Contents

Productive Conflict – Part II – June 2, 2021
Addressing Conflict Productively ad with Compassion – May 26, 2021
Reopening?? – May 19, 2021
We Welcome You – May 12, 2021
We Need More Grapevines – May 5, 2021
Reconciling with the Earth – April 28, 2021
We the People – April 21, 2021
Communicate With Openness and Honesty – April 14, 2021
Prayers for Today – March 31, 2021
Brene Brown – March 24, 2021
Assumptions and Boundaries – March 17, 2021
Assume Positive Intent – March 10, 2021
Listen Actively – March 3, 2021

June 2, 2021

Productive Conflict – Part II

Last week I began my musings on conflict and how to address is productively and with compassion. I discussed why conflict avoidance is so toxic. Today, I will offer the other end of the extreme. Conflict avoidance doesn’t work – neither does jumping into every conflict you could possibly engage in. Choosing which conflicts are worth your time can be difficult. And it is worth it. 

You do not have to show up for every fight you are invited to. Now, this doesn’t mean that you ignore the invitation. Because sometimes a polite decline is necessary. Sometimes, people are just looking to create conflict that isn’t productive. Sometimes, it is a distraction from the real work that is needed in the group. Sometimes, it is better to find the common ground you do have and let go of the ways in which you are in disagreement. 

What you pay attention to grows. This is one of the principles of Emergent Strategy from adrienne marie brown. I try to remember this when I am discerning whether to engage in conflict. Is this conversation tending to this relationship in a way that will grow the relationship? Or is it in a way that will grow the conflict? This is sometimes very hard to discern. I’d love to hear from you how you decide which conflict is productive and which is not. 

To this end, I’d love to share this excerpt from a sermon given by Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd (my sister-in-law) at General Assembly in which she articulates that there are a number of ways in which congregations engage in what she calls “fake fights.” Fake fights get in the way of real relationship and keep us in conflict when we could be moving forward together in agreement around what draws us and binds us together. You can find the excerpt here: https://www.uua.org/worship/words/reading/tapping-out-fake-fights. If you love it as much as I do and want to see more, I highly recommend the whole thing: https://www.uua.org/ga/past/2016/worship/sunday. Sometimes, if you look closely, at times you can see me and my extended family in the video as we were all gathered in the front rows. 

The most important and rich part of what she lifts up here for the discussion of addressing conflict productively, though, is figuring out which fake fights are actually real fights in disguise so that we can have the real conversation that is needed. As we have begun conversations about the process around the parking lot money, your leaders have begun this work. They have been uncovering the mission and values conversations that we need to have as a congregation in order to shape the process. I believe that this is truly valuable work. And I am proud of us for getting underneath this issue to determine what is needed so that we can create a process that feels mission driven and exciting for us all. 

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May 26, 2021

Addressing Conflict Productively and With Compassion

Post Five of a Series on Our Board Norms Based on our Covenant of Right Relationships

Take care of each other.
Listen actively and mindfully.
Assume positive intent.
Communicate with openness and honesty.
Address conflict productively and with compassion.
Follow through on commitments.

In many ways this one builds on all of the others. We cannot actually address conflict productively and with compassion unless we take care of each other, listen actively and mindfully to each other, assume positive intent and attend to impact and communicate with openness and honesty. All of these are necessary. Beyond that, we have to have the courage to engage in the conflict rather than pretending that it isn’t there. 

Conflict is so hard. It makes me anxious. It makes most people anxious and uncomfortable. Most of us try to avoid it whenever possible. And that makes sense. I get it. I’m with you. 

And my experience has taught me that avoiding conflict is a losing battle. I have learned the hard way over and over again that avoiding conflict only makes it so much worse. I have learned that moving forward in community means having hard conversations in a timely manner. 

We’ve talked a lot lately about how feedback is a gift. How we can cultivate gratitude for feedback – even or especially when it is hard to hear. It is a spiritual practice to accept feedback with grace and gratitude. In order to address conflict productively, we have to be able to give and receive feedback.

Here’s the hardest thing about conflict – we all have a part in it. It is never all someone else’s fault. And yet, our tendency is to blame another person and focus on what someone else has done. The first, perhaps most important step in addressing conflict productively is owning our own part in the conflict. This requires a lot of emotional maturity and self-awareness. It often requires us to take time and take care of ourselves in order to get under the anger and blame to what part we played in creating the situation that is making us unhappy or uncomfortable. Pastor and writer Carey Niewolf says that the easiest way to figure out what is our is to ask the question: “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” 

In an episode of their podcast, Finding Our Way, author and embodiment coach Prentiss Hemphill has a conversation with author and activist Mia Birdsong about how resentment helps teach us how to own our part of conflict. They describe resentment as information about the person who is feeling it. A place for us to ask where have I given more than I have? How am I setting boundaries? They remind us that resentment can feel delicious and acidic. That it is satisfying in the worst way. That it feels so good because we get to be right and we get to be the victim.

The reality is that we always have a role in conflict. And the more we can own our own part, the more we can find ways through it together. Because it is extremely counter-cultural to own our own part. To name the ways in which we had a part in creating the situation that is bothering us. And when we are in conflict with one another, this goes a really long way towards moving us forward. Conflict moves towards resolution so much more easily when we are able to start with naming our own roles. 

