From Rev. Roger
Back to Normal
Last Sunday, Rev. Liz reminded us that, for the very first time, the residents of New Delhi were able to see the Himalayan Mountains. Can you imagine what such a once-in-a-lifetime, birthright view of vast beauty must have felt like? Breathtaking!
There are many arguments about how to save the world and us. In such debates, it isn’t that people aren’t listening; it’s more that they can’t understand the proposed solutions. “You mean to say, everybody would stop using gas?” Or, “The whole world will be at peace and everyone can be fed?”
We just can’t imagine it. Not when we’re convinced there just isn’t enough to go around — lest we take our portion first! Not when we’re convinced there is more in it for us than the problem is taking from us. Only that’s not a worldview we like to face. That’s why we’re all clamoring for the world to get back to normal, so we can get back to our comfort zones.
Yet, while we were all comfy and swiping right for incentives to some good life or struggling to get a handle on our habits, the world changed! The whole globe pressed pause. We stopped using gas and eating out. Hell, we can’t even get a good haircut nowadays! And I am here to say this is GOOD. Please know, I am NOT saying Covid-19 is a good thing. Nor are these inconveniences. But I am saying all clouds have silver linings, including this one.
We shut down all our “non-essential” noise, and in the expensive, expansive quiet we get to hear ourselves think. We’ve begun to ask: “What is the ‘normal’ we want to get back to?” Is it the normal that was depleting Earth’s resources and our lives? Or was normal better in earlier times, when slicked-back hair and saddle-shoed feet danced to a feel-good beat and spent its innocence by the dashboard light? Is nostalgia calling us back to one normal? Or, can it be we are dancing into a brighter future and a new normal?
Ah, but there’s the rub: There really is no such thing as this elusive “normal.” Instead, we get our own once-in-a-lifetime, birthright view to a world as we would have it. Perhaps in that vastness we will see the value in making kindness routine and resource-responsibility cool. Perhaps we will come to a new way of living where sharing is commonplace and love is the norm. Imagine.
Until then, my friends, carry the flame.
LET OUR RIVERS RUN
Back in the late 1960’s, people likely thought of Earth Day as a grassroots movement for tree-hugging liberals wanting to clean up the environment. At the time, the copious amounts of litter clogging up our highways and waterways was becoming seriously problematic. But the original Earth Day was about more than some pithy political clean-up campaign; it was first proposed as a day to honor the Earth and, more importantly for the times, to honor the concept of peace.
Not too long before, Unitarian Universalism had made its way onto the faith scene as a grassroots movement for religious liberals wanting to declutter – or at least better organize – the idea of God in popular culture. At the time, every major college campus was erupting with pacifist protests for peace while others wondered, “Where is the God of our fathers with this Vietnam war waging?” Indeed, a peace cleanup was in order.
It’s been 50 years since the first Earth Day, and it remains, regrettably, a day desperate for the environmental and peace pleas of its beginning. Only we haven’t arrived at a helpful conclusion yet. We seem unaware that water remains our most precious world resource, more valuable than oil or gold. We seem not to know that we need clean water for life to even continue, while we continue to argue about the reality of global warming and environmental crisis.
If there is a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic it is this: we can see clearly now the global impact of our actions not just on the quality of life, but on life itself. We can see no future that denies our interconnectedness and interdependence — Unitarian Universalist hallmarks that charge us, as Earth’s religious and liberal stewards, to remove the litter on our roads and to let our rivers run clear.
W. E. B. Du Bois, born in the late 1860s and speaking for the next 100 years, wrote:
“It is the wind and the rain, oh God, the cold and the storm that make this Earth to blossom and to bear its fruit. And in our lives: it is storm and stress and hurt and suffering that make us bring the world’s work to its highest perfection; let us learn then, in these growing days, to respect the harder sterner aspects of life together with its joy and laughter—and to weave them all into the great web.”
For this Earth Day, may we find wisdom in these words. May they be so.
Until then, my friends, carry the flame,
MOMENTS OF JOY
I got an email from a church member today. She has been having an anxious feeling that compelled her to write down some of her wishes should she die. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. But I knew it was important to hold her in safety and care.
When I was a preaching minister, I used to do an annual service about grief, encouraging people to plan their own memorial services. I even included the forms in the Orders of Service. Though I thought this was helpful, I never got many returned sheets. That’s no surprise, really; we don’t like to ponder, plan or prepare for our own deaths. That is, until times like this.
This coronavirus is wreaking havoc with how we live, causing near panic about economic realities, food supplies, and “conspiracy theory” lockdowns. This coronavirus is weakening our spirits as it threatens to take our very lives. This is a bitter pill my friends, causing untold anxiety and depression, making us sick with worry.
