WE CARRY THE FLAME

On Sunday, June 28, we offered thanks for how, across generations and through time, we carry the flame…fighting injustice, singing the songs, speaking the truth, and moving toward a vision of a better future. The Story for All Ages was “There” by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, and Glen Caradus sang Hold On, both of which I refer to in my reflection. 
Here it is, with a few edits for clarity: 

What a week I’ve had! Hanging the Black Lives Matter/Indigenous Lives Matter banner on our street sign. Attending Ministry Days and General Assembly both of which are laser-focused on how we must become anti-racist if we are to be relevant into the future. Reading the Commission on Institutional Change’s report, called Widening the Circle of Concern. And  participating in a panel that the Canadian Unitarian Council had on Thursday evening where we heard the personal experiences of black Canadians.

All of this is steeping in my heart and my bones…So you can just imagine the kind of tea that’s brewing, I have a particular vision in mind. I’ve got my eye on that prize…or maybe better, I’m trying to listen to people who have their eye on the prize. And ‘there’ is becoming quite alluring and compelling. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First let’s just think about today’s story…sweet, right? There. Are we there yet? Makes me think of the song we sing sometimes…Woyaya… “We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know within…”

And so it is with the youngun in the story. They’re asking a lot of questions…expressing both anticipation and trepidation about what is to come. Wondering if they’re ready.
Yet somehow, most of the time, they keep facing toward ‘there’…knowing it’s beckoning them and that they’re gonna keep moving toward it.

But you know, I got a little concerned in the final pages when staying ‘here’ seemed a better option, because I think that’s what we too often do. It can be too easy to settle into ‘here’ because it’s comfortable and known and it doesn’t require much of us.

At the CUC event on Thursday, which a few of you were present for, Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana spoke about how a faith community should not be a place of comfort…but rather a place for us to practice being uncomfortable, which he compares to be faithful.

And, there is good reason to be uncomfortable, if we’re willing to look. The pandemic and the global response against racism is reason enough, to be sure. We’re experiencing things we’ve never seen before. There’s no ‘normal’ anymore. Even though these times contain great promise, it’s uncomfortable.

Within our ‘walls’…that is within Unitarian Universalism, the Commission on Institutional Change for the UUA was charged three years ago with supporting “long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism.” They begin their report with a list of hard realities, including these: 

  • New generations face a bleak future. There’s despair caused by income inequality, climate change, the opioid crisis, and now the pandemic. Young people are increasingly at risk and need a sustaining faith.
  • But our society is moving away from institutional religion. We continue to attract a greater diversity of people, but retain a small percentage.
  • More of those who enter our doors today are not coming OUT of some other faith, but rather are coming seeking spiritual ground. And we are not ready for them. We have not invested in developing a vocabulary of faith sufficient to meet these troubling times.
  • We have a beautiful theology which promotes equity, inclusion, and diversity, yet that’s not what is often experienced within our congregations. People coming to us for spiritual sustenance expect cultural competency…but we don’t offer it…yet.

The list is long, and while we could put this report aside as something made far away by a group of people we don’t know, let’s not do that. Let’s sit in the discomfort and allow it to change us. Because, if young people leave, and those who come to UFP don’t find what they need, our saving message will not help them. And we will not survive.

Fred Woodson, a colleague older than I, said in a recent facebook post that he was feeling obsolete, but that while his feelings are real, reality is so much larger than those feelings. It’s not about me, he said. So he expressed a willingness to listen amid the fires, earthquakes and winds around him.

Again, if we’re going to contribute to a different future, we have to set aside our own feelings and be willing to be changed. Even to make the changes ourselves.

What helps me is to hold a vision of ‘there’…of that place toward which we are moving…is a vision of the beloved community. A place where every person is valued. A place where the earth is honoured. A place where all of our relationships are grounded in respect and compassion. A place where power is shared, and is used to ensure that everyone has what they need to thrive.

For this congregation, my vision of ‘there’ is….a place where we listen deeply to all voices, where we share the ministry knowing that every person has unique gifts. It’s a centre for social action, and where we have partnerships with others working to restore wholeness in our community. It’s a place where we’re willing to step aside humbly, to seek true reconciliation and to center those who experience marginalization. Where those of us who have power work to understand our privilege, and how we can use it to heal, not to harm. It’s a place where black and indigenous and people of colour feel welcome, because we’ve done our work to become culturally competent. It’s a place where youth and young adults have agency to explore truth and meaning. It’s a building that is accessible to those of differing abilities. Here is where loving and justice-seeking energy exudes out and beyond our walls, drawing the community in, and us back out again…to greater interconnection and healing.

