Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper: Earth & Social Justice Update


Have you wondered what is up with the Earth & Social Justice Ministry here at UUCA these days? Here’s a little update. Our social justice work falls under the “Beyond” ends statement in the governance document, which says that, “Beyond our Congregation: We Work to Act meaningfully and visibly in community service, advocacy and education. Serve as a beacon of progressive thought and action…”

Over the past few years, we have worked hard to raise our profile in the larger community, building relationships with organizations like Moral Monday/Forward Together, the We Do Campaign, Democracy Now, and others. We get reasonable turnout for events that call for a Standing on the Side of Love presence, and we continue to have groups of people working in Affiliate Groups like Move to Amend, the Hunger & Homelessness Committee, and Room in the Inn. I also know that many of you volunteer regularly on your own for organizations from Habitat for Humanity to Read to Succeed and more. We have increasing numbers of participants from UUCA at Building Bridges, as well as meetings and activities relating to Black Lives Matter.

However, when I speak to individuals in the congregation about our activism, you tell me you want more. You tell me you want broader engagement throughout the congregation. You want more people engaged. And since my job is to help you implement your vision of what you want the congregation to be and do, I want that, too. Broad participation throughout the community is part of meaningful, visible action, part of being a beacon in the community. And yet, when the Earth & Social Justice Ministry (ESJM) meets, we have less than ten people in attendance. Sometimes less than five.

So, in September of 2014, we suspended meetings of the ESJM. Since attendance was so low, regardless of whether we had discussion topics or programming or required attendance, we put the group on hiatus. And the Affiliate Groups (Hunger & Homelessness Committee, Room in the Inn, et. al.) continued their work. In December, after I preached about Black Lives Matter, that initiative rose to the surface, and a good number of people expressed interest in and commitment to that work. I am proud of the work you have done in this area, and look forward to continuing it. 

After a year of no official Earth & Social Justice Ministry meetings, it’s time to regroup and see how we as a congregation want to move forward with this essential work. Toward that end, Tom Blanford and I will be co-facilitating a study group exploring the book Doing Democracy: The Map Model for Organizing Social Movements. This study group is designed to bring UUCA activists and aspiring activists together to discuss strategy, reinforce each other, and improve our effectiveness in our respective arenas. It is my hope that this will serve as a starting point for a new collaborative vision of how we work together to promote justice in the community. The study group will meet four Thursdays over eight weeks: November 5 & 19, December 3 & 17 from 6:30-8pm.

Please let me know if you have questions, suggestions, or would like to participate in the study group.

Sermon: The Inside Out Journey to Forgiveness (text & audio)

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
“Do you ever look at someone and wonder what’s going on inside them?”
So, begins the latest animated wonder from Pixar studios, “Inside Out.” And it offers up a nice premise for a coming-of-age story that will take up the next hour and a half or so on screen, as well as a good prompt to some deep conversations that we all are in need of right now, especially when the topic before us is “forgiveness.”


“Do you ever look at someone and wonder what’s going on inside them?”

So, begins the latest animated wonder from Pixar studios, “Inside Out.” And it offers up a nice premise for a coming-of-age story that will take up the next hour and a half or so on screen, as well as a good prompt to some deep conversations that we all are in need of right now, especially when the topic before us is “forgiveness.”

That opening line is spoken by Joy, the first of five animated emotions that we will hear from in this tale of Riley Anderson, an 11-year-old girl who after a happy childhood in Minnesota finds her life disrupted by a cross-country move to San Francisco, where her father is taking a job at a digital start-up company.

It’s a lovely notion, supported by the raft of social scientists who consulted on the film, that our natal emotion, that first feeling that emerges at birth is a sense of joy. Oh, life! What a wonder, what a miracle! What bliss just to be!

Of course, it doesn’t take long for others to make their presence known as well. Anger appears when hunger first rumbles in our bellies, fear when we’re confronted with the unfamiliar, disgust when those first foods are offered, and sadness when we’re not attended to in the way we want.

You could argue that other feelings ought to be represented, too: say, curiosity, or wonder. I expect you could name some. But the writers pleaded that too many characters would mix up the story line. OK, fine.

The film makes the interesting point that every experience we have is colored in some way by our feelings. We remember them that way – experiences that were happy or sad, or that maybe left us feeling angry or fearful. That’s part of how we store them.

Too, the intensity of the emotion has something to do with their valence, their strength. Some experiences are so strong they become what the film calls core memories, and they help create islands of emotional identity.

Up to this point in her life, the film says, Riley has been lucky enough that her islands are largely joyous ones. There is “goof ball,” representing her silly side, which she or her parents trigger with monkey imitations. Then, there’s hockey, a skill she learned on those Minnesota lakes, and strongest of all, family.

