The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church exists as a beacon of liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, we aspire to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, of freedom in human thought, and of peace and justice in human community.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Transistions by Reverend Tom Capo

Responsive Reading:
According to M. J. Ryan, author of How to Survive Change… you didn’t ask for, there are seven “truths” about change.   Reverend Tom Capo has adapted them into a responsive reading. 
Change is the one thing I can count on.
Everything in life is impermanent.  Accepting this truth diminishes our suffering because we are in alignment with the way life is.
Change is not personal.
The world is transforming at a breakneck speed and each one of us must adapt to those changes.  No one is exempt. 
In the midst of change my thinking is not always my friend.
The brain is hardwired to scan for the bad, and when it inevitably finds negative things, they get stored immediately for rapid recall.  Due to the complexity of change, this recall may be too simplistic and negative to help us adapt to change.
Change isn’t the enemy, fear of change is. 
Fear shrinks our world and limits our choices. Practicing innovative thinking reduces our fear response when change happens. We can learn to manage any fear that does arise.
There is a predictable emotional cycle to change.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the emotional cycle.  There are endings with any change, a death of some sort; grief is a part of change.
I am more resilient than I may think.
We are survivors of our own lives.  We have dealt with changes that we have not anticipated or wanted.  We have made it so far and that is pretty good evidence that we will continue to do so.
My future is built on bedrock that is unchanging.
We have a purpose and values that provide stability and continuity during change.  Understanding this truth helps us see the difference between who we are as a person and our behavior.  Behavior may need to change, your essence remains the same.


            What is it about change that freaks some people out?  I mean life is all about change.  We go from childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age.  If we decide to get into a relationship with another person there is potential to move from being a friend to a significant other.  And if we are in a relationship, we could go from a committed couple to having children to raising children to children leaving home (hopefully).  Most of us experience changes in our jobs, in our beliefs, in our income, in our homes/cities where we live.  Changes can be as small as someone canceling a meeting or a date, to as large as deciding on a new career in mid-life.  Change has always been a part of human existence, and yet we experience powerful emotions anticipating, coping with, and looking back on change.
            One day in late summer, an old farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he let his horse loose to go the mountains and live out the rest of its life.
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, "What a shame.  Now your only horse is gone.  How unfortunate you are! You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?" The farmer replied: "Who knows? We shall see".
Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral.
            Word got out in the village of the old farmer's good fortune and it wasn't long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck.  "How fortunate you are!" they exclaimed. You must be very happy!"  Again, the farmer softly said, "Who knows? We shall see."
At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer's only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer's son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg.  One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer's latest misfortune.  "Oh, what a tragedy!  Your son won't be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You'll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad".  they said.  Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, "Who knows? We shall see"
            Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor's men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor's army.  As it happened the farmer's son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg.  "What very good fortune you have!!" the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. "You must be very happy." "Who knows? We shall see!", replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.
As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. "Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you"!  But the old farmer simply replied; "Who knows? We shall see."
             As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: "Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy", to which the old farmer replied, "Who knows? We shall see!"
What do you think about this story?  Do you see yourself as the farmer or the neighbors?
My son younger son Jacob is a very bright person.  Martha and I always thought he was gifted and talented in many ways.  In 8th grade, his grades plummeted and his moods seemed to swing from anger to disinterest to exhaustion.  We felt frustrated and helpless; I felt like everything was awful.  Jacob’s teacher described him as being in a fog.  He’d forget to bring written work into the classroom, and when he was sent to his locker to retrieve it, he’d forget why he was at his locker by the time he got there.  Being a psychotherapist, I thought our hope might lie in getting Jacob into therapy.  After a few sessions, the therapist talked to us about putting Jacob on daily medication, but we decided to get some bloodwork done with his pediatrician before taking what seemed to us to be such a big step.  By now it was spring break.  Martha took Jacob to see Dr. Lee, and 30 minutes after they got home, Dr. Lee called to say that Jacob’s blood sugar was dangerously high.  She sure he was diabetic and we went straight to Texas Children’s Hospital.  They took one look at him and confirmed that he was a type I diabetic.  All his symptoms, trouble concentrating, mood swings, exhaustion, were a result of the diabetes.  We were relieved.  At least we had an answer.  Then the doctors went on to tell us that Jacob would have to manage his diabetes for the rest of this life, and that diabetes could cause problems with his cardiovascular system, his vision, and so many other things, including shortening his expected life span.  We were scared to death.  But, the doctors went on, if Jacob managed his diabetes well and took care of his health, he could live a normal active life.  We were relieved.  And then scared again.  Then a bit relieved.  Then relieved and scared at the same time.  And that’s kind of where we’ve been with Jake’s diabetes for the past 12 years or so.  I don’t remember during this time ever saying to myself as these events transpired, “Well, who knows what the future will bring; let’s just wait and see what happens.”  My moods were swinging back and forth, and my thoughts raced around trying to figure out how to fix this situation.
