Saturday, March 17, 2018

Evolving Thinking

Kate Fraleigh, who until recently was Chair of the Racial Justice Committee, shares some of her evolving thinking about what's been happening here since Christian Rivera found an anonymous racist note in her mailbox on Monday, February 26, as well as about our work in ending white supremacy.  [Here is a link to the immediate response of congregational leadership (which includes a photograph of the note.]

The purpose of The Talk of TJMC is to provide a place for congregants to have a place to share their thoughts about things we, as a congregation, should be talking about.  It provides a forum that is longer than a Facebook post, and more public than an email.  If you have something to say, and think that this is the right place to say it, please send your piece to

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I’ve been a UU since I was 6.  I’ve been with this church off and on for more than 20 years.  My Mother ran the church program supplying food to the Salvation Army Day School.  There is a hymnal in one of the back rows dedicated to my father Arnold Fraleigh. I love to see his name in the sanctuary of our faith. My Mother and I witnessed Leia’s marriage.  My roots are here.  I believe our faith and our church are sturdy.  I can work through the chaos and come out better for it.  I believe we all can.  I have trust in our leadership, our congregation, and in our commitment and ability to work this out.  It’s a process.  And it’s painful.  I’m writing because I think seeing my process might help someone else.

I’ve divided this into two parts.  You’ll see numbers in the first part.   Those numbers will be used in the second part. 

I’ve been gradually processing what’s been going on at church.  I find it useful to process with friends so thank you to all the people I’ve talked or emailed with and I hope we’ll continue the dialogue.  The process is still going in my head so this isn’t the final version of my opinions and understanding.  These days I try to question my initial reactions to everything.(1)

The note to Christina was a racist note.  Racism is prejudice plus power.  The writer accentuated the power by being anonymous, placing the note physically close to where Chris works, and including her children.  It was an act of purposeful intimidation.  I didn’t get to this point of view so firmly right away.  I worried that the person was mentally ill, angry, felt there was no other way to make a point, have an opinion heard.(2)  I’m very firm now.  The note was an attempt at intimidation.

The things that have happened and the words spoken and written blur together.  I wasn’t expecting the response to the perpetrator to be so strong.  It challenged my faith.  I wrestled with how the first principle applies, how much it matters that the note was anonymous, who was it?, that it was a person many of us probably know well!  My response was to write in face book that I would like to have a conversation with the person who wrote the note.  I had and have no idea what the person would say so I had and still have no idea about how I would or will respond.  I don’t want to have a concrete plan of what I might say because I want listen fully first.  The door is still open. 

Then I heard that the perpetrator would not be welcome in our church.  I was on board with not accepting the behavior but not accepting the person?  Then I thought about equity and equality and here’s what I came to.  The perpetrator I believe is white.  The perpetrator has huge amounts of evidence and reinforcement of dignity and worth everywhere in society.  For a life time.  So, I don’t and my church doesn’t have to reinforce that to a high degree.  The victim, a person of color does not routinely have validation.  Therefore the victim needs and deserves a huge response from me reinforcing her dignity and worth. She needs to be believed and supported to help her resist the intimidation and heal the wound.  I have done enough to show unconditional positive regard to the perpetrator.  I need not do anything more.  And I don’t think my church needs to either.

I think no one is perfect and it doesn’t work for me to connect the racism in the note with the performance innuendo.  That only gives an excuse to the perpetrator, only blames the victim, only lets the rest of us off the hook for addressing the racism. It also lets me off the hook from listening to our staff suggestions and opinions(3).   I deal with this by separating the issues. I don’t like authority, I don’t like to be told what to do.  I have trigger words that make me uncomfortable, cause me not to listen, to ignore perfectly valid opinions and options because I’m stuck and get sidetracked(4).  So I have to prepare myself in advance by changing the words in my head.  Or if I’m surprised and unprepared I have to go back and see what my lack of listening missed.

So the two strands:
The racism and what we can do about it.  I asked Christina what I and the Racial Justice Committee could do.  I imagine other people did too. So Christina provided guidance.  The word complicit had an impact on me. I thought- Oh my god You want me to do more?(5)  After I rearranged my head I realized it doesn’t mean that what I’ve been doing already and what we’ve been doing together already has been wrong or not valuable. It means I’m not done yet, and I agree.  I’m looking at it differently.  Maybe we have to evaluate what we’ve done and how we are doing it and accept advise and direction.  The universe is full of white supremacy so it’s not surprising that racist behavior would appear in our church.  Addressing racism and white supremacy is a life long hard process and worth doing. 

