Reflections of the ministers and senior staff.


Reflections of the ministers and senior staff.

Budget, Values and Equity

I am conscious of the bloom and blossoming of spring, the time when we begin to plant seeds in gardens and also for our next program year, 2024 - 2025 -- as our current program year soon comes to a close in June.

I am also very conscious that we are blessed with the vision and privilege of co-creating a Fellowship that often feels like a joyful and peaceful haven, not only for us, but for many in surrounding communities, providing a place of respite and hope when the world beyond us can feel much less so.

At this time when we are witness to new life blooming in nature, we here at ERUUF are in pledge season and also budget season, imagining and reflecting upon what we would like to see grow.

First, in the seeds of the budget that we plant and nurture for the coming year, we have the opportunity to be imaginative and creative, just as ERUUFians decades before us were. These seeds allow us to envision courageously how we might contribute, not to ourselves alone, but also to the people and world beyond us.

Budgets reflect our values, and our pledges do as well. They’re tangible indicators of how we have decided to focus our energy, individually and collectively.

Budgets reflect our values, and they sometimes also reveal inequities.

This past year the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) asked all congregations to view staff compensation through an equity lens, and also incorporate cost of living recommendations. While ERUUF has a long-standing commitment to fair compensation, with recent revisions to the UUA salary equity guidelines, the gap between our present personnel budget and where we need to be is quite large.

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Justice, Equity & Go Now In Peace

This February our monthly Soul Matters theme is Justice & Equity. You’ll hear about it in Sunday sermons, small group ministry discussions, in the Religious Exploration classes for our children, and also in a Soulful Home packet for our families as parents and caregivers serve as the primary religious educators for their children.

While justice and equity are never too far from my thoughts and considerations, I find it compelling to reflect closely upon topics like this over a sustained period through a prism that contains multiple views. Though tempting, the purpose of exploring justice, equity, and other topics together is not meant for the accumulation of information. The goal is to explore and reflect upon what we’ve learned and then expand this process beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge to bring our learning into practice within our lives.

We might not initially experience our learning and exploration with heart-centered meaning. But we can challenge ourselves to notice when we might use what we’ve learned as an opportunity to address specific situations that arise.

I and others on staff -- specifically our Music Director Wendy Looker and the other ministers, have become aware of an opportunity to put our exploration and learning about justice and equity into practice as we address an issue of injustice that we, the good people of ERUUF that we all are, have been unconsciously complicit in.

We’ve learned that “Go Now In Peace,” hymn #413 in our gray hymnal, and the beloved song that we sing to our children as they depart the sanctuary for their classes on Sunday mornings, has been sung in a manner that hasn’t complied with the explicit wishes of the songwriter, Natalie Sleeth, a well-known American composer of choral music and hymns.

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Living Into Intentions

Often as a year comes to a close, we exhale with relief, glad that we’ve made it through, especially when we’ve experienced difficult times. And it seems we’ve collectively, globally, experienced a slew of those times these past several years. But even when experiences have been pretty okay, we are happy to turn the page from another chapter of being in the world and with great hope, we set our sights on possibilities of what might be even better ahead.

As we came upon the threshold of 2024 the energies a lot of us seemed to carry felt a bit different though. Despite a month of end of year rituals and celebrations, it seemed as though we were closing our eyes, holding our collective breath, then tentatively crossing an illusory threshold into 2024.

If it was not about ourselves directly, in the understanding of our interdependence it seemed as if we were carrying a dreaded anticipation about what might be in store for someone on the other side of the world, or perhaps for Earth, Gaia, Yemaya -- the Great Creator Mother herself.

Or maybe it was about someone right here where we are. Or maybe it was because something beyond here impacted someone we know and so of course certainly us, because we are, after all, interconnected. And if nothing else, 2020 made plain to us that we cannot avoid our interconnections, in ways we don’t always consciously consider until connections become lost, broken.

