Wednesday, December 10, 2014

what seeds are we planting?

Arthur Rashap offers this brief reflection which ends in a silence that intends to be the beginning of a conversation.

Looking at and thinking about what is going on with the police killings, the travesty of grand juries, and now the report released on torture, it brings to my mind (and perhaps as a theme for one or more services/sermons where appropriate) the following:

Could it be 'we' (the part of society that is 'in control') are planting and harvesting the seeds of the evil (crime, retaliation, terror, etc) by our actions and reactions? If so, what is the course to follow to harvest a sweeter crop? Listen to and HEAR the great teachers (and the littler ones) and their messages.

Wasn't this the basis of the 'celebrations' in the Northern Hemisphere that developed in this time of year? Now look at what is being harvested: "I want (stuff); I give (stuff). 

What is going on sucks, and here is what is needed to be done about it . . . . 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Food for Thought

Lynn Heath provides our topic for conversation today ...

Several ministers back, PACEM was something that Other Churches started. I remember reading about it in the paper and thinking, “What an undertaking.” Elizabeth Breeden read about it, too, and said, “We should be involved with this.” The next winter, we were. The project was close to the heart of Leslie Takahashi-Morris, who put in countless hours coordinating it. Elizabeth stepped in when Leslie left, and has successfully brought together hundreds of volunteers from our church and our partners, Ebenezer Baptist and (formerly) the Islamic Society and St. Paul’s Memorial. Along the way, it’s given many of us new eyes on our community.

I started sleeping over with the guys years ago. It’s not an easy night’s sleep for me, but it feels important. The next morning, I get up ahead of the guys (and now the women, too) and get out a little breakfast. I chat a little, then I watch them leave in the freezing dark. Eventually, I make my way out to my (reliable, energy efficient, expensive) car, go home to my (ridiculously large for one person) house, take a shower (on my schedule in my very own bathroom), and head to work.

If that’s not enough to remind me of my very good luck, I then park my car not far from the church and walk to my office, passing the same guys I just sent on their way. I’m headed for an 8-hour stint at a computer screen, they’re hunkering down for 10 or 12 on the street. No matter what you think about the wisdom of giving to panhandlers, it’s a lot harder to avert your eyes when you’ve played cards with them, when they’ve flirted with you. When you’ve spent the night with them. Sleeping with the guys is an intimate experience of a very different sort.

Being part of TJMC has been a transformative experience. I am a “what an undertaking!” kind of person, and knowing the “we should be a part of this” people allows me to see and be part of a future of action and change. When the news is grim and I just want to pull the covers over my head, I can peek out long enough to see the lovely people of my congregation doing their little pieces (and big ones) to live our principles and transform the world. And I can get up and do my little piece, too.
PACEM has helped us blur the line between “us” and “them.” It’s helped us embrace radical hospitality. We refer to our guests, we eat together, we invite our new friends to come to our services on Sunday morning. We listen to their stories and we gain an understanding of just how fragile all our lives are. We see these men and women asking for help, and maybe it is a little easier for each of us to ask for and to receive help, too.

Recently, this came home to me in a new way. I responded to a call for help and found a need I was aware of, but largely ignoring. It seemed too great to tackle. I didn’t know where to start. And then a friend said “this should not be happening” in that determined way that plants a seed.

Last week I cooked beef stew and chili and assembled a fruit salad for our friends at PACEM, because those things were easy enough and they filled in some empty spaces. And I thought, “I can do this. I can keep someone from being hungry for one night.” Together, we keep 40 people from being hungry for one week. Yet, there are people in our congregation—friends—who are not eating enough. Will you join me this year, taking turns to keep that from happening?

Contact the church office if you want to show that food is love.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Rebirth of The Talk of TJMC

You may have noticed that The Talk of TJMC is back.  When this blog was started back in October of 2013 it had a particular mission -- to help tell the story(ies) of TJMC more effectively.  As in so many congregations there are a whole lot of people here who are unaware of a whole lot of what goes on here.  This is normal; this is understandable.  As we say each Sunday, "this is a lively congregation."

