I Forgive You, I Forgive Myself

I found myself in the Sunday worship service two weeks ago unable to sing the introductory hymn because I was in tears, a surefire sign that I need to work on something deep within my soul. We moved on to the part where people face each other, often married couples or people domiciled together in other arrangements. I can imagine facing my late husband and saying those words. People who live together frequently trespass against each other in all kinds of ways, most of them small enough to be almost insignificant, some large enough to cause real hurt, but mostly the result of thoughtlessness, not malice.
    The annual forgiveness service is a little awkward for those of us unpaired, but that’s not why I became emotional. I said those familiar words in the responsive reading with a certain close family member in mind but realized that I couldn’t mean them yet. I wanted to mean them (or maybe I just wanted to want to mean them), but the hurt and the anger is so deep that I cannot let go. And I am a person who is not easily offended. So…..why is it so hard to forgive?
    Later in the week, I came across a photograph on Facebook, a beautiful picture of two women sitting solemnly side by side, one in white and one in black, with this caption: “I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief.” As the Southern Baptists would say, I felt a sense of conviction. I recognized myself instantly. I am grieving and have been grieving for almost eight years because someone I thought would always have my back let me down and did so at a very bad time in my life. I have finally realized that the major source of my distress is not anger over what she failed to do, but rather it’s grief over losing a relationship that I thought would last forever.
    She has never explained. She has never apologized. She doesn’t want to talk about it. I am not the only family member from which she has distanced herself. Is it possible to forgive when one’s forgiveness has not been sought? When no apology is forthcoming? When no effort at restitution has been made?
    If you forgive someone but don’t tell them about it, have you really forgiven them? Do I want to forgive, or have I nurtured this hurt for so long that I don’t want to let it go? I will be wrestling with these questions as I try to grow spiritually this year. There is a big stinky weed in my UU garden that needs to be pulled, and I would welcome help from anyone in the congregation who has faced this problem, especially within their own family.

Judy Harper, Board of Trustees

#Not Me

In light of the story of sexual abuse unearthed at the US Senate Judiciary hearings on Brett Kavanaugh, it’s no surprise that a new hashtag has appeared on Twitter for men who managed to go through their high school or college years without having sexually assaulted anybody:  #Not Me.

It seems bizarre to me that we should reach the stage where it should be remarkable that young men made it through their adolescence being kind and respectful to sexual partners – whether women or men. And I frankly don’t think it is. I think that most men are and want to be decent human beings in their sexual relationships. But you might not know that from the comments on social media following Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony of having been thrown down and groped by Kavanaugh. We heard it whispered among some men, “Well, who didn’t?” The answer is: lots of us, most of us, men who recognized that only a predator and a jerk would treat women that way.

And as long as we’re talking, I need to add:  Not me, either. I was a quiet kid growing up, no social butterfly. But I had girlfriends in high school and college and was sexually active, but all those relationships were consensual. I never forced myself on anyone.

I have to say, though, that in college I did hear about some wilder goings on, places women were warned against going, where some men embarrassed and debased them. This was pretty widely known, but no one did anything to stop it.

What’s frightening today is that with the entertainment industry so sexualized and with porn ubiquitous across the Internet, it can be hard for boys, especially, to make sense of what a healthy sexual relationship even looks like. That is part of what makes it incumbent on us as a caring, compassionate community to help them learn.

The Our Whole Lives classes that we at UUCA convene across age spans are centered in a value-based conversation about sexuality at each age level, up to and including adults. I took the classes years ago. So did our three daughters and now our granddaughters, and I am grateful for this gift to their lives.

Meanwhile, we men need to be upfront in pledging never to be sexual abusers ourselves, to intervene if we see it happening, to directly urge our sons never to engage in it and to confront anyone who would normalize that kind of behavior. Not Me, not any of us, not ever.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Our Caring Community

One of the highlights of my seminary experience was an eight-month hospice chaplaincy internship as part of clinical pastoral education. Although I began my internship with the same fear everyone has about not knowing what to say or how to pray with the mostly-Christian patients that I served, weekly visits with patients while shadowing my mentor taught me that pastoral care was all about striving to be a non-anxious, compassionate listening presence. It wasn’t about me or my theology, it was about being present, listening to another’s story in the context of ultimate meanings and concerns in their lives. I eventually made visits on my own and found it to be truly sacred work. And, I recognized its importance in the life of a religious community. We informally care for each other as we engage in the life of the congregation – attending meetings, coffee hour, social justice projects.