          Organizational Consultant, William Bridges (Transitions) writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in; it’s the transitions.  Change is not the same as transition.  Change is situational…Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.  Change is external, transition is internal.”  Changes can be difficult; transitions are crucial, and both external change and internal transition must be addressed mindfully if we are to learn how to cope with, make meaning of, understand, and grow from the chaos that seems to be all around us and within us when change happens. 
           I invite you to think of a change that recently happened in your life. (pause) I invite you to hold that change in your mind and heart, replay it.  Notice what you thought and felt before the change, during the change, and after the change.  (pause) What do you notice?  Do you feel a variety of feelings, some at the same time?  Are your thoughts racing or do they seem diametrically at odds?  This internal process of thoughts and feelings is the transition you will have to find a path through.  Sometimes, in situations that don’t have major consequences, minimizing your reaction to change by waiting to see what happens may work.  But this way of facing the change, while it may seem a fairly calming, also limits the potential for more creative adaptation of our behavior and internal transformation of our thinking. 
            Jacob’s life changed when he became an insulin-dependent diabetic, and so did our lives as his parents.  I can guarantee you we were not thinking at the time, “Yay! What an great opportunity for creative adaptation and internal transformation!  Thanks Life!”  But, looking back, that’s exactly what happened.  We chose to  realize that we were afraid, and used the energy from the fear to motivate us to learn about diabetes, and more importantly to help Jacob learn about and take ownership of his diabetes.  He was the one who would have to learn to live with this disease and we could not make him eat right, sleep 8 hours a night, take his insulin, and exercise.  We knew our son was capable of managing his disease if we got him the resources and education he needed.  We could not take the burden of diabetes from him, though believe me, we would have done that in half a heartbeat if we could have.  We grieved that Jacob would have to fight this disease his whole life, but we ultimately had to accept this was his fight.  We could give him access to the tools he needed, but he had to be the one to use them.
            In the midst of this awful change, it could easily have been possible to believe that I couldn’t cope; that this was too much; or that I or Martha or Jacob wouldn’t be able to adapt.  But we did make it; all of us made it.  I know that I feel much more capable of dealing with changes that come up because I mindfully, intentionally recognized that I did adapt to that change and I did make it.  And I saw my family do the same.  This gave me hope that we could face other changes, individually and together.  And I learned that we could find new ways of behaving if we needed to.  Jacob is probably one of the most physically healthy persons that I know.  He eats well, not too much.  His weight is stable, not overweight like his dad.  He works out regularly.  And he manages to keep his A1C low; this is the measure of his blood sugar over time.  And none of us have changed at our core.  We are still the same people we were before Jacob was diagnosed with diabetes.  Jacob is the same bright, somewhat compulsive, person who walks to the beat of his own drummer as he always was.  Martha and I are the same people we were before we learned our baby boy had a life-threatening disease.  And we are all doing well despite knowing that Jacob has a life threatening illness, although every once in a while we do try to sneak a quick glance at his feet without him noticing.  Diabetics lose feeling in their extremities due to nerve damage, and Jacob doesn’t always notice when there’s something wrong with his feet because he can’t always feel the pain signals.  It makes him crazy when he catches us at it, but for us it’s the compromise we came to instead of over-parenting him.  We just love to be sneaky about it.
            Wendel Berry wrote: “The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be home.”  This is how it feels to me, each time I face a change and transition.  I learn that the journey I face is not one of miles, but of one inch, a very arduous, sometimes awful-feeling, frequently scary, often humbling, and even at times joyful inch, and I learn to arrive at the place where I am and find myself back within my own skin, the same person I was.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Becoming a Preacher By Reverned Tom Capo

          A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away... Well, actually it was the spring of 1997 in Houston, Texas.  The image you see to my right is not Alderon, but Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church.  I was the chair of the Worship Committee and a leader in the congregation.  I received a call from Bill Pilloski, the president of the congregation, Friday night asking me to preach on Sunday; needless to say, I was a little surprised.  Our minister was supposed to be in the pulpit this Sunday.  Bill went on to tell me that our minister had been asked to resign from the church due to an ethical breach, information that had not been shared with the congregation, but would be on Sunday.  It was a dark time for our church.  I allowed myself about half an hour or so of shock, and then started focusing on the mission, producing a sermon in the next 24 hours. 
