Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"That's Just the Way It Is..."

"...Some things will never change."

I am quoting Bruce Hornsby for a reason here, I promise. 

"Thanks for the shout-out, Cory!"
Everyone I know, including me, likes to think big around the New Year. We recognize that the New Year is symbolic and not a literal new beginning, but we've built enough ceremonies and rituals around New Year's that it's now part of our culture. Our sense of renewal is very real. 

When it comes to making resolutions, we like to go big. For example, going from almost no exercise at all to hitting the gym five days a week. Or, quitting a vice we've held for decades, cold turkey. Or, most irrationally, deciding not to eat butter, even though it's the most important meal of the day. 

"Dinner is served!"
With this caliber of resolution, it's no wonder we fail. Maybe we visit the gym regularly for three weeks, but then we realize that five days a week isn't sustainable, so we cut down to three days, then two days, then none.  

And then we feel bad. But we shouldn't. It's ambitious and admirable but totally insane to make such a big decision about the rest of our lives, especially when the proposed lifestyle change is so monumental. We might as well say, "From now on, I will play in the NBA." 

I think we should start thinking smaller. I'm all for bettering ourselves, but when people make "overnight" changes in their lives, these changes usually seem to be the product of several smaller changes that slowly happened over time. Someone who is 100% sedentary doesn't just wake up one day and say "Now I run marathons." They wake up one day and say, "I'm going to go for a walk." Then, they wake up the next day and say the same thing. Then, six months later, they might wake up and say, "I think I'll try running." 

"This is great fun!" said the LIAR.
Making personal changes isn't a sprint, or even a marathon; it's a crawl up a steep hill, with your old habits grabbing at your ankles, trying to pull you down. When it doesn't work out like we'd hoped, we feel that we've failed. But, if we learn even one thing from our journey, I'd call it a success. 

We also give ourselves unrealistic timelines. What sounds more reasonable: losing 100 pounds this year, or eating a healthy meal for lunch? When we set the bar too high, we are sabotaging ourselves. We need to think in terms of today. Not eating Doritos for the rest of my life is impossible, but I can avoid them today, and that is a victory. 

Maybe just one.
One final thing I've noticed about resolutions: They often come from a place of self-judgment, rather than a place of self-love. We think, "I'm terrible at money so I am going to quit being such a slacker!" instead of "I deserve to be financially stable, so I am going to treat myself right." It's semantic, sure, but we believe what we say about ourselves. 

This New Year's, perhaps the most important resolution is to love yourself without condition, failures and all. Cut yourself some slack. Make changes out of respect for who you are, not loathing. 

I know it sounds impossible. I'm terrible at it, too. But we deserve it. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Blue Christmas

The holidays are fickle. 

As we celebrate Advent, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve, we are stressed, broke, exhausted, overbooked, and anxious. We attend church and celebrate, and when we go home, we are reminded that we still need to go Christmas shopping and arrange our holiday travel. After a decadent and delicious meal with loved ones, we promise ourselves that going forward, we'll finally watch what we eat and cut back on wine. 

We begin imagining our ideal selves, which will somehow materialize in the new year. It's a lot of pressure. We're only human, and yet, we say, "I made mistakes and failed in 2015, but 2016 is going to be different. That's going to be my year. In 2016, I am going to spend more time with family, eat right, and quit my vices. I'm finally going to muster up the courage to take a risk and move past what's been holding me back. Then, I'll be happy." 

We think this way, and in doing so, we set ourselves up to be disappointed. 

Our feelings of inadequacy are only amplified by the spirit of the season. The holidays are a time for gratitude, celebration, and love. So why is it that a group of angelic kids singing a Christmas carol makes us downright resentful of ourselves? "What's wrong with me?" we wonder. 

We don't know the full extent of others' struggles and demons; we only know our own. We look around and see people who seem to have it together--way more than us, anyway--and we wonder why we can't get our lives in order. "Why can't I be healthy like Jason? Why can't I afford to go on vacation like Amanda? Why does Eric's family seem so stable?" 

