From the Minister's Study
Button Up Your Overcoat
There is an old song called Button Up Your Overcoat with the words, “eat an apple every day, take good care of yourself, you belong to me.” It is a tender and romantic notion. Not just romantic, it reminds us that when we take good care of ourselves it is a way of showing that we care about those who love us. Perhaps I’m reminded of the song because I’m reflecting on how we take care of each other here at UCN.
As a minister I am called to do many things, including leading worship, writing sermons, supervising staff, spiritual direction, administration, community involvement, and providing pastoral care for the congregation. I am assisted in this last effort by some incredible members of this congregation including Jeanne Gurda, Carol Pawlak, Gerry Schmitz,, Ruth Dunk and Karen Ringlien.
I meet with them once a month and we discuss various needs of the congregation: who has a loved one who has died, who is receiving treatment for a life-altering or life threatening illness, who is looking for work. We create a Buddhist meta mediation, heart prayer circle and include all the folks we know in our lives who are suffering. We also celebrate the joys that our members share during the worship service.
These are the folks that help me with hospital and home visits. They write cards of care. They are also available to provide a listening ear and an open heart to you during times of transition. Most importantly, they will be providing lay pastoral care for the congregation during my upcoming sabbatical.
On October 12, they will be sharing deeply about who they are and how their life experiences have made them such good lay pastoral care providers. I hope you will be able to come to the service and get to know them better, so that when you need pastoral care while I am away on sabbatical you will already feel a heart connection to them.
Knowing these fine members of our congregation and the huge hearts they have and the skills they possess gives me a good feeling. I trust that while I am on sabbatical they will be up to the task of caring well for you.
We live not only for ourselves but for each other and we care for ourselves as a way of caring for each other. So button up your overcoat or better yet, zip up your Packer’s jacket. Take good care of yourself and let these good people care for you too.
May many blessings come your way in the fine fall month of October.
Learning New Things
Yesterday, I gathered up my courage and took my daughter shopping for clothes to begin the school year with. First, I find it challenging to go shopping. I’m just not a person who finds it relaxing or enjoyable most of the time. Second, it is not easy to find clothes that are not … for lack of a better word... sexist, (or perhaps I’m showing my age), inappropriate or even well made. What does boyfriend shirt even mean?
Yet, I put all my doubts and struggles behind me and put on my brave can-do face. I remained calm and open. I did not offer any effusive praise for the things I thought were good. That is a real killer in the clothes department. If I think they are cool, they will just not do. Ok, I have learned that. We ended up having a wonderful time and were surprisingly successful. And we went out to lunch afterwards. It was nice mother–daughter time and I am grateful for it when it happens. Being the mom of an eight-year-old requires a different approach than being the mom of a 17-year-old. One of the most amazing spiritual gifts of raising a child is learning to listen for new ways to relate to the changing child. And as I change, I receive more benefits from this relationship.
I am carrying that confidence over into my work at church. I am figuring out how to be a ¾ time minister. I have done full-time work and half-time work, but never ¾ before. I am looking at what it offers me rather than what it takes away. For instance, I am very excited to have begun my volunteer training at the Ozaukee Humane Society. I am looking forward to my time as a cat socializer. So far I have been impressed with everything that I’m learning there.
I was especially gratified to learn that they have a program that provides pet food to help people who have lost their jobs to keep their pets. Pet food can be expensive and losing a job is a hard enough transition to go through without also having to lose a beloved pet.
As I contemplated my own transitions this summer I found myself thinking, I could get upset, or I could do what I have urged others to do in their spiritual practices. I could open like a flower toward the change and look for what was leaning toward me, waiting to be born, and lean into it. That is what I will be doing this year as I navigate my way through ¾ time and my sabbatical. May all of us who are going through transitions this year find some ease, joy and confidence in the process.