Yet while normal and understandable, this is also something that's addressable.  (Not entirely fixable, of course, but at least addressable.)  But facts aren't the way to do it -- simply getting better at announcing the who, what, where, and when of things won't really convey the flavor of this lively place.  For that you need stories.  And The Talk of TJMC was intended to be a vehicle for conveying some of the stories that make up the tapestry of this beloved community.  Look back over those initial postings and you'll see where this thing was heading.

As often happens, however, actually doing the many things made it difficult to find the time to talk about them and, so, The Talk of TJMC went on hiatus.

Recently, Adam Slate wrote a response to the article in Rolling Stone magazine about the culture of rape on the UVa campus.  It was posted here as a guest blog.  Laura Wallace then offered a piece that put the subject of sexual abuse of women into the wider context of sexism writ large.  And with this, The Talk of TJMC came back to life, with a new mission.

I get to share my thoughts through my own blog and in sermons most Sunday mornings.  Those people who serve the congregation as Worship Weavers often have an opportunity to share their thoughts on things that matter.  And people who are a part of a covenant group can talk with each other,  Yet there is no good way for most of us to share our thoughts, opinions, musings, and meditations with the wider congregation.  (It's also worth noting that although there's a lively cyber community on our congregation's FaceBook page, not everyone's connected to FaceBook ... or wants to be.)

So here's an invitation ...  if you have something to say, write it up and send it to me (  It can be an essay, a poem, a homily, or something else.  We do not, at present, have established guidelines and standards governing this blog, but they're coming.  Until then -- and probably after then, too -- I reserve the right to make editorial suggestions for space, style, and -- in the rarest of occasions -- content.  There are no promises -- stated or implied -- about immediate publication.  (Did that sound like a lawyerly disclaimer?)

This will continue to be a place to tell the stories of our community, but now it will also be a vehicle for us to talk with one another.

Pax tecum,


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What To Do?

In response to today's Grand Jury decision in NYC I wrote this on our FaceBook page. Knowing that not everybody uses FaceBook, I thought I'd post it here as well.  (I know that not everyone reads blogs either ...). 

The decisions in Ferguson and, now, New York led Baratunde Thurston to Tweet "it looks the founding fathers had it right. In the eyes of the law we're not fully human."  The recent article in Rolling Stone reminded anyone who'd thought otherwise that women aren't treated that way, either. 

As a white, heterosexual, middle class, well educated male I need to remember that my outrage, my disbelief, and my despair are products of my experiences AS a white, heterosexual, middle class, well educated male. Women, people of color, homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, poor, and differently abled people are often not as surprised ... these things serve more as confirmation than shock. 

And though I've also recently written about my feeling that we need "a new Malcolm," I also know that the end of oppression depends more on changes in the oppressor (and those who intentionally or unintentionally benefit) rather than the efforts of the oppressed. As Chris Rick said in a recent interview, the "advances" made by people of color show that white people have been changing. We need more good white people, he said. (I'm paraphrasing.)

So ... what should we do?  How should TJMC-UU  respond?  We say in our Mission Statement that, "We seek to have a lasting influence on local, national and global programs that promote equity and end oppression."  How shall we do that?  Open to ideas ...

Pax Tecum,


PS-- I'll cross post comments so that the conversation can include as many of us as possible

Letter from a Daughter of UVa

Another guest blogger from our congregation, Laura Wallace, shares a personal and autobiographical response to the recent Rolling Stone article about UVa and sexism writ large.  

My gentle father co-founded a department at UVa. I adored my Dad, and by extension, the place where he worked. It had a radiance, an importance, and it was a space that I perceived as mysteriously dignified (as my Dad was).

And it was so beautiful. As a little girl, I played on the Lawn as though it were “my” Lawn. It felt like my place. My own limitless yard, where I could run and dance, expressing every childhood dream. It was magical to me. From the louvered doors of the residences where special students lived (to my child self, they were gods), to the monuments and glorious Rotunda. I grew up with reverence for this place.

We were a one-car family, so I’d ride along with my mother in the evenings to Cabell Hall to pick up my Dad -- who by this point was a busy chairman (and later a dean). He was always late. My mother let me go in ahead, and I loved getting into the elevator and hitting the “4” all by myself. I’d run down the long empty halls, breathing in the sweet smell of the fluffy stuff the (invariably African-American) janitors strewed ahead of their brooms as they polished the floors. That suspended hour at Cabell Hall was heaven -- I was a beloved child playing in a realm where my beloved father stayed when he was not at the house.

