Saturday, July 8, 2023

Seeing the World through a Creative Lens by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 5/21/2023



Some time ago, somewhere, I am not sure where exactly, there lived an old woman.  She served as the Wisewoman for a small village.  One day a friend of hers, a writer from a far-a-way Western country, came for a visit.  Each time the friend visited, the Village Wisewoman would teach him a new way of looking at the world.  The Village Wisewoman told her friend, “Most of western society thinks that we should believe only what we see.  However, in reality the mind works the other way around, meaning we see only what we believe.”  The writer asked, “But how can this be?”  The Village Wisewoman said “I will show you shortly.”  Soon two villagers came to the Village Wisewoman at different times, to ask her for guidance and information about the location of horses.  She told each villager that the horses were in a valley near the village, but told one of them that the herd had eight horses, and the other that it had twenty-four.  The Village Wisewoman was talking about the same herd at the same valley.  At the end of the day the villagers returned with what they had captured.  The first villager, since he was told there were only eight horses, believed it to be true.  After all, why would the Village Wisewoman lie?  He expected to find eight horses, so when he found eight, he stopped looking.  The second villager believed that there were twenty-four horses.  After all, why would the Village Wisewoman lie?  She expected to find twenty-four horses, and kept looking until she found twenty-four horses.  The Village Wisewoman’s friend was puzzled with the result, and asked her to elaborate on what seemed to be a manipulative trick.  She smiled and said, “We can see only what we think about and imagine. What our mind believes as possible and true, it tends to find and experience in the world.  However, in reality and in nature, there is an abundance of possibilities.   If we believe and recognize there is an abundance of possibilities then we can experience the world as offering an abundance of opportunities.” (the wisdom and magical power of stories by pejman aghasi)



When you think about seeing or experiencing the world through a creative lens, what pops into your mind’s eye? 

Perhaps art by Picasso or Dali or Warhol or Purvis Young comes to mind? 


Artists often experience the world in ways that are fairly different from the ways those of us who are not artists do.  If I ask you to consider exploring the world through a creative lens, is your first response “I can’t, because I’m not an artist”?

Have you put a box around what creativity looks like and who gets to express it? What might keep you from embracing a creative point of view?  What might prevent you from living and moving through the world as someone who identifies as a creative person?  Does that sound daunting?  Or liberating?  Maybe you’d be concerned that you couldn’t function in reality if you viewed the world too differently from the other “regular” people.

        I’ve got a secret to tell you—you’re probably already doing it.  Almost all of us have put on a creative lens at one time or another.  Maybe it’s a new idea of how to cook a certain recipe or creatively place food on a plate so your kids will eat it or a more effective way to repair a sink or toilet, or new way to parent your child.  Creativity isn’t always manifest on a canvas or with clay.  Creativity often is manifested in the ways we chose to live and move and have our being in the world. 

American writer and philosopher Robert Grudin in his book The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation wrote: “We can no more ‘have’ ideas than ideas ‘have’ us, and indeed the creative process might be simplified if we stopped searching for ideas and simply made room for them to visit. If anything controls or dominates at the moment of inspiration, it is not the mind but the idea, or rather, the suddenly articulated power of our own inner energies.  New ideas capture and possess the mind that births them; they colonize it and renew its laws.  The expansion of any idea is thus also an expansion of the self.”  Grudin suggests that we have to be willing to expand our receptivity to be ready and to make a place for new ideas.  We must be willing to be changed by the new idea.  Our perspective on whatever we are doing--and perhaps in a broader sense than just the task at hand--may change.  And for many of us, change is scary.

I am not a carpenter.  And yet, I decided back in 1985 to build a barn-shaped shed in my backyard.  I thought all I needed was a hammer, some nails and some wood and I am all set.  So I went to Home Depot, told the salesperson that I wanted to build a shed and pointed to the demo already built in front of us.  He was happy to help me.  He gave me five page of instructions of how to build the shed and told me all the wood would arrive in my driveway in a couple of days.  I bought a circular saw, some nails, and a wood-handled hammer as well, and I thought I was ready to go.  In a few days the wood was delivered.  And so I began, cutting and nailing according to the diagrams.  I broke 2 wooden-handled hammers in the process.  And hammered an embarrassing number of nails sideways in the wood.  And the structure didn’t look exactly like what in the instructions.  Fortunately, the person living behind me was a carpenter—though we had never met or even talked to each other before that day.  He must have felt very bemused as he watched me try to build that shed.  Finally he couldn’t take it any more and came over to tell me I had to start over and that I needed some different tools. 

I looked at him as if he were crazy.  What was he talking about? Start over. New tools.  How hard could building a shed be?  I mean I was working on my Master’s degree in psychology, shouldn’t I be able to build a shed?  The thing is I couldn’t see what he was seeing—that the structure was not going to be stable if I didn’t start over, that I would break more hammers if I kept using cheap wooden handled hammers, and I needed a nail puller, a tool I had never heard of before, to remove all the nails that were not straight into the wood.  And, oh yeah, a leveler. What does this have to do with creativity?  In order to be effective in building a shed, I had to see the world through the creative lens of my neighbor the carpenter, not the lens that informed me that I was surely capable of doing this task.  I had to be willing to expand my understanding of myself and my abilities to make room for new ideas and I had to change my point of view about what I was doing in order to complete the task—build a shed that was actually, you know, a shed.

        I believe all of us have had to go through some version of this process—in school, at work, in relationships—we have had to put on a creative lens to see something differently in order to be effective.  And sometimes putting on a creative lens actually takes effort.  We have to stop, consider the experience, understand that we see the world through our personal experiences, our prejudices, and through what we have been taught or told.  Hopefully through doing this we have learned that our somewhat static personal lens on the world is often limited and not always effective.  Even though it’s work there is much to be gained from putting on a creative lens. 

