Tuesday, May 23, 2023


What is theology? The word comes from the root Theo meaning God and logy meaning study or meaning of.  As UUs we can substitute any number of ideas for God such as human spirit, Spirit of Life, Creator Presence, and so on. The name doesn’t matter as much as the idea that we are trying to find a source for that which gives us the greatest meaning in  our lives.

The question to ask yourself is: What matters most? When you answer that you are on your way to creating a theology. I ask myself this question quite often. What matters most to me are the loving relationships I keep; relationships wherein trust and service reside. These include all of you, my family and the earth upon which we reside.

I once described myself as an enchanted agnostic with mystical tendencies. This is largely still true. But equally important to me is the natural world in which we live. I call myself a religious naturalist these days; finding, as I do, strength and meaning in the world in which we live. Walking along the beach is for me a holy practice. Finding a balance between the competing forces in our lives is for me a guiding ethic. That balance might be in terms of how much we consume. What is true in finances is true of our planet. As an old friend once told me “when your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep will be your downfall.”

That balance also extends to the relationships I keep. If all our time is spent in pursuit of an ideal (consumption, beauty, justice, wealth, health, etc.) we will find ourselves out of balance with those who love us. I am honored to be your minister and I must keep time to be in relationships with the ones I love. I honor my Sabbath. I take time off to restore balance and remain in love.

This theology of balance informs our life as a congregation as well. I have found that when a congregation is struggling with issues, it is best to return to our core practice; providing a place for spiritual sustenance and a practice of pastoral and loving care. I practice this re-balancing religiously and I invite you to do so as well.

With Grace and Grit, John


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

After the Resurection


In the story of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus is said to have returned in body and made himself known to Mary Magdalene and the disciples. They were, of course, astonished that he had returned at all since the men were sure his death on the cross was the end of the road. So skeptical were they that, Thomas (as in doubting Thomas) is said to have put his finger in Jesus’ wound. The story goes on to proclaim that the message of Jesus should be preached to the world by his followers  (this is known in Christianity as “The Great Commission”). The understanding is that Jesus will someday return to judge the living and the dead.

Of course, once Jesus died, we too are skeptical as to the real meaning of his message. It is in the resurrection that we move from a religion about Jesus (what early followers called “The Way”) to a religion of Jesus. There is a deeper meaning in the resurrection than whether it actually happened or not. The resurrection illustrates the power of faith, the hope for the world and the image of God made human and accessible to all. At least that is how I look at it.

After the resurrection comes the possibility of believing in a future that is far better than our present. These days that belief takes a lot of faith. While our congregation and our families are managing to find hope and meaning, the outside world seems fraught with daily struggles and hypocrisies. The expulsion of two African American legislators from the Tennessee State House for exercising their right to protest the lack of gun safety legislation, was just such a hypocrisy. The super majority of Republicans censored three Democrats for their protest in the Well of the house; Justin Pearson, Justin Jones and Gloria Johnson. The Republicans then expelled Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, both African American, from their offices and thereby disenfranchised the people in Memphis and Nashville who elected them.

Perhaps it was no accident that their expulsion happened during Holy Week leading up to Easter. While it appears that they will both be re-instated, the power of the resurrection story illustrates how this expulsion was a modern day crucifixion, a punishment by the state on the false charge of sedition. My colleague Rev. Sam Teitel, minister of our UU Church of the River in Memphis, invited Justin Pearson, who represents Memphis, to preach the Easter Sermon. Pearson along with his family (his father is a preacher and also participated in the service), preached one of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard. He made a vivid connection with the Speaker of the House as Pilate and the assembled supermajority as the Empire. 

The video to the sermon is linked below. His sermon starts at time stamp 1:03. It’s a long sermon but worth it all the way. I was struck by this young man’s power and purpose. I was astonished by his courage and wisdom. And, in the spirit of Dr. King, I am heartened by his call for justice, amplified by the congregation who were often on their feet clapping. 