I felt cherished and utterly at home. I’d go into his classroom and shove a chair over to the blackboard where I’d create an extravagant display for him of stick figures with big smiles and clumsily printed messages like: “Hi, Daddy!” or “My Daddy works here!” or “I love you, Daddy.” The next evening, he’d pull me onto his knee and tell me how his students laughed as they gathered for class while he hurried to erase the board. I knew he wasn’t upset with me.


I was fascinated, growing up, by the young men on Rugby Road, and the fraternities. I admired their ties, their loafers-with-no-socks, and their masculine beauty. (My father believed that the no-socks development betrayed the civilized universe.) But for some reason, I never quite put it all together. I saw some women on Grounds, but never grasped that they were only in the Education or Nursing schools. I lived in a safe cloud of belonging, and just didn’t catch on...until too late. So I admired the fraternity boys, even snuck into a few parties with brave friends as a teen, and remained oblivious.

Until one day when, with a spurt of sentiment, I asked my parents to sit with me, and announced: “I’ve decided I’m not going away to college! I’m going to stay here and go to UVa so I can be closer to you.” (For real. This is exactly what I said.) And they got a funny look. And they asked me to go for a ride. And they drove me down the road to look at another college, which was lovely but even from the car window, clearly a smaller, drabber, lesser institution, and then my Dad said, “This is where the girls go, dear.”

My heart broke in that moment. That was the first time I understood, viscerally, that I was a lesser, and unwelcome, being. My place didn’t want me. I was just...born wrong. So I applied to a college north of here. An all-female college. Got in, went in 1968, and loved it.

The wound from UVa has never fully healed.

One college summer, a young UVa professor my Dad mentored hired me to do some hourly research. It was not a challenge...I was smart and capable and did exactly what the male grad student at the next table did, all day long.

One day, the professor came in with a Special Guest. He introduced him to the graduate student at length, standing right in front of me, and while they chatted, I sat there thinking, “What am I? Chopped liver?” (All my new best friends at college were Jewish.) And it felt really awkward. So I just looked at him. On the way out the door with his visitor, he pointed back and said, “And that’s Laura. She does all right, for a GIRL.” He snickered, and left.

He didn’t know I’d spent the last year in Baltimore having my consciousness raised. And I guess it really got to me. The next morning I went into his office and said, “I need to let you know that I quit. And if you don’t like women, don’t hire them!” And walked out.

I waitressed until it was time to head back to school.

After graduate school, I met my husband in Louisville. Missing the Blue Ridge, I asked if he’d move to Virginia with me. We agreed that if one of us could find a job at a certain salary, we’d do it. And I did. I got a PR job at UVa.

My male officemate and I did the exact same writing job and had the exact same title. One day, we innocently compared salaries. And sure enough, my pay was thousands less. I went straight to the director and asked about this. How things had the next paycheck I had a raise.

I still noticed how, if they hadn’t been called on it, they would have continued to pay me less for equal work….

Years later, but within this decade, I worked at UVa again. Same old. Some changes, with more diversity in some upper ranks. But overall, mostly female staffers, and the majority of professors and deans were still male (and white). I wrote a pretty good poem about it. It even references Jefferson. 

Because of the persistence of unequal pay, my retirement will be much later, and my old age more perilous -- because of sexism. It lives.

I was chatting to a young man in my office one day just a few years ago, when he spent some time working with us before going to graduate school. For some reason we were talking about Oprah. I think she’s a narcissist so I find it creepy that her influence is so huge. I said, “So wow, she has her own network now!” My blood re-chilled in a familiar way when he replied, straight-faced, “I know. It’s really scary when any woman gets that kind of power.”

I was never raped. I was in all sorts of situations where it might have happened, and like many women, was moderately molested a few times. So I know I was just lucky.

I had a great conversation last year with a new UU minister, who told me he was shocked by the personal stories of white-on-black racism that he was hearing in Charlottesville. He’d grown up in a Pacific enclave where tales from the south hadn’t seemed completely real. One day he told me, “I’ve just realized that racism is the worst thing in the world.”

I said, “No, it’s not.” He looked surprised. I said, “Sexism is. It’s global and it trumps everything.”

