Monday, May 2, 2016

Spiritually Speaking: Bless Your Heart

When I first arrived in North Carolina, I was already aware that “bless your heart” was not something you would really want to hear! I can honestly say that I’ve only had three folks in six years say “bless your heart” to me.  If I am really honest, I probably was deserving of receiving the phrase far more often! 

Before I moved here, I was warned about the Southern habit of being nice to your face, while saying something entirely different behind your back.  I am sure that has occurred.  As my Ukrainian grandmother would say, “you have no business knowing what other people say about you.”  Truth, Grandma.  Truth.

Yet, for me, the blessing in ministering in the South far outweighs the burden. Even at this moment, with a legislature that baffles and saddens me.  The blessing far outweighs the burden.

When I consider the blessings my heart received in the six years of ministering in North Carolina, it almost immobilizes me with gratitude.  I want to run around and gush to everyone I see.  Knowing that a weepy minister for eight months would likely not be a blessing to you, I offer this gratitude in the written word rather than in soppy Sunday messages. 

I did not always consider myself a blessed person.  When you grow up with a tumultuous childhood and struggle, survival can be the only possibility.  It takes a while to learn how to thrive, not just survive.  And thriving is built upon recognizing and receiving the blessings in our lives.  You each have been a blessing to me.

For some, you taught me a lesson I needed to better understand, caused me to look within my own soul.  Others, demonstrated a grace and forgiveness as things I tried did not work out quite right.  We tried experiments together.  You were kind when I was a new mom and painfully sleep-deprived.  You were understanding when I traveled to Raleigh or the corners of North Carolina to bear witness and stand in solidarity.

Key to surviving the fury of hurtful speech and harmful legislation, has been recognizing and receiving these blessings.  I do not believe the world is changed from our despair and rage with what has been done, but rather with our vision of what can be and our recognition of the first shoots of hope coming up from the concrete.

This month is all about blessing.  We could superficially consider those gifts we have in our life, but I believe the deeper spiritual work of blessing is understanding how gratitude fuels spiritual transformation, and in turn, social change.

To say I am blessed also means I am called to the ethic of blessing, a requirement from the recognition of blessing to give back.  One of my favorite spiritual teachings is taken from Micah 6:8, “what doth the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”  Translated through a Unitarian Universalist theology, walking humbly means to offer blessings to the hearts of those all around us.  It is to be called to be humbled by all that we are given – even in the midst of despair- and to seek to give back what we can in this life.

So, yes, bless your heart.  May each of your hearts be a blessing to all whom you meet.  May you be blessed to offer the world an ounce more of compassion, and love, and in turn, the waters of justice for which our world thirsts.

With appreciation and love,

Rev. Robin

Friday, April 1, 2016

Spiritually Speaking: Accidentally Perfect

In one of the Judeo-Christian creation myths, God creates the world in seven days.  After each phase of creation, God looks at what is created and pronounces that it is “good.”  There are no mistake at all.  This led to the popular affirmation, “God don’t make mistakes.”  True, enough that no person is a mistake but the process of creating the world so smoothly does seem a little curious.  I mean, creation of the whole world moves along flawlessly!

Those who are project planners can attest to the fact that no plan ever goes exactly as planned.  The story of evolution includes many moments when something entirely unexpected or almost accidental becomes a positive thing that drastically alters the course of life.

The Judeo-Christian creation stories are only two of many creation myths in the world.  In the Cherokee creation story, mountains are a mistake crafted by the wing of a giant buzzard who flies too low to the new earth and gouges the mud, thereby making mountains.  At first, the new earth is raised up too high and crawfish gets sunburned.  So, the earth has to be lowered. Then, the first people had children every seven days!  Too many people were created so it was changed to be nine months.  In the whole of the Cherokee myth, creation is a constant story of adjustment, trial, error and learning. 

When I was a teenager, my best friend’s parents decided to build their dream home.  After finding the right land, they began building.  I remember helping to place nails in rafters and hold beams up.  I also remember lots of moments when the adults would stand in a huddle looking at plans and then looking at a new problem.  I marveled at the ways in which my friend’s parents worked together to create their home.  It could stressful for sure at times and many pieces did not go exactly as planned, but all these years later, the house is still there.  And my friend’s parents are too—still married and a team in life.

Creation is never easy nor flawless, but when done as a team where the risk is shared, the experience can change your life.  Creating together can create new worlds.  As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, in the face of injustice we are called to be “creatively maladjusted.” 

To be a creative people means to be a risk-taking people who will dare to try for things not yet done or imagined. 

So what are you called to create in this life?  And who are the people with whom you are called to create?

With faith and gratitude,

Rev. Robin

Join in the group spiritual practice.