             John Chapman, many of you know him as Johnny Appleseed, wrote to author Henry James in the late 19th century:  “There are lots of people who can’t think seriously without injuring their minds…the cure is simple.  Speak out your opinions before you think—and before the other fellow speaks.  Thus you will give your mind some chance in forming them in a more natural way—unconsciously.  Accustom yourself to not knowing what your opinions are til you have blurted them out, and thus find what they are.”  That’s how I felt the first time I told someone in my home congregation that I believed I was to become a Unitarian Universalist minister, not a Jedi knight—though that might have been easier.  This was two weeks after that Friday night call from Bill Polloski.  The congregation was in the midst of pain and guilt from losing their minister—to the dark side.  That Sunday, I remember thinking, “I will just tell Bill and sometime in the future, when I am ready, I will announce my intention to the whole congregation.”  I was as reluctant, scared, and excited as Luke was when Obi Wan asked Luke to join him on his quest.  If I actually verbalized my call to become a Unitarian Universalist Minister to real, live people, people in my church, I might really have to follow through with this.  Now don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be a Unitarian Universalist minister; I had already gone through my dark nights of the soul.  I was committed to pursing my call to ministry, but to tell someone, I mean besides Martha my loving wife, meant that other people would be watching me.  What if I tried and failed?   What would these people think of me?  Well, I swallowed my fears, and embracing the force, walked up to Bill and blurted out, “Bill, I wanted to let you know that I am going to go to seminary to become a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Part of this process is that a church has to sponsor me.  I was hoping that Bay Area UU Church would sponsor me.  Would you bring this before the Board?”  Now, my heart was racing and my mind racing too, I think I heard Bill say, “Tom, that’s great.  Of course I will talk to the Board.  You know it would be great if I could announce to the congregation about your intent to become a Unitarian Universalist minister today.  Everyone is so sad, it would really make them feel so much better.”  Uhhhh,…what?  The next thing I knew Bill was announcing to the congregation that I was going to seminary to become a Unitarian Universalist minister.  What I remember, although I was in a fog, is applause and saying ‘thank you’ to everyone, while at the same time feeling my heart pounding out of my chest.  I’d done it; I was committed, there was no turning back; and all I felt was joy. 
            In 2002, I preached my last sermon at Bay Area UU church.  I was severing my membership and beginning my internship at another church.  I preached a sermon about the process I had been through in Seminary and what I was looking forward to in my internship.  After the service, one of the members came up to me and said, “We are all so proud of you.  You know, when you told us you were going to become a minister a few years ago, I was a little concerned, but your preaching is so much better. I know you will be just fine.”   “Uhhh, thank you,” I said.
            They say that successful ministers are strong in three broad areas: administration, pastoral care, and preaching.  I was already strong in two of those skill sets, but preaching.  I had to work hard for many years to become a good psychotherapist and I guess I should have realized that it would take me many years of hard work to become a good preacher. 
Preaching did not come naturally.  I mean I had talked before thousands of people as a psychotherapist, but preaching, even in front of 10 people, felt so different.  Many ministers told me I had to develop my preaching voice.  What the heck is a preaching voice?  As you have probably noticed, there is a difference when I am talking to you in Kreves Hall and when I am up here on Sunday mornings.  I had to experiment with different ways to talk in front of people as a minister.  My internship site minister supervisors tried to help me with this.  And as you would probably guess, there were times when I failed in this process—mumbling, saying ah too often, leaving too much silence between sentences or words, emphasizing a word or sentence that shouldn’t be emphasized:  “People wouldn't even go into science (stop) unless there was something much bigger (stop) to be discovered, something that is transcendent.”       
            And I hadn’t written any papers--I mean besides research papers--in 20 years.  The ability to express myself, my feelings, my deepest thoughts on paper was, well, not good.  And writing for speaking was something I had never really done before.  I met with an English professor for about a year, relearning all the rules--sentence structure, correct use of adjectives and adverbs; writing so that people would understand who or what I was talking about—my use of the words like “he” “thing” “and” “etc.” were gradually reduced and more specific words replaced them.  I still work to tighten up my writing.
            These mechanics could be learned over time with perseverance.  But preaching is more than mechanics.  Words that are preached are supposed to be lit by a heart that is on fire, and those words spark a flame in the hearers’ imagination and hearts.  And this is not something than can be learned with perseverance.  This eluded me for my first years of ministry.  I wondered if I would ever improve.   What finally helped me discern how to become a preacher was reading and re-reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Divinity School Address.  In 1838, he preached to newly graduated ministers:  “Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil. Friends enough you shall find who will hold up to your emulation Wesleys and Oberlins, Saints and Prophets. Thank God for these good men, but say, `I also am a man.' Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it, because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator, something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.  Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, — cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity ... be to [your congregation] a divine man; be to them thought and virtue; let their timid aspirations find in you a friend; let their trampled instincts be genially tempted out in your atmosphere; let their doubts know that you have doubted, and their wonder feel that you have wondered. By trusting your own heart, you shall gain more confidence in other men.”