The Pastoral Care Ministry is a more formal expression of our care for each other. It engages the generosity of individuals willing to share their skills to provide compassionate listening, spiritual support and hope for members and friends of the congregation during life’s transitions. Ordained ministers often cannot meet the pastoral needs of the congregation alone and rely on trained and supervised pastoral visitors to be an extension of the minister’s pastoral presence. Working with the Pastoral Visitors at UUCA is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.

One of the goals of our Pastoral Visitors Team this year is to increase the visibility of this important ministry and provide programming that addresses some of the stressors that many of us face throughout our lives. We invite you to participate in this year’s programs and welcome suggestions for future programs. Here is what we have planned so far:

November 28, 7PM    Domestic Violence Panel & Discussion.
An opportunity to dispel assumptions about domestic violence and learn how it impacts communities. There will be a separate workshop for youth: “Consent is Everything.”

December 5, 7PM Thinking Differently About the Holidays: Moving from Terrible to Tranquil

December 9, 2PM Blue Christmas Service.
A service for those “feeling blue” during the holiday season intended to create a space for reflection, healing, and hope.

During our meetings, we have been exploring the ways in which a caring community behaves. We invite you to join in the conversation. How can all of us be generous with our time and listening skills to support each other? Please visit the bulletin board in Sandburg Hall and contribute your thoughts on how a caring community behaves. It is a collective effort to build and sustain beloved community.  Your input will help us strengthen the shared ministry of pastoral care at UUCA.  You can also share feedback with any member of the Pastoral Visitors Team: Karin Eckert, Iris Hardin, Jill Preyer, Ephraim Schecter, Myrtle Staples, and Carol Taylor.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez
Minister of Faith Development

Generosity is Getting to be a Habit at UUCA!

girl jumping on the bridge wearing black jacket
Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

Once upon a time not so very long ago, a UU congregation in, well, somewhere near here, did not quite have a culture of generosity when it came to taking care of itself.  The idea that all members need to be, no, ARE stewards of the organization hadn’t quite spread to everyone.  There had always been time-generous people, and skill/talent-generous people, and money-generous people, but many folks were happy that those people were around and didn’t recognize that their own (less, they thought) contributions were important.  I’m here to say that I think those days are behind us, er, them.

Here at UUCA, I am feeling the shift in the practices of generosity and stewardship.  People are beginning to understand that all generous gifts, no matter the actual size, are vital to the health of the congregation, make the congregation vital, and turn out to be healthy for the giver, too.

If stewardship means taking care of UUCA, then we surely need to call out the fabulous fundraising for the solar panels.  Not only was the project itself much more about protecting the environment than saving money on electric bills, but the project was paid for by lots of people giving generously—to the best of their abilities.

And were you here on the Sunday we dedicated this year’s teachers/leaders in religious education?  A LOT of people stood up in front at the second service…we have about 80 adults, mostly active parents but some non-parents, too, acting as teachers, helpers, and mentors in Sunday RE programming. That is time-generosity in action.

We have three active teams planning fundraisers for this year.  The women on these teams (yes, of the more than 20 or more people planning these events, only one is male) are contributing their skills and talents to help support (take care of) UUCA.  This year, the largest of the “special” fundraisers, our annual auction, is scheduled for November 3.  (Please turn in donations this Sunday—the planners are near to having anxiety attacks, afraid we won’t have enough stuff to auction off.)  Another, smaller team will have been working for nearly a year to conduct a gently-worn but “New to U” sale of jewelry, scarves and trinket boxes on March 29.  And of course, the folks that will be leading our annual budget drive (you know, the one that supplies 88 percent of our operating funds) have been gearing up for another Celebration Sunday on March 3.  All of these “back room” planners are demonstrating skill/talent-generosity.