About a week ago I was glad to join with the other ministers at ERUUF to hold open a retreat space for folks to slow down, to create a renewed energy together through reflection, re-connection with the elements, the earth, and one another, and to set intentions for 2024.

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Primordial Mystery, Drones, and The Night Sky

This week's blog post features Rev. Jacqueline's reflection as a video excerpt from the Jazz for the Holidays vespers service.

December in a UU Congregation

Long before the coming of Christianity, with which this time of year has been inextricably linked, people all over the world celebrated the rising of the Midwinter sun and the birth of the gods who held out to them the promise of a New Year with new hopes…. most often with fire -- a symbol of hope -- and with boughs of greenery that symbolized the eternal circle of creation.
~ John Matthews

In most of our UU congregations, the month of December is filled with festivities, rituals, traditions, and joyous celebrations of winter holidays, many of which seem to mirror the culture beyond our walls in its focus upon Christianity. Which is disconcerting for some UUs.

People often join our congregations because we hold space for a plurality of beliefs, which allows for seekers, explorers, interfaith couples, and freethinkers, to gather in Beloved Community. We do so with those who aspire to live out certain principles and values, while welcoming a variety of spiritual traditions which hold love at the center.

So for those who did not grow up with Christian traditions or who do not profess Christian or theistic beliefs of any sort, it’s no surprise that December in a UU congregation might bring forward feelings like, “What’s up with all the focus on Christianity? I thought this was a pluralistic community?”

I was surprised when I heard some express that December especially, with its emphasis on Christian celebrations, caused them to question whether we are living into our pluralistic intentions. While others, I’ve learned, have wondered if it is better to not attend at all on Sunday mornings during the month of December.

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In Lieu of Rev. Jacqueline’s Blog Post this Week…. Thanksgiving Cancelled at ERUUF!?

In years past a Thanksgiving meal has occurred in ERUUF’s Fellowship Hall, organized and led by members of the congregation. A small fund was made available for the purchase of two turkeys and a few side dishes, while volunteers contributed others. Staff set up tables and located the supply of decorations, tablecloths and other items that members used for the creation of what many remember as a beautiful communal event.

While members also serve the hungry and those in need of food in Durham during this holiday season, the meal at ERUUF has typically been for those within our congregation who might otherwise spend the day alone if not for this time with others in Beloved Community.

A small and eager group of congregants volunteered this year to help out with ERUUF’s Thanksgiving meal, however the group has been without someone to lead and coordinate the logistics of planning for a meal which might easily attract 30 or 50 or even 70 participants. Obviously, this is no small task, as any of us who has done such a thing for a group as small as eight people can attest!

As a result, Thanksgiving this year at ERUUF will unfortunately be cancelled. Unless….

My sermon last week spoke about the intersection of abundance and community – that abundance is best realized when we are in community, understanding and willing to admit when we are in need and our willingness to help when we can.

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We give because...

We give because somebody gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
~ Alberto Ríos

On early mornings when I was in seminary in Chicago, I’d go to a Starbucks on Michigan Avenue for my morning venti coffee with almond milk, enough coffee to wake me up and keep me awake for a day of classes, often in a large windowless room. Invariably as I left the coffee shop I’d run into many unhoused men who’d been required to leave the shelter for the day, as they tried to figure out how to occupy themselves, get some food, find a warm spot, get some money, get a hustle, get some dignity, get some…. It is a common occurrence among shelters for the unhoused all over the place that people are required to leave the shelter space each morning, and sometimes only allowed re-entry at day’s end for dinner, perhaps a shower, and for sleep.

Their presence was so commonplace that I’d admittedly walk by, preoccupied as I hurried to class. Some of the men sat down on the sidewalk along the curb on Michigan Ave holding their hands out for money, or merely sat and waited until someone handed them some food or drink or money. Nothing needed to be said as it was obvious why they were there on the curb on one of the wealthiest avenues in one of the most famous cities in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I walked by, preoccupied – though I noticed more than I dared admit.