            To put this in modern terms, I had to learn to speak my truth from my heart.  I had to fearlessly share my doubts, my wonder, my experiences.  I had to “cast aside conformity.”  I had thought that I might imitate successful Unitarian Universalist ministers, but as Emerson says, “the imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity.”  If I was to be the best minister I could be, I had to discover my own authentic voice; I had to trust that the fire of my own heart was fierce enough to reveal a shining truth; I had to learn how to catch just the right slivery rainbow of words out of a rushing river of language to give voice to those qualities that touch me—pain, beauty, joy, wonder, awe.  I could only preach with authority, if I dared to examine my own heart, mind, soul, life.  I had to find the divine in my life if I was to preach about the divine.  Or as one of our Unitarian Universalist theologians, James Martineau wrote [understanding the divine, the spiritual, the ethical comes from] “inward apprehension, the moral analysis and the spiritual discrimination” that each of us needs to do.  It is from within we can truly see the wrong from the right, the profane from the sacred.  It is from within that I had to learn to preach.
            I also had to learn to accept that I would experience a lot of public failures when learning to preach, and believe me, I did.  One of my early lessons was that I will not hit on all cylinders every Sunday.  Unitarian Universalist minister and past president of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Executive Director of Amnesty International, Reverend William F. Schultz, wrote of preaching: “There, I hold, are the characteristics of great preaching: that our words are authentic, true, evocative, and transforming.  Let me add quickly that very few, if any, of my own sermons have been all four.  I feel fortunate if I can satisfy two.”  He goes on to say: “Thomas Wolfe advised aspiring novelists to ‘always write masterpieces…There’s a better market for them!” Fortunately sermons are not novels:  They are far from the sole factor upon which the value of ministry is based.  And congregations are not like critics: They are often able to find the most surprising wheat in the midst of the most tattered chaff.”
            I agree completely with Schultz.  On some Sundays, I feel blessed if I can hit one cylinder.  And like Schultz, I am often surprised at what people take away from my sermons.   Through my many years as a psychotherapist, I understand that people often hear what they need to hear, but I am still surprised that people find wisdom that touches something deep within them, even when I don’t think the sermon is my best.  And then I remember:  I am not just preaching, I am holding sacred space here on Sunday mornings so that people can stop in their busy lives to find the healing, wisdom, the light that they need, that is within them.  In so many ways, so little of what happens in this room on Sunday mornings has to do with what I say.  It’s humbling, and it’s awe-inspiring.
I know that it seems that sometimes I am preaching to our visitors; sometimes to our long-time members; sometimes to those of you who are trying to figure out if this is the faith home for you.  And sometimes it seems that I am preaching to the humanists, Buddhists, Christians, to seekers, or finders, or those lost and unsure.  It might seem to some of you like I must spin a Wheel of Sermons before choosing who to preach to.  But what I am actually doing, what I am really always doing, is preaching the truth as I see it and feel it; that is all I can do.  Though there may be times when you think, I am preaching specifically to you or at you; know that I am always preaching from me to all of you, not just to the person next to you or the person behind you.  And that maybe what you are hearing is not coming from me, but from within you.
            I should share that sometimes I feel called in my heart to comfort the afflicted, afflict the comforted.  At times, I will pause and offer a word of hope, sharing that I know that whatever it is you are facing, however horrible or painful it might be, will pass, healing with come, you will return to life again and we will be with you throughout your difficult time.  Right now, I am going to raise my voice and tell you that we have to reach out to our youth and young adults to help them.  On Friday I heard from passionate young people--as young as 12--who are struggling with gender identification.  They are creating a new language with words like demi-guy, gender-neutral, gender vague, non-binary identity, genderless and CIS gender to describe themselves and others.  They want us all to ask them their names and the pronouns they want used for them before we engage them in conversation, so that we show that we respect them.  They don’t want to be referred to as he or she anymore.  They want us to no longer see their bodies, their penises and vaginas, as a reflection of their gender.  Their numbers are growing.  And they need safe places, including gender neutral bathrooms.  Could we put this image  of gender neutral bathrooms on all our bathrooms in this church to create a safe place for people who identify as male one day and female another or as neither male or female on any day?
            So here it is: what it takes to write these sermons each week; what it takes to be a preacher, a minister.  I must be a teacher; I must be an example in love and faith; I must speak the truth as I see it; I must provide comfort to those in need; I must use my prophetic voice to motivate; I must not neglect the blessings I have been given in this life; and I must put all of this into practice. To do all of this I must devote myself to my call.  This is what I feel with every fiber of my being. And I am thankful every day for the privilege of being a Unitarian Universalist preacher, and to be your minister.  Blessed Be.