The second strand is the strand of congregational organization, decision making, staff performance, communication, commitment to sticking together to work this out.  I feel confident that the avenues that exist will have results.  It will take time.  The avenues now are the personnel committee, the committee on the ministry, the individual person involved, the pulse survey, the Board.  The Board is responsible and we elected them.  Sometimes(maybe often) I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants and that the church is too.  Maybe we haven’t addressed these problems well before but this incident of racism has shaken us up and the direction out will be found.  I have the courage to move forward. 

Part two:  About white supremacy and the outline and article Christina shared.  I’ve been using that article for some time in looking at myself and at other people and at organizations.  I am no academic.  I find the article useful so I use it. 
1.      I figure all my first responses to anything are learned and patterned behavior built over many years in the air of white supremacy.  So I try to remove that aspect from my response.  It takes work.
2.      This has to do with not liking or doing well in open conflict.  It’s also detouring from the primary topic.
3.      Detouring
4.      My right to comfort
5.      Defensiveness
6.      Fear of Open conflict
I am not done processing.  The listening circles may help. We can together make our faith and church stronger than ever if we work together to fix it.

Kate Fraleigh

Friday, March 16, 2018

Congregational Listening Circles

In the two weeks since the hateful racist note was anonymously left in the office mailbox of Christina Rivera, our Director of Administration and Finance, there have been a variety of responses: some of us have felt clarity; others, confusion.  Many of us feel conflicted.  Some have felt supported, while others have felt silenced.  The integrity of our community, and our commitment to living our covenant, has been questioned by many of us, even by those who disagree within h one another about just how and why they think that.  For us both individually and as a community, this is disturbingly new territory, and we understandably are finding it disorienting.

Congregational leaders have offered a strong and consistent response, condemning the particular violent act, while challenging us all to consider how our congregational culture reflects the dominant culture of white supremacy, in spite of our best intentions. One thing which hasn’t happened yet, though, is an opportunity for us to come together and share our feelings and thoughts about all that’s been going on.

Our first responsibility has to be addressing the needs of the people of color who call this their spiritual home.  The attack on Christina was not an attack on her alone.  It raised questions about the safety of this community for people of color more widely (as well as for those of us who live in multi-racial families).

This Sunday, following the second service, there will be an opportunity for people of color to meet and reflect on their experiences of recent events, and as people of color in an overwhelmingly white congregation (and denomination). This gathering will be facilitated by Steven Ballesteros, who has served as a member of the Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) Steering Committee and as chair of the General Assembly Right Relationship Team. He also has experience facilitating identity caucusing and anti-racism, anti-oppression, multicultural workshops for multiple congregations and UU communities in the Pacific Western Region.  Even if you don’t personally feel the need for such a gathering, I would encourage you to attend.

While congregational leaders are working to find a skilled facilitator who can help the entire community process what has happened and engage the work we must do if we are going to become the beloved community we desire to be, there is an immediate need for a safe space in which we can come together and share our feelings and thoughts. Everyone is invited to participate in a Congregational Listening Circle on Monday, March 19, from 7:00-9:00pm.  I will be facilitating this evening, and it will be a time for any of us to say whatever we feel needs to be said, without any debate or judgement.  Perhaps even more importantly, the evening will also give everyone who participates an opportunity to listen deeply to what others are, and have been, feeling and thinking.

The turmoil we are experiencing right now effects the whole congregation, and we must all engage in the work of looking honestly at who we’ve been, and who we are, and what we are called to be by our commitment to dismantling the culture of white supremacy – in ourselves, in our congregation, and in our society. This isn’t work we are starting now; it’s been a part of who we are since our founding 75 years ago. Yet the recent heinous act of blatant racism gives new impetus to our efforts, and we must all find our place in the work Christina always reminds us is for our mutual liberation.

If you have questions, or would like more information, please contact Rev. Wik at

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

In support of the church I love

Longtime member Lynn Heath wrote the following as a letter to the Board of Trustees, and has asked to have it published here as well.  The intent of this blog is to provide a place for congregants to have a place to share their thoughts about things we, as a congregation, should be talking about.  It provides a forum that is longer than a Facebook post, and more public than an email.  If you have something to say, and think that this is the right place to say it, please send your piece to

I remember a church where members of the congregation reached out in love. We reached out in love, even when it was hard.

