Pillar and Cloud

They say that March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. As we move into April, I am feeling grateful that the harsh winter weather is finally behind us (I hope!). It is part of the human condition to look forward to Spring—a time of renewal, a time to be outside and get some exercise before it gets too hot. And, a time to marvel at the wonders of nature and the cycle of the seasons.

I was deeply moved by our recent Spring equinox worship service, and I am grateful for the fact that so many members of our congregation were both involved and appreciative. It is exciting to envision that Granite Peak will have its own CUUPS group in the near future.

Yet, despite the advent of spring, lately I have been experiencing some mixed feelings about some things that have been going on in the world of Unitarian Universalism.

Some of you may have read the recent article in UU World magazine entitled After L. G and B. If you did, you probably also read or heard about the angry responses from members of the transgender and gender non-binary community to the article. If you didn’t, I recommend that you do read it, as well as the various responses to it.

In response to those responses, UU World issued an apology for having published the article, and our denominational leadership also issued statements of regret.

The gist of the complaints seems to be that the article was written by a person who is not a member of the trans or non-binary community. How could anyone who is not a member of those communities write an article about something concerning which they lacked personal experience?

Fair enough, except that any objective reading of the article reveals that it was empathetic and supportive of the trans/non-binary community. As a transgender minister, I was very disappointed by the reaction with which the article was greeted by a community with which I am identified. I believe the article was a step in the right direction; it was progress.

It is certainly true that, historically, people who identify as trans and non-binary have had an uphill struggle to find acceptance in UU congregations. That’s mostly because our congregations have faced the same confusion, lack of information, and, frankly, surprise at the rate of change, as the wider community.

Yet we have made amazing strides these last few years. I am living proof of that. Shortly after I came out as transgender, I sought a spiritual home in a UU congregation that I had never visited before. I was immediately made to feel welcome, supported, and loved.

Since then I have served three different congregations as student minister, ministerial intern, and now as your minister at Granite Peak. All three congregations have welcomed me with open arms.

My personal experience is not unique. I have witnessed the way other transgender and non-binary people have been accepted and loved in several different congregations. Including transgender children and youth, and their parents and families.

I know that across the country ministers and lay leaders and individual congregants are engaged in ongoing conversations with trans and non-binary members of our community.

There is much work that remains to be done, including some here at Granite Peak. Nevertheless, I would personally recommend any trans or non-binary person seeking spiritual comfort and support to make a visit to their local UU congregation, especially ours.

This probably won’t be my last word on this issue as the discussion continues within our faith community. For now, I will end by saying that those who spoke out against the UU World article do not represent the views of all of us transgender UUs.

By the time most of you read this column, I will have shared with you the name of the congregation where I will be serving after I leave you at the end of June. I have feelings of great excitement and joy at the prospect of my future ministry. I am also feeling sadness and grief at the prospect of leaving you all.

I have grown to love this community very much in the short time that I have been here. My gratitude to you, the beloved community of generous and big-hearted Granite Peakers, is enormous.

I am also hopeful that by the time you read this column this beloved congregation will know more about my incoming replacement – your next minister.

Let us hold one another in love and support as we move forward during this time of transition and anticipation. As Charles Dickens once wrote, these are the best of times and the worst of times.

In faith, love and appreciation, Rev. Terry


Pillar and Cloud

I have been reflecting lately, with some indecision, on whether designating Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March) are sufficient, or appropriate, to acknowledge the role of people of color and women, respectively, in our shared American and World history.

It feels to me as if people of color and women have been relegated to a supporting, which means secondary, role in history; making a contribution to the whole but not really being a part of the whole. Whereas the reverse is true, the history that has been made, and that is continuing to be made, by African Americans and other people of color is all of America’s history. The same is true for women in our country, and throughout the world.

There is an element of patriarchy, even colonialism, in designating months or weeks or days as history months for a class or classes of people, when every month, week, and day is filled with reminders of America’s past, as well as of how deeply intertwined with the whole these groups are. The reminders pop up, for me, in the class system in particular, which continues to favor white males over all others.

And yet, I feel that it is important to recognize the heroic struggle against oppression, and the many achievements against the odds, of both people of color and women. These accomplishments, and the bravery and dedication of so many, should be lifted up as shining examples to all of the resilience and worth of the human spirit.

In his 1965 Ware lecture at the UUA General Assembly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. emphasized the importance of constantly reinforcing the message that there is no such thing as an inferior race, lest we slip back into the evils of the past. Continuing to honor Black History Month is one way to reinforce that message, and so I think that Dr. King would have approved.

It is important to remember that Black History Month is the brainchild of an African-American
professor of history, Carter G. Woodson, who wanted to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization. I think that is important, especially under the present circumstances, when racism both locally and in Washington has emerged from the shadows where it was hiding and is once again vocally assaulting human decency and dignity.