Later he said, “I think you’re right.” He got it.  He understood that competing “isms” wasn’t the point, but seeing half the world.

Friends like him are one reason I am a UU.

Within UUism, I feel safe in loving outside my comfort zone, and saying what is deepest. But in any part of any culture, power and privilege can shield abuse. Sometimes the power isn’t physical; sometimes it’s cloaked in the holy. My maternal grandfather was a minister who raped his daughters. I found out from a cousin in the late ‘80s (my mother never told me). My aunt, his primary target, was later institutionalized for depression.

Like every woman, I know from sexism. And sexism in institutions. And inequality. And male privilege. It has permeated my life and the life of every human being I know.

I don’t know what the answer is for beautiful, broken UVa, but I know that when we fix this, we fix the world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Future is Up For Grabs

After a hiatus, The Talk of TJMC is back ... and with a guest blogger, no less.  Our own Adam Slate responded to the article in Rolling Stone regarding the "rape culture" on the UVa campus (and, of course, elsewhere) with this brief but beautiful essay.  In case you find your hope a little diminished:

The solution to sexual violence on college campuses, and in the world, isn’t just about how we educate our daughters, but how we educate our sons.

The shocking thing about the song “Rugby Road” is not just the atrocious lyrics. It’s also that young college men still feel comfortable writing new lyrics, and singing the song in public. The shocking aspect of the Phi Kappa Psi gang rape story is not just the alleged atrocious act itself. It’s also that someone contemplating premeditated rape in this decade might feel safe broaching the subject with his peers, and that his peers might not only allow it to happen, but also choose to participate.

Early in my first year as a UVA student, back in the autumn of 1982, one of my fellow suite-mates brought a female student back to his dorm room for (consensual) sex. The next morning while she was still asleep, he came out to use the bathroom, and reported to those of us in the central living area of the suite some of the specific acts that they performed, and then he went back in. This guy was not my friend, but I’d like to think he would have responded appropriately to someone telling him “no” on a date. However it seems clear to me at the very least that his parents sent him to UVA without the necessary sensitivity to act responsibly in this kind of situation, and without an appropriate amount of respect for his sexual partners, and women in general.

In spite of having been raised in a feminist household, and feeling uncomfortable in that situation, I did not say anything to him at the time, instead trying to ignore his comments. I must not have had the tools, awareness, or training to deal with the situation. But while I can’t go back and redo that moment knowing what I know now, I do still have one tool available to me that can make a difference. Two, actually. In addition to sending my daughters off to college, I’ll be helping to send two stepsons. Two boys who will have access to the countless private guys-only conversations that happen every day among boys and men of all ages, where someone can choose to thoughtlessly or maliciously wield insensitive or dangerous rhetoric regarding gender and sexuality, or can choose to be a watchdog against it.

Some of the sons that our generation is raising right now will be part of the next generation of UVA students, and some of those will join fraternities. By sending them well-equipped, we will ensure that the daughters we’re raising now will grow up with the allies they need, when they need them.

Let’s not be discouraged, but instead actively exercise this opportunity. It’s very messy to try to change the culture of the past that has gotten us to this point, and even with all the current attention that this recent situation has received, and the sins that are finally coming to light, we likely won’t get all the way there today. But tomorrow is still up for grabs.

~ Adam Slate

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Did You Do On Your Summer Vacation?

During the month of July I had the opportunity to take both some vacation and some study time.  The vacation time was spent largely in shuffling the kids and the dog to summer camps, programs at PVCC, lawncare jobs, and "doggy daycare."  That long list of movies I was going to finally cut down to size?  Not so much.

As for the study time, I had two primary objectives.  The first was to make some headway on the book that's been burbling up for the past year or so.  (Its working title is, What If We Really Shared the Ministry?  a challenge to clergy and an invitation to the laity.)  I'm happy to say that I've got something down in each chapter, and a couple are fairly near to completion.  There's still a lot of work ahead, but I am grateful to have this opportunity to dedicate some time to laying the foundation.