One day during lunchtime, as I headed out to figure out what I wanted to eat, I noticed an older classmate, she was in her 70’s, who was walking about a third of the way ahead of me. I started to hurry forward to join her, until my attention was caught by something she was doing. She’d walk toward one of the men on the curb and seemed to extend her arm out in a gesture toward them. She’d walk toward another and another, sometimes saying a few words, but always making that gesture. As I moved in closer I realized that her gesture was to hand them money, but she did it in a way that seemed so relational as she smiled and spoke to almost each one she encountered. She was a retired judge and among our class cohort, she had a reputation for being pretty crotchety. And yet here she was so tender, so gracious, so generous. I followed her for a while, wondering if or when she would stop giving as she did. I never discovered the answer as I eventually realized I needed to get lunch before it was time to return to class. Fill my hungry belly. The irony did not escape me. I was deeply moved as I saw this woman with new eyes, as well as the men she encountered and treated with generous dignity.

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Heritage of the Sacred

If you have been in the vicinity of the sacred – ever brushed against the holy – you retain it more in your bones than in your head. ~ Daniel Taylor, In Search of Sacred Places

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And So Who Are Our Ancestors?

How can we find a way to live in the knowledge that we are all related? How can we become better kin?

~ Patty Krawec, Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future

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The Embodied Path

The path of spirit is grounded in the embodied experience.
~ Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

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An Experience of Welcome–Prose Poem

I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by content of their character. I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day,...right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
August 28, 1963

It is early Monday and I am taking my morning walk along beautiful tree-lined pathways of my neighborhood which intersect with the American Tobacco Trail, and for which I am always in great gratitude: for the interesting interconnected people of the neighborhood, the beauty of the trees in their morning scent which never ceases to delight me, and all the thoughtfully designed walking trails that are being maintained just enough that I am appreciating the nature of spaces where trees and vines, tall grasses, bushes and weeds can be just as they are.

I am now walking the trail along the main road and it is not long before I begin noticing the many yellow buses rolling along (or bouncing as I remember they did when I was a child, though this might not actually be true of such buses in 2023), which signals that this is the first day of school. A day I’ve always experienced as thickly layered in possibilities of welcome, from the warmest and the richest to the harshest and the nonexistent. The first day of school almost always filled my heart with anxiousness about how I’d be welcomed upon entering a new place, or even a new moment or a new space in an old and familiar place.

The warmest and richest welcome I’ve ever had was on the very first day of school I ever had. I am four years old and meeting my kindergarten teacher, who is calling me by my formal first name which I am hearing for the first time ever, and the sound vibration of the words cascade upon my little girl self like a gift of enlightenment.

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Dry Sponge Dry Well


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Ubuntu: I am because you are. You are because I am.

“In my experience, ubuntu is a deep and embodied understanding that human beings are not born but formed in community and relationship with one another.”

~ David W. Robinson-Morris

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Changes and Transitions

“‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar...
“I–I hardly know, sir, just at present,” Alice replied, rather shyly, “at least I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.’”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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What do we call you?

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I've never been able to believe it. I don't believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

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I recall first hearing the term re-entry when I was a child and watched on television as NASA astronauts re-entered earth’s atmosphere, shifting from the weightlessness of space to the strong gravitational pull of earth.

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A Favorite Thing

Every day, I see or hear something

that more or less

kills me with delight.

--Mary Oliver

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Ground Truth

“When our ideas and plans collide with reality, reality generally wins….”

~ Mark Lesser

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Ripples in a Pond

"When we’re kind we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends – to three degrees of separation."

~ David R. Hamilton, PhD  

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Anchoring in The Storm

When the squares of the week fill
with musts and shoulds,

when I swim in the heaviness of it,
the headlines, the fear and hate,

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No Other World But This One

This is what was bequeathed us:

This earth the beloved left

And, leaving,

Left to us.

No other world

But this one:

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Traveling a Path

When my sister and I were children on summer-long visits with my grandmother, who lived in a rural one square mile hamlet in South Carolina (even today with a population of 500 people), we’d travel barefoot with my cousin along dirt pathways back up in the woods and over small and unsteady footbridges that were nothing more than a few planks thrown across a ditch or small creek.  

