Reflections on the 6th UU Source

from Jane Everham

“Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the scared circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”

In the Black Forest of Pikes Peak region of Colorado, one finds oddly formed Ponderosa Pines that look to have suffered harsh winters, intense winds or even viruses. Turns out they are Ute Prayer Trees. Ute Prayer Trees (UPT) are a unique variety of culturally modified trees that were skillfully cultivated by the Ute Indians throughout much of Colorado.  They began modifying trees for navigational, medicinal, nutritional, educational, burial or spiritual purposes.  UPT can still be found today and are believed to have been cultivated between 150 – 450 years ago. The Ute, like many other Native Americans, believe all living things have a spirit and the majority of the UPTs discovered in El Paso, Teller and Custer Counties appear to point towards Pikes Peak and other sacred places of the Ute people.

“I think Ute Indian Prayer Trees are living Native American artifacts that offer us an intriguing link back in time to a deeply spiritual people with rich culture and long history in the Pikes Peak Region,” explains Anderson. *

Earth-centered traditions have been around as long as humans, thousands of years. And many different living traditions are offered for UUs to practice and incorporate into our faith, be it Pagan, Christian, Native American or more.

At the Western Unitarian Universalist Life Festival, the UU family camp at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, we have a tradition of celebrating the Solstice at Echo Amphitheater. Our Pagan UUs craft a ceremony which includes interfaith readings, we honor the Four Directions and the Earth Elements, a teacher from Albuquerque sings a heart-stopping Ave Maria into the echo canyon wall, and then everyone – all ages – dances, drums, waves ribbons, wands and engages in all kinds of spiritual joyousness. It is a complete religious and spiritual stew – a glorious stew honoring the earth.

Here in Northern Colorado, we have a vibrant land to protect. “We can’t make new rivers” said a recent Facebook post from the Save Our Poudre folks. Keeping earth-centered traditions alive in all forms is work we can engage in, especially on days when the news has us holding our heads crying, “What can we do?”  In a sermon back in June, Gretchen counseled us to stay alert to and embrace joy where we find it. If tending the earth physically, monetarily, or politically brings you joy then dig in and get your hands dirty, or pull out your wallet, or put pen to paper with a rousing Letter to the Editor. Our natural environment needs our ongoing service and our Sixth Source of Earth-centered tradition calls us to keep up the effort.

This is the last Blog in my series on our Six UU Sources – there are surely other perspectives on these Sources, and you are invited to join the Foothills Bloggers and share yours. All Six UU Sources acknowledge the gifts we have received from other faiths, voices, and traditions. It is up to us to honor them and make them vibrant in gratitude. We hear every week that our worship is on Sunday, but our service is every day, and we continue to respond.

Blessed be.

*Culturally Modified Ute Prayer Trees by John W, Anderson – A side note, the La Foret Retreat Center often visited by UUs is in this Black Forest with its Ute Prayer Trees. Some of you may remember seeing these peculiar trees.


Reflections on our UU Fifth Source

from Jane Everham

“Humanist teachings that counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”

UUs read, study, learn, talk, debate, discuss, argue, challenge, question, interview, interrogate, deliberate – am I repeating myself? Yep, we do that, too. We are intellectual creatures and attend to our heads (sometimes more than our hearts), but it takes both to be a good UU, a good steward of the earth, a good human.

The 5th Source teaches us that in our UU faith, we maintain and nurture our respect for facts. We embrace reason as a verb, “to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic”- a key difference between reason and idolatry.

Idolatries of the mind and dogma offer a framework that may give followers an easy out from intellectual responsibility. Some people like being told what to believe because then they don’t have to think, wrestle with complex issues, and make tough decisions. Like climate change, for example – if you don’t believe in climate change you have no responsibility for thinking about or trying to solve such an overwhelming global issue. But climate change is based on scientific facts – you don’t believe in facts, you believe facts, or not.

UUs have an aversion to creeds and dogma, but our faith’s commitment to science and reason can serve to guide us in living ecologically, socially, and call us to engage in working through the messy challenges of the democratic way. As a longtime member of Foothills, I have witnessed and been officially engaged (once as President of the Board of Trustees) in events that have “rocked our boat,” but I stand proud of a congregation that is not afraid to stand up to a challenge and do the hard work required to resolve, mend, and move on.

