An Exegesis of the Reading from James Luther Adams

There was a version of the sermon on Sunday that included a full exegesis of James Luther Adams’ reading…but as you heard – or you’ll hear in the podcast – that version wasn’t the version that made it to the service. Too much else I wanted to say….
But, I know JLA is dense, and especially since the reading comes at the end of a long essay filled with all sorts of other ideas that culminate in this section….some might find it helpful to have a little more commentary….So, for those of you who fall into that category…my JLA exegesis on this reading on conversion. 
 
First, the context for this reading – it is an essay he calls, the “Root Ideas of Human Freedom: The Changing Reputation of Human Nature.” In it he is exploring the relationship between rationality/rational order, human freedom, choice and the nature of the human being, in a theological sense.  It was first presented at a meeting of the American Unitarian Association in May 1941.  You can find the essay in the collection of his essays entitled On Being Human Religiously (check out esp pg 40 – 54; this quote is from pages 53-54).  
Throughout this essay, his motivating question – as I talked about on Sunday – is: what would create a liberal religion that would be able to effectively resist Fascism if it came to the United States?  That is, a religion that would motivate and organize people for real impact in history.
He diagnoses the problem as being liberal religion’s optimistic orientation towards human nature, as well as its over-emphasis on the individual, rather than the corrective of the “association,” which is his term for the group you associate with.
Right before the section of our reading, he’s talking about our struggle to engage with the destructive portions of life and human nature, and instead an over-reliance on restraint, and reason, as if those could save us all.  Here he starts to build towards one of the main points – reason alone can’t save us.  Lots of people know how to reason – but that doesn’t mean they actually have the motivation, or the orientation, to direct their energy towards collective liberation and healing.  For this, it requires the “affections” of the heart.
As the reading says, “It is not reason alone, but reason inspired by ‘raised affections’
that is necessary for salvation. We become what we love.”
It is hilarious to me that he’s describing how we need to better engage the heart, and he does so with such a restrained term as “raised affections,” but I also find it endearing.  He swims in this water too.
Also, before the reading, he describes how we need to reckon with the enormity of the evil that exists in the world – we need to get in touch with it – so that we can motivate the necessary will to actually address it.   At the same time, we need to reckon with the capacity for evil that exists within us – and the ways that our choices enable the evil in the world.  He encourages a kind of individual repentance – a seeing-clearly that connects with a desire for change –  that can foster world repentance – what he ultimately calls individual conversion (change) that leads to societal conversion.
Back to the reading – he wants to be clear that it isn’t that he thinks there is no place for the rational, or the intellectual approach in manifesting change, “Not that information and technique are dispensable. Even a St. Francis with commitment to the highest would be impotent when confronted with a case of appendicitis if he did not recognize the malady and did not know what to do.” 
St. Francis – huge heart, right? Can’t solve all problems just with that heart.  He needs information, education.
And so, JLA acknowledges: “One sector of the problems of society is its intellectual problems. Here no amount of goodwill alone can suffice. But something of the spirit of St. Francis is indispensable if the benefits of science and of society are to be in the widest commonalty spread, and for that matter, if even the intellectual problems are to be dealt with adequately.” 
I really think that climate change is the best example right now of this insight – we need the science, we need the scientific options for where to go next – but we cannot solve climate change – we won’t have the will, and we won’t actually find the right solutions if we don’t also engage the heart, what he’s calling, “the spirit of St. Francis.”
 
He goes on, “The desire to diagnose injustice as an intellectual problem as well as the power of action to achieve a new form of justice requires ‘raised affections,’ a vitality that can break through old forms of behavior and create new patterns of community.”
This is a really complicated sentence – I take from it his sense that you can’t get people to even hear the “intellect,” (the climate science), let alone take the action required to fix an issue, without first touching their hearts.  Because you have to change people’s behavior, and create new relationships, and new commitments.  It’s really hard.  Information alone, analysis alone, rationalism alone – cannot do it.
I left out a sentence in the reading, but in the text, he also adds this line at this point: “But the raising of the affections is a much harder thing to accomplish than even the education of the mind; it is especially difficult among those who think they have found security.”
This is the challenge of getting privileged people to care about the suffering of those who do not share their privilege.  It requires what Bryan Stevenson calls “getting proximate.”
He goes on to describe how religious liberals have often failed to stimulate this heart-opening experience, as he says, “This element of commitment, of change of heart, of decision, has been neglected by religious liberalism, and that is the prime source of its enfeeblement. We liberals are largely an uncommitted and therefore a self-frustrating people.
 
