The leaves are already swirling around my feet. With our last kiddo off to college there is more time for reflection and meditation.
Priorities have begun to shift and I have questions about how I will spend the rest of this one precious life. As our UUFP season opens once more I am reminded of my first year back in Paris, when I led a Chalice Themed evening that was on the DOVE program. At the ICUU meeting in Holland, recently DOVE came up again. It is a UUA curriculum called Demonstrating Our Values through Eating. All the information is well packaged and ready for consumption on the UUA website. Having practiced the precepts for the last 2 years, I wonder if anyone else would like to share stories of how they might use daily rituals to demonstrate their values? How is it that we do what we say we do…? We can go quite a while without food, not so long without water, and only minutes without air….there are some pretty essential building blocks of our lives as human beings. These are the same for everyone. How do we mark our days? Sacred stuff or secular same-old same-old?A daily ritual I try to follow is one of spoken gratitude. Yes, if no one is around, I talk to myself! I try and share gratitude for other hands and hearts – meals and drinks – stranger’s smiles and blessings of beauty that light my path. Some days are easier than others but I delight in the way the universe touches my life with beauty and abundance each and every day. And you? Hope your rentrée is excellent. Feel free to reply at email@example.com.
In the Faith -
With the AGM still fresh in my mind, I can’t help but be grateful for the loving hearts and hands that make up our fellowship. Our numbers might not be grand but our hearts are. As I look forward to the UUFP plans for next year, I invite you to examine the role you might want to play in our fellowship. There are special events to coordinate, services to create and social actions to get involved with. I am happy to say that all our leadership positions are filled but we need team members! As I have mentioned in earlier newsletters, this is our fellowship – but what do you need to help your spirit to grow? Feel free to let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the newsletter and are reading this part – I want to say thanks for reading. I have gotten input from three people over the year and it was lovely to have that feedback.
This is my last letter for the season – and the brilliant parts of this past year have been all the opportunities for growth. In UUFP, in Paris, in Brussels, in politics, and in my own life, there have been painful attacks over the past year. The Dalai Lama says, “To develop patience, you need someone who willfully hurts you. Such people give us real inner strength in a way that even a guru cannot. Basically, patience protects us from being discouraged.” We continue to live our lives. When I was a child I used to pray for things – the thing I wanted the most was patience, because I had so little of it. How was I to know what the universe had in mind for teaching me patience? As Mark Morrison-Reed said in his story for children on Sunday – “Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad – I don’t know yet”. Maybe the maturation process is being more gentle now, because I am not so easily discouraged. In fact, I have been accused of unrelenting optimism. Could I be learning patience? My fingers are crossed…
Wishing you all a restful summer. See you in the fall.
In the faith -
Hope your May Day was lovely. Spring is bursting out all over in my neighborhood as my son tries hard to study for his IB. I spent part of May 1st in a gallery watching one of our talented members teaching an introduction to drawing. As I watched Catherine Jullian, I was fascinated. She reminded me of the basic building blocks that are so essential for creating harmony, form and beauty. It is the shading that makes drawings come alive. Like music’s need for silences and rests between the tones. It takes all those elements balanced together to create a work of art.
Our fellowship is a work of art. We have bold notes, soft melodies, strong lines, shading, and rests. All the elements are required to make it warm, textured and alive. There is much to be done to make music of the madness in this old world–but it is organizations like ours that can help offer a unified and positive voice. I want to be part of that. That is why I agreed to another term as your President.
Where do you fit-in at UUFP? I look forward to seeing you all at the Annual General Meeting on the 22nd. Come find out how UUFP has changed and how you can get involved. We need hearts and hands to work together, building our fellowship strong as we reach out to make a difference in the lives of others. Now that sounds like beautiful music to me.
The Dalai Lama says, “Whenever I meet anyone, I think of them as just another human being. Many of us face a lot of problems, the majority of which are our own creation. They arise because we focus too much on the secondary differences between us, rather than on what unites us as members of one human family. If we take all humanity into account there should be no quarrels between us.”
The news reports have just released details from the bombings of the Brussels airport and metro this morning. Yesterday I was near there, presenting workshops on The Power of Music to 90 Belgian teenagers. I spent hour after hour providing edutainment designed to help build bridges between ages, cultures, and preferences. A few genuine ‘Ah-Ha’ moments happened, where many students considered the possibility that they too, were already artist’s (with a little a). They entertained the idea that they could make a difference by letting their authentic voices live through art.
As I feel the tremors of my world view rock again over where ‘safe’ is located on any map; my heart goes out to those in the middle of the pain. There should be no quarrels between us since there is so much that unites us as members of one human family. But there are – and it continues. As social creatures, we rely on one another. Our survival and growth depends on being part of a community. May we find the strength and grace to continue to reach to one another in circles radiating out beyond our own communities.
