“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear” - Ambrose Redmoon
Kathy Burek and I recently attended the opening service and celebration for the UU Church of Minnetonka. They used the same architect that designed White Bear UU Church’s sanctuary for their new building. A wall of windows overlook the woods and there is a long patio that runs along the side of the building. It is a beautiful place and reflects over a decade of hope as they waited for the land they purchased to be cleared for construction by the city. Their mission statement is posted in the foyer: "In a spirit of wonder and with courageous love, we connect, grow, and act." The words that stood out to me were “courageous love.”
This month’s theme is courage. UU minister, Rev. Erika Hewitt, writes about courage in a reading titled, “Bold and Courageous Together” on the UUA’s Worship Web.
The word courage comes from the Latin cor, which means heart. According to poet Mark Nepo, the original use of the word courage meant to stand by one’s core: a “striking concept that reinforces the belief found in almost all traditions that living from the Center is what enables us to face whatever life has to offer.”
What does courageous love look like at MSUS and our call to be in the wider world? What is at our congregational core? What is more important to us than fear? These questions are important to consider within one’s own heart, how we interact with each other when we gather at the church, and what we want to be beyond the confines of our own walls. They are also questions that we need to visit over and over again as a congregation and personally.
Another section of Rev. Hewitt’s reading says:
With full hearts,
we affirm our relationships with one another;
we recognize our agency and our connective power;
and we accept our responsibility to be bold and courageous.
This month, I urge you to consider how being a UU informs your core. Think of how courage does and does not show up for you at church. Do you avoid hard conversations or lean into them? Are you able to keep your heart full even when you greatly disagree with someone or something happens that is not to your liking? When have you been courageous with another congregant/s? What did you learn from that experience?
My, we are imperfect people and we frequently fall short in our relations and intentions. It takes courage to practice our faith and commit to life-giving connections with one another. May we continue to find the space in our heart to show up with courageous and bold love for ourselves, each other, and all who live beyond the MSUS community.
“Our stubborn belief in the bedrock of pre-ciousness of individuals ought never be taken for granted: it is not shared in large portions of the world, and it is frequently threatened by bigotry and intoler-ance here in America. It remains a distinctive, critical hallmark of our way to doing church.”
Last year, we joined a nationwide UU program called Soul Matters which creates monthly worship and small group resource packets around predetermined themes.
We begin the 2017-2018 church year with the theme of Welcome. Our faith, as Tim Owen-Towle states, is deeply connected to our first principle—the inherent worth and dignity of every person. To truly live this principle at this time in our country requires a level of groundedness and compassion that is hard to come by when people are feeling fearful and the country feels divided.
Somewhere in my reading or listening to the radio, I learned about The People’s Supper. The leaders of this project “aim to repair the breach in our interpersonal relationships across political, ideological, and identity differences, leading to more civil discourse.” The suppers began after the President’s inauguration as a response to a divided nation. The description continues, “This isn’t about a political party, or what is or isn’t happening in Washington. It’s about us, and our relationship to one another. Too often, we exist in echo chambers and see each other as monoliths: one-sided stereotypes who can be reduced to a single word or phrase.”
The supper hosts are given a facilitator guide that contains four questions. Two questions are:
- Describe a moment, recent or long passed, in which you’ve been made to feel unwelcome, unsafe, unworthy, and threatened.
- Describe a moment, recent or long passed, in which you were made to feel the opposite: in which you felt fully seen and heard and at ease.
Those who have never claimed a faith or church community as well as those who come from other faith traditions often speak of feeling fully seen and heard and at ease during their first few visits here. They feel seen as a person who has their own story and particular reason why they are looking for a community of faith. They feel heard as their theological doubts and questions as well as those about living a deeper life of purpose are welcomed. And they feel at ease knowing that ours is a faith that strives to be inclusive.
Theodore Parker, a nineteen century Unitarian minister and transcendentalist is quoted as saying we need to be a wide place as well as a warm one. Although our congregation took root by members of the First Unitarian, a Humanist beacon in the Midwest, we now have a greater continuum of faith belief ranging from Atheists to Buddhists to Christians. We create a beloved community when we listen carefully to one another and share our own beliefs and questions. It takes practice to come together and grapple with meaning without alienating others. Together, we continue to practice how to be the community we long to see in the greater world.
Ours is a covenantal faith based on the promises we make to one another. The depth and spirit of the commitments we make in this community differ from those of other areas of our lives. We are called to be mindful, open, curious, compassionate, reflective, and constantly working toward beloved community. My hope is that as we move through the year together, we can continue to practice radical welcome and hospitality and to explore how we want to be with each other here as well as in the community and the greater society.
