement home.

What kinds of wisdom and love do our kids miss out on because they don’t grow up around their grandparents?  What joy–and what opportunities for loving and giving–do adults miss out on because they don’t have kids or grand kids of their own, or because they see theirs so infrequently?

Given our larger culture, the most radical and religious thing we can do as a church is to introduce people to one another without regard to the categories and separations imposed on us by secular culture.  The most powerful thing we can do is to build connections!

What I want our children and youth to learn at UUSS is a sense of belonging.  They belong here.  They can develop roots here.   People here love and care for them, are proud of them, are willing to spend time with them.  I also want them to learn that they can be friends with kids who are not in their own narrow age group.  Most schools put kids into segregated classes, and it makes some sense, developmentally.  We have some general age breakdowns too, in some of our RE programming.  Yet we promote and provide activities in which younger kids and older youth can help, watch and learn from one another.

What I want our elders and other adults to learn is that in this community their presence and their talents are life-giving, and their mentoring friendships are formative.  They have much to share, and they have much joy to look forward to.  They can build a legacy here.

The vehicles or programs by which we promote such relationships are important, but what matters more is not the particular input, but the product of our time together:  a sense of relationship, a sense of belonging, the spirit of gratitude and of giving back.

Associate Minister’s Annual Report and Vision for Sunday’s Congregational Meeting

Unitarian Universalist Society            May 19, 2013                         Congregational Meeting

Report and Vision by Associate Minister Roger Jones

Time Passes

It was five years ago that I moved here to serve as Family Minister, on a year-to-year contract.   It was just last September that you installed me as a settled Associate Minister, but that grand celebration now seems like ancient history.  So much has happened this year.  A few highlights:  Doug’s announced retirement as Lead Minister, the architectural Master Plan adopted unanimously, the first capital giving campaign in a half-century, and the vote to authorize sale of some UUSS property and move assets toward our building renovation.  Meanwhile, popular activities kept going strong, our staff worked hard to support us, and lay leaders devoted many meetings to deliberation and decision making.  Babies have been born, friends moved away, and beloved members have died.  These are all signs of a vital congregation.  They also can bring on a bit of stress!  Indeed, life here is full.  I feel honored and blessed to be serving in ministry here.

Ministry in Time of Transition

As you may have read (or heard in Budget Discussions) the Board has invited me to serve as Acting Senior Minister for the next year.  While I’m sad at losing Doug, and sobered by the big things ahead, I am honored to be able serve in this role.  I pledge to do my best to make it an enriching year, building on our current momentum, learning as we go.

Of course, I’m disappointed that the proposed budget includes only ¾ of the ministerial positions we now have, with only a half-time assistant minister to be hired for next year.  Yet I am hopeful that this is a temporary reduction during a lean time for UUSS.   You have had two ministry positions for over 10 years, and it has made a difference in the program life and vitality of the Society.  One may ask:  Why have a minister rather than another administrative staffer?  There is always more work to be done, for sure.  More positions could be added or expanded, if the contributions and other funds were there.

The advantage of trained, ordained ministers is that they are familiar with congregational systems and able to navigate church cultures.  Ministers must bring a holistic view of how the various parts link together.  Ministers in congregations cannot hold rigidly to job descriptions.  We are expected to be flexible with “other duties” as things emerge or shift in church life.  We try to choose when a given moment calls for a pastoral response, an administrative one, or one that involves deeper learning and group discernment.  I hope this makes sense, and invite you to let me know if questions remain for you.

Doug and I have worked hard these past years—long hours, but gratifying ones.  Even so, we haven’t covered as many bases as we would like to.  There’s so much going on in UUSS and in our members’ lives.  The idea of putting all of this load on ONE minister is blood-curdling, especially if I would be that one person.   Moreover, after a beloved pastor’s departure, there are some parts of traditional Interim Ministry work that need attention, even if a church is not hiring an interim minister.  For example, many people will seek to express their grief over Doug’s absence and their longing for Doug’s particular gifts and style, and it helps to be able to tell a minister.  It would be more compassionate to all involved to invite them to do such “processing” with a pastoral minister who is a newcomer, not the one who is here in his sixth year of ministry.

