Blogs

Reflections of the ministers and senior staff.

Blogs

Reflections of the ministers and senior staff.

Trust, Justice, Cultural Humility, and Relationships

This past Sunday, my sermon was on how building deep relationships might help us create a world that works for everyone.  There was one part I did not get to in that sermon.  I would love to share it with you here.

A few years ago, I started hearing the phrase “cultural humility” especially in relationship to the term “cultural competency”.  For those unfamiliar with these terms, I’ll offer my own understanding of them.  Cultural competency is the idea that we should understand someone else’s culture so that we might interact with them respectfully.  Cultural humility is realizing that we don’t know everything about someone else’s culture and experience, we are open to listening and understanding, and we work to be aware of our own experience and bias so we might better understand what are the experiences and stories we don’t understand.

Cultural competency is not a bad thing.  At it’s best, it can be the attempt to make a space more welcoming for people by understanding their experiences and practices.  But, cultural competency can also give the illusion that we have figured everything out and no longer need to learn beyond the experiences we currently understand.

I know that I do not know everything about anything!

To me, cultural humility is necessary if our aim is to build relationships and community.  We need to be ready to listen and learn about a person’s experiences while building relationships and communities.  We need to be open to understanding and know that we will find opportunities to grow.  In my opinion, cultural humility helps us remember that a person has identities that may impact how they experience life while also being an individual human being with their own opinions, thoughts, and feelings.

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Grief and the Holiday Season

Grief can move in unexpected ways, often rising up seemingly out of nowhere, reminding us of pain and loss. However, even while being unpredictable and individual, one aspect of the grief experience that is more common than not is the challenge of anniversaries.  These might be the anniversary of the day of death, birthdays, marriage, or any event that was significant in your life.  These days can often bring back feelings we thought we had worked through, as we are reminded of an event that connects to our loss.

I post about grief and anniversaries this month because we are currently in the season of the year that contains extra anniversaries.  In the months from November through February, there are many holidays.  Those holidays may be times that you gathered with cherished family or spent time with a beloved who is no longer in your life.  That loss may be due to death, but it may also be because of separation, divorce, or anything that has changed the structure of your life.  Additionally, these are often the coldest and darkest months of the year which for some will exacerbate these challenging feelings.

What to do if you are feeling these challenges?

First of all, honor that this is an experience you are having.  If you are feeling grief, there is a reason why.  While the feelings may be uncomfortable or undesirable, it can be good to let yourself feel them.  For some, it can be helpful to have a therapist or mental health professional on that journey with us.  And if something comes up that you weren’t expecting, you can reach out to our ministry team at or check in with volunteers at the Pastoral Care table after service who can provide a listening ear or help connect you with someone who can.

Second, do things that are supportive and good for your emotional health.  Give yourself lots of compassion.  You may find that you can’t follow through on how you usually engage a holiday.  That’s okay.  It’s good to not avoid or cancel the holiday, but you may want to see if you can find a different way to engage it.  Be realistic about what you can do.  If your body has been still for a long time, take a walk or do something physical to shift your energy in a different way.  Avoid relying on chemicals such as alcohol to circumvent or numb pain as they can often have complicating side effects that can make grief feel worse.  And connect with others who love and care about you as much as you can.  Spend time in supportive environments whenever possible. If you need a place to be, our Sunday services, Jazz Vespers, and Winter Solstice Gathering are all opportunities to be present with others.

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The Generosity Donation Library

Have you seen those mini-libraries on the side of the road? They often have books in them and the concept is that you can take a book if one looks good, but also you can leave a book if you have one to donate.

I sometimes think of generosity the same way. Especially when I give something of myself and someone responds "I owe you one" or "I'll pay you back soon." I figure I did something generous for that person and there's no expectation that they reciprocate to me personally. But, I do have the hope that at some moment, when that person has a chance to be generous and they can do so, they take that chance. It's like the mini-libraries: when you need generosity, accept it. When you have a chance to offer generosity and you can do so, do it.

The difference between the mini-book library and the giving of our generosity is relationship. When we place a book into a mini library, we put whatever we have to give hoping that someone will find it useful. When we offer generosity as opportunities arrive, we have the chance to more deeply understand what someone actually needs and make an offer of support based in that need. This is sometimes called the “Platinum Rule” as opposed to the “Golden Rule”: instead of “treat others as you’d like to be treated” it’s “treat others as they would like to be treated.”

This is a more complicated way to give! It requires that you know an institution or an individual well enough to have some idea of what would be useful. Sometimes it requires more conversation and thought.

