Vocare

“Vocare” originally appeared as a sermon delivered to University Unitarian Church. The associated readings that accompanied the sermon were from three sources: Tess Baumberger’s meditation “Let us Make This Earth a Heaven,” Rev. Theodore Parker’s sermon “Justice and the Conscience” and 1 Kings 19:7-13 from the Hebrew Bible.
Click here to listen to the audio recording of the sermon.

To my siblings in faith and action. I say these words in the spirit of love and I pray that you receive them in the same spirit. These last two weeks have come with more reminders that our world is in desperate need for justice, peace and most of all, prophetic love. With Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five police officers killed in hateful violence (in addition to the attacks in Nice, France, the attempted coup in democratic Turkey, and this morning’s events in Baton Rouge and so many other similar news stories coming almost every day), it seems to me that no matter how many loving steps forward I take in pursuit of justice, our shared path keeps getting longer; increasing in grade with the summit seeming to always be on the horizon. I am angry, heart broken, frustrated… and I am ashamed to admit it but I am also exhausted by it all.

I am ashamed because I take pride in being strong; physically, mentally, emotionally. Yet I continue to fail at the responsibility I put on myself of holding the weight of being an ally to people and communities who are so much stronger than I am. Not because they want to be; but because they have to be. Yet just like the Hebrew prophet Elijah, I hear their voices in that quiet whisper of God, questioning me: “So Justin, now tell me, what are you doing here?” And I have to cover my face and look away because this is HOLY work and holy ground to which imperfect I, and we, are summoned.

The Latin word meaning to summon or to call is Vocare. And it is from this word that we get Voice, Vocal, and Vocation. And I say all of these words with a capital “V.” Because they are calling out to me from the wilderness saying “prepare ye the way!” And yes, they are demanding. They demand my time, attention, money and hands. They demand that I use my Voice to shout “ENOUGH” alongside our siblings of color in all public places. They demand that I be Vocal, calling out in love both strangers and friends who persist in their rose colored glasses that #AllLivesMatter. They demand that I use my Vocation, as a person pursuing the ministry, to challenge the powers that be to dismantle and reform all our systems of inequity and oppression.

In essence, Vocare demands my being. And so here I am, proudly a Unitarian Universalist, responding to the summons of our time; saying from this pulpit that Black Lives Matter. Because not to respond, to let that phone continue to ring just to keep leaving a message on my machine, would be to reject that which I call most sacred; my humanity.

Not just my individual humanity but my shared humanity. Which I never really understood until I found Unitarian Universalism. You see, I grew up Catholic in a mixed race family. My miscellaneous brown skin and my social location in a mostly white suburb gave me the privilege that I didn’t have to think about race. And I was a progressive liberal Catholic who believed in equality and inclusiveness. I believed in hate the sin and love the sinner. I believed that non-Catholics (and even non-Christians) could also go to heaven. But in my heart there was always an “us” and a “them.”

Because I was the religious type I even went so far as to pursue the ministry, which at the time meant to study to become a Catholic priest! But nobody told me that seminary is a dangerous place. That it may end up razing my faith to the ground before it would even start to build it up again. I lasted two years before leaving. Still cowardly identifying as Catholic even though I was already doubting everything that the Church taught me. I was afraid to announce my apostasy. Because, what would the members of my Church community who I had known my entire life, say? What would my family say? If I were to suddenly come out and say “I do not believe in your systems anymore!”

It wasn’t until years later when I found the courage to go my own way. It took travelling half-way around the world and back again to finally step through our church doors and sit down in these pews. But I can say that the experience of US filled me with such a deep resonance. With our values as a community; focused on the dignity and worth of every person, a commitment to spiritual growth and democracy in the world, and a deep connection to the Earth and all living things. I immediately knew this would be my community of faith; the spiritual foundation for my future.

But, siblings, Unitarian Universalism did not offer me a soft, safe, carpeted foundation. Yes, I found fellowship and friendship; I found a family and community. But I also realized the radical kinds of responsibilities that came with my choice to identify as a Unitarian Universalist. This is a faith with a history of powerful reformers like Michael Servetus; suffragists like Susan B. Anthony; free thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson; and abolitionists like the Rev. Theodore Parker! Many of our spiritual forebears were burned at the stake for daring to proclaim their truth to the powers that be. And even though they were afraid for their lives they still fought church and state, whether it was in the rejection of hell or in the demand for freedom. No, I believe that ours is not a faith of comfort. To me this is a faith that answers that quiet voice among us asking “what are you doing here?” by saying “we are here because we see too much corruption in our government” and “we are here because the blood of the Earth cries out” and “we are here because too many people are being killed” and “we are here because Black Lives Matter!”