My Vision of Ministry in the Coming Fiscal Year

I would be the main preacher and pastoral care minister, manage music and RE staff and supervise the Assistant Minister.  I’d provide primary oversight of most program committees, and I’d be the main link to the Board, Program Council and a few other groups.  The Nominating Committee has sought my ideas and arm-twisting, for example.

The Assistant Minister (working about 25 hours a week) would participate in worship and would preach a few times in the coming year.  The minister would provide pastoral care when invited by Members or Friends, or when I would not be available.

We need a minister with administrative experience and supervisory gifts, as she or he would supervise the administrative staff members (which I do now).  And with such talents, the Assistant Minister would also be the main staff supporter for the Implementation Group in the coming year of construction planning, especially with logistics as we seek alternatives to the Main Hall for worship, office and meeting space. (Doug has been the lead minister to the Master Planning group for five years, and I have not had the time to do more than watch and cheer them on as they sped toward the congregation’s stated goal.)   Activities in adult RE, child/youth RE, ministry groups, social action, etc., would be open for negotiation.  All this would be subject to the half-time limit.  Showing flexibility and engaging in continuous, reflective conversations will be essential to navigate and negotiate a collaborative ministry.

This is a tall order for a half-time minister–so imagine if I were facing all of it alone!  I am a not a “lone ranger” minister, but a ministerial collaborator.  I think it’s better when ministers can bounce ideas and impressions off each other.   Just as I learn from and with talented lay leaders and various church staffers, I learn from ministers, as Doug and I have done these past five years.  Moreover, over the years I have mentored several seminarians and new ministers.  Working with a colleague brings out the best in me.

Child/Youth Religious Education

For three years, Miranda has managed more and more of our RE programs at UUSS.  She supports our RE volunteer leaders, and she now recruits, hires and manages our Room 11 Nursery staff.  I provide ministerial oversight to the program, help with trainings and recruiting volunteers, and make sure it is a visible, integrated part of the whole church.  The proposed budget enlarges her weekly hours from 16 to 20, and it changes her title to RE Coordinator.  Miranda provided the following statistics for this church year in RE:

  • Room 11/Nursery and Storytime Sunday attendance:  average 13, highest 23.  Current staff:  Beka and Annie.  Champions:  Amanda T. & Karen B. (Storytime)
  • Spirit Play (grades 1-5) attendance:  average 12, highest 17.                      Champions:  Carolyn W. & Lee S.
  • Junior High Youth Group attendance:  average 10, highest 14.  (2007-08 avg.: 2) Adult leaders:  Ginny, Bruce, Damon, Denis, Karen W.
  • Senior High Youth Group:  average 6, highest 18.

Adult leaders:  Tami, Yvonne, Dirk, Patricia, Christopher, & ministerial visits.

All our RE volunteers will be recognized in the June 2 service.  UUSS is notable for a high proportion of RE volunteers who don’t have teens or kids in the RE program!

In addition to regular Sunday morning programs, UUSS has offered these programs: 

*Our Whole Lives grades 4-5 and 10-11 (Leaders:  Sally & David and Ron & Julie.)

*UU Chalice Camp (One week in summer.   2012 Director: Mary.   2013 Director:  Matt)

*Parenting Group (started by Jessica & Megan).   *Kids’ Freedom Club (Aliya & Roger)

*Sundays in the UUrthsong Community Garden (Glory, Keith, and several others)

*RE cannot take credit for Monthly Game Nights or the Holiday Party, but they were big successes.  Likewise, the June All-Church Camp is a great cross-generational occasion!