        Karen Hering, the UU Minister who wrote the book Trusting Change believes we need to keep our creativity fit to be more effective in all that we do, including coping with change.  She suggests that we need to regularly allow our creativity “to stretch its legs, run about just for fun or take off on a flight of fancy.” Allowing our creativity to play in the world from time to time hones our ability to be more resilient to change; and as we all know change happens regularly in our lives. 

One way to tap into our creativity is the simple exercise we did during the meditation—look through a kaleidoscope.  When we see the infinite number of patterns moving before our eye we’re reminded that there is more than one way to experience the world, to see a problem, to achieve a goal or complete a task, or even how to create a piece of art, be it music or paint, found objects or words on a page.

We are going to try another way to put on a different metaphorical creative lens today.  How many of you have heard of a silent rave?  Please take out your phone.  Open up YouTube and find a musician that you like.  When the video comes up, after the commercials have passed, pause it.  When you have the video cued up, raise your hand.  Now lower the volume so that only you can hear it and push play and put the phone up to your ear and dance either in your chair or on your feet. 

 That, my friends, is one way to exercise your creativity. How did it feel?  Did you feel self-conscious?  It might be worth asking yourself why.  Do you feel energized?  Happy?  Or did you feel like we should just get back to the sermon?  That’s okay, too.

Daydreaming, doodling, creative play—like pretending to be a cat or having a tea party with your child—are other ways to exercise your creativity, which in turn, strengthens your resilience.  I hope you do regularly exercise your creativity, without expectation, without producing anything.  You will find it easier to put on your creative lens when you need to deal with a problem or project, or work with someone who doesn’t share your point of view, or maybe even paint a picture or create a collage—like we will be doing next week here in this sanctuary.  We will create images of our Unitarian Universalist Principles and values, as a group.  Our creations will be hung in this sanctuary.  By the way I told my mother, who is a painter, about us doing this project next Sunday and she said it wouldn’t work because everyone would want the image to be done their way.  I love my mother, but I think she might be wrong about that, because I believe what we can collectively create something that will be a reflection of UU Miami. It will be an exercise in collective creativity; I think it will be amazing.

        I offer you one more way of putting on a creative lens.  Create a small circle that you can see through by loosely make a fist, crating a keyhole for your eye.

Before looking through your keyhole, look around notice what you see.  Now look around through your keyhole.  What do you notice within your reduced range of vision when you do this? Maybe some details you hadn’t noticed before?  Okay now you can stop.  Karen Hering suggests that looking at ourselves and our world as if through a keyhole—focusing in on one small area, one idea, one feeling about a situation-- can give us “new eyes or new ways of perceiving ourselves and our circumstances, freeing ourselves from old tyrannies that have ruled too long.  It might be the tyranny of internalized messages about who we are and what we cannot do.  Or it could be the subjugation of our true identity and gifts by a world that continually turns us away because of our gender, race, class, age, abilities, religion, orientation.  It might be trauma, from our personal experiences or those of our ancestors, binding us with fear in ways that keep us living too small.  Any of these, and other forms of confinement, can be broken open” by viewing ourselves through a metaphorical keyhole.

Here is another way to use your keyhole.  “Think of a [specific] time when your heart or mind was opened to a greater understanding of yourself, the world, other people.  Notice how your body and spirit feels as you linger with that experience.  Imagine that feeling spreading throughout your whole being.  [As you breath slows]… with each breath, store this feeling in your muscles, your blood, and your bones.  When your breathe out, rid yourself of any messages that deny the balm and wholeness of this feeling.  Say to yourself, I carry this wholeness with me.  What new ways of being and seeing might be possible as I open myself to greater wholeness?”

Seeing the world differently than we normally do day-to-day takes effort and intention.  But the gifts and benefits of a holding up a creative lens to the world are innumerable.  I hope you make a little time, maybe just a few minutes a day, to look through a kaleidoscope, to dance to music only you can hear, to look at the world through a self-created keyhole, or participate in some form of creative play, to break yourself open, to experience the world differently, to learn new ways of doing things, and new ways to embody the change you seek in the world.

Celebrating Earth Day as a form of Resistance by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 4/23/2023


You heard the story of a young Albert Schweitzer.  Did you know that later in his life he coined the term “reverence for life” and used that concept as a foundation for how he chose to live in the world?  Schweitzer wrote: “…Reverence for life contains within itself the rationale of the commandment to love, and it calls for compassion for all … life.”  He goes on: “I must interpret the life [around] me as I interpret the life that is my own.  My life is full of meaning to me.  The life around me must be full of significance to itself.  If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mine.  And not only other human life, but all kinds of life: life above mine, if there be such a life; life below mine, as I know it to exist…We need a boundless ethics which will include [all living things].”  His view of “reverence for life” led Schweitzer to believe that to cut a flower needlessly was a violation of this fundamental ethical principle.  The flower, he believed, has the same right that we have to fulfill its natural life cycle.  He let it grow wherever it was, not to adorn his home, but to fulfill its potential.  This view of “reverence for life” also led Schweitzer to write about and eventually to suggest to President Kennedy that there should be an international agreement to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons through international inspection.  His work eventually led to a nonproliferation treaty with Russia. 

Schweitzer also wrote: “Reverence for life means being seized by the unfathomable, forward-moving will which is inherent in all Being.  It raises us above the perception of the world of objects—[for our use]-- and makes us into the tree—[among other trees, interconnected by our roots and branches]-- that is safe from drought because it is planted by the water.”  I think that's an interesting image and has the potential to be a deeply effective passage to reflect on as a personal meditation.  We might also imagine ourselves as a humming bird flitting before a trumpet creeper, drinking in the rich nectar from the bright red flowers.   Such a reverence for life connects us with something ineffable and sustainable. This holy connection to all life is intangible, yet even so it can tangibly affect our behavior by making us stop and affirm with reverence each form of life as we come into contact with it, as we choose to we bring it somehow into our lives.  This reverence offers us an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of other forms of life for our sustenance. 

