What do you Hope for? What brings you Hope? How do you offer Hope to others? The theme for the month of April (as you may have guessed) is “Hope.” I believe at its best our Unitarian Universalist religion can be a source of hope for ourselves and the world.

Unitarian Universalism has been a life-saving entity in my life. As a transgender guy who lives in a world that reminds me on a regular basis that there is not yet room for me to be fully who I am (and be safe), it has been Unitarian Universalist communities and the universal love of our faith that has given me the sustenance to not only survive but to flourish. In my moments of self-doubt, it is Unitarian Universalism that offers me hope. I want to make sure that each one of us can lean on our faith in such moments.

One of the ways that we can learn to lean on our faith is by engaging in daily spiritual practices. This is in part why I started the Unitarian Universalist Photo a Day Lenten Practice. Using common monthly themes we selected a word for each day in Lent. You are invited to reflect on the meaning and gifts of that word and then to find a photograph each day that speaks to you about that word, idea, practice, or concept. You can share it with your family, on Facebook and/or on PracticingLent.Tumblr.com, where we will celebrate the shared inspiration we bring to one another.

I choose Lent as the season to do this because our theological roots are grounded in Christianity and Lent is a good time to refocus our spiritual lives. Each year during the Lenten season I find myself returning to whatever prayer practices I might have let fall by the wayside. In returning to my personal spiritual practices I find myself once again finding sources of hope in my daily life.

Published in: on 1 April 2014 at 20.45  Leave a Comment  

Practicing Compassion

Our Unitarian Universalist congregations covenant together to affirm and promote 7 principles, one of which is “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.” Too often we focus on the justice and equity component of this principle and forget the compassion piece. Too often we focus on “Justice and equity” while leaving out “compassion.”

In seminary one of my professors challenged us to find compassion in those moments when we were most frustrated. He shared with us that whenever someone cut him off on the highway he would take a deep breath and consider for a moment that perhaps they were in more need of the space in front of him than he was; that perhaps they were rushing to the hospital or to pick up their lost child. He invited us to find a way to connect with a different narrative of their story than what our initial instinct might write. At first I thought this was ridiculous – I couldn’t change the way I felt and acted just by thinking their story might be different than the one I made up in my head. But I quickly discovered it isn’t ridiculous, it actually works. And while I still find myself needing to take a deep breath sometimes, I do find that my life is more robust and spirit-filled when I connect with my sense of compassion.

Author Karen Armstrong writes, “Compassion is not an option. It’s the key to our survival.” I agree with her. Compassion is what helps us to be forgiving in moments of anger and frustration. Compassion can motivate us to help those in need. Compassion can build and enhance our relationships with one another. But how do we live a compassionate life and how do we invite our family and friends to do the same? In her book 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life Armstrong offers us this roadmap:

1.    Learn About Compassion
2.    Look at Your Own World
3.    Compassion for Yourself
4.    Empathy
5.    Mindfulness
6.    Action
7.    How Little We Know
8.    How Should We Speak to One Another?
9.    Concern for Everybody
10.    Knowledge
11.    Recognition
12.    Love Your Enemies

I invite you and your family to join me in living out our faith. It won’t always be easy, but as Armstrong says, “It’s the key to our survival.”

Published in: on 1 March 2014 at 20.34  Leave a Comment  

Entering the Holiday Frenzy

It seems too easy these days to get pulled into the frenzy of shoppers and traffic, frustrations and impatience. Just yesterday, as I was running my weekly errands, I found myself reach what could have been the end of my patience. It took a deep breath and some good self-restraint to not join in the NASCAR-like racing on the roads and the bumper-shopping cart contest in the stores.

This experience reminded me of how important it is for us to take time to feed our spirits and the spirits of our families. Finding a place of center grounding during this rushed holiday season can make the difference between getting pulled into unnecessary arguments and being forgiving of those who do get pulled in.

During this winter season I encourage you and your family to find a spiritual practice that helps ground you together in love. Perhaps it will be to light a chalice at the beginning of the day? Or take a moment at the end of the day to share that for which you are grateful? Perhaps it will be to find some quiet moments to meditate or stretch your body? Or curl up to read an inspiring book? Perhaps it will be playing a game with a loved one? Or knit your next project? Perhaps it will be writing in a journal centering? Or playing a musical instrument? Perhaps you will take a long run? Or come to church on a Sunday morning?