Of course, when we do this, we are comparing our actual, flawed selves to others' superficial selves. It's the same thing we do every day on Facebook. We have a rough week, perhaps filled with heartbreak and sadness, and we log into Facebook, only to see that our attractive, successful, and insufferably kind friend has taken yet another vacation to Spain, and it's just not fair. 

What we don't take into account is that our friend is recently divorced and feeling lost. They're dealing with the death of a parent. They've been trying to have kids for years, and it's just not working. 

"I think that tree is making me feel better!"
It's tempting to avoid all of this nastiness during the holidays. Who wants to bum everyone out at the office holiday party? Who wants to expose themselves for the messed-up, insecure human they actually are? Why would you want to reveal to your kids that it was a huge struggle to purchase them modest gifts this year, for reasons they wouldn't understand? 

But to avoid confronting these realities is to further magnify our perceived feelings of failure. 

The better thing to do is to name it. It won't make our problems go away, but it opens up the door for honesty and empathy. I guarantee you that, if you told any one of your friends that you were having a tough time this holiday season, they'd be able to share with you that they, too, were feeling overwhelmed or sad or empty. 

When we call our fears and shortcomings out, we take away their power. We make them commonplace and manageable and unmysterious. When we hold them in, they become big scary secrets that thrive in a vacuum. Admitting them makes them normal--almost boring. 

Wrong kind.
Our wise and loving churches and pastors know all this. Your pastor would be the first to tell you that during the holidays, the number of people who need extra pastoral care skyrockets. Our churches aren't in the business of assuring and downplaying; they're in the business of naming and discussing. And a number of churches are taking it one step further. 

If you are especially in need of God's light during a bleak holiday season, consider attending your church's Blue Christmas service. If they're not holding one this year, consider asking them to put it on the list for next year. Consider driving to a nearby church that is holding one of these services. If nothing else, consider talking to your pastor. Send them an email or drop by their office. Through empathizing and opening up with one another, the light grows brighter within ourselves. 

This holiday season, consider cutting yourself some slack; consider loving yourself, flaws and all, instead of trying to be perfect. It's not your job, and it never will be. Do your best, and take solace in the fact that you are loved. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Vista Grande's Radical Welcome

You may have read recent articles about what's happening at Vista Grande UCC. Their story (in particular, the story of member Patricia King) has been featured by the Colorado Springs Gazette, National Public Radio, and most recently, the New York Times

King is a parent, a member of the US Army (infantry), and a transgender woman who came out earlier this year. She joined Vista Grande this past summer. 

Rev. Clare Twomey (left) and Patricia King grabbing dinner
Her story is fascinating, especially considering her circumstances. Colorado Springs is home to several conservative religious organizations and mega-churches. Add that to the fact that she's in the military, and there's some serious bravery involved here. 

Fortunately, she found a spiritual home at Vista Grande. Even though the church is Open and Affirming, it had little previous experience with transgender members. When Patricia joined the church, it gave them an opportunity to walk the walk--and they did, magnificently. 

In the articles linked above, Patricia's story is told beautifully. Coming from a place of strong faith, she wasn't sure she'd be accepted in any church as a female. But, when she attended Vista Grande and felt radically welcomed, she knew she'd found a home. "The goal is to be accepted and celebrated," she told me. 

About a month ago, I reached out to Vista Grande's pastor, Rev. Clare Twomey. What began as a 20-minute phone call evolved into an hour-long conversation. She offered so much helpful information, but after we talked, I just felt more curious. 

Clare graciously invited me to attend Vista Grande's Thanksgiving service so that I could meet Patricia and the rest of the congregation. I was honored to accept. (They also held a Thanksgiving potluck that day, which was amazing. I'd like to think they made those carrots just for me.) 

During my visit, I experienced amazing community. Rev. Twomey tempered her warm and authentic message with wonderfully dry humor. The service was interactive; she asked the congregation non-rhetorical questions and wanted honest answers. The choir and accompanist were stunning (there are some serious pipes down there in the Springs). After someone answered a question of Clare's, Clare laughed and responded, "How am I not surprised you would say that?" 