We focus on changing people’s minds – but we fail to engage the heart, to meet ourselves and the world in our real brokenness.
As he says, “Our first task then, is to restore to liberalism its own dynamic and its own prophetic genius.” 
One of his main projects is to help liberalism claim its power.  As one of his other essays says, “liberalism is dead. long live liberalism.”
And here he turns to conversion: “We need conversion within ourselves.” 
By this he means – change, starting with repentance – a clear-eyed look at our own brokenness, and the world’s.  Our own capacity for destruction, and society’s.  To see and more importantly, to feel the human capacity for destruction, and how, either directly or indirectly, we are all a part of this suffering.  (Remember, he wrote this in the context of Nazi Germany where he had been working along side the Confessing Church movement, attempting to overthrow the Nazis. There was a time where I wondered if or how his urgency translates to our world today. I don’t wonder this anymore.)
He does not mean to instill guilt, or shame, but only a sense of our responsibility, motivated by love.  Love for others, love for the world, love for life itself.
As he concludes: “Only by some such revolution can we be seized by a prophetic power that will enable us to proclaim both the judgment and the love of God.  Only by some such conversion can we be possessed by a love that will not let us go.”
It is the change of heart that fosters the necessary commitment to stand alone in transforming the status quo – the status quo of our individual lives, or of society.  Conversion is a transformation of heart – a revolution of the heart – that comes when we feel this deep connection with our fellow humans, and take a personal sense of responsibility, because we are bound up together in this transcendent, ultimate, and universal love.
I hope that this helps a little in making sense of the JLA – and helps us keep the conversation going about this idea of conversion! It’s one of my favorite topics, so please feel free to comment with your questions or further thoughts.
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From #MeToo to Easter – Making Space for a New Story

To call last Sunday’s #MeToo service “powerful” feels too small, too overused a word.  It was holy, it was terrifying, it was the beginning of something that we don’t yet totally understand.  (If you were not able to join us in person, check out the podcast here, or watch the full service here, and check out the text of the sermon here.)

Holding space with you as we traveled the path of our stories of pain, and shame, violence, and also resilience and resistance broke my heart, and also bolstered my spirit.  It was brave space that we made together, and also, it was just the beginning.

As I prepared for the service, I was struck repeatedly at the ways that the #MeToo movement connects so readily to the #NeverAgain marches that happened across the country on Saturday, and also the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the work for Immigration Justice and also environmental justice, and….because all of these movements are trying to address the dominant paradigm that says some lives matter more than others, that some voices and stories matter more – that we are not ultimately all in this life together.

It can be easy, when we start delving deeply into this work in the ways that we did on Sunday, to get caught up in the pain, or the shame, or to feel that these old stories we are fighting to change are in fact intractable, or to be overwhelmed at just how deep the dysfunction goes, including in ourselves.

Which is why, I’m so glad that the Sunday immediately following #MeToo is our Easter Sunday.  Because Easter reminds us that it’s never too late for forgiveness, for healing, for reconciliation, for redemption.  It’s never too late to imagine a new story, even one that feels at times impossible.

So, come on Sunday, and let’s celebrate together, and remind each other – that we are still in the middle of a story that we are writing together, and that so much remains unknown, and out of our individual control – and, despite what we might think sometimes, that’s such good news.  Because then in the midst of some of the darkest days, there emerges Emma Gonzales, and Naomi Wadler, and the movement for Black Lives, and the intersectional work of the Women’s March.

Our task, as we gather, is to make space in our hearts, and in our lives, for all that is trying to be born, and to keep doing our own work that we can be shepherds of a new day, and a changed story.  And to give thanks, for this good and worthy work that we can do together.

#MeToo

#metooOver the last year, we have been inspired and strengthened by the the rising #MeToo movement, which seeks to end the silence around sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct that people of all genders, and especially women, have experienced, and to draw attention to the magnitude of the problem.

