Monday, August 26, 2019

Naming Our Journey preached by Reverend Tom Capo on 8/18/2019

Prior to the sermon I shared the questions I asked many of the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami in the past couple weeks and some of their responses.  
inherent worth and dignity of everyone;
 Justice, equity and compassion;
 Acceptance of one another
 Encouragement to spiritual growth;
 Respect for the interdependent web
 peace, liberty and justice for all
 All of them
Which of the UU Sources fills your spirit so that you can cope with the chaotic world we live in?
 Experiencing transcendent mystery and wonder
 the world's religions;
 Jewish and Christian teachings;
 Humanist teachings;
 Earth-centered traditions.
 Multiple Sources are profound and enlightening
 The whole set together.
 None, yet.
What social justice issue most calls to your heart? 
 Noticing people are more than default humans
 Our democracy
 treating other beings as equals
 Social Justice is a state of being
 Just Economic Community
 Climate change
 Women’s rights
 Reducing gun violence
 Helping people get a job
 Helping people with basic needs
 Racial inequity
 Voting rights
How does being a member of this church impact your daily life?
People here share similar values to mine;
 My friends
 my family
 my tribe are here
 Helping others here
 Being helped to develop a healthier moral compass
 Nurtured a more open and understanding world view in me.
 Being supported
 being cared for
 by members of this congregation
 It hasn’t affected my life, yet.
 Holding members of the congregation in my heart with love
 Their positive effect on my children
What was your most moving moment here at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami? 
Praying with people of color
 Little moments and memories
 Certain speakers
 The Memorial brick dedications.
 Celebrating life’s transitions here,
 child dedications,
 celebrations of life,
 renewing vows,
 Helping me grow as a person
Christin: Having Indivisible meet here, 350 people in this sanctuary
Imagine coming to this church five years from now.  Tell me about what you hope to see.
More people,
 younger people,
 diverse people,
 people of color,
 More families
 We are more cohesive and cooperative
 More welcoming
 More compassionate
 More contemporary music
 More involved in Miami-Dade community
 Being a liberal religious hub for the larger community
 Better use of our property
 More deep and soulful communicating
Imagine a Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami superhero. 
An open loving person
 Those who keep this congregation going
 A bubble of white light around the whole grounds
 Humble non-grandstanders who give more than they take.
 She would be Hispanic and tri-lingual
 Quiet effective people, making a difference in the world
 Their name would be friend because they are all of us
 The many unsung heroes here
 A Unitarian Universalist Miami avatar of our best selves.
 Someone who is
 and enthusiastic.

Some of you have asked what I think about this congregation and are ready for me to mirror back what I see here, and I will, gradually, over time because there’s lot to see, and a lot to understand.  However, I would suggest that those of you who feel overworked, disengaged, or burned-out take time for healing, rest, and reflection.  You are the heroines and heroes who have kept this congregation going, and maintained these facilities and resources under responsible care.   I call you heroines and heroes because that is what others in this congregation have called you.  Take time to rest and reflect.  I am here to take some of the load now.
          Some of you might know that I grew up Catholic.  I was very involved in the church.  I was an altar boy, went to CCE—Catholic Religious Education, completed all the sacraments asked of me: confession, communion, confirmation.  I was active in the CYO, a youth officer in the Diocese, and led retreats for Youth.  When I was in Junior High, I decided I wanted to be a priest.  I wanted to share the experience of feeling connected to something greater than myself with others.  I told my mother about my desire, and she said “I would prefer you didn’t; I want to have grandchildren.” 
And so being a good son, I put away that dream.  It went out of my consciousness, but not our of my heart.
          From then on I floundered in my choice of vocation.  I started down the path to computer science, but wasn’t really sure that was for me.  I changed my major 5 times in college and eventually chose psychology because my friends thought I would be good at it.  I was the one people came to talk to in order to reflect on their problems. 
          While a psychotherapist, I went many different directions.  Teaching, leading seminars, counseling, consulting, managing employees, designing inpatient and outpatient mental health programs.  All these were fulfilling experiences, but didn’t quite fill my soul.  In my late thirties, I experienced my call to ministry.  I could have approached this call with disappointment or regret, dwelling on how much time I hadn’t been able to live my call. 