The potluck that followed was the highlight for me, because we had a chance to interact with members of the church. I met with new and familiar faces alike, one of those new faces being Patricia. 

Something surprised me when I spoke to Patricia: I didn't think about her gender much at all. I'd like to say that it's a positive reflection on me, but it had much more to do with the fact that Patricia, like anyone else, speaks about herself as a human being first.  

While we talked about her career in the army, her children, her decision to come out and transition, and her relationships within the church, I didn't think about the bravery it must have taken to come out, and about the adversity she must face every day. It didn't occur to me until later that she likely gets stared at and judged, all the time, everywhere she goes. She was so kind and honest, and the environment was so natural, that I forgot about the harsh realities that exist outside of the church's walls. 

Her bravery isn't lost on me today. She was the first openly transgender army infantry soldier. Think about that for a second. That's insane. But when we talked, she spoke about her relationships with the people of the church and her passion for her career. She talked about loving the after-church social every week, because that's where she experiences community the most. She talked about how much she loves Clare and her sermons, and about the people who've recently joined Vista Grande because of Patricia's story. She also talked about food in Louisiana, which made us both hungry. 

All of this is to say that Patricia's narrative is powerful and inspiring, but her gender is simply a fact about her; the real story is about Patricia the person, and about all of the other people at Vista Grande. 

Before we left, Patricia said to me, "I know that you're writing a story about me, and that's fine, but this is really about the church." If I had to extrapolate on that further, I would say that Patricia and Vista Grande have experienced parallel journeys. Patricia's was personal, Vista Grande's was communal. 

It's easy to imagine a church that would have suffered division and splintering because of Patricia joining. This kind of happens all the time. But instead, Vista Grande became stronger and even more radically welcoming after Patricia arrived, and Patricia was affirmed in the process. That's pretty incredible. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sacred Marriage: The Green Man and the Black Madonna (Part III of III)

The following is the third and final part of a three-part guest blog from Rev. Todd Smiedendorf, Sr. Pastor at Wash Park UCC in Denver. If you would like to contribute a guest blog to Radically Connected, please email Cory at

The Black Madonna is a timely and powerful symbol because she offers us, as a revered image, not only a straightforward rebuke to racism and the denigration of people of color, but a rebuke to the pale and practically disembodied images of the feminine presented in too many Virgin Mary depictions. She is black and beautiful. The black Madonna offers us a powerful invitation into the darkness in order to be creative. She will not let her fear stop her from looking at what is in there. She knows that there is a path, ultimately creative, that leads through the darkness of grief and loss, of self-examination, and sometimes of sweat and blood. 

This black Madonna is compassionate, but not shallow or weak, and will not hesitate to overturn the empires of the world, or the dominating structures within ourselves that keep us from living and serving life fully and joyfully. This black Madonna has no patience for the glaring full solar patriotism of Fox News, which only wants to see our nation as “awesome,” and justified in our nation’s use of force on the streets or in secret prisons. 

This black Madonna can walk through the deep self-examination of our nation’s shadows in its history and present. She knows how to bring creativity to bear as we walk into the shadows of our racism, of our violence, and of our injustice. She knows how to explore our own shadows, and trusts that healing is found in there for our addictions, our depressions, our old wounds, and our "reactivities."

The Black Madonna has depth and strength. She represents mature feminine archetypal energy, one that has integrated the masculine archetype’s strength of focus and present purpose while maintaining the profound feminine power of compassionate nurturing and presence, of sensual creativity, and deep response to life.

I bring these images because I believe they are, over time, capable of guiding and inspiring our faith into wisdom and passion. Their reclaiming represents an act of creative appropriation of our tradition, a drawing forth of that prophetic imagination which is needed to meet our moment faithfully, to resist the powers of death and embrace the power of resurrection. 

As we place the mural in our sanctuary, the invitation is to note the issues of the day that are touching your heart, be they social issues or personal challenges, and to begin to let the image and voice of the Green Man and the Black Madonna enter the conversation. 