Acts of stewardship are obviously good for UUCA, but are they really healthy for the giver?  Turns out the answer is a scientifically-proven yes.  The science of generosity shows that the more generous people are, the more happiness, health, and purpose in life they enjoy.  There is also reason to believe that generous practices actually create enhanced personal well-being.  There’s an entire book on the science of generosity, cleverly NOT named that.  Look for The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson.  (Use smile.amazon.com and donate to UUCA if you buy it.)

Linda Topp
Director of Administration

Take Time To Stop and Smell the Dead Roses

I notice a tendency in myself to “just finish a few more things from my to-do list,” to keep grinding, and “once everything is done“ it will be easy to relax and have fun.  While I believe delayed gratification is an honorable and productive strategy, it can be overused.  We live in a society that is productive and inventive and also, in my opinion, overly focused on doing things.  My children serve as inspiration and motivation to accomplish such hard work. Thankfully they have also been inspiration and motivation to sometimes “just be.”  
   The borders of work and play and public and private are in flux these days.  While not all of this is problematic, I think the increase of purposeful- and mindful-living themes is a reaction to these changes and an indication of the needs we have for awareness in the moment.  This doesn’t only mean awareness of the happy thoughts, the calm, the peace.  It may not be as fun or easy, but it is ultimately helpful to truly feel anger, stress, disappointment.  It means not just smelling the pretty red roses – it means getting a little whiff of everything.
   We often label decay and death as necessarily bad or scary.  However, as the very first signs of Fall have started to appear, here is a reminder that a peace can be found in acknowledging the beauty of endings as well as beginnings.  After all, the dead roses fertilize the next generation.
   “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”                             ― Rumi
James “Buck” Schall, Board of Trustees

Creating Sanctuary Everywhere

Last July in worship I introduced a notion to guide our social justice work that I said intrigued me – “Sanctuary Everywhere.” What if we as a congregation committed ourselves to the work of creating safe space for all people, perhaps all beings? What would that mean?

In the last four months, we have had a brief glimpse of what it can mean to provide sanctuary for one person facing life-threatening expulsion. With the help of dozens of friends from neighboring faith communities we have seen to her safety and helped meet her most essential needs. It’s been challenging but intensely rewarding work. For, in providing safe space for La Mariposa we have also built bonds of friendship and love. Reaching across boundaries of language, of culture, of ethnicity we have begun to know the rich and complex caring that is possible between and among people.

It’s a good place to start. So, again, how would it be if we extended that commitment, if we dedicated ourselves to the work of keeping all people safe? It’s a big idea but in many ways not a reach for us. It’s integrated into the social justice work we are involved in already, from our commitment to immigrant sanctuary, to Black Lives Matter, to our work to end hunger and homelessness, to support people of all genders and gender expressions and even our work to protect and sustain the Earth, a safe harbor for all life.

But what I especially like about the notion of “Sanctuary Everywhere” is that it gives us a focus that is centered in our faith, a faith that calls us to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people and to work to bring about a beloved community where all are held with compassion and respect. It gives us a grounding for work in many venues.

I look forward to exploring this further in coming months, and I welcome your thoughts around it, too.  But I thought that this month I’d tell you a little bit about where my own thoughts around this are going. I’m thinking that if I’m going to work for sanctuary I need to begin by creating sanctuary in my own mind and heart. That means examining those habits of thinking and feeling within me that hold me back, that keep me from truly extending a sense of sanctuary to others.

I realize that part of this just has to do with my own limited experience of the world and other people. And I’ve come to realize that this lack of experience is actually part of the privilege that I inherited, unknowingly, as a white person in this country. From my earliest days, I was raised in a culture where the white experience was normative – that is, normal, every-day, the regular thing. What I learned of non-white people might have been interesting, even exotic, but it was something out of the ordinary. I know I’m not alone. Perhaps this was your experience, too.

This isn’t anything awful or shameful, but I’ve come to realize that it severely limits me in my efforts to grow as a person and to inhabit a faith I affirm. So, an important part of the work of my own spiritual growth has been to give myself to experiences that will take me outside of that limited context and take in other perspectives.

There are many ways of doing this, and we offer some in this congregation and in the larger Asheville area. These include classes, such as Asheville’s own Building Bridges (the next session runs weekly Sept 10 through November 5, 7-9 pm at Rainbow Community School) or trainings by the Racial Equity Institute. You might also consider sitting in on meetings of Asheville Standing Up for Racial Justice, which are the second Thursday of each month at UUCA. Also, this fall I’ll be leading a discussion of a Beacon Press book by Robin DiAngelo called White Fragility, which explores why white people have such a hard time talking about race.