Administrative and Custodial

For over six years, Michele has kept track of pledges, other monetary contributions and other sources income, prepared payroll and other expense payments, and provided monthly financial statements in support of our Treasurer and Finance Committee.  She files employee benefit materials and does numerous other tasks.

For nearly two years, JoLane has facilitated most church communications, managed membership data, and promoted connections among visitors, volunteers, and our many committees and activities.  For nearly two years, Elaine has been the first friendly voice people hear when they call the church; she also helps to link people to whom or what they are seeking.  For over a year, Stanton has managed our church buildings, grounds, duplexes, and the room reservation system.  He tends to the needs of outside renters and in-house users of UUSS rooms.  He supervises four hardworking custodial/maintenance staffers and supports the Property Management Committee—all in 20 hours a week

We’ve had a year and a half of experience with our new structure and new staffers, as proposed by two business consultants.  If you are a volunteer, you know we have a dedicated and hardworking staff of newer and longtime employees.  If you have been attending church for several years, you know the facilities have never been cleaner.

Maintenance and upkeep are better, and this saves us money.  We have better staff coverage for on-site events plus assigned staffers to lock up the buildings and set alarms at night.  If levels of pledging to UUSS could increase enough, we would have the ability to grant raises to recognize exceptional service to the congregation.  Meanwhile, please join me in showing your appreciation to our employees.   With my pending shift to duties of the acting senior minister position in the coming fiscal year, direct supervision of these administrative staff teams would shift to the half-time Assistant Minister.

Membership Committee/Greeters/Newcomers’ Orientations

Our volunteers welcome new visitors every Sunday of the year.  When I came in 2008 we had several ushers, but just one guy making coffee and no more than two actual committee members.  Now we have an enormous hospitality team and a smooth system to help everyone feel welcomed and valued and caffeinated. Our Congregational Support Coordinator and Receptionist now handle the organizing, and volunteers provide the food for our quarterly Newcomers’ Orientations to Membership (average attendance 20).

Adult Enrichment

With the added help of a seminary intern a few years ago, we jump-started this committee and it’s become an amazing part of our church.  We have more activities going on here during the week than even the most energetic person would have time to attend.   Every Sunday in Connection Central, volunteers from the AE Committee spread a banquet of opportunities for enrichment and community building.  It’s a joy to work with them!


I’ve been able to return from my Tuesday day-off in time to meet with the Religious Services Committee a few more times this year than last.  Their commitment to depth in our worship services is gratifying.  I look forward to meeting regularly with them in the coming church year and to having a more frequent preaching rhythm in my new role.  With regard to diversity, I’m pleased to say that I recommended or suggested most of our guest speakers this year, nearly all seminarians or ministers of color or women ministers.  The world around us is amazingly diverse, and UU values appeal to people across differences of culture, ethnicity, and age.  Hence, I hope we will continue having a diversity of styles, voices and faces in our preaching and music life.  This is just one part of raising our awareness of what an inclusive and multi-cultural commitment entails.


I could say more but will close by saying that I love UUSS and I love serving with you.  It’s an amazing congregation, with great accomplishments and great potential.    Thanks!

Church Board Letter about Financial Challenge!

This letter arrived in the email in-boxes of members and friends and, for those who don’t use email, in US Mail boxes a few weeks ago.  I am so grateful for the leadership of our Board of Trustees and the loyalty and spirit of our congregation!  Don’t miss the May 19 congregational meeting!

Dear Fellow Members and Friends,

What a year this has been. We’ve had great challenges and great successes. We’re transitioning smoothly toward Doug’s retirement, and have adequately funded the first phase of our building project because of your amazing generosity.  However, the building funding and our annual operating budget are two completely different items.  Funds for the building project are totally separate from our yearly budget, and, unfortunately, this year our pledges for next year’s expenses are significantly down.  We need one more success.