What does this sacred marriage say to us? How can it sustain and inspire us to keep keeping on? How can we let their energy flow through us into the world?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sacred Marriage: The Green Man and the Black Madonna (Part II of III)

The following is the second part of a three-part guest blog from Rev. Todd Smiedendorf, Sr. Pastor at Wash Park UCC in Denver. If you would like to contribute a guest blog to Radically Connected, please email Cory at

Rev. Todd Smiedendorf
As depth psychologist Carl Jung would have expected, the images of the Green Man and the Black Madonna are not only part of our Christian heritage (albeit often overlooked and even repressed), but predate Christianity and are found in other traditions by different names. Both appeared in a strong way in Christianity in the early medieval.

The Green Man is found in numerous cathedrals in Europe, and at Chartres Cathedral 72 times. He is portrayed as a male face peering out of the leaves, or a face made of leaves, sometimes spewing vines and leaves from his mouth, sometimes friendly and sometimes fearsome. Unlike the Enlightenment dreams of Descartes and Bacon of dominating nature, the Green Man is about relating to nature, discerning the wisdom of nature, being of nature, and being generative like the earth. 

It is interesting to note that in the seven-chakra system of Hinduism, the fourth chakra, the heart, is green. In that sense perhaps, the Green Man draws our masculine-dominated culture out of the head knowledge of scientific data down into the heart. And given his rooted, earthy nature, he draws us down into our lower chakras, into knowing and honoring our primal, embodied, creative, generative nature. In our day, the Green Man is in part a green warrior, defending the earth from the immature juvenile masculine dominance of our culture that is too often centered in the individual, in the immediate want, and in short-term profit that is oblivious to sustainability or justice. 

"The Green Man in Fall" by Narthyxa
The Green Man is also part sage, the human consciousness rooted in the life-giving ways of earth, knowing the secrets of what happens in the dark, unseen realms of roots, and in the inner unseen realms of Spirit. The Green Man embodies a mature masculine energy, dedicated to service and generating life, awakened to the inner and unseen realms where life regenerates itself. In this sense, he is the mature masculine that has integrated the archetypal feminine power that knows the inner realms and the wisdom of compassion.

His mature masculine quality makes the Green Man the ideal partner for the Black Madonna. While not as numerous in Protestant Christianity, there are countless images of Mother Mary in Christianity worldwide. Some of these have Mary and sometimes the baby Jesus with dark skin, in fact about 400-500 of them, mostly in Europe dating to the medieval period and some in the Americas. Some are statues and some are icon paintings. The reasons for the dark skin are probably varied, perhaps by design, perhaps by weathering.

Check back later this week for the third and final installment of this guest blog. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sacred Marriage: The Green Man and the Black Madonna (Part I of III)

The following is the first part of a three-part guest blog from Rev. Todd Smiedendorf, Sr. Pastor at Wash Park UCC in Denver. If you would like to contribute a guest blog to Radically Connected, please email Cory at

Rev. Todd Smiedendorf
What social issue is touching you right now? What issues are weighing on your heart, enough for you to change something, make a call, write a letter, write a check, read a book, have a difficult conversation? Inequality, racism, environmental degradation, etc?

I would suggest that every one of these issues, these struggles, these sources of pain is caused by imbalance, some kind of situation where something is dominating something else, where some energy or task or person or life is being neglected or devalued. True? I would venture to say that this applies to any personal issue that is touching your life as well. The social and individual places that are too much or too little represent places where life is not thriving, where there is suffering, where death is getting a foothold.

That’s why the image of wholeness is so important. That’s why I preached last week of God as wholeness, and as in the business of whole-making as Matthew 5:48 suggests. It is worth noting that Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek is essentially the word for breath, and that the inhale and exhale cycle of our breathing is the simplest connection we have to the principle of wholeness.

