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.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Be Kind, Be Gentle, Be Brave by Reverend Tom Capo preached November 13, 2016

So Many Feelings
This is the first half of a poem written after the election by DuPage Unitarian Universalist member and chair of our Social Justice Committee, Cheryl Clayton:
The sun came up today
            As though the Earth were still unchanged.
            My world had tilted overnight:
            The ground beneath my feet no longer stable.
I watch in stunned disbelief
            Surprised by the depth of my visceral response,
            My weeping for the Earth,
            For my struggling black, brown, gay, Muslim, and poor
            Brothers and Sisters.
Yet the sun still shines, indifferent to our pain.
            Gleeful in its ability to wobble us on our axis,
            Knock us back down to our reviled
            Second class status.
Millions wildly cheer its power.
Others only quietly shamefully secretly
            Allow inherent white supremacy to bubble up from its hidden lair.
How does the sun deceive us so blatantly?
It shines so brightly – how can so many
            Be duped by its shallow core?
The sun can and will destroy us
            Unless we harness its power.
            At Wednesday’s Vigil I heard so many voices.  Words of fear, sadness, anger, and a deep sense of grief.  People wondering about how far we had come as a country and as a society, and yet how fragile that progress now seems.  They spoke of friends and family they could no longer listen to or speak to.  They spoke of brokenness of the system, of some of their relationships, of themselves. 
            And there were tears.  Feelings so raw that words could not express them, feelings so powerful that they could only be expressed in weeping. 
            The Sanctuary was filled with people from Move On.Org, from Youth Outlook, from our church, from other Unitarian Universalist churches.  Word-of-mouth, Facebook, Meet-up, the internet—so many people found our church that night.  About half the people who gathered had never been to a service in this church, and yet they came in the hope that their sorrow would be shared, that their feelings could be expressed in this safe space.  No matter how they participated in the process, each person at that Vigil shared, to one extent or another, deep, heartfelt emotions.
            I too shared my sadness, my difficulty functioning.  I listened as people groped to make sense of Tuesday’s outcome.  They wanted a plan, something to relieve their anxiety.  But then again, the intent of the Vigil was not to start planning.  The intent was to create a sacred, safe space to share our feelings, to try to reconnect ourselves to what, for Unitarians, is our First Principle: to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  Every.  Person.
            These feelings may not pass quickly or easily.  I am reminded of something I say in our child dedication service:
In this service, we give this child a rose bud.  Whether this rose bud is beautiful or not; whether it comes into full bloom or not; whether it fulfills itself as a flower or not—depends on the nurturance it receives.  A child is an adult in potential, a flower whose unfolding takes place under the careful tutelage and shelter of love.  No flower grows alone, apart from sunshine and rain, apart from the soil in which it lives.  So too no child grows alone. We realize that with some apprehension that the quality of our own lives will determine how well this child’ potential will be realized in full bloom and flower.  In being part of this child’s life, we also must realize that we cannot remove all the thorns from this rose bud.  There will be pain in this child’s life that we cannot protect him/her from, but through the pain we will be with this child. 
            And I say to each of you now: there will be pain, but through this pain we will be with you. 
A Time to Heal
            The poem you just heard was written by Spanish Poet Antonio Machado and read by American poet Robert Bly.  Listen to these words again:
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – a marvelous error! –
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
            In this process of healing we might want to hurry spring along, but right now it doesn’t feel like rebirth will ever happen.  And even when spring does break through, we might wonder at it or distrust it, thinking it to be some error of some kind.   But I tell you that the only thing that is constant is change.  I cannot tell you when you will feel spring breaking through again, but I tell you this, when it does happen, whether for a moment or a day, embrace it.  Your feelings will ebb and flow.  As we sing in hymn #17 “Joy and woe are woven fine, clothing for the soul divine; under every grief and pine runs a joy with silken twine… and when this we rightly know, safely though the world we go.” 
            Healing is about accepting emotions, whatever they are, as being real, as being sign-posts that there is something that needs to be attended to within us and perhaps around us. 
I have presided over many memorial services, been with many families who have faced the loss of a loved one.  What many of us are experiencing is a similar grief.  I do not say to these families, “You will get over this” I tell them “Allow yourself to feel your feelings as long as you need to, as long as it takes for you to make meaning of them.”  I do offer some caveats: do not shut yourself off from the world, do not let your feelings keep you from taking care of yourself, and do not let your feelings control you.  Make time to sit and be with your feelings, reflect on them, own them.  Let them teach you, let them motivate you, let them eventually bring you peace.
A Call to Action      
This is the second half of Cheryl’s poem:
But MY children, my white, college educated, reasonably wealthy children,
            Will survive.
