Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper: Building Partnerships


A week or so ago, I had a conversation with UUCA member Anna Olsen about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast, in which we discussed the practice of each organization sitting at their own table. We talked about how it made sense to do so, but that it seemed that by sitting together, we were also missing an opportunity for networking and meeting other folks in the community – especially people we don’t already know. Of course, one strategy for doing this would be to get up from the table and walk around. But wouldn’t it be so much better, said Anna, if the tables themselves were more mixed?

This conversation really stuck with me, tugging at a corner of my mind for a few days, as I tried to think creatively and find a way to mix it up. It was such a great idea – really capturing the essence of what it means to  participate in an event like that one. What an opportunity to meet and mingle with others who are interested in racial justice, to build relationships in our community.

And then I found myself sitting at a table looking up lyrics to Christmas carols at the holiday party that UUCA hosted for the MotherRead group last week, and the lightbulb went off. The energy and connection between the women was so spirited and heartfelt that I saw an opportunity to continue to build on this new partnership. Eleanor Lane and Susan Steffe have been working with Marta Alcala-Williams at Asheville City Schools to support a group of women and their children from Hillcrest Apartments, working on life skills, reading, and building a support network. I asked Marta, “Do you think these women would like to go to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast?” She said, “Most definitely!”

And so, UUCA’s Earth & Social Justice Ministry has purchased two tables (20 seats) for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast on January 16, the seats going first to women in the MotherRead program, and then to others from Hillcrest Apartments. In addition, we would like to fill two more tables with folks from UUCA. If we can get twenty of us to purchase tickets for the breakfast, we will combine the four tables and all sit together. In addition, I would like to fill two more tables with folks from UUCA. If we can get twenty of us to purchase tickets for the breakfast, we will combine the four tables and all sit together. 

I’m so excited about the opportunity to continue to build relationships in the greater Asheville community, and to participate in such an important event in our city. I believe that there are many things that could grow from this partnership, and I hope to see you at the Breakfast! Tickets will be on sale between services starting January 3.  

Joy Berry: Taking It Home – Full Week Faith


You may have heard me say that even if your family is here every Sunday, the total amount of religious education we can provide at UUCA for children and youth is about 50 hours per year. In the big scheme of things, that’s a minuscule amount of faith development. We value faith formation but our modern lives don’t make it easy for many of us to engage on a daily basis; our time together on Sunday morning remains the primary site for our religious growth and exploration.

A disclaimer: we do know that faith identity gets “stickier” the more time we spend in teaching and learning and worship and covenant groups, so please feel free to increase the amount of time you are here, finding ways to plug in more for your whole family!  With classes for all ages, social justice work, social/fellowship events and meaningful worship, we do have lots of opportunities to connect and grow in your faith here at church.


But for families in particular, the need to bringour faith home and apply it liberally, via a daily dose, is compelling. One of the new challenges that religious leaders are taking on is how to think outside the church walls, supporting a missional approach that encourages us to consider how to live out our UU identity and values 24/7/365: each hour, every day, all year.  

One of the most exciting innovations in this area is something called “Full Week Faith” (read all about that here). This concept encourages RE leaders to curate and share content that is focused on “walking the talk” of our religious principles, so that the learning and living can go on after Sunday morning ends!

Here at UUCA, we offer a weekly RE newsletter, sent via email, that still shares pertinent information and activities and events–what is happening on Sunday morning, when the Children’s Choir is practicing, who we are learning about in our Spirit Play story, where the 7th graders went for a Buddhism field trip last week. But we have gone further in the last year, adding WHY and HOW to the resources shared in this communication. (By the way…miss something from the past or want to refer to it again? You can access our previous Enewsletters here on the UUCA website. Make it a resolution to read your news each week!)

This week, for example, we pull together resources for talking about religious tolerance, diversity, and conflict at home with children and youth.  

Parents of Spirit Play children can read about the story of Francis David, a Unitarian hero who encouraged radical inclusivity in a time of religious strife, and explore the wondering questions with kids, helping to solidify and deepen their understanding of this piece of who we are as UUs: those who draw the circle bigger, inviting everyone in.  The story itself and the wondering questions are linked in the newsletter, allowing you to continue the learning from this upcoming Sunday throughout the week.