In my first or second year as a member, a young man who grew up in our church committed a serious crime. His brother was in my RE class, and I watched that class make a circle around their friend. They held him in their arms, and in their hearts, and they told him they would be with him.

And the congregation surrounded that whole family. They raised money for legal help, although the crime was a terrible one. They wrote him letters throughout his prison term. Some members visited him regularly. They held on to that young man, and they loved him, and he started a new life.

That congregation knew how to hold both the perpetrator and the victim in their hearts. I was new to the church, and it was a powerful message.

It was the same greeting extended to me. I came to the church hurt and angry and lost, and I was surrounded by love. There was an energy that surrounded me and pulled me forward, out of my misery. I met people who embodied love, who lived the seven principles. I met people who modeled what I wanted to be when I grew up. They loved me into being a kinder, happier person.  They gently challenged me, and I rose to that challenge.

I remember when my church adopted a new statement of covenant. The draft said “if” we fall out of covenant, we will reach out to bring each other back. We changed it to “when,” in the knowledge that we are all moving towards the goal, but we will inevitably fall short.

It’s been 16 years since I joined the church, and I tell people my life has been transformed by this church.  Nearly all of my friends belong to TJMC, and all of my good friends do. I was invited into a book club that talks more about church than books. I think of it as the “kitchen cabinet,” because its members include such wisdom, such breadth, and such commitment to our beloved church. Among our members, we cover almost every aspect of church life, and our varied perspectives add greatly needed depth to our conversations.

One of my first church events was the dinner where the Alliance (literally) passed the torch to the UUppity Women. We honored those women who built our church, sustained it, and provided leadership for so many years. It was a sacred moment, full of history, appreciation, and continuity. As that group ages into our senior years, I don’t see the same spirit. Instead, I hear how a small group of people thinks they run the church and they need to let go. Not only do we feel unappreciated, we feel maligned.

I find myself in a crisis of faith. I want to believe my church is a church of love, that we support each other and we support our church. It’s becoming increasingly hard. Our church is doing a great job of afflicting the comfortable, but has it stopped comforting the afflicted? Has that job been off-loaded completely into our individual circles of friendship?

I remember when we were rallying for marriage equality, and Dick Dershimer movingly and bravely stood up and said that he had been homophobic, and we had gently challenged him and stretched him and he had changed his views. We didn’t bully him or shame him or guilt him. We loved him into examining his own beliefs, into a personal search that led to transformation. We met him where he was, we stretched out a hand, and we walked with him on a new path.

I don’t see that happening now. I see voices being stilled, being outshouted. I don’t see room for growth; I see demands for immediate change. I don’t see room for dissenting views. I don’t see people being lovingly brought back into covenant. I see judgment and casting out of those we don’t agree with. I see prescriptions, proscriptions, punishments, and harsh words aimed at people deemed complicit. Some of us are wondering what on earth we did wrong, why we are encouraged to form “accountability circles” when our leaders seem accountable to no one, and – possibly most important – what form dissent is allowed to take these days.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to a personal search for meaning, but also to test that meaning by bringing it back into community. One of the best things I have learned in my years at TJMC is to listen deeply and non-defensively, to see what I can learn from others. In countless committee meetings and outside discussions, I have learned that the best solutions are derived from thoughtfully incorporating wisdom from many sources, despite the time it may take to reach agreement.

I think we have lost the church that I loved. I think we have forgotten how to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to believe that we are motivated by good intent. We are so busy looking for ways we have breached our covenant that maybe we have forgotten that we agreed to it in the first place. We agreed that we would try our best, that we would fail, and that we would try again. In love.

Lynn Heath

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Culture of Complicity

Like every other Monday morning since I started at TJMC-UU in 2015, after our ministry staff team meeting I picked up my mail and sat at my desk to sort it. I came to “the note” towards the last. As I read the note, my breath stopped…not like a metaphorical stop, it actually stopped. I couldn’t breathe and at the same time I wanted to vomit. I must have made some kind of sound because Alex came out of her office and stood in my doorway and asked if I was alright. I could only hold my hand out in a stop motion so that she wouldn’t come near me, I couldn’t image anyone touching me in that moment. 

