Being Human: The Journey Ahead


From sermon on 8-7-16 Mosaic Man (A video we watched beforehand)

You might find it surprising to learn that leading memorial services is actually one of my favorite tasks of ministry.  In fact, leading a memorial service was one of the first glimpses I had into ministry, years ago when my friend Ann asked me to help her plan and lead a memorial service for her mom, MaryJo,  who had died of lung cancer.  This was a couple of years before I decided to go to seminary.  Here’s what I love about memorial services:  you almost always get to learn about how a person made the best of their life and what brought them happiness, as well as how they shared themselves and brought happiness to others.  When our loved ones die, we don’t talk about all the stuff they owned or what TV shows they watched (unless it was KU basketball or Dr. Who, maybe?); we talk about what they were passionate about and how they made a difference in our lives.  Now, I can think of one exception, one single memorial service I led for a family of a woman who made all of the members of her family miserable, and about whom no one had a good memory or warm thought.  Her daughter, herself now a grandmother, wanted to do a service as a way of exorcising the pain and and suffering her mother both experienced and created.  She hoped her mother was finally at peace.  So, even though that service didn’t celebrate a life well lived, it did celebrate the daughter’s commitment to create a different life for her kids and grandkids–one of family connection and love, one of warmth and consistent presence.  Twelve people gathered to say goodbye to a woman whose life had been bereft of these.  I learned from that family that we always have a choice of how we will respond to the cards life has dealt us.  They chose to feel sympathy and to wish for final peace rather than bring bitterness and a desire for retribution and suffering.  


Essentially I am interested in learning about what others have said “yes” to in their lives and how that “yes” brought them into deeper engagement with the people and places of their lives.  What did they give their time, attention, and passion to?  How did that change them and how did it change the world–people and places–they interacted with?


The passions of people I have memorialized are many and varied:  singing broadway musicals, sponsoring new members of an AA group, teaching children, caring for family, hiking and camping, canoeing, advocating for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights; running for office, history, hospitality, travel, friendship, church, the metaphysical, animals, watching basketball and other sports, painting, dancing, …the list is endless.  The list is unimportant, except that each of us has a list and the list represents those activities that allow us to experience what some psychologists call “flow.” Some of us spend our lives engaged in activities that bring us joy and happiness but many human lives are obscured in situations that prevent them from experiencing what it means to “thrive” instead of simply surviving.  Some of these are situations of our own choosing but many are situations beyond our control.  One researcher describes flow as happening when we optimize challenge and skill–we are doing things that are challenging but for which we also have skill;  on the other side of flow we find that with diminished skills and challenge we experience apathy or anxiety, boredom or worry, control or arousal.  When flow is happening, we are able to simultaneously deepen our challenges and develop our skills–we are growing, and it feels effortless but also feels expansive.  If you are bored, you probably have more skills and less challenge and if you are anxious, you are probably experiencing challenges for which your skills are currently inadequate.  


As a parent I’ve definitely had both experiences of flow and experiences of worry and anxiety.  I don’t think I’ve ever been bored.  Usually, the challenge has exceeded my skills.  Occasionally I find that sweet spot.  I never get there alone.  My other experience of flow is that I discover that place where everything is working and I am growing because I have support from others who have been similarly challenged and whose skills served as an example of what I might try or whose mistakes gave me a sense of hope that I could make mistakes and keep growing.  As a teacher and a minister I have also had moments of flow and moments where I was challenged beyond my current skills or where I noticed I needed to increase the challenges to push myself to deepen and grow.  


All of the moments in my life where I have experienced growth and flow came from both a personal passion and a community of support and shared engagement–friends I could talk to, people I could look up to, new learners I could share with and guide, and a body of knowledge or skills that others mastered before me that I could access and contribute to.  


There are plenty of things I will never experience flow with, that will always be either too challenging or not challenging enough, and some of them are things that I simply have to do or things I have tried until I knew they  weren’t activities I would ever get better at or enjoy.  I have found flow when I am writing, playing music, reading, running, helping others, singing, parenting.  I have struggled to find flow in each of these but also in some I have never experienced flow in.  I struggle to find flow when I cook, garden, organize spaces, doing math or reading science, doing home repairs and bowling.  This is the short list.


Also: flow is about who we are being and what we are doing, and not what we have.  Our enjoyment of life has been proven to be separate from our material goods–that although lack of material goods can cause suffering, having stuff is not the source of our happiness or ability to access flow.  Over a lifetime, we will seek many new ways to engage life and will have many moments of trying something new and finding out we need to develop better skills in order to move from anxiety to flow.  I can remember the first two weeks of being home with Ally as a baby and trying to nurse her.  I have never been so far from flow, literally. And then…my skills grew, and I relaxed, and soon it was so easy it was boring and I needed a book to read while she nursed.  When it’s your kid, they keep growing and changing so the challenges change, usually just as you’ve discovered flow things shift and you are back to frustration and anxiety for a time.  But if it’s something like meditation or a sport or a skill like writing, you may need to shift something yourself to increase your challenge level as your skills grow–how or where you engage the activity, with whom or for how long, or what you are expecting from it.  