Which I believe embodies so much of our own prophetic history and work. In the words of Alicia Garza, one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter:

“#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole.   When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free.  When Black people get free, everybody gets free.  This is why we call on Black people and our allies to take up the call that Black Lives Matter. We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways.  We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.”
“When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”

I’ve never been a part of a radical community like ours before. I found a faith in which I am constantly challenged to break my binary habits of “us vs. them” and “either vs. or” and to accept that at our best we are a people of “both/and.” We are Universalist and Unitarian. We are black and white. We are theist and atheist. We are trans and cis. We are gay and straight. I feel that at our best we have room enough to even be liberal and conservative. Siblings, you have inspired me to be a human being of radical action and prophetic love who is committed to rejecting the binaries.

And yes, I have made newbie ally mistakes along the way. In my very first Black Lives Matter march in downtown Seattle I tweeted out “All Lives Matter” with all the good intention in the world. And I was quickly educated that my good intentions had subversive impacts; that in reality by saying All Lives Matter as a response to Black Lives Matter both unintentionally and intentionally erases the Black experience. That the truth of our country and systems of today is that Black lives don’t matter; not as much as others. And I listened, learned and I was changed.

And a few weeks ago before our UU General Assembly I was asked a question that nobody has ever asked me before: “Do I identify as a person of color?” And I did not know how to answer. Yes, my grandmother emigrated from Mexico. Yes, my father is Mexican American. And while living in the Northwest has bleached out my melanin you would be very surprised how dark my skin can get given enough sun. But being asked this question made me realize two things: first, that yes I am a person of color who, due to my social location, has had the privilege of not having to identify as a person of color unless I want to. And second, that my privilege was bought and paid for without my permission at the price of my family in terms of culture, language and identity. These my grandmother sold away when she came to the United States. Even though she never spoke English herself, she concluded, accurately, that the only way for her children to succeed was to remove their “Mexican” and replace it with “American.” And it worked because I am only now learning what it means to be an ally to my Latinx siblings. From deep within I am educated that my grandmother’s good intentions have had subversive impacts. And I listen, learn and I am changed.

Now, in this time and place of social unrest and societal change, the challenge is to keep going. After the service today our Racial Justice Team has two places set aside to help us. First, honoring the practices that Black Lives of UU has called for, we offer downstairs in Howe, a sacred space for our Black siblings to gather in caucus. Second, members of the Care Team will be available in Nathan Johnson Hall for anyone who wants or needs to meet one on one with a member of the Team to discuss issues of the heart, mind and spirit. They will be wearing orange tags that say “Standing on the Side of Love.” Next Sunday after the service, we will have a Black Lives Matter stand in outside of the church along 35th Ave NE. Finally, we are responding as a community to a call to action, committing to provide for Black community organizers meeting and healing spaces here at UUC free of charge. In these ways, and in many more, we will continue to listen, learn and to change.

And believe it or not change is happening. Just last week, as I was considering deleting about half of the people from my social media connections because I was sick and tired of them not “getting it” with their Blue Lives vs. Black Lives vs. All Lives and their “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a bigger gun” a friend of mine made a simple statement on his Facebook page. He said,

“I’m ashamed to admit it has taken me this long to get it. The concept of Black Lives Matter isn’t a rallying cry to say that the life of an African American has more value than any other, it’s simply a reminder that the life of an African American has the same value as anyone else. Saying Black Lives Matter is just another way of saying Stop Valuing Black Lives Less.”

If my friend, a cis gender white male in his late 30’s married with children who lives in the suburbs who works in the tech industry who considers himself an enlightened liberal yet refused to accept the legitimacy of this most current Black movement can have a conversion of heart… it recommits me to keep doing the work. To keep speaking out on my social media channels. To keep engaging in loving dialog with those who disagree with me. To keep working in existing ways and finding new ways to not stop with the message that “the status quo has got to go.” And it is working; one person at a time.