I’ve also made a point in my private reading of exploring nonwhite authors. Here are some who have produced some amazing works recently. I think of Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Home; Michael Eric Dyson’s powerful essays in Tears We Cannot Stop; Tracy K. Smith’s luminous book of poetry, Wade in the Water, and our own Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed’s astute analysis in Revisiting the Empowerment Controversy.

From the Hispanic perspective, I’d recommend Luis Alberto Urrea’s book of poems, Tijuana Book of the Dead, and his novel, House of Broken Angels. From the Native American perspective, I was impressed by the novel There, There by Tommy Orange and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a renowned biologist and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, on weaving together indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge.

There is such richness out there when we open our lives to diverse perspectives. Let us be about creating sanctuary where we can be in conversation with it all.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister



Taking Care of UUCA: Building and Grounds

We take advantage of summertime when there are fewer people on campus to do lots of repairing and sprucing up around the campus. Since you’re all owners of this place, I’d like to report the following accomplishments this summer:
  • Independent heating/cooling units in the nursery, Rev. Claudia’s office, and the admin office were replaced.  ($5600)
  • Three ash trees were infested with the emerald ash borer.  Two were taken down, one was trimmed and treated. ($2400)
  • Mold remediation in 21 Edwin basement. Will be purchasing a new commercial dehumidifier for that space. ($1500 for remediation, $1000 for dehumidifier)
  • Spot-cleaning of carpets in Sandburg Hall and 21 Edwin (shared with Friends of Mine Preschool).  ($150)
  • Painting Rev. Claudia’s and Rev. Mark’s offices and adjoining hallway.  ($600)
  • Wall-mounted 3 donated TVs in 21 Edwin classrooms. ($120)
  • Wall lights were added in RE Commons. ($450)
It’s also true that things keep breaking, all year long, even in the summer.  We have a fabulous group of Building Managers who are our first line of defense on many of these things.  Occasionally items escalate to professionals, but I can always count on the Building Managers to check things out.  Our Building Managers are: Ian Fischer, Dena Gettleman, Clyde Hardin, Larry Holt, John McGrann, Tony Reed, Bob Roepnack, and Glenn White.  
All of these things (one is not done) are back in working order (or have been replaced):
  • An electrical wire going from a breaker to an RE classroom was compromised, probably by water.  This line ran under the foundation slab of the main building so a new line had to be run through the drop-ceiling space. (no estimate yet–this one will be tackled next week)
  • Lock repair for exterior entry door in the foyer.  ($150)
  • One of the motorized shades in the Sanctuary couldn’t be closed.  ($60)
  • Half of the performance lights in the Sanctuary stopped working.  ($300)
  • The main office computer server partially failed.  ($400)
  • Light bulbs burn out and a lot of little things break.  (Love those Building Managers!)
  • Our folding machine gave up.  ($2000)
Remember at the Annual Meeting (and it doesn’t actually matter which one) when I referred to an extremely minimal fund for “capital” repair and maintenance projects?  Those are projects that cost us more than $500 and improve or save the value of the place. That $60,000 we spent on the new Sandburg Hall roof is an example. So are the heating/cooling units, the mold remediation, the new dehumidifier, and the painting.  We set aside a measly $10,000 each year for these kind of expenditures (note we’ve spent $8700 already not counting the roof), and as soon as that is spent out (and it happens every year) we start drawing from our Contingency Fund (which is how we paid for the roof).  So far we’ve been lucky the source of funding for the Contingency Fund (25% of bequests) has been adequate to pay these expenses, but it’s not a good way to do business.  Especially since the Contingency Fund is technically a reserve fund that should be used to cover 2 or 3 months of full operating expenses in an emergency situation.  None of this is news, but since we haven’t solved the problem yet, figured it was time to name it again.
Mostly the takeaways are 1) we do a lot of caretaking of our campus, 2) we are underfunded for that, and 3)our Building Managers save us money every year by supplying volunteer expertise and labor. 
Linda M. Topp, Ph.D., CCA
Director of Administration