Whether you affirm a more humanist view the natural life cycle or a sense of a holy “reverence for life”, how we treat each other and all other life, including mother earth, is something we, as Unitarian Universalists, are called to reflect on.   As Unitarian Universalists we can celebrate the beauty and wonder of life on this Earth Day, but we can, should, affirm that we resist through our thoughts, words and deeds treating any form of life, including this planet, as object simply existing for our use. 

It is easy to treat our food just as an object to be consumed.  What changes in our thoughts, words and deeds when we experience food as once-living organisms that had to give up their lives for our sustenance, for our existence?  What changes when we reflect on how the production of food impacts the climate?  What changes when we hear how the trash that we have put in the recycle bin, is being buried in trash heaps, not actually recycled?  Which by the way is what I have learned from Steve Synder, our Sexton, when he was talking about our recycling to the company that picks up our trash. 

Perhaps Earth Day could be a time of resistance looks like not giving into the societal pressure—on TV and social media, in grocery stores or from our peers—to ignore how our food comes to us or how we deal with our trash.  Maybe resistance is taking a look at our attitudes about other living things, whether we think their values higher or lower than our own value.  When I heard that the Florida Senate gave final approval to a bill that would prohibit investment strategies that Gov. Ron DeSantis has deemed “woke,” sending the issue to his desk—in other words investment is just for economic gain without consideration of its impact on people and other living things or this planet—I got angry.  I will resist this law.  I can’t just be complacent because I know the UUA invests my retirement fund in ethical ways, I want to intentionally invest in ways that will reflect my values and my reverence for the planet.  I will back up my word with my action.  Maybe that’s not an option for you, but there are other ways you can act. 

As we reflect on Earth Day resistance, one way you can take action is through the UU Ministry of the Earth, the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations, and the Unitarian Universalist Association Green Sanctuary Program, who have come together to launch the Create Climate Justice initiative.  Create Climate Justice Net was created to give UU climate and environmental justice activists and coalition partners a valuable tool for education, collaboration, and organizing.  Right now, their three current priority focus areas are:

    Strengthening Unitarian Universalist communications and mutual support networks for Climate Justice

    Mobilizing UUs in solidarity with Indigenous front-line communities

    Supporting the Just Transition to an ecological civilization through partnerships and civic engagement

        One way you can express your resistance in support of Earth Day is by joining the Create Climate Justice initiative.  I joined.  I want to be more educated, and more aware of witness opportunities, and so I can find ways to support the “Just Transition to an ecological civilization.”

        So I urge you the spirit of love which is the foundation of our faith, to celebrate and Resist this Earth Day.  Unitarian Universalist Reverend Julie Taylor reflects on what love might mean to UUs in this time of resistance:

Love is patient

Love is kind

It does not envy

It is not proud

Love bears all things

We know these words, use these words when we refer to one person loving another.

Love looks different when we relate to systems.

Love looks different in the face of injustice.

[Love looks different when we decide to treat all life forms with respect because each life form has worth and dignity.]

It is then that

Love is resistant

Love is defiant

It is not backing down

It is staying in the streets

Love is holding each other and ourselves accountable.

Love is challenging — because none of us is free until all of us are free.

Love is protest

Protest is love

Love bears all things

Let's Talk about Nonviolence by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 4/16/2023


Mohandas Gandhi was an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India's independence from British rule. He inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

Ghandi wrote:  “I learnt the lesson of nonviolence from my wife, when I tried to bend her to my will. Her determined resistance to my will, on the one hand, and her quiet submission to suffering my stupidity…., on the other, ultimately made me ashamed of myself and cured me of my stupidity in thinking that I was born to rule over her and, in the end, she became my teacher in nonviolence.”

        Even Ghandi, one of the many spiritual teachers of nonviolence, had conflict in his personal life, and had to find a way to cope with and learn from it.  Conflict is a natural normal part of the human condition.  If we are in any kind of relationship—at work creating a product, in a congregation developing a budget, in a friendship deciding on where to go eat, we will be in some sort of conflict at one point or another.  How we approach conflict, how we manage our emotions while in conflict, and how we bring our spirituality into the conflict determines whether the conflict will ultimately be resolved in a healthy and satisfying way.  I believe there are ways of resolving conflict without the damaging effects of anger or rage; I believe in a faith-centered, nonviolent way of resolving conflict that includes the co-creation of a resolution using mind, heart, spirit, and humility.    

This is from The Road Less Traveled by psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck:

“There are two ways to confront or criticize another human being; with instinctive and spontaneous certainty that one is right, or with a belief that one is probably right arrived at through scrupulous self-doubting and self-examination.  The first is the way of arrogance; it is the most common way of parents, spouses, teachers, and people generally in day-to-day affairs; it is usually unsuccessful, producing more resentment than growth and other effects that were not intended.  The second way is the way of humility; it is not as common, requiring as it does a genuine extension of oneself; it is more likely to be successful…”

        Before I go more deeply in discussing nonviolent resistance, I think it is important to acknowledge that political and social conflict can feel so much bigger than day-to-day conflict.  And that so many of us are burned-out, fatigued, and overwhelmed with the state of our culture and politics right now.  So many of us are asking, “What can one person or even a small group of people possibly do to change societal norms or state laws?”  In our world right now, there is so much hate, resentment, polarization, it is challenging to even decide where to put our energy or what to resist. We only have so much political power and physical, mental and emotional energy.  There are so many issues, just here in Florida that cry out for resistance—restrictions on Woman’s Reproductive Rights and LGBTQ Rights.  Making gun ownership easier, without even requiring any kind of training on safe use of a firearm.  Restricting access in schools to certain books and to the history of African Americans in this country.  Restricting medically necessary supports for the transgender community.  Where and how do we use nonviolent resistance to confront these issues?  It is easy to get frustrated, angry, scared, overwhelmed, even paralyzed by so many issues.