So as we begin a new program year here at the Fellowship, I invite you to consider how you will engage more deeply your passions and interests to find flow and experience thriving.  It might be something you do on your own, like painting or quilting or reading but you may find that the way to increase the challenge and avoid being stuck in boredom, apathy, or “being in control” is to find some others who share your passion.  From book groups to meditation to yoga or chalice circles, from committees and classes, to gardening or caring for others, there are many ways to engage with each other and experience building your own capacity to live a life worth living.  There are opportunities in our community and opportunities in your house and even in the very body your occupy to try new skills, hone skills you already have, and challenge yourself in ways that are life giving.  


John (my partner) has been deepening his passion for being outdoors via bike riding and his passion for right relationship through restorative justice.  He tends to find a new passion and read everything he can about it while he grows his skills and meets the new challenges.  Luckily, we share these interests and know other people who do, too!  I even have a new bike on layaway and Aine just learned to ride, too. (Hopefully Ally will have a new bike soon too).   We hope to blend our family time with outdoor time on bikes, camping, or walking.  I have been deepening my passion for justice and advocacy through involvement with Kansas Interfaith Action and other opportunities to learn and act with others.  I also have a passion for writing and reading poetry, singing, and connecting with nature.  This year I plan to seek more flow in my life through daily walks, writing more and sharing my writing with other poets, finding a group to sing with, and spending more time exploring the natural environments of Kansas.  I also hope to build enough skills as a new homeowner to do some work on my house and yard.  These represent areas of anxiety right now!  


What will you say yes to this year?  Where will you seek deeper engagement and a community of support?  What will you try that is new and challenging, and what will get you past the anxiety of not being very good at it until you get closer to experiencing a bit of “flow?” As human beings, we are meant to keep growing in every way–mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually.  Like Bubba and Trixie in Vicki’s story, I hope that you will find that right here in this room are people who may share your passions and your interests, who may be able to walk with you, teach you or learn from you, or perhaps simply listen and celebrate with you when you experience those moments of flow and commiserate when you experience challenges or struggle with boredom and apathy.  May we be each other’s catalyst for change and reflection, hope and opportunity.  Underneath it all, we sometimes need a bit of courage to keep on working our way to flow and to that sweet spot of being human–to those moments where we think, “I was made for this!  This is who I am” (I’m not just a caterpillar!  I can fly now!) from the moments where we are thinking “this is so damn hard and I will never be good at this or find fulfillment in this.”  


I remember watching Aine learn to ride her bike at the beginning of the summer.  It was excruciating.  She would get on and it would be smooth sailing for 30 seconds and then…crash.  Actually, she never really crashed but she would gracefully slip off as the bike fell, unscathed but also no longer on the bike!  Over and over.  Her frustration was palpable.  She would get mad.  She would kick the bike.  She would yell at me.  And then, moments later she’d get back on.  She saw a little boy one day happily riding around the block and then she dug in a little deeper–she wanted to ride like that!  I quit watching her, and then one day she ran in and said “I am doing it!  I am doing it!  I rode my bike!”  I went out to watch, and sure enough, she could ride.  Now, at the end of the summer, she has ridden as much as 8 miles with us on a ride and really loves the wind in her face.  She found flow, for now.  Eventually she will get a little bored and she’ll want a bike with gears, or a longer ride, or more hills, or a new activity.  But now that she knows that feeling–that feeling of moving from challenge to flow–she will be able to follow that energy again and again.  May you also remember that feeling and re-create it in your life, over and over again.  

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Learn more about the concept of “flow” at:


2. _on_flow.html

Black Lives Matter and the Violence That Surrounds Us


from my July 31, 2016 sermon:

Reading:  Jesus Calls His First Disciples (Luke 5:1-11)

5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.


Two years ago when I first moved here I was trying to figure out what the Topeka community response to Ferguson was.  I heard Pastor Gordon Glenn ask Interfaith Topeka whether other communities of faith were talking about it.  The conversation began and then faltered, partially caught in people’s desire to see themselves and their community as blameless and just; and I have seen this dynamic over and over again.  We did plan a vigil that fall.  But we did not figure out how to stay organized.  I felt too new and too white to lead the conversation so I just kept listening for the questions, the anger, the demand for racial injustice to be addressed.  I tried to listen for the narrative of Topeka and understand where race and discrimination were as pieces of this puzzle.  


As home to Brown v Board and as a state that has a history of rejecting slavery, I heard pieces of a story about a community that wanted to reject racism.  But the truth seems to be more like this–when Brown v Board happened, white families put their kids in private schools and moved to create new places to live and build schools away from the people of color.  I can remember the first time I realized that the story of so-called integration was one in which in most cases black children were in schools that had been abandoned by most of the other pupils and teachers.  And over time we see that our neighborhoods and schools are still mostly, de facto segregated. We don’t even try anymore.  So it’s no surprise that resources and opportunities are still unequally shared and available and that the punishments and rules are also unequally applied; people of color still face housing, employment, health and educational barriers in addition to higher rates of incarceration and victimization via police misconduct or brutality.  


