In the Interim: 6/28/2019

arif-mamdaniThe beauty of summer!

Well, I think it is official. With the summer solstice behind us, and the weather forecast predicting temperatures in the 90s with corresponding dewpoints, I think it is fair to say that summer is here.

There’s an old joke that says Unitarian Universalists are the only ones that God trusts to take summers off. It’s offered as an explanation for why UU churches go into “away mode” in the summer. And, in many ways it is true that our congregations tend to be a little less well attended in the summer months. Owing perhaps to our roots being rather tightly intertwined with that of institutions of higher education, and owing too to the fact that our tradition has historically valued a highly educated ministry (PhDs are welcome here!), we are accustomed to the academic calendar and it isn’t uncommon for UU ministers to take some extended time away during the summer.

And so, in keeping with that tradition, I want to let you know that over the next month or so, you can expect a couple of things to be different. First and foremost, this column will be taking a break, and will resume as we start things up again in August. Second, Meg is away through mid-August, and Terri and I (Arif) will be less physically present in the church, but still checking in and available.

This does not mean that we are not present or that you’re on your own! To paraphrase the title of Rev. Kate Braestrup’s wonderful book on her experiences as a chaplain with the Maine warden service, we are here if you need us. So, if you find that you do need us, please don’t hesitate to reach out. And as always, in the event of an emergency, call us.

May the longer days of summer bring a slower and more sustainable pace. May you have at least one moment by a lake where the sound of the water and the play of light helps you remember our interconnection to each other and the wider world around us.

May you have a wonderful summer.

— Arif

Each week (starting again in August), 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: 6/21/2019

terri-burnorI live in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. In the blocks surrounding my home are lots of tudors, a fair number of bungalows (like mine), and colonials. Most of the houses are nicely maintained with foundation or sidewalk edge gardens and mown lawns. I love living in this area so filled with flowers and foliage.

And while I like trim and tidy, I like wild too. I like both. The orderly and thoughtful, and the creative and spontaneous. I need  the unexpected, the not sure and who knows. And, I can sit down for hours researching plants and filling out my custom-created garden database.

My spouse and I have only lived in our new house since November, so this is our first summer. It’s been wonderful discovering what we inherited in the gardens as they’ve come alive with the growing season.

Now I could have spent this time observing, learning and planning  what I wanted to do. That’s a very good thing and I’m doing that. But I also am doing another entirely different thing…. Continue reading →

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 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.


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 →