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Opening Up The Heart

"We all cycle through the wall, the crisis, the opening of our heart, and the discovery of our kinship. No one has ever been you, but compassion lets us wash into each other like watercolors." ~ Mark Nepo

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The Land We Occupy

For a person with indigenous roots in the Southeast who is looking for evidence of your homeland, you have to follow invisible maps. The landscape has changed, the surfaces of our histories have been written over: the longleaf pine ecosystem of Creek country’s southern territory reduced from ninety million acres to three million acres in under two centuries; the river valleys of the eighteenth-century Muscogean towns now predominantly underwater as a result of twentieth-century damming practices. When we look at maps of the Southeast, we do not see ourselves, we do not see our memories of place.
~ Jennifer Elise Foerster

These past several months some of us on staff have been researching the indigenous people whose lands we now occupy as Durham, so that we might all know whose lands we ultimately occupy as the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Such research is called for as part of an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW), which was overwhelmingly passed by congregational delegates during the 2020 Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly (GA),which was the 400th year since the arrival of the Mayflower and the English invasion of Wampanoag territory.

I have been struck by the silly assumptions I’ve made while doing this research. For instance, the look of various maps that depict Indian tribes during a certain period. “Where’s North Carolina?” I found myself wondering a few times, furrowing my brow for at least the shape of it as I scanned the land mass we now call the United States. I was searching for tribal names I found on the go-to website for locating the traditional native territory you’re presently living on.

“Oh. Yeah.There’s no North Carolina -- not even its outline,” my inner voice replied one day, as I winced a little self-consciously while studying a map depicting colorful, overlapping shapes seeming to move in all directions as though to acknowledge people who were in relationship with one another and the land they were on, rather than as people who were owners. Or settler-colonizers.

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Learning What the Work Is

I think our notions of what counts as radical have changed over time. Self-care and healing and attention to the body and the spiritual dimension—all of this is now a part of radical social justice struggles. That wasn’t the case before. And I think that now we’re thinking deeply about the connection between interior life and what happens in the social world.

~ Angela Davis

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Witnesses and Testimony: Of People and The Earth

Earth is humankind’s unblinking witness. ~ Heather Lynn Mann

I’ve been experiencing a deep undercurrent of sadness and grief during this season when I am also experiencing great joy at blooming bushes and trees, sun shining, and a colony of wild rabbits (or, word fact: fluffle” as such a colony is known!) hopping along the trails in my neighborhood.

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Be Here

“ order to answer the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’... we must first honestly recognize where we are now.”

~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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A Year that Answers

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston

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Trouble Don't Last Always

As I was seeking a congregational hymn appropriate for our Jazz Vespers for the Holidays service, Rev. Cayer suggested the song, “Hush”. This particular service focuses on “stillness” so it seemed to make sense, in a way. But the truth is, I initially decided to go with it because I love when Ms. Joan Tilghman leads us in the song, and she was our cantor for the service.

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A Prayer Giving Thanks

I give thanks

I give thanks

I give thanks

For all the good sent to us, even when we do not see it or know it. Good sent to us when the world seems so devastating and impossible, as if there is no way beyond the difficulties we experience, the grief and suffering we are a witness to, are a part of.                                            

I give thanks that in spite of all this there are those who come to us having managed to see beyond what we think IS, into a knowing that, out beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing there exists a fresh and open possibility of life and a world in which we exist together in harmony, equity, beauty, equanimity.                                And for this, I give thanks, and it is in this that I place my hope and my faith.

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Deeper Layers

…we are not defeated when we are worn down, just exposed anew at a deeper level. We are meant to live between the two.  ~ Mark Nepo

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Rock Garden

No individual exists in their own nature, independent of all other factors of life. Each has the totality of the Universe at their base. All individuals have, therefore, the whole Universe as their common ground….