Every one of these islands, though, gets tested by the move to San Francisco – a place that Riley is assured will be beautiful and fun, but that she finds to be uncomfortable and foreign.

While all this is going on, there’s also a lot of turmoil going on inside Riley’s head. Joy, as usual, is trying to be the cruise director, keeping things light and fun, but not all the other feelings are on board. In particular, sadness, usually so quiet and unassuming, is playing around with some of the memories where joy feels she has no business. Particularly she seems drawn to some of those joyous core memories, which, when she touches them, begin to turn sad.

Alarmed, joy tries protecting them, and in the back and forth between them, both joy and sadness – together with some core memories – are transported away of “headquarters,” Riley’s consciousness. The rest of the film is devoted to them finding their way back to set things right, while Riley struggles with the inability to access her feelings of joy and sadness.

It’s a clever way of framing how disruptions in our lives can turn things upside down. Even as grown-ups, when things go wrong we try to be calm and reasonable, but we struggle with emotions inside us that are raging. Part of growing up, we learn, is coming to terms with those feelings but not necessarily letting them drive us.

Even more, we come to learn how to recognize feelings in others and how to respond to them effectively. The film offers us an example of a not-especially-effective response, when at the dinner table Riley responds to a question from her parents in anger. Inside her father we watch his emotions undergo something like the launch sequence of a thermonuclear weapon, ending with him “putting the foot down” by shouting at her and banishing her to her room.

It’s clear, though, that that display doesn’t accomplish much, and later he goes to Riley’s room seeking to smooth the waters. He tries engaging “goof ball” island, but he gets no response. Indeed, inside Riley we see goof ball island crumble and fall into the pit of erased memories.

It’s an excruciating moment in the film and a reminder of how fluid our emotional lives can be. In Riley’s case, goof ball island was something that was likely to go anyway as she grew older, but going as it did with no other positive core memory to replace it makes her vulnerable. We watch as joy and sadness scramble for a way back to Riley’s consciousness while Riley struggles with anger and fear driving her responses as each remaining island crumbles apart and tumbles away.

Joy is positively frantic: if only she could find a way back, she is sure she could fix things. But she has an awakening: along their travels through Riley’s memories, she and sadness come upon Riley’s one-time imaginary friend – Bing Bong – a manic combination of elephant, cat and dolphin. Bing Bong helps them along the way, but he becomes despondent when the wagon that was his magical transport is taken away.

Joy tries to cheer him up without success, but then sadness comes to the rescue. She simply sits with Bing Bong – “You lost your wagon,” she says. “You’re sad.” He agrees, and after crying for a minute, he’s ready to move on.

So, it’s worth our spending a little time thinking about what sadness brings to the mix of our emotions. Rilke offers an interesting insight in his letter that we excerpted earlier. Could we see beyond the limits of our knowledge, he says, “we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence than our joys.” Now, how’s that? It is, he says, because these are moments when something new, something alien enters us.

Sadness in that sense is a kind of reality check. We are sailing along, everything’s great, and then we are confronted in some way with something that catches us short, that trips us up. When that happens, we can, of course, respond in many ways. We can get mad about it, ignore it, or run away from it. Each of these responses, though, has within it an element of denial, of failing to acknowledge the loss we’ve experienced.

Rilke urges the young poet receiving his letters not to do that. Confronted with sadness, he urges him to be “lonely and attentive.” Sit with it, he says. Examine it. Treat it as the gift it is. Be patient and open to its teaching.

Of course, few of us want to spend much time with sadness. Like joy in the film, we’d like to be distracted, cheered up. Yet, at the center of our sadness may be an important learning – a way we’ve overreached or exceeded our grasp, or perhaps our first clear understanding of how deep a loss we’ve received is to us. We say we’re fine, we’ll be OK, but to move on with our lives we need at least for a moment to sit with the full truth and full impact of, say, a promise broken, a dream lost, a relationship damaged, a loved one gone.

We’ve heard of people who say, “I don’t dare cry because if I start crying, I’ll never stop.” But, of course, we all do. It just feels hard to give ourselves over to it. But hope of healing lies on the other side. I think Rilke offers some wisdom here.

“You must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than anything you have seen,” he says. In fact, that response is part of your own psyche guiding you through. It is not that “life has forgotten you.” Quite the opposite. It is your life, your inner wisdom that is “holding your hand,” taking you where you need to go. Not to fear, he consoles his reader, “it will not let you fall.”

Likewise, at the center of any act of forgiveness is a moment of sorrow, where each person – the one injured and the one who caused the injury – acknowledges the loss, the injury, the failure to act as we should.

It, too, is a kind of reality check. Try as we do to be good people, we come up short. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge both the injury we give as the perpetrator and the wound we experience as the recipient. Yet, we can’t hope to restore our own peace of mind or to heal the relationship that was damaged until we have attended to it.