“Yes!” Magazine reporting Fellow Melissa Hellman considered what civil disobedience at Standing Rock teaches us:

        “Resistance is bolstered in our divine identity that resists the seduction of the darkness in ourselves and in the temptation and lies that a proto-fascist system might throw at us. Resistance at Standing Rock is a spiritual and moral act as well as an environmental and political act…

       We can be part of an organized mass movement of non-violent protest grounded in the deepest spiritual principles of compassion, modeled on Martin Luther King, Jr, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and Polish labor activist, Lech Walesa. Such a resistance that holds a high moral ground is blessed by invisible powers and has an extraordinary capacity to shift the situation.”

        As a minister, I am called to speak with both a prophetic voice—telling you and those in power the truth as I see it—and a pastoral voice—giving comfort to those who are suffering as well as hope for what the future might bring.  I do not avoid speaking truth, whether it be in front of political leaders or in a congregational committee meeting, even as I understand that the truth may be difficult to hear, even if the truth may result in conflict.  But speaking truth must be tempered with a humble spirit, my own self-reflection, and a willingness to be open to engage with and listen to those to whom I am speaking. Just telling them that they are wrong, or that they are racist, or that they are fascist will not result in them changing their hearts and mind.  By being willing to understand how they came to their truths and made their decisions, I can begin a process of communication that can result in change.  Nonviolent resistance isn’t always about rallies and petitions, it is also interpersonal engagement for change.

Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote:

“If someone with courage and vision can rise to lead in nonviolent action, the winter of despair can, in the twinkling of an eye, be turned into the summer of hope. Nonviolence is not a garment to put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being. Nonviolence, which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain. It is a plant of slow growth, growing imperceptibly, but surely.”

        “Nonviolence is not a garment to put on and off at will.”  I want to repeat that because I believe that in order to participate in nonviolent resistance nonviolence has to be braided into your character, your thoughts, words, and deeds.  Nonviolence is not just outwardly focused on the issues we are facing in society.  It’s also inwardly focused on how we are with ourselves, with those we love, with those in our communities and congregations, with those around us as we live and move through life.  I will admit right up front that I am not perfect at being nonviolent in all that I do, but I aspire to it always, in my thoughts, words and deeds.  Being nonviolent does not means my life is without conflict—whether in my marriage, in congregational committee meetings, or in working with those in political action networks or non-profits who are trying to make this world a better place for all.  It does mean I think, speak and live my truth with peace in my heart and compassion for all those with whom I come into

        Recently I spoke with an African American minister and the South Dade Branch of the NAACP president.  I was talking with them about allyship on issues that were coming down from Tallahassee.  Without hesitation I spoke on the many issues that I felt passionately about, including transgender rights.  I also said that I and many of the people I knew in the congregation and in other groups that I am affiliated with would look to them, the African American community, to take the lead on issues of importance to them.  Both the minister and the president of the local NAACP said that transgender issues would be issues that not a lot of African American churches or members of the NAACP would easily be able to rally around.  On the other hand, they didn’t want other people’s rights restricted.  After much discussion and periods of silence, they said they might be willing to help with transgender issues if they believed that we would stand beside them when they fought for this issues that were important to them—we being, white people, LGBTQ people, and women.  Neither the minister nor the local president of the NAACP Branch felt like there had been a history of non-black people standing with them when they were in need, when they were fighting for their rights.  They told me trust would have to be built.  I assured the local NAACP president that I would rally those I knew when he was in need.  I have joined the NAACP and plan to attend some of their witness events.  As our conversation came to a close, I hoped that he would find a way to be an ally to some of the issues that I felt passionate about.   He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no.  I believe that I had planted a seed and trust that will have to be nurtured by my following up on my words with actions.  Who know how this see will grow?  I believe its potential is unlimited.  This interaction we shared, with peace in our hearts and a willingness to engage, is as much nonviolent resistance as holding a Black Lives Matter Rally. 

        My friends, having this Black Lives Matter sign in our church and on our property, even if it is covered up

and having this LGBTQ flag in our church and flying in front of our building, are acts of nonviolent resistance.  I’ll tell you a story about a member of my congregation in Naperville, IL who had the same LGBTQ flag in front of his home in a very conservative neighborhood.  You know a lot of Make American Great signs.  This was his own act of nonviolent resistance.  Over time some of the people who lived near him, asked him about his flag and he gladly talked about it and why it was important to him.  Some of his neighbors began to display LGBTQ flags.  Eventually in his conservative neighborhood, there were five, six, seven flags waving in support of the LGBTQ community.  All of them practicing nonviolent resistance. 

        We, as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, practice nonviolent resistance.  Our Unitarian Universalist Principals call us to treat everyone with respect, with compassion, with equity.  On our cars are bumper stickers like Hate Has No Home Here and Abortion is Health Care.  We educate ourselves on the issues facing the marginalized, the handicapped, people of color, women, children, the homeless, returning citizens.  We sign petitions, attend rallies, write letters to the editor, hold discussions.  For over 3 years we have worked to Decenter Whiteness in our governance at this church.   I have preached on nonviolent communication and modeled nonviolent communication and behaviors both in the congregation and in my public initiatives. In the short time I have been here, even with the extreme impedances that COVID and quarantine that shut down this congregation, we have built relationships with allies, including interfaith and intercultural groups.  Some of us have volunteered at Planned Parenthood and have talked to state and local legislators.  These are all ways of embodying nonviolent resistance.  

        How can you express nonviolent resistance?  How can you hold space for authentic discussions and sharing of truths with those in your sphere of influence?  I can’t answer questions for you, but I bet you have some ideas.  How will you make a positive difference, resisting racism, and any other oppression here in Miami, while keeping a humble, compassionate heart and an open mind, ready to engage with people who may be different than you?  These are the questions that each of us must ask ourselves and reflect on before we work to stem the tide of oppression here in Florida.  And I can’t wait to see how you answer them.

