This and That: Auto-debits and Religious Education

OK, I know, auto-debits and religious education are not two topics that go together, but since my job covers both areas AND I have something to ask you in each category AND I only have one blog to do it in, here we are.  Auto-debits first.

ATTENTION!!  We have 60 donors who use bank account or credit card auto-debits whose accounts will not be debited starting in July unless you take ACTION!!!  You have already been individually contacted multiple times.  Now it’s time to go public.  IF your commitment payments happen automatically right now and you have not already acted, they will stop in July unless you either use REALM to change your account information or contact your bank and ask them to make the change through their system.  (Contact Tish Murphy for the UUCA bank routing number that you need.)  Here’s how to use REALM to make the necessary changes.

This action is necessary because REALM uses a different set-up than MY INFO and I decided to stop paying for both systems.  This has caused confusion that I regret, but it won’t help now to reverse that decision because we have about an even distribution of people using the new REALM set-up and those that have not yet changed over.  So please, if you have not yet done so, avoid a phone call from our follow-up team by changing your auto-debit details today.

Next up, religious education.  The soon-to-be-Rev. Claudia (she gets ordained THIS Sunday!) was in Asheville for a few days last week looking for housing and took some time to meet some of us.  She met with me, Rev. Lisa, Kim, Jen and the RE Council and attended a Wednesday Thing.  We all came away feeling like this whole new staffing arrangement might actually work out well, while still admitting that change is definitely uncomfortable. 

Be that as it may, we told her lots of good things about UUCA, one of which is that we are growing our proportion of non-parent RE program contributors.  Now, I sure wouldn’t want to be wrong about that, so I’m asking all of you child-friendly folks to think long and hard about how you can volunteer in our RE program.  We have easy Sunday tasks (classroom assistant for the summer or in Spirit Play), non-Sunday tasks (usually organizing stuff or copying), the stereotypical Sunday task (part of a teaching team for grades 4-8 or leading one summer program) and our most challenging tasks (1) previously trained teachers for Our Whole Lives classes—we pay for your training, 2) Coming of Age teachers, or 3) YRUU advisors.

Pick your interest level, your capabilities, your time commitment and volunteer to work in our program.  For more information or to volunteer, contact Kim Collins (  We need you.  The kids need you.  And what you will learn is that you need our kids for your own faith journey.

As We Begin to Say Goodbye

When my departure from Asheville was announced in November, it seemed so very far away that I didn’t put much thought to it. On Christmas Eve walking into the late service, Mark and I looked at each other, realizing at the same time that it would be our last Christmas service together. But we both shook it off and quickly said, “nope, we’re not going to go THERE yet, it’s too soon!” and moved on.

And now, seemingly all of a sudden, it’s the end of May and the “lasts” are coming fast and furious. The goodbyes are beginning. I sat in the Coming of Age credo service realizing that the sharp and articulate young men speaking that day had been 7 or 8 when I arrived here in Asheville — and now they’re so grown up! A lot happens in seven years, even for those of us whose rate of growth has slowed. And so we begin to say goodbye.

As you have already heard, I’ll be going down the mountain a bit — to Greenville, SC where I will serve as the minister of the Greenville UU Fellowship. I am looking forward to the new position at the very same time that I will miss all of you very much. Greenville seems so close, almost as if we could still meet for coffee or hang out; however, it is important to know that there are certain boundaries I will be observing when I leave.

These boundaries are part of the covenant I share with my colleagues in ministry, and they are intended to support the health of our respective ministries. My observation of clear boundaries upon leaving facilitates your process of building a relationship with your new minister of faith development, who, incidentally, I’m totally psyched about.  I look forward to observing from afar the terrific ministry you will share.

Once I leave, I will no longer be available for any of your pastoral or other needs. For at least a year after I leave UUCA, I will not return to preach or visit. My ministry among you will end completely. That doesn’t mean I’ll ignore you if we run into each other at a UU event, or if I happen to come back to Asheville once in a while for a little taste of Ginger’s Revenge or Ultimate Ice Cream. We can chat, but we won’t talk about UUCA.

You will also see less of me on social media — for example, my FaceBook settings limit the visibility of posts to honor these boundaries I describe above — much of what I post is only visible to close friends, colleagues, and current congregants. Some is limited even further.

Know that these boundaries are not easy — but they are necessary. I appreciate you taking the time to understand their purpose. We have shared so much these past 7 years, and I’ve been present to so many important moments in your lives — and you in mine. I will miss you deeply.