The other project on which I focused my attention was beginning what will probably be a multi-year self-directed study of some of the more current literature on leadership.  I began with The Practice of Adaptive Leadership:  tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world.  It was published in 2009, and written by Ronals Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky.  Hefetz had written the groundbreaking 1998 book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, and he and Linsky co-wrote the 2002, Leadership on the Line:  staying alive through the dangers of leading.  The three work together at Cambridge Leadership Associates, a global leadership development practice.

In their preface to The Practice of Adaptive Leadership they write, "Our previously published work had been focused on developing the conceptual framework and practical basis for adaptive leadership, but as we talked together that night, we realized that we knew a lot more about the operational nitty-gritty, how to actually do adaptive leadership, than we had written before."  This book is their attempt to show how -- clearly and directly -- how to put their theories into practice.

A little about that theory -- they write:
"The practice of leadership, like the practice of medicine, involves two core processes:  diagnosis first and then action.  And those two processes unfold in two dimensions:  toward the organizational or social system you are operating in and toward yourself.  That is, you diagnose what is happening in your organization or community and take action to address the problems you have identified.  But to lead effectively, you also have to examine and take action toward yourself in the context of the challenge.  In the midst of action, you have to be able to reflect on your own attitudes and behavior to better calibrate your interventions into the complex dynamics of organizations and communities.  You need perspective on yourself as well as on the systemic context in which you operate." (p.6)
This two-part process in their two dimensions is reflected in the book's organization.  The second section (the first is is introductory materials) looks at how to diagnose the system, while the third looks at how to "mobilize" the system or, in other words, how to act to deal with adaptive challenges.  The fourth section looks at how, essentially, to diagnose yourself as a system and then, in the fifth and last part, how to "deploy" yourself.  And true to their word, the authors share concrete specific questions to ask, challenges that will undoubtedly be encountered, and ways to respond to both.

Early on Heifetz, et al. provide a very simple definition:  "Adaptive leadership is the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive."  It's simple, but there's a lot there.  Throughout the book they make clear that adaptive leadership is a practice.  It is, in many ways, a mind-set more than a set of prescribed measures to be taken.  Each situation needs to be seen as the unique entity that it is -- something which builds on the past yet is also totally new.  Because of this, no one can claim to be an expert adaptive leader -- the best we can do is to keep practicing the art.

Next, adaptive leadership is about mobilizing people.  This is not simply about "getting the job done," but about helping the organization or community to work together so that the job gets done.  They write:
"Too many people in authority work to make those under them dependent on them.  The more dependent the followers, the more indispensable the authority figure feels.  Your job in exercising adaptive leadership is to make yourself dispensable.  The only way you can do that is to constantly give work back to others so you can develop their abilities and calibrate their current and potential talent for skills such as critical thinking and smart decision making."  (p. 169)  [And you can bet that paragraph is going to be in my book on shared ministry!]
Then, the goal of adaptive leadership is the tackling of tough challenges, and this is one of the shifts of thinking that is critical to understanding this approach to leadership.  The authors note that some of the problems organizations face are technical in nature.  Many, in fact.  These problems can be fairly clearly defined, and their solution(s) are generally clear as well.  Not everyone may agree on any particular proposed solution, but solutions are clear.  "While technical problems may be very complex and critically important (like replacing a faulty heart valve during cardiac surgery), they have known solutions that can be implemented by current know-how.  They can be resolved through the application of authoritative expertise and through the organization's current structures, procedures, and ways of doing things."  (p. 19)  Even if the organization or community does not currently have the needed expertise in-house to address the problem, such experts do exist and can be brought in to help find solutions.

Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, "can only be addressed through changes in people's priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties.  Making progress requires going beyond any authoritative expertise to mobilize discovery, shedding certain entrenched ways, tolerating losses, and generating the new capacity to thrive anew."  (p. 19)  The authors note that "the most common cause of failure in leadership" is when adaptive challenges are addressed as if they were technical problems.  And this happens all to often because addressing the adaptive challenge is almost always going to be harder, more threatening to the status quo, then simply trying to solve a problem. 

"When leading adaptive change, you will be courting resistance by stirring the pot, upsetting the status quo, and creating disequilibrium."  In fact, they talk about the importance of maintaining a productive zone of disequilibrium wherein, "enough heat [is] generated by your intervention to gain attention, engagement, and forward motion, but not so much that the organization (or your part of it) explodes." (p. 29)

Looking back through my copy of the book there is almost more highlighting then clean type, with lots of pages dogeared and lots of arrows and exclamation points to indicate important ideas I want to return to.  It is both something to read to educate oneself, but also a guide to look back at while engaged in the practice of adaptive leadership itself.  It is full of ideas that are worth learning and important to remember.