I am so grateful for this covenantal faith that calls me to live the Seven Principles guided by our Six Sourcesa strong foundation for both heart and mind. I hope this 5th Source’s call to “heed the warning against the idolatries of mind and spirit” keeps us humble. This UU faith is not the one, true faith for all, it is just the one, true faith for UUs. Other faiths, including Humanism, have revealed truths and actions that serve the common good, truths that we have adopted as our own. I love that UUs know and embrace that “the Truth is always being revealed.”  We are a “living tradition” continually learning and evolving. Let us continue to use our voices and our actions as example for others for the betterment of our world. And let’s not be afraid to be big and loud!

Reflections on Our Fourth UU Source

from Jane Everham

“Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

This Golden Rule teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I’ve always struggled with this Rule because I see too many people not loving themselves very well – being doormats, self-deprecating, or callous. I don’t want to be loved in the manner some people, even friends, treat themselves. Rev. Sean Neil-Barron preached “The Platinum Rule” last fall: Love your neighbor as your neighbor would like to be loved. A subtle, but significant difference because the Platinum Rule requires one to get to know the person to be loved. It may also require one to love in an uncomfortable manner – something I recently experienced.

My best friend lost her partner of 29 years. He was in declining health for several years and in the last two years required a tremendous amount of vigilance, care, energy, focus and sacrifice. In the last year my friend was exhausted, her sleep was constantly disrupted, and her personal goals were shelved as her life was limited to his care. In her exhaustion, she fantasized what she would do when he passed.

“I’m going to travel. I’ll sell the house, move closer to family, get a small apartment, and I will travel.”

Then he passed. Oddly, he went to the hospital in crisis, but rallied. Very early in the morning, he woke up and told the nurse he felt better then he had in days and hoped to be released later that day. The nurse left his room, and ten minutes later he died.

When you know something is going to happen, and on some heartbreaking level you are hoping it will happen, and then it suddenly does – it can still be a shock. At least that is what happened to my friend: “I wasn’t at his side. I didn’t get to say good-bye.”

She told me these things months later when she finally agreed I could visit her. Initially she went silent for weeks and was very unreceptive to communication from family and friends. “I can’t stop crying. I miss him.” she explained.  Telling her it didn’t matter if she cried, that I could handle her crying, did no good. “It matters to me,” she said.

Every suggestion that she visit, travel, (You always said you wanted to go to Italy – let’s go!) or make plans for moving on was met with a flat, well-boundaried, “I’m not ready.”

Her needs confounded me. Loving her in the way she wished to be loved meant doing nothing,  felt helpless, and resulted in impatiently waiting – for months. I had been ready to cancel everything; to visit, travel with her, or help her sell her house, move, and get newly established. But all was verboten.

Eventually, she said I could call her, then visit, and  FINALLY – nine months later, she visited me. She is doing much better though she still insists that “I’m  not ready” for much more of life yet. “I’ll let you know when I am ready to get on with my life.” Seeing her progress helps, but the experience of loving my friend as she wished to be loved was a very difficult life lesson. I’m an Enneagram Two, The Helper – we need to help!

Nevertheless, I did it. I refrained from being “help strikes again,” which is just what my friend dreaded. She needed to control her world and keeping  others at bay worked for her. I needed to trust that she knew herself and her needs. In the end, I was able to do my part in letting her heal in her way, not my way. Today, our friendship endures, and is possibly stronger. Maybe I am even a better friend now.

Thoughts on our Third UU Source

from Jane Everham

“Wisdom from the world religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.”

Mark Sappenfield, the editor of the Christian Science Monitor, reported, “Someone once told me that the Monitor’s reputation for unbiased journalism was all wrong, because the Monitor clearly did take sides: for justice, compassion, dignity, or responsibility, just to name a few” (i.e. the Monitor has a bias for progress).

Progress is the root of progressive and as a member of the progressive UU faith at Foothills Unitarian Church, I connected with Sappenfield’s words. As a progressive church, Foothills intends to move forward, evolve, grow.  How many Sundays have we heard the words compassion, “justice,” “dignity,” and “responsibility” from our own pulpit?