Dosing Your Pain, You don't have to be all in with pain by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 3/12/2023


I grew up in a home with a father who had alcoholism.  I think at least in part, I became a counselor for people with alcoholism, drug addiction and eating disorders in order to cope with my own family history, to not look within to deal with my pain, but to let my need for healing and pain relief come out sideways by helping others heal and feel relief from their pain.  Early in my life I was unwilling to open the Pandora’s box of pain that was resting unopened in my shadow.  That’s not to say I didn’t know it was there and that I wasn’t curious about it, but most of all I was afraid that if I opened it, its contents would come flying out, uncontrollable, destructive, and in the end, I would become incapacitated by them.  I hadn’t read the story of Pandora’s box all the way to the end early in my life.  I didn’t know that like Pandora’s box, hope was also at the bottom of my closed and sealed box of pain.

        We all have pain, different types—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.  Some pain seems small, like a slight burn from a hot pan.  Others incomprehensively large – like the childhood trauma of living with an alcoholic father.  Some pain we deal with in the moment with a little antibiotic; some pain may take a lifetime of healing.  We each deal with pain in different ways and for that matter deal with different pains in different ways.  We have strategies to deal with the pain itself, to deal with the emotional and spiritual vulnerability that results from being in pain, and even to deal with suffering—the distress we experience as a result of pain.  Many of these strategies are learned early in life.  Some of these strategies are effective; some are not so effective; they might even be destructive to us. 

Awareness of those strategies helps us to make mindful, effective, choices when dealing with whatever pain rises up in our body, mind, heart, or soul. 

breathing in

i am aware of my pain.

breathing out

i am aware that i am not my pain.

breathing in

i am aware of my past.

breathing out

i am aware that i am not my past…

breathing in

i am aware of hope.

breathing out

i am aware that i am an agent of hope.

breathing in

i am aware.

        I want to talk with you about dosing your pain.  To cope with pain that is ongoing and/or profound/significant/traumatic—and I am not here to judge what profound/significant/traumatic is for you, that is up to you to decide—we develop strategies, consciously or unconsciously, that work to seemingly extinguish the pain, to quell the pain or at the very least help us manage it.  Many of us, I think all of us really, learn in one form or fashion to put pain in an imaginary box and close the lid, always finding new and different ways to keep the lid shut.  Some might consider these strategies as ways dosing your pain. 

        As I worked for many years as a psychotherapist, I increasingly found that many people in distress have a box of pain, full up, ready to burst open, creating such fear that their Pandora’s box of pain would open and destroy them that my clients used strategies like drinking alcohol, taking drugs, binging on food, on sex, on physical pain by cutting themselves to keep the lid on.  These destructive habits ruined their relationships, their physical health, and everything in their lives. Certainly, I have heard these strategies described as dosing your pain.

        Over my life as I have become a more spiritual person, I have come to a point where I now understand that pain is an inevitable part of life—I haven’t gotten to the place where I see it as a gift, but maybe someday—and that pain is not something to be avoided, suppressed, or ignored.  Pain is simply one of many signals that our mind, body, heart, and spirit give us that we need to pay or give attention to something.  And that pain avoided, suppressed, or ignored will more forcefully impact our lives, trying as hard as it takes to get our attention so that we will deal with it, learn from it, and/or grow in understanding of who we are in the light and shadow sides of ourselves.

        I realize that all of us would just-as-soon avoid pain.  Pain after all is painful.  But because pain is part of living, the only time we will not feel pain is when we cease to be alive.  So I have come to believe it is important to approach pain with curiosity.  I know that didn’t seem to work out for Pandora, but didn’t it?  Her curiosity also released hope into the world.  In some stories of Pandora, hope actually healed Pandora after all the sickness, death, all sorts of evil things nearly killed her.  I don’t think we can even imagine a pre-Pandora world, with no sickness, death or evil in it.  There was never such a world.  So, what do you take from this story? Do we think the story encourages us to do or start something even if it might cause many unforeseen problems? Opening a can of proverbial worms.  Perhaps.  Or perhaps there is something else to learn from the Pandora story. 

        From my perspective, we all have a Pandora’s box within us. It is filled with all the things we hold in the shadow side of ourselves.  We put things that are we have come to believe are unacceptable, unlovable about ourselves, however we have come to believe those things.  And we put some of the pain we experience in there.  Particularly pain we are unsure how to face, cope with, and/or manage.  Unlike Pandora, we try to keep the lid on.  But like Pandora, I believe there is also hope inside that box of ours.  So, I believe that to live a full, authentic life, we have to open the box lurking in our shadow from time to time, letting out a little of our pain, healing from it and renewing our hope that we can accept and deal with our pain.  What I take from Pandora’s story is that if we don’t open at least occasionally practice an unflinching self-examination, we tend to live in an unrealistic world, a world where we avoid uncomfortable experiences, where we don’t have to think about evil, death, suffering, pain.  And yet hope can spring from pain, and the seeds of hope can be found planted in the most evil of environments.  When we reach through the pain in order to grasp the strands of hope, we realize that we can live life with all its brutal realities with its problems and pain; if we can just keep hanging on to hope.  Hope that we don’t have to suffer indefinitely, that we can experience pain without falling apart. Hope that we can heal from pain, even from pain that has been hidden in our boxes in our shadow for a long time. 

        Not I am not all in with pain. But I mean I do not think we have to feel pain all the time.  We don’t have to let pain dictate our lives.  Its okay to put pain in a box for a period of time, so long as we don’t just leave it there unexamined.  And I don’t think we need to feel all the pain inside our Pandora’s boxes all at once.  That would be, for most of us, overwhelming.  We don’t have to throw the box completely open; we can exercise some control and let a little out at a time.  Experience it, work to understand it, figure out how this pain influences our lives, and learn more about who we are. Be curious about it. This is what I consider healthy, constructive of dosing our pain.

        I have over the years, opened myself up to some of the pain about growing up in a home with a person who had alcoholism. It was uncomfortable.  I have learned that I need to examine this pain when I am not distracted by other things.  And I have learned that some of my initial reactions to pain that I feel or pain that I see in those I care about is to be the hero, to try to fix the situation, and/or to stand up for those in need, because it is what I tried to do in my own family as the oldest child.  Knowing this about myself, I make every effort to respond mindfully when I am in pain, or someone I care about is in pain, and then be curious.  Not immediately react with my old strategies, but figure out what the teaching is in this situation.  To not immediately try to get rid of the pain in myself or others, but to consider what the path ahead might be, if I take time to listen, to feel, to explore, and if another person is involved to consider their experience of the situation, how they want to proceed, and collectively, collaboratively move forward together. 