Spirit invites us into this divine journey of whole-making that makes for justice and joy, that produces the wisdom and compassion that serves life. We can see that in the passage from the Gospel of Thomas, a series of over 100 Jesus's sayings which were discovered in the 20th century and widely circulated in the early church. Saying 22 could be seen as one of the most direct calls to wholeness in our spiritual lives: A classic mythic symbolic way to represent wholeness is that of marriage, the royal marriage of king and queen, or the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine that the Greeks would have called the hieros gamos

As I mentioned at church on Sunday, November 8, we have placed a new work of art on the cross that stands in the eastern part of our sanctuary. This new mural is dedicated to wholeness, to the sacred marriage of the archetypal masculine and feminine.

So I’d like to get us acquainted with the two images that will anchor this mural and represent the sacred masculine and the divine feminine: the Green Man and the Black Madonna. The theologian Matthew Fox is responsible for the suggestion of the importance of these two images, and for their symbolic marriage in his book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men. We at Wash Park are simply daring to represent it on canvas, and to place it on the cross in Celtic Christian style circle, at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal axes.

Check back next week for Part II! 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Provo Interfaith Choir and Dave Lewis

Dave Lewis of Provo Community Congregational Church wears many, many hats. 

Dave Lewis of Provo Community Church
His major roles are Organist and Music Director, Public Affairs and Building/Construction Liaison, Handyman, Maintenance/Improvements, and Landscaping. Recently, I touched base with him to talk about Provo's Interfaith Choir, a very special and unique entity

The Provo Interfaith Choir was formed in early 2014 between members of three local denominations: PCCUCC, St. Mary's Episcopal Church, and a local young single adult congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

From that, four concerts were performed in 2014 at PCCUCC, where the volunteer choir rehearses. Dave was asked to be the conductor, and remains so now as well. This year, the choir took a hiatus and performed some reorganizing for the better part of 2015. Now, with renewed support, two concerts are coming up; United We Sing! and Carols by Candlelight. Currently, choir-rehearsal attendance is nearly at 30!

United We Sing! began last year as the driving force behind the Interfaith Choir. Other faiths, including Seventh-Day Adventist and Catholic, have also joined for this event and will do so again on Nov. 16. 
As the director of the choir, it has been a special experience for Dave to watch and listen to the interactions and conversations between people of different faiths. The goal has been to step out of our own comfort zone, get to know others, and share their common faith through music. 

Carols by Candlelight is a tradition that is now in its 37th year, started by a local couple (now in their nineties) out of their home. The concert is a beloved tradition of the community, and Dave gets asked about it nearly year-round.

Additionally, Provo Community Church is in the process of raising money to begin a much-needed renovation of their church. You can find out more about the renovation and donate to their cause on their website

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Plymouth UCC Men's Fellowship and the Ft. Collins Islamic Center

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Jake Joseph, the (newly engaged!) Acting Associate Minister at Plymouth UCC in Ft. Collins. He wanted to let me know that from Oct. 23-25, Plymouth's Men's Fellowship Group would be holding a shared retreat with men from the Ft. Collins Islamic Center. 

I thought this was brave for both groups. Not because they're so different from each other (although they might be); but because it takes courage to do something differently when you've done it the same way for years. 

Along with building informative Q&As for both faiths into the programming, the men from Plymouth UCC have decided to adhere to certain Islamic restrictions out of respect and brotherhood. According to Wayne Shepperd, Chair of the Plymouth Men's Fellowship, the men from both faiths will abide by these rules: 

  • We will not have any alcohol at the retreat.
  • We will adhere to Islamic dietary restrictions.
  • We will not proselytize, or attempt to convert anyone to our religious point of view.
  • We do not represent all Christian or Muslim points of view and are not experts.
  • We will be open minded in our discussions and actions.
Ft. Collins Islamic Center
It's not that hard to cut alcohol and non-Halal food for a few days, but I think being open-minded is easier said than done, especially when groups intentionally discussing things on which we may not agree. I think of myself as a pretty open-minded guy, but I will admit; I don't quite understand it when someone has a more fundamental view of faith. I can imagine myself being someone aggravating to those with a more robust belief system than I, Muslim or non. 