I’ve subscribed to The Christian Science Monitor for 21 years because it is a fair and balanced source of news. I am ill-informed of Christian Science as a faith, however, I can say that over the years this periodical has communicated compassion, fairness, and its own brand of courageous love. I’ve never felt animosity toward Christian Science, but I have ignored the religion. Now I see that faith as a partner on the road we UUs travel.

The religion of my childhood was very sketchy Congregationalist and Episcopalian, participating in religion was not a family priority. My three best, childhood friends were Catholics, so I accompanied them to a fair number of Catholic Masses, and over time I developed an animosity for religion. Generally, it all seemed like a finger pointing, holier-than-thou sham, and as a young adult in the late 60s and 70s, I rebelled against any system trying to tell me how to be. I built barriers against religion. Then in the 80s, life events steered me toward a search for a religious community, and  the Unitarian Universalist faith was a natural with its rejection of religious dogma and embrace of “an individual search for truth and meaning.” I shifted from “no religion” to “my faith’s okay, but yours is not so hot” stance which ultimately didn’t feel very UU.

 I began further exploration of Buddhism and Native American spirituality, and our son attended Har Shalom Pre-school which provided a year of learning for our family. More recently, Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, further acquainted me with Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims – not necessarily clergy, but people of faith who have helped transform my attitude.  Today, my church’s call to unleash courageous love and my experience in Wellspring Sources, our UU, ten-month course in spiritual deepening, have resulted in my breaking down more walls I’d built between faiths. As my religious knowledge and attitudes grow and shift I experience greater curiosity and desire more learning.

For example, the Jesuits and Franciscans priests can be so down-to-earth, imaginative, and witty. I became curious about the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius, and believe me, being curious about a saint is a major shift for me. Now, I am reading The Jesuit Guide to (almost) Everything: a spiritual practice for real life by Reverend James Martin. Not everything I’m reading resonates. Like a UU hymn singer, I change some of the words in my head as I read, yet much of what I read feels familiar and comfortable. I see how my own spiritual practice can be enhanced by some of the everyday spiritual practices that St. Ignatius recommended . . . in 1534. Father Martin doesn’t say in his book, “Our worship time is over; may our service begin,” but the most basic tenets of the Jesuit faith emphasize a call to clergy and followers to serve their communities.

I’m not changing faiths – ever. It just feels good to shed hostile feelings and to broaden my circle of religious inclusion. Being always irritated or “anti” is a physical and spiritual drain. Acknowledging a shared bias with other faiths for compassion, dignity, responsibility and justice is recognizing a bigger blanket of love for this world we inhabit. As I pursue my spiritual path, it is nice to know that there is a diverse caravan traveling with me.


Reflections on the Second UU Source

from Jane Everham

“Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.”

While reflecting on this Source, I determined I didn’t want to quote or write about Gandhi or Martin Luther King – who are very, clearly prophetic voices that we recognize, value, and follow but who are already quoted extensively. I wanted to find some “unsung” voices from both past and present, speaking in perhaps more conventional ways.

Joan Baez – Joan Baez was  not in my top ten list of prophetic voices until today when I read the headline: Joan Baez diffuses right wing protest at Idaho concert. Reading beyond the headline, I discovered that four men protested her concert with posters saying: “Joan Baez- Soldiers Don’t Kill Babies, Liberals Do,” and “Joan Baez Gave Comfort to Our Enemy in Vietnam & Encouraged Them to Kill Americans!” When Joan learned of their presence she went out to listen to them. She told them she wanted to hear their stories. She diffused the situation – the tension melted as they lay down their signs, and a conversation ensued, though the minds of the four were not necessarily changed. Afterward, Joan addressed her audience saying, “You know, they just wanted to be heard. Everyone wants to be heard. I feel like I made four new friends tonight.” Sometimes prophetic voices are most powerful when they are silent and just listen.