I have plenty more to say about this “norm” but I will leave it here for now. This is more than enough to chew on for a week. I look forward to diving in a bit deeper next week!

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May 19, 2021

Reopening??

My head is spinning. With the news from the CDC and Gov. Baker, I am just trying to wrap my head around what it all means. Our reopening committee remains committed to finding ways forward that are grounded in our values – which include inclusion and community care. To that end, we are being mindful and intentional about how we move forward. 

We are in conversation about what the safety precautions will be for the building going forward. There will be safety precautions. And I want to share that we will invite people to worship together in a hybrid way for two services in June (the 13th and 20th). What the summer looks like, while lay preachers lead worship and I am away, is still in conversation and will be informed in large part by those leading on a particular Sunday. By the fall, we will have increased the technology to create high quality hybrid worship each Sunday. 

Please be patient with us as we figure these things out. We are working really hard to determine the best ways forward. We really care about making the best decisions we can. The recent news has been a shock and there are those in the medical community who believe it is premature. 

We do want people to feel safe when returning to our space. We want families with unvaccinated children to feel valued. We want folks who cannot be vaccinated for personal medical reasons to feel supported. We are weighing everything with care for one another in mind. And we are meeting regularly to come to decisions as quickly as we can. 

In the last week I have immersed myself in hybrid technology as well as science on community spread. These are two areas that I did not study in seminary and that I am not particularly adept at. I am doing the best that I can in uncharted territory. We all are, right? Let’s be gentle with each other as we figure all of this out. 

I will say that I am overjoyed that some of us will get to be physically together when we celebrate my first Flower Ceremony with you all. What a joyous way to wrap up the year! And I am beginning to wrap my head around the fact that we will be hosting an installation in the fall, which is such a dream come true. I am so glad to be here, to be your minister, to be on this wild journey with you. 

As always, please reach out with whatever you want to talk about. I am here for you. I want to know what you are thinking and feeling about your life, about church life, about major shifts in the world around us. You and your feelings matter to me. So please share them with me. 

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May 12, 2021

We Welcome You

Lucas Gonzalez Milliken

Bring on the stickers, buttons, posters and ribbons!

At our Annual Meeting this Sunday, we will be invited to vote as to whether First Parish Dorchester should officially become a “Welcoming Congregation.” 

This would mean that we would be recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a community that is open and affirming to LGBTQIA+ folks. And we would be making a public declaration that we will continue to do work to broaden that openness and affirmation. That we honor same gender love. That we celebrate queer relationship and identity. That we welcome you whatever tradition, race, class, sexual identity, ability, age, gender, or immigration status you represent.

The beauty here is that we have been engaged in the work of being a welcoming congregation for decades. The things that are required to be officially recognized as a Welcoming Congregation are things that we are already doing, and have been doing for a long time. I invite you to take a look at the list of commitments a congregation is asked to make towards being a Welcoming Congregation. You will notice there is not a single thing in this list that we are not already doing, or have not already committed to.

Beyond that, there are some benefits to becoming a welcoming congregation. We will get a letter of recognition from LGBTQ Ministries, and two posters of celebration. For those of us who go to General Assemblies, we’ll get to wear a Welcoming Congregation Ribbon as a means of joyfully celebrating our ministry of Welcome. We can get rainbow chalice stickers! And a rainbow chalice will appear next to our name when folks search for us on-line. (For those searching for communities, such a chalice can be a beacon of hope.)

The swag is nice. But most importantly, this is a simple act for us to take. It affirms and promotes the words of welcome that we say every Sunday. It is a small way for us to proclaim that welcome boldly and joyfully. And to affirm that we are continually striving to create such a community of love, support, and welcome.

We are and have been a welcoming congregation for decades. Let’s make it official!

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May 5, 2021

We Need More Grapevines

Over and over again I hear about how wonderful coffee hour used to be here at First Parish. I hear how much you miss it. How much it fed your spirits to be together in fellowship. How alive the parish hall felt and how connected you felt as a group. 

I have also heard that this was one of the best ways that you did informal communication. This was an important part of your grapevine. This was where folks asked each other questions about the announcements or about what was going on in ones another’s committees. This was where folks asked each other to help out on a project. And most importantly this was the time that people followed up on each other’s Joys and Sorrows. The time we shared the ups and downs with each other than we didn’t share in worship. When we told each other who to check in on and what we needed to know about each other’s lives. 

I yearn for coffee hour. As I told many of you as one of our candidate gatherings, I feel most at home and alive in a crowd of people. Coffee hour (at least at a congregation to which I belong) is one of my favorite things. (Being a newcomer at coffee hour is a totally different thing, am I right?) And a huge part of what I miss about it is touching base with so many of you about what is going on for you and what is going on in the parish. The ways coffee hour weaves together the pastoral and our work in a beautiful tapestry feeds me. This is a huge part of what I love about ministry. Our lives are woven together in the ways we share what is real, what is happening for us and what we are working on together. 

One of the reasons I started writing to you all is to try to create a little more of a grapevine. I wanted to create a place where you all could get to know me a little better than is easy in Covid-times. And what is still missing is ways that you all can connect to each other. Ways that you can share the ups and downs of your lives. I know that you all want to know each other deeply – that is part of what I love so much about you. So, I wonder what might help you all connect?