THEY will always have employment, good health care.
            THEIR children can go to private schools, expensive colleges.
THEY have never been arrested, nor even questioned by police.
THEY can avoid flooding from high tides
            By moving inland.
Privileged, yes.  Complacent, no.
They share my grief, will not allow me to mourn for long.

Our work made many times harder
            And ever more vital.
How many times have black and brown sisters and brothers
            Been knocked back down the ladder?
How many times have they refused to give up, climbed back up:
            One painful step at a time?
What now?
Channel the energy of our rage, our fear,
            Our sense of betrayal,
            Our tears.
Direct our energies back down that ladder
            To lift our brothers and sisters up.
When the sun comes up tomorrow
            May it shine the light of hope.
            I asked you to wear safety pins today.  It may seem like such a little thing to you, an acorn-sized response to a mighty oak of a problem.
Our feelings can, as Cheryl writes, channel the rage, fear, sense of betrayal, our tears, direct our energies back down the ladder to lift up our brothers and sisters.  Some people are sending flowers to their local mosques with notes saying “Remember we are with you” or “You are not alone” or “You are loved.”  Some people are writing words of support in chalk at the Wheaton Mosque.  Other people are reaching out to friends in the GLBTQ community, fearing for the safety of that population, letting them know that they are not alone, letting them know that we are gay and straight together.
            Here is my point, most of the members of this church are white.  About half of us here are male.  Many of us here are affluent.  And we are adults.  Most of us will not be the ones who suffer, getting our scarves torn off our heads like young Islamic women have recently.  We will not be the ones whose temple or mosque will be defaced or burned.  We will not be the ones who will be cursed at, told to go home, told they are terrorists.  There are some of us here who are afraid that their right to marry or to choose whether to have a child will be taken away.  And our children may bear some of the burden of this divided country, with children seeing bullying and abuse as being acceptable behavior in political discourse.  In the last few days bullying by both children and adults across this country has been on the rise—and our children and our GLBTQ friends, and our Islamic and Sihk friends, and all our friends of color will need us to listen to them, to create safe spaces for them, to help them cope with this painful new reality. 
            Dorothy Day wrote: “People say, what is the sense of our small effort. They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There's too much work to do.” 
            What difference will our small effort, writing chalk messages on a sidewalk make?  What difference will your small moment of bravery, in the grocery store or on the train, make?  You don’t know.  You can’t possibly know.  But if you truly believe that we are all part of the interdependent web of all existence then you must believe that what you do, no matter how small, is felt by other entities on that shared web.  You make a difference.  So, I am sure most of you know what the safety pins we’re wearing symbolize.  They mean we will not abide mistreatment of women, immigrants, GLBTQ, Muslims, people of color, anyone.  Wearing this pin identifies you as a person who will do what they can to make sure another person feels safe.  It identifies you as a person they can talk to; a person they can lean on; a person they can cry with; a person to turn to when feeling bullied. 
            When you see harassment, go to the person being harassed, sit beside them, engage them in conversation; pick a topic, any topic and just start talking to them.  Keep eye contact with them, and don’t acknowledge the attacker’s presence.  Keep the conversation going until the bully leaves, then escort the person to a safe place if necessary.  And I want to be clear this is not only about Islmaphobic harassment; this 4 step intervention works to help anyone who is suffering harassment. 
            And so, I offer you three little steps to starts moving again, three little “pebbles” to cast into the troubled waters we find ourselves in:
1.         Be kind.  Take some chalk and write a positive loving message on a random sidewalk or parking lot.  Lay down your kindness for everyone to see.
2.         Be gentle.  Wear your safety pin to identify yourself as a safety zone for everyone to see.
3.         Be brave.  Stand up to the bullying that you see around you.
Be kind.  Be gentle.  Be brave.  Pick one, or choose all three.  Whatever you choose to do make a difference. 
            And so, we come back to our First Principle: we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  No shaming.  No name calling.  No exceptions.  Even when a person is destructive, prejudiced, bullying, or just plain hateful.  Be kind, be gentle, be brave.
            So go with peace in your hearts, use your arms to hug your neighbors—they need it right now—and your hands to do the work of the word.  Be that safe person, and this church will be that safe place, that people sorely need right now.  As one young person said on Wednesday night, let’s go out into the world and make kindness cool.   

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Road to Resilience By Reverend Tom Capo 5/8/2016

          I have heard the question, when faced with difficult times, with painful experience, with seemingly more than you can handle in your life, do you bend or do you break? I believe that in some measure we all bend, though that bending can take a toll.  Or as singer Lena Horne puts it, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” We have all learned some way to carry the loads we have to carry without entirely breaking down.