But the story we want to believe doesn’t square with this.  We are comfortable with the idea of the Rosa Parks bus because we think it represents so much positive change!  This makes us feel good.  Black Lives Matter slogans remind us that racism didn’t end when Rosa Parks became a national hero whose life we could revise in order to make her seem less like the activists we see today, instead of the clear antecedent to the work being done now.  Do you imagine that Rosa would not be standing with BLM?  Because if so, you have accepted the white washed version of her work and her power.  It might not feel good to admit that instead of lynching people of color we are now allowing POC to be shot and killed with immunity.  But…this is really happening.  Has been happening.  Keeps happening.  


Since Ferguson I have been struggling with how I could be a meaningful ally to people of color in Topeka and KS.  Partly I have been struggling with the difference in my role as a minister of a congregation that is part of denomination struggles to attract and welcome POC, versus my previous role as an educator in an urban community college setting where the majority of my students were not white and their future success was my focus.  And partly I am out on my boat, looking for new teachers and a new way to fish.  Even if I was still working at El Centro College in downtown Dallas I would still be in this boat:  listening to people of color and looking for people to do this work with, people to follow and support.


Fundamentally I believe that I am diminished by the oppression of other people, as a person and as a member of a community.  


Many, many congregations have decided to put up banners that say Black Lives Matter, which have been vandalized and stolen over and over again.  While I support the idea of having such a banner here, I guess I hesitate to do this first.  I think there is something else that needs to come first.  I want each of you to have an answer for “why did you put that sign up?” when you get asked by friends and neighbors.  And frankly, I doubt that anyone who questions this statement is going to be so nice.  Even in KS.  So if you are white, I want you to consider first wearing a BLM pin.  


I want you to consider wearing it all day every day during your waking hours and no matter where you are going.  I want you to notice when you want to take it off and when people say or do rude things because you’re wearing it.  And every time you consider taking it off or obscuring it from view, I want you consider that people of color never get to choose to not be black or brown.  They don’t get to fly under the radar of a racist neighbor or check out clerk or police officer by changing their skin tone.  


I have been especially thinking about this with the whole “blue lives matter.”  The thing is–cops in the US have a chosen a profession where it is no secret that Americans are generally armed to the teeth.  That Americans have guns and feel like they have the right to use them is not news.  So, if you choose this profession, you know you are likely to get shot at.  I am not saying this makes it OK to be shot at, but this is different from waking up everyday as a person of color and having no way to retire, or choose something else.  Cops choose a risky profession.  Being born black or brown should not carry the same risk as choosing to be a cop.  


Just choosing to be a policeman alone doesn’t make a person honorable.  That distinction is earned by how you show up in the world.  But I think the truth lies even deeper than this in our struggle with the idea of “blue lives matter.”  Fundamentally what has happened is we are beginning to realize that people of color and other marginalized groups have a different experience with law enforcement.  The worst things most white folks worry about when they get pulled over is getting a ticket, and frankly most of us are worried about that because we knew we were speeding and deserve the ticket.  Most people of people of color are worried that at the very least they will be detained and harassed in a way that is humiliating and unnecessary, and worst they are scared they will be killed.  What we are afraid to see is the reality that a profession that acts honorably toward one group does not have that same track record with others; we walk in parallel universes blind to the others’ experiences.  We have yet to see a cop facing real consequences for murdering unarmed people of color.  


So I say, Black Lives Matter.  And if you really want to say Blue Lives Matter, you will support widespread and deep changes to our gun ownership laws.  Because cops in other countries don’t face the same level of threat from guns that U.S. cops do.  And you will ask for accountability for lives lost in circumstances where shooting to kill, or driving to kill, or choking to kill or ending the life of a person seemed like an OK option, easier than writing a ticket or de-escalating a situation.  Other countries teach cops to shoot folks in the knee; we teach cops to aim for the chest, because it’s easier to hit.  


Don’t get me wrong.  I felt sick to my stomach and I cried hard when I realized that someone was purposely shooting cops in Dallas (and later, other cities.)  But I felt equally sick knowing that it was happening in a college I used to work in while students and other citizens protested yet another set of cold-blooded murders of two African- American men.  I knew that we were going to struggle to remember those deaths with the same attention and intention, with a depth for empathy.  


If you are white, I want to invite you to consider wearing a button so you can begin to hear and see what people of color hear and see all the time–and have to come up with a response that is life-giving and transformative (if possible.)  To help people begin to wonder why they are defensive, and what it means to acknowledge our racist system.  To hopefully take some of the pressure off people of color to explain systemic racism to white people, over and over and over again.  Or trying to avoid having to have that conversation. To notice when you want to chew someone out for their insensitivity and when you want to pretend you didn’t hear what someone said.  


If we put a banner up, I want each of us to have the capacity to explain WHY we put it up and WHY we will replace it if it is destroyed or stolen.  Why our faith calls us to proclaim Black Lives Matter.  And I want those of you who are not white bodied to know that this place, these people, this faith community is yours; that this is your sanctuary, that we fundamentally belong with one another and you have as much claim to being here, to being UU, to being part of this work for change on the terms of your choosing.  I want you to know that I am your minister, and I see you.  I see you, and I am committed to walking with you.  I will set down my nets and whatever I thought I could catch with them and become a fisher of men and women whose lives are diminished by systemic racial injustice.  Where you lead, I will follow.  