Here is the great wisdom in the Jewish Days of Awe, the passage from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur when Jews give and receive forgiveness and make atonement for the wrongs they have done to each other. The words that we sang earlier from of the Gates of Repentance, the Jewish prayer book for this time, lay it out.

Who of us can claim to be pure of heart, untouched by or unresponsible for wrongs to others or ourselves. There is none on earth. It is a sad truth for us all. Yet, renewal is possible for each of us: a new resolve, a new attitude, deeper compassion, authentic humility. All that’s required is that we sit for a bit with the sadness of this rift in our lives, and then act: give and receive forgiveness, offer and accept atonement.

So, poor Riley! Driven by anger, fear and disgust, she is led to a potentially disastrous decision. (For those of you who haven’t seen the movie I’ll leave you in suspense as to what that decision is.) As she barrels ahead, the emotions in her head realize what a mess they’ve made but can’t seem to do anything to stop it.

Through some funny and dramatic circumstances, though, joy and sadness make their way back to the headquarters of Riley’s consciousness. The other emotions look to joy, once again, as the fixer, but joy, instead, turns to sadness to do her work. And it is sadness that breaks through, that provides Riley the reality check she needs to show her the rashness and foolishness of her choice.

Riley makes it home to her frantic parents and then collapses into tears, confessing all the worries, fears and disappointments that she has held inside, how much she misses her old home and the life that she loved. And her parents chime in, too, admitting their own sadness, something they hadn’t confessed up until now. And they settle into a prayerful group hug of grateful unity.

So might we conclude our own inside out journeys to forgiveness, the sometimes painful passage that teaches us to sit with our sadness and then act, take ownership of where we have erred and seek forgiveness for our deeds.

As the Gates of Repentance put it: May we now forgive, atone that we may live. May we now forgive that we may live.

My friends, I confess to you that in the past year I have at times fallen short of your hopes and expectations of me. It makes me sad to think of and yet resolved to be more measured and intentional in my commitments, more compassionate in my dealings , and more understanding of the needs of others.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Let us begin again in love.

Joy Berry: Process & Progress In the Thick of it with RE

Microsoft Word - Document2

We have just launched our first week back to class in Religious Education, and there are what feel like a dozen balls in the air, so I’ll keep this brief.

  1. We have a great year planned. You can read about all our classes for children and youth, as well as see our mission and my philosophy of RE, here.
  2. We have a couple of gaps in teacher recruitment that really do HAVE to be filled, or we may need to combine the 6th and 7th grade classes (and we lack a space big enough for that). Please take a look at the planned classes in the document above, and consider joining one of our excellent (but incomplete) teaching teams for those classes.
  3. Renovations are complete and classrooms are beautiful. Take the time to tour RE, both downstairs and over at Jefferson House, to see our inviting, delightful spaces for children and youth classes.  It’s great to have the place look as awesome as our volunteers and programming actually are.
  4. All classes for K-9th are underway, and the high school youth group (YRUU) begins this Sunday, with attendance at the worship service and a talkback in Jefferson House with pizza afterwards.
  5. THIS SUNDAY: Parent orientation is required for registration of kids to be complete. This is a quick self-guided walkthrough in RE Commons this Sunday between services.  Sign in, pick up the RE calendar, read about our Faith in Action (social justice) project in RE this year, meet your kid’s teacher and socialize with other parents. See classrooms downstairs while you are there! The last stop is the confirmation of your child’s registration with RE staff.

Sermon: Come In, Come In! (text & audio)

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
We never know where the invitation will come from. For Mary Oliver, it came when she chanced on a clutch of gold finches, chittering and warbling in a patch of thistles:
“Their strong, blunt beaks drink the air, she said, as they strive melodiously
not for your sake or for mine, not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude.”


We never know where the invitation will come from. For Mary Oliver, it came when she chanced on a clutch of gold finches, chittering and warbling in a patch of thistles.

Their strong, blunt beaks drink the air, she said, as they strive melodiously
not for your sake or for mine, not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude.

In that display Oliver read something deeper than just a momentary distraction on the way to wherever she was going:

Believe us, they say, it is a serious thing
just to be alive on this fresh morning
in the broken world.

And so, she urged the reader, before going on:

I beg of you,
do not walk by without pausing
to attend to this rather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something; it could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote
you must change your life.

Does something like that ring a bell with you? Have you ever had such an invitation? I’m guessing that most of us have in one way or another. It may not have been golden birds dancing in the thistles. It may have been having our attention drawn suddenly to a gentle fold in the soft skin of an infant’s neck. It may have been at sunset when the clouds shift and open into shades of deep magenta. It may have been watching an aging parent’s face suddenly break out into a beaming smile.