It is time then, dear ones, to return to our faith and to begin caring for others even as we care for ourselves; indeed, that is the only way we can survive. Our UU Seventh Principle calls us to affirm and promote “the interdependent web of existence of which we are all apart.” Translation: we are all connected; we must all care for one another. We are in this together and counting on one another.
Today is not the first day I received a person’s final wishes. Some of you know that the very first time I stepped foot in a UU church was when I arrived here at First U some 40 years ago. Those were dark and scary days too: it was the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Gay men were dying in great numbers.
Meanwhile, the country was panicked that Linda Evans kissed Rock Hudson on tv’s popular Dynasty. People were afraid to hug or touch or even visit the afflicted, at least until Princess Diana did so. So here we were in the middle of all this fear when First U has a training to teach caregivers how to care for people with Aids nearing the end of their lives. I was at that training. I cared for many brave and beautiful souls. I lost too many. And I cried a lot.
But then I remembered a key piece of the training. At the end, we were all given purple roses, the “color of transformation” we were told. We held hands in a circle and sang, “Keep smiling, keep shining, knowing you can always count on me, for sure; that’s what friends are for…” from the song That’s What Friends Are For.
Looking back, I can’t really say who was being transformed, us or our clients. But it was back then that I learned the very best pastoral care tool I know: to keep telling their stories. This is how they remember they are still vital and alive and connected to everything else. And when they pass on, tell their stories for them. This is how we remember that they are still with us, that we are always connected and that love never dies.
But here’s the thing I most want to share: In every single story I have heard and told in 40 years, it’s always the joy that leaps out. Be it some goofy joke or some sweet, smiling and shining moment, in all the goings on of our lives, moments of joy appear. Always.
My prayer for us, as we hunker down, is that we not let ourselves get too low. Let us be transformed by each other’s love, holding one another in safety and care. Let us enjoy a funny show or an interesting book or a really good cup of coffee, and let us savor each moment of joy we can find. Then, let’s share our stories because, dear ones, that IS what friends are for.
Until then, my friends: Be whole. Be well. Be fully you.
A Great Depression
I was talking with my good friend Gerri today. She was very sad. It happens that her office will close for at least two weeks starting on Tuesday (3/24) at noon. I know that might sound a bit like a welcomed break; after all, Gerri commutes to metro Boston at 1.5 hours each way, five days per week. The only thing is, as an hourly worker she gets no pay while she has no work. This is a big problem! Gerri’s plate is less full.
I remember hearing stories about the Great Depression of the early 1920s when there was not enough work to go around. Likewise, there was no food to eat, no stoves to heat, no lights to see, and no places to be. That was the trouble. Having no “purpose,” having nowhere to go sent a lot of people straight into a deep sadness. Their sense of uselessness, of not contributing to society, reverberated well into their concerns about their overall mental health.
That was maybe the biggest part of the problem. How does one survive such circumstances? How does one live through all of this without some diminishment of their mental acuity? As we enter into these early 2020s, I am increasingly worried about these very questions and how mentally fit we are to cope.
The Lay Ministry Team and I have recently discussed depression—how to recognize it and how to respond. In truth, it’s a subject we have said little about for at least two reasons. First, depression is a vast subject that way too little is known about. Also, depression is a subject that woefully too much is kept secret mostly because of negative and harsh social stigma. Depression scares us. It marks us. And we don’t talk about it.
When it comes to depression and anxiety, I often think of this line in the movie Fight Club: “The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club…” But there are signs to recognizing depression. Looking for them and reading them is important spiritual work. And doing so can save a life—yours.
Ask yourself: Have I lost my energy or my “zest for life” or my interest in doing things I generally like to do? Am I sleeping and/or eating well? Am I having trouble concentrating? Have my thoughts started to take a darker, more troubling turn?
If the answers to even just one of these questions concern you, I really want you to talk to someone. I am volunteering to be that someone, to listen, to talk with you at any time. I am also available to discuss your concerns about a friend, a family member, or others with whom you are close. Maybe you are a light at the end of their tunnel or the beginning of their help.
There really is only one rule when we are responding to depression: The first rule of fighting depression is you MUST talk about fighting depression. Though this sounds simple it is by no means easy. Maybe that’s what gives it such great value. Either way, when we share what troubles us we are no longer imprisoned by what troubles us.
And we are no longer alone. We really can rest in the gladness that having one another to share our joys and our sorrows makes all the difference. I promise you it does, and will for you, too. The Lay Ministers and I are here for you, wanting to be of use, wanting to share the freedom and the light at the other side. Please, start talking. Join me in a life-giving conversation about ending a great depression.
