MINISTER NEWSLETTER COLUMNS
NEWSLETTER COLUMN January 2018: Intention
Many years ago, when I worked as a Youth Minister, I would take youth on mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries to partner with local communities on a project they wanted done. I spoke no Spanish but quickly learned food words because I was a vegetarian at the time. I used to believe that if I led with an open heart and good intentions, it was enough to cross any language or cultural boundaries.
But at a training on being culturally competent at a ministerial professional gathering, I learned that “intent does not equal impact.” In other words, one’s good intentions do not protect one from doing harm to someone else.
The best example I have run across to illustrate this is the following: a colleague and I are working together on a project that involves us moving around a lot. I accidentally step on their ankle, causing them fall on the ground in pain. My response, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,” focuses the incident on me. Meanwhile, my colleague is lying on the ground in pain. Who cares what the intent was. What I should have been asking was, “I am so sorry, are you alright, what can I do to help you?” The difference may be subtle but it shifts the dynamic from intent to the impact my action had, intentional or not.
This lesson was huge for me. And it has taught me to listen to persons of color and indigenous when they tell me that something I said or did impacted them negatively. Rather than defend my “wokeness” and good intentions, I need to listen and try to understand how my intent went wrong and caused an impact I never dreamed of. In other words, if a POC/I tells me that something impacted them, I need to stop trying to defend myself. I need to show up, shut up, and listen. Apologize. Allow the experience not to embarrass or shame me but to transform me and my behavior. And do all that I can- with humility- to restore right relationship.
I still need to lead with an open heart when navigating cultures. But I can no longer depend on my intentions to act in ways that honor “differences that make a difference” or connection. It is a practice, a commitment to a way of living. It is humbling. But if we lead with humility, we create fertile ground- the root word of humility- that allows new ways of connecting and building community to emerge.
Willing to stay at the table and do the work,
NEWSLETTER Column 2016: Easter
It was a colleague’s photo post on Facebook that helped me think about Easter egg hunts differently. Most churches (ours included) hold some sort of Easter egg hunt for children on Easter. One church I served hid hardboiled eggs all over the RE wing. Until the smell from two well-hidden rotting eggs filled the whole church. They switched to chocolate eggs and jelly beans. But we all know what happens when kids eat all of that sugar before lunch- or even breakfast. Here at WUUC, we hide plastic eggs mostly with a little candy and little this’s and that’s for the kids. But my colleague’s photo was of canned food that the kids had hunted for that would go to the local food bank. When I lived in Montana, the greatest need at the food banks was in the Spring; not the high holiday season of fall and winter. So I was immediately taken with the idea of our kids hunting for cans that folks donate for several weeks prior to Easter. In addition there would be little prizes for the kids to take home. But not chocolate eggs. Or jelly beans. Not this year.
As I have said before, Easter is a tough holiday for UU’s. Theologically at least. For if the Easter story is the Christian story, what are we to do with the day? Some of us focus on the season of Spring. If the day is to be about resurrection and rebirth, that makes sense. But, as the Rev. Bruce Clay wrote in his yearly Easter letter to his congregation in 1985,
“But Spring is not Easter. Easter is something else. For Spring is automatic. It always comes. Easter is not automatic. For some folks, Easter never comes at all.”
Easter is to be the great liberation. It is to be a time when we are born again or renewed to do the work that must be done to actively engage in the creation of systems and structures that allow persons to be liberated. For there are so many among us for whom Easter-new life, rebirth, liberation- never comes. Not all of this work needs to be so lofty that it is out of our reach. It can be about simple acts. Like collecting cans of food to feed those who for whatever reason (mostly economic) are without food. It doesn’t end hunger but it can alleviate it.
May your experience of Easter this year be one of an understanding of rebirth, renewal, new life, and liberation.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,
Newsletter Column January 2014: The New Year
May this year be your year.
Declare it so, the year of-fill in the blank.
Fill the year not with impossible resolutions
but small biteable incremental goals-
things that you can celebrate rather than be guilted by:
picking up your socks,
screwing the lid back on the toothpaste,
saying “thank you” more,
making a candlelight dinner once a week- even if you live alone,
stand outside at night in the soft rain,
picking one night a week to actually read those magazines,
doing one thing outside of your personal “box” once a month.
Cleaning the garage or your desk or the shed or the cupboards under the bathroom sinks or your workbench might or might not happen. So don’t resolve anything to do with them. If they do get done, bonus. But if they are never on the list, they can’t loom over you with a sense of failure.
If you must resolve, resolve to make this year the year of you:
- Set your intention(s) for the year.
- Make a list of all the things that give you pleasure and carry around with you everywhere.
- Instead of worrying about how to fit one more thing into your day or week or life, pick one thing you can stop doing that will make you feel more internally spaciousness.
- Take everything out of one room in your house, before you put anything back in it, ask yourself if it is essential to that room or space or even your life. If not say bye-bye to it.
- Have date nights with your partner or yourself- take yourselves out of the house for the evening. It does not have to cost anything. You could go to the library or to a park or on a walk or to sit in a coffee shop and read.
- Find the thing within you that is creative and allow it to lead you.
- Start that dang gratitude journal or basket.
- Figure out how your body likes to move or be active and move it.
- Ignore all diets and trust your gut: it will tell you what you need to feel good. They don’t call the stomach the second brain for nothing…
- Show up in your life, fully for it is such a short and precious gift.
Perhaps a new year is not so much about what we resolve to do but about what we hope to recover or uncover in our lives. So strip away any “thing” that is too confining or obscures your vision. Whittle your way down to your “youest you” and live from there…
Happy New Year! May it be the year of you…
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,