As we envision hybrid or multi-platform programming for next year, what are your thoughts on ways you could connect with each other in the ways that coffee hour used to foster? I’d love to know your thoughts!

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April 28, 2021

Reconciling With the Earth

This week, I write to share some more about what I preached about on Sunday: Reconciling with the Earth and All Her Peoples. I threw a lot of big ideas at you in rapid succession. Here is a chance to dig a little deeper into some of it and look at some of the materials that informed what I shared. You may also want to go back and watch the TED talk from Mark Charles that I shared with you last week on the Doctrine of Discovery, if you haven’t already. If you missed the sermon, you can find it here.

On Sunday, I shared the story of the Blue Hills and the Sioux people. The short version is that the land was taken, in violation of the treaty between the Sioux and the US. And after generations of fighting for the land to be returned, the Supreme Court rewarded the Sioux 102 million dollars in payment for the land. The Sioux replied: “Our sacred lands are not for sale.” They have refused the money, which has now grown to 1.3 billion dollars. 

Here is a more complete article about this story:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/north_america-july-dec11-blackhills_08-23?fbclid=IwAR3yb7fzlgjvObOt1d24ODXFwJaE-zsaS8lb3ub96RyE9fMPJDRA-wWxPkQ

This story brings up so many complicated questions for me about what our relationship is to land, to what is sacred, to money. That phrase “our sacred lands are not for sale” haunts me in a beautiful and provocative way. What would it be like if this were how we related? If we all live in such a principled way that money was never more important than our values and what we held as holy?

I also shared another piece of wisdom from Indigenous people that is haunting me as well. It speaks to how we see the world. The pernicious individualism of our culture plays a huge role in the story of how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was a misinterpretation of the Blackfoot understanding of what is needed by human beings. Teju Ravilochan explains how central community is to the worldview of the Blackfoot people and how Maslow (clearly influenced by the individualism surrounding him/us) left that central part out. Read about it here:

https://gatherfor.medium.com/maslow-got-it-wrong-ae45d6217a8c

A piece of the article that I didn’t get a chance to include on Sunday that I want to highlight for you all now is the explanation of how the Najavo people do not have a word for poverty. The closest word they have is to be without family. Because the idea that anyone would not have enough is inconceivable unless they are without family. This is how deeply the sense of belonging and community is to the Navajo. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we embraced this kind of worldview? 

One of the things that I love most about First Parish is that you seem to embrace that understanding here. There is a radical sense of inclusion and belonging amongst you. You take care of one another with passion and grace. You show up. You reach out. You deeply care. It is beautiful and so special to be a part of. As we consider how we might widen our circle of care beyond those who call themselves members or friends of First Parish, what might be possible? How might we impact the neighborhood and the city if we extend the magic of our community out beyond our physical boundaries

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April 21, 2021

“We the People”

In preparation for our service on Sunday, I wanted to share this TED talk with you all. I heard Mark Charles speak at the Revolutionary Love Conference last week and was deeply moved by what he had to say. 

On Sunday we will talk about our relationship with the earth, with land and by extension with all of the creatures living around us. What Mark Charles lays out about the way the United States views land ownership is a crucial understanding to unpack if we wish to have the impact on climate change that we need to have for our collective survival. 

What does this information mean for how we understand the land and our ownership of it? What does it mean in terms of how we are called to create more justice and equity in our society? How might we create a common story/memory that could change everything? What would it truly take to leave a different legacy for our descendants? What could it look like to include all of the people in “We the People”

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April 14, 2021

Communicate with Openness and Honesty

Post Four of a Series on Our Board Norms Based on our Covenant of Right Relationships

Take care of each other.
Listen actively and mindfully.
Assume positive intent.
Communicate with openness and honesty.
Address conflict productively and with compassion.
Follow through on commitments.

Communication is perhaps the most important part of any relationship. How we express ourselves to one another matters. How honest we are about where we are and what we are feeling matters. How direct we are with our feedback matters. 

When I offer premarital counselling, I spend the majority of my time with a couple discussing their communication. Do they have a similar communication style? Are they able to resolve conflict in a way that feels productive? Do they speak from personal experience or present their ideas as fact? Are they able to discuss difficult topics? There are certain topics that couples struggle with communication around the most – and I spend some time with couples talking about how to talk about those things in hopes of fostering open, direct communication around these sensitive topics. 

When we are talking about communication on a larger scale, like in a congregation, it gets messier. But the ideas remain the same. It is messier because we bring so many more communication styles to the mix and we may not have the same level of understanding around each others styles. And regardless of our communication styles, there are some ways in which we can increase our capacity for direct and open communication, even with people who are different from us in communication style or other things. Here are some general principles for us to ponder as we consider open and honest communication. 

Be direct. Sending messages through someone else doesn’t work. It creates misunderstandings and hurt feelings. We need to risk speaking directly to one another about what matters to us. We need to be able to stand behind what we say. If we cannot stand behind our thoughts and feelings, perhaps we need to figure out a kinder and more understanding way of stating what we think and feel. 

Be kind. Everyone is fighting their own inner battles. What is going on for someone else is liking mostly unknown to you. Be curious about what might be going for someone else when you talk to them. Frame your feelings and thoughts in a way that can be heard whenever you can. Avoid blaming and shaming. Be clear about what the impact was for you, though. You can clearly name that someones behavior was hurtful to you without villainizing them. 

