Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Adaptability & Life Transitions,

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.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Get Off My Grass

I want to tell you a story of adaptability. That is our theme this month. The story is my story -- the story of my arrival in south Florida in 2013.  Now you should know that I had never thought of living in Florida -- not once.  Sure, perhaps a visit here and there, but never considered living here.

In the spring of 2013 three congregations were put before me by the UUA’s Office of Transitions to consider, and I bet you can guess which congregation I thought was the best match. I drove from New York, stopping in Baltimore and Savannah arriving here on July 13, 2013. I remember the day well. It was the day I needed to pull over to the side of the road because it was raining so hard I couldn’t see inches in front of me. Then, to my amazement, three minutes later the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky and it was hot.

I mean hot. Mucho caliente. While in my air conditioned vehicle I was fine. Once I stepped out I lost my breath to the heat and humidity and I began to sweat just walking a few feet. My thick and lethargic northern blood did not serve me well, but I adapted. I remember scheduling a weekly gardening group here and no one came. I was later told that I was nuts to ask people to be outside between the hours of ten and two.

I didn’t know, but I adapted. In the north I wore a robe on Sunday mornings, most ministers do. I did wear a robe here in July and August and found myself dehydrated and feeling faint after one hour.  I learned I was wearing a portable sweat lodge. There is no need to put on a heavy robe in the Florida summer. I hung the robe up and adapted. I arrived wearing black clothing. Nearly everything I owned was black. Did you know that the color black draws the sun and the heat to you? I have diversified my wardrobe and have adapted. I mean look at me now. I look like the Easter Bunny in Miami for god’s sake.

I’m telling you this story of my adaptability as a way to demonstrate that when we arrive in a new place, a different place, a place that requires us to change to survive, we need to adapt. You see it is no longer about the survival of the fittest. It is about the survival of the versatile.

Human adaptability focuses on the flexibility with which humans, both as individuals and as populations, cope with challenges and changes. The Rev. Mark Wilberer asks us, "Just how adaptable are we -- or is human adaptability only a myth? And why do I gripe about that kid hot-rodding down the street and -- my god! -- didn’t that just sound like my dad talking?" We may here ourselves say, “kids today” or “Get off my grass and stay off!” That sounds like my grandfather.  My grandfather had built his home, his sanctuary, and when his sanctuary was breached and he became uncomfortable with the changing times he would become even more guarded and monitored his grass closely. In his day people used the sidewalks and respected your grass. His response to change was to scare kids away who dared step on his grass.

The Rev.  Scott Alexander, our guest speaker last week, tells us to “adapt (adapt in the heart, mostly), in order to get our lives moving again in light of the new information we have been given about what is now possible for us.” Possessing an adaptable heart means  possessing a heart that is willing and able to align itself to conform and move with new information about what is possible, a heart that is open to finding fresh new channels of living in the face of change, howsoever challenging, is the key to emotional survival and successful living.

What are the needs that we are meeting with this behavior? Just as Darwin’s orchid developed a range of mechanisms to survive and to thrive, so we do the best we can, with the tools of mind and emotion and imagination to survive and to thrive physically, Above all, we need to feel we exist, and that we are safe — we need to feel both present and secure. I am convinced that these very basic emotional needs lie at the heart of all kinds of behaviors.

I’ve had many conversations with our older members. I love the stories that are told. One thing all of these conversations have in common is how much the world has changed. I always get feedback that I use email too much instead of face to face conversations. Think about it -- we can have a circle of friends on Facebook where we know all that is happening in our lives without ever meeting face to face. I don’t own any vinyl records, eight tracks, cassettes or CD’s. I store everything on my iPhone. Times have certainly changed and I wonder how you manage the discomfort that comes with such changes. When all that you know, when your sanctuary, not unlike my grandfather’s, is breached. Have you experienced anything like that?

Impermanence is challenging emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. We desperately try to stop and prevent change.  However, riding the wave of change, embracing change, permitting change and impermanence in our lives allows us to grow.

Perhaps you have had the reoccurring realization that life changes and we find ourselves waking up to a new world each day.  We never really grow accustomed to this new life every day but we think we do. It is work, spiritual practice, to increase our comfort and to adapt -- to stop yelling at the kids on our grass. The big spiritual question to ask ourselves is, “How have I changed?”  Paying attention to the practice of stepping aside and taking stock of our adaptability is checking in on the evolution of our spiritual selves.