Can you see it? Do you share this vision?

And BTW, I was bothered by today’s story in that the youngun seems to be making the journey all alone. That’s simply a lie. None of us are making the journey to ‘there’ alone, and when we imagine that we are, I believe that we are contributing to the problem. Wholeness, in community…where all that is broken is healing AND healed…only happens when we are in it together. I know that, especially right now, many folks are feeling alone…physical distancing will do that to a person.

Beloved COMMUNITY is antithetical to being alone. We’ve got to remember that we…and by ‘we’ I mean all of us…are walking that path together, passing the flame one to the other, receiving from those who’ve gone before, and passing it on to those who will come.

Rev. Danielle Di Bona, a UU minister who identifies as biracial (half Wampanoag Indian) told a beautiful story in a worship service earlier this week. She spoke of attending a pow-wow, where as is tradition, everyone danced in a circle. But one elder was dancing in the opposite direction, going upstream, bumping up against the flow. And when asked why, he said that there is so much wrong right now that the world has tilted off its axis, and that he was dancing counterclockwise in order to tilt it back.

Uncomfortable? Sure. But the world needs us.
So be it.

Past Stone Soup Columns

The Table is Set…or Is It?

On Sunday, June 7, the first Sunday in a month dedicated to COMPASSION, we pondered the intersections of welcome and inclusion, host and guest. The service was inspired by a poem by Paul Nicholas Mason which you can find on our Facebook Group (remember that this is a private group, so if you’re not part of the group and want to be, let me know.)
Here is my reflection, with a few edits for clarity: 

Have you ever helped a really bossy person set a table? You know, when you’re told that you haven’t used the right tablecloth, or that you’ve arranged the knives or the wine glasses all wrong? It’s no fun. 

Usually I like setting a table. My table. Shining the flatware. Folding the ironed cloth napkins just so. Coordinating place settings, serving bowls and candle holders. And I might even get a bit bossy with anyone who is helping me. Thank goodness, I don’t often have the time to be so particular, and I usually settle for expediency and utility over beauty. Still, I sure do appreciate dining at an exquisitely crafted and inclusive table such as the one Paul described in his poem. 

This week, Unitarian Universalist communities around the globe are lifting up, and standing in solidarity with, protestors who are calling for justice. Last week, Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimada bravely posted from Saskatoon about his experiences of being black in Canada, and ended with, “Tomorrow is Sunday. In circumstances like these ministers wonder what to say. There is no beating around the bush, we all feel rage when our sense of justice is offended. There is no peace without justice. In anger and rage, go out and disrupt the white-supremacy system.”

That sounds more like overturning the tables than setting a beautiful table. And I do struggle with whether today’s tone is prophetic enough… Edgy enough… Discomforting enough.  But here’s the rub. We are living with injustices which mean the tables are not set for everyone. And until we truly understand what that means, and commit ourselves to changing that, there will be no justice.

Our hymnal includes the song, “I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table”…a song which originated among African-Americans bound in slavery…folks who were never welcome at their master’s table, let alone who had any experience of welcome in the world in which they lived. It expresses a hope that this would someday change, and that in some glorious future, they would sit at a “Welcome Table.” Today’s protests express a glaringly similar desire…indeed a demand. 

So, for me…setting a table becomes a metaphor for creating a world of welcome, where no one is outside the circle of love and justice. A truly welcoming table would disrupt and overturn the current system which gives priority seating for the few. And by that, I mean priority to anyone living in a white body.

While I like the welcome table metaphor, I’m struggling with the idea of host. It’s actually something I’ve long struggled with in community… indeed, even in this faith community. My struggle has to do with power and ownership. It begs questions…like, who owns the table? Who has bossing rights? Who is doing the welcoming? Who decides who has a place at the table? 

By my lights, white culture in our western world has become the master of the table, giving settlers a ‘rightful’ place at the feast, and delegating others to remain in the kitchen, or even outside the doors. And so, as I work to acknowledge my privilege, I’m increasingly uncomfortable saying, “come to MY table”, or “welcome to MY space. Come join US.” At the same time, I’m becoming more aware that unless the table is open to all, it is not truly a welcome table for anyone…that a table that excludes some is not where I want to dine and surely not a dinner I wish to host. 

