Sunday, January 08, 2017

The New Normal?

            As we’ve aged, whether we are single twenty- or thirty-somethings,  middle-aged parents or single folks, Baby Boomers, or truly elderly and feeling it, we experience changes in our lives that turn out to be permanent rather than temporary.
            It may be a chronic illness or an improvement in health due to changed behaviors; it may be the end or start of a love relationship; it may be a move from a beloved home to unfamiliar surroundings.
            Many times these are temporary, but when they become permanent, we begin to realize that “normal” isn’t what it used to be.  The “new normal” is often something we need to come to terms with because it is life-changing and not always pleasant.
            I’ve had my ideas of “normal” changed a few times in my life,  just as you have, no doubt.  My vision went from mildly nearsighted to cluttered by cataracts, to damaged by retinal detachments---and that is my “new normal” vision.  My heart went from a slight murmur to the diagnosis of a birth defect which needed repair, and then on to conditions that required a pacemaker and medications that have now become another “new normal” for me.
            We learn to cope with the “new normal”, recognizing that our ability to adapt is on the line here.  Losses in health or in relationships or in living conditions are major events in our life journeys and can strike at the very foundations of our sense of well-being.
            Our nation’s health and relationships and living conditions are currently on the line these days, as we contemplate how we will cope with a Yuuge change in our national leadership. But more on that later!
            This morning I want to review for us our journey as members and friends of the Pacific UU Fellowship, because we have done a lot of changing in the past two years and it’s a good time to reflect on our “new normal”.
            Two years ago, January of 2015, we had about 30 pledging members, members who had taken the UU 101 course, had signed the membership book, and had made a financial pledge to the congregation.  This year we have 49 pledging members and are expecting to welcome a few more in the coming months.  We are growing strongly as opposed to many mainline religious traditions.
            Two years ago we were renting space in the small, lovely little green Congregational church on the South Slope and feeling frustrated by our situation---crowded during social hour and other events with little room to grow.
            We were facing several challenges besides the fact that we were outgrowing our rented space.  We also hated to leave a sanctuary that was so familiar with its beautiful views and a mostly-positive relationship with our hosts, the Congregationalists.
            But there were concerns about maintenance of the structure and an awareness that our hosts were financially unable to fix the structural damage, particularly after the incident during a March storm last year that damaged the beautiful window overlooking Saddle Mountain and Youngs Bay.  We weren’t sure we could afford to help out financially.
            A facilities committee had been formed earlier to sort through the possible solutions to our situation and we began to think whether to find new space or to stay put.  But that blue-tarp-covered window in the sanctuary after the storm was a real dose of reality as we realized that the damage was likely irreparable under those current circumstances.
            The facilities committee took on the responsibility of researching possible new homes, listing the pros and cons of each, as well as the pros and cons of staying; the committee visited different possible locations, talking with potential landlords, and also staying in communication with our hosts, the Congregationalists.
            After many months of work and meetings and endless emails back and forth----by the way, Michael counted up 900+ emails about the search for space during 2016—we got ready to make a recommendation to the Fellowship.
            We had had some challenges---many churches in our area are quite conservative and they did not seem like a good match with our liberal theology and values, so we decided not to consider them.  We were actually told “No” by one mainline congregation, uneasy about theological differences.
            In the end, it boiled down to becoming a Partner of the Performing Arts Center or staying put at the little green church.  The vote last summer was decisive to move to the PAC, and we did so in September,  five months ago.
            Our transition team got to work, planning and packing and lugging and moving in.  We learned what keys went to what doors.  We stored our stuff.  We bought things:  a pulpit, a few tables, the kids’ furniture from the UCC church and we made the all-important coffee decisions. 
            People donated things:  a rocking chair for RE, this great rug from Christine, which the kids adore,  tablecloths, a cabinet for the hymnals, storage bins, and many odds and ends.  And then it was time to have our first service here, Sept. 18.
            There have been experiments and goof-ups and more than one deafening screech from the sound system, during the past months of learning how to use this space.  Protocols for social hour and set-up/take-down had to be put in place.  Volunteers had lots of opportunity to be involved and create those protocols. 
Becky and Larry Thormahlen devised the backdrop of drapes and banner---which, by the way, is a major place we need some help, so that they can share that set-up with others and not have to do it themselves every single week.
            We learned we had to be very careful with our chalice flame and got a dispensation from the Astoria fire chief so that we didn’t have to go totally LED!  (Now if we can just help people get the hang of turning on the little bitty switches on the joys and concerns candles!)  There were so many new rules and adjustments to be made.  Other Partners’ schedules had to be observed and worked around.
            Every week it seemed like there was some new challenge to figure out!  At one point, I observed to someone that it reminded me of the first apartment of my own---when I’d moved out of my parents’ home and faced that shaky moment when I realized just how complicated it was to be an adult and run my own life! 
            On top of all of this, our national political scene has been both exciting and scarily chaotic.  We have been challenged repeatedly by potential upheavals and reversals of hard-won human rights and basic respect for human dignity.