Until then, my friends: Be whole. Be well. Be fully you.
To contact Rev. Roger or submit a Joys and Sorrows for him to read during our Sunday morning virtual worship on YouTube, you can reach him at or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take a Deep Breath
Did you ever notice how in romantic comedies there is always the scene where the guy is running through the crowded city, or inevitably the airport, only to make it *just in time* to see the door closing? And so he stands: his hopes dashed, he’s feeling out of luck and out of breath.
The other day someone was asking me about life in the 1990s and we got to remembering how fashionable it was to build up our hearts and lungs by taking aerobics classes in the evenings—and I say fashionable because for way-too-long all anybody seemed to wear was very tight, wildly printed spandex!
My friend, Joe, and I were laughing ourselves silly admitting that while the rest of us were huffing and puffing ourselves into heart-pounding shape, he would barely break a sweat. Picture the group keeping pace to “Celebrate good times, ah ha!…” while Joe is doing something more like a waltz—no worries about getting breathless here!
I’ve been thinking about breath a lot lately. It is not lost on me that this Coronavirus is an attack on the breath, an affront to breathing itself. So I want to know that you are breathing easy. Despite the pace this disease seems to be keeping, I want to invite you to slow down, to breathe, to breathe easy even.
Please, take a deep breath with me now. And another.
Perhaps you can rest in the knowledge that your beloved community is still here for you with hearts as strong as ever and hands ready to help. Do you need food? medicine? money for shelter? Please call me for help. Do you need a buddy, someone to check-in with every couple of days? Again, please let me know.There are many pastoral resources available to you for the asking. It is okay to ask. It’s okay to breathe a little better in our help.
In Hebrew the word Ruah means both “breath” and “spirit”, as such, we create the spirit of life every time we breathe together. That’s what I am missing most about church right now. I miss you. And I miss the Spirit of Life and that great transcendent moment each Sunday when I say, “Please take a deep breath with me,” and you do.
What follows is the whole congregation simply breathing together, simply being together. But there’s something more that happens. In the sound of our collective breathing, I *feel* our collective spirit. Like being together, breathing together sustains us.
My friends, I pray it will not be long until we are together again. For now, let’s do all that we can to keep our hearts and bodies strong. Let’s laugh at old memories (and old fashions too!). Let’s call on each other for pastoral support or just to check in with a buddy.
And let’s watch old rom-coms… because even though it seems all hope is lost, at any second, love is going to burst through the door, the guy is going to take a deep breath, and smile, and rest in the gladness that life is blessed after all.
Until then, friends, keep breathing.
Love in the Time of Coronavirus
Okay, so that title from a colleague might be a bit cheeky, but maybe not. Here at First U, we say we practice “love beyond belief.” Perhaps this virus is going to help us live more deeply into those words. You have probably heard the Chinese symbol for “crisis” means both “conflict” and “opportunity.” Friends, please let us make an opportunity out of this coronavirus crisis. These resources are intended to help us do just that.
Please check back here often for updates and resources.
THE LAY MINISTRY TEAM
Rev. Roger and each of the Lay Ministers are at-the-ready to hear from you. We are trained to listen and to help companion you in times of stress or illness. We realize this virus created a sense of heightened anxiety in our church community. We are here to talk and to listen. Though we cannot visit in person right now, we are available by phone, FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. Please, be in touch:
THE ‘CARE CREW’
First U has a long tradition of offering rides, helping with errands, and preparing meals. This is something we do well and can do for you. If you need medicines or meals, please contact Rev. Roger at or email@example.com. If you are an elder or shut-in, have an illness or are under self quarantine, I urge you to be in touch.
THE ‘BUDDY SYSTEM’
A reading in our hymnal reminds us that “We need one another when we are in trouble and afraid…Indeed, all our lives we are in need of one another.” That statement couldn’t feel more true than it does now. To that end, Rev. Roger is putting together a ‘buddy list.” The goal is to definitely partner-up those who are vulnerable with a phone buddy so that everyone STAYS CONNECTED. This may well be one of the most important things we can do to keep track of everyone. If you want to be on the list, or if you have a buddy already, please let me know; it will make the work much easier. Contact Rev. Roger at or firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOYS & SORROWS
One of the meaningful parts of our Sunday worship services is our sharing of Joys & Sorrows. I do not want us to give up this tradition while we are temporarily staying off the First U campus. I urge you to please send your thoughts and life events to me by 5:00 pm each Saturday. I will record these into YouTube and send a link for you to view each Sunday morning with your Joys and Sorrows and a prayer or meditation. I am glad and moved to respond to you in this way.
Contact Rev. Roger at or email@example.com.
With love beyond belief,