John Holt was an innovator in education who wrote many books back in the 60s and 70s. He promoted both homeschooling and unschooling – a radical departure from the public education that most of us experienced. Many of his ideas were suitable to homeschooling, small schools, and experimental schools, yet couldn’t be adapted to the extensive and complex structure of public school. However, his attitude of love, honor, advocacy for, and belief in children is something I took to work with me every day during my 34 years in education. This quote from Holt hangs on my wall at home:

“What is lovely about children is that they can make such a production, such a big deal out of everything or nothing . . . I never want to be where I cannot see it. All that energy and foolishness, all that curiosity, all those questions, talk, fierce passions, unconsolable sorrows, immoderate joys, seem to many a nuisance to be endured if not a disease to be cured. To me they are a national asset, a treasure beyond price . . .”

Prophetic voices don’t need to be famous icons, but the ideas they voice need to offer a vision that prods our own thinking.

Maya Angelou came to Fort Collins in 1985 and gave a way-too-poorly attended talk at the then Holiday Inn on Prospect. But the audience made up in enthusiasm what we lacked in numbers. Every attendee sat on the edge of their chair taking in every syllable this deep-voiced women spoke. She talked to us, read from her own books, and read Langston Hughes’ poetry and excepts from James Baldwin. To sit that close to Ms. Angelou and take in her glowing, (seriously, she did glow.) loving, large, “colored” self was mesmerizing. She told a powerful story about asking a white friend, “What color is your African- American neighbor?” The person balked, “Well, she’s black.” The friend didn’t say “duh,” but it was clearly implied. Ms. Angelou just smiled and went on to correct her by reading a poem, I believe by Langston Hughes, called “The Color of Black People.” It was simply a recitation of color words like cafe au lait, apricot, persimmon, licorice, cocoa, fawn, maroon and so many others to describe the color of “black” people. It was such an uncomplicated way to articulate and honor individual difference.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg –  Go see the film about this amazing trail-blazer, icon, and extraordinary woman. Learn of her involvement in women’s rights dating back to the 70s. She is an inspiration and a role-model for all. This is one take-away from the film – “You can’t have the truth without Ruth!” Ginsburg credits her mother’s advice for much of her success as “be a lady (don’t give way to emotions that sap your strength and don’t get you anywhere,) foster a love of reading, and  be independent.” Ginsberg’s writings display her dignity, knowledge, and independence. She is notorious for her independent streak and her thoughtful, wise, pointed yet even-toned spoken commentary is sadly becoming a rarity in our public discourse. Prophetic voices can be unconventional, unpretentious, polite, and profound.

In my mind, a prophetic voice doesn’t predict the future, it envisions the future. Many of us at Foothills have a vision of the world we want to leave our grandchildren. We must remember that sometimes the prophetic voice is our own. We  can speak out. This world needs our visions and our voices.

Thoughts On The Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism: A Blog Series

Today marks the beginning of a new series on the Foothills Blog. For the next six weeks, Jane Everham will be sharing reflections on the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism. Check back on Tuesdays to continue following this series.

from Jane Everham

UU First Source –  Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.

I once heard someone say, “Experiencing spirituality in nature is easy.” The tone was derogatory, as if nature lovers take the easy way out. My response was, “So what? Does spirituality need to be hard?”

Nature needs us now more than ever, and if more people experience the mystery and wonder of nature then all the better for the planet. And its inhabitants.

But what else is meant by transcending mystery and wonder? Is there more to it than enjoying and being renewed by nature? And what about the 1st Source’s call to “openness to the forces which create and uphold life,”  where does that fit? According to Sara Smalley, a U.U. Seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School, our First Source is “the sacred text upon which our faith is built: not a hard-bound book, but the testament of our own lives.”  Huh? Anybody thinking, “What, me? My life is a sacred text?”

Time to ponder.

My pondering takes me back to my 34 years as a school psychologist in the public schools. A large part of my job was evaluating children to help determine why they were struggling to learn in school. I was one-on-one with kids for up to three hours during an evaluation. I was close-up – in their face. And let me tell you there is nothing as beautiful as the face of a child.

All children? Yes.

Close-up, all kids  are perfection in some way – in the shape of a facial feature, an innocent expression, or a  question that is startlingly honest. I loved watching them think, struggle with a question, problem-solving puzzles, or even try to manipulate themselves out of a task. Was my involvement with children the direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder?

