Good morning. My name is Claudia. You now know my name and I sincerely hope that during the coming months, you will come to know me, and I you. Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today and serve this Congregation as your intern minister. This is truly the beginning of an exciting adventure for you and for me, and for that I am grateful.
I have been a religious educator for the last 16 years, and for many years felt the call to ministry. However, the demands of motherhood and work made heeding the call difficult. Now that our children are on their own, and my school board service in Indian River County is ending, the timing is right. I just completed the first year of seminary and I am officially a ministerial candidate.
This first year of seminary has been a transformative, challenging journey that has truly changed my life and how I engage with the world. I have slowly been adapting to the life of a student traveling to Chicago for classes a few times a year and juggling work, assignments, and family. An important part of my seminary work has been exploring UU history, theology, religion and spirituality, and deepening my understanding of Unitarian Universalist ministry so that I can discern which area of ministry best fits my skills and interests. I look forward to the work we will do together as we walk this journey of spiritual growth, building relationship and ministering to our hurting world. I know you are a Congregation committed to social justice. I look forward to learning about and partnering with you on your outreach projects. As I prepare for our work together I’d like to share a definition of ministry that informs my approach to this sacred work. The author is unknown.
Ministry is the act of ministering to. It is the way we are mindful, and nurturing of each other. Ministry is not something only ordained ministers do. When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow, we are engaging in ministry. When we offer programs that engage the heart, the mind or the spirit we are engaging in ministry.
I look forward to engaging in ministry with you over the next two years.
When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow, we are engaging in ministry.
In order to minister to others, we have to take care of ourselves, minister to ourselves. In our personal lives we also have to stand through struggle, and be willing to learn and grow as we face challenges. This requires adaptability; being able to adjust to change. Often what comes to mind is the adaptation of organisms in nature that we learn about in science. Adaptations allow organisms to not only survive but thrive in a particular place or habitat. This understanding can be applied to how we adapt to changes in our lives and society so that we not only survive the situation but are able to live fulfilling lives and continue to thrive.
Struggling through situations, welcomed or not, requires our willingness to question our thoughts, feelings and beliefs about the situation we are in. Can we change the way we think about a situation? Can we look at evidence, examine facts, and maybe even change our mind about a conviction or belief we have held a long time that is not supported by the evidence? Learning and growth require the willingness to engage new ideas and perspectives. Being open to change is what allows us to adapt to circumstances in our lives and the ever changing world around us.
In 1993 our family moved to Bahia, one of the poorest states in Brazil, with an infant and a toddler. We lived in the town of Cruz das Almas where there was water every third day, limited access to medical care, no air conditioning, as well as rampant inflation: food prices increased daily. These are, of course, only a few of the many details we had to deal with when our family moved to Brazil. I could have felt sorry for myself, complained to my husband (or even blamed him for putting us in this situation) and started counting the days until we left…or I could have found a way of making the best of it. I decided to do the latter and by the time the three years were over…I didn’t want to leave. I had adapted to my new environment.
You may have heard the saying: “You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” Those years in Brazil taught me to adjust my sails. I learned that we have it within us to transcend many of the hardships and losses we face if we are willing to embrace change rather than fight it; if we are willing to adapt and be transformed.
From the moment of birth we experience change. We leave the comfort and warmth of the womb to enter a sterile, cold, harshly lit hospital room -- if we aren't fortunate enough to have a home birth.
We nurse, and are weaned.
We start school.
Our parents may divorce.
We lose a pet.
We move to another neighborhood, state or country.
A parent dies.
A job is lost.
A young adult leaves for college.
A spouse is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
And the list goes on.
Each change requires a transition and maybe even the acknowledgement that there has been a loss. We often think of loss and grief as responses to death or catastrophic events in our lives. But sometimes it’s unfair situations, big disappointments, life milestones, serious heartaches or the reality of aging and confronting one’s mortality, that lead to significant transitions in our lives.
Acknowledgement, and maybe even a grief reaction that allows feelings and one’s sense of vulnerability and loss to be expressed can be cathartic.
Life transitions involve a change in how we define ourselves. There is a shedding of a previous identity, a new way of seeing ourselves regardless of whether the situation is happy or sad.
In our story today, Pete the Cat just went with the flow, and in the end “it was all good.” It isn’t really always “all good.” However, we can choose how we deal with change and feelings of loss.
But it is not only changes in our lives that call us to be malleable. There are many changes happening in our society that often place us at odds with each other regarding important issues such as reproductive rights, sexual identity, race relations and presidential nominees. Furthermore, we have experienced a shift: the white Eurocentric majority's hegemony is being disrupted by the increasing numbers of the "minority" population. Recently, at a school board conference I heard a presentation on the “browning of America” describing how many school districts throughout the country are becoming minority majority districts. Teachers are often not equipped to deal with the diverse cultures and needs of their students. This shift can be unsettling for those who are accustomed to being in the majority. It can make people feel uncomfortable, resentful and angry.
President Obama alluded to some of these issues recently when he spoke to the graduates of Howard University, reminding them that identity politics can obscure common goals and be so caustic that they bleed into hatred. “Even well meaning advocacy groups can make matters worse,” he said by “keeping their members agitated as much as possible, assured of the righteousness of their cause.” He insisted that change “requires listening to those with whom you disagree and being prepared to compromise.”
His words were particularly compelling when he invited the black students at Howard University to “expand their moral imagination” imploring them to recognize “the middle aged white guy who you may think has all the advantages, but over the last several decades has seen his world upended by economic, cultural and technological change, and feels powerless to stop it. You got to get in his head, too.”
Isn’t this what being open-minded is all about? Entertaining diverse approaches to complex oppressions, and trying to understand others instead of demonizing them. How can we respect each other’s inherent worth and dignity while disagreeing profoundly on issues that are important to us? This is a question we need to reflect on as a nation experiencing deep partisanship, xenophobia and religious intolerance fueled by fear, ignorance and political pandering.
What can we do?
We can be willing to listen and try to understand the perspective of those we disagree with.
We can try to find areas of commonality we can work towards. This can help us establish relationship and familiarity with each other. There are no easy answers, but President Obama’s words call us to remember that change affects all of us. How we respond to change is our choice.
May we expand our moral imagination to include those who do not think like us.
May we choose to respond to change with love and compassion, rather than fear and anger.
May it be so.
Adaptability & Life Transitions, a sermon delivered by Claudia Jimenez at 1stUUPB, May 22, 2016.