I am committing to wearing a button every day.  I currently own one Black Lives Matter T-shirt.  I will wear it once a week, and if any of you are moved to help me acquire six more, I will deepen my own commitment to wearing one every day.  Maybe some of you want to try out wearing something bigger than a button, too.  


I also want to ask all of you to consider engaging a daily practice that brings you joy–something that will renew you in the face of the many tensions that come from living in a context where most people do not share your deepest held values.  You may want to write down the moments where you felt tongue tied or reactive–or where you said or did something that opened up new ways of understanding racism and privilege and systems of oppression.   Maybe you like having a ready set of statistics or a ready quote–something you tuck in your pocket to remind you that the button represents a reality that you want to change.  Be prepared to share with us this fall as you try out what it feels like to be an out advocate for people of color or what it feels like to know that your community stands with you.  


Black Lives Matter as a movement embraces all brown and black people–immigrants, american indians, and all of the other identities they may carry–gender identity and sexual orientation, religious identities or not,  differently abled and all other identities that may be marginalized by our current cultural context.  So when I say Black Lives Matter I am saying that when Black Lives Matter, we will be able to say that All Lives Matter.


Here in Topeka, a group is developing out of the invitation of a young adult who works at Doorstep with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  With each new meeting we have grown in numbers and we have stayed diverse of age, color, and gender; We meet on Sundays at 4 and have moved to this building because we outgrew the first.   We don’t totally know what we’re doing yet–we are trying to develop some task forces and to get to know each other enough to trust each other.  We are planning a vigil on August 20 to grieve the police murders of African American men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this summer, and nearly two a week every week, shot by officers throughout the year.


If you watched either or both of the political party conventions this summer you might be left wondering who is actually going to do anything?  I want to be clear that while I think voting is VERY important and you should exercise this right no matter how you feel about the names on the ticket, it is even more important to know your community, know your neighbors, and to build networks of mutuality.  Last Sunday, as we were finishing our business meeting, I told people they should try to meet someone they didn’t know before the next meeting.  Go to coffee, have lunch, something.  I spent about an hour this week getting to know two people from the group.  I already feel more deeply committed to this group and its work because I feel more connected to them, to their kids, to our shared future.   This is not a technical problem with clear steps to solve it. The quest to end racism and all forms of inequality calls us to question our own lives and motives and to reach out to people and situations that call up our own anxieties and fear.  In the two meetings I have attended I worked to listen, to follow, to support and to not insert myself everywhere.  I offered space for people of color to gather without white folks–to create a space for healing and open conversation without bumping up against my/our unintentional– but nevertheless real–interfering desire to control situations and people.  


Social Justice work as a ministry asks us to companion rather than lead–this means I am committed to walk with others, listen to others and support others.  Companioning means I don’t decide for someone else–I am not a problem solver or negotiator.  Sometimes I will be a partner and sometimes I will be a helper.  Being an ally to people of color is not so different from being an ally to the LGBTQ community.  It means being willing to listen to my language, to change my definitions, and to show up where and when I am asked to.  And it is also just as the grandfather in our story for all ages says it–we must pay attention to the heaven and hell we have already created, to this world, now.   One world at a time, one community at a time, one relationship at a time, starting with each of us.  


Discipleship, servant leadership–these models for how we might work for justice do not always square with many UU’s vision of themselves.  It takes a lot of courage to leave behind a way of being–a way of working together to do new work and answer a new calling.  In the story where Jesus sets out on a boat and commences to teach from the boat, which has yielded only empty nets, we learn that after his teaching the nets come up full, and the second boat has to help the first to pull it all in; when these fishermen are overwhelmed by this impossibility, he invites them to consider another:  to leave all of it and join him in organizing for justice work and whole communities–to do God’s work.  They are not prepared for this.  They are just fisherman!  They aren’t trained to do this work.  But in this moment they have found a leader and have shared the work of a community discovering abundance where once there was scarcity.  Many of Jesus’ teaching are about finding abundance where there is seeming scarcity and being called into work on behalf of community.  Today we have plenty of empty nets and lost hopes–the challenge is not only to consider whose words are worthy of our attention, but also when we need to reach out and help one another, when we need to be willing to drop our nets and change direction, gather our strength for new tasks.  Jesus told his disciples that now they would be fishers of men. In his teaching, before we can go into the world to be change makers, we need to work together and find abundance where once there was scarcity; and we need to be willing to heed the call of action when it comes as well, whether we feel ready or not, whether we have been prepared or not.  William J. Barber speaks at UUA GA in 2016


Singing for Change


Yesterday I went to a training for organizations on how to prepare for and respond to active shooter situations.  It was heavily attended by police officers and sheriff’s departments, but had a wide range of other attendees, mostly people serving large organizations in risk management, both schools and businesses and other government agencies.  I went because I live in a state that allows open carry and has few requirements or restrictions for concealed carry.  I tend to support controversial (for Kansas, anyway) causes and I am often leading or supporting events and actions that highlight my congregation’s support of human rights and civil discourse.   The training was led by the Department of Homeland Security.  It was very informative.  Something that kept occurring to me, over and over, though was this:  do other countries feel like they need to train widely on how to deal with an active shooter situation?  Or is this a uniquely US of A thing?  I have my suspicions.  