Getting Unstuck (audio & text)


From The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron

“When I was about six years old I received a teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, “Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.”

Right there, I received this pithy instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.”

West Wind #2 by Mary Oliver

You are young.  So you know everything.  You leap
into the boat and begin rowing.  But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul.  Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to
me.  There is life without love.  It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe.  It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied.  When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
toward it.


Each time Bill Murray’s Phil Connors wakes to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” blaring on his clock radio in the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day” we viewers feel the tension tighten. How will Murray’s character respond this time as he wakes in the time loop he seems caught in,  doomed to relive over and over one of the silliest days on the calendar?

Given what we know of him as the film begins, his evolution follows a predictable arc.  A self-important prima donna, he moves with each awakening from befuddlement to outrage to full-throated hedonism: gorging himself with food, swiping money from an armored truck, honing pick-up lines for the women who suit his fancy. But no matter how he satisfies his pleasure in these one-day sprees, everything is wiped away the next morning.

And so the film takes a darker turn, as he makes his way through creative ways to do himself in. But each time he wakes again until he declares to his co-worker that he must be a god. Of course, he’s not a god.  What he is, is stuck:  stuck in self-absorption, in self-pity, in this narrative that tells him that he must be a victim of the universe.

The Jungian analyst James Hollis says that he often begins workshops he leads around the world with the question, “Where are you stuck?” It’s interesting, he says, that never in those workshops does anyone ask him to define what he means by “stuck.” Even translated to other languages, everyone jumps in and starts writing in their journals, suggesting, he says, “that the concept of stuckness is quite close to the surface in our lives.”

How about you? Where are you stuck? What is holding you back from the life you would like to live? The answer is not always as simple as it may seem. That’s because often what’s bedeviling us is not the stuckness that presents itself. For example, all the ways we get stuck around food usually speak to deeper hungers in our lives – longing for love, for attention, for reliable presence.

So, when we try to deal, say, with cravings or binge eating we stumble again and again because we haven’t addressed our deeper anxiety. As Hollis puts it, “under each stuck place there is a wire, so to speak, that reaches down into the archaic field and activates a field of energy of which we are largely unaware, but has the power to reinforce whatever is holding the line against change.”

The result can be something like the experience that Pema Chodron described, where we are marching around with our fists balled up kicking at anything we find, furious at a world that will not treat us as we feel we deserve.

It reminds me of one of the early Star Trek movies. Do you remember? In it, Earth is threatened by  an alien force inside a massive energy cloud. But that force, which calls itself “V-ger”, turns out to be the remnant of a Voyager probe sent centuries before that had been upgraded by aliens who sought to help the probe complete its mission by returning to Earth. Once the Star Trek crew figures out how to complete the code so “V-ger” can send its information, it is appeased.

How often do we turn ourselves into V-gers raging or withdrawing over perceived slights and inattention that activate our deep anxieties? It’s hard, Hollis says, because these anxieties can be grounded in what he calls perceived existential threats, such as fear of being overwhelmed and being abandoned.

Early in life, he said, we experience what he calls “our relative powerlessness  in a large and potentially invasive world.” So, it’s little wonder that in time we develop strategies to assert some control in our closest relationships.  Likewise, he says, to avoid abandonment, we may focus our energy on achievement to assure ourselves that we are needed, or at least that we receive ample praise.

We concoct strategies to protect ourselves, and they serve us for a time. But they’re rickety, fragile, and reactive. As Pema Chodron puts it, “we let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid.” And in time our defenses suffer damage. So, we get out the paper and twine and patch them up. The result isn’t pretty, but we stick with them because we figure that’s all we’ve got. But it’s not. We have another capacity – deeper, wiser, kinder – that only needs to be activated.

It shows us that many of the scripts that guided us in times of stress are remnants, rear guard actions from our youth or childhood. We can honor them: they offered what service they could at a times of difficulty. But as we’ve grown we’ve become more resilient, and we see that the emotional hazards that we feared are not quite so fearful. They are, in fact, invitations to grow,  to be kinder, more open.

“Sometimes,” Pema Chodron teaches, “this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. “But under the hardness of that armor there is a tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved.”

James Hollis makes a similar point. “Sometimes we have to go there, the place of fear, in order to grow up, to recover our lives from all the assembled defenses, of which denial, repetition and rationalization are the accomplices. “Only in those moments when we take life on, when we move through the archaic field of anxiety, when we drive through the blockage, do we get a larger life and get unstuck.”