            I asked you to reflect on a time in your life when you were struggling, a time when there was some darkness in your life or maybe a lot of darkness in your life.  Let me share one of those times from my life with you.  Martha and I had been married about 8 years.  Aaron, our son, was almost one year old. We had just sold our house in Fort Worth at a slight loss and caravanned to Houston with an ice storm hard at our heels.  I was starting a new job in Houston so that Aaron would have a family experience while he grew up.   We were financially stable, but just barely.  And we were committed to Martha staying at home to care for Aaron until Kindergarten.  We decided to accumulate some debt and live a less extravagant lifestyle, and were determined to keep up the repayment of my student loan plus baby expenses on a single income. 
            Fortunately my brother lived near my new job, so we moved into his guest bedroom, but no real home in sight.  We had not put a down payment on a house.  We had not even looked for a home.  We just took a leap of faith and moved, knowing—or hoping—family, would catch us and hold us for a little while.   Steve and Karen, my brother and his wife, hadn’t been in their house for a year, yet they welcomed us, colicky baby and all.  New job, new neighborhood, reduced income, reduced—significantly reduced—privacy, new routine.  To describe that time as chaotic and stressful doesn’t really begin to encompass how out-of-control everything felt.  And then we got pregnant.  The insurance from my new job hadn’t kicked in and we were afraid if Martha saw a doctor, her pregnancy would be classified as a pre-existing condition and thus wouldn’t be covered.  Given Martha’s history with miscarriages, we were very concerned about this pregnancy and, like the previous three pregnancies, she was bleeding in the first trimester.  Both of us thought: “How could we possibly bring another child into the world when we were essentially homeless?”  And we had nothing saved up to put down on a new home.  If there was a light at the end of the tunnel, it seemed to be a train coming at us. 
            At that point in my life I was a fairly pessimistic person, even without this stress, you know I was a glass half-empty kind of person.  And with all that Martha and I were trying to cope with, my glass seemed pretty well completely empty.  My resources were spent, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and fiscally.   I struggled getting by from one day to the next.  And the baby would not stop crying.
What are some of the things that help a person in a situation like this?  When you are constantly moving, when you are constantly reacting, you cannot get a perspective on what is happening in your life.  As simple, as simplistic as it sounds, there is real value in carving out a small space for yourself, for your heart.  To stop.  To breathe.  To ask yourself: are you making realistic plans?  Do you feel good about yourself?  Do have confidence in your strengths and abilities?  Do you have effective communication and problem-solving skills?  How are you handling the powerful emotions that are associated with all that you are facing? 
Stop, Meditate, and Reflect.  They are all counter-intuitive in situations when you are just trying to survive, when all you can do is react to whatever life is throwing at you.  Meditating is the last thing on your mind when you are in crisis mode.  And yet, as people of faith, it is really the first thing we should do when we feel overwhelmed.
I stopped, meditated, and reflected.  Realistic plans, well there was no money in savings; we had one infant and another on the way; we essentially had no medical insurance; the debt load was rising exponentially, and we still had no home.  {scream here then breathe}  But years of meditation practice had taught me to allow the problems of daily living to pass through me, that is, to know that problems will come and go, and to realize that obsessing about problems would not help me to pull myself out of them, practically or emotionally.  Buddhist meditation teaches that attaching to or rejecting or denying those worries empowers them.  Letting them pass through me can give me some distance, some breathing space, from them. And that is what I was eventually able to do.  All those years of biofeedback and meditation were finally paying off.  Well, it wasn’t like night and day difference to start.  I started feeling more grounded gradually, now and then at first, and over time, more consistently.
With some distance from the anxieties, I was able to realize that I was not alone in the chaos.  I had my wife, my parents, my extended family, my Unitarian Universalist Church, my newly formed men’s group, my high school friends, and my co-workers giving me support.  So many people I could talk to about these issues, not so that they could fix the situation, but so I could let off some of the stress that built up inside me.  Feeling loved and supported by others makes a huge difference when your heart is heavy and your burdens are threatening to break your back.  Gradually, I found a way to carry the load that came close, but would not, break my back.
My parents lent us money to make a down payment on a modest home.  The area near my new job had an excellent school district.  While we couldn’t pay down our debt, I was making enough money for us to keep from increasing it. Living with my brother had helped us build up our savings.  And my employer appreciated the skills, talents, and insight I brought to the clinic.  Maybe things weren’t so awful.
As I calmed myself, I regained my self-confidence and realized that I had the skills to manage the powerful emotions that plagued me.  I also realized that I needed more sleep, more exercise, and more time to meditate and reflect, again, counter-intuitive responses to the pressure-cooker life I found myself in.  I would not make good decisions when I was exhausted, scattered, and anxious.  Taking care of myself had to become at least one of my many priorities.