Be honest. Share what is true for you. Try to do it in a way that leaves space for others to see things differently. Your truth is valuable. And it is one truth in a myriad of truths. This is part of what is so valuable about diverse religious community – we are blessed with the beautiful myriad of truths that is created when we come together. Any one of our truths is incomplete without a larger picture. 

Be clear with yourself and what is yours. When you feel difficult emotions, those are your feelings to work through. Someone else didn’t make you feel them. Do your best to be clear about what feelings are being triggered by your past and what are new feelings. Take responsibility for what you are feeling. And still you can name the behaviors or words that harmed you while still taking full responsibility for how they made you feel. This is tricky and important. 

Be aware of power dynamics. We are not all on even playing fields. There are a lot of ways in which power dynamics and systems of oppression can impact communication. Those of us with relative privilege need to be extra mindful about the impact of our words and actions on those of us who hold more marginalized identities. Those of us with more power in the system of our parish need to be mindful of the ways in which we include and hear the voices of those with less power. 

What principles do you use to guide you when you attempt to communicate with someone else? How do you hope to communicate as a parish?

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April 7, 2021

Congregational Polity

Last night at our Widening the Circle of Concern Study Group, a point was raised about whether people know what our congregational polity is – or even what the word polity even means. This is one of those things/ideas that ministers talk about as if we all know what it means, because we have had to learn about it in great detail in seminary and denominational gatherings. We take for granted that most humans have no need for this kind of information. What matters most is whether folks feel a sense of belonging and inclusion. Because those needs are far more important than anything else. How we govern ourselves has an impact on that, though. 

Congregational Polity describes the ways in which our congregations are organized and make decisions. It refers to the way in which our Unitarian Universalist Congregations are autonomous in decision making. We self-govern. Most notably, we decide collectively through a congregational vote who to call as our minister. We have our own annual meetings, budgets and governance structures that we create and run. The Unitarian Universalist Association has no hand in any of that. They create the system by which ministers and congregations can find each other and help shepherd us all through that system. And they give us guidance on things that seem important and clear to them as an organization that has learned a lot from many congregations over time. But ultimately, the congregation has a vast amount of freedom. 

Our congregational polity comes from the Cambridge Platform of 1648. In fact, our minister Rev. Richard Mather had a central role in creating this document. This document remains central to the way in which Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ Congregations organize and govern themselves. This piece of our history and our lasting impact on our entire faith tradition is something to be truly proud of! I just learned this connection and I am super excited about it. 

Oftentimes, nowadays, we focus entirely on the ways in which the Cambridge Platform made clear that each congregation should be autonomous and self-governed. And the document made clear an essential additional point. That those autonomous and self-governed congregations must also live in an interdependent network, supporting and challenging each other, working together in ways that grow the spirit and the faith. This is why the Unitarian Universalist Association exists – to foster this network of mutual care and accountability. 

Just like each of us comes to community as free humans because we gain so much from connection, challenge and care – our congregations covenant with one another as free institutions to connect, challenge and care for each other. We gain so much by being together. 

No one from the Unitarian Universalist Association has any power over us as a parish. They are a resource that we create together, though the dues that we contribute and the time and energy we give to the organization in countless ways. And they are a resource that we share together. They offer us support and guidance, most notably in connecting us with other congregations who have navigated similar challenges before so that we can learn from one another. Many of the UUAs programmatic offerings are designed with this in mind. We all learn best from each other. And we have more wisdom when we reach out beyond our congregations to connect more broadly. We learn more when we are open to wisdom from new places.

If you are interested in reading the full text and can wrap your head around the language from another time, the full text of the Cambridge Platform is here. As always, I’d love to converse with you about what this means for our parish and for our lives. This blog is meant to foster ongoing conversations with and among our members and friends. 

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March 31, 2021

Prayers for Today

Today is Transgender Day of Visibility.

On Sunday, we shared this prayer for Transgender Day of Visibility from Rev. Mr. Barb Greve. I share it again for those who missed it, so that we can lift up all of the ways in which everyone under the vast umbrella of transgender are valued and seen for the glory of their whole selves. 

Prayer for Boston City Council

I said these words today as the Boston City Council began their meeting. Several City Council Members shared their love and respect for our Parish and the work that we do.

Great mystery that binds each to all – 

We ask that you be with us here today.

Wrap the love that holds us all around our great city.

On this Transgender Day of Visibility, may we all remember that all of us are beautiful precious children of God – that showing up as our full selves and being seen is a blessing – that diversity is to be celebrated in all its forms.

Source of Life, We ask that you be most with those who need you most – the people living without homes, those who are incarcerated, those who struggle to feed their families, essential workers and healthcare professionals who risk their lives for us each day, and all those who are impacted by Covid-19 – those who have lost loved ones, those who are fighting the virus now or in a long term way.

May we bring the heartbreak and the sorrow and inequity and racism that plagues this city into our hearts as we face the work before us. 

So that our hearts can break open enough to hold all of the people who most need love and care. 

Love, As we continue to find a way forward together amidst this trying time, let us all remember that life is sacred, that we are our siblings keepers and that every decision we make has an impact on the people we serve. 