I think that we have given up on the possibility  that we can actually reduce the number of guns in private ownership, or high capacity clips.  I think, based on how much some seem to revel in a certain Presidential candidate’s rhetoric of violence and condoning of hate and fear mongering, that we have given up on civil discourse and many are scared to speak up against this (because our neighbors might disagree and decide that their guns speak more eloquently than they can.)   Also of note, there were few POC or women in this group I was learning with yesterday, and the ratio of buzz cuts (men and women) to other hairdo’s was rather astonishing.  It felt somewhat friendly though, mostly because I was with activist Stephanie Mott, whose work advocating for trans and non-gender conforming people (and all people who face systemic oppression) has made her friends with many law enforcement folks in our area, from the Sheriff’s office to the local FBI and Topeka Police department.  

I came home later to the unfolding story of an active shooter(s) situation in downtown Dallas that was unfolding right in front of a college I worked in for 11 years, watching protesters from a peaceful rally trying to find safety and being stuck in a lockdown situation, unable to leave and go home.  I felt like everyone I saw could have been a former colleague or student of mine, a friend or someone I used to see everyday.  El Centro College was an integrated institution before the public schools in Dallas, and unlike many of the schools in Dallas (and everywhere) it stayed integrated, with one of the most diverse (in every way) student populations and staff I am aware of.  (I am sure Miami Dade is similar).  We stayed up watching until late, I couldn’t walk away, caught between the terrible reality that some small group (less than 4?) were systematically shooting Dallas and DART Police Department officers and the terrible reality that we live in such a volatile environment, worried for the many ripple effects of this violence on all of those who were stuck in the middle of it for hours yesterday.  I kept choking up.  I kept praying.    

All of this on top of yet another week with two prominent stories of white officers shooting and killing African American men in situations that did not call for gunfire, and on the heels of the mass shooting in Orlando.  These realities were already heavy in my heart.

Rev. Dr. King called on us to address the triple threat of racism, poverty, and war/violence. These have become so enmeshed in our society.  By racism, I think we need to see all systems of oppression as anti-human.  When we think of poverty we need to think of all the ways in which people lack access to resources they need to live a long and fulfilling life (health care, education, jobs and benefits, fair pay, adequate housing, voting rights, an unbiased criminal justice system, protections for these regardless of your identity, etc.)  And when we think of violence and war, we need to think about the whole continuum and the way in which we have made violence into a consumer item, whether it is a gun or film or a video game or language we use against others–not just where we send our military personnel and what we authorize them to do.  

These are symptoms of a nation-wide illness, of a society that is drowning in dis-ease. I live in a state where access to guns has been more important than access to all of these other  important aspects of life, where the governor’s administration would rather see college students with guns than elementary schools students in classrooms with adequate resources and reasonable class sizes.  Where it is more important to spend state money fighting expensive lawsuits to limit access to women’s reproductive choices and care than expand medicaid/KanCare.  Where it is more important to spend money on two or three “voter fraud” situations than insure that all citizens have easy access to voting via mechanisms that do not exhibit a tendency toward unexplained statistical anomalies that favor one party.  Where it’s more important to pretend your tax policy is helping everyone when in fact it is only helping the people you aimed to help to begin with–the wealthy.  Apparently, dismantling Kansas benefits a few Kansans so much that the pain and suffering experienced by rest of us seems worth it.  Frankly, I think KS and TX have had a little too much in common in the “style” and direction of our political leadership.  

I am working through multiple levels of anger, sorrow, and dismay as I lean into my neighbors and friends and look for ways to respond that build community and conversation, heal wounds and allay fears, and ask for clear changes to how we live together and grow together.  Here is what I know for sure.  I stand for no less than widespread change in all of the areas I mention.  These issues are interrelated and need to be treated as such.  I’ll be right here singing, maybe you’ll join me:  “I will stand with you, will you stand with me?  We will be the change that hope to see; in the name of love, in the name of peace, will you stand, will you stand with me?” (Amy Carol Webb). And then, let’s talk about voting, and public witness, and what kind of leaders we really need to sort through this painful point in time.  Let’s go to meetings and read books and talk to each other, let’s look for local solutions and do what poet Marge Piercy has been urging us to do: “Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses./Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving./Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in…” (The Seven of Pentacles.)