When I finally took a breath it was to begin a keening cry of rage, anger, hate, hurt and sorrow. In my mind I was desperate to know where my children were and remembered they were at school.  I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t stay at church and I didn’t want that vile piece of paper in my hand so I took a picture of it, handed the note to Alex and asked her to get it to Wik. I ran from the building to my car and drove away. Do you feel it? Do you feel my humanity being stripped away in one quick motion? Do you feel a mother’s terror at thinking this person who has hate in their heart for me knows my children?

This is not the first time a member of this congregation has anonymously attacked a staff member.   Rev. Leslie Takahashi recounts this event:
In the winter of 2008, we were conducting a church-wide exercise in visioning and we asked people to send in their wishes/hopes/dreams. One was not signed and it said something like: “My hope is that we never have to hear Leslie's (derogatory words) voice again.”

We raised it with the Board however their sentiment was that it was just one voice. That incident was part of our decision to move on because it was clear that there was not commitment to protect me as a minister of color. Glad to hear the Board has a different response today.  In faith, Leslie

But let me be absolutely clear…the congregation as a whole and individually are responsible for these types of racist attacks. Let me say it again, if you are reading this you bear some measure of responsibility for this attack. Because it is a congregational culture of white supremacy that made this person feel it was entirely appropriate to have these thoughts, had them affirmed and then acted out on them. This congregation is complicit in creating an atmosphere in which those thoughts and feelings thrive and were then born into action. 

And in the time I have been here, I have experienced a myriad of ways the congregation has exerted its white supremacy culture into my ministry. In the following examples I urge you NOT to focus, discuss, perseverate and try to form an opinion as to merits/demerits of each specific incident but rather look at how together they would contribute to a culture of complicity. How someone in the congregation being part of, or witnessing, these conversations would come to a place of comfort and affirmation in their racist thoughts about me. They would feel not only justified in thinking of me as “less than” but comfortable in expressing those thoughts in whatever way they thought appropriate. If you’d like the link to the document explaining these categories of White Supremacy Culture you can find it here:
  •          Micro-aggressions: telling me I speak well without an accent, telling me that my sons QuinceaƱera is just like a Sweet 16 birthday party and then arguing with me when I said it is not, asking me where I’m from and when I say Los Angeles replying “no, where are you really from”
  •  Perfectionism: Finance committee members feeling like they had less input into budget development when it was the same process, the only difference was I completed the draft budget rather than the former treasurer, a white male minister. Making a mis-assumption that I do not understand how to use Excel and then talking to others about that assumption before ascertaining if it is correct (it is not.) Staff rarely hearing about what we are doing right, only about when we are not living up to someone’s perceived standard.
  •  Sense of Urgency: Questioning why calendaring request for events months in advance were not on the calendar with urgency.  Every request for staff time comes with a sense that this must be our priority as well. That my requests that we consider how our participation in racial justice efforts in our community effect communities of color are met with “we need to do this now, it is urgent we don’t have time to be discerning, we have always done this project, we feel good doing this project.”
  • Defensiveness: when I have suggested that treatment of me has elements of racism it is met with “but they didn’t mean it like that.” Staff and leadership spent enormous amounts of effort trying to make sure that individual members of the congregation wouldn’t get upset about going to a Program Budget rather than being able to assume that those members would be curious and want to give something new a try to see where it could lead us. So much so that when I don’t spend this time to make sure everyone will be ok, when I assume that leadership is what you want and what I should give, I am viewed to as too uppity, too full of myself.
  • Worship of the Written Word: Last year I took vacation time accrued from when I first arrived, it was suggested that since I hadn’t asked for the accrual to be documented that it was not proper to take the time. Such documentation had not been asked of other staff in similar circumstances. When I questioned why I alone on staff had an offer letter that eliminated the payout for medical benefit I was told the policy had been changed, but when a white colleague later challenged this for their own benefit, it was found that the policy had not been changed. It was the element that this potential policy change had not been written anywhere that led the discussion and hours/months were spent trying to research if/when the policy may have been changed. Once a decision was made to uphold the policy as written, another line in the policy is now under review and has put the decision on hold once again. 
  • Either/Or thinking: We can either have a balanced budget or we can have a program sized church. We can either take care of our infrastructure or we can try to pay at the fair compensation guidelines. Chris can either work on Racial Justice or take care of her DAF duties.  Chris can either spend time on denominational service or take care of TJMC.  
  • Power Hoarding: The tendency to use and view pledges as barometers of how a person views staff/leadership performance. The same small group of people have power whether or not they serve in direct leadership capacity. Criticism of my ministry from any of in this small circle has consistently set the tone for how others view my ministry.
  • Fear of Open Conflict: Budget documents passed around at last year’s Annual meeting that were unsigned and contained factual errors related to my performance.
  • Objectivity: The idea that if we can’t have specific measure of how the staff performs then our assessments are not valid. Being told that it is hard to do my assessment because leadership had to be careful about any criticism because it could be seen as racist.
  • Right to Comfort: People of Color only seating section at Jesse Jackson made congregants uncomfortable, and because they did not understand it they tried to exert their right to comfort by seeking an immediate change to the seating plan rather than trust that I knew what was needed by our communities of color.  Later I was told that this was reverse racism.