Rev. Luara Smidzik
by Martha Postlethwaite:
Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worth of rescue.
My friend, Martha, read this poem at my ordination. I had her words printed on a beautiful business card with an image of a fern background. This poem feels like a gentle gift of wisdom, it is one that I’ve shared with a few of you over the past month.
I recall giving the printed poem to a member at White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church. A few weeks later I asked her to serve in some volunteer capacity. She said, “no,” citing her daily reflection on this poem as the reason why. I rejoiced in her clarity, recognizing that this did not mean “no” to every request that may come her way from the church. But clearly what I was asking her to do was not connected to the song of her life.
I’ve waited patiently in the dense forest of my own life. Wondering what is next, where to put my dreams and passion, what part of the large and complex world should I give myself to. After several careers I decided to move into the ministry. The years of seminary courses, clinical pastoral education, and a year-long ministerial internship provided time for discernment coupled with ministerial experience, theological reflection, spiritual practice, and clarity. I always imagined myself at a large church serving as part of a multi-staff ministry team. It is still a mystery and delight to feel called here, to be with you.
It is hard to believe that the end of the formal church year is here. I joined you last August and spent the year in observation mode and in the spirit of service. I have to thank all of you for welcoming me, bringing me into the congregation, and sharing stories your lives. I have been stretched, grateful, humbled, challenged, awestruck, and joyful—there is so much joy here!
I am looking forward to an opportunity to step away for a bit during the summer months. My contract includes time for study leave and vacation. I plan to do some focused reading on a variety of topics, create the Worship Associate Program, and plan adult religious education for the early part of next year. I’ll also do a bit of travel including attending an old family friend’s Navy Seal graduation, UUA General Assembly in New Orleans, a service auction weekend in the woods, and a family reunion in PA. I need to have surgery which will require that I devote myself to rest a solid month and take it slow for an additional two weeks. Unfortunately, the steps to arranging the surgery have been a bit of a scheduling challenge so I do not yet have a date. This may impact when I return in August. Needless to say living in such ambiguity is a challenge, but I have enough to do at church each day to keep me distracted and have come to accept that it really is out of my hands.
The MidAmerica grant money for a summer minister could not have come at a better time. An introduction of Lisa Myers can be found below. I’ll be supervising her during the summer and have no doubt that even though she is hired for just 15 hours a week she will carry the Sunday services, limited pastoral care, and adult religious education in a beautiful way. I’ll be present at the June 4 meeting regarding the potential purchase of a new building and am working on the 50th Anniversary Party with the talented Ruth MacKenzie. It will be a fun and inspirational day!
Lisa Myers - Our Summer Minister
Good news! We have hired a summer minister (thanks to the MidAmerica Chalice Lighter grant). Lisa Myers will join us for two months this summer while Rev. Laura is taking vacation and study leave time. She will lead worship, hold adult religious education classes, and be there if you need pastoral care.
Here is a note from Lisa:
I just finished my second year at United Theological Seminary where I am pursuing a Master of Divinity with a concentration on Theology and the Arts, with a further focus on Spiritual Growth and Formation. I'm passionate about finding where the intersection between the arts and our spirituality meets and how it can lead to spiritual growth.
About six years ago, I found my spiritual community within Unitarian Universalism by becoming a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka in 2011. Serving on the Worship Arts Ministry led to a call to seminary. My religious and spiritual path has led me down many roads, but it is Religious Naturalism and Earth-based faiths that feed me spiritually. The UU Church has been an excellent home for developing my own spiritual formation. I look forward with excitement about serving the Michael Servetus community this summer and getting to know you all!
The Low Road By Marge Piercy
What can they do to you? Whatever they want. They can set you up, they can bust you, they can break your fingers, they can burn your brain with electricity, blur you with drugs till you can’t walk, can’t remember, they can take your child, wall up your lover. They can do anything you can’t blame them from doing. How can you stop them? Alone, you can fight, you can refuse, you can take what revenge you can but they roll over you.
But two people fighting back to back can cut through a mob, a snake-dancing file can break a cordon, an army can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other sane, can give support, conviction, love, massage, hope, sex. Three people are a delegation, a committee, a wedge. With four you can play bridge and start an organization. With six you can rent a whole house, eat pie for dinner with no seconds, and hold a fund raising party. A dozen make a demonstration. A hundred fill a hall. A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter; ten thousand, power and your own paper; a hundred thousand, your own media; ten million, your own country.
It goes on one at a time, it starts when you care to act, it starts when you do it again after they said no, it starts when you say “We” and know who you mean, and each day you mean one more.