On March 25th, we will be holding a service exploring the #MeToo movement.  As a part of this service, we invite your #MeToo stories and testimony. We will be sharing small parts of these during the service. Please send your story to metoo@foothillsuu.org. If you want to remain anonymous, feel free to print up your story and mail it or bring it to the office in a sealed envelope and put it in one of our boxes.

Additionally, we invite all women to join in a women’s choir to sing the women’s march anthem, “I Can’t Keep Quiet” as a part of the service.  All who identify as women, regardless of singing background or ability, are invited and encouraged to join in. We will rehearse Sunday March 18th at 1pm, and Wednesday the 21st at 6pm. Please RSVP to chris@foothillsuu.org and he will send you the music and recordings for your part.

Finally, following each of the first two services on the 25th, we will be holding two conversations about being an ally for those who have experienced sexual assault, hosted by a newcomer to Foothills, Hudson Wilkins. Hudson is a local therapist whose practice focuses on healing from sexual violence and who heard about our #MeToo service and wanted to be a part of this important work. Look for more information in an upcoming Communicator or Sunday Bulletin.

Our history as advocates for lifespan sexuality education and our affirmation of healthy sexuality as an integral part of a healthy life calls and challenges us to be the church that explicitly supports the #MeToo movement. Join us on March 25th, and join us in this journey as we look ahead to building a healthier culture for all people.

In faith,

Rev. Gretchen Haley & Rev. Sean Neil-Barron

Pausing the Holiday Rush

This week marks the beginning of advent, which in the Christian tradition is a season of anticipation, paying attention, and waiting.   It is a time that invites our intentional pause, and slowing down so that we might more fully notice all that is about to be born.

In other words, advent embodies precisely the opposite of what many of us are feeling this holiday time of year.  So often we spend our Decembers in a rush, filled up not with anticipation but with anxiety, overwhelm, and sometimes even dread.

This year, we could all use the practice of advent.  To listen more intentionally, that we might hear beyond the restlessness, to pause more fully that we might see beyond the rush, to breathe more deeply that we might know ourselves still becoming, to see all that is growing and beginning in joy.

During this holiday season, we invite you to join us for a time of greater intention, attention, awareness, anticipation, and joy.

  • Join us on Sundays for explorations of memory (12/3) and hope (12/10), as well as our special all-music Sunday on the 17th with a theme of JOY.
  • Also on the 17th, join our Earth Based Path group for a traditional casting of the circle in honor of Yule – set up at 5, ritual at 6.
  • On the 21st we’ll gather to welcome the return of the light for our special holiday vespers at 6:15.
  • On Christmas Eve (a Sunday this year!) we’ll have 4 services – 10 am (a “Kitschy Christmas” celebration), 5 & 7 pm (family Christmas services) and 9 pm (Lessons & Carols).
  • And on New Year’s Eve Sunday, we’ll celebrate Fire Communion at 8:30 & 10, and at 11:30 we’ll share in waffle church with an abridged Fire Communion service.

Beyond worship, join us on the 17th for our annual Holiday Craft Fair – a sure bet for any gifts you haven’t yet been able to find.  Also, look for news from Chris Reed on our new-this-year family holiday pick-up choir.

Over the Christmas week, we’ll also be hosting families experiencing homelessness with Faith Family Hospitality, and we invite you to sign up to bring and share in a meal, or stay over night.

Whether in worship, in community, in service together, or simply in the breaths that fill all the space in between all of these, and that flow through and connect us all – in these days, my hope is that we can all find that pause of advent in our holiday rush, and remember there what it feels like to anticipate with joy, to notice with wonder, to let laughter overcome us, to be filled with hope.  This is my hope, and it is also an invitation, to keep coming back to this pause – we can practice, and become, together.

Sharing Joy – reflections on Sunday’s service from Foothills’ member Lindsay Tearman

When I pulled up to the church at 8:15 Sunday morning, I knew that something special was in the air. The streets were already lined with cars which is a rare sight for first service. When I entered the building, the energy was already moving around, and my morning coffee became less critical, as I was quickly energized by simply breathing it all in. There were a few of us that knew what was in store for the morning service, and the anticipation of how the it would be received was thrilling.

