Someone asked how to locate the emails which were sent out this Lenten season. Here is the collection. They were largely an experiment in learning while observing. Thank you to everyone who engaged in this journey together this season through these emails and blog posts. I appreciate it.
I wasn’t going to post a reflection for Holy Saturday, but the words by Rev. Sean Dennison below are too potent not to share. On Holy Saturday I choose to spend time reflecting on Mary. Some years I feel angry at what a bum deal she got. She had to be the teenage mom. She had to carry the child of God, a story which is not easy to believe. She had to ask her fiance to believe her. The well cited verse in the bible, John 3:16, speaks of God’s sacrifice: “for he gave his only begotten son so that we might know eternal life”. Mary gave too. She gave all. She gave over and over again with every prayer, every challenge, every threat. She gave with every side-eyed stare, every bit of gossip shared at the well, every time she might have been shunned. She gave when he went into the wilderness with no warning. She spent those 40 days in worry that her son was dead. She gave when they took him from her, when they beat him in front of her, when he hung before her. She gave when he died.
Today the story of Mary’s sacrifice makes me think of all the mother’s of children of color, all the times they worry, the talk they have to give their children about staying safe, the reality of their loss. They give and give. In their loss and in their voices Mary cries out. Can you hear her? What will you do?
This Holy Saturday I am not angry. I am heartbroken. I am worn out. I am grieving for the loss she feels. The world grieved when Jesus died. The bible says that it was afternoon when he was put on the cross and yet the sky went dark. This imagery demonstrates how deeply the loss was felt by all. In my storyteller heart I imagine Mary’s grief turning the sky dark. I imagine Mother Earth responding to the cries of the Holy Mother. This Holy Saturday I grieve.
Today is the day. The day Jesus is crucified. The day his torture culminates in nailing him to the cross and stabbing him with a spear. Today is the day we lost our hope.
I am one of the Unitarian Universalists who believe in the divinity of Jesus, but with a twist. I believe we are each divine and human at once. For me, when we talk of inherent worth and dignity of every person, we are talking about the part of us that is of God, that is God. We are saying there is a part of us, each of us, that is good and holy.
On Good Friday, Jesus is crucified. He carries a cross on his back up a hill after enduring whippings. He is bleeding, he is tired, he is at the end. His followers look on in silence. Hope is lost. The savior is dying. This feeling carries on today each and every time we hear of another terrorist attack, another hate crime, another black man (or boy) murdered. Deep in the pit of my stomach I feel the despair; hope is lost and salvation is slipping further and further from our reach.
Now is a good time to mention I am a UU who also believes in salvation. I don’t think we are being saved from hell, but I wish and pray with all my might we may find salvation from the atrocities of the world: from bombings and terror, from rape culture, from racism… I could go on. Salvation in this life is my prayer. Then I turn on the T.V. and I see would be leaders talking about monitoring our Muslim friends. I hear mobs of people cheering them on. I see states enacting laws which discriminate against our transgender friends, making the world less safe for them. When will we learn?
In our civilized society we still have the death penalty. We still sentence people to die. We don’t whip them and make them carry a cross. We strap them down, we put on a show for those who want to see it happen. We take a life and call it justice. We take a life and we do not grieve.
Today and tomorrow is the hardest part of Holy Week. We have lost hope. We grieve. We allow ourselves to wail and wring our hands. We let the story of the passion of Christ move us. We let it break our hearts. We let the tears wash away the film which has, for too long, been covering our eyes.
On Good Friday Jesus is crucified. Hope is lost. We do not yet know that Easter is coming.
We are entering the height of Holy Week. Thursday is Maundy Thursday. The word Maundy means commandment and the observance of Maundy Thursday is in acknowledgement of the day Jesus was arrested. The next day, Good Friday, observes his death. I’ve been told it is called Good Friday because at one time it was called God Friday. I’ve also heard it is called Good Friday because in Jesus sacrificing himself, all sins were forgiven.
The reading by Brian McLaren, found here, is a contemporary telling of the story. A chilling one. It doesn’t sound unfamiliar to our modern ears. We see glimmers of our present day society reflected in the words. While traditionally most people think Jesus saying, “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do,” is directed at those who are torturing him, McLaren asks us to consider it from the perspective of the disciples – the silent and still disciples amidst the crowd.
As Unitarian Universalists we value social justice; putting our beliefs into action and living our values in this world is the embodiment of our faith. To imagine oneself, a disciple of faith, amidst a riot and saying nothing is disconcerting. Yet, we know for many the choice to speak out isn’t always available to each person. Our race, gender, sexuality, and other identities can make us vulnerable to violence when we stand up for ourselves or other marginalized people. However, I suspect most of us can also name a time when we could have spoken out with very little, if anything, to lose but did nothing.