One practical example:  throughout the book there are specific questions to consider, and actions to take, in order to explore the ideas in one's own context.  The way these sections are framed is, itself, one of the tools the recommend.  The metaphor they use for the diagnosis, questioning, phase is, "getting on the balcony."  Imagine a dance hall.  While on the dance floor you have a very limited view of all that's going on, but if you go up to the balcony you have a different vantage point from which to observe everything.  At the same time, if you only stayed up on the balcony you'd have no real interactions and so it's necessary to also be able to "get down on the practice field."   The practice of Adaptive Leadership requires the skillful movement between these two perspectives.  The Practice of Adaptive Leadership is a trustworthy guide.

Pax tecum,


Thursday, June 26, 2014

This is the church of the helping hands ...

A couple of weeks ago thirteen of our youth (and six adults) traveled to West Virginia to take part in the Appalachia Service Project program.  What an experience!  The youth all worked so hard and accomplished so much.  The families became so bonded with us, it was sad to leave.  It was very heartening to spend a week with people up to so much good in the world!

I want to especially thank the adults on the trip: Mike Ludwick for leaving his family to spend the week with us, for tolerating our singing with his guitar playing, for his sense of humor, his hard work and his consistently positive attitude about everything!  Karen Moulis for her hard work, tolerance and wonderful homemade treats.  We would definitely have starved without her support.  And, we certainly would not have been so well liked!  Larry Moulis for his calm leadership of us all and his sage advice.  Duncan for his hard work, construction advice, leadership, and clear explanations of UU to the other youth. I greatly appreciate how our adults empowered the youth and helped them to grow their confidence and decision making skills. We could not have had better adult leadership.

I also want to thank Alex, Erik and Leia for coming to send us off and Alex for welcoming us home.  I greatly appreciate all the support from the whole church!

We have such remarkable youth!  We worked in difficult conditions all week and I never heard a complaint or a harsh word.  They were all unfailingly supportive of each other and kind to the other youth in the center. They all opened their hearts to our families and treated them with admiration and respect.  I think our presence was healing to our families' hearts as well as their homes.

Here are a few pictures and I look forward to seeing others.  

Thank you all for supporting such a valuable experience!

Pam McIntyre  (guest blogger)



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why We Need The UUA ...

With thousands of Unitarian Universalists gathering in Providence, RI for the annual General Assembly of the UUA (including several from TJMC*), it might be a good time to consider the perennial question, "What does the UUA do for us?"

This question seems to come up most often around budget time.  When finances seem tight (or actually are tight) it is not unusual for savings seeking eyes to look at the line item for our "dues" to the UUA and the Southeast District.  Surely that's a place we could afford to cut, right?  After all, the UUA doesn't really do all that much for us so we could get some real savings and not really be all that effected.  Right?

First, let me clear up a misconception.  The money we give to the UUA is not "dues" for belonging to the organization.  Nor is it anymore a "head tax" calculated on the number of members we have.  Think of the UUA as a meta-version of our own congregation.  In many ways this isn't just an analogy.  "UUA" stands for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.  The UUA is not a denomination in the traditional sense.  It is, instead, and association of congregations just as TJMC is an association of members, except that in the case of the UUA its members are congregations.  The pledge we make to support the UUA is just like the pledge you make to support TJMC.  (And if you haven't yet pledged, you can go online and do so right now!)

And just as does TJMC, the UUA helps congregations to assess what is a "fair share" pledge.  In our case we suggest a certain percentage of your income.  The UUA used to make its suggestion based on the number of members a congregation reports, but in an experiment that began last year it is not suggesting a percentage of a congregation's budget be considered a "fair share."