As Gretchen opened up with sharing stories of joy regarding Thanksgiving, I smiled as I had also found myself on the “Turkey Train” for the last week. Tables got a big shout out this morning, and rightfully so. We gather around them constantly at our homes or offices, as a central meeting place to share food, stories, or ideas. A table is a rarely thought-about symbol of unity, the unsung hero of holidays. There were a few questions presented to us, calling attention to various things that make us happy. Songs, places, foods, and we shared those answers with the community at large, as well as with our neighbors. It was a well-needed moment to have.

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself struggling to hold on to happiness sometimes. As we carry justice to our local and global families, it can feel like an uphill battle against the injustice that is presented to be prevalent. Sunday morning was a beautiful reminder of what we know is true- that there is wonder and love and light that is everywhere. That the source of our strength comes from ourselves and from each other, and the hope that we hold so dearly in our hearts. Sunday was a chance to tap into our happiness, and to revel in it with each other.

We also did something that we haven’t done in a few years by holding a “reverse offering” in which a two dollar bill was handed out to every single member of the church (adults and children alike). The mission we were tasked with was to take that $2 and find some way of expressing courageous love to our community. We could work together, work as a family or with neighbors, or by ourselves to come up with a way to share joy. I can’t wait to hear the stories that come back for this, and knowing that Northern Colorado is going to get a little boost of love in the next few weeks is endearing.

This was followed up by Gretchen’s announcement that a donor, who sits amongst us each Sunday and yet wishes to remain unnamed, received an unexpected large sum of money and in the wake of Charlottesville, decided to give that money to the church. This is incredible and inspiring, a huge momentum given to promoting all of the good that exists here.

I expected a shock wave of such an announcement to flood through the church. I wasn’t sure if people would faint or jump out of their seats (being from the South I have a perpetual expectation of a “big tent revival level of expression” at any church I ever attend), or perhaps confetti and balloons would shower from the ceiling. Instead, I noticed the community smiled at each other and nodded, with immediate acceptance of this most wondrous gift. I found it intriguing, as if there was a collective “Yeah, that totally sounds like something one of us would do”. Which to me completely reinforces who we actually are. We are the people that go about our lives, day-to-day, in a fashion that may seem outrageous and bold to others. The spirit of giving and loving and taking care of others is ingrained in us, all year round. This donation was given whole-heartedly, in the spirit of love. We are approaching the holidays as heightened expressions of love and gratitude, not viewing them as a single day to celebrate.

As I sat there, still thinking about exactly what I could possibly do with my $2, the choir took the stage. Their performance sung beautifully as always, and there was a power to their voices that flowed through each one of us. I found it interesting to think about what we are able to give to the world. The impact that a single voice makes, that is amplified by the others that join them- it fills the entire room. And it’s genuinely moving.

There is so much work to be done, but we are never alone on our journey. Side by side, we continue to share our gifts with our community, only to have that create a continuous energy that cannot be contained.

So it is up to us to continue to sing that song of joy, to hold that space of Hope even in the most difficult of times. It is the only way that we can be true to ourselves, and to fulfill our purpose here. One of my favorite proverbs is “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow”.  (Disclaimer: this was on a desk calendar I had many years ago, but it has stuck with me throughout time.) When we keep anything to ourselves, we deny others the ability to be a part of something that is bigger than us. I am so thankful to be a part of this community and I wish you all the most magical of holidays. May your hearts be filled with everything that is wonderful in this world.

Lindsay Tearman, Stewardship Team Member

When the Special Appeal became extra special

For many years, the special appeal at the annual auction has allowed the congregation to fund something that – although not funded in the regular budget – would make a real difference in congregational experience.  The special appeal has funded the benches on the patio, the lightweight tables in the social hall, the screens in the foyer and RE building, and the initial set up of the projector and screen in the sanctuary – and much more.  This has all been incredible, but a few years ago we had the idea that we should do something even more “special” with the special appeal.  We should share it.