May we be filled with gratitude for all the gifts of life that we have received.

May we be generous in every way we can be. 

May our love for our city and for its beautiful people guide us today and always. 

May all that is sacred hear these spoken prayers and those lifted up in our hearts.

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March 24, 2021

Brené Brown

I’ve mentioned her a few times now. You got a sneak peak of her in last week’s post. She tends to slip into my sermons pretty easily and often. And already, I have heard from one of you that my mention of her has led to looking into her work and finding something of value. I have found A LOT of value in her work. My spouse loves her work so much that he has become trained in her curricula and leads workshops regularly based on it. She has been a large part of my transformation as a person, parent, spouse and minister. 

Having already authored a couple books and gained some notoriety in her field, Brené found national attention when she spoke at a TED conference in 2010. Her TED talk: “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the most popular of all time. In it she lays out the basics of what she had learned thus far about shame in her research. And I think what is most compelling about it is that she does it with the self-deprecating realness that makes her so relatable. 

In her second TED talk, she mentions how the popularity of her first talk changed her life. And truly, it was the start of a huge shift. Her books became increasingly popular. She continued to research and write more books that unpacked and expanded on her findings in ways that clearly have had impacts on millions of people. And through it all she remains so down to earth and real.

If I had to pick one of her books to recommend, it would be “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Changes the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.” In a lot of ways, it sums up some of her previous works. She offers clear and understandable examples of how to live in a more courageous life through vulnerability. 

When folks are struggling with a loss or failure in their lives, I often recommend “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.” It is full of practical and clear guideposts for how to live a life of depth and joy. 

In the last year, I have found Brené’s new podcast. She began it as the pandemic was just starting. There are some episodes that are little lectures from her, including some insights into this world at this moment that have helped me to navigate it. Most episodes feature a guest who she has chosen to talk with about their work. I could share with you which ones are my favorites, but I’d rather let you discover your own. I enjoyed scrolling through and starting with the folks who I already love: Glennon Doyle, Adrienne Marie Brown, Laverne Cox, Austin Channing Brown, Sonya Renee Taylor and so many more. Maybe you’ll find different folks that you love on her long list of guests from the past year. 

You can find more about the podcast here: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/introducing-unlocking-us

Brown’s work has been life changing for a lot of people. You can also catch her special on Netflix, “The Call to Courage.” She is making big waves in the world through her research, her writing and her presence. I love listening to her explain how her work has changed her life. I hope you enjoy her as well.

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March 17, 2021

Assumptions and Boundaries

Last week I mused on “Assume Positive Intent” and I’m back to expand and complicate that a little. Because all of the best topics are complex. Simple ideas are boring. 

This week I want to share this video with you about Boundaries, in which shame researcher, social worker and author Brene Brown attributes her ability to be generous with others to her learning to set boundaries. When she unpacks what she means by being generous with people she calls it: “assuming that everyone is doing the best they can.” 

Note that this assumption is very different from assuming positive intent – but it gets to the root of why we don’t want to just dismiss the idea of assuming good intent. At the root of the idea of assuming positive intent is the notion that we are all worthy of care, we are all precious and beloved, none of us is disposable. This is a core theological truth for us. Perhaps the most important. At least for me. 

But the truth is that most people have issues. We have shame and pain and stories that cause us to not act from our best selves sometimes. We screw up regularly. We unintentionally harm people all the time. And sometimes, when we are in pain or struggle, we intentionally harm others because we do not know how to handle the pain we feel or because we use blame to try to deflect the pain. It doesn’t work of course – it often only makes us feel worse – but it is such a common human tendency just the same. 

Assuming that everyone is doing the best they can honors these truths. Both that we are all precious and worthy AND that we are all full of shame and struggle that leads us to harm each other sometimes. Assuming that we are all doing the best we can let’s us look for the precious and worthy parts of each other when we are hurt by one another. And it needs boundaries. 

Boundaries are the loving way that we are able to offer the generosity of assuming that everyone is doing the best they can. Because some people’s best is too harmful. Some actions are not acceptable – even when it is the best that person can do. And the loving thing to do when someone does something that is not ok is to tell them. Not write them off but show them the care of telling them our truths. And if they show that they cannot or will not change their behavior in a way that respects our boundaries, the respectful thing to do is to set a more firm boundary around that person. 

Brene reminds us that culturally we are bad at boundaries. We are not good at naming what is or is not ok for us. And this is essential for having respectful and loving relationships and communities. So we are learning, culturally, how to practice boundaries. 

When setting boundaries is new for us, we can struggle with setting them in a calm, grounded way. The way we set them can be intense. That is because the resentment and shame of all of the years of boundary violations that we have allowed can get mixed up in the boundary setting. So, practicing setting boundaries with love from a grounded place is hard and valuable work. And it is a joy to do it in a community like ours. 

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March 10, 2021

Post Three of a Series on Our Board Norms Based on our Covenant of Right Relationships

Take care of each other.
Listen actively and mindfully.
Assume positive intent.
Communicate with openness and honesty.
Address conflict productively and with compassion.
Follow through on commitments.

We are a congregation of folks who have committed ourselves to do good in the world. We know that we are imperfect and that our communities and institutions are far from perfect. So we commit ourselves to personal growth and to working in the world for justice, equity and compassion. So, naturally it has made sense that we try to assume that we all mean well – even when we harm each other.