~ Lama Govinda

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Truth and Wisdom

I have been born again and again

and each time, I have found something to love.

~ Gordon Parks

When I was a teenager, I longed for two things: truth and wisdom. It might sound a little nerdy, but that is indeed who I was. Sure, I wanted some of the other things that teenagers wanted too, like a new pair of shoes, a cool outfit, the latest record album by a group I loved, or to hang out with my friends. 

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Every Day an Experiment

You are the laboratory
and every day is an experiment.
Go and find what is new
and unexpected.

~ Joel Elkes

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What do you do with a heavy heart?

"These bodies are perishable, but the Dweller in these bodies is eternal." -- Bhagavad-Gita

In this marathon race, each time I believe I’ve found my stride, evened out my breath, I find myself needing to shore up the heaviness of my heart about to burst from my heaving chest. Needing to lift my burdened spirit from the depths as I stumble forward, staggered by another senseless disregard for a Black or Brown-bodied life.

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Missing Touch

"Maybe that’s why I want to touch people so often -- it’s only another way of talking."  ~ Georgia O’Keefe


I miss touch. I miss grabbing onto someone’s arm for support when I am bent over in laughter. I miss the casual brush of a hand across my skin. I miss shaking hands. I miss linking my arm with a friend’s as we walk along a path. I miss the soft touch of our cheek to cheek as we kiss the air. I miss intentionally bumping and nudging someone’s side. I miss the kind act of tension being kneaded out of my shoulders by a friend. I miss leaning into someone’s body. I miss collapsing into someone’s arms. I miss holding hands.

And boy do I miss real hugs!

I have heard expressions of longing for this last form of touch more than any other. Did we ever consciously know that we hug so much and how needful we are of those hugs? How needful we are of physical touch?

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Checking In

“Justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private.”  -- Cornell West

One of the joys in being back at work has been listening to check-ins at the various meetings I’m having. To hear about, as if in the village square -- or actually the Zoom square! -- the goings-on in the lives of the people in our beloved community. Over the past year, life has thrown us collective curve balls -- even if personal lives for some of us might be going relatively well.

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Point of Focus

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness...because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace."

                                                                                                                                                                     ~ Frederick Buechner



Hello Dear Ones, how are you doing?

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Whatever your problems and challenges, you are, you exist in this bright world with others, with trees, sky, water, stars, sun, and moon. If you sit there long enough and regularly enough you will feel this, even in your darkest moments.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   ~ Zoketsu Norman Fischer

What have been your sources of inspiration these past couple of weeks? What have you read, seen, or heard that has opened up your heart in expansive ways, filled you with hope?

Yes, I know. That all seems counterintuitive right now.

If you’ve been like me, in these anxiety-provoking, sheltered in place times, it’s easy to find ourselves on the edges of something other than inspiration. Up and down, teeter-tottering between joy and sorrow, courage and fear, energy and fatigue, hope and despair, confusion and certainty, discouragement and elation, and so on.

It’s important to acknowledge the authenticity of our feelings. They often serve as somewhat humbling reminders of our connection to other humans who feel these things too. They’re important information for how we’ve got our world constructed.

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Perhaps uncertainty has come up for you a lot over the past several weeks. Each day, nay, every hour seems to bring the unexpected in unimaginable ways as it's never come before.

If an overwhelming sense of anxiousness and uncertainty has been squeezing at your heart these days -- know that it’s got a hold on many of the rest of us too.

How will our current global predicament end? No matter how many forecasts are brought forward of when things will peak or when the curve will flatten, we still do not know how anything will be tomorrow. Truth is, that’s how it’s always been. It’s just in our faces now in ways we cannot avoid.

How do we just live with uncertainty nonetheless?

We can be the best we can be. We can love those we’ve been given to love, make room in our hearts to love others too. We can do our best to give more than we take. We can help and we can hope. We can pray. We can send our best energies out to the universe.