Things were starting to move forward, I was slowly beginning to get some perspective on the situation.  Then I drove into the side of my brother’s garage, creating a huge hole in his garage wall.  One step forward and ten steps back.  All the old thoughts and feelings were coming back with a vengeance.  I would need to use my savings to fix the wall and my car, putting us that much further from getting out of my brother’s house and into our own home.  Our child would be born homeless.  All the plans were falling apart, the glass was emptying out again, and it was all my fault.  My mind spiraled. 
Time to stop.  Take a deep breath.  Meditate.  What I needed to do was talk to my brother about all this.  When I did, he said the hole was no big deal and we could fix it together.  He went on: it did not need to be fixed right this moment anyway.  And my car, well it was 1970 VW bus, and I had been repairing and restoring for many years.  I just needed another trip to the junk yard.  I realized that I could still easily slip and fall emotionally and spiritually.  I realized I was still fragile, too close to the stress and our new lives were still too new to feel comfortable and, more importantly, stable.
As I continued to take care of myself and stick to my vision, I gained some new insights into myself.  I realized that money issues triggered something inside me—fear, insecurity, failure—I was not entirely sure at the time where those came from, but I knew they were issues from my past that were coloring my present and could easily overwhelm me if I let them.  I also learned that Martha and I could deal with some extremely difficult situations together.  The first 10 years of our relationship we had not really faced this kind of stress.  It was just the two of us.  We could go where we wanted, when we wanted.  We both worked and had plenty of income.  We had great church community that gave us tremendous support and really empowered us.  Martha and I were teaching New Member classes and helping to build a new sanctuary within the first year of our joining the church.  The world had been our oyster.  We had not had to deal with much in the way of difficult change. 
Now we were in the midst of seemingly everything changing in our lives:  our relationship—having to figure out how to maintain our connection with one another when there was so little time for us to spend together; and now we were responsible for two new lives—we had always wondered how well we would parent our own children having both grown up in dysfunctional homes.  I had come to realize that life was really about change and I had to build up my resilience muscles to cope with it.  I realized I was changing, too. 
I understood, maybe for the first time, how important a spiritual practice is.  I started a practice of reflecting on my blessings—attending to the many positive things in my life.  I found this helped me see my glass as more full and less empty.  I would be lying to you to say I was great at this practice initially.  And it was many years before I was consistent.  But reflecting on the many positive things in my life occasionally made difference. 
And I needed new friends.  My old high school friends lived far from me, and while we could talk on the phone, I needed friends near me.  I made some new friends at the gym playing Racquetball.  Life was getting better and better. 
As you probably have figured out, Martha and I bought a nice older home, Jacob was born, and life settled into a lower level of stress.  I got through a situation that seemed insurmountable, overwhelming, traumatic. 
So, what did I learn?  Why am I telling you this story?  First I learned the importance of recognizing and celebrating having gotten through a really lousy time in my life.  This week I talked to my Spiritual Director and I realized that I still have a tendency to say “Woo, that’s over” whenever I go through a really difficult time, and get back to living life, without recognizing and celebrating my resiliency.  I also learned that I need to bring back the memory of getting through tough periods, because it reminds me that I can get through tough periods. So often we forget that we have fallen and have gotten back up.   That’s resilience.  The capacity to get back up, eventually, and keep going.  And we don’t do that alone.  That interdependent web we keep talking about?  That is what helps us be resilient.  That acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth you keep hearing about?  That’s what helps us be resilient.  Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?  Yup.  That too helps us be resilient.  “We gather as an inclusive community to grow in character, mind, and spirit and to transform the world toward fairness, love, and compassion.”  The willingness, the capacity, to be transformed is the willingness, capacity, to be resilient.  The willingness, the capacity, to grow in character, mind, and spirit, is the willingness, the capacity, to be resilient.  

Life is very much like the Hopi Elders described; it’s a river: “Here is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore. They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know that the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore. Push off into the middle of the river, and keep our heads above water. And I say see who is there with you and celebrate.”  This past couple of weeks have been hard on this congregation.  The budget gap and the possibility of having to lose staff or reduce staff’s compensation or benefits resulted in fear, pain, hurt, stress.  We could have been torn apart or suffered greatly from hanging on to the shore of our anxiety.  But instead, this resilient community pushed off into the middle of the river, found a way to keep our heads above water by raising the money needed to more than fill the gap.  Take this time to look around see one another.  Be grateful for one another.  Celebrate.  You all did really good.