Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
Where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
As the curve of the body as it turns away.
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
And is easily shattered.
Pour yourself like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
Finishes often at the start, and with ending, begins.
Every happiness is the child of a separation
It did not think it could survive…
As many of you now know, my wife Lauren and I have been invited to be the next ministers at South Church, a Unitarian Universalist church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and we have accepted their invitation.
This means that we will head out there for what is called “candidating” week in April. It will be two Sundays and the week in between. After the second week’s service, the community will vote, and then with a positive vote, it will be official. We will be their next ministers, starting in the fall.
I am mentioning it here and now because the vast majority of the times, the vote is positive, and both Lauren and I wanted to begin the conversation, to begin the process of leave taking, the process of reflection and celebration and saying thank you, as soon as possible.
I feel like it’s important to say that Lauren and I were not eagerly looking to leave.
We were not casting a wide net. This was the only church to which we applied. We have always thought we would make a good team together in shared ministry, and we have been open to just the right place appearing.
And it seems to have appeared.
And so here we all are with more change.
Change can be hard. Change of any kind can be challenging.
And it can also be generative.
The poet tells us to open to change.
To want the change, to be inspired by the flame, the turning body.
Change comes, always some change comes and so much of our suffering, so much of our joy is wrapped up in how we face it.
Facing down the possibility and then the probability and now the likelihood of this transition has been hard for me and my family.
I love my ministry here.
It has been an honor to serve here for these last six years.
I have come to hold you all dearly and tenderly in my heart. Each and every one of you. I love this place. I love all of you. In an entirely professional, appropriate, bounded, healthy way, I love you.
To say that I love our children and youth is not enough.
It is true, I do love our children and youth. I cherish them.
Who they are now, who they were whenever they came into the supportive circles of this community, who they are becoming.
I cherish the amazing gift, the beautiful impossible perfection of their changing selves.
Being committed to their growth and becoming, to their lives of the spirit, to their blossoming and unfurling, has been the most beautiful blessing I have ever received.
I am so grateful.
I come to the beginning of this time of transition so very full.
Full of memories, of moments, of people, of the unlikely mix of experiences which has been my time here.
Death beds, baby dedications, weddings, fire dancers, transcendent, holy music, so many tears, so many smiles, so much beauty, so many stories, so much love.
So many teachings I have received from you, and particularly my volunteers and kids.
Today I want to share two of these key teachings.
The first is that teachers can come in surprising packages. It is often the people that seem the hardest to deal with who can, if we can dare to open to them, to what they are trying to teach us, it can be these people who can be our greatest teachers.
As many of you know, all of our classes are taught by volunteer teachers.
Often the recruitment of these teachers is the bane of a religious educator’s existence. Colleagues have told me about people turning away from them as they approach them on Sunday mornings. Turning away because they assume they are about to be asked to teach.
I have been very fortunate here with recruiting. We have an amazingly gifted and committed group of volunteers with a very high rate of year to year return. This reduces burn out and makes it possible to live into the vision of teaching in the program as a vehicle for spiritual growth and meaningful service. This has been a clear goal towards which we have made so much progress.
That said, I have gotten my fair share of no’s.
Every year, even as I have gotten less and less of them.
And I think that sometimes people are afraid.
Children can sometimes be a bit beastly.
Well, let’s be clear, we can all be a bit beastly, its just our children have the decency to be entirely honest and up front about it. They don’t tend to sublimate or hide their feelings. They have not yet learned many of our adult techniques which wall us away from the truth.
And so, classes can be hard to manage sometimes.
On any given day, any child can decide to sway the whole group, anyone can be difficult or challenging, and we have a bunch of kids who for many reasons are challenging on a regular basis.
And this can be hard.
It can be hard to be in relationship with people we find difficult.
Where we come and come back largely because we feel the opposite of difficult here. We feel love, connection, meaning, intention, purpose, truth, beauty, we feel so many good things so often and then all of the sudden there are these bumpy, rocky hard bits.
For many of my teachers, working with our many and varied challenging kids can feel this way.
And so we have created systems to support for the teachers. We have reflection circles every week after the classes, we have experienced educators helping supervise and appreciate them. But still often it is hard.
For the last few years I have met with the entire teaching team for each class twice a year. I have everyone over for tea at my house, and it was at the meetings going into this winter session, that I was amazed by what I heard.
I invited all of the teachers to share a personal check in and then to share a moment in which they could feel their work in religious education in its fullness, when they felt like their work was an experience of growth.
In so many of the groups, teachers spoke about moments of break through with the more challenging kids. They had remembered things other people had mentioned in the meetings, they had tried new things, they had moments of brilliance and connection. As I heard teacher after teacher name the moments of breakthrough, my heart was filled. I was so proud of them.