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Uncertainty and Change

In her famous novel Parable of the Sower (1993), science fiction writer Octavia Butler introduces readers to a new religion called Earthseed, founded as the Earthseed community struggles to survive the socioeconomic and political collapse of twenty-first century America due to poor environmental stewardship, corporate greed, and the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor.

(Yikes -- does that sound strikingly close to a dystopian now?)

The Earthseed religion holds the belief that God is change:

“The one irresistible force in the universe is Change. Everything in the universe Changes.

Every living thing, every bit of matter, all the energy in the universe Changes in some way.
All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
Is Change.

Whether youʼre a human being, an insect, a microbe, or a stone, this verse is true.”

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Being With

I am sitting at my desk in my home office, the sun filtering through the open slats of my blinds, forming a play of light and shadow on my desk, on me. I am aware of birdsong outside my window, and imagine I sense the beat of their wings. A wise friend asked just yesterday, “How is life best lived one day at a time?" 

Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, writes that she “heard that in Tibet in the past, the only way women could attain enlightenment was by practicing in the gaps of their busy and full lives…..Any moment of ‘betweenness’-- waiting for someone, walking from one place to another, milking a cow--became a valuable chance. Instead of thinking about what just happened or planning what would happen next, they enjoyed the space to pause the conceptual mind and touch in with nowness.”

When I first learned I had cancer my mind raced, as my mother would say, “Every which away.” My thoughts moved into the immediate future and what I needed to do next, then farther outward into the beyond of an unknowable chasm that was frightening to contemplate. One evening I found myself moving backward into my past, and wondering what had been the meaning of my life until this moment. What had it stood for -- is standing for?

These questions of past and future brought forward anxiety, vulnerability, a sense that the ground was giving way beneath my feet. As I attempted to grab hold of something to thwart an emotional freefall, I began to realize that I was most comforted being in the embrace of now, focused only upon this moment rather than the monkey-mindedness of racing backward and forward in time.

I use meditative inquiry to ask, “What is this here for?” I do not ask, “Why?” -- for me a more anxiety-provoking and useless question. But to inquire, “What?” has led to deeper explorations about possibility and purpose: “If this is here right now then how might I be with it, whether a full recovery is in the offing or not?” And, “While I shall willingingly follow most directives of my medical team -- who seem to have a version of my future well in hand -- then what might I do about now, in this moment?"

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Becoming Bald

I began last January 2019 with an extraordinary adventure: a trip to India for the Kumbh Mehla. The largest spiritual gathering on the planet, the one I attended attracted over 179 million pilgrims over six weeks to a temporary tent city in Allahabad, where everyone was immersed in ever constant ritual and chanting, such that even the simplest aspects of life seemed extraordinary.

I chose to undergo a very personal ritual head shaving by an Indian barber who was brought into our guru’s camp. He shaved my and the heads of others who chose the ritual by using nothing more than water and a single straight blade. Pretty intense. After it was over I felt quite odd and vulnerable with my egg-shaped dome of a head. But later in the day, after being blessed in a ceremonial ritual by Her Holiness Sai Maa Lakshmi Devi -- the first woman of her lineage to be declared Jagadguru in 2500 years -- I felt radiant and filled with light and beauty far beyond explanation.

By December 2019 I found myself yet again a pilgrim on the unexpected journey of cancer. As with many pilgrimages this is not an easy one and I am learning much about myself and the world around me in -- to paraphrase a passage in Lamentations of the Hebrew bible -- new ways every morning; great is my faithfulness.

I am bald again. I suppose one could say that this too has been a personal choice, decided upon accepting chemo-theraphy as a very taxing partner to my healing.

After being told my hair was going to fall out, I’d read that it was often less of an emotional shock to proactively shave one’s head rather than having hair fall out in clumps (or thinning in patches as was the case for me). I also suspected that intentionally shaving my head in these circumstances was a way of claiming a small modicum of control with a proactive response to a situation that felt so greatly beyond my control.