This notion that we should assume positive intent has been deeply criticized in recent years – particularly in regards to cross-cultural conversations with power differentials. This is because “I didn’t mean it. My intent was positive,” is often used by folks with privileged identities to evade accountability. It leads to inauthentic apologies for harm done. “I’m sorry if my words offended you.” Rather than. “I’m sorry. I hurt you. That was not ok. I’ll do better.”

Here’s why this is so hard: A false dichotomy about who we are in our core is tied to this kind of behavior. When someone calls out something we say as harmful in regards to race, what we often hear is “You are a racist.” This is shame is action. Whether the naming of the behavior as harmful is meant as shaming or not – we often feel a lot of shame when we are told we hurt someone else. That shame conflatesthe comment about what we did with who we are. Instead of “you said something racist,” we hear “you are a racist” and we reflexively respond with “I am not. I have positive intent because I am a good person.”

One of the major religious arguments of history is whether humans are inherently good or inherently evil. US culture is in many ways built on the argument that our forebears fought over whether we are broken by original sin in such a way that makes us totally depraved (as Calvinists argue) or we are more capable and have a tendency towards good than that (as Unitarians asserted). This theological argument has continued to center a binary way of thinking about human nature that feeds a culture of shame.

Here’s what I believe. Every single one of us is good. Beautiful. Precious. Worthy. We are all capable of incredible good and evil. More than that, we are all imperfect and make mistakes all of the time. Many of those mistakes hurt other people. Sometimes we know that they will and do it anyway. Sometimes we do not know. Our mistakes do not make us wrong or bad. They just make us human.

Intent matters. Whether we mean to hurt one another does matter. And whether we mean to or not, we need to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
In our conversation about Widening the Circle of Concern last week as we grappled with the question of how to balance intent vs. impact, Grace Lindsay-Parks suggested that we not assume intent but move in with curiosity. Ask what someone meant by a comment. Share how it hurt us so that folks can learn. This requires all of us to lean into how much our faith values learning. That staying in relationship means valuing each other enough to have hard conversations where we name how we have hurt each other and listen deeply to understand.

In response to so much focus on intent for so long, folks from marginalized communities have been asking that we attend to impact. Balance them. Give impact weight and refuse to let intent be an excuse for harmful words or behavior. It is a both/and. And it takes remembering that we are not our actions. We are still precious beloved beings when we screw up. Each mistake we make is an opportunity for us to keep learning and growing. So we can be grateful for the dear ones who call us in, who remind us that we are not living up to our own ideals. Because the fact that they have offered us feedback means they value us enough to risk further harm by sharing what hurt them. And when we are harmed by someone else, it takes remembering that we are not what happens to us. We are powerful and valued – despite all of the power imbalances that have told us otherwise. We give our community a great gift by naming our hurt and benign willing to engage in dialogue that leads to learning. This is how we all get free together. And that is the goal.

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March 4, 2021

Post Two of a Series on Our Board Norms Based on our Covenant of Right Relationships

Take care of each other.
Listen actively and mindfully.
Assume positive intent.
Communicate with openness and honesty.
Address conflict productively and with compassion.
Follow through on commitments.

Listen actively and mindfully. 

We need to feel that others are listening to us. Feeling affirmed, seen and heard is so deeply valuable. It is a primal need. That part of us that yearns for connection needs it to be grounded in who we truly are, not who we have to become in order to fit in. When we truly belong and have a sense of belonging in ourselves, we can share of ourselves – our thoughts and ideas – and know that others will endeavor to hear, to understand, to connect empathetically with our worldview and experiences. 

This kind of listening changes us. It changes communities. It changes cities. And it must be reciprocal. 

In our first dialogue around the book Widening the Circle of Concern last night, I was struck by a moment in which we discussed becoming multilingual in order to be able to have cross-cultural conversations. BIPOC people most likely already know how to do this. Code-switching is a means of survival for marginalized groups. And one of the losses of our system for white folks is that we have been given less learning opportunities around becoming culturally multilingual.

Becoming culturally multilingual – which is necessary for a community as culturally diverse as ours – requires listen with the intent to understand. We have to set aside the desire to reply. We have to not be thinking about what we will say next. We have to just listen. Get lost in it. Immerse ourselves in the practice of listening. 

This takes time. Truly listening and seeking depth of understanding is not quick. And there are consequences when we do not take the time necessary to build this level of trust and understanding. Moving on and agreeing to disagree can be a useful tactic but it can also erode trust and further break down relationships. 

When we come into a conversation with a sense of what we already think, it is so hard to listen to the nuances that come from deep engagement. Especially if they challenge our assumptions or ideas. And true communication requires open listening. True community requires true communication. 

Together we are fostering an inclusive community each time we truly listen to understand. Each time we ask for clarification with a spirit of curiosity. Each time we stop focusing on what we might say to contradict and rather listen deeply first and then begin to add on the ways in which your experience might add more to the unfolding story. Together, we create a tapestry more beautiful than any one of us could ever imagine. Only if we understand each other. Which cannot happen without deep listening.