Do we go to the same church? …
Participating in Dorcy’s UU Basic’s Course this past month was the perfect opportunity to reflect on my continuing Spiritual evolution. I love to “DO CHURCH” as we say in the south. It is an active verb and denotes co-creation rather than taking a passive role when, “going to church.” It is part of my spiritual practice and has been a living and vibrant focus for my entire life. Sharing the musical ambiance, inspirational words and contemplative silence, brings me joy. But I can easily forget that the ‘church’ in my heart and mind is probably not be the same church for all UU members. The co-creation of worship is an ongoing adventure in our fellowship. For those of you who read this section of our newsletter, I would like to get some input.
Could you take a minute or two to contemplate the following four questions?
In a UUtopia, what would your ideal service of worship look like?
In that same UUtopia, how often would you like to worship there?
How much time in a month do you generally spend in COMMUNITY UUFP worship and programs (Do you attend UUFP functions outside of the monthly service?)
Is there anything in our current UU reality we could change to make the worship experience more meaningful for you?
Here’s my personal response to those questions. Most of the time – my ideal service would be pretty much like what we share on a monthly basis. I enjoy attending once a month because a busy travel schedule generally keeps me moving. Expat life with children in Paris is a constant shuffling of priorities. Ideally, doing something communitarian once a week would also be great, but I would personally enjoy a quiet meditation group like the UU sangha that Rev. Dennis Hamilton started at my last UU Church. That, plus a monthly service, in addition to my private practices, would pretty well take care of my spiritual needs. A retreat once a year is an added ‘revival’ opportunity that I value and prioritize. The only thing I would put on my “wish list” of things to add to what we offer would be a weekly meditation group. That’s just my personal take on my own spiritual needs of the moment.
Along with a heightened awareness of my spiritual needs, is the awareness that in general, I just do too much – how do I find balance? I wonder if sometimes we, as a church, aren’t trying to do too much as well. It is a delicate choice point when our desire to support programs–because of our love for the topic or the people offering them–is confronted by the reality of our other responsibilities and spiritual needs. Would 1:1 time provide as good or better support? Introverts and extroverts have different needs, for example. In my UUtopia, we would support programs out of a desire for growth and support for our community and not out of any sense of obligation. This can be a hard call to make. Obligation brings different energy into the room. Part of my private spiritual practice is to reach out to others and is centered in social action. But what do we each do with our 24 hours? I think it is a good question to honestly ask ourselves…What are we doing? and Why are we doing it? What do we really want to do? What do we need to do? What are we called to do?
I don’t have any answers to the questions of your individual spiritual needs, but I figured it was worth opening the conversation. Do you know what your spiritual needs are? Are those needs being met? As I examine my own changing needs, I invite you to do the same and let me know what you think. Since the only thing we can count on is change, I would ask…Have your needs changed? With my children leaving the nest, I find my needs are changing. How about you? Please send me an e-mail at email@example.com. I am interested in your thoughts – because for me, spirituality is an evolving process – so what are your spiritual needs today?
Peace and light,
I love stories. A “not-so-guilty” pleasure I hold onto as I get older, is my joy of reading young adult books. I just finished A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig. The message of basic human goodness and hope is woven beautifully into his tale of the origin of Father Christmas. With the holiday decorations being taken down now, and our New Year’s resolutions in full swing – (or starting to fade, as our passions ebb and flow ) – I wanted to share a story.
Why? because in the midst of the all the projects going on in my life, I can sometimes feel like a human ‘doing’ instead of a human being. I question the worth of all the circles I am running. I wonder if there is really any value in it. I wonder if the energy spent is making any positive difference. Art Lester’s Starfish Fool story pops to mind….Perhaps you have had similar thoughts. Well, as usual, when I pay close attention to the questions, I receive answers. This is what I heard and felt it was a story worth sharing.
It’s a traditional story first shared with me by Peter Fowler. It goes something like this. A man went to a bodhisattva and asked, “What’s the value of life?”. (In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhisattva is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.)
The bodhisattva gave him a stone and said, “Find out the value of this stone, but don’t sell it.”
The man took the stone to an Orange Seller and asked him what it’s cost would be. The Orange Seller saw the shiny stone and said, “You can take 12 oranges and give me the stone.” The man apologized and said that the bodhisattva had asked him not to sell it.
He went ahead and found a vegetable seller. “What could be the value of this stone?” he asked the vegetable seller. The seller saw the shiny stone and said, “Take one sack of potatoes and give me the stone.” The man again apologized and said he couldn’t sell it.
Further ahead, he went into a jewelry shop and asked the value of the stone. The jeweler saw the stone under a lens and said, “I’ll give you 50 Lakhs for this stone.” When the man shook his head, the jeweler said, “Alright, alright, take 2 crores, but give me the stone.”