D.H. Lawrence describes this as being “born to humanity,” a moment when we are drawn outside of ourselves to a new perspective on the world. He says that what he calls our “first birth” is to ourselves. The world is our nursery: pretty things are to be snatched for, pleasant things to be tasted. Some people, he says, never leave this state. But most of us open eventually to a larger perspective. We become conscious, he says, of all the laughing and the never ceasing murmur of pain and sorrow that each reverberate across the world.

It is here, he argues, in what he calls this second birth that we begin to formulate our religion, “be that what it may be.” And here he introduces an interesting phrase: “A person,” he says, “has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together.”

From his perspective, then, religion is something that we come to know not so much by joining a church or affirming some statement of belief. It comes with how we gather together and make sense of all the ways that we are stirred by what he calls “the low, vast murmur of life . . . troubling our hitherto unconscious selves.”

Lawrence was a controversial figure for the sexual themes that emerged in his writings. But it’s worth knowing that, while he had little use for organized religion, he called himself “a passionately religious man” whose work is written “from the depth of my religious experience.”

It’s something we share with him in how we frame the first of six sources of our living tradition: Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, which moves us to renewal of the spirit, and openness to forces that create and uphold life. So, our religion, our faith is a response to how we experience the world. It is, as D.H. Lawrence puts it, something we are always shaping and adding to; it is never complete. We are ever being invited into new ways of experiencing it.

My colleague Victoria Safford offers one way to look at this:

“What if,” she says, “there were a universe, a cosmos,
which began in shining blackness, out of nothing,
and into it came billions and billions of stars,
and near one of them a blue-green world so beautiful
that learned clergy couldn’t even speak of it cogently and
scientists trying to describe it would sound like poets.
And into that world came animals and elements and plants
and the imagination.
If such a universe existed and you noticed it, what would you do?
What song would come out of your mouth, what prayer,
what praises, what whirling dances, what reverential
gesture would you make to greet that world
every day that you were in it?

I hear a similar invitation in the passage I read earlier from Isaiah: how might we learn to live in such a way as to see the world infused with wonder. It isn’t easy, for our lives are too often mired in the pedestrian and pecuniary. “Here,” he says, “come buy without money, without price.”

Come in, come in: attend to the goldfinch, to a blue-green world so beautiful not a one of us captures it cogently until we begin to sound like poets. “Why labor for that which does not satisfy?” There is goodness before you without a price tag attached. And there is goodness within each of us that calls us to larger life, that invites us into service whose value is beyond what we could ever charge.

On a different occasion, Victoria Safford wrote of a conversation she had with a friend who worked as a counselor in the health clinic of a college. The woman told how not long before, a student she had known and counseled, committed suicide. It was a difficult loss, one that hit close to home.

At one point, she said, the woman looked up with tears running down her cheeks with a tone of what Victoria could only call defiance, as she spoke of a new resolve she had found, a new understanding of what Victoria called her vocation, and ours:

“You know,” she said, “I cannot save them.
I am not here to save anybody or save the planet.
All I can do – what I’m called to do –
is to plant myself at the gates of Hope.
Sometimes they come in, and sometimes they walk by.
But I stand there every day, and I call out
til my lungs are sore with calling, and beckon
and urge them to beautiful life and love.”

Beautiful life & love. I tell you when I first heard that story the mountains and hills before me burst into song and the trees of the field clapped their hands.

We are each laborers in the field with limited scope. We put in our hours, we do our jobs, we attend to our loved ones and our households. But there is more of which we are capable. There is a larger way of being to which we are invited if we would be born to humanity and accept our calling to beautiful life and love.

These are the words I want to place before you as we look to the worship year ahead of us. What invitations are calling to you? And how might you respond?

Is the craziness of your schedule getting to you? How about some experience with mindful meditation? Are your heart and mind telling you to dig deeper, to find a way to connect better with what truly matters in the company of others who share your hope?

Oh, there is so much! Theme groups, classes, spiritual practice groups . . . Well, you just need to find a place and jump in. Are you ready to put your heart and your hands into work that serves your values? Let me tell you, that will open your eyes and fill your soul like nothing else. It can be a little daunting to jump in by yourself so hop on board one of the projects we have going now, then perhaps you can help lead us to the next step.

I offer all this not as marching orders but as an invitation, an invitation to live into the promise that you are, the gifts you bring into this world, the hope that we realize when we join in common cause to give flesh to the great vision of beloved community, where we let all that divides us fall away like the insubstantial froth we know it to be and affirm the unity that is ours.

It is not easy, and because it’s not easy we stand together and support each other. It’s too much on our own, we need others to be in it with us: to cherish and teach each other’s children, to listen with full presence and speak with full respect, to help us celebrate our successes and grieve our losses, to reach beyond our comfort zones and put ourselves in places where we have the temerity to think that we just might help change the world.

Come in, come in. We have so much to do.