Last month it seems like it when from 8 degrees to 80 in the blink of an eye. This month, the garden stores are bustling as we release our pent-up demand to work the soil. We knew that at some point spring would escape the cold grasp of Demeter. But we were all wondering just when that would be. Some changes are seasonal. We look forward to them or try to make the best of them. We invest holidays with time and ritual to mark their passage. We use these marks to measure ourselves and where we were the last time we experienced a particular season or holiday; sort of like the marks on the inside of a closet that note various kid’s heights over the years. These ritual times are important. I urge you to sink your teeth into the changes from spring to summer with intention. Notice the changes in your own life from last year to this.
One of the changes we will experience as a community is the sending forth of our intern minister, James Galasinski. I have enjoyed watching him grow the skills and explore the gifts he needs to be a Unitarian Universalist minister, and I have heard from many of you how much you have enjoyed the experience of being a teaching congregation. It is a nice feeling to contribute to the future health of our religious tradition by participating in the formation of a future minister. I thank all of you for the ways you have contributed to his learning. His time with us has come to an end and reminds us of how so many things come into being and then fall away.
Sometimes changes are not cyclical. Some are random or chaotic. Others have been building steam with one tiny grain of salt after another. Many times in my own life, things happen that I would not choose to deal with if I were given a choice. And I know that how I respond to them makes all the difference. This understanding of life is a core part of our Unitarian Universalist theology. We don’t believe in a Master Plan God. Nor do we believe that we have complete control over what happens to us. Rather, we believe that what we do have control over is how we respond to the life circumstances we find ourselves in. UCN faces enormous emotional, spiritual and financial challenges as we move into the next year. While I would have never sought out these particular growth opportunities, I feel blessed to have such a committed group of women and men with which to face them. I have been meditating on the writings of a judge that recently struck down a ban on gay marriage. It seems very appropriate to our circumstances. “Where will all of this lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope …. To those who harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise.” Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge.
Two years ago, I was accepted into a special UUMA program on preaching and liturgical arts called Beyond the Call. I felt so lucky, honored and grateful to be one of the 19 chosen to participate in this exciting new program. We meet four times a year to share our work with each other. We generate lots of feedback, ideas and energy for worship. The Deans who oversee the program also bring in well-respected preachers, storytellers and coaches to work with us. In a few days I will leave Milwaukee to gather with the other ministers and coaches in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We will visit one of the largest, if not the largest, Unitarian Universalist church in the United States. Apparently they offer three or four different worship services every Sunday. We will attend each one and then meet with the staff members that worked on them. I look forward to all the new ideas, insights, energy and information that I will be soaking up.
One of the things that we talked about last August was the practice of congregational response either during the sermon, after the sermon or after the end of the worship service. Some folks were advocates of the practice because it gave the worship service more of an interactive feel. Others mentioned some of the problems they encountered with its practice; including a longer worship service depending on how many people felt the need to comment or offer a story of their own. Some folks loved the reaction that they got from other congregants after the worship service once they had shared a story or perspective. Other folks did not like the fact that certain people got up to share their perspective after every sermon. And it was also noted that this practice is more appealing to extroverts than to introverts.
Speaking of different perspectives, church life, with its wonderful array of generations with vastly different values, priorities and styles, grants a rare richness that is not present in most of the other groups in our lives. Yet these differences, which we celebrate and cherish, also make it difficult for everybody to like everything that happens at church and during the worship service.
Weighing the pros and cons of the practice of congregational response and reverberations as I have these last few months, I would like to experiment with it and see what happens. Is it something that most people at the service find spiritually nourishing? When does it best fit with the worship rhythms of the congregation? How will we know? And, most importantly, does this practice add depth to our worship experience? I think the best way to find answers to these questions would be to invite you to experience it and then let me know. Share your feedback with me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Lo and it came to pass that our intern minister, James Galasinski is winding up his time with us. Soon James will transition into the next episode of his ministry. But we were there at the beginning, and it has been an exciting and fulfilling time for all of us. And even though his service to us ends in May, he will be with us for our Flower Communion on June 1. I hope you will join us to celebrate this wonderful flowering of our church community. In addition to celebrating him, we want to send him forth with a gift. If you would like to make a financial contribution to this gift please see Karen Ringlien or Nancy Neumann. In addition, you can write a check and put “gift for James” in the memo line.