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February 25, 2021

“I have seen, over and over, the connection between tuning in to what brings aliveness into our systems and being able to access personal, relationship and communal power. Conversely, I have seen how denying our full, complex selves – denying our aliveness and our needs as living, sensual beings – increases the chance that we will be at odds with ourselves, our loved ones, our coworkers, and our neighbors on this planet.” – adrienne marie brown

In the last several months at worship we have mentioned Adrienne Marie Brown several times. She has been quoted by both Lucas and myself in sermons and other worship elements. She is one of today’s prophets that resonates with me most deeply. I keep a copy of her book, Emergent Strategy, on my desk so that I can reference it quickly and easily. It guides how I am in the world, how I view community and how I minister. 

Adrienne Marie Brown describes a way of being justice makers in the world that is deeply embodied and full of joy. She articulates a way of being grounded in relationship and trust in order to fuel forward momentum. Her work is deeply challenging to the ways in which white supremacy culture works. Her work has so much to share with Unitarian Universalism. It is incredibly relevant for this moment in our history. 

I expect you will hear more about her in worship. And I offer here some ways in which you can learn more about her and her work. 

Read her words and get to know what she is up to:

http://adriennemareebrown.net/

What this video interview of her describing her book, Emergent Strategy and how relevant it is to right now:

A conversation with Adrienne Marie Brown and Prentiss Hemphill on their podcast Finding Our Way:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-2-visioning-with-adrienne-maree-brown/id1519965068?i=1000487699034

A conversation with Adrienne Marie Brown and Jonathan Van Ness and his podcast Getting Curious:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/are-we-imagining-better-future-into-existence-adrienne/id1068563276?i=1000498074071

If you connect with her work, I’d love to hear about it! Together we can use what we learn to continue to grow and deepen our connections at the parish and our efficacy at creating justice in the world!

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February 18, 2021

Post One of a Series on Our Board Norms Based on our Covenant of Right Relationships

  • Take care of each other.
  • Listen actively and mindfully.
  • Assume positive intent.Communicate with openness and honesty.
  • Address conflict productively and with compassion.
  • Follow through on commitments.

Take care of each other. It sounds so simple. And yet we know it is extremely complicated. We know that despite our best efforts, we will fall short of taking care of each other sometimes. We know that how we each want to be taken care of is different. We know that we need to unpack this phrase more deeply. 

Take care of each other is the first phrase in the Board’s norms. The Board agrees that we will take care of each other. And I see it as including that we commit to take care of the larger “each other,” too. We do not merely take care of other board members or leaders. We take care of our people. We look out for the needs that are known to us. 

Trust is built and broken in small moments. Moments where we show up and ask someone what they need. Or when we do not. One small interaction at a time we either build a bridge between us or we erode that bridge away. And often, we are doing both at the same time. Because no person or group can show up for us every time. And no person or group that truly cares for each other will only let each other down. It’s both/and. The hope is that we show up for each other more often than not. That we listen to each other more often than not. That we build the bridge more than we let it wash away. 

A crucial part in taking care of each other is understanding what care means for each of us. Because it is different. We need different kinds of care. So a huge step in the process is asking. And telling. We have to learn how to ask what each other needs often and early. And we have to learn how to tell each other what we need often and early. Before we start to resent each other for not reading our minds. Before too much of the bridge is washed away. 

Lucas reminded us on Sunday that taking care of each other also includes offering each other feedback. That feedback is an act of love. Not providing feedback means we have given up on the relationship. Of course, how we provide each other feedback matters and has an impact on how well we hear each other. But we cannot continue to learn and grow in trust and in care if we stop offering each other the gift of feedback. 

I know that we want to take care of each other. I know that this parish is made up of people who deeply love and care for this community. But what that looks like changes and grows as we change and grow. It is complicated, and demands our constant attention. Let’s continue to show up for each other. In all the ways we are able. Let’s speak up, with love. Let’s take good care of each other. 

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February 11, 2021

Over the course of the last few years our Unitarian Universalist Association has been in the midst of a real reckoning with the ways in which white supremacy culture shows up in our institution(s). Really, we have been struggling with these issues for as long as humanity has. Throughout the history of Unitarianism, Universalism and Unitarian Universalism our people have made real attempts towards justice and equity, while at the same time making real, serious missteps and causing real harm to marginalized groups. Both are true. We have been on the right and the wrong side of history. 

Yes, we were religious and economic refugees. And we contributed to genocide. Yes, we boast abolitionists who helped end slavery. And we had individuals who actively fought to keep slavery. Yes, many of our ministers marched in Selma. And we failed to follow through on our commitment to fund Black Unitarian Universalists only a decade later. 

Our commitment has continued throughout our history. And what gets in the way is the power and pervasive nature of white supremacy culture woven throughout our institutions and our country. It is a seriously uphill battle. And it is absolutely necessary if we are to live up to the ideals of our faith. 

At this moment in history, Unitarian Universalists across the country are engaging more deeply with this work than ever before. It is an exciting moment. I am so full of hope for what this could mean for our faith. For how we might become even more effective in our work to change the world and to build the beloved community here on earth. 

I would encourage you all to consider the following national opportunities in order to connect to all of the good work happening in our faith. 

New Day Rising, Feb 27, 12 – 8 pm EST
This is a day long workshop offered by the UUA. The purpose of this workshop is to help congregational leaders to determine the next step that is right for them in regards to their ongoing work on uprooting white supremacy. As we as leaders continue to grapple with these questions, this is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn and grow together. 