Instead I reflected back on all the diverse experiences my work life and church life, and realized how much those experiences would underpin, inform, and enrich my ministry.
          In the weeks before I joined you, I centered my reflections around the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, and realized how many things we had in common, you as a congregation and I as second-career minister.  75 years members of this congregation set themselves on a journey.  A journey that at times may have not resulted in the most direct path toward a goal.  40 years ago, I too, set myself upon a journey that did not always result in the most direct path toward my goal.  And yet I walked in faith with purpose and intent.  I journeyed from the path, in hope that someday I would set my feel on it again.  You, too, as a congregation, have been walking with purpose, and intent, and in hope and in faith, and as a congregation you have come to the proverbial fork in the road.  And now you are ready to name your path. 
          I believe that once you name that path—
that road you are going to consciously choosing to take—you will find your past experiences, your connections, and resources will underpin, inform, and enrich your congregation. 
                   You heard some of the responses to the questions I put the congregation earlier in the service.  To say this is a diverse congregation would be an understatement.  But I did notice a few common themes.
          It is clear that you each feel very connected to this congregation and to Unitarian Universalism.  Many of you were able share stories of your connection to other people here, people who helped you and people you helped.  Also I was pleasantly surprised how many of you knew the Principles and Sources of Unitarian Universalism.  For those of you who are new, you heard many of the Principles and Sources when I was asking questions earlier in the service.  You will also find the Principles on the back of your order of service.  Most of you very clearly affirm and promote Unitarian Universalism.
The members of this congregation that I talked to so far find that the Unitarian Universalist Principles
help provide some moral guidance.  And some of you find that by living the Principles in this community, you have a more open and understanding world view in your everyday lives. 
Many of you stated that the most important, most foundational Principle of our faith is affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  Think about that for a moment.  The people around you hold that their personal and your personal worth and dignity should be reflected in how we share our lives with one another.   And based on what I have seen and heard, affirming and promoting inherent worth and dignity forms a basis for the work that many people in this congregation do in the world to make it a better place. 
Every person I talked with had thoughts about the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, and most of you are acting on those thoughts—going down to Homestead to fight the incarceration of immigrant children, teaching English as a Second Language, teaching our children in religious education so that they will be grounded ethical and spiritual beings. 
Another common theme I want to reflect back to you is that many, if not most of you, have personal spiritual practices.  This is so important to the members of this congregation that you hired a person to lead a yoga group three times a week, you invited a person to provide a monthly sitar meditation, and you have had meditation and mindfulness groups for years.   You, my friends, are taking care of yourselves, in the face of the stress that affects you personally and communally.
Also, many of you are also taking the Principle of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning to heart.  Most of the people I talked with spoke easily about their beliefs, where they derived them from, and how they live those beliefs in their lives.  Many people here are embracing earth-centered traditions and nature to provide spiritual substance in their daily lives
          Many of you have had very personal, uplifting, inspiring moments in this congregation.  You heard the list of some of them.  You value your connections with each other.  You’re quick to offer help where it’s needed, and able to receive help when it’s offered.  You’ve had deep affirming, inspiring, spiritual moments that still sparkle in your hearts, years after they occurred.
          So here’s the last question.  How do we pool all these diverse experiences, thoughts, and feelings to help you name a path forward? How do we distill moments of success, moments of connection, moments of spiritual nourishment to discern a path forward?  For me the path led to the vocation of ministry.  For this congregation, the path you name to guide you forward will be grounded in your beliefs, experiences, values, resources, and connection with one another, your past and present, with an eye toward the future. 
Reflecting on the answers to the questions I asked can help you focus.  For what we focus on becomes our reality, becomes how we share our lives with one another, becomes our impact on the larger community and becomes our future.