        How can you be open and curious about old or new pain, or pain hidden away in your shadow?  Perhaps you might practice a little meditation like we did today when pain happens or when you are curious how what is in your box in your shadow.  Grounding yourself, so you don’t react with old strategies, perhaps you might consider being open to new ways to deal with pain or perhaps you might begin to think of pain as a signal, a sign to pay attention to something, rather than a reason to always react to something—in most cases it is not like you are getting burned from a hot pan and need to pull you hand away.  Fully experiencing life, especially the painful parts, is not easy. I really do know that.  But you have a choice about how you will respond when you experience pain or when that old pain inside rises up.  Stop, breathe, and give yourself the time you need to consider what choices might help you better understand yourself. 

The Path of Vulnerability without the weight of Shame by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 3/5/2023


How many have heard the phrase “Fake it til you make it”?  I can’t tell you how many people—usually professors, colleagues, co-workers-- said that to me when I started out as a psychotherapist and as a minister.  Putting myself out there in front of people as an expert, a professional, someone who knows what the heck they are doing, when in fact they are brand new, not yet experienced, winging it the best they can is tough.  Being vulnerable in front of someone who has expectations of you is tough.  It is easy to experience “Imposter Syndrome.”  Feeling like you are an imposter because you don’t know enough, are not experienced enough, not smart enough, just not enough to be what you are expected to be or do what you are expected to do. 

        I remember the first time I led a psychotherapy group, I decided I would look more like a psychotherapist if I were smoking a pipe.  You know more thoughtful, more mature, maybe more cool—well I was much younger then.  Looking back on it now, I didn’t do take up pipe smoking so that the members of the group would perceive a psychotherapist, but so I would feel less like an “Imposter.”  I felt that the pipe gave me a gravitas so I could cope with those feelings of shame—“I am not good enough” “I am not who you think I am”-- and doubt that were running through my brain and my heart.  I realized early on, no matter how much shame and doubt I experienced, the only way to get past these feelings was by being in the game. 

The quote Brene Brown mentioned in the video by Theodore Roosevelt has always resonated with me and carried me through each and every time I put myself out there, as a professional, as an expert, as an advocate, as an ally: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

        Nowadays, I have had countless experiences of being in front of thousands of people, in rallies, in pulpits, in front of lawyers, judges, mayors, police chiefs, in front of people similar to me and those very different than me.  I have been supported and I have been challenged, I have been affirmed and I have been threatened.  The thing I have learned is that the person who is most likely to stop me from putting myself out there is me.  I am my worst critic.  I am the one who knows all the things lurking in my shadow, my shame, my doubt, the things I regret or feel guilty about, the times I let my shame and fear control me.  And I will tell you, it is easier to remember those times than it is remembering the successes, the changes I help make in the world, the times I really made a difference. 

        Vulnerability is about being in the arena, about being willing to fail, about risk, about sharing a part of yourself, about “daring greatly”.  I can’t tell you how many times, when I was new to ministry, that I questioned whether my message was meaningful, useful, inspirational to those listening to me.  How could I possibly say something that would touch someone in some way that made them think, feel, be called to action, be inspired to embrace transformation?  And my goodness if anyone said something, even a small comment by one person, about the message, well that just reinforced my “Imposter Syndrome.”  I will tell you that I am not weighed down by that shame now.  I do not let my inner critic, my shame monster, stop me from being in the arena or risking vulnerability.  I know that I have made a difference in peoples lives; I have touched people, inspired people, called people to action.  I also know that I am not perfect, that not every sermon hits it out of the park, but that is no reason to stop.  If I stopped every time I failed, then I wouldn’t have been a psychotherapist and I wouldn’t be a minister.

        Someone—a psychotherapy colleague-- once said don’t give up, keep doing what you are doing, and if you fail, just keep in mind that all you are doing is talking.  Words cannot kill people. Well, that is quite literally true. But, over time I have come have a more nuanced understanding of the power of words.  Words can kill one's spirit. Words can make people feel dead inside, and words cannot easily be taken back once spoken or written.  And as a psychotherapist or a minister, my words can have more power over someone, whether I want them to or not, and significantly influence a person.

        I remember once when I was in Cedar Rapids serving Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist, that a young Evangelical minister preached that same sex marriage was as destructive as the devastating 500 year flood that wreaked havoc on Cedar Rapids a year before.  He preached that his flock should do everything possible to stop same sex marriage.  He was surprised by the hateful emails he received from the public as this message got out beyond the walls of his church.  The local paper asked to interview me about his message, and one of the things I said was that this young preacher didn’t really understand the power of the pulpit, in other words that his message deeply touched people and called them to action, beyond his imagining.  After the interview was published, he reached out to me.  And I agreed to talk to him.  He genuinely didn’t understand why people reacted the way they did, heaping him with shame and vitriol, I believe the weight of this shaming was on the verge of shutting him down. He had preached a message he truly believed, yet the response outside of his congregation was not adulation and support, as he had expected, but attacking, treating his message as shameful, and the attacks kept growing.  I tried to help him realize that he was empowered by his congregation, his position, and the pulpit he stood behind to change people’s lives, and he needed to be aware of the magnitude of that power and be careful how he wielded it.  Messages of othering and hatefulness of dictating that all of society should adhere to what he determined as either absolute right or absolute wrong wee, to say the least, problematic.  I was not there to heap more shame on him, believe me, he was getting plenty of that non-stop.  He was just about ready to step out of the arena.  And some people might say I should have encouraged him on his way out the door.  But what I tried to do keep him in the arena and encourage him to use his power constructively for love, for connection, for justice.  He listened, though I am not sure to this day if he understood.  All I can do is teach.  I cannot make the other person learn.  But I can still try.