It was the year we’d started sharing the plate with a community partner, and we knew how powerful it could be to be able to do something big and generous for one of our partners in Fort Collins – so that we wouldn’t just be keeping the money to grow the blessings in our community, but we’d be passing it on – which felt like living our values.  And so we tried it out, and the results were incredible.  Suddenly instead of raising $3,000 or $4,000 in the special appeal, we started raising $7,000, and then $9,000, and then….last year was the most amazing thing when we raised over $18,000.  You can read about all the worship improvements that these funds enabled in this blog post from Chris Reed.

But maybe even more importantly, nearly $9,000 of this money went to our partners at Faith Family Hospitality to support the building of a patio and playground for children at their new transitional housing unit – a house that FFH leases from the city as a temporary home for up to seven families working towards self-sufficiency.  This home is currently under renovation, and over $300,000 must be raised to complete this project.  Which is why for this year’s Special Appeal, we’re going to keep supporting FFH and this important work!

This year we hope to raise $10,000 for FFH to replace dilapidated kitchen cabinets in the transitional home, known as Sherwood House. There are three communal kitchens in this old home, and all need new cabinets.  And in turn, we’re planning to use the money we raise for Foothills to do a complete overhaul of our Foothills’ website – which as you may have noticed, very much needs it!

A few years ago we might have thought that this goal number was far out of our reach – but this congregation has shown us again and again that this is not the case.  The generosity of this community has been incredibly inspiring, and ensures that we are in so many ways living up to our mission of truly unleashing courageous love both within and beyond our congregation.

Thank you for being a part of this important and extra-special effort, and hope to see you at the auction on November 11th! Get your tickets here.

Our 3rd Service Experiment: The results are in…

In February, we began our “3rd Service Experiment,” with an intent of trying out three Sunday morning services for 13 Sundays – through April.  The Board charged the staff team with moving forward with this experiment in December because they realized that 2 services could not accommodate the numbers of people who wanted to worship with us on Sunday morning.
Our goal for the three services was to learn as much as we could about what it would take to sustain 3 Sunday services (how hard would it be?!), how people would react to an earlier (or later) service, and whether or not it would indeed accomplish the goal of serving more people.
In the past few weeks, our Committee on Shared Ministry (Glenn Pearson, Margie Wagner, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Sue Sullivan and Ward Sutton) have held a few feedback circles with various groups to help gather up some of this information we hoped to learn. These have provided us critical information as we begin to look ahead to the next steps for our worship services this summer and beyond.
If you weren’t able to attend one of these circles, I hope you will fill out this short survey about YOUR experience and lessons from the 3rd Service Experiment (By the end of April, please!).
We have two big pieces of news resulting from our lessons learned and our feedback so far.
First – much to our surprise – is that, instead of asking us to hurry up and be done with the three services – there is a shared desire to extend the three services through May 21st when our regular religious education classes will conclude. Anything sooner would disrupt our classes and our teachers too much.  Also, as a staff team, we have realized that a third service isn’t that hard – we actually like it! We like that it means more space for all who come, and that we can indeed serve more people.
Which brings us to the second insight – which is that for the period of February through this past Sunday, we are consistently serving nearly 40% more people than we did this time in any prior year.  Instead of seeing attendance plateau at our seating capacity, and then drop back down, it’s remaining steady, and growing.  Whereas previously we would see 200-300 adults on a Sunday, we are now routinely seeing between 350 and 450.  There are probably multiple reasons for this, but we can say with confidence that we are accommodating more people on Sunday morning, which was the goal.
Also, for the summer time, based on last year’s numbers we know that we need to have 2 services instead of 1. The summer time seems like an ideal time to offer our 8:00 service.
All of this means that, starting on Memorial Weekend and running through Labor Day, we’ll hold services at 8:00 and 9:30, with an extended fabulous social hour/community fun time at 10:30.
After Labor Day we will return to three services – and the times for these will be sorted out based on your feedback in the survey as well as through other efforts to collect feedback.
Thank you so much for your willingness to try out this experiment, and for making space for all who want to gather with us on Sundays. I know it has sometimes meant stepping out of your comfort zone, missing out on seeing some of your usual friends on Sundays, and changing around your routines.  Thank you for keeping your senses of humor in tact and for learning along with us so that we can keep serving our mission in these times when our church and our values are so needed, by so many.  33682878575_f8987089f2_k.jpg