After the resurrection, hope seems possible. Our place in that possibility is to bear witness for truth and justice, and when we can, to support the cause of a better world.
With Grace and Grit, John

Friday, March 31, 2023

Appreciation over Complaining


From now until the end of April we are in what in the Christian Calendar is known as Lent. Lent is the season in which we consider giving up something we are accustomed to in order to focus the lens of our lives on what truly matters, be it love, belonging, or the coming of new life. Lent is a preparation for the resurrection, whether it be Jesus, love or the beating life of this green earth.

Like all sacrificial seasons (Ramadan for Muslims and Passover for Jews), Lent also reminds us to take up something more important than ourselves. This season I have decided to give up complaining and take up appreciation. Complaining is natural enough; we have an expectation of a certain outcome and we are disappointed when that outcome fails to come about. In response to our disappointment we protest to whoever we think caused that shortcoming; be it an institution, an individual, or the fates of our many desires.

What I have learned in this practice these last few weeks is, first of all, complaining is really a waste of time and good energy. But more importantly I have learned that I have reason to celebrate what is right over what is wrong. Dewitt Jones, who has for many years been a lead photographer for National Geographic, points out that our vision controls our perception. What we focus on determines our reality. If I am focused on what I don’t have I will only see more of that I want. But if I focus on what I do have, well then, the world opens up before me. One day last week I went out in the predawn morning to let the dogs out. It was cold and I started to grumble about the cold, until I remembered my Lenten vow, stopped and looked to the east. And ‘lo, the cold of that early spring morning made possible the most amazing sunrise I can ever remember seeing; purples, oranges, and streaks of yellow firing forward into a new dawn. God, I thought, might be just like this. What we see is what the world is to us.

Communities are not perfect. In fact, it is their imperfection that drives a rich diversity. I realize now in this season of emerging new realities that there will always be a tension between what could be and what should be. I choose what could be every time. And in so doing I, hopefully, choose possibility over scarcity, together and in our own lives. As Dewitt Jones says “celebrating what is right does not deny the very real pain on this planet and in our lives. But what celebrating possibilities does do is put our pain into the larger context of what is beautiful. Change your lens.”

The light we have doesn’t just shine on us, it shines within us. When we see the beauty of our world and each other right before our eyes, we give justice to beauty and the good. There is more than one right answer to almost any question. Step back from your complaints, disappointments and fears and look through another lens. And when you do, then you are ready to be reborn. 

Here is the TED talk that Dewitt Jones gave that has been so inspiring for me and so many others.

With Grace and Grit - John

Tuesday, February 7, 2023




Most of us think of resilience as the ability to overcome difficulties and persevere. That is true but resilience is more than that: Resilience is the ability to  adapt to the change we are experiencing. Jeremy Lent in his book The Patterning Instinct puts it this way:

“The resilience of a system determines whether it can withstand big shocks or is susceptible to collapse from a small disturbance. Resilience can be understood as the capacity of a system to recover from a disturbance. But recovery doesn't necessarily mean remaining the same; the most resilient systems are often those that are constantly adapting to changes in their environment.”

This is as true for each of us as it is for a planet. The terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria, the warming of our planet and the violent weather patterns of the last few years are telling us that we will need to become even more resilient than we already are. Our use of energy and resources cannot continue in this way. Our resilience as human beings will depend on how we  adapt to the changing reality. It will depend on how we live our lives and design our spaces. I am confident that we will adjust if there is still time.

As for the planet so for each of us. How have you changed in response to your environment? I have started to prioritize rest as a spiritual practice; naps, longer meditations, my own blend of tai chi and yoga, waking with the sun rather than a clock. If we are to change our habits as consumers to meet the changing planet, we will need to change how we view time; moving from beyond a perishable resource towards seeing time as a sacred gift.

What is true for us our planet and ourselves is true for our congregation. As we change from a congregation that can “do it all” to a congregation that will have to make choices in what we do, we will become deeper and more reflective. I invite us to be less concerned with achieving victories and more concerned with enjoying the time we have. This too is resilience.

With Grace and Grit, John