I will stand with you – Will you stand with me
We will be the change that we hope to see
In the name of love – in the name of peace
Will you stand, will you stand with me

When injustice raises up its fist
And fights to stop us in our tracks
We will rise and as one resist
No fear nor sorrow can turn us back

When pain and hatred churn up angry noise
And try to shout down our freedom song
We will rise in one joyful voice
Loud and clear and ever strong

When broken hearts come knocking on our door
Lost and hungry and so alone
We will reach as we have reached before
For there is no stranger in this our home

In the name of love – in the name of peace
Will you stand, will you stand with me…

Blessings of St. Francis


What does it mean to “bless” something or someone in our Unitarian Universalist tradition?  We are not asking someone or something to magically act upon our world and its inhabitants; we do not suppose that there is a  God who has favorites or even that there is a Presence that chooses for us and determines our fate.  Blessing in this context is much as the word “worship;”  we call attention to that which holds value, we bring our own intentions and hopes into the moment of blessing.  We remind ourselves, we ground ourselves, we connect ourselves through blessing–to our own inner light, to the light of others, and to the luminescence in our world–the energy that flows unseen between us at the sub-atomic level, real and yet mysterious.  Blessing of us is a moment of co-creating a better world, a new possibility, a gift of love which we may experience both giving and receiving.  

In this way, blessing for us is the recognition that we are indeed part of an interdependent web of life and we are responsible to the interdependent web of life; and that this inter-connectivity is sacred and infinite.  Ultimately, blessing is our way of acknowledging relationship and deepening relationship with the creatures and features of the earth.  

A few years ago, when I took the course from Denver Urban Gardens to be a Master Composter, I learned the sacred art of turning waste into fertile possibilities.  I can remember my awe when, after six weeks of mixing ⅔ carbons with ⅓ nitrogens, watering, and turning, my large pile became a hot, steaming, dark mass of rich ingredients to amend my soil with.  And also the feeling I had when I looked into a vermicomposter and saw new baby worms and large red wrigglers feasting on the leftovers from my table and recycling bucket, leaving behind a rich layer of compost to sift into the soil out back.  When my kids asked for pets, I would laugh and say, we already have thousands!  They weren’t impressed.  But the idea of permaculture and farming so that nothing is wasted and balance is honored–this was its own kind of scripture.  This was a kind of holy work, something revealed as a creation I get to co-create and cultivate.   Planting seeds, sowing seeds, growing and tending to our gardens and finally–harvesting and composting–these are sacred acts.

Growing up, I learned this respect from my grandmother Crete Rodman.  She and my grandfather invested in a ranch in Southern Colorado in the 1950’s.  Over time, she kept track of the many forms of life on this property.  She knew which birds nested each year and in what places; she knew where deer could be found, which ducks had returned, where the shy bears and mountain lions roamed.  She kept a feeder outside her dishwashing window and kept trying to find ways to keep the squirrels and the jays from bullying the other birds and friends from their food.  Chipmonks would eat from her hand and the Richardson’s ground squirrel would eat nuts on her shoulders.  She never really liked people all that much, but flora and fauna were part of her life, seemed to be both understood by her and to understand her as well.  She often took me hiking as a small child, pointing things out to me along the way–nests and flowers and tracks.  She taught me climb the stacked boulders in the hillside (we called them the potato rocks) and taught me to move quietly so I might catch a glimpse of the wildlife that found refuge in her 165 acres.  From her I learned a respect for seasons and for the life around me; I found spots on their ranch to play and be quiet, to listen and watch and sense the internal rhythms of the world me.   The world is full of life that surrounds us–life that we are connected to, that contributes to the beauty sometimes, and reminds us that we are all made of the same stuff, just made differently.  

Learning to live in right relationship with the life that surrounds us–with the animals we are deeply connected to as pets and the gardens we plant, the plants and animals that belong to the same environments that we do, the larger expanse of the world around us which holds many forms life that we will never know of but which contribute to our life on this planet none the less.  It is in learning to be in right relationship with each other as well–to treat other humans with love and compassion and respect that we continue to learn how to be part of the interdependent web of life.  

What does it mean to be a people of expectation?


(From a sermon I wrote that was then given corporately by people who had a number under their seat…ok, you had to be there to understand how this happened.  But it was part of messing with our expectations about sermons and who gives them…)

What does it mean to be a people of expectation?  One on one side of expectation we find a tool to shape the material of our lives, something that helps us decide where we are headed and what success looks like.  On the other side of expectation we find a weapon that we might use against ourselves and each other, whether unwittingly or knowingly we narrow the possibilities we might live into, and prevent ourselves from trying ideas and developing skills me might otherwise try.

 Sometimes expectations narrow the field of possibilities in ways that limit growth and insights.  Take the story of experiments done on rats who were randomly labeled as smart or not smart—where researchers found that the rats performed differently based on how they were labeled because their handlers actually interacted with them differently based on their expectations.

 After listening to an NPR show “Invisibilia” called “How to Become Batman,” our sense of the power of expectations and their effect on our actual capacities is profoundly changed.   The story is of Daniel Kish, whose eyes were removed as a toddler due to eye cancer; he develops the capacity to do something bats do—echo-location– and is able to do things that blind people are assumed to be unable to do.

 When looking at his brain activity while locating things this way his brain shows the same activity as someone who sees.  He is famous for being able to ride a bike, which he does using a clicking sound that helps him echolocate.  Daniel tells the interviewers that his capacity is not amazing or miraculous.  Rather, it is the product of his mother being able to suspend her fear of his blindness and maintain the same expectations for him as she would have for a seeing child.  This meant he was allowed to make his clicking sounds and develop his skills to allow him to climb trees, hike mountain trails, even ride a bike.  