Parents of older children and youth can reflect on the Francis Davis story, and go deeper: a link to a 30 Days episode called “Muslim in America,” following an evangelical Christian with little understanding for Islam as he lives, eats, prays, and grows with a Muslim family for a full month. Watching the episode together, then using the discussion guide for further conversation, can be a meaningful way to think about what your own family values are around religious pluralism, interfaith dialogue, and democracy.

We hope you enjoy and find useful the Taking It Home: Full Week Faith resources we will continue to develop and share. Living our faith is full-time work, and we need as much support as we can get, especially in orienting our children and youth toward how we are called to reflect faith values as Unitarian Universalists!

Sermon: Great Expectations (text & audio)

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
It’s not long after a child is old enough to be up on her or his feet and running around that we adults discover that we possess the most powerful curative known to humankind. We call it, “the boo-boo kiss.” Right? You know how it is: up the child walks with big tears and loud cries after a hard fall, and you gather them and make sympathetic noises. “Where does it hurt?” you ask. He or she points to the spot, and you kiss it. “Is that better?” you ask, and the child gives you a solemn nod.


“Tao Ching #2,” translated by Stephen Mitchell

It’s not long after a child is old enough to be up on her or his feet and running around that we adults discover that we possess the most powerful curative known to humankind. We call it, “the boo-boo kiss.” Right? You know how it is: up the child walks with big tears and loud cries after a hard fall, and you gather them and make sympathetic noises. “Where does it hurt?” you ask. He or she points to the spot, and you kiss it. “Is that better?” you ask, and the child gives you a solemn nod.

Now we can get into quite a lengthy academic debate about how much good you actually did do, but there’s no denying that at some level that interchange did accomplish something. It is better, at least in the sense that you showed the child that someone cared when she or he felt injured.

We are, in a way, setting up an expectation that they can seek and receive care from the assaults of the world. And – who knows? – this may be part of what is behind another curious phenomenon called “the placebo effect.”

For generations we’ve known that some people who receive treatments with no active medical ingredients – say, sugar pills or saline injections – will nonetheless report that symptoms like pain and discomfort are alleviated. In fact, some studies have shown that even when patients are told they are receiving mere sugar pills they report more improvement in their conditions than those who receive no treatment.

A key to this effect may be in the word’s roots: “placebo” comes from the Latin meaning, “I will please.” Perhaps, like the “boo-boo kiss” on the playground, the effect is a reflection in some way of our trusting that we can expect to be cared for. It’s one example of the way in that our expectations can have a powerful effect on us.

Because, of course, expectations are woven throughout our conscious lives. Our ability to plan and project into the future is helpful, arguably one of the characteristics that make us human. But it also can be a source of grief, since it’s so easy to raise our expectations to unrealistic heights. And probably nowhere do we feel the effects of this more acutely than in our interactions with our loved ones.

As Stan indicated, many of us bring wounded hearts from our upbringings, and those wounds colors our interactions with our families and other important people in our lives. And so, as we head into the holidays, a time of year where family gatherings are not only planned but also dressed up with tinsel and great expectations of holiday joy, it might be a good moment to reflect on strategies to help us ease the angst that those expectations can bring.

You know what it’s like: whether you’re approaching that holiday gathering as a host or a guest, there are old scripts, old hurts that lie in wait. But you tell yourself, “This time it will be different. I’m going to be calm, I’m going to be positive. I won’t let myself get drawn into those patterns that trip me up each time, and I’m not going to escape and avoid. I’m going to be present, and I’m going to be real.”

And then in the middle of it just when you thought things were going well you are triggered by some offhand remark, and you’re off to the races once again. Is there a way that we can avoid that path or at lessen our participation in it?