The man explained that he couldn’t sell the stone. Further ahead, the man saw a precious stones shop and asked the seller the value of this stone. When the precious stones seller saw the big ruby, he lay down a red cloth and put the ruby on it. Then he walked in circles around the ruby and bent down and touched his head in front of the ruby.
“From where did you bring this priceless ruby from?” he asked. “Even if I sell the whole world, and my life, I won’t be able to purchase this priceless stone. Stunned and confused, the man returned to the bodhisattva and told him what had happened. “Now tell me what is the value of life?”
The bodhisattva said, “The answers you got from the Orange Seller, the Vegetable Seller, the Jeweler & the Precious Stones Seller explain the value of our life… You may be a precious stone, even priceless, but people may value you based on their level of information, their belief in you, their motive behind entertaining you, their ambition, and their risk taking ability. But don’t fear, you will surely find someone who will discern your true value.”
In the light of a benevolent universe, you are very very precious. Respect yourself. You are unique. No one can replace you! May we love and support one another on our journey to be the precious human beings we already are. May we recognize this in one another. And as for all that energy expended? Like a gardener, patience is an important ingredient. We may never see the fruit but we plant anyway. And to quote Art, “it matters to this starfish, right”?
In Peace, Light and Perseverance,
It is the beginning of a fresh new year – 2016 is only a few days old and I feel wrapped in a whirl of motion.The house is still not un-decorated from the holidays and we are soaking up the last of the family time that the holiday affords us during school breaks.
Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” In that case, I always feel especially blessed when I occasionally manage moments of all five.
For the case of Dimitri – in an interview written by Rory Aurora Richards, Emerson’s criteria could clearly be seen as fulfilled. Rather than recount the whole story of this man who told his parents he was a female at the age of 14 – I simply ask you to read it and reflect on her courage. Rory’s complete interview and photography can be seen online at http://www.pappaspost.com/dinner-with-dimitri/ where her grace, gentleness and poise are well captured.
But in case you can’t get to the link here is part of her story – In a 300 person Greek fishing village on the Island of Lesvos lives this amazing person. Growing up as an outcast and feeling different was just part of her turbulent childhood. At the age of 20, she left the tiny village for Athens – But Dimitri returned home once more to care for her mother’s last 25 years of life. She was very isolated, but was sustained by the love of her mother.
Following her mother’s death, the lure of suicide became stronger than ever before. It was then that she decided to do something she had never done. She started to wear women’s pants, blouses, and eventually dresses. With this shift of external expression came a deep sense of relief and comfort. She felt better than she had in her entire life. She felt herself becoming whole. She lives a quiet life of isolation now. Until this interview on Christmas Eve, she had never had a visitor in her home. The only people who talk to her are the children of the village.
Rory asked what her wish would be – if she could ask for anything and her response was that she just wants everyone to have peace and respect for each other. She wishes that both men and women could embrace each other as one, and come to understand each other. Dimitri has compassion for the refugees because they are escaping something horrible. She understands that need to escape to safety. She has clearly had a tough time because of her gender and few people could comprehend her journey and her isolation. Her dedication to her true self is inspiring.
Reaching out to the LGBT community, the refugees on our shores – and allowing our hearts to open up, seems a fitting way to begin a year of inclusion and acceptance as well as tolerance. Sharing who we really are, finding ways to be useful, honorable, compassionate, and to feel our lives have made a difference – seems all the more possible when we reach out to one another.
May your 2016 be filled with gentle lessons and a feeling of inclusion.
In Light and Love, Andrea Offner
Writing this letter has proven to be difficult this month. What can be said that has not been said already about the events of November 13th? The emotions of the past few weeks have weighed heavily on all our hearts in Paris, and it is impossible to escape the feelings of fear and anger. Yet the burden of holding these emotions inside is like eating broken glass or rusty tin cans. Letting it go through us becomes essential. So, what to do?
“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving someone’s offense or betrayal. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim–letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.” ― C.R. Strahan
Lives have been forever altered by the terror attacks in Paris – and it is certain that things will never be the same again here. Staying centered in love and solid in compassionate solutions to create change takes energy – at a time when energy is low. Remaining positive is not for sissies! As a person of faith, I am called to examine things a little more closely. So, what to do?
As the Dalai Lama stated, “We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.” Finding within myself a fitting response, or a way of dealing with the loss, has been a challenge. ‘Right Speech’ is still not clear or easily accessible. To quote Dennis Hamilton at our November service, ‘“None of us are safe, and we never have been. Perhaps this is an opportunity to examine impermanence”. So, what to do?
If we can’t take it with us – could we at least share, and be respectful along the way? That seems to be asking a lot in most political discussions, and makes my rose-colored glasses fog up. But from the deepest place inside of me,I do believe that love is stronger than hate. If we can continue to find the positives, the love, the compassion, the courage, and the patience during these tough times, then the conversations, policies, perspectives and actions will change.