Your Resume of Failures

This exercise invites you to explore the relationship between creation and failure.

Yup, failure. Nothing gets created without it. The well-known examples of this come from the scientific world; think penicillin, Velcro or Teflon. But some of the most interesting creative failures today are occurring in the world of business and entrepreneurial endeavors. Numerous business schools actively preach one simple message: Fail faster and fail better!

In fact, a Stanford Business School professor recently reported a new trend: young entrepreneurial job seekers are listing their failures on their resumes! Instead of boasting about their successes and awards, they proudly promote their marketing missteps and start-up disasters, and what they learned from them. By sharing what they learned and how they used that learning, they display their ability to look at their failures with creative eyes, not as dead ends and bungled attempts but as lessons and brave test runs.

So why not try it? Here’s your assignment:

Sit down with a piece of paper and spend a day or two listing all your life failures. Then take another day or two and consider them in a new light. Jot down a few bullet points under each “failure” explaining how those dead ends actually became a new road, how what seemed a moment of coming up empty really turned out to be a time of discovering something new, something you would have never looked for otherwise.

Then come to your chalice circle or to church ready to share what you learned about creation and blessed failures.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

WAKAMI and Sustaining Transformation in Guatemala: Want to help be part of the change?

In February, the Social Justice Team met and decided to designate 50% of the undesignated plate collection in both March and April to the Global Neighbors Project but this is just the beginning of an amazing partnership that you are invited to join.

Some history…

For the last three years, the Social Justice Team explored how to create a lasting partnership in the Highlands of Guatemala.  Our work began with a member, Jodie Kacer, who joined our congregation in 2010.  Jodie was a longtime UU from Wisconsin who knew the power and presence of international ministry.  Shortly after she joined our community, she wanted to know what international outreach we were conducting.  We didn’t have any international outreach!  Jodie slowly introduced us to the work she was engaged with in Guatemala.  Jodie passed away in 2012, but her work lived on as we held a congregational trip in 2013 and then submitted a project proposal to the Board of Trustees. 

As we have deepened our understanding of social justice ministry in an international context a few important values emerged.  We wanted any project to be sustainable and empowering.  We did not want to simply engage in toxic charity where we gave away stuff that would not change systems.  We also wanted to ensure that the least empowered and most vulnerable in the Highlands of Guatemala felt the greatest positive impact.  Last, we wanted to ensure that our work was responsive and collaborative.  We hoped for a project that met the desires and dreams of those living in Guatemala.

After exploring several organizations, we confirmed our desire to work with Maria Pacheco and her organization Wakami.  Maria has created a model in which Guatemalan women become business owners in a jewelry making business.  In addition to providing training, living wages and initial supplies, Maria also works with the family unit to help provide educational opportunities and healthcare for the children.  It’s a holistic model that is not a handout but an empowering hand-up.  Eventually, the women become owners of their own business.  Maria works with international designers to ensure that there is a consistent market for the products produced.  In addition, she fosters community and collaboration between the women creating Wakami “villages” across the Highlands.

We have been hoping for some time to plant a new Wakami village in Chuk Muk, a particularly resource strapped and isolated community.  Maria began exploring if Chuk Muk had the dynamics to sustain a Wakami village and community members eager to participate.  This past fall, Maria confirmed that a Wakami village will be possible in Chuk Muk.

How does this reflect our values?

As Unitarian Universalists we affirm and promote the interconnected web of all existence. In this modern world, hands from around the world make our daily lives possible from our clothing, food to even our homes. With this connection, comes a great responsibility. The World Neighbors Project seeks to balance our social justice ministry and fulfill our responsibility as world neighbors.

So what’s next?

We are partnering with several other organizations in order to cultivate a Wakami village in Chuk Muk.  We have put forth a goal of raising 7,000 in the next year for the village.  After two years, Maria’s business model allows the Wakami villages to be self-sustaining.  We intend to raise these funds through the plate collection, private donations and an art auction.  The art auction will be co-planned with Amy Hartman, the Social Justice Chair at the UU Fellowship of Lake Norman, the Sinapi Foundation, and some members from Holy Covenant, United Church of Christ who traveled with us to Guatemala last year. 

How can I help?

You can make a donation to this project by writing or check or utilizing our PayPal button found here  Please write Global Neighbors Project in the memo line.  If you are interested in learning more, please be in touch with Amy Hartman at or Rev. Robin at

Spiritually Speaking: Let Go and Liberate

Edwin Friedman was a rabbi and family therapist who became one of the foundational leadership consultants in the 20th century.  His primary work, Generation to Generation, detailed how communities behave according to generational patterns.  Much of his theory about communities was based on the family system.  Friedman believed that unhealthy or toxic systems could be transformed, in part, by self-differentiated leaders.  For Friedman, self-differentiation meant the ability to separate yourself from your environment, to have clarity in that separation that allowed you to reflect and see patterns, and to be able to engage conflict and risk while maintaining emotional regulation.  In some ways, Friedman’s work is so integrated into our understandings of communities that we use his theory without noticing it.  Leaders now might talk about the diagnosed patient in a system (the person who is essentially healthy and functions as a scapegoat) or how communities can be conflict-avoidant and enabling of toxic patterns.