I wish to set a table where all are loved and included. I wish to set a table which gives hosting privileges to the ones who have not had a place there before. I wish to take my direction from them, and to help to set a table with plates of many colours, and dishes of many nations. I would want this table to have accommodations for folks of different abilities and to cater to those who have ‘minority’ food needs. In other words, I wish to be among the many people who are setting a table owned and operated by Love itself.

You know, several people in this congregation are involved co-creating a co-housing project in Peterborough. Most such projects include common kitchens and dining halls where everyone can gather, and where at least ideologically, a welcome table is set for all who live there. And isn’t our planet really just a giant co-housing project, where we all have responsibility to our neighbours, and a role in caring for one another, and making the meal, and setting the table, for the shared feast that is our common life? 

(Sigh.) I admit that I’m not ready for co-housing…I’m not yet able to give up my space and control, and this is something I must grapple with. For to be a truly welcoming community, we need to give up our ‘ownership’ of how we want the table to be set, and even what we want to eat. When new folks come into our Fellowship, we need to be willing to be changed by them, and to give them leadership roles, and to have the humility to let them teach us. Otherwise, we are simply holding space for people who are exactly like us…and this reeks of exclusivity and ego-centrism. 

A truly welcoming table might make us uncomfortable…even very uncomfortable. Civil rights attorney Brian Stevenson speaks about how justice requires that we get proximate…up close to difference…to sit shoulder to shoulder so that we might know and understand the other. Indeed, I think this means leaving what is known and familiar, and going to sit at the tables of others. To do so, would be in service of living into the welcoming reciprocity of a beloved communal life where no race has priority seating, no one gender or sexuality sits at the head of the table, no degree of ability deserves first pick of the food.

Perhaps most of all, I do not want to sit at a table that was set only for me and to my standards. Because that would not be a welcome table. That would be a table set by a bossy and controlling host. And let’s face it, that is the table most of us are sitting at within our colonialist culture. 

Let’s set a different kind of table. Because I want to sit (and to serve) at a table set by love and justice…an exquisitely prepared table where all are welcome.

Okay?  Let’s do it!  So be it. 

Rev. Julie 
705-933-3746

Now What?

On Sunday, May 10, David Kennedy of Hospice Peterborough spoke about thresholds within the grieving process…words that were a blessing to receive. He graciously agreed that I could post them here. 

THE THRESHOLD OF NOW WHAT?

The theme you have been looking at is Thresholds and Paula my dear friend has given us some wonderful thoughts on the Threshold of birth and death – sometimes side by side. While certainly dying is the journey we all are on to that ultimate personal threshold, death is also the catalysts for Thresholds for those connected to death – grievers. 

Grief is a healthy, normal, yet unwanted invitation to a threshold that we balk at, fight against, rail and resist. However not to face this threshold of grief and find our way through will result in unrelenting pain, loss of meaning, and a life of chronic sadness

Grief can be a transformative experience that comes to us because someone has died. While grief comes from many sources other than death, including the grief experienced in these times of Covid19, I am going to focus these moments on grief as the result of the death of someone we are in relationship with or connected to.

In my work as a grief counsellor I have listened to the stories of grief literally thousands of times. What I learned quickly is that people come asking the wrong question. The question people come to me with expecting an answer to is “what is wrong with me?” They explain what grief is doing to them and want to know what is wrong so that when they know what’s wrong, then we can fix it. The real question to be asked, is not what is wrong with you but “What has happened to you?”

When we begin with the question of what has happened to you, we will discover the path that leads us to understanding.  You see rather than simply seeking that magical treatment that will make grief go away, understanding will bring us to a place where we can understand that what is happening to us now, is the normal and natural result of the death of another. Understanding, changes the view of grief as pathological or a sickness to be cured and allows us to find our threshold and the transformation work that lies ahead.

There are three stories lines that I want to pay attention to in grief. The story that initially brings people to me is primarily the story of the death. That story can be traumatic, unfair, sad or sometimes a relief, and it certainly is right there in their mind and they cannot get away from that story.

That death story is important and will need to be explored but I want to include 2 other stories. First I want them to tell me who that person is – their connections with that person – their life in memory and  stories– the relationships and meanings that come from who they were when they were alive because that is the strength we need as we come to the threshold of Now What.

The third story that we come to- and while it pops up from time to time it can only really be explored after the first two have been adequately faced – although never finished – is NOW WHAT…

“Now what” is the stepping beyond the threshold into life that is different -a journey that every griever faces. I hear it spoken of in desperation or fear – “What am I going to do now? or how will I ever survive?, What will I do about…? Questions that come when we stand at the threshold of Now What and challenge us to find our way in a world where we cannot be the way we were before.