I have appreciated your many notes, emails, calls and messages of support and encouragement. Many of you reached out to say how glad you are that I am here, that my family and I are in your thoughts and prayers. I really appreciate all of those expressions…AND I, WE people of color, need your BEHAVIOUR to change. Let me say it again, thoughts and prayers are lovely AND we need your BEHAVIOUR to change.

And if you don’t think any of the above behavior actually made a difference in the culture of white supremacy which led to me receiving that note, let me just challenge you to this…just try it…try and change your behaviour and let’s see where that gets us. Set up an accountability circle, and decide on actual behaviours you are going to change and then check in with each other. When you are uncomfortable take a moment to check in with your circle. Maybe nothing will change…and maybe everything will.

So here are some behaviors we need to change at TJMC-UU to make a shift into a culture that embraces Anti-Racist Anti-Oppressive Multi-Culturalism (ARAOMC):

  • You will not undercut my, or any staff’s, ministry anymore. The time and effort we spend thinking about how you all are going to react to every level of decision making is exhausting and makes our entire congregation, and our ministry in particular, ineffective. 
    •  We are going to assume that you are behind us…all the way…for EVERY decision we make. Because you called us to this ministry…and we are finally going to take you at your word
    • If you have a concern about our leadership, you will come to me (or Wik or Leia) directly, that’s it…no stopping off anywhere else on your way to us. If we cannot work it out, we will seek the help of an appropriate facilitator AFTER you have met with a clearness council which will help you work through your concern with an ARAOMC lens.
    • But other than that, we are going to lead…because that is why you called us. If, after participating in the process named above, you don’t like where or HOW we are leading, you will need to leave the issue unresolved without undermining our leadership or leave or ask us to leave.
  • We are going to fully fund the budget. If you are here you are all in. No more using your pledge like a weapon or an assessment of staff’s performance. It is a pledge of your financial commitment to this church, its mission and our service in ministry. Because as long as we are looking inward at our perceived scarcity we are not looking outward at work that needs to be done in the world.
  • Everyone will make some stewardship commitment as able in their circumstance:
    • Financial and/or
    • Volunteering (RE, Buildings and Grounds, Worship, committee service, making a meal for staff, something!)
  • Support the Board of Trustees as they navigate these new waters.
    • Are you concerned that the Board isn't getting something done, ask how you can help rather than assume something nefarious is at work.
    • Wondering about a decision? ask that person and then sit with the answer for at least a week. Or better yet take it to your accountability circle and discuss.
    • Check in with the Board, how can you help support their leadership and success? What do they need?
  • Bring at least one idea to the Racial Justice team about how we can be active in our community, directly supporting communities affected by mass incarceration and deportation. And then be prepared to not act on any of the ideas that you brought but support other ideas which might come from these communities. Why these communities? Because it’s what we said we’d do when we passed the Black Lives Matter public witness statement. Now is the time to act on that commitment.
  • Celebrate our ministry (Board and Staff), this is a church, we are a people of a joyous noise! 
    • Let us AND THE CONGREGATION know when our work touches you spiritually, makes a difference in your life, the life of the congregation, or the community
    • Affirm our decisions, even and ESPECIALLY when you are not sure about them
    • Specific to me, your religious professional of color, this is LIBERATION THEOLOGY at work. Because of systemic racism and oppression, I start off from a place miles behind my colleagues. It will take your intentional amplification of my ministry just to bring me to the same starting point (equity) as my ministerial colleagues….and it always will. This is the work of dismantling white supremacy.