It is true that when an individual member of the TJMC community is facing financial difficulties we would encourage you to take care of your essential needs first before making a pledge to the church.  And if you situation changed from last year, we would encourage you to reduce your pledge.  Yet all of us understand the ramifications of this -- when resources are tight here we freeze, or cut, our employees' compensation packages (as happened this year); we put off necessary maintenance (as has happened for several years); we make use of money we'd intended to save for tomorrow so as to pay the bills of today.  The same thing happens for the UUA.  As the Rev. Jamie McReynolds has so eloquently put it, "When we reduce our pledge to the UUA we are essentially choosing to push staff cuts up the line."

Still, you might be asking, "So what?"  And that brings us back to the question of the role of the UUA in the life of TJMC.  Let's start with something basic:  You know those seven principles you love to quote?  They're actually a section of the UUA's bylaws, not something we ourselves created.  And those hymnals we sing from?  Published by the UUA and made possible only because of the networked nature of our Association which brings together tremendously talented people from across the country in common purpose.  (Believe it or not, TJMC is not the only UU congregation around!)

The ordained clergy who have served this congregation have had their development supported by the UUA, and the search process that has resulted in our various calls is only possible because of the UUA's coordination.  The UUA creates curricula that we use -- including its current Tapestry of Faith series which includes both "The Wi$dom Path" program we are currently offering and the "Spirit in Practice" curricula I wrote a while back.

When our Unitarian Universalist family gathers as it has done in Phoenix around issues of immigration, and in Raleigh around issues of voters' rights, whenever the now famous "yellow shirts" of the Standing on the Side of Love campaigns to show our solidarity with those who are struggling, that's the UUA in action.  When we support the UUA we support all of the justice work that is being done in our name around the country and around the world.

Read just about any article in the UU World magazine and you'll get a sense of all the ways Unitarian Universalism is manifesting itself and our good news beyond the boundaries of Charlottesville, VA.  When we support the UUA we support all of that!

Both the Welcoming Congregation and Green Sanctuary designations of which we're so justly proud are initiatives of the UUA, and the signs we've recently posted about gender neutral bathrooms (in support of, and in solidarity with, transgender individuals) also come from the UUA's resources.

More than once we've called on the UUA's Office of Church Staff Finances, and the Department of Ministries and Faith Development when we've faced a challenge and didn't want to have to reinvent the wheel.  Our current efforts to create a year round stewardship committee (to go well beyond simply a pledge drive and some fundraisers in helping us learn to truly steward the time, talents, and treasures of our community) is being guided by the UUA's FORTH program.

We've gotten information and insights about communications (especially with regards to the use of social media) from the UUA, their Office of Growth Strategies is a rich resource indeed, and their Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries has enabled us to draw on the experiences of Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country.

Overwhelmed yet?  I have barely begun to scratch the surface of the ways the UUA has an impact on us here at TJMC.  If you want to find out more, just check out the website and noodle around for a bit.  If we limit our thinking to just what the UUA has done for and with us, I think that it's abundantly clear that we need to continue to support the UUA.  If we add in all of the ways the UUA could help us to more vibrantly live our Unitarian Universalism ....

The UUA's recommended "fair share" pledge for a congregation of our size is 7% of its annual budget.  We were a fair share congregation for a great many years.  Last year we reduced our pledge to a paltry 2.5%.  We kept it the same this year.  And yes, our own budget is extremely tight and I honestly don't know what else we could have cut.  It's just important that we realize that this cut was not without its consequences -- to us and to our Association.  While I was at UUHQ, before coming here, the UUA lost approximately $4 million dollars from its budget and had to close offices and departments as well as cut staff.  Some of the more difficult meetings I attended were those in which we wrestled with what services to congregations we would now have to curtail.  Our congregration's support of the UUA -- just like our congregant's support of TJMC -- really and truly matters.


* We are being ably represented at GA by: Annalee Durland-Jones, Leia Durland-Jones, Tyler Frankeburg, Naomi Holmes, Alex McGee, and the Rev. Jamie McReynolds, some of whom are pictured below ...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Support the Minister's Discretionary Fund!

It is common for congregations to establish a fund to be used by the professional minister(s) at their discretion to give aid to individuals and to be a source of off-budget funds for projects.  This is generally called "the minister's discretionary fund."  Each year here at TJMC-UU the collections taken at Christmas Eve services support this fund, and folks have been very generous.

But you hardly ever hear about how this money is used.  Well ... it's been a busy year!