Siblings, Vocare is a dangerous verb. It both summons the small voice inside and calls out through us as a louder voice in the world. To me Vocare is a powerful verb of Unitarian Universalism. We are an educated and privileged people with a history of justice and change, who do not let dogma or doctrine stand in our way, and who at our best have truly been one of the only real welcoming communities religion has to offer. Yes, I, and we as a denomination, have made so many mistakes along the way.

So what? We are a people who show up to listen, learn and to change.

I choose to believe that we are committed, whether we like it or not, to that prophetic vision that has spanned time from before the Rev. Theodore Parker to beyond the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is present in the now through the words of prophetic Black organizers like Alicia Garza. That we are part of an arc in creation that has been bending toward justice from the very beginning. And each and every hand placed on that arc, through word and action, through my imperfect ally-ship and our collective imperfect ally-ship, will keep bending toward justice for as long as it takes.

Do you hear that? That small, quiet voice, full of the potential of justice and peace and freedom?

“So Justin, now tell me, what are you doing here?”

I am here because “things refuse to be mismanaged long.” I am here because I was summoned. I am here to answer the call. We are here to keep answering the call.

Amen.

Finding Life in Detention

(Finding Life in Detention was originally written for the BeZine, an online “e-zine” produced by the Bardo Group. Please check out the other amazing writing found in this and other issues of the BeZine!)

SEC Logo copyI’ve only been working as a chaplain with youth in detention for a month. I could have chosen a number of different seminarian internships; campus ministry, church administration, advocacy. But I chose chaplaincy on purpose because I felt a “call.” It is why I’m studying an MDiv; it’s why I stopped running away from ministry.

In this month I’ve heard stories of rape, assault, grand theft, vandalism and trafficking in narcotics. There is something fundamentally disturbing to hear the voice of a child talk about getting so drunk and high that carjacking an elderly woman sounded like a way to “have fun.” All this from the mouths of youths who should be worried about their SATs rather than their next court date. So I’ve been asked the question, “How do you do this?” My answer is, “Because my faith demands it of me.”

fhouseAs a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that salvation is IN my life. My faith as I choose it requires me to work towards the inherent worth and dignity of all people and all creation, not for heavenly reward but for humanity. Which means pushing myself to be in places and meet with people which make me uncomfortable. To speak truth to power. To give witness. To expand beloved community. To be where the Spirit of life needs me to be.

Yes, it is hard to sit in active listening, asking questions, attempting to sift through the psychic refuse to find the innocent child underneath. But let me be clear; there is an innocent child underneath! Because I have also heard these same children’s voices ask for mercy, beg for forgiveness and plead for a fifth, sixth or seventh chance to turn away from the paths well worn by their incarcerated fathers and addicted mothers and economically and educationally depressed neighborhoods. These children’s eyes reflect back at me; “Help me! Heal me! Love me! Save me!” And my faith and my humanity will not let me say “no!”

seedEven though a minister’s trade is in miracles, I expect none here. My ministry is to listen. To be present. To plant seeds of hope. To challenge my world to change for the sake of it’s children. And to push and pull with all my might to bend that arc of history just a little bit further toward justice. It is in this hard work that I find the Spirit of life seeking reconciliation and my own salvation.

In this way, working with youth who are incarcerated is life giving! It reminds me of who I should be. It wakes me up from the soma of my off-white middle class American social location. The work allows me to be so filled with gratitude for my family and baby boy that I have to respond in thanksgiving. And because I did very little to deserve my blessings and privilege, I must pay it forward. Which is where I am confronted by mystery and miracle! The more I give, the more I find that I am being transformed by these youth into a better human being.

I’m not good at radical love.

(I’m not good at radical love first appeared on the blog Loved for Who You ArePlease visit them for more stories on living and practicing radical love!)

training wheelsI’m not good at radical love. Scratch that. I don’t think radical love is something I can be good or bad at. It’s something I need to learn. Not to be confused with the radically easy love, such as my affection for my friends and family with jobs, education, well-read opinions and good taste in beer. I love a lot of people who are safe, comfortable and encouraging. I support them and they support me, without judgement or hesitation. This is love on training wheels and at close to 40 years old it’s time for me to grow up.