And if you see yourself complicit in any of the above and right now as you are reading this you have already formed defensive thoughts….you will please STOP…stop right now. Stop being defensive and start being CURIOUS. Curious about what grounds your defense, what cultural assumptions ground that defensive posture and then questioning again…can you really support any change in the world with just thoughts and prayers? Because our Unitarian Universalist theology gives a resounding “no” to that question and if you are not prepared to change your behavior then it is time to think about whether you are here as a Unitarian Universalist or as a social club.

For the past 4 days as I walk by my office door, I have not be able to even pull out my mail. My hand starts to shake and my breath becomes ragged. As I walk into my office I try to tear my eyes away from looking at my inbox. I don’t know what awaits me in there. I’ve taken to asking another staff member to go through it, to make sure it is ok for me to see. I have had to change my behavior based on hate brought to me by this congregation.

So I ask you again, as I have sacrificed my safety to be in community with you…what are you willing to sacrifice…what change are you willing to be in the world…what discomfort are you willing to bear…how will you change your BEHAVIOUR in order to work for our mutual liberation. Because anything less is keeping us in chains.

In the words of Assata Shakur (featured on the wall of my office):
It is our duty to fight for our freedom
It is our duty to win
We must love each other and support each other
We have nothing to lose but our chains.

YoUUrs in service,
Christina Rivera
Director of Administration and Finance


Monday, January 22, 2018

On Being Useful

These are the Opening and Parting Words Lorie Craddock wrote for the service on Sunday, January 21, 2018 -- "When There Are No Leaves Nor Fruit."

I’m coming to the end of my current stage of parenting.  My children are 16, 18 and 20 and they are either in college or longing to go.  My years of playdates and carpools, concerts and recitals, winter breaks and summer camps will be over.  Bed time stories, science projects, permission slips, field trips and foster kittens.   Check, check and double check.
For twenty years, I have invested most of my time and talent and, what feels like nearly all of my treasure,  in parenting.
I look back on this time and I’m happy.  I feel reasonably satisfied that I did the best i could.  I have tried to be loving and generous with my children.  And I hope they will feel  the same now that they are launching into the world.
I send them off with a piece of advice that only a mother could give:  Go make yourself useful.  
I probably can’t set the bar higher than that.
Go make yourself useful.
Serve others.  Show compassion.  Give generously.   
As Unitarian Universalists, we are tasked with the same mandate.   Called to “Go make ourselves useful.”  The bumper sticker on my car says so.   “Unitarian Universalists---Our Service is Our Prayer.”  
Social Justice, racial justice, environmental action.   Each cause a chance to serve others and show our compassion.  
And yet we must give generously, too. Generosity is the investment we willingly make in our future.  We don’t do it because we have to.   We do it because we want to.  Because we believe we will make a difference.  Not right away maybe.  Sometimes not for many months.  Or years.
Just ask the Church Governance Task Force.  Or the Building and Grounds Task Force.  Or the Green Sanctuary Committee .  Folks who were more than generous with their time and talents.   yet had to wait ……..and wait……..and wait……….for their hard work to pay off.  
And parents.  We don’t read just one bedtime story hoping to foster a love of reading in our offspring.  I read hundreds of books dozens of times.  Everything from Goodnight Moon to Goodnight Gorilla.   I memorized those books.  I can recite them in my sleep.  All with my eyes on an uncertain prize that was years off.   

Generosity is what makes us rummage around in the bottom of a purse or pocket, looking for that last bit of spare change.   Generosity keeps us up  late and wakes us up early to support causes like PACEM and IMPACT.  It finds time in the schedule for one more patient or  client or student or friend.  Our family, our church, our community. Generosity is the fertilizer we scatter around the bare trees that we might see fruit in the fall.  

For the closing words, I’m going to read you a book.  
As it was published in 1947, I’m hoping most of us are familiar with it in some way.  
It’s quite short and the plot is not hard to follow.  There’s a baby bunny and the bunny’s mommy.  They wind down for bedtime by saying Goodnight to all the objects in the room.  
Spoiler Alert…….At the end of the book, the baby bunny is asleep.  
When I used this book was a bedtime story, my children were not always asleep after just one reading.  Eventually the words in the book became more prayer than poem and I said said an entire rosary every night trying to achieve the same results as the Mommy-bunny.   I know this book inside-out, upside-down and backwards.  
Now I am not reading you this book because I think it’s naptime.  Although there are those who say the sound of my voice will put them to sleep.
I am reading this book as a reminder of just how generous we all can be.  I invite you to look back into your memory.  To a time when you read a bedtime story for the 1000th time.   The times you rearranged your schedule, stayed up late or got up early.  When you looked for spare change not just in your purse or pocket but in the cupholder, under the seat and in the glove box.   
When we go that extra mile, when we willingly lovingly give our time, our talents and our treasures, our generosity makes all the difference.  
We are investing in the future.  
We are making ourselves useful.