Marge Piercy’s poem, The Low Road speaks to the power of numbers, the strength of a collective, and the gifts of community. I’ve heard this poem read in worship at several different Unitarian Universalist churches. It always makes me smile and sparks a sense of greater potential than I usually imagine. The build up from being alone, to a pair of people, to a whole country incites energy in me. However, it is the final sentence that taps into the center of my Unitarian Universalist faith and ministry: It goes on one at a time, it starts when you care to act, it starts when you do it again after they said no, it starts when you say “We” and know who you mean, and each day you mean one more.
Some of you may be uncomfortable with the words “faith” and “ministry” while others are inspired by such terminology. I use those words deliberately because I believe that what happens in a church is different than what happens in organizations outside of a faith tradition. We are connected by common principles and sources and speak of a covenantal faith which calls us into a relationship with one another grounded in care, commitment, and courage. I use the word “ministry” as representing service which is grounded in something greater. For me, shared ministry lifts up the contributions of all of us as we aspire to create a world where we as individuals and as community ground ourselves in love and work for a vision of a more just and equitable world.
The theme for May is embodiment. What does it look like when we embody saying “we” and each day mean one more? By the end of this year we will have welcomed nine new members to the congregation and several devoted new “friends.” I have seen this church welcome them with open arms and glad hearts. When I speak of growth at MSUS this slow and steady influx of joyful and inquisitive seekers is what I imagine. I believe our faith calls us to grow and share that which gives us hope and meaning. This is how we will move into the future with old-timers and new comers side by side in the pews, in small groups, in song, and out in the world. May it be so.
In every life there are certain moments which partake of another, higher order of experience – peculiarly precious moments which offer serenity, hope, and strength and which allow us to return to the demands of daily life with renewed vitality and confidence.
The growth of a spiritual dimension in each of us as individuals seems to result in a multiplication and a deepening of such moments both in ourselves and in the world. - Elizabeth M. Jones, quoted by John Buehrens in Our Chosen Faith
The wonders of science, when viewed through the eyes of awe and mystery, can feel miraculous. I remember the Director of Religious Education at Unity Church-Unitarian telling stories of spring awakenings that evoke such wonder including as the beauty of budding tulips and the choir of song created by spring peepers (the small frogs that emerge from a frozen winter hibernation).
We witness the transformation of our natural environment throughout each season in Minnesota. Sometimes, our lives parallel such radical transformation and other times are more commonplace. Unitarian Universalism asks us to pay attention and recognize the “peculiarly precious moments” in our days. Our faith, which focuses on the journey of this life versus the destination of an afterlife, acknowledges the importance of each life and calls us to live with intention.
Daily spiritual practices turn us toward attention and intention. Spiritual practices including mediation, prayer, walking, coloring, or cooking can help us recognize the interconnection of our lives and our desire to be of use and at peace. I love Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement, “Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” We are forever learning and in apprenticeship to some truth (with a little “t”). His words are anything but stagnant, they are words of motion, relationship, transitions, depth, and transformation.
How does being a part of Michael Servetus Unitarian Society contribute to your life? My hope is that this place, these people, and our living tradition help multiply and sustain your own spiritual growth, curiosity, and contributions to the world so desperately in need of our love and care.
To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out for another is to risk exposing our true self.
To place our ideals—our dreams—before the crowd is to risk loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
To live is to risk dying.
(Reading #658 from the Unitarian Universalist Association's Singing the Living Tradition)
A group of us gathered for the recent new member session in mid-February. We participated in a lively conversation about what attracts each of us to this faith. Many of us came from other faith traditions and recognized how our own questions and doubts were not welcome there. The attraction to Unitarian Universalism included: religious pluralism, the individual search for meaning, the desire to be connected with a community of people who care about social justice, the joy of being among open-minded people who want to continue to learn, and the diversity of sources one can turn to for exploration and spiritual practices. I was energized by the conversation. Many of us had to risk being seen as “different” in our own families and communities when we decided to be UUs. This difference can create real challenges, particularly with family members who believe we are putting our own salvation in jeopardy if we are “non-believers.”
The worship theme for March is risk. I believe that life is risky business—we wake each day uncertain of what may occur. Risk is inherent when we dream, love, speak up, make a change in our lives, create, or engage in justice making in private conversations or in the public square. There is an element of courage or faith that accompanies taking risks. There is something that drives us out of complacency and into the discomfort and excitement of growth.
