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.


Pillar and Cloud

As November gets under way I am feeling slightly overwhelmed, in a good way, by the richness of my life and what the future may hold for me and for our community. There is so much going on in November that my head is filled with all sorts of emotions. Feelings of excitement, apprehension, anticipation, reflection and wonder.

I am writing this column just a few days before heading east for a week to see friends and family, and for my ordination into Unitarian Universalist ministry. Yikes!

What a journey the last six and a half years has been.

In many ways I am still very much the same person I was when I decided to give up my law practice and enter the ministry. I still over-analyze things. I still offer up opinions irrespective of whether I have been asked to do so. And I am still my own worst critic.

But in many ways, I have grown and changed during my discernment process. Colleagues and teachers and mentors have helped and encouraged me to focus on listening first and asking questions later (yup, still a work in progress!). More importantly they have supported me in my ongoing need for spiritual growth and nourishment. I shall never forget one of my supervisors criticizing me during my training for NOT spending more time walking in the woods. It took a long time for it to sink in that that is now part of my job description. It is so different from my prior professional life, and a joyous one.

This month brings the long-awaited mid-term elections. Whatever the results may bring, I suspect that many of us will feel relieved simply in knowing that they are behind us, as they seem to have dominated the news for the last several weeks and months. My hope for our members and friends is that we will be strengthened by the opportunity to participate in our nation’s flawed, but not broken, democracy. That our commitment to being in right relationship with each other, with our community, and with our world, will be stronger than ever no matter what happens on November 6. I believe that it will.

We Unitarian Universalists are people who chose our faith based on science, reason and our own individual spiritual resources. We share that in common with those who came before us long ago. People like William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the later transcendentalists and humanists on whose shoulders we now stand.

No matter what transpires in the November mid-terms, or in 2020, or the years ahead, Unitarian Universalists will continue to challenge authority, and will continue to work for the common good. Our history of working to end the institution of slavery, of working for women’s suffrage, of opposition to the Vietnam War (including ensuring publication of the “Pentagon Papers”), of working for Civil Rights in the 1960s, leaves no room for doubt that we will continue to show up for justice no matter what the future might bring. For that, I am deeply grateful.

In this month of Thanksgiving, I feel extremely grateful to be a part of our movement. For me to be able to share my talents and skills as part of something much bigger than myself is both a privilege and a joy. To be able to minister to the Granite Peak congregation, even if it is only for a short time, was worth the effort of training for the ministry. For all of these things, I feel deep gratitude.

And I am deeply grateful for my family, my friends, and for all of the incredible experiences that make my life so rich and meaningful. My life would be quite empty if I didn’t have the people I love to share it with me.

(And, this month of November will bring my 64th birthday. The old Beatles’ song, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me.....,” has also been playing aloud in my head for a couple of weeks now.)

November is also the month in which your search committee will complete the first stage of its work by finalizing the information that will be provided to ministers looking for a new congregation. I am feeling excited that the process of identifying your next settled minister is about to enter its next phase.

And, as the month of November draws to a close, I too will begin my search for my next call.

As I survey the list of other congregations that will be looking for a minister next year I am feeling joy, anticipation and excitement at the wealth of possibilities.

We all often have mixed feelings and emotions as we get ready for Thanksgiving. Having many emotions welling up inside us at one time or another is part of the experience of feeling alive. It is also part of the process of creation. An opportunity to connect with the holy. And that is good.

I hope that all of our members, friends, and neighbors have a safe, warm, and happy Thanksgiving holiday.


Pillar and Cloud

As the season changes from summer to fall I am feeling nostalgia for the autumn leaves of New England and New Jersey. Different hues of red and gold as far as the eye can see are an unforgettable sight. I also miss going apple picking and having fresh apple cider and apple butter. And the crisp fall air of New England smells so good.

I don’t miss raking leaves, though. This time of year my former lawn and sidewalk, like all of my neighbors’ lots, would be a sea of maple, oak, sycamore and other leaves; way too many for me to rake and bag them all. During the winter months frozen leaves would make harsh music in the streets of my neighborhood, as they were blown every which way by the wind.

The onset of fall also nostalgically reminds me of the beginning of the academic year. I feel for the thousands of students who are taking their next steps into the world of adults, many living away from home for the first time in their lives. I remember my own feelings of being thrust into the alien world of grown-ups, of thinking how new and exciting it felt. And scary at the same time.

At this time of year, in almost every town and city in our country, new friendships are being forged, fresh ideas are being exchanged, and knowledge shared between generations. It gives me hope that the current state of affairs in our national dialogue is transient, a hiccup on the road to social progress.

For me, education is one of the great miracles of life, one of the few constants that human existence can claim. Each generation makes new discoveries and passes them on to the next generation, no matter what the political climate, the state of the economy, or whether there is war or peace.

Today’s scientists and engineers and doctors who were born in the ‘50s and ‘60s would never have been, but for the education they received from those who came before them. And now my generation, the baby boomers who came of age in the 1970s, who knew nothing about computers or other technical wizardry, are passing the baton to the next generation. And one day it will be our grandchildren’s turn to pass along the mantle of knowledge that enables humankind to live in a world that has power lines and running water and automobiles, and all the things my generation would likely not have built but for the legacy of what came before us.

New discoveries, of course, change our theology, our understanding of the holy. When the seemingly inexplicable is explained new theological ground is broken; new questions are raised as intuition and belief continue to give way to lived experience and empirical evidence. That is a good thing. To borrow a line from the song Blue Boat Home, new discoveries are an opportunity to cast new questions into the deep. It is part of the human experience to question, and to seek meaning wherever questions are raised.

And yet ....

A couple of Saturday mornings ago I had a conversation with a gentlemen who told me he believed that the Bible is the inerrant and literal word of God, that there is no such thing as evolution, and that only Christians whose name is “in the book” will achieve salvation and go to heaven. Our conversation took place while we were both enjoying a cup of coffee outside a store on Gurley Street. Although we were polar opposites in our beliefs and in our appreciation of science, I enjoyed meeting him very much. At the end of our conversation we prayed together.

This conversation with an evangelist was troubling for me, however. It highlighted the extent to which suspicion of modernism, and fear of progress, is deeply embedded in the culture of certain religious communities. So deeply embedded, in fact, that reason and knowledge have been ineffective in encouraging many Christians to ask new questions, encouraging them to cease to defend the indefensible.

And so I continue to pray that the seeds of knowledge will find a place to live and grow on those craggy, windswept cliffs that were formed by the molten rocks of Bronze Age mythology. As the new academic year gets into high gear, and as my generation passes knowledge to the next, may new ways of thinking about the divine, about what is holy, pave the way for a new era in liberal religion. May new ideas about pluralism and tolerance replace the worn out theology of the past.

Kids, it’s up to you now. May it indeed be so.