We begin by acknowledging that this is hard work. It touches us at our emotional core, and that deserves some care and respect. At the heart of it, after all, is something that really matters to us. The people nearest to us do touch us and how we are with them really does affect our emotional wellbeing. Avoiding interactions with them it isn’t a tenable way forward. It only numbs and hardens us, making us even less accessible to our own needs as well as potential sources of our own healing.

So, what to do? The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron points out that the initial feelings of worry and dread that we feel when we get triggered may actually be a signal that those old habits are being disrupted. Instead of seamlessly moving into them with some sort of sense of entitlement, we can feel that they don’t really serve our needs. We no longer take them for granted, and wesee them as unhelpful.

But rather than letting anxiety take over, she suggests, try adopting an inquisitive attitude. So, this is what it feels like when I’m pushed this way. This is the cascade of feelings and worried self-talk that tumbles out.

This may not be something that you can do when you’re in the middle of it. It may be that the best you can do is simply stay present and get through the moment. But a little reflection in a time away offers a chance to sort through what you’ve just experienced, to acknowledge that bump in blood pressure you just felt and offer yourself a little compassion.

Again, this is hard work. It touches you deeply, and it will take time and effort to sort through. But it’s worth it, since on the other side is a healthier way of seeing and being. And just that moment of pressing the pause button before you launch into old scripts can be enough to help you see that you do in fact have all the tools you need to do it. As Pema Chodron puts it, “we ourselves are the source of wisdom and compassion.”

OK, fine, you say. But how about now, when I’m not feeling so wise or compassionate? Well, here are some thoughts that might help us lighten up and disengage old scripts: First, don’t set up the target for the arrow. That’s a pretty dramatic image, but it often fits how the escalating cascade of conflict with another can feel.

As Pema Chodron puts it, if you don’t put up the target, you can’t get hit. That serves as a reminder that in the end we are in control of how we respond to another. It doesn’t always feel that way when someone is pushing our buttons, but the fact remains that, as she says, “we set up the target, and only we can take it down.” Withholding the target can disrupt and eventually break down the patterns of anger and aggression that otherwise drive our responses.

Then, after we’ve settled down and disengaged from the pattern of conflict we found ourselves in, Pema Chodron advises that we look for a way to connect with the heart. Once we have stepped away from what had been an escalating conflict it is suddenly plain how pointless and damaging this process is, how each of us in this exchange suffers for it. As she puts it, “millions are burning with the fire of aggression. We can sit with the intensity of the anger and let its energy humble us and make us more compassionate.”

It’s not as if having gotten through this crisis we are suddenly above it, more enlightened, more grounded than others who flare into anger. Who knows what might push our buttons next and send us back down that road again. It is only through compassion that we find a centered way.

For me, this provides one way into the selection from the Tao te Ching that you heard earlier. It’s all about the complementarity of things – how ugly and beautiful, good and bad, long and short, difficult and easy are not unrelated opposites: they support and reflect each other. We know anger not from observing it, but from experiencing it. And yet, once captured by it we lose all perspective on it. But sitting with compassion in the presence of anger helps us understand it. After all, not all anger is destructive. Righteous anger centered in moral understanding is a powerful positive force. But reactive anger arising from our fears accomplishes nothing. It even serves to undermine us. Seeing and understanding anger from the perspective of a compassionate heart, rather than running away from it, opens us to that insight.

That’s because compassion arises not from weakness, but from strength of heart. So, it tempers anger, and in fact all emotions, and focuses it in a productive way.

So, again, as the Tao de Ching suggests, we are able to experience the world, and when things arise, we don’t seek to control them; we simply let them come. When things disappear, we don’t cling to them; we let them go. We are able to have things without possessing them. We are able to act without layering onto the experience many great expectations for what will come of it

So, what does all this tell us about expectations? Well, our expectations matter. They shape how we perceive the world, but they can also lead us down some pretty perilous paths. This draws me back to think about how these themes are reflected in that novel of Charles Dickens that parallel’s our topic today, “Great Expectations.”