 When Daniel first meets a boy who was blind and treated differently based on the lower expectations many had for blind children, he was confused by the over-protection, and the assumptions of lower capacity created for this child. He was confused by the fact that this child seemed to have none of the capacities that Daniel had.

As an adult Daniel works with blind kids and their parents to help reshape—open up –their expectations and let go of their over-protective behaviors.  It’s excruciating—lots of adults simply don’t believe him or trust him.   And, the risks are obvious.  You don’t teach blind children to climb a tree without having to control your own desire to rescue them and fear that they will fall. The rewards are tremendous—including training the brain to understand the landscape one walks in even though you’re technically blind.

The story asks us to think about how we decide what’s possible—for ourselves, for our students and children, for people different from us–and to consider how those decisions impact reality for all of us.  In particular it asks us to re-consider what “disability” references and how we respond to changes in our abilities.  Do we give up?  Do we assume certain capacities or goals are unattainable?  Do we adjust and develop new capacities—and how much do we do this?  Think of the special Olympics and of the way we have begun to think about how we accommodate disabilities—we see folks performing athletically and professionally in ways we might not have imagined if the imagining was left up to us alone.

Take the story of Stephen, a gentleman Rev. Sarah met in El Salvador.  She had traveled there to meet micro-credit borrowers with a group of 19 others from Canada and the United States.  Stephen was wheelchair bound man with cerebral palsy—not someone you might predict would venture into Central America.  When she first met him, Rev. Sarah was curious.  He spoke very slowly, as it was very difficult physically for him to speak.  She realized quickly though, that he had a very wry sense of humor, a keen eye, and a brilliant mind.

In fact, Stephen worked as a business analyst and was quite articulate when aided by his computer.  He also had a very warm heart—he had been sending funds to an orphan in El Salvador for several years and made time during this trip to meet the little boy.  In addition to the surprise of his humor and observations of the trip, the El Salvadorans helping the group responded to our expectations of full inclusion for Stephen by getting him and his wheelchair to places no wheelchair had ever been before.

He was helped up pyramids, down long stairways, into difficult-to-access homes in villages where wheelchair access was never even a conversation.  He even led an end of the trip social gathering to a nearby village pub where some of the group toasted their trip and new friendships and then piled onto Stephen’s chair to get back to hotel.  There were definitely more people on board than expected when the hotel staff greeted them upon return.

How can we create and share expectations that are generous, open and affirming?  That guide us without punishment and remind us of the things we value most, rather than narrowing our focus to destructively small minutiae? How can approach ourselves and each other with compassion and hope, let go of our cynicism and fear?

Expectations can be an opening, like when we say “perhaps” or “what if?” and allow ourselves to consider our options.  Expectations can facilitate growth and encourage exploration but they can also set us up for failure and discouragement.

Expectations can hide assumptions and highlight prejudice.  We may have expectations based on our perceptions of someone or a group of people that lead us to interact with them in particular ways, producing experiences that affirm our assumptions—like the rats experiment—but don’t actually tell us anything more about the persons or group we are interacting with.

What would happen if you experimented with new expectations in an area of your life where you are feeling stuck or diminished, frustrated or tired?  Let yourself stretch and re-form your life by stretching and re-forming your expectations—for yourself, for those closest to you, for the world around you. May you find new capacities and new joy in re-framing your expectations; blessed be…

Being a Creator and Co-Creating the Universe


Our ability to think creatively, to shift perspectives for ourselves and others, is key to our ability to solve problems and find the beauty and joy in the middle of suffering and destruction.  We encounter healing and transformation in the work of many creators–whether they are musicians, painters, writers, builders, gardeners, chefs, photographers, jewelry makers, quilters or knitters, storytellers or potters; people who make us laugh, or cry or pause with awe; people who connect us more deeply to the human family and the environment that we live in; people who inspire us and help us perceive the world in new ways, bring new experiences to us through our senses that touch and move us to build together.  

Each of us has this capacity, although some us have been convinced we aren’t good enough or talented.  The essential piece of being a creator is to create from your own capacities and experiences–to tell the stories that move you, to experiment with color and sound and movement and whatever you have access to.  Your life can be the masterpiece; the ways in which you have cared for others, the way in which you lived out your callings, the way in which you have embraced your own self–your pain, your own gifts, your own story, your own perceptions–and shared them with each of us.  I invite you to consider what it is you are creating with your life, and I invite you to ignore the critics and find your medium.  Your life is precious; you are precious.  

poems of mine…


Small disappointments from the man I wake up to.

We are circling something,  moving slowly.

Unaware of what lies in the darkness,

I strike a match, blow it out.

I am dancing, weaving a blanket.

Turning, turning.  We must stop circling and meet.

I cannot name what I see.

I cannot see.

Listening to an ache deeper than consciousness,

I am humbled by its urgency.

Implicit trust I give to a soul in my dreams.

A keeper of words and designs.

A mate. A soulmate. A piece of my soul.

A creator.

Inseparable lover,

a world traveler,

a gentle charmer and magician, a poet.

An intimacy, deeper than touch.

Keeper of words and designs,

My songs make a circle, move us closer.

I lie naked, arms outstretched,

an artist painting with energy,

the conduit of a sacred intimacy.