This congregation took a risk by deciding to move into full-time ministry. I took a risk by saying, “yes,” to being called here. We are in the risky process of reflecting where we have been, who we are today, and who we long to be in the future. I believe we have a faith that breathes life and hope into the world. We are at a time when radical openness, living from a place of connection to all, and engaging in the work of justice truly matters. My hope is that MSUS is a place where you risk being truly alive. May this UU community inspire you to laugh, cry, reach out to one another, love, dream, and stay engaged in this free and responsible search for meaning and the call to create a better world.
Rev. Laura Smidzik
"Spirituality is meant to take us beyond our tribal identity into a domain of awareness that is more universal." Deepak Chopra
I remember attending a graduate-level psychology class at the University of Minnesota many years ago when I was working on my Masters of Educational Policy and Administration. The faculty member was talking about identity and I remember him specifically noting how being gay or lesbian (it was in the late 1990s so bisexuality and transgender were barely acknowledged) was a primary identity. I thought to myself, “That can’t be true, I am so much more than that one part of my identity.”
Today, I’d acknowledge that being a lesbian is certainly is central to my identity and has impacted many aspects of my life. Deeper family relationships, my understanding of engaged democracy, and continuing to learn how to impact unjust systems are some of the outcomes of coming out and living as an out and outspoken lesbian. It has also impacted my ability to understand and advocate for other marginalized groups who lack the privileges that are afforded to me and so many. The truth is that we all have multiple identities which intersect and inform our perspectives in our own personal lives and beyond. Intersectionality is a term we hear often in interfaith organizing work. It is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Intersectional community and political organizing is now more intentional with some unlikely coalitions forming around a common goal even if there are differences in other areas of policy or approaches to systemic change.
We enter into this new U.S. Presidency with great division in our country. Some have called out “identity politics” as being part of the problem. I believe we must honor our unique identities (which are complex and multi-layered) and find places where we can work for common cause with our UU Principles as our spiritual guide. As a faith community, my prayer is that we find a way to move beyond our “tribal identities” which can feed isolationism, self-righteousness, and close-mindedness in order to find points of commonality be they large or small. If we can’t do that here, where can we? Let our spirits guide us to stay awake to that which requires action and continue to call us to lives of generosity, understanding, and healing.
Rev. Laura Smidzik
Our worship theme for the month of January is prophecy. One of our sources is Jewish and Christian teachings, yet we rarely speak about the prophets of the Older Testament or the Torah in significant ways. I know that I am more likely to site the source of the words and deeds of prophetic people both past and present. With an open Canon, these prophetic voices are not limited by age, gender, nationality, religious perspective, or vocation. Poets, politicians, educators, family members, philosophers, scientists, children, elders, and social action activist are among the few who comprise a chorus of prophetic voices.
In my Older Testament class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities we learned that the main characteristics of the ancient prophets were that they were contemporaries who lived among the people, they were called to step forward, to take a risk, and engaged in prophetic truth telling. The prophets of the Torah resisted when they were initially called, they often replied with “why me?” Perhaps, you have felt called in small and big ways in your lifetime. Was there a time when you would have preferred to stay on the sidelines, doubted your own agency, would have preferred not engage and just remain in your own comfort zone? In our social justice oriented faith we are called to make a difference in this world. I know many of you have been instrumental in the creation of beloved community organizations, efforts that impact the environment, and involved in the democratic process. The Social Action Committee is creating a way for you to share what type of work you are doing in this congregation and beyond to support institutions and very real needs in the community. This will roll out sometime in the New Year.
Unitarian Universalist ministers are expected to be involved in social justice work as well. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) expects all candidates for ministry to develop competency in the area of Prophetic Outreach. This is described as: Those aspects of ministry that extend the Unitarian Universalist commitment to justice, peace, democratic process, and interdependence beyond the congregational or community-based setting. This work includes:
- Public witness of the personal involvement with regard to community or world issues;
- Social advocacy, the engagement with anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multicultural initiatives; and
- Promotion of institutional inclusivity and commitment to Unitarian Universalist values.
Christmas week, I was called by Ashley Horan, the Executive Director of Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA). She told me that she and a contact from the Unitarian Universalist Association are arranging support for the Bismarck-Mandan UU Congregation which has been the only church in that community supporting the action at Standing Rock. The congregants and their minister are weary. The previous months have taken a toll on their energy, capacity, and their daily lives in the community. Ashley mentioned that the minister, Karen Van Fossen, asked specifically if I would come for a week and provide support. The past few months I have chosen not to go to Standing Rock when prior clergy calls took place. I knew other clergy from larger churches and congregants with more time to spare were showing up. I felt the need to stay behind and be with all of you.