On another note, we are looking for summer speakers. Everybody has at least one sermon inside them, and if you are ready to share yours please let me know. I will work with you to help shape it into a meaningful experience for your fellow congregants. And if you have ideas about who else in the community might have an important message or story to share with us please send me the person’s name and contact info as well as a little bit about who the person is and the context of their message.
Finally, our church community draws folks both nearby and far away. If you are one of those folks that live far away, or one of those folks that spends extended time away, and would like to meet for some pastoral time please accept an invitation from me to talk via a Skype-like service. I now have a webcam and would be interested in exploring it as a means of pastoral care.
Final thoughts … Spring is messy and so is life. Blessings to you my friends,
I sit in my office and look out at the polar vortex, or at the inhospitable weather visited upon us by the P.V. YUCK! I hope that by the time this article is published my uncharitable thoughts about the weather and the relentlessly harsh, windy, cold atmosphere have become outdated. Is it silly to hope that by March 1 we will have a few balmy days of thirty–plus degrees? I believe that no spring in recent memory will be as welcome and celebrated as this one will be. In my mind I look to the future and envision maypole dancing, gentle breezes on my cheeks, and much front porch sitting.
At the same time I am mindful of the present moment. I am thinking of the life inside the trunks of the cold trees and the rush of energy deep in the roots. I know that sometimes life, with all of its problems and challenges, feels as bleak as those naked trees. And I know that that is not the whole story, at least for me. I have found warmth, excitement and energy by learning about what is going on in North Carolina. Have you heard the good news?
A few weeks ago 75,000 to 100,000 folks, including a number of Unitarian Universalist ministers, came to Raleigh, North Carolina to protest what is going on in that state and to hold legislators accountable. In 2010, right-wing Republicans took over the legislature. The new legislature quickly reworked the voting system in their favor and then in 2012 elected Republican Pat McCrory as governor. Whereupon they imposed a radically conservative agenda.
First they attempted to repeal the voting power gained in the civil rights movement by redistricting the state for future elections, aiming to weaken the hard-won power of African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters.
They imposed a far-reaching voter-suppression law, making it harder for all but the wealthy to vote. They imposed crippling restrictions on women's right to health care and on abortion providers. They passed legislation undermining union rights in the private and public sectors. They rejected the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid, cutting health care for poor people. They created an open door for unregulated fracking. They made it harder to reconsider death-row sentences even if racial bias in trial could be proved. They cut unemployment compensation. They cut taxes on the rich -- and imposed new tax burdens on the middle class and the poor. They cut funds for education -- while subsidizing vouchers for privatized schools. They have also gone after environmental protections, and have undermined the rights of immigrants and LGBT North Carolinians. As you can see they have been busy these past two years.
And what they did and the speed in which they did it took many of the regular middle–of–the–road folks by surprise. Because of this, a number of groups have come together to build a coalition with what they call the People’s Agenda. Their numbers are made strong by participation from faith groups, labor unions, LGBT rights organizations, women's groups and environmentalists. What is new and exciting in this state coalition is that while many of these movements have developed independently, they are coming together with the African Americans and Hispanics. When you add all these people up it represents a heck of a lot of people. They don’t agree on everything but they agree on enough stuff to keep building momentum and expect to have a measurable and favorable outcome in the midterm elections.
And I am proud to share with you that many of my colleagues as well as our UUA president, the Rev. Peter Morales, also went to Raleigh to join in the super big march. This is the kind of thing that gets my life sap running in this long crawl towards spring.
Speaking of crawling, I see myself, mole–like, coming out of my mole hole in serious need of sunglasses, perhaps the wrap–around style that go over regular prescription glasses. Did you know that those glasses, available at any drug store, are the new hip accessory? If that is not good news, I hope the coalescing around Unitarian Universalist values that is happening in North Carolina is, as we prepare for spring inside and out.
The Great Experiment
Democracy was and is a great experiment. As Unitarian Universalists our ways of being religious and making meaning in our lives is a great experiment. One could even say, and I do, that UCN is a great experiment. There are no guarantees that this church of ours or this church community that we know and cherish will be here indefinitely.