I can feel the hope starting to return. The season of light in the darkness calls me believe in greater things that are possible for mankind. The long, dark night will not last forever. There are others who care about our struggles. They are lighter when they are shared burdens. The outpouring of support for Paris has been so helpful and healing. Our fellowship is deeply touched and grateful.
Clarity of a shared vision is what will turn the tides and encourage us to love each another and this one, precious planet we have been given. It is in everyone’s best interest. We can commit again to working for peace and justice, one life at time. When hosting a Lebanese, Kuwaiti, Catholic refugee in our home for over three years, my family gained an understanding for the refugee situation on a personal level. If we can take even small steps toward fostering a sense of understanding, oneness and unity, there is yet hope we can effect positive changes in the world through the lives we touch. It is not the governments, gods or ‘good guys’ that are going to come to the rescue – it’s just us. So, what to do? Let your light shine and be that lighthouse in the distance.
May the holidays find you and your loved ones safe, happy and grateful.
Peace and Light, Andrea Offner
President’s Letter following Friday November 13th 2015
Thanks to everyone for the outpouring of support and love for our community here in Paris. I arrived safely home Friday night after an evening shift volunteering at a local help line….and my heart was so heavy. The loss is beyond my comprehension. We appreciate the concern and the encouragement to keep our faith in humanity…
Deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome someday…
It is all the tiny little things you notice when your world is rocked on its axis. When I went out Saturday morning – the looks in people’s eyes said so much. There was no mask. People were uncharacteristically kind…….that seems to be where hope lives and compassion thrives. It is in our ability to recognize one another’s shared pain as well as joy. We melt into one another’s embraces when we meet, knowing that we are all affected. We reach past the hatred and fear – towards one another’s love and compassion. This is the most that many of us will be able to do right now – but it is this very love and understanding that will eventually prevail.
Peace and light – Andrea Offner
The month of October came and went with melodies woven through each shared moment! The EUU Fall retreat centered around the theme of Music and it was indeed, a feast for hearts and ears. One of my favorite moments was the experience of playing a century old Gamelan in a museum in Cologne.
The term Gamelan refers to both a set of musical instruments played in Indonesia as well as the orchestra that plays them. Participants in this workshop were allowed to have a real “Night at the Museum” on Halloween! The music we conjured up after most of the staff went home was nothing short of etherial.
While we did not have the Wayang (shadow plays) or dancing that are normally performed, just the joy of the music itself was sufficient for us. At the heart of this music is rasa, which means “feeling”. A Gamelan composition can have rasa, but the very act of playing these instruments in addition to the physical experience of being in the middle of the instruments while playing a musical piece is quite powerful. Much like the Tibetan monks who perform healing rituals with their voices, I see the Gamelan as a therapeutic tool that has its roots in the most basic need we all have to be “in tune” with ourselves and others.
If you pay close enough attention, you will notice when you are in tune with others and when you are not. Cultivating mindfulness is a great way to notice if you are in tune, and following the beat of those in your life. Not only did it feel great to let the vibrations wash over me, but it served as a teaching metaphor for how to be in the world. I am delighted the EUU made this and other great workshops available for our community and look forward to the Spring retreat!
I can’t miss this opportunity to once again extend an invitation for you to get involved in harmonizing and providing rhythm in our fellowship. The Gamelan is composed of over a hundred individual notes from brass chimes, flutes, lutes, sitars and drums. The music is most effective and powerful when all are played together. Likewise, our fellowship is healthiest and most effective when we all work together and contribute our own unique voices. If you feel called to help UUFP organize Social Actions, Organize Worship Services, provide hospitality, lectures or groups, we encourage you to step forward and let your voice be heard. Your contributions of your time and talents are important to our fellowship and we need you.
I don’t know about you, but I am not sure where September went. Here it is October already and so many things are going on, it can take my breath away. Time really does seem to speed up as I get older.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman, who has extensively studied the effects of our brain’s perception of time, believes that processing familiar experiences makes time fly by faster as we age. His profile in the New Yorker, written by Burkhard Bilger, explains further:
“This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said–why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass. “Time is this rubbery thing…it stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”
So here is some food for thought. Not only do we have a wonderful minister joining us on October 25th, the Reverend Mark Belletini, but we also have the opportunity to attend the European Unitarian Universalist Retreat, Singing For Our Lives: Power for Our Journey Together – in Germany at the end of the month where he is our theme speaker.
October always brings BLOOM through the American Church of Paris, on the first Saturday of the month, and warm clothing drives continue this month, to assist the Refugee Crisis through the American Cathedral. The SOS Helpline hosts an English Language Book sale on the 11th from 12-4pm. On the 15th there is an event with Liberators International at Place de la Republic if you are interested in the world’s biggest eye contact experiment. Halloween, musicals, poetry, travel, and a spectacular full moon are all part of the excitement this month.