And that is what troubles me as I read McLaren’s contemporary telling of the story of the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. There’s a corner of my mind (and heart) that has a list of those times I kept my head down, I looked the other way, I walked a little faster past someone in need. Those times when I did not love my neighbor as myself. Those times when indeed, I refused to see my neighbor at all.
Jesus said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do,” but what about those times when we know full well? When we turn from our convictions to save time, to save money, to avoid discomfort. What about those times?
I don’t have any easy answers. I only know we must stay committed to lifelong faith development. We must continue to learn about anti-oppression and anti-racism, and we must continue to ask ourselves who are my neighbors and how do I love them?
The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Entering into the Holy is to go into the unknown. It can be a frightening thing. As we look to Holy Week, beginning on Sunday, I find myself struggling with this reflection. To observe Lent has been to sit with a lot of different emotions: joy, triumph, sorrow, longing, guilt, peace, and loss. Just to name a few!
Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem. He is greeted by crowds praising him and shouting “Hosanna”, which means save me. They laid palm branches across the road and received him as King. These same people would be shouting “crucify him” at the end of the week. And here’s the kicker, Jesus knows that. He enters the willing sacrifice, he enters to finish the story of Jesus as Christ on Earth.
I find myself thinking about the way Buddhist householder Susan Piver talks about love. She makes 2 points which seem relevant to Palm Sunday. The first is that often in love we do not see the person before us, rather we see a projection we’ve put on them. We see what we want to see. I wonder what the people of Jerusalem saw when they greeted Jesus. They expected a warrior to come and conquer Rome and free them. Jesus enters on a donkey with 12 disciples on foot behind him. He is not a mighty warrior, but something entirely different. Still, they cheered.
Piver’s second point about love is that real love is something we do without expectation. We lean in and love someone with no concern about whether they will love us back. It can also mean finding that place where we can love someone who is no longer in our lives. We love because we must not because of what we get in return. Jesus enters and greets the adoring crowds knowing in less than a week they will turn on him.
Growing up I was taught Jesus was love – he loved all the little children, no matter what. My childhood church experiences were filled with singing “Jesus loves me for the bible tells me so”. As a child I saw Jesus as a friend. As an adult immersed in the story and teachings this Lenten season, I am learning more about what it means to love, to go willingly, to stand up for justice, to fulfill what I know in my heart I was born to do.
As a child, Jesus was my friend. As an adult I see him as Teacher, Activist, and Hope-bringer.
How do you see him? How is Jesus or the Spirit revealed in your life today?
This morning in worship I watched as children gathered around our candle lighting tables following our shared prayer. I watched one child carefully select which candle to light, then blow out the taper and relight it before handing it to the next person in line. I watched another child take a deep breath, close his eyes for a moment, then light the candle in front of him. I watched their fingers fumble with the responsibility of holding that burning taper; a responsibility that teaches them both the seriousness of fire but also the seriousness of prayer and ritual. I watched adults wait patiently as a family of four crowded the table taking a little longer than usual. I watched all of this unfolding in the few minutes we take for this portion of prayer in our service and felt awed in the ways in which we come together in this sacred manner, working together to teach, and worship with, the little ones.
This is a small glimmer of family ministry. Family Ministry is different than religious education, though RE is one part of family ministry it is not the whole of it. Family Ministry is an approach to congregational life where we walk alongside one another in our faith journey, especially the journey with our children, youth, and parents.
The UUA defines family ministry as a partnering between the home and the congregation. They provide a series of questions for us to consider when shaping our ministries and guide us to have discussions to determine what our families need in order to nurture Unitarian Universalist faith in their homes.
Faith formation is a lifelong journey. Our parents need classes, spiritual practice groups, and connection with their faith community as much as their children do. Family Ministry shifts our focus from “educating children” to partnering with families to provide opportunities for education, faith development, growth, parenting support, multigenerational connections, and other ministries which deepen our UU faith identity and help us live into our mission and covenants with one another.
Family Ministry is not solely about children; rather it is about the whole congregation. The family ministry approach invites members, friends, and newcomers into relationship. It invites us to intentionality about our spiritual community and the future of our Faith. Family Ministry, in my opinion, helps us live out our values of interconnectedness and our mission of mutual support and nurturance.
On Sunday, April 3rd from 12pm-1:30pm, Rev. Jude and I will be leading a visioning meeting about Family Ministry. We invite everyone who has an interest in families at the Fellowship, the children and youth, or the future of our Faith to attend. Together we will talk about what it means to pivot toward Family Ministry and we will cast a vision together of what this kind of approach needs to be for our Fellowship.