This third story of grief – the Now What – demands we find the transformations that are necessary if we are going to do this well. The transformations at this threshold are in many areas but let me direct us to 3 major ones.

  1. Who am I in this story?
  2. How do I want to be in this story?
  3. Who do I choose to be with me in this story? 

Who Am I Now?
When we have a partner, family member, or someone closely connected to us die, it brings us to that threshold point of asking – Who am I now?  It is the question of identity. The person I was when this other was alive is not the person I am now – people describe it to me as “I feel like a piece of me is missing, I have a huge hole in me – that person understood me –  when people saw me they saw me in the context of that relationship. – Now what”?  This happens at all ages. I had a 76-year-old woman whose husband died and she told me the story of how she went from her family home at 18 to the marriage home and has never lived alone or not understood herself without her partner and she sat in front of me and said those very words – I don’t know who I am anymore.

Grief brings us to the question of identity that we resist and I understand that– we don’t want to be other than who we were perhaps, but the call is there. Sometimes it is a freedom too, there are some for whom this identity transformation is an opportunity to finally explore pieces of who they are that have been denied or supressed for years -a chance to fully be who they have wanted to be but couldn’t for many reasons –

How Do I Want to Be In This Story?
The second Threshold call to “Now What” is about how we want to live in the world now. The way we lived before was informed to some degree by our connections to the person who has died. If it as a partner, then finding our way without them. When I facilitated the parent group for parents who have had a child die, I had several parents whose only child had died and they expressed their deep pain of now being in the world different.  One mom asked the group coming up to Mother’s Day “Am I still a mother?”  We instinctively try to dismiss that thought or try to make that person feel better quickly by telling her she is – but what is being asked is so important and bigger standing at the threshold of What Now.  

Who do I choose to be with me in My Story?
This threshold is difficult because it sometimes involves more grief as people who were part of our life story are absent – they pull away and we realize that they will not be the ones who will to be with us as we move past this threshold. Then there are people that were part of our story that were a constant source of need and we were constantly trying to keep the connection healthy but it was a one-way street and the effort and energy required by you is no longer possible or wanted. Then there are people who show up and are just what is needed and we find a new circle of friends and support. This can be a difficult and frustrating time of adjusting to this new way of living but it also can be freeing.

These thresholds should remind us that grief is not something to get over as quickly as possible although that is what people want – Grief brings us to a threshold that requires time, and thoughtful and courageous choices that allow us to step into this new world differently and honest with ourselves and others.

Joan Chistler in her book Scarred by Struggle: Transformed by Hope said that “Struggle brings us to the crossover points of life (thresholds),  after which sometimes we are worse, sometimes better, but ALWAYS DIFFERENT”

There are many other factors in grief to consider but let us consider these three. I would also encourage you that these three can be present in these times of COVID-19 – the grief over what we have had to set aside and the same questions of threshold may be there for you to consider as we face a different world that beckons us when this is over.

For grievers today – as we stand at the threshold – be generous to yourself in grace and mercy, embrace kindness and gratitude, risk finding a new way to compassionately live, embracing a loving spirit.

 

David Kennedy
Supportive Care Counselor for the Community Palliative Team
Hospice Peterborough
May 10, 2020

A Community of Thresholds – May 2020

Our theme for this month, very aptly, is being a community of Thresholds. And we began, at our first May service, by considering the concept of liminal space…the space betwixt and between.

You might call liminal space a threshold, or a portal, or a pause, or a gap. Kathy M sent me this picture of liminal space. It’s that of an acrobat, hanging in the space between the rope swing they left and the rope swing they’re yet to grab. If you try to imagine being that person, I bet you can actually feel liminal space in your body… a place where you’re suspended between what was and what will come next. For some of us that’s an exhilarating feeling; for others it’s just plain frightening. I wonder how much even an acrobat, who might do this hundreds of times a day, is able to trust that they will safely move through the air from one swing to the next.

We pass through liminal spaces all the time…whenever our ‘normal’ is being disrupted or changed. It could be the loss of a job, or moving households, or the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one. It could be a change in physical or mental ability, or a falling out with our bestie. There is liminal space in the changing of the moon’s cycle, and in the changing of the seasons. Dawn and dusk are periods of liminality.

Many times we step over and through liminal space without thinking about it. But other times we are acutely aware that things are not in our control, and that we can’t clearly see what’s coming. Because in truth, liminal space is a time of unknowing…and that’s not a very comfortable place for any of us.