More information can be found here.

Beloved Conversations Virtual, March 16 – Late May – Registration ends February 26
This deep learning opportunity allows us to really wrestle with the ways in which white supremacy impacts us spiritually. More information can be found here.

If you are considering one of these opportunities, I’d love to talk to you about them. If you sign up, please let me know. I’d love for us to have some time for folks in our congregation to connect and debrief our experiences. 

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February 4, 2021

This week guest blogger Lucas Gonzales Milliken, Director of Faith Formation, sets the stage for our upcoming Congregational Conversation on Land Acknowledgement:

Since September, as a way of entering into our time together, our worship services have been incorporating a Land Acknowledgment. In my time at First Parish Dorchester, I have had conversations with many congregants asking me why Land Acknowledgement was not a regular part of our Sunday Morning Services. 

I know that for many people, the introduction of that piece is a deeply important part of their spiritual understanding, and is a meaningful moment in their worship experience. For many others, it is an uncomfortable part of the service, that can perhaps bring up feelings of shame. And for many others, it is nowhere near close enough to what feels like truly meaningful action. We are a community that holds a multitude of truths; these truths are not mutually exclusive.

Since we have been incorporating Land Acknowledgment into our time, we have always maintained that it is but a small step on a larger, unfolding journey. It calls us to reflect deeply on our relationship with our own history, its brokenness, and ways to move towards healing. 

This is an uncomfortable truth that we are wrestling with. Our Parish traces its history back close to 400 years. Its origin coincided with enslaved people being brought in shiploads to this country, and with a wilful genocide and displacement of indigenous persons. While the founders of our parish may not have directly caused harm to the indigenous population, we did historically benefit from the harm that was caused. We inherit much of those benefits, and have to contend and wrestle with what that inheritance means.

That recognition is something that indigenous folks have been asking  to be named and grappledwith for generations. (The speakers at the National Day of Mourning spent a good amount of time analyzing that history. There were particularly powerful speakers starting at 30:45) 

It is in acknowledging this history that we share the important healing work that comes from truth and reconciliation. Naming historical facts about land is not intended to shame anyone, but to acknowledge that there is brokenness in our relationships with people and land.

Or, put another way: Being able to notice and name the ways that we benefit from the pain of other people is an important part of our collective spiritual healing. 

It is deeply wounding that we benefit from the historical oppression of others. It is a wound that has been inflicted on every person in this country, and that we collectively need healing from. One of our land acknowledgment statements has said “that the history of this country known as the USA is a history of trauma and pain that has wounded every single one of us, and that healing from that history requires us to wrestle with that discomfort.” 

Acknowledging that brokenness speaks to the heart of Unitarian Universalism, and all our principles:

  • It asserts that there is inherent worth and dignity in our relationships with all people, throughout time and space.
  • It seeks justice, equity and compassion in our relationships.
  • It calls for acceptance of our storied history and an encouragement of spiritual growth in the context of that history.
  • It upholds a free and responsible search for truth, and an opportunity to create meaning out of that truth (including potentially painful truths).
  • It aims for reconciliation with a hope towards a truly global community.
  • It recognizes the fact that we are all deeply connected to each other, our world, and our history.

I am grateful to be continuing in this journey and continuing this conversation on February 7th, as we move deeper into this healing work together. In the meantime, please check out these links!

Why Land Acknowledgement is Important

Land Back Resources

Questions About Home

Territory Acknowledgement

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January 27, 2021

This Sunday was huge. Without even getting into how big of a deal it feels for me personally and professionally to be called as a settled minister, this is a very big deal for your congregation. This has not been an easy road. It has been many more years of transition than is typical. Given the circumstances and feelings surrounding the departure of the last settled minister, this congregation has a lot of hard work to do to get here. You engaged deeply in the work of reconciliation and healing. You listened to hard truths from each other. This work is not complete and you have moved forward in significant and impressive ways. 

We deserve a massive celebration! What a joy it will be to plan an installation that honors the journey of this congregation merging with my journey. We both have a history that is complex and remarkable. We share a vision for our ministry that will have a deep and lasting impact on our neighbors, our city and our world. 

And we know that the celebration we deserve will have to wait. The work on being a place of service to our community will not. On Monday we will begin to further our mission by becoming a Covid-19 Vaccination site in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. While I was already impressed by the dedication of you all – watching folks scurry to make this happen quickly has truly touched me. There was a need and we were given the opportunity to fill it. And we did not hesitate to do the work necessary to help. 

Throughout my time with you all so far, but especially in the last month, it has become clear that communication has been hard for us as a congregation. This is exacerbated by the pandemic, of course. And it remains something that your leadership and I remain committed to working on. To that end, I am launching a new blog section of our website in order to share written communications with you all weekly. This content will be linked in the eblast each week. I will curate this communication, meaning I will write it, collaborate with someone or I will organize someone else writing it. Our messages will connect with what is happening in the life of the church. You will find resources to further develop a sermon or to highlight a thinker we have found inspirational or to prepare us for deeper congregational conversations. We hope this will serve the purpose of connecting us all better in this time and beyond. So that we all know more about what is happening in the church, what big questions your leadership is grappling with and where we are all going together. Let’s go!

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