When we hear the word disciple, certain images come into our head. I dare say, with disappointment, those images are not of Jesus. Rather, they are of those so aligned with a conservative political movement and phrases like “becoming soldiers for God” that we find ourselves wanting more distance from “discipleship”. What does it mean if we stop, take a deep breath, and think about what Jesus wanted his disciples to go forth and do?
Jesus sought solitude then emerged from the wilderness and began his ministry. It was during this time he met those who would become his disciples and asked them to follow him. To be a disciple means to follow a great teacher, to be a learner. The word discipline is rooted in discipleship.
Jesus commanded His followers—in what is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”—to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).
You may be thinking, “I’m a UNITARIAN Universalist! I don’t believe in the trinity!” We UUs have a long history centering us on the idea that Jesus was a great teacher and leader, but no more divine than any one of us. What if we concentrate on his message? To love thy neighbor as thyself, to help the least among us, to care for one another? If our world was filled with disciples who took these teachings to heart we would have less injustice, less hunger, less pain in the world.
23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. 25 What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself?
To be a disciple of Jesus means that we have given up our lives in order to follow Him wholeheartedly and unreservedly. It means that our lives are no longer our own—they are His.
Unitarian Universalists value autonomy over almost anything else. We promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning as one of our principles and beloved values. We also value covenant. We teach our children that we are without a shared creed, but are a covenantal faith – that the promises we make one another about how we will be in community together is the bedrock of our religious tradition. This tells me the work to build the Beloved Community is perhaps more important than our autonomous needs. We value the individual, but we also value the whole.
Jesus and His disciples spent a lot of time together (Acts 1:21-22). They ate together, walked together, rode in boats together. They even fought together (Luke 9:46-48). The 12 disciples were in one another’s lives, constantly and intentionally.
You could even say they were a chosen family, united by their commitment and covenant with one another to go forth and share the teachings of Jesus.
In religious education ministry I often ask myself, what are we trying to make disciples of? So far, there’s been no good answer. I’ve taken this question to religious education council meetings and teacher meetings to find us only agreeing on the word love, while recognizing that the single word doesn’t feel quite right. We know we want to grow lifelong Unitarian Universalists. We know we want our children to be leaders who exemplify our values. We know we believe doing social justice work is part of the very fiber of who we are as Unitarian Universalists.
When watching the video found here, I found myself realizing the watch words they use are the guide. Love. Liberate. Lead. Launch.
We teach love as our primary value. It is evident in our first principle that every person has inherent worth and dignity, which is to say each person is important. We exemplify that value through the various statements, social witness, and social action we do through the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. We talk about building a Beloved Community. We want to follow Love – to share the message of Love, to be a people of Love.
We teach liberation through social justice work and through identity work. It is evident throughout our principles. We know that explicit anti-racism and anti-oppression work should be part of religious education. We know to do this work we have to help with identity building; religious identity, racial identity, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on. We do this by modeling and explicitly sharing our acceptance of all who wish to be part of our community. We model this by working for justice on the behalf of marginalized identities.
We teach leading by giving children and youth developmentally appropriate ways to step into leadership in the congregation, by requiring service projects of their design or discovery for their rites of passage programs, by sharing leadership with youth both in the youth group, but throughout the congregation. We help children and youth find ways to lead that fit their identity, knowing not everyone is an extrovert who is ready to stand in the pulpit on Sunday morning. We also model what it means to lead from a UU perspective. We show this in the way we conduct our business meetings in the congregation and the way we navigate difficult conversations. We show it every time we lovingly call someone back into covenant with us.
We launch young adults formally through the bridging program, a rite of passage that helps young adults identify how they can rely on their faith while away at college, serving in the military, or working as an independent young adult for the first time. We prepare them for entering another Unitarian Universalist community wherever they live. We have walked beside them this entire time and through bridging, we state explicitly in worship that we will continue to do so in a new relationship with them, one that honors that they are an adult in our community.
We teach love, liberation, leadership, and launch UUs into the world as disciples – young people who will take the message of Unitarian Universalism into new communities with them and share that there is a place where all are welcome, a place where we stand firm for social justice for all people, a place where we grapple with our values and our covenants in lifelong pursuit of growth and education. They will live their lives with our shared UU values as the bedrock of their faith and their lives.
Edit: When sharing this with my roommate he had this to say: UUism is not a revealed religion. This has not been handed down to us. We continue to have our faith lived and revealed because we determine right from wrong for ourselves through discernment guided by our principles and we can learn from and respond to the here and now”. This is pretty great considering he himself is not a UU. The results of living with an UU religious educator, perhaps?