In my experiences of volunteer work in Romania and Mexico and the United States, I’ve learned that for love to be radical it can’t discriminate; it “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor 13: 7) and not just for people who are easy to love. If I truly want a just and peaceful world, radical love is required for the homeless man who hits me up for cash every time I go to Whole Foods for my organically grown and fair trade sourced bread. Or the mentally ill woman on the bus who smells horrible because she hasn’t showered in weeks and wants to talk to me about how the police have ruined her life. Or the fundamentalist Christian at the gay pride festival holding a sign that says “Burn In Hell.” Or the drunk guy who lives under the bridge in my neighborhood. Or the African American woman who comes into my office because she saw the sign outside that reads “Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center” and thinks that we have money to give her so she can turn the lights back on for her three kids in her studio apartment. I need to learn how to love the hard way; to grow out of my comfort zone to embrace people who need love the most.

69766d03f350498d6f6b73b525dcf2c0Radically hard love is the price I pay for being a father. My first child will be born around Christmas this year. My partner and I didn’t know if we could conceive. Now a baby is around the corner and the world is suddenly smaller because it is filled with baby-potential. And just like I would hate to have somebody come over with a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and dog hair everywhere, I am ashamed at the state of my world for which responsibility will fall on my child. The only way my son/daughter is going to succeed where my generation has failed is if I can teach them radically hard love, and I can’t teach something I haven’t experienced.

Radically hard love is the price I pay for faith. My Unitarian Universalist church demands radically hard love. Its seven principles challenge me to move beyond my safe relationships into the scary realm of solidarity with people on the margins of society. If I truly believe in “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations” than I have to act for peace and justice in the world for every person, not just the easy ones. Otherwise the principles of my faith are just more words in a meaningless creed. Working at my non-profit I’m confronted with child trafficking in cocoa supply chains, human slavery involved in electronics manufacturing, mass migration due to global climate change, and what seems like a world going to hell in a hand-basket. It’s easy to succumb to compassion fatigue because everything is urgent and one man can only do so much. The only way I recharge is by going to church in solidarity with other peacemakers. But if I’m going to be honest and effective in my spiritual community, I have to learn radically hard love.

vocationRadically hard love is the price I pay for vocation. Years ago I had this crazy notion that I may be called to serve in some kind of ministry. Now that I’m studying at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, I am learning skills that help me connect with the prisoner, the beggar, the homeless, the gentile, the mentally ill, the foreigner and the outsider. There is a drive somewhere inside my head and heart (and maybe spirit?) that demands I overcome my unease and fear of people who may ask for more than I am comfortable in giving because these are the people who need radical love the most. If I’m going to true to this mysterious call to Vocation, in order to be true to myself, I have to learn radically hard love.

Because of my commitments to my children, faith and self, it’s time for me to stretch beyond the safe walls of my middle class life. I need to put radically hard love into practice in order to be the father, neighbor and minister I feel called to be, taking risks with my heart by connecting it to people who need it most. That being a Unitarian Universalist comes with a responsibility to creation and neighbor that mirrors the responsibility I learned as a child in bible class:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

lovewithoutexceptionssquare-500x500Now that I’m an adult, I’m no longer looking for salvation or eternal life but I can hear the wisdom in this story; that the whole world is my neighbor and the whole world needs merciful acts of radical love.

Why I go to church…

collapse-michael-ceraWorking at a peace and justice non-profit is an emotional double-edged sword plowshare. It is emotionally fulfilling to have a small part in making the world a better place. It is emotionally crippling because every day I am confronted with the injustice and inhumanity of human trafficking, war, ecological destruction, greed and corrupt power. Compassion fatigue is real; I can only watch/read/research so much before the pictures/videos/stories become numbers/statistics/calculations instead of real people.

My symptoms include bypassing petitions instead of filling them out; deleting email action-alerts instead of reading them; turning the radio station from KUOW to KEXP when a challenging story comes on; binging on Netflix instead of keeping up with current events. If I let the fatigue persist it would be easy to just give up. Heck, sometimes giving up looks pretty damn attractive. It would be much easier to just give in and become just another consumer who doesn’t give a f*#k about anybody but myself. But I don’t want to be this person. I choose to fight the good fight. Therefore, I go to church.

giphyWhen I announced I was becoming a Unitarian Universalist, some of my atheist friends questioned why I just didn’t give up on religion all together. They all have very good reasons; as an institution religion has been as much a problem of the world as a solution to the world’s problems. Why would an atheist or agnostic attend a church service? Those are places for believers. My answer is simple: To stay a sane, healthy man of peace, I need religion.