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Jazz Vespers

Many have asked for a recording of the spoken word piece I delivered at Jazz for the Holidays on December 18. The service was unrecorded but the text is available below in this longer than usual blog post:  

Life is veiled and hidden, even as your greater self is hidden and veiled. Yet when life speaks, all the winds become words; and when she speaks again, the smiles upon your lips and the tears in your eyes turn also into words.

When she sings, the deaf hear and are held; and when she comes walking the sightless behold her and are amazed and follow her in wonder and astonishment.

Thus wrote Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran.

What I know for sure is that when
deigns to be embodied
in the becoming
            and becoming
                        and becoming
of each one of us,
it is only then that she is truly something to behold.
The awesome beauty and magnificent terror,
the fierce strength and tender fragility of
embodied as human being human
in all its glorious and terrible forms:
each one of us
into being out of the DNA of stars
now cells and sinews and bone and blood and flesh.
now speaking in the high pitched wail
of we newly arrived and baby born
into human consciousness and
wants to offer us

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The Memory Collector

My mother is the family griot. She holds the memories of our family from way back, and enjoys sharing them, sometimes for the sake of the stories themselves, at other times for the irony and teachings they hold.

In certain West African cultures the griot is a highly respected hereditary position; the person who holds the community’s historical narratives, oral traditions, and genealogies. No one ever conferred the title upon my mother, except me. After I learned of this position within African communities, I immediately recognized her role within ours.

But I was puzzled by Mom’s deep fascination to know the stories of our family. When we gathered at my grandparents’ South Carolina home, Mom would eagerly ask her father to tell the stories of times past, of the old ones, of siblings who died less than a year of being born, of grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. She was also intentional about visiting with other elder relatives to find out how they were doing and, it seemed from her inquisitiveness, to collect some new memory.

Memories which sometimes frightened me. They were of a world, a time, people and suffering I could not relate to in all my modern, educated, New York City-fied ways. I was glad I didn’t live during the old times they remembered, and wondered at the relevance to now. Wouldn’t it be easier to just move on, glad for today?

Over time I began to recognize what these memories had to tell me about myself. How they form the resilient woven cloth of who I am. How much there is to be learned in the wisdom they hold. How finely they are woven into the fabric of our nation.

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Our Deepest Wisdom

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly now.
Love mercy now.
Walk humbly now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
But neither are you free
To abandon it.

On a Saturday morning not long ago, a yoga instructor shared these words, attributed to the Talmud, to center the minds and hearts of those of us in her class.

It had been a hot summer week that was particularly fraught in our democracy. We released a collective sigh at these words of comfort. I also sensed a twinge of uneasiness at the reminder that we were not to become too comfortable. No, we were not free to do that.

Every wisdom tradition offers reminders like these -- about our responsibilities to each other; exhortations not to abandon one another. History across the ages and global cultures has provided us with ample examples of the terrible things that happen when humans have chosen not to heed these appeals or have twisted their meaning. And so it is true for us in this moment.

In their exploration of the life and death realities of our current global crises, Savage Grace: Living Resiliently in the Dark Night of the Globe, Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker say, “The necessity in our time demands that we listen to all [spiritual traditions] for whatever guidance they can offer us in what is the defining evolutionary crisis of our entire human journey.”

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In June I took my first real vacation in quite some time. A confessed workaholic (a term I discovered in the book Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang originated from a study of ministers!), I was finally tired enough to unplug from work.

I leaned very deliberately into my time of rest and embraced days filled with joy, love, contemplation, and simple fun. I made art, read books, played board games, listened to music, slept in, played in the ocean, lazed in the sun, danced, put my feet up, and perhaps most enjoyable of all, surprised my mother with a visit on her birthday.

Then on the last Thursday in June I sat in an airport transfixed by a television monitor covering news of what had been going on while I was away. My heart hurt. I thought about people I knew who would be upset, discouraged, and overwhelmed by these latest national and world events.

Activist and healer Jardana Peacock says, “Overwhelm and burnout continue to be pillars in our activism and inside our organizations—however, more and more people, organizations and movements are committing resources to healing, to spirituality, to resilience.” Yes.