 © Lorie Craddock

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Words of Wikstrom for December

On Sunday, November 3rd, 2017, I spoke with the some of the children of our congregation.  Of course, the adults were welcomed to listen in, too.

I told them a story -- about getting lost on a hike and what it was that "grounded" me during that ordeal.

I also told them a "secret."  The secret was that I wasn't wearing shoes.  Even more, I wasn't going to be wearing shoes in the sanctuary from then on whenever I am facilitating worship.

This is something I used to do.  It began while I was serving our congregation in Yarmouth, Maine, and it had become such a "thing" with me that it came up during my candidating with the second congregation I served, First Parish in Brewster, Massachusetts.  (When I arrived I discovered that some folks had left in my office a rather large collection of extremely ... colorful ... socks!)

At that time I explained this odd behavior to the children by asking what Moses, Mr. Rogers, and I had in common.  Although there were some creative answers, no one was able to see the connection.

Moses, I said, is remembered in the Jewish Scriptures as having an experience in which he encountered God -- the sacred, the holy, the mysterious -- in the form of a "burning bush," a bush that burned yet which was never burned up.  The story continues that after turning aside to see this unusual sight, he heard a voice that told him to take off his shoes because he was "on holy ground."

It's too long a story to have gone into fully, but what I could tell those kids was that when I was on a silent retreat some years before I'd had a similar kind of revelation about the holiness of where I stood.  I took off my shoes right then, and remained barefoot throughout the rest of the week.

Mr. Rogers comes into the picture because in addition to being a beloved childrens' TV host, he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister.  (Not everyone knows that.)  In an interview I'd heard once he said that it was his belief that the space between the television set and the children watching his show was holy ground, and that he tried to always be mindful of that in everything he did.

I told the children that Sunday morning that I had come back from that retreat with a renewed consciousness that the sanctuary in which we worshiped together was its own kind of "holy ground," and to remind myself of that I took off my shoes.  This symbolic act helped me to be mindful of that fact, and to hold that truth (truth to me, at least) uppermost in my consciousness.

I have not taken off my shoes here.  I'm not entire sure why that is -- I joked that Sunday by saying that perhaps I'd been intimidated by everybody here! -- but I'd recently realized that I was missing this and that I really needed to bring the practice back.

To our children I told this briefly, commented on how this shoeless-ness "grounded me," and asked them what grounded them, what they held on to when times were tough.  This led us into the lovely hymn "When I am Frightened" (by the incomperable Shelley Jackson Denham) and, ultimately, to my sermon, "Oh Star."

Why am I writing all of this?  Firstly, not everyone comes to participate in worship and/or our religious education programming each week, so I know that there are some folks who didn't hear any of this and who might be a little confused when they next see me and I'm in my stocking feet.

More importantly, though, throughout the month of December our worship is using the metaphor of fire to explore the issues we've been considering all Fall, issues of identity -- who am I?  Who are we?  To whom, to what, do we belong?  And on that First Sunday of December I was lifting up both the image of Moses' burning bush, and Robert Frost's lofty star, to encourage our consideration of what it is that grounds us, what it is we can hold on to when there seems that everything is falling apart, what we can look to for hope when it feels as though hopelessness threatens to overwhelm us (or seems to have already done so).

So ... in this "holiday season," which leaves so many of us feeling hectic and harried, which can be so hard and sorrowful for so many whose grief and pain is not only not erased, but often exacerbated by Christmas Muzak, which can highlight the sickness of idol conspicuous consumption ...

in this wider season when the realities of our patriarchal misogynist white supremacist culture are become every-more starkly apparent to ever more of us (folks who identify as white and for whom this has largely been invisible) ...

in these days when so much seems to be falling apart ...

What do you hold on to?  What keeps alight in your heart when all around you seems so cold?  What lights your way, points you in the right direction, sustains beyond all expectation?

These are my thoughts this December.

Pax tecum,