          What I am inviting you into as a congregation is a deep engagement with the answers to the questions. I asked these questions so that you might begin envisioning possibilities.  But here’s the thing, this process of naming a path will take you, as many of the people of this congregation as possible, to talk and to listen to one another.  These discussions will lead into something--a provocative proposal/a vision/goals/dreams.  I will help facilitate these discussions and mirror back some of the provocative proposals, visions, goals and dreams, until a path is named. 
 “The point [of this process] is to involve as many congregants as possible in remembering the power of the blessings of the church, [reflecting on what these blessings] have brought them, and from their hearts, to project those blessings on to who will come after them.”  (In the Interim: Strategies for Interim Ministers and Congregations by Barbara Child and Keith Kron)
          Questions might arise throughout this discernment process like: “How is what we name consistent with our Unitarian Universalist Principles and Sources?”  “How can our past be remembered and honored as we move into the future?”  “How will this new journey, vision, dream become a reality in this congregation?”  “What will we need to let go of to move forward?” “ What new ways of being together will we need to try on, then live? “
Bart Frost (5 Things I Learned in (almost) 5 Years) who served as the UUA Youth and Young Adult Ministries wrote: “Of course, there’s a balance of tradition and innovation…Traditions for traditions’ sake isn’t useful pedagogy, especially when no one knows the stories. We can carry our ancestors while still dreaming up new rituals and new traditions that meet our needs and are meaningful to us today.” 
I don’t know the stories of this congregation and I would guess there are many here who don’t know them either.  So how will you decide which stories and traditions to carry forward?  I encourage you to look to the heroines and heroes of the congregation and share their stories with new people who join us.  I encourage you to look at the traditions and ways of governing this congregation and ask what purpose have they served? Are they still serving that purpose?  Are there new ways to serve that purpose?  With the people we have here now today, is our governance model still effective?
Change can be scary.  It can feel overwhelming.  But I tell you today, you all have all you need to name a new path forward.  You already have all you need to walk that path successfully.  This community has the resources, connections, and experiences needed for the journey ahead.  And you have a minister who will walk with you, encourage you, inspire you, and remind you of the path you have named.  I will hold the safe space you need as you innovate.  I will reflect back to you the stories of those who came before you and the traditions and governance that has held this congregation together, even as you create new and different ways to embrace the journey that calls you forward. 
Naming your journey is the first step.  You “are called to be sailors; for many worlds exist waiting to be discovered. And not the least of these worlds are within ourselves [and within this congregation]. It takes as much persistence, courage, and curiosity to look into our own depths, … to see ourselves in new and larger ways without being dishonest about our limitations…” ("It’s Not Easy Being a Unitarian Universalist" by Charles Magistro) Let us continue the naming process, and let’s take these first steps together, arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

What Do We Need in Our Backpack for the Journey by Rev. Tom Capo preached on August 11, 2019

When I was in my senior year of high school, 7 of my friends and I decided to go on a backpacking trip to Big Bend National Park in the very western part of Texas.  We bought backpacks, sleeping bags, flashlights, food, all the essentials for the trip.  We conditioned ourselves for the trip by running up and down football stadium bleachers. 
Few of us had ever been on a backpacking trip before, though some of us had not even been on a day hike, but we figured running up and down the bleachers would probably get us ready.  After all, that’s what the coaches made the football team do and they were in pretty good shape.  Little did we know what we would face backpacking 50 miles across a mountainous and desert terrain.  We traveled in two cars.  Our first hint that things may not go as planned occurred less than 5 miles from the park entrance.  One of our cars came to a dead stop.  When we opened the hood, the engine was glowing red, apparently so overheated that the engine block was melting. 
We all piled into the other car a pinto.  Some you might not know what a pinto was, Think mini-cooper without as much room.  We strapped our 8 backpacks on top and crammed in. 