Whatever it is that brings you an inner sense of calm and collectedness, I encourage you to take extra moments during this holiday season and do so. Perhaps like me, you have moments when you just can’t imagine finding the time. I’ve learned that those moments are the moments when I most need to find the time. For without that sense of center I am most disconnected from my values and most at risk to act in ways that I will later regret.

May you find your center and renew your spirit so that you can share with the world your best self.

Published in: on 13 November 2013 at 20.32  Leave a Comment  

Giving to the Church

Not long ago I attended church with a friend and hir family. We enjoyed sitting through the service together, singing the hymns (challenging each other to sing without the hymnal), listening to the sermon, pulling out our wallets to get our money for the offering and worshipping in community. This probably doesn’t sound as remarkable as it felt to me – many of you do this every Sunday morning. What made it remarkable for me was that my friend and worship companion is a 4-year old.

As we were eating breakfast in the morning, ze reminded me that we needed to bring our wallets to church. Ze was concerned that ze didn’t have enough money in hir wallet to give to the offering in the Sanctuary and the one during hir Religious Education class.

I was touched by my friend’s desire to attend church on Sunday morning. And I recall ze was enthusiastic the night before; talking about going with hir parents, discussing what ze liked about worship and Sunday School class and looking forward to seeing “church friends.”

Later that day I asked hir parents how it was that ze was so thoughtful about attending church. The response seems simple enough once you hear it – they began taking hir to church from the beginning. They taught hir that sitting through service was not optional; it is one of the ways that we live our faith and provides a grounding moment during the chaos that we call life. On the ride home and during the week they refer back to what they and ze is learning in church, encouraging each other to put what they’ve learned into practice in their everyday lives.

As ze was aging they began discussing the lessons of our religion at home, including hir in their conversations about what Unitarian Universalism means in their lives. They shared their appreciation for a community that helped them to struggle with and clarify what they personally believed about life, death and everything in-between. They discussed being a part of a larger community where they can celebrate and grieve and engage in the world with others who believe similarly to them. They taught hir that giving to the church, both on Sunday morning offerings and the annual canvass was essential, not because it keeps the place running but because it gives them a sense of stewardship for this special place; that it is an extension of the love they feel for the place, Unitarian Universalism’s saving message and their religious community. They invited hir to consider doing the same.

I invite you to take time in the weeks ahead to talk with your family about what coming to church means to you. And I wish for each of you the feeling of enthusiasm that my worship companion shared with me.

Published in: on 13 October 2013 at 20.30  Leave a Comment  

The theme for October is Pride

The theme for October is Pride. Pride is an interesting topic to struggle with. Should we discuss the things for which we take pride? Or the challenges of being too proud? What about the things for which we are ashamed, is this the inverse of pride? Does what we are proud of change the conversation about pride?

I have been proud to be a Unitarian Universalist for as long as I can remember. I think it started in kindergarten when I finally managed to memorize the spelling of our faith’s name. My pride deepened in elementary school when I could articulate the idea that our faith revolved around a covenant between people. And it deepened further when in junior high, as the HIV/AIDS pandemic hit the mainstream news and my church’s “About Your Sexuality” class taught us accurate information about how the virus spread, which I was then happy to share with my classmates at school. My pride in Unitarian Universalism has been present each time members of our faith stand up to a bully and speak out for justice.

But the times I have been most proud of our faith have been those moments when I witness individual Unitarian Universalists making connections with each other and with the world-at-large. It is in those moments when one of us is struggling and another reaches out to offer a helping hand that I am most proud. It is in those times of trial and triumph when we help one another make meaning out of our experiences. I feel pride when after difficult interactions we are able to come back to the conversation to again find common ground, perhaps even offering one another forgiveness for not living up to our best selves.

My pride in Unitarian Universalism is really a pride for the people who practice our faith. It is for the many of you, who come to services and Religious Exploration week after week, allowing the messages of our faith to seep deep into your soul. My pride is for those of us who strive to live out our faith in all we do, even when the world around us challenges us to take an easier path. May you find Pride in your faith and may it fill you with connections to each other.

Published in: on 23 September 2013 at 20.21  Leave a Comment