I bring this tiny corner of my personal calendar to you to consider the many opportunities we have to say “YES” or “NO” in our lives. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but I am constantly amazed by the things some people are able to create in their 24 hours.
Research supports that if we are trying new things, our brains take longer to process those experiences, SO – trying new things and introducing the unfamiliar in our lives could actually help slow down our perception that time is flying by so fast.
In an effort to be a HUMAN BEING rather than a HUMAN DOING, I am cultivating my ability to take risks and say ‘YES’. If you want more information about any of the things I just mentioned – give me a call. I think it’s great to have so many opportunities to try new things! I still have so much to learn. Studies show that life might just feel longer and fuller if I tried more new things – so I’m in!
Most of my friends in Paris have left. Most of my future friends haven’t yet arrived. For the short time we spend between coming and going, each November we share “Friendsgiving” (none of us have family here, so we’ve adapted the name to fit). The meal serves as a reminder of the transient nature of our existence as young expats. Looking around the room, I can’t help counting: How many friends are new this year? How many of those who were here last year are now scattered around the world? The most sobering is: How many goodbye parties will I attend before Friendsgiving rolls around again?
We always have French guests who ask what Thanksgiving is. They know the name of course, but are fuzzy on its cultural significance. “What do you do on Thanksgiving?” they ask. It’s temping to say, “This is it—we just eat.” But honestly, what more is there? I’m often at a loss to describe the day as more than a special meal. Such a reductive explanation leaves our French friends wondering why we Americans are so fixated on turkey.
But for those of us with a long history of observing Thanksgiving, there is no question that it is an essential annual milestone. It brings family together and invites us to look back on the blessings of the year. These, we know, are the meat of the feast. Turkey, cranberry sauce and football are the most visible markers of the gathering, but they are really just side dishes. Focusing on the food misses the point entirely, but that is hard to express to the uninitiated, dazzled as they are by the array of New World dishes.
If I’ve chosen to reflect on the meaning of meals, it’s not because I’ve peeked at the theme of this month’s service. It’s because we’re in the thick of the most meal-intensive part of the UUFPyear. Many of us shared potlucks in October, and will do so again this month. Add to that our gatherings of families and friends, and social calendars start to fill up. As we come together to celebrate the life of Neil Smith, so closely tied to our fellowship, it’s no coincidence that we will remember him with a buffet. And when we have visitors at Sunday service, it is only fitting that we extend an invitation to join us for lunch down the street.
How fortunate we are to have a tradition of pausing to share meals and memories. If I’m thankful for one thing this year, it’s that we have inherited an appreciation for the communal breaking of bread—companionship—and the occasion it offers to look back on times with departed friends, and forward to those who will join us next time around.
Yours in fellowship, Joe
Once the shock of the announcement about having to find a new home for the UUFP had worn off, I decided to try to view it as a spiritual exercise. Here I was faced with a decision that I had no power to change and the daunting task of finding a new place for us to go. But, rather than let myself be overwhelmed by it all, I decided to view it as an opportunity for the fellowship and for myself.
For the fellowship, it was a chance for us to look at what we really needed: what were the need –to-haves and what were the nice-to-haves; who are we and who do we hope to become.
For me, it was a chance to let go and trust that the universe, god or fate (I’m not sure which) would look out for us. This of course didn’t mean just sitting back and waiting for something to come to us, but it did mean getting the ball rolling and then not fretting about it, which is something I’m usually pretty good at.
I am grateful to all the members of the fellowship who offered their time and energy to the home search. It was a sometimes discouraging task since most places we contacted were either full up or couldn’t rent to a religious group, and it was nice to know that the burden was not solely on my shoulders.
Their hard work helped me feel that we were doing everything we could and we just needed to have faith that it would all work out in the end.
And it did work!
One of the pastors from the Pentemont suggested to Dorcy and Birthe that we take a look at La Maison Verte. Dorcy contacted them and unfortunately they were full up on Sunday afternoons but suggested we meet anyway. It was at the meeting with their Pastor that Dorcy, Birthe and I discovered that they could spare us one Sunday morning a month for the foreseeable future.
I really do believe that the universe was looking out for the UUFP. La Maison Verte meets all our criteria, both need-to-haves and nice-to-haves. On top of that, La MaisonVerte is not just a protestant church, it is also a vibrant community that is very involved in social justice and social actions which are very much in line with who we are.
It is too soon to tell, but I can’t help but think that one day we will all look back on this and think that our leaving Pentemont was for a reason. It was the beginning of an exciting new chapter for our fellowship.
For me, after the flurry of food and gifts that is Christmas, New Year’s is a time for reflection and introspection. I’ve decided that 2012 will be the year of Gratitude.