You know how in some old buildings, there’s a small airlock between two heavy entrance doors? Different than the acrobat picture, liminal space can also feel very closed and dark…when the door to what was has closed, and the door to the new has not yet opened. We can’t access the old, and we can not yet see the new.

This time of global pandemic has opened up liminal space for our humanity and for our planet…and it can feel both like being suspended between, and being stuck in the dark betwixt. We didn’t ask for it, we didn’t see it coming. We didn’t knock on its door and ask to come in. And yet here we are, in a time of change, in a time betwixt and between.

Have you ever noticed the mezuzah hanging on the right lintel post at the front door to our building, the Unigogue? A mezuzah is a small decorative case that contains a tiny scroll on which are written several verses of the Torah…verses from Deuteronomy…which instruct Jews to keep God’s instructions in their hearts and to teach them to their children, and to write them upon the door-posts of their houses. So for our Jewish friends, passing over a threshold becomes a spiritual practice.

When you’re able to be here again, you might remember to look for that mezuzah.
A mezuzah is a reminder to pause and be more intentional about what you want to bring with you and what you want to leave behind whenever you cross between the world and your home, or between the world and a holy place. Coming AND going. A reminder to be aware that one is passing over a threshold.

I was graced…long after the decision that thresholds would be May’s theme…to find that Father Richard Rohr – whose blog I follow – had decided to talk about liminal space, not once, but every day this past week. And he suggests that liminal space is a time of grace, because it allows for something totally unexpected to happen. It’s a time when we are uncertain, which causes humility, which makes us more teachable. Rohr says that in liminal space, we are “empty and receptive – erased tablets waiting for new words.”

So how might we use this liminal space? For today, I have two simple, yet incredibly difficult, suggestions.

The first is to pause. Intentionally. Consciously. That is, to allow ourselves to hang in suspension. Maybe it’s even beyond ‘allow’. Maybe it’s even to ‘choose’ to exist in the suspension of unknowing and uncertainty. To embrace a lack of control.

Why do that? Why make ourselves so uncomfortable? Because if we look at it closely, we should be able to see that if we want a sane and just future, our old worldviews, and data and facts, are not going to be useful. Nothing new can be written until the old is erased. So we have to create a space where we are very intentionally able, even if reluctantly, to let go of the past.

So, pause. Just hang there. Allow yourself to be in the unknowing.

Second, trust. Trust that we will eventually pass through this liminal space. Trust that we have the resources among and between us to figure it out. Trust that we will stay connected to each other and to hope itself. Trust.

I listened to a simply beautiful podcast this week in which Krista Tippett interviewed Ocean Vuong, a young, genius poet. Ocean said that the future is in our mouths. Our future is in our mouths because we need to be able to clearly articulate the world we want to see.

So, pause in this space, and allow yourself to be erased. Then trust that we will write new words that will create a just future in which all will be safe and at peace…and where our planet is able to heal and re-green itself.

Seen this way, liminal space is so very inviting. I’m glad you’re here, in it, with me.

So be it.

A COMMUNITY OF Creative Liberation – April 2020

The theme of liberation was chosen long before any of us ever heard of CoVid19. Without the reality of the pandemic, considering liberation would probably have leaned heavily on how social justice continues to escape us, or how we desire liberation from the effects of capitalism, or from greed…or on any number of ways we might feel trapped by culture or expectations.

But we are in different times. So, in pondering what might be most useful this month, I considered changing the theme…to hope, or resilience, or courage. I queried some of you about possibilities. And in the end, I decided to add the qualifier ‘creative’ to the theme of ‘liberation.’

For me, ‘creative liberation’ is a call to think differently about what liberation is, and how to achieve it. Many of us perhaps have thought of ourselves as free, and liberation as a need that others have. Yet our very freedom has been made possible by systems that oppress and imprison, and in these days, we are seeing those systems dismantled. Scary, maybe, but might this dismantling be liberating?

Today, we are feeling imprisoned by restrictions…the need to physically distance ourselves…and are experiencing a loss of freedom. But our theme, creative liberation, is a call to consider what it is that truly binds or traps us, individually and collectively.
In these times, I think we have the opportunity to see liberation with new eyes, and to consider how we might creatively act and re-act in ways that open up space for new ways of being free as a people on this beautiful planet.

Community artist and activist Kate DeCiccio has suggested that “If we get this right, we’ll never go back to normal.” I find that incredibly freeing!

Please reach out. Don’t be alone. 
Rev. Julie 
705-933-3746

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