Anyone who has ever gone through therapy after growing up in a family with toxic patterns of behavior can testify to the challenging work of becoming self-differentiated.  It certainly does not happen overnight, and often, requires on-going therapy and check-ins.  The human mind, especially under stress, reverts to old patterns of behavior easily.  Even when these patterns hurt ourselves and others, familiarity will often win in the face of stress and chaos. 

Friedman utilized a lot of parables in his work to help illustrate how to better self-differentiate.  One of my favorite parables is the rope story:

There once was a woman standing at the opening of a bridge.  She had a rope tied around her waist.  She held one end of the rope in her hand.  As a man approached her she shouted to him, “here, here, hold this.”  The man took the rope.  Suddenly the woman jumped off the bridge.  The man strained against the edge of the bridge holding onto the rope with great effort.  He started to shout for help.  The woman shouted from                  below the bridge, “Don’t let go of the rope!  I’ll die if you let go of the rope!  You are saving my life.” 

Friedman asks, “so what should the man do?”

Often, people will answer that the man should absolutely hold on to the rope.  Friedman asks further questions.  For how long?  Under what conditions?  Why did the woman hand him the road?  Can he really save her?  What if he can’t hold on?

The moral of the story emerges with each follow up question.  Don’t hold a rope that isn’t yours to hold. 

It sounds almost harsh to some ears, but Friedman would claim that it is self-differentiation. 

Certainly liberation is about fighting against forces far beyond our control.  Liberation is also about struggling against the mirror of those forces within ourselves.  Sometimes we are the one passing the rope and sometimes we are the one holding the rope.   Part of liberation, a powerful part, comes when we move beyond shame for our particular actions and begin to see the rope and what it tethers.  Seeing the rope is the first step of a self account that at least allows us to consciously choose to take the rope, to throw it or to put it down.  When we put it down, we get to decide what to do with that new rush of energy and opportunity.

As we join in deepening our spiritual understandings of liberation in our lives together this month, I encourage each of us to look for the ties that bind.

What would it be to let go? 

With faith and love,

Rev. Robin

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Spiritually Speaking: Only Fools Rush In

fall in love with
the agony of love
not the ecstasy
then the beloved
will fall in love with you
— Rumi

Does the wanting, the longing, the infatuation always fade away?

Speaking with a friend recently my friend shared that he had begun to wonder about his daughter dating.  He acknowledged how different his parenting for her felt in contrast to his parenting of his son.  “It’s funny the things you think about,” he mused.  His daughter is still a toddler.  I could have laughed, but that would have betrayed the honesty of his story and the resonance in my own experience. 

In the midst of all of the cultural projections about sexuality and gender that are placed upon our children from their earliest years, there is also the reality that raising children in any capacity- from parent to mentor, to teacher to coach, requires that you be willing to look into your own life.  It is pretty challenging to work, for example, with teenagers to not ever recall your own teenage years.  

My own teenage years are filled with a host of memories, mostly safe for public consumption but there are, of course, a few I’d rather not share.  I know someday as a parent, all too soon, I will be compelled to face who I was and who I am in some rather uncomfortable ways! At the top of my list that I’d rather not look into, are the memories where I was infatuated with someone, head over heels in love.  I feel embarrassed by how swept away I was in those years, the sense of foolishness rushes over me just recalling the moments.

And yet, why should any of us be embarrassed?  And moreover, why should we ever outgrow being in love?

We need more fools rushing in, more hope-makers, more lovers lost in the vision of the beloved world!  I say three cheers for being foolish and heartsick, for being in love and sometimes heartbroken!  Yes, being vulnerable can lead to heartbreak.  No doubt.  In my own life, I’ve discovered that heartbreak is the site of spiritual growth.  In the midst of lament, there emerges new compassion, wisdom, and love.

So it is I welcome you to this month of exploring desire.  Come with your longing and wishes, come with what brings you alive.  A little poem to get us all started…

"Praise for the Fools Rushing In"

What if you were lovesick with life?
Longing, rushing, running,
Waiting by the phone …
Tweeting unabashed about your infatuation..
Heart racing as your skin grows hot for this life?
What if the knots in your stomach signaled that this matters, this was worth wanting, this was the world of a desire pulsing across the ages?
What if you were the fool that rushed in?