                   During our trip we dealt with one person’s boot coming completely apart in the desert—did you duct tape can sort of repair a hiking boot-, one stove exploding, getting lost when we decided to go off the trail down a cliff (I was not in favor of this digression).  We panicked when we got lost at one point, and we enjoyed a hail storm that lasted from one afternoon to the next morning, destroying one of our tents and flooding another.  One of my friends had decided to pack canned goods in his backpack.  None of us volunteered to share his ridiculous load.  Though I must say we were all jealous when he ate those Del Monte Yellow Cling Peach Slices in 100% Real Fruit Juice,
while the rest of us at freeze dried meals.  We completed 30 miles and then decided to that perhaps we were better prepared for some day hikes.  Well, we didn’t make the goal, but—wow—what a journey!  What memories!  What fun we had!  What learning and personal growth we experienced.  And what stories we share about that backpacking trip to this day, though it was some 40 years ago.
            Being a Unitarian Universalist and a member of a UU faith community has a lot in common with a backpacking trip. 
You need make preparations and you need to be aware of the conditions you might face and get in shape for them.  You need the essentials to nourish your body, mind, and spirit.  You need to be ready for the unexpected, but not so over-prepared that you are weighed down that reaching your goals is more difficult.  And it is so much better to travel together, sharing experiences and splitting up the work necessary to complete the task.  All growing together, having fun together, and making meaning together. I hope you share with me some of your stories from your many journeys and share with me the stories of this congregation.  Your learning from those stories can serve as trail markers as we journey together down this new path.
I mentioned earlier that the Developmental tools you’ve identified as a congregation are in your order of service.  One of those goals is to help the congregation to align itself with the UUA goals to address systemic racism.  With that in mind, let’s take a fork in the trail that may help us make some progress.  This summer was our denomination’s General Assembly or GA and the theme of GA was “The Power of We”.  Here’s part of a sermon given by Reverend Marta I. Valentín at the Sunday morning worship at GA.
From Rev. Valentin’s sermon: “When our theme, ‘The Power of We’ was revealed, many from the historically marginalized communities immediately asked: Who is the ‘we’? It felt like the assumption was it is all of us Unitarian Universalists. But, is it, when many of us from the Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities experience a kind of Unitarian Universalism that is neither what we are told it is, nor how we know it could be? Is it, when our Trans family is repeatedly muted? Is it, when our people living with seen and unseen disabilities, are made invisible anyway? Is it, when Christian UUs and Military Chaplains feel like they have to be in the closet? Is it when our youth have to fight to be taken seriously, and our young adults to have space of their own?”
            Our denomination is in the complex and protracted process of discerning what it means to be “we”, to be Unitarian Universalists.   We’re in the midst of a transition for Unitarian Universalism, working together to develop a new more inclusive narrative that acknowledges where many of us have fallen short of our professed Principles and values, both as individuals and institutionally.  Transitions are taxing, tiring, and spiritually and emotionally demanding.  This
congregation is also going enduring a time of transition.  Enduring transition so that it may in the end, emerge as a congregation that truly lives its values to the bone and marrow of that bone.  It’s hard work, and it’s going to take a while.
From Reverend Valentin’s sermon: “As a Latina with skin in the game for thirty years, I observe the changes our faith tradition is undergoing, and note that those not paying attention continue to perpetuate old narratives like: ‘Nothing has really changed it just looks different.’ Or, ‘People are withholding their money because they don’t like the direction we’ve taken.’ Now remember these ‘people’ are Unitarian Universalists who are trying to live out our seven principles, and maybe even an eighth one day. These are not random people who receive an email from the UUA requesting support. They are included in whatever version of ‘we’ is being upheld. They are people who love and are loved. They may have taught our youth, taken care of our babies or our sages. Whose inability to deal with open conflict has led to more conflict. Who refuse to understand how their lack of engaging the work causes microaggressions to spill out of them, like unexpected spit in the faces of people who look or talk, or act like me.  Who hang on to the supreme whiteness of being, at all costs, and who have not been able to grasp that we are all swimming in poisoned proverbial waters.”