For example, W.E.B. DuBois (pronounced do-boy-zz) was in the opinion of many, including me, one of America’s most important public intellectuals during the 20th century, and yet relatively few people, and in particular very few white Americans, seem to have even heard of him, much less read any of his great books.

Women’s history month is a more recent event than Black History Month. It began as a week in 1978 organized by the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women to help address the absence in the K-12 school curriculum of classes addressing women’s history.

The public response was highly favorable and the idea spread. In 1979, various groups came together to support an effort to secure a “National Women’s History Week.” In February, 1980 President Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th, 1980 as National Women’s History Week, a move that was followed soon after by a Congressional Resolution for a National Women’s History Week.

Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women’s History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards, and the U.S. Congress.

By 1986, 14 states had declared March as Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women.

Despite my reservations about having special months, I think that at least until the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S, Constitution is ratified by all of the states and becomes a part of our law, a month dedicated to Women’s history is important.

In his Presidential Message to the nation designating March 2-8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week, President Jimmy Carter noted that.

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well. . . . Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people.

This goal can be achieved by ratifying the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

If we were to designate a white history month, would we dedicate to the accomplishments of a few, such as Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon in 1969? Or would our country use that week to highlight the ongoing oppression of people of color in America.

A few weeks ago, a member of our congregation sent me a photograph of a sign outside a church in New York City that said that instead of building a wall on the Mexican border, we should build a mirror so that America can see itself as it really is.

I think that Black History Month and Women’s History Month are useful ways of looking in that mirror, and so I feel we should continue to support them. Let us not forget the very important fact, however, that America’s history is the history of women and people of color writ large.


Pillar and Cloud

Last month, the night of the winter solstice was also a full moon. This is a rare occurrence. I remember remarking about it at the time. It seems like I blinked, and the full moon came around again just the other night. It doesn’t feel like a complete lunar cycle took place, but it did. Time is flying by, and my days are busier now than ever.

And I know that many of you feel the same way.

One of life’s greatest challenges is to find a work-life balance. Unlike our neighbors in European countries, self-care and quality of life take second place to making a living, being a responsible parent, and attending to the countless emails and texts that constantly cross our smartphones.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed with me that many of our seniors who have the label “retired” seem to be very busy nonetheless.

A couple of years ago I had an idea to solve the problem of unemployment by reducing the normal work-week from five days to four. If twenty percent of the current labor force needs were transferred to people who were seeking work, I thought, everyone would have a less stressful life and more leisure time.

People would be better educated because they would have more time to read. They would have more quality time with friends and loved ones, and they would live longer and healthier lives. Who knows, maybe people would attend more Sunday services because of the additional leisure time (and more time to volunteer!)

This would all have to be paid for by employers, of course, because my grand plan does not envision people taking pay cuts when their workweek was reduced. But this would all eventually be washed through the economic system. After all, it wasn’t that many years ago that the normal workweek was six days. When the workweek was reduced to five days similar concerns were raised.

The incessant march towards automation has made the need for human labor to be less and less. I read a story recently about an industrial economist who quipped that soon the entire labor force will consist of one person and a large dog. The person’s role will be to feed the dog. The dog’s role will be to make sure the person doesn’t touch the machines that make and do everything for us.

So why can we not pass the benefit of labor-saving machines along to workers rather than simply see reduced labor costs be translated into increased profits for multinational companies?

The answer is that we can, but we need compassionate and determined leadership from our elected representatives to show the way. In my recent sermon I shared my view that we have leaders who elevate power above principle, profit above people.

Where are the leaders who can bring about the change that is needed to restore justice and democracy to the workplace? I know they are out there somewhere.

In this month of February, with its lengthening days, Ground Hog Day, Valentine’s Day, my thoughts are becoming more and more pre-occupied with the need to make our abundance work for everybody. Time is a precious commodity, and we all deserve to have as much time to focus on our spiritual and other needs as nature and technology can afford.


Pillar and Cloud

Like many of you, during the winter holidays I like to reflect on the year gone by, and to make plans, or at least dream some dreams, for the upcoming year.

And wow, what a year 2018 has been for me personally. I successfully completed my internship in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I was granted preliminary ministerial fellowship by the Unitarian Universalist Association. I was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister. (It is taking me some time to get used to the Rev. title!)

And I found you, the Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Actually, in some ways I think you all found me, and I merely found my way here by driving across the country through the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.

This has also been a year of considerable change for the congregation. It was very hard to say goodbye to Rev. Karla. You have worked hard to form a vision of what you are looking for in your next called minister. You have weathered my arrival on the scene with fortitude and love.

It is hard to believe, but my ministry here is already almost half way over. In the short period of time I have been here you, the members and friends of the congregation can look back on some real accomplishments:

You have hired two new part-time staff coordinators.

The Faith Development Committee has made substantial progress in re-vitalizing the children’s faith development program.