Science backs up the notion that deliberate rest aids healing and makes space for building personal resilience and the fortification of the spirit.

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Finding Yourself at ERUUF

I moved to North Carolina from Brooklyn 15 years ago, with much apprehension, two boys, and a dog in tow. A friend who relocated here several years before said, “Give it three years to decide whether it’s working.” What?! I thought. Three whole years?

She proved correct. We settled into a Raleigh home, convinced by conservative southern relatives that Durham was not the place for us. But it wasn’t too long before I wondered whether suburban southern life would work for the particularities of my family and our northern liberal big city ways. Even as one of my greatest surprises was that, except for my relatives, rarely did I meet a native North Carolinian.

By the third year I decided to move to Durham. The diversity and imperfections of the city reminded us of home. We formed friendships and it seemed things might work after all so we remained, and eventually found ourselves at ERUUF, immersed in Unitarian Universalism in ways I’d never imagined.

Each Sunday as I meet newcomers who find themselves at ERUUF, by choice or happenstance, I remember my own mix of eagerness and apprehension when I arrived the first time, long before I ever worked here. I stood alone at the edges of what felt like a sea of people in the Fellowship Hall after Sunday service, wanting to feel welcome and trying to figure out how to navigate the place. I departed and it was three years before I returned.

Feeling welcomed, connected and engaged in a new community can be challenging for both the one who wants the welcome and those expected to do the welcoming. The responsibility lies on both sides though. Newcomers, however tentative, must explore, seek out the information or connections they want.

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Ancestral Gratitude

I’ve been reading National Book Award winner Nikky Finney’s beautiful collection of poems called Rice. I close the pages after each haunting verse. This is the world of black folks who lived in Horry County, South Carolina, first enslaved and then free but oppressed and profoundly impacted by their labor in the rice fields of South Carolina’s coast.

Each poem seems peopled by lives that feel surprisingly familiar to me; then I realize that my mother was born in a tiny unincorporated village in Horry County called Green Sea.

And it’s also where Myrtle Beach is. I remember when visiting as a child my mother telling us we were not permitted on the beach because we were colored, though I believe by that time black people were legally allowed there -- but my mother and her family were not yet able to risk believing it.

Each of Finney’s poems bring forward the recognition of cracks filled with a hurting in my heart many generations deep. I close my eyes, become still, and breathe into them. Pause. I express love and gratitude for these ancestors. I read another poem the next day.

Even before Finney’s work, I’ve sensed the presence of ancestors with me always as I move through each day, the vibration of their energies powerful and strong. When I’m down in Paxville, SC -- a 1 mile square village of 500 people where my father was born, I walk the church graveyard on family land where the last person born enslaved holds the center and everyone else is gathered round. I walk the graveyard because I feel I must, out of respect for ancestors who I most physically resemble, whose struggles I cannot begin to imagine and whose deep joy I sometimes sense. Pause. Breathe.

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Our Blue Boat Home: When We Act

As a young girl running around my Brooklyn neighborhood playground in early spring, I quietly noticed tiny bumps that suddenly appeared on the branches of trees and bushes everywhere. Since no one spoke of this phenomenon, nor did I. But I walked to the school bus stop each morning and carefully observed the bumps transforming into buds, then growi...

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Seeking Balance

The quest for balance can sometimes feel like searching for a calm landing spot between the far reaches of a pendulum as it swings from one pole to the other in dichotomies: light and dark, joy and sorrow, justice and injustice, self and transcendence, health and illness, past and future, body and spirit, science and mysticism. Out and in, out and ...

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Bringing Our Intentions into Being

A few weeks ago I learned from Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen that in the practice of somatics --a learning process aimed toward embodied transformation -- it takes 21 times of focused practice for there to be a possibility of new behavior, 300 times for muscle memory -- for our bodies to instinctively do a new thing, 3000 times for embodiment -- so that it...

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