I’ve always tried to practice gratitude in my daily life, but this year I’m going to make regular gratitude lists and I’m going to try and teach my children the importance of gratitude.
Deep down I’ve always known that gratitude is very important but now I have the scientific proof of just how important it is. A few weeks ago I saw something in the New York Times on gratitude that I think is worth sharing.
The article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/science/a-serving-of-gratitude-brings-healthy-dividends.html?_r=1) is about scientific studies that show that gratitude isn’t just a feeling but is actually good for you.
It promotes better health and sleep, less stress, anxiety and depression, and — the cherry on top — kinder behavior to others.
Which confirms to me that not only is gratitude important, but it is truly a Unitarian principle!
I hope you’ll join me in making 2012 a year of gratitude.
When I first started attending the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Paris, I thought it was odd that there wasn’t a regular minister. But now I must admit, I quite like the variety of ministers who come through our fellowship.
Having different ministers gives us different views on spirituality and life in general. I also really enjoy the lay-led services as they bring yet another perspective to our spiritual practice. November’s service was no exception. Chris Heinrich’s sermon on Grace was food for thought and truly resonated with me.
I must admit that I am biased toward the word grace as it is my daughter Isabel’s middle name. Her having it as a middle name is directly tied to the idea of grace and, as Chris said, being open to it. For my husband Denis and I, her being a part of our family is truly an act of grace and our willingness to let grace in.
Let me explain. At age 45, Denis was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which required him to have surgery that would render him sterile. We had often talked about having three children, but had figured that we had more time to decide; our boys were only 5 and 3 at the time.
Cancer changed everything. Once we had gotten over the shock of hearing the “C” word, we decided that we were optimistic about his prognosis and our future and we wanted to try to have the third child we had always wanted. That decision opened us up to the possibility of grace.
In fact, we were doubly blessed. We were able to conceive before the surgery, and she was the little girl we’d always imagined having. Using Grace as a middle name was a given for us, in fact, we would have called her Grace if not for the unfortunate French pronunciation!
It was our way of showing our gratitude to a Higher Power for having blessed us, not only with Isabel, but with having found Denis’ s cancer in time.
Now, almost 5 years after his surgery, all is well with his health, and we try and remember to stay as open to grace as we were in that tumultuous time.
May you all have a holiday season filled with the possibility of grace, and gratitude for all the small miracles of life!
The weather here in France has been exceptionally clement these past weeks. Unfortunately this has not been the case elsewhere in the world. The ink was hardly dry on our decision to give the May UUFP offering to the relief effort in Japan when news reached us of the terrible tornadoes in the south-east of the United States. This news threw all of us on the Executive Committee into torment.
There are a number of Americans in our fellowship, many of whom were personally touched by the reports from family or friends about this disaster. Should we reconsider our decision? It seemed almost obscene to try to weigh the two disasters – one much bigger on a humanitarian and global scale, the other almost certainly affecting more Unitarian families.
One of the guidelines we use in making such decisions is that the fellowship prefers to know who they are contributing their funds to. The recent UAA article about the UU Service Committee (UUSC) partners in Japan gives us solid ground to stand on and we hope the fellowship will be generous next Sunday. We were also comforted to learn that the UUSC supports the fund-raising effort of the Mid-South District of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the “2011 Severe Storm Fund”.
Capping the discussion was a personal testimony which put our dilemma into a general context. “I am not an expert in humanitarian crises and thus am not experienced enough to make decisions like these. Which is why I only donate to the few organizations on which I’ve done due diligence and then give exclusively for ‘best use’ purposes. The professionals at UUSC know much better that I do where my donation will do the most good, and because I’ve researched their giving policies and history, I trust them to make the right decision. A particular crisis may prompt me to donate at a moment in time when I may not have done so ordinarily, but It does not typically change my giving policy.”
Rereading this testimony while preparing this letter, I was struck by the thought that our traditional Guest at Your Table (GAYT) fund-raising effort is inspired by such a methodology. The guests that we invite to our table are selected by the UUSC from among the thousands of cases known to them from around the world: our coins are put to the “best use”. Our confidence in UUSC is justified by all we have learned about them over the years, sometimes even from personal contact as when we met Charlie Clemens, the former UUSC president. While we now are mindful of disaster victims in Japan and the American south-east, when our next GAYT box or envelope arrives, let us continue to give this on-going effort our generous support.
Yours in fellowship,
Karen, Shellie, Neil, Jennifer, Dave
The UUFP Executive Committee
In 1968, in a turbulent time in America’s history and in my own personal life, I found warmth and deep welcome when I walked into the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska. This source of spiritual nourishment was taken from me when I abruptly moved to Paris in 1983.