The Pastoral Care team, one of the congregation’s most important features, and sometimes I think, perhaps the least visible, has faithfully provided rides, made hospital visits, sent cards, and prepared and delivered meals to members in need. (FYI, the worship service on Sunday, February 10 will be devoted to pastoral care.)

The Social Justice Ministry Council has sponsored yet another successful Empty Bowls event and, more recently, an outstanding LINC experience.

Six new members signed the membership book during our service on December 2, 2018.

Thanks in large measure to the efforts of the Worship Committee, attendance on Sunday mornings has been increasing.

I am deeply indebted to all of our staff for helping to make the first few months of my ministry here so enjoyable and worthwhile. Patti, Lena, Noelene, Cassie and Miriel, thank you!

As I look ahead to the new year, I am looking forward to continuing my own professional journey in a different location in the second part of 2019. In the meantime, though, I am also looking forward to helping the congregation prepare for the arrival of its next settled minister. This will include reviewing the current list of committees and other governance items, guiding the congregation in designing a new path to membership for new members, and helping to facilitate a congregation-wide discussion about the role and priorities of the Social Justice Ministry Council, and the selection of our Seeds of Support recipients. And many other things.

In a few short weeks the congregation will also be having its annual stewardship drive. This will be an opportunity to reflect upon the various gifts the congregation brings into each of our lives, as well as into the community at large, and the part that each of us plays in fulfilling our covenant and our mission.

These are exciting times for all of us, as well as times of uncertainty and anxiety. Despite the challenges from within and without, I am confident that Granite Peak will continue to grow in numbers and in strength in the year ahead.

A few days before I wrote this column, something woke me from my sleep in the wee hours of the morning. I was hot, and decided to go out onto the patio outside my bedroom to get some air. I looked up at the night sky and saw a shooting star streak across the sky.

The next day I read that a meteor shower had been predicted for that night and the night before. I don’t know whether my waking unexpectedly and seeing the flash of light in the sky was an omen or a coincidence, but I am thinking it was the former.

May that star lead us all into the future. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone.

Rev. Terry


Pillar and Cloud

‘Tis the season of Chanukah, Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Many of us are busy as bees preparing for company coming to our homes, or for our own travels, and buying gifts for loved ones. This time of year can feel overwhelming for those of us who are bearing the burden of preparation.

Even for those of us whose holiday-preparation burdens are light, the ever-increasing commercialization of the end of the year can obscure the spiritual meaning of what we are celebrating. For me, there is an irony that in the middle of so much abundance, it can feel as if there is a spiritual void.

And for some of us the holidays are emotionally painful. Families can be messy. The myth of the perfect family holiday celebration is just that, a myth. For many of us, the holidays are a time when the ghosts of the past emerge from the shadows. Our un-healed pain, our unresolved anger, can be uninvited guests in our family gatherings.

This can also be a very lonely time of year for those who live alone, and for those who are mourning the loss of a loved one. It’s small wonder that not everybody looks forward to this time of year.

As a Unitarian Universalist community, I think that it is important for each of to be able to name and share these feelings and to try to be supportive of one another. At this time of year, “How are you feeling?” can take on a deeper meaning than usual. We might ask follow-ups to our usual words of greeting - -“No, I meant, how ARE you feeling, really?” Sharing feelings, and listening deeply, are vital gifts in themselves, and can be more meaningful than the ones that come in gift-wrap.

Let’s also not forget that many of the December traditions have spiritual roots, going back to the earliest days of human civilization. When the long nights and short days meant the supply of food we had on hand might not be enough to last the winter, we humans found a way to connect with the powers-that-be in the universe. Having spiritual connections and practices are always important, but seldom more so than at this time of year.

Spiritual practices are not limited to prayer and meditation. Going for a walk outside, writing a poem, learning a new craft skill or picking up an old one. All of these and more can help us to center, and to connect with the holy place that lies within each one of us.

Lately, I have been spending a lot of my downtime learning to be a better nature photographer. There is a creek near where I’m living that has been frequented by some wood ducks. First, there were seven, and the last time I was there over two dozen of them were jumping in and out of the water. Chicks emerging from their baby plumage, as well as majestic adults, they have all been in attendance in the small creek surrounded by cottonwood trees. They come and go, and when I am lucky enough to be there, my camera gives me an insight into wood duck family life. I think wood ducks may be the most impressive looking birds in North America. No matter what mood I am in, when I see them, they lift my spirits.

This will be my first and only winter spent in Northern Arizona. As news of snowstorms in New England has reached me, I am glad to be here to experience the different shades of light, the dryer air, and the sights and sounds of the colder seasons at a higher elevation. I used to dread the onset of winter when I lived in the east, but this year I am looking forward to it.

I hope that all of us in the Granite Peak community will have a way to find meaning in this holiday season. I hope that all of us, in this beloved community will experience joy, and hope, and peace, and love no matter what our circumstances.

Blessing to one and all.