We’re used to turning to Dickens at Christmas time to mull on the tale Scrooge and all his ghosts, but it occurs to me that his protagonist Pip may have something to teach in this season of advent when we mull over this matter of expectation. One could argue in a sense that Scrooge and Pip both learn a similar lesson. Just as Scrooge’s miserliness makes him miserable, the money that lands unexpectedly in Pip’s lap fuels grand and unrealistic visions of what it is to live with means. So, not surprisingly he makes a mess of it.

His dismissal of the good blacksmith Joe and later his benefactor Magwitch and his infatuation with the seeming ingénue Estella and all the glittering lures of a moneyed life are fueled by the same illusory expectations that come of self-indulgence and disregard for others.

When his comeuppance arrives, he, like Scrooge, is forced to recognize the error of his ways, how he has disregarded those who cared most for him while currying favor with those whose interests were purely selfish. It is the moralist side of Dickens at his best.

And there’s some justice in that. After all, isn’t there serious vanity in the whole notion that we can expect to know ow the future will unfold, that the world will dance around our hopes and wishes?

Instead, we are more often rewarded by curiosity and openness, by a willingness to be surprised to what the world has in store. Of course, what the world has in store is not always what we want to receive. So, we are also wise to nurture expectations that arise from commitment. We can give each other the gift of expectation that we will be and do what we say we will be and do for each other.

We will be there when the other stumbles or is in need, to kiss each other’s boo-boos or walk with each other in our sorrow and disappointment. Let those be the expectations that we give and receive in this darkest time of the year.

John Bates: Being Welcoming–To What End(s)?


As we settle into our new and welcoming home, and in this time of holidays, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on what we want to be as a UU community. Or, as Lead Minister Mark Ward challenged us this past Sunday, “It is fine to be a gathering place of liberal-minded people, but to what end is our gathering? It is good that we proclaim freedom of thought and conviction, but what is that freedom for? It is laudable to affirm love, justice, compassion, equity and acceptance, but again – to what end?”

Your Board of Trustees held a series of listening sessions last year with the Congregation and, from those meetings, distilled the input and updated our congregational Ends Statements. These Ends Statements, listed below, act as our strategic vision and capture the specific areas in which we seek together to impact our lives and further our Mission.

Our Mission 

As a Unitarian Universalist faith community, we nurture individual search for meaning as we work together for freedom, justice and love.

Our Ends 

Within Each Congregant: We Seek
Embrace principles, values and practices which explore the sacred in the world and the mystery of existence.

Gather together in worship which guides and sustains our individual and communal response to the sacred through multifaceted creative, artistic and musical experiences.

Among the Congregants: We Care
Feel welcome and connected with each other.

Share generously of our personal resources of time, talent, and money.

Honor and support each other in times of celebration and need.

Beyond our Congregation: We Work
Act meaningfully and visibly in community service, advocacy and education.

Serve as a beacon of liberal religious thought and action.

Offer our space for events which serve a varied audience and inspire community dialogue.

Partner with other congregations and organizations in support of shared objectives.

We seek to achieve these Ends as we work on 1) our own spiritual development, Within ourselves, 2) as a community of seekers in relationship to each other, Among ourselves, and 3) improving the world for the better Beyond our own walls. Our wonderful, professional staff helps us in achieving these Ends by offering a wide variety of programs and services. They seek to integrate congregational ideas and participation with these Ends. Each member and friend in the Congregation has a responsibility to work with other Congregants and our staff toward our Mission and Ends, as this is our Covenant to one another.

Finally, it is important that you provide open and honest feedback on our programs and services, so we know what’s working and what we can improve. Consider the following questions for helping assess progress on meeting our Mission and Ends:

  • What did we set out to do?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why was there a difference?
  • What do we do next time? (which activities do we sustain, improve or eliminate)

It’s best to provide feedback face-to-face at the end of each meeting or program. However, feel free to provide feedback to any of the staff or Board members at any time. Let us know how we are doing in achieving our shared Mission and Ends.