Right now,  we have pledges amounting to about $411,000 for the 2013-2014 year, which is about $50,000 less than what we pledged for the 2012/13 year.  That is a huge difference, and it will affect all of our staff and programs.  In addition to the pledge income being down, allowing our building project to move forward means that we will lose income from some of our investments and from the duplexes. We will also lose rental income from the main hall during the construction process.

The Board has already taken steps to curb our expenses for our next fiscal year.  We are now working with a budget that will cut our ministerial staff to 1.5 ministers instead of the two ministers that we have enjoyed for many years. We are also looking at additional options to reduce staffing, such as cuts to custodial and other staff hours, and possible cuts to the present music program, including having an accompanist only occasionally.  Not funding our UUA/PCD dues fully is also under consideration.  These are drastic measures that would have long-range effects.

So, we have some hard choices to make. Having less ministerial presence and support will affect all programs offered at UUSS. Reducing staff would have a similar effect. Not paying our UUA & PCD dues would leave us without denominational support in this time of great change. We would cheat ourselves and our denomination.

Here are two possible ways that you can help:

  • Please think of these cuts and reconsider your current pledge to UUSS. If you feel that you are in a position to dig more deeply, please increase your pledge.
  • Give a one-time additional donation to supplement your pledge.

If either of these options works for you, please contact our Bookkeeper, …..

or speak to any Board member.

As always, thank you for being a member of our UUSS community. You are our most valuable asset and together we will successfully solve this problem.

Janet Lopes

President, Board of Trustees

PS from Rev. Roger:  To download or look at the Pledge Commitment Form for the 2013-14 budget year (which is what Janet is writing about), click here.

Daring Greatly, Part 2: Cultivating Resilience in Life’s Minefield of Shame– UUSS Sunday Sermon for April 7, 2013

Rev. Roger Jones, Associate Minister

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

With Spoken Word Artist Mahsea Evans

Hymns:   from Singing the Journey:  Comfort Me; from Las Voces del Camino:  Ven, Espiritu de Amor; from Singing the Living Tradition:  #108, How Can I Keep from Singing?; #151, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.

Pastoral Prayer:  printed after the sermon


Imagine that you are at a weekend art fair, and you are one of those artists or craftspeople sitting by their creations, sitting in a tent as folks wander in and out.   You’ve put your talents and time and soul into the work.  Strangers come in, glance around, look bored and walk out.  Others grimace.  Some complain about the prices. What’s it like to go through this?   Probably a different experience for every artist.

Of course it can be reassuring when you have a deep conversation with a visitor intrigued by your work—and even better when you sell something.  Yet your success is not in your sales or your status, it’s in the fact that you put yourself out there.

In her book Daring Greatly[1], Dr. Brene Brown asserts that engaging vulnerability is the key to personal growth–stretching your comfort zones, daring to show who you are.  Being authentic is the key to living “a Wholehearted life.”

Brown advises, however, that being vulnerable does not mean letting it all hang out or “over-sharing.”   It means choosing when to “go out on a limb,” and with whom.  It means having a support system in place when you take a risk.  Being vulnerable feels uncomfortable, but to those around us, it looks like courage.

Yet shame hinders our courage.  Shame gets in the way of growth.

Shame is the fearful feeling that you are not good enough:  not worthy of acceptance, belonging, or love.  Feeling shame is not the same as feeling guilt.  Guilt is the regret you feel when you have made a mistake, let others down, let yourself down, broken the law, or broken a vow.

Guilt is when you say:  “I am not the kind of person who wants to hurt others.  I’m sorry.”

Shame says:  “I’m a sorry excuse for a human being.”  With shame, we take any mistake or imperfection to tell ourselves that we are worthless.  Or to tell others that they are worthless.  Indeed, shame is a tragic weapon that we too often use on one another.

Shame is a bad idea and a bad habit. Having studied vulnerability, shame and courage for 12 years, Brown says:  “There are no data to support [the idea] that shame is a helpful [guide] for good behavior.”   From this misunderstanding of shame comes the humor in a legendary cartoon of a sign posted in an abusive workplace:  “The floggings will continue until morale improves.”