        When, my friends, are you in the area?  How do you use the power you have?  Are you willing to risk, to be vulnerable, for the greater good, for love, for building connection between people, for justice?  And I wonder, how does shame –either yours or the shame others try to put on you--try to stop you?  What messages do you give yourself – that you are not good enough, not strong enough, not smart enough—the messages that weigh you down and keep you from getting into the arena of life?

        I guess you might say “Well, Rev Tom, you are probably not bothered by shame anymore because of all of your experiences and effectively coping with your shame time and time again.”  And I would answer “It is true that I am less weighed down by shame than I used to be, but those shame messages are still within me.  And when I am too tired, too hungry, my blood sugar is low, or when I am under a lot of stress, those shame monsters within me still impact me.  But here’s the thing, I do not let them control me.  For I know that each time I give into them, I empower them. 

        So, I ask you how do you manage the shame messages within you?  I believe we all have them hidden away in the dark recesses of our psyches.  What are the strategies you employ to keep them from weighing you down? 

        I want to offer you three strategies that have helped me manage my shame monsters, although I have already mentioned one.  Don’t let the shame messages keep you out of the arena.  I know this is hard, but I will tell you, the more you don’t give into them, the less power they will have over you.

        Another way is to reach out to someone you trust and ask them to hold space for you as you give voice to them.  Often by giving voice to them, you can see these thoughts and feelings for what they are: irrational and destructive.  The person you trust simply holds space; they don’t give you any feedback or offer any advice, or tell you that the thoughts are irrational, he/she/they just need to be there to listen without judgement.   

        I have also found that spiritual practices help me as well.  Meditation, prayer, ritual, let me get enough emotional distance from my shame monsters to more easily understand the irrationality and destructiveness of their messages.   Let’s try this.  What I invite you to do is to think of one of those shame messages.  It doesn’t have to be a big one, as a matter of fact, probably choose one that you already have some control over.  Now close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Focus on your breathing.  Feel the air entering and leaving your body.  When your attention moves away from your breathing, gently bring your focus back to your breathing over and over again.  Notice how sensations and thought and feelings move into your attention.  Don’t try to push them out or hold onto them. Each time you are distracted, bring you attention back to your breathing, those distractions will seem to float around until disempowered, they gradually leave your consciousness.  Now let that shame thought enter you mind.  And just leave it there while you focus on your breathing.  And bring your attention back to your breathing again and again and again.  Notice how you feel.  Notice what happens to that shame thought.  Now take deep slow breath and open your eyes.

        All these strategies are practices, coping mechanisms that require practice to be helpful and effective for you to reduce the weight of your shame thoughts, to disempower the shame within you.  

        To end, I want to share again the prayer I offered earlier.  I changed the last line, to one that resonated more with me.  I invite you to notice how you experience these words as you consider your own shame messages:

Spirit of Life..Teach us to love into brokenness

to give space for,

to be patient with,

[our] healing.

Let us be strong in our vulnerability

in our not-knowing,

in exposing our less-than-perfect scary bits, to those in front of us.

Give us courage to face judgment, scorn, and hatred [in service to] the greater good.

Let us be disciples of Essential Goodness, strong in our knowing that in each Being there is a divine light of the soul.

Give us the strength, .., to keep feeling empathy, even when we are tired and broken.

For it is then that we are empowered to stay in the arena.  Amen.

"Agape: Unearned Love" by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 2/19/2023

Agape. Love.  Unmerited Love.  Unmerited acceptance.  Everyone’s worth and dignity seen and respected.  Grace.  Feeling loved.  Feeling accepted.  By a divinity, by another person, by humanity.  Regardless of who you are, how you look, where you are from, who you love, how you embody your gender.  Regardless of what you do or don’t do.  Regardless.  Just for existing.  At every moment, you are beloved.

        Have you ever felt loved and accepted just for existing?  Not because of something you have done.  Perhaps someone has treated you that way.  Perhaps you helped a stranger.  Perhaps you felt a wash of unmerited grace and love when something worked out in your life when you didn’t earn it or deserve it.  Perhaps you felt the touch of grace when you saw overwhelming beauty in nature, feeling a part of creation or divinity, accepted as part of the whole just as you are.  I hope you have.  Do you think that’s an isolated experience?  A privileged experience. 

        You already know that world there is full unfairness, racism, oppression, injustice, hatred.  People who experience those, especially those who experience those systemically, routinely, who are traumatized, hurt and killed by unfairness, racism, oppression, injustice, hatred may have a difficult time feeling unmerited love or grace or acceptance in their hearts.  Our Unitarian Universalist Principles call us respect the worth and dignity of every person, giving voice to that respect through compassion, acceptance, and with acts and systems of justice.  How we do this will vary from person to person.  We are called to love and accept everyone, but particularly those in need, those treated unfairly and unjustly. We do this because of our Unitarian Universalist heritage, because we seek to live by our Unitarian Universalist values/Principles, because we believe in right actions in the face of the evils of the world. 

        I mentioned something in our last Social Justice meeting, that I want to share with you today.  A woman called me a few days after Tyre Nichols’ death.  She said she was looking at the UU Miami website to see what she could do in response to his death and was surprised that UU Miami didn’t offer any information about any anti-oppression actions she could take, nor did our website mention any action this congregation is taking, in response to his death.  I was left somewhat dumbfounded and a little embarrassed.  You will notice in the Social Justice Committee email I put out a week or so ago that the committee is seeking to work with a Black church or organization that is active in social justice, so that we could join our efforts with theirs.  Specifically, to let Black organizations take the lead in racism and police violence issues as this is the population most directly impacted by these issues. The Social Justice Committee, and I’m sure other members of this congregation, want to support them, attend their rallies, and consider how we can better understand their perspective on the issues.  Why support their perspective?  Why not just head out on our own to do some good old social justice work?  Because our role is not to be White Saviors, swooping in with the best of intentions and taking over.  We seek to honor the Black community’s worth and dignity by aligning our efforts to the efforts they are already making on their own behalf.  This method of interfaith, transracial work seeks to dismantle structures of white supremacy while addressing the effects those structures have on the targeted population.  And so the Social Justice Committee is actively seeking Black Community leadership and offering our time and energies in support of the initiatives they have identified as actionable.