Religion provides me with a community, sanctuary and covenant that is focused on peacemaking. It reminds me that I am not alone in working to build a more just world. It cures my compassion fatigue because it restores my faith in people. When peace and justice work becomes too heavy, it is my church that lightens the load. In a space filled with atheists, believers, agnostics, questioners and religious refugees, our attendance shouts to the universe: “We will continue the work! We will not give up! We crave peace!”

rocky-training-oIn order to do the work I do, to continue to read the stories, watch the videos, and look at the pictures; to keep on filling out the petitions, contacting the representatives, and raising awareness; I have to feel like I’m not alone. And every Sunday, along with other justice-seekers, it is in singing our doxology that I am spiritually renewed to keep on fighting the good fight:

“From all that dwell below the skies,
let songs of hope and faith arise!
Let peace, goodwill on earth be sung
through every land, by every tongue.”

May it be so. Amen.

My elevator speech.

KmhiOVGYesterday I mentioned that I completed my first class in grad school. It was a great experience. However, I did run into a typical UU situation. In addition to my being the only male in the class, I was also the only Unitarian. This isn’t surprising. I was actually expecting it. What I forgot to do was prepare my elevator speech.

An elevator speech is a 10-15 second answer that you’d give to a person if you were in an elevator. It’s meant to be quick and precise. It’s better when it’s rehearsed. I have an elevator speech for when people ask me what a peace and justice center does: “We are a small non-profit that engages issues of peace and justice through education and systemic change. We use corporate responsibility, lobbying, retreats, leadership training, workshops and publications to engage issues of environmental, social and economic change that furthers humanity’s respect for the Earth and each other.”

giphy (3)Unfortunately, I don’t have an elevator speech for Unitarian Universalism. While a lot of people don’t know the denominational details of a particular church, there is a general understanding. “Oh, you’re a Christian.” Even Mormons and Scientologists usually don’t have to answer questions like “What is that?” It seems as of late I have been travelling in too tight of circles. Everybody in my class came from a major Christian religion, but there was some confusion as to where UU fit in the puzzle.

I also had a hard time explaining what it was. In a deer in the headlights moment, I fumbled my way through using words like “liberal” and “progressive” and “individuality.” I confess I didn’t do the religion justice. The problem is there is just too much to talk about and not many definitive answers. My answers to questions were mostly “sometimes.”  “Do you read the bible?”  Sometimes. “Is UU Christian?”  Sometimes. “Do UU’s believe in God?”  Sometimes.

Wibbley-wobbley-timey-wimeyIt’s all very complicated and from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Or maybe I’m misquoting? The point is I need an elevator speech. So here it is:

“Unitarian Universalism is rooted in liberal Christianity and developed out of the reformation. It is now a pluralistic, non-creedal religion that believes truth resides in the individual as informed by experience, tradition, family, culture and history. We have seven principles which guide our congregations, all of which boil down to ‘there is one love and nobody is left behind.’”

Why would you do that?!

Image“Why would you do that!?”

This was the reaction a friend had when I told him I was going to grad school to study divinity.

First, I had to explain what “that” meant. I would be studying theology and ministry in the hopes of becoming a chaplain. Then I had to explain what a chaplain was; a person of a specific faith/denomination who is assigned to/works with institutions like hospitals, a military unit, police departments or non-profits in order to provide spiritual guidance and support to the people in/accessing the institution. It’s a minister who walks with people through (extra)ordinary circumstances; who is there when life fails to make sense, or is too hard to handle.

giphyIt’s a vocation that places a person into the position of a rock in the rapids.

His reaction makes a good point. It’s not a lucrative career; I’ll not be making a six figure salary. It’s not something you hear little kids talk about when you ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a lot of studying, writing papers, interning and discerning. Chaplains have told me that it’s long hours into the night and questioning every step of the way. On the surface, it seems to be work that has a lot of cost and not very much reward.

watchingsadlyBecause, why would I decide on a career with only mediocre earning potential? Why would I want to listen to other people’s problems? Why would I want to potentially surround myself with death, disease, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, violence and broken humanity?