Historically, our liberal faith was a spiritual assault on shame.   Against the idea of innate human depravity, early Unitarians argued that human beings are capable of making better choices as well as bad ones.  We are able to grow in character and virtue.  The Unitarians said no better example exists than Jesus of Nazareth, a fully human teacher, healer and prophet.  His life shows our human potential and our worth.  The first Universalists preached a compatible message.  They proclaimed that our worth came from a loving God.  Their creator was not a judge or tyrant, but an accepting divine parent.  God is love, they cheered.  You are loved. No matter what mistakes you make, you are called back to love.  Their answer to shame was to celebrate the love that will not let us go.  You are held in love.

Given our theological heritage, it would be nice to say that by entering this congregation, all our shame-based habits would melt away.  It would be great if by setting foot in this place, our self-acceptance and our acceptance of others would rise in the heart.  Shame would vanish!  It would be nice, but even our loud and proud human-affirming heritage is not a silver bullet for shame.

Brown says shame is part of our survival instinct.  Part of our fight-or-flight mechanism.   Sadly, neither fighting nor fleeing is useful for building connections with others.  Fight or flight will not help us reason our way out of challenging situations.  When shame attacks, it can feel deep inside like a matter of survival.  Yet Brown urges us to move from just surviving toward living “a Whole-hearted life.”

Human beings are hard-wired for connecting with others, Brown says.  Yet shame blocks us from having true connections.  It’s frustrating.  When I engage from a place of protectiveness, I can’t respond with my best self.   If I react out of hurt, it’s not a productive conversation.  Sometimes when another person and I are talking about something of importance, I want to shout: “I can’t have a conversation with you while you are listening to that voice in your head saying that you’re no good!  Stop listening to it!  What want is an open talk, just the two of us.”

One reason shame can block us is that shame is pain.  It is an emotional and physical feeling.  I wince when shame hits.  I feel a flash of heat in my temples, a narrowing of my field of vision.  A memorable experience was my first outing to learn how to water ski.  I wasn’t a kid; I was 30.  I was out on a lake with a person I was dating and people I didn’t know very well.    Self-conscious, I felt inept around this boisterous bunch of experienced waters skiers.  I tried several times to get up on the skis.  Every time, I splashed and sank into the lake.   They assured me that it can take many tries to learn how to stay up.  I didn’t have it in me.  Every time I splashed into the water, I felt a burning tightness in my gut.  It was the pain of shame.  It was irrational, but it was real.

Brown explains that we try to shield ourselves from shame in a number of ways.  They are all self-defeating.  One shame-shielding tactic is avoidance.  After I got out of the water, I didn’t try to skiing again the rest of the day.  I didn’t try it for years!  Another time, I took offense at something a relative said, and I pulled away.  Steered clear.

Another shame shield is to numb our feelings.  We numb our anxiety with alcohol, tobacco, prescription and other drugs.  Or we stay “crazy busy,” with never a moment’s rest or a time of reflection.  But even if these tactics take the edge off our anxiety, they also block experiences of connection.  Numbing dulls our good feelings too–our “joy, belonging, … and empathy”  (312).

Another shame-shield is the addiction of perfectionism.   This is the drive to do everything without flaws.   “If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can … minimize the pain… of judgment and blame,” Brown says.

Yet there is no “perfect.” To live as if there were is exhausting.  Perfectionism crushes creativity; if we imagine a perfect outcome and fear we can’t achieve it, why even try?  Perfectionism is not a cure for shame, Brown says.  It’s a form of shame (131).

Other shame-shielding behaviors include hyper-criticism and shaming of other people. If we are harsh toward others, it’s a good bet that deep inside we are too hard on ourselves, too worried about our own worth.  Brown says that our level of acceptance and regard for others will be no better than our own self-acceptance.