What then…

If your heartbreak became the site of strength
If your skin didn’t grow tough but
Stayed electric?

What if you didn’t outgrow being alive?
Offer deep sighs for what yet could be.
Pray for soft silhouettes, holy incarnate, carrying us all in their rapture toward daybreak.
Burn with the fire of what matters most.
Fall into Eden.

With faith in the journey,

Rev. Robin

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Spiritually Speaking: Just Keep Swimming!

Near the end of the film Finding Nemo, just as Nemo has been rescued, Dori and a large school of silver fish are caught by a fishermen’s net.  The large net is attached to a crank, which begins to draw the fish out of the water.  The fish scramble in different directions in the net.  They fight against one another.  Nemo, small enough to swim in and out of the net, swims into the net as his frantic father looks on.  Nemo starts instructing all of the fish to swim together and swim down!  Dori begin singing “just keep swimming.” They resist the force of the net with their own power and eventually the crank starts to shudder and then, break.  The fish are freed into the ocean. 

This is the time of year when many of us will set an intention or resolution for the year.  Studies tell us that many of our resolutions will be a distant memory by March.  I’ve made my share of resolutions and can testify to the ephemeral nature of nearly each one.  I begin with the sincerest of intentions, but the truth is, it is hard doing it alone.  No matter how I try, if my resolution plan includes me working at it solo, I can guarantee it will not happen. I will not eat that cookie.  I will not eat that cookie.  Well, maybe, just one cookie.  Oh, I ate too many cookies!

The truth is, resistance alone is extraordinarily difficult.  It is not impossible, but nearly so.  Most of the great figures we know in history were not stand-alones even though we have often heard their stories just as solo-heroes.  Their resistance came from a large community that supported them.  Consider Rosa Parks who famously sat down on that bus on December 1st, 1955.  She resisted the injustices of segregation, but she did not do so alone.  Parks was not the first to resist, but her action was chosen with care to create a legal case for desegregation. For years prior to December 1st, she organized and worked with the NAACP. 

Resistance together is a spiritual force.  Resistance alone can be bold and beautiful, but also isolating and deflating.  When we resist in community, we participate in building a vision for the world that exceeds our particular desires toward a common hunger and hope.  Like the fish swimming to break the net, resistance in community allows us to do things that were impossible alone.

This month we will consider the light and shadow sides of resistance.  What does it mean to be a people ready to resist?  How do we know when we swim for the common good and when we are just swimming against the current?

With resolution, resistance, and reflection,

Rev. Robin

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Spiritually Speaking: Fail Our Expectations!

God give us rain when we expect sun.
Give us music when we expect trouble.
Give us tears when we expect breakfast.
Give us dreams when we expect a storm.
Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.
God play with us, turn us sideways and around.
— Michael Leunig

Like many people, I suppose, I find times of waiting and expectation to be terribly stressful.  I want to know what will be and what my life will look like, but so many of the factors are often (and frankly remain) out of my control. 

I remember returning from my ordination in Boston to hear a sermon about advent and the season of waiting.  I felt irritated by the message to live into the waiting season as I awaited to learn where my next ministry would be.  I had the same sense of irritation when I was told seven months pregnant with twins to enjoy being pregnant.  Clearly the well-intentioned person before me had lost their mind, I oft concluded.

And yet, all these months and years later, I know these expecting times to be the ones in which I grow, transform and edge closer to the clarity of purpose and place.  There is a reason, slightly more anthropological than theological, that many of the world’s traditions include rituals of waiting.  Certainly advent is the season of expectation as the story of a pregnant Mary and her husband-to-be await the birth of Jesus.  Yet, there is also solstice when through ritual and story we are invited to kindle lights and wait in the darkness for the return of the sun. Even in Islam, the Hajj, or pilgrimage, is not so much about arriving in Mecca but the intention to journey, that is the expectation of the destination.  The vision of Mecca in your heart is the true pillar, not the completion of the journey.

Expectation is not the absence of reality and dreams but the presence of our intentions and hope.  As arduous, anxiety-ridden and uncomfortable waiting is, the discomfort readies our spiritual muscles to stretch and respond in new ways.  The uncertainty prepares us to balance in the unimaginable.  And the difficulty of the journey is the preparation for the destination.

One of my mentors when I began the discernment process in ministry told me to pray that “my wildest expectations are failed.”  Who prays such a terrifying prayer?  I think most Unitarian Universalists do!  We hope for the surprise and unpredictability which is the evolution of all creation, the punctuated, painful and promising emergence of new life.  Yes, may our well-crafted reasonable expectations be failed by the flawed, fleeting and tenacious hold that love and life offer our very souls!

In faith and failed expectation yours,

Rev. Robin