This is so hard to do.
When we are faced with conflict, when we are in hard places with people we find difficult, it is easy to simply shut down.
Maybe we turn aside, leave conversations, sit at another table, stop really listening, stop really speaking our own truth.
But especially in the harder relationships, especially with the people with whom we disagree, especially there, there is richness, there is good work, growing, deepening, beautiful work to be done, if we can just stay there.
If we can reach out for support, learn from those around us, stay in relationship.
If we can strive to see one another as precious teachers.
And it matters.
It matters that we do not simply satisfy ourselves with relationships of ease and comfort. It matters that we seek to connect in authenticity and fullness, that we seek to build a whole and varied community of so many different people.
It matters that we build real relationships, wholesome and healthy, like spinach fresh picked from the garden, coursing with life and complete with chunky, gritty bits.
Real relationships, which call out our best and our deepest.
Real relationships which will not tolerate our half truths or our delusions.
Real relationships which call out our fullness and glory.
By design these relationships call us to witness one another and support one another. They bring people into our hearts, and that makes so much possible.
And this is the second precious teaching on my heart this morning that I have received from working with our kids, that anything is possible when we are held in love and care.
That any risk, any growth, any version of ourselves which terrifies us with its rightness and truth, that anything which is good and beautiful and deeply right is possible when held in loving community.
I received this teaching just recently from our Coming of Age group. We were off at a high ropes course as we began our year together.
To set the emotional tone for this next story, I want you to reflect on who you were when you were around twelve or thirteen years old, in seventh or eighth grade.
And imagine there is a group of eleven almost youth in the full blossom of tragedy and triumph which is junior high.
So it was that we had gone through most of the day and had the two high, high, high events left.
The second to last was called “the Ladder.” It began with a climb up large staples in a tree, probably fifty or sixty feet in the air. Then there was a platform extending from which there were two cables and a series of small strips of wood, increasingly far apart from one another.
Our participants went up in pairs, one at a time and then held hands and started out, crossing the ladder holding onto one another and a cable attaching them to a spotter on the ground.
A few groups climbed up like monkeys and then bravely stepped out into the unknown waiting for them. It was beautiful to see. Then one of the youth was a little apprehensive. She climbed up and froze half way up the tree, high off the ground.
Terror gripped her. You could feel it from below.
People tried to offer her encouragement, tried to coax her up, but she remained frozen. It felt like forever. Then she tried to climb a little and then decided to come back down.
Her breath was labored and she was definitely rattled by the heights and the adrenaline coursing through her body.
I sat with her and talked her down. Told her she did great.
She watched others climb and walk forward, take huge steps.
Her breathing deepened and slowed.
Then, a little amazingly, she decided she would try again.
Now to cast your mind back again to the culture of Middle School, it is not a automatically supportive, nurturing time.
But the circle of support was strong. All the rest of the kids cheered her on as she took again to the tree. She climbed and climbed.
Held in the love, strengthened by the bonds she had formed with all those below as she reached and pulled herself up, she climbed up to where she had previously frozen and climbed still farther. She climbed all the way to the top.
I was so proud of her. So proud of all of them. Not only proud of her for facing her fear and getting right back up on that tree, but also proud of the rest of the gathered circle, proud of every last one of those youth who cheered her on and congratulated her afterwards.
All things are possible. That whisper of your own fullest authentic self, that fleeting dream of being, it is possible. Held here in the supportive circles of this community, all change is possible.
May we open to one another as teachers.
May we reach out again and again,
May we support one another as we risk our truth,
As we return to the tree and climb again
Higher this time, maybe even to the top,
Knowing that, held in love, all things are possible.
Copyright © 2011, Rev. Christopher Holton Jablonski. All Rights Reserved.
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May Worship Services
May’s Theological Theme: Love
Worship Services at 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., through May 12
Worship Services at 10:00 a.m., May 19 through Sept. 1
May 5 - My Heart is Singing Like a Bird
Bryan Baker and Luminescence Choir, Michele Voilleque and the Youth and Children’s Choir with Family Minister Amy Moses-Lagos and Intern Minister Marcus Liefert
May 12 - The Mish-Mash Heart
Intern Minister Marcus Liefert and Family Minister Amy Moses-Lagos. Marcus shares his last sermon of his two year intern ministry.
May 19 - Love is the Spirit (Summer schedule begins today - one worship service at 10:00 a.m.)
New Member Welcome
Revs. Bill and Barbara Hamilton-Holway
Congregational Meeting at 11:15 a.m.
May 26 - Love Like An Ocean
Revs. Bill and Barbara Hamilton-Holway
Dedication of the River of Life mosaic with appreciation for Joan Swift.