We have inherited our faith from ancient earth–based spiritual communities that told stories around fires about the meaning of life and death, as well as from theologians, philosophers and scientists from the past 4000 years. We have inherited our building from the founders and generous donors of our recent past. It is up to us to hold this tradition and religious community close to our hearts and to support it financially in a way that is generative and generous.
By generous I mean really generous, giving boldly. By generative I mean sharing enough money with UCN so that we can move from scraping by to responding with money to support a vibrant church. I don’t want to see us have to cut anything else out of the budget. It was hard for me to see us unable to support a very part–time choir director. I would like to see this community respond so generatively and generously that we can expand our mission rather than cut more pieces off of it. Quite frankly, we cannot suffer any more cuts to the infrastructure of this organization if we want to maintain what we have. This is all part of the experiment.
I write about this to you in the February newsletter because of the timeline involved in creating our budget for next year. I’m going to share some of the timeline with you because it makes more sense that way. Our next fiscal year starts on July 1. By that time, the budget needs to be approved by the voting members of the congregation. In order for that to happen, it needs to be created by the finance team in March and presented to the board by April for their comments, suggestions and approval. Then they send the budget to you ahead of the congregational meeting in May so you have a chance to familiarize yourself with it before voting to approve it.
That is why we are asking you to turn your attention in a thoughtful way toward your financial contribution for the 2014–2015 year. Within the week, you will be mailed your financial commitment form. I ask that you go to the outer edges of possible when you make your decision about what to share with this community next year. We go to the outer edges of what is possible all the time in our spiritual journeys together and can continue to do so with your bold support. It is also important that you get your forms back to us by the end of February so that your finance committee can continue its work.
We bind up the broken, proclaim that wholeness is available to all; we celebrate the gifts of life and we contemplate the mysteries of creation. Together, we make our world a better place. With your financial support we can continue.
Greetings from a Lotus Flower Laboratory
Some people don't believe in miracles, but I do. The miracles I believe in are the miracles of real transformation in peoples’ lives. Each of us comes to this process of transformation from different starting points, but each of us goes through the same kind of growth. The life force is awakened, the realization of our interconnection becomes more pronounced, more real, our ability to love and connect grows. These things unfold in us like a lotus flower lifting up its face joyfully towards the light as it rests upon the muddy waters. We are like lotus flowers opening toward light and goodness and springing up from the mud and tears of life to share our beauty and wholeheartedness with our world. That is one of the most important things that we do here at UCN. We work small miracles on ourselves and others. We are a lotus flower laboratory.
Everything that we do here at UCN is geared toward supporting this process. Our theology, our committee work, our building, our community time together, our worship time together, the religious education of our children, even the folks we share our building and grounds with, all are part of our lotus laboratory.
This work takes time, heart, intelligence, money and commitment. It does not happen without your financial support. Supporting UCN with a generous financial gift is an investment in the kind of world you want. Over the next two months we are going to be asking you to have an important conversation with yourself. Ask yourself, “How generous can I be?” I urge you to stretch yourself on this and to be bold with your financial contribution. Too often, fear of not having enough stuff, or fear of the future gets in the way of our being generous with our money. In order for this church community to be a healthy organization, it requires significant financial generosity from everyone. From folks that are members, from folks that come but are not members, from folks in the community that come to services once in a while, and from folks that may be reading this message for the first time. The money you invest insures that we will be here, growing and strengthening spiritual health now and in the future.
Your spiritual health and the health of those around you are worth the money. And, living generously is a reward in and of itself that is worth experiencing.
Over the last two years, financial contributions toward keeping UCN going have been trending down instead of up. This needs to be reversed and this is the year to make it happen. Positive change most often evolves slowly, like a watershed brought into being by raindrops falling, one drop at a time, until the volume of water eventually gathers into a crescendo and forms rivers that flow on to create an ocean. We all contribute to this ocean of enlightenment one thought, one word, one deed, one prayer, one smile, one generous financial contribution at a time, day by day, moment by moment and year by year. Please let this year and this upcoming annual budget drive be a surge forward. It is time. I know we can do it.