Sermon: While We Were Making Other Plans

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Some years ago, the story goes, there was worrying among members of the council of New College, of Oxford, England about the state of their buildings. It seems that an inspector had been poking around the ancient oak beams of the roof of the dining hall and discovered that they were full of beetles. Despite its name, New College was actually one of the oldest colleges of Oxford, founded in 1379, and truly an architectural marvel. But as with all things it had deteriorated with time. And now that they looked at the massive roof beams council members were dismayed: Where on earth would they find beams of that caliber in today’s marketplace?

Adapted from “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are Powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? . . . .

“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. Not just some of us; everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

At this point, one of the Junior Fellows hesitantly raised his hand and suggested that there might actually be some oaks on the college’s own lands that could serve the purpose. The college, after all, was endowed with many acres of forest, where college fellows loved to walk and cogitate. But, oh, cutting the forest? Really? Certainly there would be a great hue and cry if the Council went after those venerable old oaks. So, they consulted the college forester and cautiously raised with him what they admitted was this wild idea.

Appearing before the council, the forester smiled and said, “Well, sirs. We was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.” It seems that when the college was founded, a grove of oaks had been planted specifically to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because, as anyone at the time knew, oaks always get beetly in the end.

Apparently the warning had been passed down from one forester to the next over the next 500 years: “Do what you need to tend to the forest, but don’t cut those oaks. They’re for the College Hall.” And so, the story goes, the council had the materials they needed for the repair job.

I don’t know that we have any oaks planted as part of the project we are dedicating today, but the story makes a point that is worth our considering: the institutions we build to give flesh to our hopes and dreams require tending, vision and care.

As we dedicated this beautiful expansion and updating of our main building earlier, you heard a bit of the story of this congregation told through the evolution of our physical space. It’s an inspiring tale – how we grew from a handful of people meeting in rented rooms at the YMCA to hundreds now gathered in this distinctive, innovative and welcoming space, planted at a crossroads in our community.

We are known in our neighborhood and the Asheville area for this remarkable building that serves, as Jane suggested, as a kind of commons for our congregation and, increasingly, for the community at large. Now that we have broadcast our name so prominently and offer accessible plazas to our building front and rear I’m betting that more will come. So, when they come, how will they know us?

Back in the 1950s and early 60s many people coming to this congregation were liberal-minded folks seeking refuge from a conservative religious culture. As the congregation grew and we found space for ourselves, first in a large home in West Asheville and then at this spot at Edwin and Charlotte, we took the risk of making ourselves more visible, particularly in venturing more deeply into social justice advocacy, though in many ways we remained an outlier in the community.

When the boom times in Asheville came, beginning in the 1980s, we boomed, too. With Asheville’s population increase the cultural dynamics started to change, so that instead of being an outlier we were more in tune with the increasingly progressive sensibilities of the community.

Rather than a refuge, we became a gathering place for liberal-minded newcomers, many of them moving from UU congregations elsewhere or unchurched and looking for a community that supported freedom of belief. And so our congregation came to focus on offering connections to these newcomers: Cultivating a sense of community, a place for socializing became an important focus of our life together. It is a dynamic that remains strong with us today.

But now as we dedicate this beautiful space with our arms stretched wide in welcome it is given to us to articulate the vision that will lead us from here. In keeping with our theme this month, what ought we to expect of this gathered community and each other in the work ahead of us? What seedlings shall we plant for when our beams get beetly?

Because, friends, the challenges are not far off and the thriving of this congregation will depend on our meeting them. It is fine to be a gathering place of liberal-minded people, but to what end is our gathering? It is good that we proclaim freedom of thought and conviction, but what is that freedom is for? It is laudable to affirm love, justice, compassion, equity and acceptance, but again – to what end?

I was listening the other day to some talking head bemoan the latest mass shooting – I forget now which one; they all seem to blend together – and he saying that we need to find ways to “harden” our schools or malls or whatever to better protect them.

And I wanted to shout: No, no, no! For the past 14 years our nation has been on a tear of hardening, and what has it brought us? An accelerating toll of death, whether it be domestic shooting rampages, servicewomen and men dying in undeclared wars, or a galloping suicide toll. We have hardened unemployment rules and any provision serving the poor, hardened suspicions across races and nationalities, hardened restrictions on the voting franchise, hardened political discourse beyond the possibility of conversation.