A poignant example is that of parenting.  To parent a child is to expose oneself to doubt, uncertainty, mistakes, and the scrutiny of others.  Parenting is a minefield of shame, Brown says.  So much is riding on it:  our kids’ success and their very survival. So many parents feel that every step along the way of a kid’s life, every ability, disability, success or setback is a reflection of their own human worth.  Too many of us are quick to scowl or scold parents about how they deal with children.  Even if we don’t have kids, if we feel anxious about our own lives, pointing at others is a way to direct attention away from ourselves.  Yet this merely builds a wall.  Instead of isolating ourselves, how much better if we can come together in kindness!  How much better if we can show compassion and empathy—to ourselves and others!

Shame-shields don’t work.  Avoidance, self-numbing, perfectionism, judgmentalism.  They only keep us apart.  Living a wholehearted life takes being connected, being real with one another.  But shame is real.   And it hurts. So what’s the answer?

The answer to shame is the life-long work of building shame resilience.  Resilience means getting back up, embracing life again.   Shame resilience means being able to go through feelings of shame with awareness and with a choice about how to respond.

Brown outlines a number of the elements of shame resilience.  One is to recognize shame, and learn its “triggers” for us.   Brown has a mantra when she feels a shame attack.  She says the word pain.  Pain. Pain. Pain.  Pain. Pain.  She says it over and over, to see the pain and recognize the shame.   She asks herself, and she asks us:  “Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grip of shame, feel your way thorough it?” (75)

After we see the shame attack, Brown invites us to reflect, try to “figure out what messages and expectations triggered” it (75).  We can do a reality-check on the messages we’re hearing.  We can examine the expectations that are driving our shame.  Are these expectations “what you think others … want from you?”  Are these expectations achievable?  Attainable?  Realistic?  Are you measuring your worth by comparing yourself to others? Are you listening to toxic voices in your head?

Another key to building resilience to shame is to talk about it. Shame “derives its power from being unspeakable…. [It’s] so easy to keep us quiet,” Brown says.   Don’t let it get away with doing its dirty work in the silence.  If we practice noticing it, naming our shame, even speaking to it, “It begins to wither” (67).  Its grip loosens.

Another key to resilience is to speak to ourselves with kindness.  When looking at our painful moments of shame, we can try to use compassion.  It is a practice we can learn.    It matters how we talk to ourselves.

If you are that artist sitting in a tent at an art fair, selling your creations, Brown says, you can remind yourself:  “You are far more than a painting.”  Money and fame are nice, but they are not a reflection on your worth.  Whoever we are, we can remind ourselves that our human worth does not rely on the appraisal of others.

Brown has learned, she says, to “talk to myself the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I’m trying to comfort in the midst of a meltdown.”  For example, say to yourself:  “You’re okay.  You’re human—we all make mistakes.”  “I’m here for you.”

We can choose whether to follow the toxic voices that plague us, or we can respond with kindness and reassurance.

Practice resilience.

A friend of mine is the mother of two kids in elementary school.  She told me this:



The spiritual challenge of parenting

— for me — is both to be present (which means that I’m not multi-tasking when I’ve given my kids indications that I’m listening to them) and also to be aware of my own emotions and psychological state.  Sometimes I’ve yelled or been dismissive to my kids out of my own frustrations, my own sadness, my own anger about other things. And then I feel crappy. And sometimes that’s shameful feeling “What a bad parent you are!”
And of course, I’m not a “bad” parent. But it’s not the parent that I’d LIKE to be.  It’s been meaningful to apologize to my kids and say something like “I’m really sorry that I acted so angry at you when you wouldn’t come to the table. I do need you to help the family and come to dinner when someone calls you, but I wish I’d used a different tone.”
So I get to apologize, my children (hopefully) get to witness an adult making a poor choice and making amends, and the family covenant is re-affirmed. Everyone gets to start anew

Practice resilience.