The December Holidays Approacheth
The December holidays approach. Depending upon your heritage, there are a lot of different ways to participate in the festivities. Some folks celebrate Kwanza. Some celebrate Hanukah, which began before December even arrived this year. Some engage with a festival of lights with pagan abandon. Some use this time to celebrate the story of the birth of Jesus. Some engage in gift giving and family time, with food and Christmas music.
I have had a complex relationship with the December Holidays. One of the things I love most about the holidays is the music. I collect Christmas music and have been doing so for at least 25 years. I have sacred Christmas music, children’s Christmas music, spoof Christmas music, including some songs played with tools like saws and drills. I have Jazz, Electronic, Soul, Rap, Country and Alternative as well. Finally I have Christmas Blues music. So all of it, the corny, the kitsch, the child-like hope and wonder, the improvisational, and the sad and lonely perspectives are covered in the Christmas music I collect and encompass the range of emotions I have felt.
Some people look forward to the holidays and some do not. There are some of us who relish taking time out of our normal work-a-day schedules and traveling to spend time with family or host family, who have traveled to be with us. Some of us get excited about holiday feasts and treats. Others, especially kids, look forward to receiving gifts and having time off from school. But for each of the aspects of the holidays that some of us cherish, there are others amongst us who struggle with them. Some folks don’t have family to be around. Some don’t like to be around the family that they have. Some of us struggle with the pressure to buy stuff and over-eat as we try to be more mindful in our lives about material consumption and our ecological responsibilities.
The big word for this month is mindful. My prayer for us is that we remember that there are a number of different ways to engage with the December holidays and that there is diversity amongst us. One of the images in a sermon I preached for UCN a few weeks ago got Brenda Wingard into a wrestling state of mind about these upcoming holidays. We met and I invited her to share her perspectives on the upcoming holiday time. I am delighted that she did so. To read Brenda's article, click here: http://www.ucnorth.org/news/normal-brenda-wingard
You are welcome to submit a story about how you have engaged or will engage with the December holidays. If we don’t use them this year, we will in the future.
May you find peace in the paradox,
Relationship, Relationship, Relationship
I’m not sure, but, I think I may have had the best October ever. Going to Vermont to get legally married was more joyful than I had been expecting. The weather and the gorgeous trees did their part, and both sides of our family were well represented. And, it was such a pleasure to share some of my story with you and to feel such warmth, support and care from you collectively and in my individual interactions with you. Adding to my joy, your board of trustees started our October meeting with a toast to celebrate my marriage to Maren. All this has me thinking about relationship and how it is at the crux of everything we do in our lives, both personally and professionally.
We are focused on relationship at UCN in several exciting ways. Our chalice circles have begun. Twice a month folks that might not know each other very well get together and have deeper conversations about what is going on in their exterior and interior lives. In addition we come together and worship at one service on the first Sunday of every month. After that we share a meal together around small tables. I am looking forward to sitting with different folks every month.
And, beginning in November, your board of trustees will be hosting small gatherings here at church. We hope that every single one of you will make it a priority to attend one of these groups. This will be a time for you to talk with other folks in the congregation about what kind of concrete behaviors we want to see at UCN and what we don’t want to see. During these meetings you will be creating the building blocks for UCN’s behavioral convenient. A covenant is a promise made between people to abide by certain stated behavioral norms. It deals with concrete behaviors. I am glad that we are engaging in this work together. Creating a covenant by the members, for the members of a congregation is considered a best practice for congregational life by the UUA. It is all about valuing our church community and taking care of it by being respectful and by practicing respectful behavior with each other.
These meeting will take approximately an hour and a half. Some will be held on the weekend, and some will be during the week, some at night and some during the day. I hope that you will make it a priority to attend and participate in the meeting that is most convenient for you. All work on relationships is good work and I when I reflect on all that I am grateful for this month of thanksgiving, I know that this work will be a part of my gratitude celebration.