A creator.


Chapel Prayer

I met Mary yesterday.

She asked me how I would accommodate this growth

How would I make new space

To honor this new place

Inside of me?

She told me to write a poem like a chapel

Inviting my own self to come be healed.

She told me there would be miracles

In this new place of worship,

That I would be the vessel of holy water, of the blood of renewal,

and a feast to end a famine.

Maybe someday

there will be a whole cathedral


Inside of me

and I will be visited by the thousands,

Souls and spirits and thoughts and prayers

uniting in one great


A service for the many

In one tiny place

Held by my breath

And my faith

And my open heart.

She gave me plans and named me Architect and Administrator.

She patted me on the back and said,

“May it be so.”

Mary meet, and merry part and Mary meet again….

Blessed be.

–Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan

Being an Ally: Black Lives Matter


Nearly 20 years ago I worked in an urban community college where 75% of my students were people of color (all ages–from 16-60+) and the staff was also very diverse.  I worked in the counseling and advising center running a grant program for students who were low income, first generation students and students with disabilities.  I had left my community organizing job for this one, partly because it paid better and partly because organizing to preserve affordable housing was so depressing–we were mostly losing housing stock and mostly seeing slum lords win or at least not be held accountable.  Racism was absolutely part of the puzzle, a kind of hidden pattern that was revealed as more pieces came together.   Hidden for me, as a young white activist.  Not hidden for those who had been living in this housing for 20 years (and the neighborhood surrounding it.)  

When I moved to the community college I was suddenly in a very new environment.  My colleagues taught me many lessons about myself, about privilege and about cultural differences.  Humor, volume, metaphors, language, silence, were all used differently by my colleagues.  What sounded like a fight to my white, untrained ears was often humor; what sounded like quiet could be a fight brewing.  I learned new dance moves, (although I could never really follow them), and new music and new metaphors and language.  

One colleague I really didn’t understand until recently was an older woman who was always extremely careful, cautious, and distant with me and other white colleagues.  I can remember feeling a little affronted–we were approaching the millenium.  Hadn’t things changes enough that she could see I wasn’t like those other white people? I remember feeling sad that she felt it necessary to maintain the wall of separation, to never be open to more connection or relationship.  In my protected world of privilege, I only saw the gains my students and colleagues were making.   I saw degrees being earned, and jobs being offered, colleagues being promoted.  I saw and understood some of the micro-aggressions that took place, but I am sure it was only a very small percentage of the ones endured by the members of my community who didn’t share the “privilege” of being white.   

Our narrative we had was about how a college president at our institution had once been an “elevator boy” in our building that was once a department store–see how far he had come?  About how we were the first institution in our city to integrate–before the public schools.   All of this was true, and so many of our students did find some of the trappings of success as they followed this path of education.  But it was also true that systemic racism created roadblocks and shifted the playing field.  It is still true. While I saw continued de facto segregation in our city and the way it isolated communities from vital resources and sustained poverty, I definitely did not see or understand the level of violence and antipathy that still remained in our institutions and community.  And while strange fruit may not be hanging in the trees today, we are still seeing high levels of violence fueled by racism and institutionalized racism that has led to failing schools and struggling neighborhoods, prisons with disproportionate people of color, and the aggregation of a high volume of micro aggressions that affect spiritual and physical health.   

I definitely did not understand how much her caution was born of these realities–that she didn’t know if I would defend police officers who shoot or beat black men and women and cover it up as necessary force or if I would stand in solidarity against this.  She didn’t know what she could expect from me, and based on her very real, lived experience my whiteness was enough to assume my collusion with a corrupt and destructive system.  Knowing what I know now, her stance and choices make a lot of sense.  I now wonder what others weren’t telling me or sharing with me when I assumed I was being a good ally.  What did I not see or understand about the lives of my colleagues, students and friends?  I think I failed to see how precarious their gains were, how many times in one day they would face bits and pieces of racism, and how truly exhausting it must be to be “friends” with a white ally who thinks they are seeing you when really, they’re not.  

I think I also failed to see how little the systems I touted–degrees and jobs and money–would actually impact their experience of racism.  I watched bright, educated, motivated young people search for work longer than their white peers.  I watched some of them lose jobs or work in hostile environments.  I watched many more become underemployed–working in jobs below their ability and education and training.  And I have watched an African American President be treated with disrespect, hostility and openly racist behavior from every corner of American society.  If the President isn’t exempt from this, then no one is.  

When I became a minister in a very white, very educated and affluent denomination I worried that I would lose touch with how others experience the world–with how racism and classism are destroying our communities.  I also worried that I wouldn’t be able to convince the communities I lead to look more deeply and ask more questions, to see beyond their presumptions and expectations.  I still worry about this.  Every day.  Because if it took me nearly 20 years to understand one woman’s preservationist caution, to really get it, then how long will it take for this movement to shift the lived realities of oppressed communities in our country?  Confronting my inner racist and hidden collusion with a system that disables and destroys our communities is just the beginning.   But we gotta start somewhere.  

#blacklivesmatter #whatwouldyoudiefor #whatwillyoustandfor #blmally