I worked with programs serving the severe and profoundly disabled children attending public school. Teaching disabled children is a calling with its own set of rewards, far different from what classroom teachers experience. I watched in wonder at the love, compassion, and tireless care these teachers poured out on their students. When a teacher throws a class party because a ten-year-old finally learned to recognize his name – you know you are in a special realm – the realm of openness to the forces that create and uphold life, maybe?

I believe mystery and wonder and the forces that create and uphold life are all around us, and we just need to have our antenna out to experience them. Our busy lives tend to create too much mental clutter and static. Remember the car wash sign that  says, “Collapse your antenna to avoid damage.” Sometimes we need to “pull in” our spiritual antenna as an act of self-preservation, and sometimes life collapses it, but committing to fully extending your spiritual antenna is the way you will catch mystery and wonder.

The testament of my own life as a sacred text?  That is still hard to fathom, but when I link it to the beloved community and think of it in terms of “our lives” – the basis of our faith is the testament of our lives, my life does begin to resemble wonder and mystery.

Thoughts On Unitarian Universalim, Grief, and Beloved Community

from Ximena Meissgeier

About a year ago, I attended my first Unitarian Universalist service. I watched Rev. Gretchen speak candidly but gracefully about progressive issues. I laughed when Rev. Sean made a Beyoncé joke, and I was engulfed by the way the church had notes of my past traditional religious life, but yet it had its own spiritual energy. When the song “Come, Come Whoever You Are” was sung, it struck my core. I was what the words said. I was a “wanderer worshiper, lover of leaving,” and then I knew that this was now my church, my sanctuary, my family.

Since then I have had many religious experiences. I volunteered with the congregation on numerous projects, I listened to many services that healed my wounds, and felt the emotional support I had so desperately needed. One thing I had not experienced however was the death of a loved one as a Unitarian Universalist. Then my childhood friend passed away in a traumatic and unexpected way this past July.

I was drowning in grief. He was a bright and lively 20-year-old. He was the first person who told me Santa Claus didn’t exist, and he snuck me out to my first party in high school. How could this happen?

I remember attending the services following his death. I was so angry; how could these people be praying to a God who didn’t save this beautiful man. Didn’t they realize we were gathered here because their prayers didn’t work? I went through the motions of Christian ceremonies but was not present. The priest officiating the service said that now was our time to turn to our faith in Jesus and become strong through him. That did nothing to alleviate my grief. My mother assured me he was in a better place. All my friends posted Facebook pictures saying that they will see him soon. I even became jealous because as an atheist, I lacked the comfort that my Christian friends had. The following days were some of the lowest in my life.

Then came Sunday, and it was time to go to the UU service. While I was away, I had emailed Rev. Sean, about my loss, and he forwarded my information to a grief supporter named Karen. I had never met her before, and I wanted to thank her for calling me and checking up on me as the days passed. Those calls meant a lot to me. I have yet to come out as a UU to my family and I could not express my thoughts on death with anyone. But she listened. She texted. She was there.

As I walked into the church, I bumped into Christopher Lamb, a lifelong UU who is about to become the interim minister in Boulder. I had previously spent a lot of time with Christopher and his wife Amber at the Spirit Quest Camp. I often tell my husband that they are my #marriagegoals because of how they treat each other and how they treat the people around them. I told Christopher about what I was going through, and he looked at me like he cared. Which I knew he did, by the way he listened with patience and offered his condolences. Later, he sent me an email with resources about the grief process.

After church, I finally felt like I could start to breathe again.  I don’t know if it was the way I was greeted when I walked through the doors, or how my spirit was at ease after singing with the congregation. Maybe it was hearing my friend’s name during the service, how his life was acknowledged within my own church walls. Through my pain, I have only felt closer to the church. I have read more about the core UU belief and have felt a greater sense of connection with the faith. I know what type of UU I want to be. I want to be daring like Rev. Gretchen, fighting for my beliefs. I want to make people smile the way Rev. Sean does. I want to volunteer my time like Karen, with a service that might not be exciting or fun, but nevertheless crucial to the church, and like Christopher I want people to know that I will always be there for people when they need it the most.

The UU principles look great written on paper. They were written with lots of wisdom and they truly made a unique faith. But the UU principles embodied by real people are beautiful. They are what keep me coming back to church every Sunday.