            However as we face the year 2017, with its uncertainties, there are strengths within this Fellowship, its membership, and its values that we will build upon, continuing to use our seven principles and the ideals that they represent to resist efforts to turn back the clock to an older more repressive time.
            We have new members with leadership abilities and high eagerness.  We are set firmly upon a solid foundation laid by longterm members and leaders.  We have volunteers, both longtimers and newer folks, who are establishing new processes for hospitality, for Sunday services, social justice, religious education, greeting and membership, all designed for this new home and ready to meet the Yuuuge challenges which may face our nation.
            We have volunteers stepping up to the place with ideas and energy.  We have new activities---circle suppers and post-service discussion times.  Our board is made up of longtimers and newer folks—a promising combination for stability and creativity.
            As we continue to experiment with how to use our new home effectively, we’ll be trying some new elements in the Sunday service occasionally and in other parts of our life together.
            Changes in our size bring changes in our relationships with one another, so some of our new activities will help us stay connected and more aware of what each of us bring to the life of the Fellowship.  We will want to monitor how things are going and bring concerns or suggestions to our leadership.
            Because we have been gaining new members regularly, there may come times when we look around and say to ourselves “I no longer know every person here!”  We’ll want to find ways to help ourselves and each other feel at home here.
            We often think of “growth” as measured primarily in numbers or size.  I mean, how did our parents measure our growth?  By marks on the door jamb, with a book on our heads, right?  By our weight on the pediatrician’s scale, by the sizes of shoes we outgrew!
            In a religious community, there’s more than one kind of growth to consider, however.  Numbers, yes, because we report our numbers to the Unitarian Universalist Association and pay a fee to that organization in return for their support.  Size, yes, because it feels so great to see this sanctuary start to fill up on Sunday mornings!
            But we here at PUUF are also creating growth in our infrastructure, meaning the ways we keep things running smoothly---in our finances, in our processes for creating community, in our leaders’ competence, and in our interactions with the community---both the community of the PAC and of the Columbia/Pacific geographical area.
            We are in the early stages of creating a Finance committee to oversee our accounts and give more assistance to our treasurer.  We are creating a Religious Education advisory group to assist our RE staff.  We have created a hospitality process to make our social hour smooth-running and enjoyable. And we have a membership committee to assist me in welcoming new visitors and members.
            Another important growth area is maturity of understanding.  Our Sunday Services committee strives to create Sunday services that feature speakers  and ideas that bring new information into our awareness.  Speakers from local social service agencies increase our understanding of the social justice needs of our area.  And speakers from other religious traditions and those who challenge us to think philosophically (like Seth Tichenor next Sunday!) help us learn to understand others’ world views.
            One more area of growth for a religious community is in spiritual understanding, opening ourselves to a deeper awareness of what it means to be a human being, in this world, a human being who knows they will die.
            Part of that awareness is recognizing our deepest values---for ourselves and for each other---and finding within ourselves the awe aroused by the world and its creatures and the commitment to offer ourselves and our resources to the world’s protection and improvement.
            Our social justice activities and projects can help us find that sense of connection which invites awe and wonder into our lives.  Spirituality is both inward and outward---inward when we are touched by love or wonderment and savor it quietly.  Outward when we invest our insights and sense of wonder into making lives better with our own actions.
            As we face the prospect of a presidential administration which seems bent on destruction of justice, respect, and compassion, we must work together and within our larger community to resist injustice and teach our values of inherent worth and dignity to others.
            I invite you to open your hymnals now to the page at the very front of the book which lists our Unitarian Universalist principles.  These are the foundation of our faith.  They are the values which inform our religious life and give us direction as we respond to attacks on justice, equity, truth, and all that we are committed to as UUs.
            Let’s read them together.  (read)
            As we move forward, into this difficult time, let us support those leaders who share our values, resist and challenge those who would trample others in their race for riches, and may we find the courage to speak our minds for love and justice in this chaotic time.  Let us do all we can to maintain what we have gained from progressive action and band together for strength.
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
Our closing hymn is #311, Let it Be a Dance.
            As Michael extinguishes the chalice, I’d like to read you something by Carter Heywood for our benediction.  
Christmas Beatitudes 2016
By Carter Heyward
Blessed are those who are kind, especially when it’s hard
Blessed are those angry for justice in situations of unfairness and oppression,
Blessed are the compassionate in times of hatred,
Blessed are those who speak honestly when pummeled by lies — and who seek truth when confronted by fake news,
Blessed are those who keep their courage in the face of belligerent bullies,
Blessed are women who stand up to abusive men — and men who stand with, not on, women,
Blessed are the queer who do not walk straight and narrow paths,
Blessed are black lives — and white lives who know that black lives matter,
Blessed are the earth and animals among those indifferent to their well-being,
Blessed are non-violent resisters whose enemies hope you will pick up guns,
Blessed are you when people shake their heads because you refuse to accept authoritarian rulers as “normal,”
Blessed are you peacemakers who refuse cheap grace,
You are daughters and sons of the Sacred,
brothers and sisters of Jesus, (and Mohammed and the Buddha and all women and men)
friends of the Spirit,
Salaam. Shalom. Peace.

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