Twenty years later, in 2003, another turbulent time in America’s history and in my own personal life, I again found warmth and deep welcome in the Unitarian Unitarian Fellowship of Paris (UUFP). Though I at once felt at home, I was surprised and somewhat bewildered by how much had changed since my last visit to a Unitarian church. I found many changes in the rituals of the services: the chalice-lighting at the beginning, the sharing of joys and concerns, the presence of children in the first part of the service, culminating in a children’s story for all ages and then singing the children out. I found a vigorous religious education program, both for children and adults. More disconcertingly, I found that the spiritual base of the church had vastly broadened. Where I had been accustomed to hear the voices of Bertrand Russell and James Joyce, I heard Rumi and Chief Seattle. I heard chimes and chants, I saw the candles of Hanukkah and our own candles of joys and concerns, I learned about Buddhism and Islam and native religions, I heard the challenging message of universal salvation, bringing me face to face with the second “U” in “UU”. I was confronted with a list of seven principles, wondering if these are meant to be the answers to the questions with which I’ve been wrestling all my life. All these changes stretched me to the limits of my tolerance.
The other day I read the Spring 2011 issue of UUWorld*, and discovered that there have been “UUs” for 50 years: the consolidation of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association took place on May 15, 1961. Thus the history of UUA neatly spans my personal odyssey. The changes that jolted me after my 20 years of hibernation have in fact come about gradually over the 50 years of the UU movement. Looking more closely, I see that there is a continuity within the change. The readers of James Joyce and Bertrand Russell are still there; the relentless search for truth is still there with its poignant sense that “even to question, truly is an answer”. This implies constantly striving to open my heart and my spirit to all aspects of the Sunday services and Saturday workshops. Signing the membership book was easy, being a member of UUFP has been deeply satisfying, and the association of our congregation with the UUA will continue to be a source of stimulation and challenge.
UUFP Vice President
*[See the UUWorld article "UUA plans 50th anniversary celebration".]
I am reflecting today on the task I set for my young students in science class: be precise in your language; make absolutely clear what you mean; use details and examples to support your assertion of what is true. They find this very difficult. It is not a natural activity for most of them. And that is because they are young, and just beginning to learn this way of using language. But this is how we use language in science.
And I’m remembering numerous conversations with even younger children, where I gave too much information in response to a simple question — “Why does the flower grow there?” “Why is the cloud shaped like that?” “Why do people die?” I have the ‘facts’ but that’s not necessarily what those children were asking for. I have learned that sometimes, the precise and detailed answer is not best. There are things that cannot be expressed in the language of science.
Thank goodness for poetry, for impossible koans, for a young child’s imprecise but brilliant expressions. Thank goodness for the impressions of paintings. For the gray trees naked before my eyes, no words needed for me to see and be alive with them. At least by now, I’ve learned that my precise and overflowing vocabulary is not necessary for this. Truly there are times when “I wish I could speak like music!” I hope that you, too, can sometimes remember to marvel in the mystical reality that surrounds us all the time.
Greetings and Happy New Year! In this new year, may you have good health and all the resources you need in life. May you find courage to face your challenges, patience and equanimity when confronted with frustrations, solace in difficult times. In this new year, may we use our creative forces and have a compassionate vision to make this our world a better place.
In grateful fellowship,
Is it really the beginning of December already? The busy activity of everyday living has been so absorbing that I am surprised. Despite the markers of cold and snow, the to-and-from-work in the dark, the passing of another turkey feast, I had almost forgotten. And then, two days ago, when I lifted my napkin to begin breakfast, I found a special chocolate hidden there. A sly reminder from an important family member that it is time to prepare our December count-down calendar. Another thing to add to my to-do list (bah!).
Clearly, the primary person in our family who is concerned with discovering daily December surprises has done her homework and recently talked the other parent in the family into buying a big box of favorite chocolates. I took the hint and now twenty-five long ribbons hang from a bamboo stick. All that remains is the preparation of a little note or joke for each of the upcoming string of days. And perhaps a tiny something that really will be a surprise.
Our child, like most, loves the fun of opening gifts. But more than that, she loves coloring rocks, weaving bracelets, personalizing paintings, creating something new in the kitchen. It has been declaimed recently, in our household, that what is best about the winter holiday season is the living of it, filled with the excitement of preparing surprises for others, and having this excitement build and last for a few weeks. And so I am grateful to be reminded by this young and wise soul, that what feels like a burden to me (sometimes) can be an opportunity to find joy itself — through giving something of myself, in every day life. It’s an invitation to lift my eyes off of the tasks at hand, to breathe, and to see and connect with people.
Our December 12th Sunday service will give us all an opportunity to drop the mundane, to feel those warm connections with others, to expand our lungs and create the joyful noise of life itself. It will be another one of the moments in the chain of days to come that will help keep the light of our shared humanity glowing. I hope we’ll see you there!