        A week or two ago, I received my weekly edition of Sightings, a publication of the University of Chicago Divinity School.  The article in this edition was called “Should We Watch Videos of Racialized Police Violence?” By Zachary Taylor.  Zachary is a White Ph.D. student in religious ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  He asks “what the moral value of our witness is. Why should it matter, morally, that Americans bear witness to this horrific display of police violence that led to the death of a Black fellow citizen? And how can we bear witness to Black suffering in ways that avoid its commodification [in other words converting human, social or cultural value into market value], and exploitation?”

        I find it problematic when the newscasters often show us some horrible event as a teaser in the broadcast to in essence whet our appetite, so we will stay tuned. Later in the broadcast they’ll lead the story with something like “please be warned that the images in this video might be disturbing.”  Too little, too late, they have already shown us the disturbing images 5 times before their warning. So what purpose does it serve?  To give us a head’s up in case our attention has wandered away?  To increase the market value of the incident?  It is so easy to be numb to the violence because we are inundated with it, often without warning.  And yet Taylor’s theological article was encouraging me to watch these disturbing videos as an act of bearing witness to racism and oppression and police violence so I won’t become numb to it, so that I can combat society commodification of it, so that I don’t succumb to the images with society’s default setting of exploitation.  Am I “morally” called to watch the exploitation of people of color, of marginalized communities as a form of bearing witness to the problems in our society?  It is easy to feel helpless and even hopeless as a witness.  As I read the article I wondered if any of the unmerited acceptance and love I show to my fellow beings makes any real difference in this world so full of hate and violence.

        Taylor goes on to suggest that bearing witness to these videos can plant the seeds of change within us, and can lead to action.  To do something in the world to have a positive impact.  Rallies, petitions, protests, grassroots organizing, something concrete to try to make a difference, to stem the rising tide of oppression, to try to effect change.  He writes: “we may watch these videos so that we do not become desensitized to Black suffering, especially when it is a result of state-sanctioned violence. Just as there is a concern that repeated exposure to Black suffering and death may inure (white) audiences to racial injustice, there is, equally, a concern that it is all too easy for white viewers to turn their heads and avert their eyes to the horror of racialized police brutality.”  I have to admit he is right; it is easy for me to get angry about what is happening to others, and then return my privileged life  People of color and marginalized people can’t just turn their heads and walk away from the trauma, abuse, oppression they live.  I can take breath between the racism and oppression I witness on TV or the internet, without worrying about what might happen to me when I drive my car in white neighborhood, what might happen when a police officer asks to talk to me.  I don’t have an ever-present, underlying concern about being injured or even killed by those who abuse their power when they “serve and protect.”  Can bearing witness to these videos be a way to express unmerited love and acceptance of people who are different than me?

        Finally, Taylor reflects on Moral philosopher Jeffrey Blustein’s thoughts on witnessing these videos.   “Blustein observes that injustice not only typically results in physical or material harm (or even death, as is often the result of police violence), but also communicates to victims that their lives and interests matter less than those who perpetuate injustice… In response to this harm, bearing witness ‘symbolically asserts the moral status of the victims, their coequal membership in the moral community, by giving them and their suffering a voice.’ In this view, the moral value of bearing witness to Tyre Nichols’s suffering lies in the symbolic restoration of the status Nichols was denied—that of a human being with dignity.”

          The denial of worth and dignity is not the Unitarian Universalist way.  So yes, I am willing to watch these videos as a witness to restore worth and dignity to a person who has had it removed, who has been abused and treated as an object or somehow less than those who have more power!  These victims of radicalized police brutality have inherent worth and dignity.  They deserve, simply by virtue of their existence, to be treated with compassion, justice, equity.  No-one should be physically or emotionally abused or much less killed for a traffic stop, for being in the wrong neighborhood, for asking for help.  Many of us in this congregation are automatically treated with more worth and dignity because of the color of our skin. Those of us who are heterosexual and cis gendered are more likely to be treated with more worth and dignity in this culture than people who don’t fit into hetero-normative standards.  Is that fair?  Is that just?  No, it is not.  And yet that is the reality of our culture.  So, what do we do as Unitarian Universalists?  What can you do?

        Each of us as individuals and all of us as a community can commit to being the change we seek in the world.  I am committing to bearing witness to videos of police brutality? How? By not just letting those images wash past me, but by being fully present and fully aware of what I am witnessing.  By actively connecting what I’m witnessing to my Unitarian Universalist Principles and Values, and exploring where there are intersections, intersections that in turn might lead to concrete actions.  I will continue to work for justice and equity in human relations.  The UU Miami Social Justice Committee and all of you can bring forward ideas about how this community can engender effective, tangible change.  Like we did by rallying for Black Lives Matter a few years ago.  All of us can seek to develop relationships with communities of color so that our community can join with communities of color as we work toward the goals they themselves have identified on critical needs.  We can treat all people with worth and dignity not because they’ve done something to earn it, but simply because they exist.  Looking them in the eyes, talking to them with respect, honoring and trying to understand their perspectives.  These may not be easy things to do, but as Unitarian Universalists, these are the kinds of life-affirming actions we are called to do. 

        Please keep in mind during this Black History month, and really, at all times keep in mind, that we are called to be allies to people who are trying to rise up on the shoulders of ancestors whose names they do not and probably will never know.  Whose stories and traditions were erased as they, as enslaved people, built this country.  Whose economic progress has been restricted and whose very lives were threatened if they tried to succeed or thrive.  Please open your hearts and minds to the stories of the African Americans who are part of the history of this country, even if it makes you uncomfortable.  This too is how we can embody unmerited love, this is a way we can all move toward deeper connection with and more understanding of those who need us with them as we work together to eradicate racism and oppression in this country.  May it become so.