In the Interim: 6/14/2019

meg-rileyDear UUCM Friends,

I don’t know about you, but I love a road trip.  I love stopping at whatever roadside attractions make themselves known, settling in with music or podcasts or audio books, staring out the window at telephone poles.   I love the conversations that unfold with hours to poke around with half baked ideas, memories and dreams.  I love seeing the road up ahead and knowing I’m going somewhere!  My three year old car has more than 50,000 miles on it—I’ve driven it to both coasts a couple of times and to New Orleans as well!

June 15, I’m setting off on a massive roadtrip—the longest I’ve ever taken.  I’ll start by driving to General Assembly—the annual gathering of Unitarian Universalists for business and for learning, commonly called GA—which is in Spokane, Washington this year.  After a week of GA,  I’ll head up through British Columbia to Alaska! Continue reading →

In the Interim: 6/7/2019

arif-mamdaniPracticing Beauty:

Last Sunday, we celebrated Flower Communion, a UU ritual that symbolizes the beauty and uniqueness of each of us, while also celebrating the vibrant bouquet that we are together. So, it seemed logical to me, as we enter a month with the theme of beauty, to invite us into a practice of beauty. Below are instructions for a flower meditation – a simple way of sitting and focusing our attention on a flower. Beauty unfolds when we slow down and pay attention, and this flower meditation is a simple way to explore this terrain. Try it for a week (or all month!) and let me know how it goes for you.

How To Practice Flower Gazing Meditation:

  1. Be sure to choose a flower that resonates with you. Set it about a foot in front of you at a comfortable angle, preferably at eye level. For beginners, it’s better to focus on one single flower instead of a bouquet. Feel conscious of your body’s contact with the ground. Connect with the earth that grew the flower sitting before you.
  2. Gaze at it with soft, relaxed eyes. Blink normally, and relax your facial muscles. Plan to meditate for around 10-15 minutes.
  3. Look at it as if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen a flower. Discover what it actually looks like. Avoid labeling what you’re looking upon; instead of focusing on petals or pollen, notice the unique shapes, colors, textures, and scents present in front of you. Feel its vibrant life energy. When thoughts come up, notice them, and then gently redirect your attention to the flower in front of you, neither pushing them away nor indulging them.
  4. After 10-15 minutes have passed, thank the flower and offer it gratitude for its gifts. Close your eyes for a minute or so. Can you still see its image in your mind, or feel its presence in front of you?
  5. Continue with the rest of your day and notice that your mind is calmer, your body more relaxed, and your attention sharper. If you start practicing this regularly, you just might start noticing the specific details and beauty not just in flowers, but in every common object you come across.

(Thanks to gardencollage.com for the flower meditation instructions.)

— Arif

Each week, the interim ministry team will share a reflection on the Soul Matters monthly theme, the state of the church, or the state of the world. MegTerri and Arif will alternate writing this “In the Interim” post. We encourage your comments.

In the Interim: 5/24/2019

terri-burnorMaking its way around social media is an American Legion post  with a photo of a whiteboard where someone wrote:

Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday of May) – for those who currently wear the uniform
Veterans Day (November 11th) – for those who used to wear the uniform
Memorial Day (last Monday of May) – for those who never made it out of uniform

My dad, Robert Guy Burnor, was a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He retired in 1976 as a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force after 26 years of combined military service. He died in 2001 and is buried in the Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

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Fort Snelling has more than 225,000 interments. Last year, volunteers placed American flags at every headstone for the first time in 35 years. I believe it will be done again this year.

Even though Memorial Day explicitly honors those who died during active military service, acts like these and other symbols of remembrance effectively include veterans who died after having served earlier in their lives.

During my dad’s service, he received the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Readiness Medal, and the Air Force Commendation Medal, among other military commendations. My mom served for three years as well and met my dad when they were both stationed at the Selfridge Air Force Base in Mount Clemens, Mich.