Phil Connors seems to get that, too. When he’s had enough of self-indulgence, he turns his attention to his fellow travelers in Punxsutawney: saving a boy falling out of a tree, a diner choking on his meal. He learns to play the piano and becomes the life of Groundhog Day parties. He uses what he learns about the residents to counsel and console them.

Along with Murray’s love interest in the film, played by Andie McDowell, we are astonished at the person that Phil Connors has become. In the space of a day, this first-class jerk has become one heck of a decent human being –  except, as we know, it took more than a day, maybe 10,000 days or more.

And it’s true that it can feel like we need a lifetime to climb over all the detritus in our past, the old scripts that haunt us and still carry enough energy to divert us from living in tune with our true selves.

It seems to me that this is the challenge that Mary Oliver’s poem “West Wind #2” addresses. She speaks as one tempered by experience, one who at some point in her life did, as she puts it, leap into a boat and begin rowing. And it is plain from the context  that she was not rowing with a destination in mind: she was rowing away, and not away from a clear threat but from some threat she anticipated, an imagined pain or fear she hoped to escape.

It’s the context that breaks our heart, for it’s plain that what she was running from was something that in fact could save her, something whose power, thankfully, was strong enough to interrupt her impulse to escape, that gave her the insight to write this compelling poem. And that power, she is clear, is something that opened her eyes to a larger life, something she can only think to call love.

“There is life without love,” she says, and you don’t want to go there. Whatever your fear, your insecurity, your self-doubts, you will regret running from it, hardening your heart against its call. Stuck as you may be in the armor you thought would protect you, you must give it up. Lift the oars from the water and rest.  Take a moment to heed what she calls your heart’s “little intelligence,”that inner wisdom that awaits us. And then go . . . go.

Not toward some comforting, warm embrace but right back at what you sought to flee, that tumult of uncertainty and risk. Such is life lived with love, full of bumps and bruises and no guarantees, where we learn what Pema Chordon calls “the tenderness of genuine sadness.” Something that, she says, “can humble us when we are indifferent and soften us when we are unkind. It awakes us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference.”

Our heart’s awakening, and our own true home.




Teacher Appreciation

“Our open and welcoming congregation connects hearts, challenges minds and nurtures spirits while serving and transforming our community and the world.”  

When considering those words of our congregation’s mission, it is evident we take them to heart in Religious Education.  And we are able to offer this type of full, enriching program only because of the large group of volunteers who help make it successful.

The skill and dedication our volunteer leaders provide the children and youth is truly amazing.  We see thoughtfulness from the teachers when planning and enacting the lesson or activity; our teaching teams are tuned in to the needs of their students and use their expertise and heart to navigate hiccups.  The independence, creativity, and capability our volunteers have shown to implement our RE program this year has been tremendous.  We have a talented and committed bunch of folks serving in RE!

People like Bob Roepnack, Mariah Wright, Mike Horak, Ann McLellan, Wendy Fletcher, Gordon Clark, Kay Aler-Maida, Will Jernigan, Melissa Murphy, Langdon Martin, Nancy Bragg, Jon Miles, Jodi Clere, Judy Harper, and Mike Neelon, to name more than a few.  You likely recognize these names not only because they might be your friends or who you sit next to during worship service or covenant group, but because many of them have other integral roles in our congregation as well: Board members, Buildings and Grounds team, Earth and Social Justice Ministry, covenant group leaders, musicians, and more.  AND they volunteer in RE.

The time and energy of about 80 volunteers make Religious Education happen here each year.  Because of them, our RE program is strong, meaningful, and laying a foundation for growing new UUs in a world that desperately needs them!  We provide age-appropriate, thought-provoking curricula and materials; we seek to honor the individual while being in community together; and we connect children with adults, parents with adults (!), and all of us together.

“When children know there is a whole community of adults working within our principles to wonder together and make change in the world, they can feel empowered to know they are not alone on this journey.”

— Melissa Murphy, 4th Grade, Love Connects Us

This is our community and we are full of gratitude for our volunteers!  We hope to see all of them at our RE volunteer appreciation event at the end of May!

p.s. Want to join us in Religious Education?  We have a solid volunteer roster started and are recruiting now to round out the teaching teams for 2018-19.  (It’s not as difficult as it sounds, and we hear all the time that it is meaningful to the adults too!) Or try it out by volunteering for 1-2 Sundays this summer — leaders and assistants wanted.  Find out more here and contact Kim or Jen with questions or to sign up.