The Unitarian Universalist Association and its affiliate organizations--the UU ministers, Religious Education directors, administrators associations and many of our UU churches--have embraced addressing systemic racism and decentering whiteness,
acknowledging the white supremacy culture we live in, and welcoming more marginalized groups to the table and into leadership.  The Unitarian Universalist Association considers addressing systemic racism and decentering whiteness an urgent matter, putting time, people and resources into this work.  Our denomination has donated toward and then helped raise the balance of 5.3 million dollars for Black Lives UU, so that people of color don’t just survive in this denomination; they can thrive.  At General Assembly 2017, Unitarian Universalists changed the second source from “we draw sustenance from words and deeds of prophetic men and women”, to “prophetic people”, acknowledging and affirming gender fluidity.  And in this most recent Ministerial Search season, churches across this country called more Transgender and differently-abled ministers to serve as full-time clergy than ever before.  All this positive action allows changing of hearts and changing of patterns of behavior and speech.  Even with recognizing how we swim in the “poisoned proverbial waters” of our white supremacy culture, there is still a lot of work to be done.  We’re changing a culture, and that, my friends, is complicated.
From Reverend Valentin’s sermon: “This is a complicated picture, yet despite all of this, you, the faithful gathered when much of what would happen this year was uncertain. As religious folks, our presence together gives life and potential to new actions. It takes this same faithfulness to jump into the concept of ‘we’, and your presence is an affirmation that you too are in pursuit of this Power of We, because the power of a community is deeper and stronger than the power any individual can have. It’s a matter of what defines that power, and I like the kind that has ‘we’ embedded in it.”
 “Your presence, [here this morning my friends] is an affirmation that you too are in pursuit of this Power of We, because the power of a community is deeper and stronger than the power any individual can have. It’s a matter of what defines that power…”
How will we here at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami define “we” and how will we live this definition as a congregation.  What “we” will mean is still to be defined by you, the members and friends of this congregation.  It’s going to take time and a willingness to change comfortable behaviors.  You’ll need to open your hearts without hurting one another.  You’ll need to share experiences you’ve had, both positive and negative, in this culture of white privilege, experiences that may have left you uncertain and experiences you are willing to consider in a new light.
One of the other tasks that this congregation has decided is a priority for the minister is to provide spiritual leadership that ties UUCM’s diverse theological interests together and that re-invigorates spiritual nourishment and service.  To do that we’ll need to consider what needs to be in our virtual backpacks as we begin this journey of addressing systemic racism and de-centering whiteness in this congregation.
And just so you don’t think it’s all about you and none about me, let me share with you six things I try to remember to keep in my backpack as I work on addressing systemic racism and de-centering whiteness in my life:
Do my spiritual practices regularly
Listen deeply to others before trying to answer a question or determine a direction
Spiritually fill myself with the gifts of Unitarian Universalism, including UU history, the Principles and Sources and the meaning of these in my life.
Be in right relationship with others, which includes acknowledging my mistakes, pointing out when someone is out of right relationship, and returning to fractured relationships in the spirit of love. 
I ask for help when I need it.
And finally I make time for fun.
What do you think you will need in your virtual backpack to begin this journey of addressing systemic racism and de-centering whiteness?
This will be a shared journey that we will co-create, but I have been thinking of some things we might consider putting in our backpacks.  We might include books on white fragility, white supremacy, and the experiences of other cultures who live in this white supremacy culture.  Great topics for some really meaty book discussion groups.  We might include a list of places where people of differing backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, genders, and beliefs gather, and then reach out to them and invite them to engage with us in heart-felt conversations about their experiences in the current culture.  We might include a list of Unitarian Universalist workshops that will help us create safe spaces for authentic and intentional conversations surrounding white privilege, white fragility, and de-centering whiteness in this congregation.
This is a lot to consider.  And we don’t want to over pack.  We’ll probably take it slow and easy at first, until we gain some momentum.  We might need to figure out how to prepare and condition ourselves for this journey.  We need to pack all the essentials, but we must also expect the unexpected.  Most of all let’s keep in mind that it is so much better to travel together, sharing our experiences as well as the work.  May this journey be one of new growth and deep meaning and some great stories—we will not reach the goal of addressing all the issues surrounding systemic racism and de-centering whiteness in the congregation, but maybe we can make 10 or 20 miles of the 50 miles we need to go. And as a loving community let us not forget to have some fun together as we travel.