This is different. The Bismarck-Mandan congregation were involved with Standing Rock before most of us heard about it and have been a crucial link for people of faith who have been showing up for public witness and with supplies. MUSSJA and the UUA are arranging ministers and the UU Trauma team to spend time there. I see Karen and the Bismarck-Mandan congregation as providing a much needed prophetic voice of the faith community. Although the numbers of people on the Standing Rock land have decreased, the water protectors remain strong. The area is now closed to visitors, although I may be asked to help deliver supplies. I will provide pastoral care for congregants and be a support to Karen in any way I can. I will leave after services on Sunday, January 8 and stay through services on January 15th.
I know that if the time comes when we need to make a personal ask of colleagues they will come to us. It is what we do in this movement and in this faith. I will let you know if there is a need for supplies prior to my departure. I leave with the blessing of Laurie Young, the Board Chair, and hopefully yours as well. Together, we do the hard and holy work of justice making and amplifying the voices of those on the margins.
I’m aware that as we hear each other’s joys and concerns during services or have a conversation during a gathering at church, we often are limited in terms of what we can actually “do” to alleviate another person’s pain or suffering. Yet, there is still something powerful about being seen, heard, and understood. One can experience a slight shift in the weight of the one’s burden when we are willing to take the risk and share major life transitions out loud in the presence of a caring congregation.
A number of you have shared your feelings about upcoming holidays citing sadness, fear, and concern about gathering with your politically divided family. Clearly, you are not alone…Websites, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, and national phone calls have all emerged as resources during the first few weeks following the election. There are a range of ideas and tools that have been made available to help navigate such gatherings. It has been noted how faith and politics are often entwined creating even greater challenges when trying to stay grounded in one’s own values and beliefs without retreating fully or engaging in hopeless arguments. The national call I joined recently also reminded all of us about the impact of alcohol at such gatherings. I encourage you all to pay attention to yourself and those around you if alcohol is present.
My hope is that we can all find ways to nurture our spirits and ground ourselves in a greater love, even if we are not feeling it in the presence of others who have a very different world view. Know that you have a faith community that holds you in love wherever you may be. Imagine us at your side, more than willing to see, hear, and understand that which you are experiencing.
We can also offer such presence to others. Reach out to those you see who are vulnerable and hurting in your community. Acknowledge their fear and pain. It is so easy to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we fail to actually see each other. We will find ways to move out into the world and advocate for justice as the year unfolds. I welcome your ideas in the New Year.
By Virginia Satir
I believe The greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen by them, heard by them, to be understood and touched by them.
The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and to touch another person. When this is done I feel Contact has been made.
Take great care,
Covenant is the gift of leaning into each other’s arms…arms that hold and comfort and arms that also push us forward to take the next leap into justice. It all starts, though, with turning to our neighbor. It gains traction with our curiosity about their story. It gets deeper as we discover the subtler nuances of our own story. It goes full monty when we together lay bare the pile of hurts along the way, and it clothes itself in glory when we find connection and healing and hope in the new patterns of community that make space for us all. Essay titled, Telling Our Story, by Parisa Parsa from Turning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism, Fredric Muir, editor.
The source of my greatest joy during these first few months of ministry at MSUS is hearing your stories. I look forward to the years ahead and time to get to know each of you better and to listen to the stories that inform your lives and spirit. This joyful task is not mine alone—it is a central part of this faith community. It is through stories that we come to discover and make meaning, we find common ground and differences, and we build deep connections across the congregation.
We vary greatly in terms of our own belief in what can or should be shared publicly and what is best kept in the silence of our own hearts and intimate relationships. What I have heard over and over again, is that when we risk being open and authentic with each other new (and often unexpected) bonds begin emerge. Those who were just acquaintances at church have an opportunity to become dear friends.
This year, we have created a number of programs that are built on a framework of time together as a full group coupled with small group conversation or practice. As you enter programs focused on learning about the history of race, the lived experience of being over 60 years old, spiritual practices, or reflecting on the political climate you were raised, the hope is that you will be curious about other’s stories and begin to discover the nuances of your own.
This November I begin a seven month clergy series in Congregational-Based Spiritual Direction which was launched by staff of the MidAmerican Region of the UUA. The series includes three days of intensive learning in November, January, and May. Several of you have spoken about a longing to go deeper into defining your theology and tending to your spirit. I imagine this program will provide tools to create an initial and sustained model of such a practice congregation-wide. Colleagues from other UU churches shared that the congregations they serve were transformed when they began to implement what they learned from this course.
MSUS is a storied place with solid roots and leadership. As our story turns to the next fifty years, may we “we find connection and healing and hope in the new patterns of community that make space for us all.”
With Love, Rev. Laura