Oxford professor AC Benson writes, “As I made my pilgrimage through the world a certain sense of mystery seems to gather and grow. And this is the vision I have for my life on the good days when I’m able to stand back and get some perspective.” What does that mean for us? We want to have something constant in our lives and the only thing that is constant is change. Perhaps rather than posting “Get off my grass” signs demonstrating our inability to adapt we might think about making it through life striving to be adaptable.  Ask yourself, “What do I want to do to be relevant in this life; to be adaptable?”

The world keeps changing. It doesn’t help to become attached to a single way of being in the world. I’m reminded of the Buddhist teaching of non-attachment. The Dalai Llama writes, “Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.”  The human mind loves to process thoughts and is sticky like glue. That means it attaches to feelings and thoughts, not unlike a prisoner who is holding on to the prison bars. This is the nature of the mind. Non-attachment is about observing, being aware of your feelings and thoughts without grasping at them. Imagine flowing through life with non-attachment. I do not know anyone who is able to take change completely in stride. There are so many complex feelings and behaviors associated with change. It is unsettling; it pulls us out of our haven of security and presents us with something different. It takes away our illusion that we can predict the future, it takes away our illusion of control. It means we lose that which we have known. Whether we hated the status quo or loved it, whether we were comfortable with it or not, change is often deeply frightening and always anxiety producing. Maybe we're not up to it; maybe we can't handle it. Change brings us loss just as often, if not more so, as it brings us gain. We reflect all of these feelings in the ways we react to change. So how in the world are we supposed to cope with it?

I think coping with change is a practice. It isn't something we do once and master, rather it is something we are called to do over and over, with mixed results. The greater the change the harder the practice. Yet the better we cope, the more free we are. How helpful is it to deny or fight a reality that is already here? Or to overly clutter our lives with attempts to control everything and everyone? We can get so caught up in resistance that we leave the present moment, the current now-ness of our lives. And since this moment is all that we have, really, what is our life if we cannot accept it? Change is hard, yes. It brings loss, it brings sorrow, yes. It also brings opportunities for growth, for learning, for happiness. Change per se is neither good nor bad; it's what we make of it. Why not attempt to make meaning of it, to find a greater purpose through it? Why not meet it with the bravery that I know is inside us?

So, will you start dressing like a Miami Easter Bunny or will you sit by the window peeking through the curtain waiting for your grass to be walked on so you can shake a stick at those kids today? Will you choose to be relevant and adapt, understanding that your commitment to embracing change will help you grow. Change is a part of our lives. The question is, What are we going to do with it? How are we going to live with it? In being with our changes, may we be wise, may we be courageous, may we be open. If we must know its bitterness, may we also know its sweetness. "For all that is our life, we bring our thanks and praise." May it be so.

Get off My Grass, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB on May 15, 2016.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Board Update May 15, 2016

The first Board of Trustees meeting of the new Congregational year was held on May 10, 2016. Here are some of the highlights:

The board approved the continued appointment of Jennifer Hommel as Coordinator of Religious Education and Nursery Care Provider. We appreciate Jennifer’s dedication to this role.

The board approved two new Committee Chairs: Gary Evans, Membership; Larry Stauber, Sanctuary Services. Sylvia Ansay has been appointed to serve on the Committee on Ministry. Thank you Gary, Larry, and Sylvia!

The Board also approved the formation of a Leadership Development Team as a Special Committee of the Board. Thanks to the Leadership Development Research Team for their reports on leadership development in other congregations and their recommendations to the board: Allan Maxwell, Creighton Lederer, and Chari Campbell who served as chair of the task force.

The board also discussed and agreed upon access to information in the new Breeze software system information. Thank you Nickie Albert for leading this initiative, and Harry Wolin and Barbara Hatzfeld for their implementation work. If you have an email address and have not received an invitation to register on the system. Please contact Barbara or Nickie.

A Board retreat is planned for June where we will begin to develop goals for the Congregation, for the board, and for our developmental ministry. Suggestions from the Congregation prior to the retreat will be welcomed.

Next Sunday, the prospective intern minister will lead the service and answer questions during coffee hour. At the June board meeting, the board will make a final decision on having an intern minister . Please make a special effort to attend the service next Sunday and let members of the board have your feedback.  

We will also be making a decision on repurposing the Thrift Store space. Please share your thoughts about repurposing the space with the President. We won’t be able to please everyone, but we want to know what you think.

Paul G. Ward
President, Board of Trustees