Cultivating a sense of humor also builds resilience.  Laugh about your imperfections, and you’ll never run out of material.   The 20th century cartoon character Pogo—an opossum living in a southern swamp—said this:  “We have faults which we have hardly used yet!”

But if the pain we feel is too strong at first for a laugh, we can start with breathing.  Take a breath, give yourself a breath.  Breathing can calm us, and give us moments to try out a new perspective on the shame.  Breathing is a good start.

Practice resilience.

When we have the urge to hide, avoid, or numb our distress and anxiety, we must reach out to others.   Of course, this calls for courage.  It means asking for support from those we can count on, from those who can earn the privilege to know our vulnerability, those who love us in all of our imperfect human packaging.  Resilience means knowing when we need support, and reaching out.

Back in my twenties I volunteered for a city council election campaign when I was living in Springfield, Illinois.  My candidate was a woman small business owner, an upstart running against a candidate backed by a political machine.  A doomed campaign, but such hopes we had!  One sunny afternoon I was walking door to door with campaign flyers. Once I knocked and a lady opened the door.  No sooner did I say hello and my name and my candidate’s name, and … SLAM!   In my face!  Just like in the movies.  Stunned and hurt, I stumbled along the sidewalk.  Perhaps this is why campaign volunteers now seem to walk precincts in pairs–for moral support.  Yet I was by myself.  How could I keep going?   No cell phones back then, no way to call a team captain or friend.  I thought of going home.

Instead, for my next stop, I chose to knock on the door of a house where my own candidate’s yard sign was displayed.  The door opened, and I got a cheerful response.  I told this lady about the door-slamming, and about my shock.  She commiserated.  She thanked me.  She cheered me on.  I had followed the impulse to reach out, and I was grateful.

Now, so many years later, I count on friends, mentors, and colleagues to listen to me through times of self-doubt or pain, to cheer me through my failures and setbacks.  I started learning how to build this kind of support when I was a brand-new church-going Unitarian Universalist.  In our  UU congregations, I envision opportunities to practice resilience with one another, to cheer each other on.  I can hear the invitations to share compassion, empathy, tears and laughter.

We can reach out.  We can practice resilience together.

We hear the message:  “You are more than your performance, your appearance, your job or lack of one, your mistakes and missteps.”

We hear:  “You are not alone!”  We say it:   “You are not alone!”

This is our heritage.  This is our message:  You are worthy of acceptance and care.  You are all right!   You deserve joy!  You are loved.

We are loved.  We belong.  We belong here, on this earthly home.  We belong together, in this human family.

Let us Practice Resilience.

When we overcome separation, we are healing.  When we practice patience with ourselves and with others, we are making peace.  When we show compassion for ourselves and for others, we are finding liberation.  So may it be.  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Last names of living people are omitted for online/printed versions.

Breath of Life, Spirit of Love, we give thanks for the gift of life, and the gift of this new day.  We give thanks for the world we share with human our kin and other forms of life.  Our planet is fragile as well as resilient.  Help us tend our home with care.

On this day, wars and rumors of war tear apart our human family together.  We send prayers for peace around the globe:  the Korean peninsula, the Middle East, and our own cities and neighborhoods.  We remember the Holocaust on this day, which is Yom Hashoah.  We celebrate the courage of women and girls around the globe who insist on their education and their dignity in the face of hostility.  We celebrate the poets, artists, writers and journalists who express themselves, seek truth, and speak their own truths.

In this congregation, we extend our condolences to those living with loss.  Linda’s sister Mary died from a head injury sustained in a fall while on vacation.  We send our love to her family.  Taylor’s father passed away last week.  We extend our sympathy to Taylor and to his sons on the loss of their grandfather.  Our longtime friend Leon Lefson passed away this past week.  We give thanks for his long and active life, and we mourn his passing.  We extend our condolences to those among us who have lost their beloved pets recently:  Denis, Karen and family on the loss of their dog, and JoLane and her sons on the loss of their dog.