This is why I struggle with explaining my decision to friends and family. On paper, it seems insane. Heck, typing it out into a blog it sounds insane. But I see a problem in weighing the worth of work solely based on material reward. I try not to buy into the cookie cutter American consumer mold; work so I can buy stuff that will eventually break so I need to work more in order to buy better stuff to replace the stuff I already have. How do you explain a feeling of “being called,” or for the less spiritually inclined, feeling like what you are doing “fits” with what you want/need/require of life?

light-end-tunnelI feel like I can be the person who holds a dying person’s hand as they take their last breath. I want to be the person who can sit and weep with the mother who just lost her child. I need to be the person who can be present with the man who has lost his faith. I can be available to my fellow human being who is hurting, share that dark tunnel journey with them, and walk out out the other end with them into the light again.

It’s not about the 6-figure salary. It’s not about notoriety. It’s not about buying all the things. It’s about finding a way I can be of service to others. It’s about creating a meaning in the work I am doing. It about that strange feeling in the pit of my gut that tells me “this feels right; you are where you need to be.”

FlippantFreshEkaltadetaI’m terrified I could be wrong. I’ve gone down this path before; I’ve been in seminary and felt the call only to end up losing my faith and finding another. But, just like then, I have to give it a try. I have to walk down this path to see where it goes. I don’t want to be at the end of my life, regretting that I didn’t just give it a try.

I don’t expect people to understand; but at least I have family and friends who, even if they don’t agree with me, will take this journey with me. They’re my chaplains without even knowing it.

Easter for a (former) Christian…

wine and matzah...
wine and matzah…

On Monday Heather and I went to a Passover Seder. Even though I’m not Jewish, I found it powerful to be in solidarity with my friend, her culture, her friends and others around the world in remembering slavery, hardship, and the promise of a brighter future. She used a special haggadah (telling) focused on social action and solidarity with love and justice. I learned from various guests about differences in the Jewish community, their faith and family traditions, and shared (non)traditional food and drink. It was amazing!

Last night we went to a Maundy Thursday communion service held at our church. It was sparse; only a few dozen people. We listened to biblical readings, commemorated the Last Supper through wine and bread, and stood in solidarity with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It was solemn and intimate; such a stark contrast to the rowdy Seder we experienced only a few days before. But the Christian holy week is supposed to be muted. We walk with a man sentenced to death because his beliefs challenged those in power.

circle-wise-women-full-lighted-KE-12096After the communion service, we attended a candlelight vigil for a young woman who was hit by a car in our neighborhood. Her story is tragic. It was a senseless accident which robbed a father of his only daughter. They lived just a few blocks away from us and we felt we should stand silently with the Nepalese family. Once again, we were reminded that this week especially is a time of mourning and remembering. It is a time where community comes together because life has become too much.

Even though I no longer qualify as a Christian, I would be dishonest to not participate in this religious time of year. Christianity is a part of my history, my journey, and will remain part of my future. The Judeo-Christian tradition holds powerful truths; its essays and stories of humanity struggling with identity, definition, relationship and the unknown are timeless. It is also controversial, especially in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

One love; nobody left behind...
One love; nobody left behind…

My church is filled with religious refugees. A lot of my brothers and sisters have been hurt by Christianity. They were kicked out of their homes for being gay; they were told they were going to hell because they didn’t read the bible the same way; they were told they were evil and sinful for just being human. Of course only a few of us would show up to a Holy Thursday communion service. For many, this time of year is too painful. For others, it is meaningless.

Yet for me, the communion service was powerful. The Seder was powerful. This time of year is powerful. I’ve heard more than one person describe this as a “thin” time where spiritual life and daily life become intertwined and we have the opportunity to better interact with god/nature/earth/spirit. Because of my history, I have no choice but to sink into this thinness and let myself steep in the spirit of Jesus, the Hebrew prophets, the saints and the apostles. By participating in these Jewish/Christian days, I commemorate where I came from. I mourn for what I have lost. I am reminded of why I changed. I embrace where I have set my spiritual future.

Easter blessings...
Easter blessings from Seattle…

Many people in my church wouldn’t agree with my Easter experience; but almost all of them would support it. I found a community which can say “beyond our ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. Let us walk there together.” Nothing says more about this time of year than that.