In grateful fellowship,
Happy Thanksgiving! For those of us who celebrate it, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family – biological or chosen – and friends, and to reflect on our blessings. It is a lovely, creedless holiday.
As in past years, the UUFP is organizing a Thanksgiving dinner for members. It makes a lot of sense for our fellowship to come together to celebrate this holiday. For many of us, far from “home”, the UUFP has provided a sense of family in France. Moreover, we hope that the UUFP community is one of the very things for which you are thankful. For some of us, the UUFP provides a place for worship, for the sharing of joys and concerns, for joining with other families who are seeking to raise freethinking children. For others, it is a Small Group Ministry, the book group or another UUFP activity that brings meaning. If you haven’t been doing so, consider taking advantage of one of the many opportunities for connection, intellectual growth and spirituality that our fellowship offers. Just look in this newsletter to find a selection of upcoming events.
Building our community and reaching out to members are two of the goals that have come up over and over again in the UUFP’s Executive Committee meetings this fall. As you surely know, however, the UUFP is entirely volunteer-run. Our fellowship is only as strong as our members’ investment in it. That can take many forms: coming to services, volunteering to bring refreshments or flowers to the church, organizing or hosting an event, co-teaching a religious education class, suggesting social action . . . It also means supporting our fellowship financially. We do our best to limit the costs of our fellowship and, of course, our lay leaders are unpaid. But we do have a number of unavoidable costs – some fixed on a regular basis, some variable or occasional – for which money needs to be found. This is funded entirely by members and friends of the UUFP. You will receive your “pledge letter” either at the November service or by mail. Please be as generous as you are able.
Jennifer, Shellie, Neil, Dave and Karen
Here we are at the beginning of a new summer season, in name if not yet in weather. During this month of June, we’ll see the equinox and the first day of summer, joined up with the Fete de la Musique. The school year will wind down for those of us ‘in it’. New members of UUFP will be formally welcomed into our fellowship at our June service and others of our community will say good-bye for now, as they will be elsewhere when we gather again at the rentree in September. As individuals, we are all experiencing our particular upheavals and transitions. As Heraclitus said, the only constant is change.
The changes of this time might bring hope, bring sadness, bring anxiety, bring excitement. And in the midst of whatever it is we’re individually experiencing, there are also the constants. I just catalogued a few that keep me on an even keel — my daily bike ride, a hungry meowing cat every morning, our monthly UU service, Friday pizza & movie nights at home, candles on the dinner table — that provide some stability in the midst of all the change. Thank goodness!
I hope that we might all find in our various communities — be it the Paris UU Fellowship or others — the companionship or encouragement or comfort we each need to balance the stress of inevitable change.
May – hmmm…mothers, flowers, sunshine, springtime, AGM (Annual General Meeting), membership, fellowship. This month, it’s the word ‘membership’ that intrigues me and makes me examine the labels we use for people. In our UUFP Directory, I see mentioned ‘members’ and ‘friends’ but then there are other people who have neither of those labels attached! What does that mean? I often use the term ‘participant’ and we greet ‘visitors’ and ‘first time visitors’ at our services. Are we so complex?
Members can vote at our Annual General Meeting (May 9) but anyone with ties to our fellowship is welcome to attend. Becoming a member of UUFP is as simple as signing our membership book, an action which confirms “sympathy with the purpose and convictions” of our fellowship. However, there are plenty of people who might feel that “sympathy with the purpose and convictions” but who have not chosen to become members. Some regularly attend Sunday services or one of the various smaller groups that meet monthly, or even volunteer significantly. So degree of involvement in our fellowship isn’t equivalent to being a member.
Of course, becoming a member of any religious organization demands some serious thought, as it’s a meaningful decision, no matter how light the external consequences. Here at UUFP, membership “imposes only those obligations you wish it to”. There is no financial or pragmatic obligation linked to membership, no credo to recite, no personal statement to make. The UUFP is what WE are: that which I seek from this community will result from that which I put into it. We hope that members will see their membership as a commitment to that which we share and create together, and will therefore contribute as they are able, to make our fellowship ever healthier and dynamic.
The best time to become a member is so very personal, as was the decision to attend that first Sunday service, or the decision to show up for a second service, to volunteer on a project, or to join one of the small groups within the fellowship. One of our newer members told me recently that he wanted to have a say in the direction and decisions of our fellowship. I joined four years ago because I felt at home and knew that I’d be coming regularly, so it felt right to become a ‘member’. Hopefully, all who are attracted to the principles and purposes of the Unitarian Universalist movement, and who are looking for a place to share that interest with others, will find their place within our fellowship, regardless of how they name themselves.
Our ‘UUFP Directory’ — which will be updated soon and distributed at our June service — lists the people who play a part in the life of our fellowship. Members and ‘Friends’, local participants and those who have moved far away, we are a complex mix of people.