At this time we have other names on our hearts of those we have lost recently and those lost some time ago.  Now into the space of our sanctuary, let us call out the names of those we mourn and remember.

May their memory be a blessing.

We lift up and extend our hope to those dealing with financial troubles, a health crisis, chronic pain, isolation and loneliness, and uncertainty about the road ahead.  In particular, we extend our love and care to Anne, recovering now from pneumonia.   To Jeane, in treatment for a blood infection.  To Barbara, in the ICU at Kaiser with liver complications.  There are other people on our hearts who need good wishes, prayers, or gestures of care.   At this time we say their names, whether whispering to ourselves or speaking their names and needs aloud in the space of our sanctuary.  May we find the courage to reach out.  May we find the grace to listen and give the gift of our simple presence.

We recognize that life has its joyful milestones and reasons for celebration as well.  Today we celebrate our Junior High Youth Group and adult volunteers on their field trip, as they visit local sites to learn about our Unitarian Universalist heritage in Sacramento.  We celebrate our Parenting Group, Alliance Program, Games Night, and all the activities by which we create community.  We congratulate Maxine and Bob, marking 60 years of marriage this coming week, and sharing a cake with us next Sunday.  At this time let us say the names or events that give us gratitude and good cheer.  Let us speak them into the space of our sanctuary.  May another’s good news give to all of us cause for joy.

Spirit of Love, give us hearts full of gratitude, kindness and courage for the living of our days.  In the name of all that is holy and all that is human, blessed be.  Amen.

[1] Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, by Brene Brown, Ph. D, M.S.W.  Gotham Books, 2012.  All page number citations refer to this edition.

Personal Passions– 1 of 3– from UUSS Worship– Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013
April 7, 2013, 8:31 pm
Filed under: Inspiration, Reflections, Sermon Archives and Excerpts

This is one of three member testimonies about personal passion from a recent service where I was the preacher.   

I’m 15 years old and spending my lunch period in my history teacher’s classroom. His name was Greg Parker, and this is where all the kids went who didn’t think it was a good idea to have their lunches devoured by hungry, ravenous gulls. I’m playing chess, I had since made a habit of playing chess for money. I slide my queen to H8 and that’s checkmate. My opponent has nowhere else to go, and I have a free lunch coming my way, free french fries always taste better. But today, I received an important lesson about the importance of a subject that I would’ve otherwise thought worthless, and by extension the whole of my education. Mr. Parker comes up to me, and says “Mr. Brady, I know you don’t have a very high opinion of history, most kids your age don’t. But you’re bright kid, so I’m going to to tell you something, the reason we study things like math and history, even though we may not use them directly, is so that we can look at the patterns of the past and the present and have a better idea of what we should do about them.
It’s been roughly 14 years since that day, and I’d like to think that that day played a significant role in me becoming the best under credentialed tutor in the humanities you can find. I work with kids and people going through lower division undergrad work in college, I tutor in Spanish, English, American government, and when I’m feeling adventurous maybe even some mathematics. My work on the fringes of education has taught me that patience is more than a virtue, it is a necessity, and one that I admittedly find myself in short supply of at times.
But being a tutor means you are in a constant state of learning, you can never allow your knowledge to become stale and it forces you to always see things from someone’s perspective other than your own. That’s what it’s done for me, it’s helped me realize that I can’t unknow what I’ve learned, and when I’m able to see things from  perspectives other than my own, as I so often tell my students is necessary, I’ve come to understand that compassion is the most fruitful byproduct of education. And it’s the greatest gift I can give any student; the ability to see in themselves the interlocking of each of these subjects that he or she may be studying, and how it leads to a broader sense of empathy for both them and me. And it’s through this work that I’ve come to realize that education is the gateway to compassion, the building of a global spiritual community, and as someone else much smarter than I once said, the highest form of human wisdom. Thank you.

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