Their time in the military largely happened before I came around, and I grew up hearing tales of an adventurous and interesting life together. But they largely kept hidden their deeper stories of war, alcoholism, separation. I wonder if their faith ever wavered. I wonder about the depths of moral injury they and their friends may have suffered. Continue reading →

In the Interim: 5/17/2019

meg-rileyI’m in Montgomery Alabama as I write this, here as part of a colleague’s ordination ceremony.  In some stroke of fate, I’m here the day after the Alabama Legislature—25 white men—voted to outlaw abortion, even in the case of incest and rape.  They also voted that doctors who perform this medical procedure face life in jail.  And, just as I arrived, the Governor signed it into law.

I spent the afternoon driving around to see the sights of Montgomery and what struck me most was the dominant presence of the Confederacy, right next to landmarks of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement.  Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where the Montgomery Bus Boycott was organized by folks including the young Dr. Martin Luther King, is just blocks from the original Confederate White House, where Jefferson Davis lived until the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond.  That House—now a museum—is directly across the street from the  Capitol building.  The Rosa Parks museum is right down the block from the marker for the Montgomery Slave Market.  All of the history—the good the bad and the ugly—is mixed in one giant stew of wildly divergent viewpoints and experiences about America. Continue reading →

In the Interim: 5/10/2019

arif-mamdaniAtheist theologian Anthony Pinn describes the purpose of religious community as being a community that seeks “more” in its quest for what he calls “complex subjectivity.” In saying this, he’s referencing philosopher William James, and while I don’t want to get into the weeds and unpack the specifics of what Pinn (and James) are talking about (and why they use some big words to do it!), I do find this notion to be evocative of what we aim to do here in UU religious community, and provocative for what we’re exploring with this month’s theme of curiosity.

The complex subjectivity that Pinn writes about is what I think we Unitarian Universalists are after when we describe ourselves as seekers. For Unitarian Universalists, religious and spiritual truth is forever unfolding. Our sources point us not only toward sacred texts, but also insist that our faith claims be tested by reason and be in dialogue with how science helps us understand the world. As our hymn says, “we are seekers of truth.” For me, this seeking is not an idle seeking of facts for the sake of facts but is instead a seeking aimed at deeply engaging the question of what it means to be human. In other words, it is how we seek the complex subjectivity that Pinn describes. Continue reading →

In the Interim: 5/3/2019

terri-burnorThe other day, I sat in a circle with about 40 men who are incarcerated at the Minnesota state correctional facility in Stillwater. They had come for a session in mindfulness meditation, which is offered twice a month by a group of volunteers. I’ve been to Stillwater before, but I’m just starting to volunteer with this particular group.

We went to the prison chapel, and the four of us who were there to facilitate set up the room for a typical attendance of 25-30. More and more men kept arriving until nearly every chair was used, and we ended up creating a circle that pushed to the perimeters of the space. It was the largest number that have ever come.

Patrice, the leader of our group, has been guiding this mindfulness practice in prison for nearly 20 years. She creates an atmosphere of both openness and boundaries, helping the men receive the gift of silence and stillness, when that is such a rare commodity in this place. She invites them to try the meditations and allows individuals to leave after the chime rings if the experience isn’t right for them in that moment. She acknowledges that some may fall asleep and that is okay. She sets clear expectations and guidance for the time together. And she accepts the men where they are. Continue reading →

In the Interim: 4/19/2019

meg-rileyYou’ll receive this on Good Friday, and as the day turns to night, Passover seders will begin all over the world.  Though UUs mark Easter in our own ways, we do little to note the crucifixion which must happen before the ressurection can occur.  And while  about ten percent of us are “Jewnitarian,” the UU seders I’ve attended over the years have been brief and abbreviated, nothing like the long forays into deep discussion and reflection I’ve celebrated in the houses of Jewish friends.

Sometimes I long for more of a liturgical year for Unitarian Universalists. Various people have written them over the years, and some congregations opt into them.  At UUCM, engaging in theme-based ministry connects us to dozens of other congregations pondering the same monthly topics.  But none of those optional calendars have the depth of the year that a Christian or Jewish or Muslim calendar holds, and sometimes I long for that.  Many of us create our own seasonal rituals and choose to align our energy with that of the earth more than with a particular faith community. Continue reading →