But sometimes it is more simple too. If we live into the relationships around us, we will find opportunities to give are often right in front of us. And if we would like to give more, that can be an invitation to build new relationships.

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The Heritage of Grief

This morning, I sit and type in a Waffle House. Growing up, Waffle House was where my Grandma Jeanette and I would often go to breakfast when I was visiting her. I still remember the songs she would choose on the Waffle House jukebox! And the flavor of Waffle House pancakes is still very specifically delightful to my tastebuds. She was my favorite grandparent. We would go to shows together, sing together, and be creative together. I would visit her about two weekends a month and they were some of the happiest times of my childhood.

I also recall, as she neared her death, her relationship with my mother became much more contentious. Grandma Jeanette, my favorite grandparent, would say things to my mother that were so hostile, I don’t want to type them here. I witnessed the deep pain this brought up in my mother as these comments were often related to family complexities that my mother had never healed from.

Both of these truths about my Grandma Jeanette travel with me in thinking about the grief that her death brought to my life. In that grief, there has long been an understanding that one person can be complicated: both lovable and painful, and possibly a multitude of other experiences within their one personhood.

Indeed grief contains a multitude of possible understandings and inheritances as every type of grief is a bit different, each situation is different, the people involved are different, and we are different as we move through our lives. So I’ve asked some of our Pastoral Care Team to contribute some words about understandings, joys, and challenges that they have received as part of their grief journeys:

“[My loved ones who have died], I remember them always, the good and bad.”

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Welcoming the New and the Familiar

In the past year or so, I have often reflected about the newness which we are welcoming into our lives, especially as we move forward from the most intense points of isolation connected to COVID-19. This week at ERUUF it was moving to two services each Sunday, a cause for much celebration! While there are many aspects of newness in all avenues of life over the past couple of years, ERUUF has felt quite celebratory in it’s welcome of the new in the short time I have been here. This has been a wonderful experience for me, as one part of my spiritual grounding is the idea (held in more than one spiritual tradition) that nothing about our world or experience truly stays the same. Everything is constantly shifting and changing, sometimes in the smallest of ways, and sometimes much more noticeably. This change is neither good nor bad on the whole. But I think it is healthy to celebrate that newness can bring joy and possibility.

And also, while I may believe change is always around us and in us…while I may believe that there is no truly going back to what is how it was…there is an importance to recognizing the warmth and joy of the familiar. ERUUF’s move to two services is both new and familiar. For many who have been here a while, it may bring some comfort to see that bit of familiar structure re-arrive! In the same way, familiar traditions such as the recent Ingathering and the upcoming Connections Fair provide us touchstones for our travels through the year as well as memories and reminiscence of why we have come to be where we are on our journey. The familiar can keep us connected to those pieces of our life that, while they may shift, are more persistent and grounding.

So, as we travel into this September, I hope for you a blend of newness and the familiar. May we see the old in the new, as well as the new in the old. May we take the opportunity to offer care and community to each other when the old and new enter each of our lives in challenging ways. And may we come together in celebration of aspects of both frequently and with vigor!

“What If? Pastoral Care, Religious Exploration, and Creativity”

What if?

It felt like such a powerful tool. As a child in the 80s, one of my friends favorite games was “Monster Shop.” The premise: what if we were all shopkeepers during the day, but turned into monsters at night and chased each other? It seems like potentially an odd game when I think back on it, but it was our favorite. It required creativity, but also exploring multiple imaginary paradigms and how they might fit together. When I think to those moments of creative exploration, I hope for those same moments for our children and youth in RE. Time to connect with one another and expand how we see the world. Space to build friendships and new ways to center love in our lives. We may not be building those connections through “Monster Shop”, but play and possibility are always part of the curriculum. (And of course if you want to volunteer to be part of that in 2023-2024 RE, click here!)

But as an adult, “what if” has served as a powerful tool still. While it could be used to remind me of everything that is wrong (and indeed that has been the instinct at times), I work to wield “what if?” as a reminder of the real and nuanced possibilities that lay before me:

What if love is possible?

What if I listen to what my body is telling me?

What if I say what I need and am listened to?

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January: Jubiliant, Jumbled, or Just So-So

Growing up, my mother was always wary of January. She noticed that every year, she would be excited to prepare for and celebrate the December holidays. Then suddenly, when January arrived, all the excitement dissipated. We were left with cold, snowy landscapes and a strong dose of Missouri monotony.

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