Because of your generosity I have been able to help members of our congregation, and the wider community, purchase food and gas with Scrip cards.  Some of our members have needed help paying their utility bills, and thanks to you all we've been able to do that.  

The discretionary fund allowed me to provide first-month's rent for a homeless man who was ready to get off the street but needed a hand in doing so.  I've also been able to help cover medical bills for several of our members.   

You have made it possible to support congregants who are taking classes to try to improve their situations, and you have helped provide temporary housing for several people who had nowhere else to go.  And when some of you have come to me with a great idea for which there was no money in the budget, I was able to say "go ahead."  And this is just some of what's been done "at my discretion" because of your generosity!  

But now, going in to this new church year, the fund is nearly dry, and I'm afraid that if we wait until Christmas to replenish we'll leave many people without support.  So ... if it is possible, given your own financial situation, would you consider making a donation to this refill this fund?  If so, make your check out to TJMC-UU and include on the memo line that this is for "the minister's discretionary fund."  Thank you for all you've made possible, and thank you for helping to keep our congregation's support available to those in need.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Something to Think About

Composite of Thomas & Isaac (Granger) Jefferson

Three years ago we established what is now being called "The Thomas Jefferson Legacies Initiative."  This initiative recognizes that being named after Jefferson, author of both the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, gives us a responsibility to work to affirm and promote those ideals.  At the same time, we recognize that being named after a man who believed that he "owned" approximately six hundred women, children and men, gives us a responsibility to work today to undo the oppression that has its roots in that time.  The Thomas Jefferson Legacies Initiative is the umbrella under which we can try to respond to both of these legacies.

One aspect of this initiative is the Thomas Jefferson Legacies Library, located in the parlor to the left of the fireplace, under the bust of Jefferson.  This is where the old Undoing Racism library now resides, a collection of books on race and racism that continues to grow.

I want to call your particular attention to the books on the top shelf to the left of Jefferson's bust.  These books look specifically at the issue of Jefferson and slavery, and are well with all of us reading and thinking about.  As long as our community bears the Jefferson name we should do what we can to be as educated as possible about the contradictions inherent in that association so that we can better respond to those legacies today.
If you borrow one of these books -- and you should! -- please let the church office know.  We plan to soon have a simple form there for you to fill out so that we can keep track of our library.  There is so much for so many of us to learn (and unlearn).  There are stories that need to be told, and heard, and retold again and again.  The Thomas Jefferson Legacies Initiative is one way of doing that.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Soul and World Changing Unitarian Universalism

On Tuesday I wrote about the Coming of Age Service that happens before the Coming of Age service most of us experience.  I've been asked if I would share the opening and closing words that are offered.
"In the transition we call coming of age, we see the child trying to hold on to the true self and actively creating, at the same time, the self who will become the adult.  Everything is in flux, and it will be for a while.  But there is something that comes from taking all that energy, chaos, and flux and shaping it into a statement, a service, a celebration that will go with them as they grow -- something that says that being whole is a collaborative act, requiring us to hold on to our true selves and also each other."
~ Judith E. Meyer
 "None of us can provide all the answers you will need as your life unfolds.  We know that the greatest joys and highest satisfactions are given to those who are faithful to their ideals, their promises, and their friends.  It does not mater if the world looks with disdain or suspicion upon the gifts you bring:  give them anyway.  In the end, you must answer to your own conscience.  trust yourself, and strive to be worthy of that trust.  Remember all that lives must die, and do not fear to love, but embrace grief when it comes to you.  You will never know everything; but in the persistent desire to learn more, wisdom will grow.  To do what you know is wrong, or to cause pain needlessly, will always damage yourself in the long run.  The more you look for the best in others, the more you will find it.  Be of good courage, willingly do your share of the world's work, and remember that you are greatly loved."
~ Kendyl Gibbons

What would your life be if those words had been said to you?  What will it be because they were?

This thing we do -- this Unitarian Universalism -- is powerful stuff.  Soul and world changing.  Our movement exists not just because we need it, but because the world needs it.  The world needs people who know that they are "greatly loved" just as they are, with all of their questions and confusions and wisdom and strength.  The world needs people who know full well that not everyone will, nor should, think and act as they do and that this is a strength and not a problem.

We do good work here at TJMC-UU, and this past Sunday's service was living proof.