All this hardening has made us no safer, no freer than we were. Instead, all it has given us is a bleak harvest of fear. Even more, it has taught us that there is no safe harbor, no refuge, no garden that we can retreat to while the mad world goes on. We are stuck in the middle of it.

And, ironically, this may be greatest gift that this crisis has to give us. Because finally we are forced to come to terms with the truth that we are in this together – in it with Syrian refugees, with Parisian restaurant goers, with Los Angeles health workers, with Nigerian schoolgirls, with Ukrainian grandmothers, with Charleston churchgoers.

It is in this muddle, in this mess that we reside, and it is there that where we are called, and called to act. It was the great minister William Sloane Coffin who said, “Human unity is not something we are called to create, only to recognize and make manifest.”

In a time like this, what is needed is less hardening and more opening, more awakening. How shall we be agents of that work?

Because, folks, the truth is that for all beautiful words that flow from religious texts and the pulpits of churches – including those of our tradition – religious institutions are often slow to take the next step and live into them. We mistake the nature of faith and presume it has something with words we recite, when in fact what it has to do with is trust, and trust isn’t something we just decide on. It’s something that grows in our hearts.

Faith is not something we have; it’s something we do. It may begin as a surmise, but it grows stronger and deepens as we act on it. In our case, I want to argue that our tradition is founded on more than freedom of belief. At its center, I find the radical surmise that every human being has inherent worth and dignity simply in and of her and himself and that living into that presumption could save us all.

Not only that but we are linked in ways deeper than we can know to every living thing to every atom, every star, every beetle, every oak and that in that relationship lies the greatest hope we can know.

For me, these are not some convenient intellectual suppositions: they embody a truth in which I deeply trust that has grown in me to the point that it bolsters me amid despair and disappointment.

As we look ahead to our future, I would direct us as a gathered community to Marianne Williamson’s words that you heard earlier. I wonder sometimes if what keeps us from living more deeply into the mission we proclaim is an unspoken fear of the consequences of claiming the power we as a community actually have in our hands.

The religious life is full of lofty notions of what the world will be like someday when our idyllic notions come true, when the beloved community is made real. But how about if we began living into it now? What would that look like?

To spur your reflection, let me offer a piece of this song:

Close your eyes, have no fear.

The monster’s gone, he’s on the run and your daddy’s here.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful – beautiful boy!

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful – beautiful boy!”

It’s the first verse of one of the last songs John Lennon ever wrote, done in tribute to his son, Sean, who was around 5 at the time.

For a song writer whose lyrics often had an ironical edge, this one is remarkable for its sweetness and simplicity. It’s said to have been a time when, after leading a tumultuous life, Lennon was settling down, finally: letting go of the star machine and enjoying family life. So, maybe it’s just an older father’s celebration of his young son, but there’s something else that draws me to it, the chorus, especially, I find magical, almost chant-like:

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful – beautiful boy!”

It touches a feeling that any parent has had at some point, looking at your child in wonder. But others know it, too. Maybe it’s a partner, a parent, or a dear friend who is the focus of your gaze. Isn’t there a moment when you look and simply think to yourself – “beautiful, beautiful”? It’s not an aesthetic judgment; it’s a judgment of love.

Because, it’s true: there is wonder and beauty in each of us. Unfortunately, it’s not what we attend to, as a rule. We’re busy with the affairs of the day, affairs that often have us pushing past these “beautiful” people to get some task accomplished. As Jennifer said, Lennon takes note of it in the third verse of his song:

Before you cross the street, take my hand,

Life is what happens to you

while you’re busy making other plans.

It’s not long before we start “hardening” our assessment of others, before we start seeing in other people obstacles, strangers, aliens, and worse.

But we don’t have to go there. We can instead take the time to see in the other the beauty that is there. As a community we could invite each other and our neighbors to do the same and in doing so let down our guard and build connections across barriers. Pretty soon the commons we create in our space magnifies and grows.

Who knows what a grove this would grow, but wouldn’t it be a blessing?