In gratitude for our church life,
Going to the Chapel
Some of us remember where we were when big historical events in the world, or in our country happened. Many people of a certain generation remember Pearl Harbor. Others remember where they were when they heard the news about the Kennedys’ and MLK being shot. Many of us remember that first moon landing. (I ran outside to see if I could see the astronauts up there.) Well, I remember where I was when I learned about the Supreme Court ruling that The Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states, was unconstitutional, by a 5-4 vote.
I was in San Diego with a gaggle of Maren’s relative on the west coast time zone. I knew the decision was supposed to come at 10:00 Eastern but did not have the TV on. I got a call from Sammy, one of my nieces, there was a lot of noise in the background. “Aunt Julie! Aunt Julie! The ruling just came down. DOMA has been defeated.” There were whooping sounds coming from her room, which Ruby was sharing.
Then a few months later the Federal Government, including the IRS, the Social Security administration, and the Armed Forces interpreted the decision in ways that include people like Maren and me, who do not live in a state that recognizes our marriage. So it finally made sense to get married.
This is a joyous, exciting time; so exciting that it wants to burst forth from me like a bird that just can’t help singing or a dolphin that jumps into the air and makes that noise that Flipper used to make. Yes, I’m going to the chapel and Maren and I are going to married.
And I want you to celebrate with me. I wish I could take all of you to the UU church in Brattleboro, Vermont. And if you do happen to be in Vermont the weekend of Oct. 12, we would love to see you there. However, we can celebrate together on Sunday Oct. 6 after church at the first Sunday Lunch. Let’s turn that into a DOMA-defeated, Rev.-Julie-and-Maren-are-getting-married party.
Maren and I don’t need a toaster or a waffle iron, but if you want to give a gift to acknowledge this huge life event, please consider donating to Fair Wisconsin, which is working to make marriage available to all people, without them having to leave the state, and to have our marriage recognized in Wisconsin. The folks at Fair Wisconsin have even set up a website with our picture on it, for your donation. How cool is that? Check it out! http://bit.ly/revjulieandmaren
Yours in joy,
Past Posts by Rev. Julie
At the Intersection of Now
I have been reflecting on reflecting. I cast my mind back to the 1950’s. I had a pretty good idea of what this country was like, both good and bad. Elvis was the king. Senator McCarthy was scary. Big, round, roomy cars were the main form of transportation. I then reflected 50 years before that to the 1900’s. We had yet to have the two world wars, the atomic bombs, or even cars. I think about the differences between 1900 and 1950 and then I think about the differences between now and 50 years ago in the 1960’s.
In part I have been thinking about these different times because 50 years ago the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. The Beatles would soon come to this country and appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Massive cultural shifts were just a breath away. How is 2013 like 1963? How is it different? 1963 was a year of promise and heartbreak. How have we lived into that promise and how have we continued to suffer from the heartbreak, of war, racism, and the assassination of President Kennedy.
I could spend hours thinking about these things. How society is different and how it is the same. And I do spend hours listening to the music. The music of the 1960’s has always been really important to me. It gave birth not just to cultural change, but changes in consciousness. Yet, fond as I am of this time period, no less a man than Willie Nelson reminds me that I may have been happy yesterday morning, and I may be happy about how yesterday turned out, but I can't be happy yesterday. I can only be happy today, this hour this minute… Now.
Happiness exists at just one time, and that time is now.
Perhaps because he tours the country in a bus, Willie likes to think of life as a road trip. When he talks about life on the road he says, “I have had untold opportunities for joy, learning, sharing, and lots of fantastic sunsets and sunrises. And every one of these opportunities will be at the intersection of the road I’m on, and the road called now.”
True happiness lies at that intersection of the now. For me, true happiness lies with my ministry here with you, and the life I have with my family. I am delighted to go forward into the year with joy in the present and a confidence in the ways we are going about being a vibrant church community.
I cherish the past, I am nourished by it. I am excited about the future and what we can do together, to increase the common good now and in the coming generations. There are so many creative ways to do this and room for all of us. I invite you to join with me on this road called now.
In faith and love,