During the retreat, Plymouth members have promised that they'll take some pictures and send me some highlights of what happens at the retreat. When that happens, I'll post another blog of reflections from this weekend. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Measuring the Successful Church

Just today, we received the UCC's 2015 Statistical Profile, sent over by our Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD). 

In the report, I knew I'd see one thing: From the time our denomination began in the 1950s, the number of our congregations has slowly declined. We've been hearing about that for years. 

"Bad news, Everyone!"
What's interesting to me is how much this statistic plays a part in the church's narrative, UCC and non-UCC alike. If you're involved in the church at any level, you've likely heard (maybe for decades) that the church is dying; people are turning away from their local churches in droves. It seems that God and faith just aren't as important to us as they used to be. 

I'm not trying to discount these numbers, but I think we're being unfair to our good work if we judge the success solely by that one statistic alone. If you're the CEO of a company and you find out that your revenue is off the charts and you're hiring more people than ever, that's great--unless you run an unsustainable company with lots of turnover and low morale. 

Maybe lots of turnover isn't THAT bad.
Here's another statistic from the same report: Across the UCC, giving/Mission dollars are up. That means that, despite lower numbers, we're actually giving more money to charitable causes. And, while you could make the case that we'd be giving more money if we had more people in our churches, I would counter that we did use to have more people, and we gave less

It makes sense, I guess, that we'd point to our numbers when we evaluate how we're doing. If our numbers are high, it means that more people have found a spiritual home, and that individual churches have more capacity to do ministry. 

However, if we're doing good work (and we are) and we feel at home in our individual churches (which we do), isn't that a pretty big part of success? Have you ever been at a large gathering, only to realize that your interactions are much more meaningful within a smaller sub-group of friends? 

"This party is lame, let's get out of here."
Despite our shrinking total of members, which can sometimes feel unsettling, we have reason to think that we're very successful indeed. 

How do you measure your church's success? 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Community UCC of Boulder Holds Silent Vigil for the Earth

The following is a guest blog from Rev. Harriott Quin of Community UCC, Boulder. 

Photos courtesy of Rev. Rick Danielson of Community UCC, Boulder. 

On Saturday, September 26, a beautiful late summer day, members of Community United Church of Christ, Boulder, and representation from the progressive Boulder Catholic Community in Discernment, gathered at noon on the Boulder Pearl Street Mall at 14th Street to hold a Silent Vigil on behalf of Justice for Our Earth – Justice for Our Children

The September 26th date was chosen to coincide with the visit of Pope Francis to the United States when he addressed, among other issues, global warming caused burning of fossil fuels for energy. Our CUCC artist, Rod Swanstrom wrapped a banner covering a large kiosk at that location on the mall. On it he had drawn large pictures of the Earth ringed around by children holding hands with the headline “Justice for Our Earth – Justice for Our Children."

Before the start of the Silent Vigil, members and friends of Boulder CUCC gathered to take part in a brief worship service standing in front of our banner. A member of the Catholic Community in Discernment read the first two paragraphs of the Papal encyclical “LAUDATO SI – Care for Our Common Home": 

Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.

Then a Responsive Reading Earth Prayer from the U.N. Environmental Sabbath Program was conducted. Finally, Rev. Rick Danielson, minister of Boulder CUCC, did a brief meditation. 

For the next hour, participants in the Silent Vigil ringed the kiosk, joining hands to stand as silent witnesses to our religious-based concern for the wounding of Our Earth and the fraught legacy we are leaving to future children. 

Several other participants engaged in dialogue with pedestrians on the Pearl Street Mall with information about the August 3rd Presidential EPA Clean Power Plan and Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants, as well as information about how individuals can live more effectively to reduce their Carbon Footprint on the Earth. Many signatures were gathered for a letter to support President Barack Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan, and to support Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who will oversee the EPA Clean Power Plan at the state level.

At the end of the Silent Vigil with 21 adults, 4 children and 1 infant there was a sense of accomplishment for honoring and caring for Creation in a public way as progressive Christians.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reproductive Rights

The following is a guest blog from Rev. Greg Garland, Pastor at United Church of Broomfield and Vice President of the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Rev. Greg Garland

It’s all about justice.

“Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [Amos 5:23] 

There can be no more foundational issue of justice than having the right to one’s own body. Yet, it has been a constant struggle for women to gain and retain that right.

Reproductive Justice is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction for ourselves, our families, and our communities in all areas of our lives.

[A New Vision for Advancing Our Movement for Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights, and Reproductive Justice. Oakland: Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, 2005]

The Unitarian Universalists recently passed a “Statement of Conscience” that states, “As Unitarian Universalists, we embrace the reproductive justice framework which espouses the human right to have children, not to have children, to parent the children one has in healthy environments and to safe guard bodily autonomy and to express one’s sexuality freely.”

Reproductive Justice is about protecting the most basic of human rights. Attempts to lessen, disregard, or deny such a basic human right is nothing less than sinful. But such attempts abound in the name of God. The war is a waging, and all we have to do to lose it is to do nothing.

Since Roe v. Wade, the ‘anti-choice’ movement has been on the offense. Recently, the target for the ‘anti-choice’ movement has been Planned Parenthood due to their provision of legal abortions.

The provision of legal abortions is a very small part (3%) of what Planned Parenthood provides. The other services include nearly 400,000 pap tests and nearly 500,000 breast exams each year, which are critical services in detecting cancer. Planned Parenthood also provide nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including 700,000 HIV tests. Planned Parenthood is extremely pro-life
  • Estimated number of unintended pregnancies averted by Planned Parenthood contraceptive services each year: 516,000.
  • Estimated number of abortions averted by Planned Parenthood contraceptive services each year: 217,000.
  • Number of women, men, and young people worldwide provided with sexual and reproductive health care, education, and outreach by Planned Parenthood each year: 5,180,000. [Planned Parenthood].

If one is interested in reducing abortions, their appeal should be directed at those who wish to reduce or restrict contraception, rather than at the most empirically effective providers.
If you take away Planned Parenthood services (and other services like it), it will result in more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions and, in a return to pre- Roe v Wade days, much more harm (and even death) to women. A painful recent example in Colorado was the denial of funding for LARC (Long Acting Reversible Contraception); a highly effective program that reduced abortion by 40%.

The demise of Planned Parenthood and other abortion care providers means millions could lose access to their trusted, high-quality care provider. This falls hardest on low-income people, who are more likely to be young people and people of color. Many people turn to Planned Parenthood as their only source of health care…

The latest attacks are one part of conservatives’ broader agenda of not only eliminating access to compassionate and safe abortion care, but also removing access to health care services for low-income people. From hacking health care provider websites, to passing legislation about the size of health center hallways, to dozens of attempts to repeal President Obama’s health care law, and refusing to expand Medicaid, conservative politicians are attempting to take away health care through a “death by a thousand cuts." 

It may be hard to fathom, but the Roman Catholic Church and Planned Parenthood are both after the same thing. They would both like to put an end to abortions. But one wants to do it by dictatorial force, while the other wants to do it through education and empowering the rights of women.

The opportunities, rights, and justice that women have attained in the past century are the direct result of their ability to have some control over their own bodies, and especially their reproductive abilities. There are people who want to see that end. 

As goes Planned Parenthood, so goes women’s rights and opportunities.

Rev. Gregory Garland
Pastor, United Church of Broomfield, UCC
Vice President, Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
– the primary religious voice for reproductive justice in Colorado

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Congregational UCC in Buena Vista, CO Celebrates 135 Years of Service

Last week, my wife Lara and I attended Congregational UCC's 135th Anniversary celebration on the invitation of CUCC's pastor, Rev. Rebecca Kemper Poos. 

Before I get into the celebration itself, let me say: If you have not visited Buena Vista, CO before, you should make a point to do so, sooner rather than later. The drive was beautiful and only took about two hours. The visit was timed perfectly so that the Aspen trees on Kenosha Pass were a stunning golden-yellow.

Buena Vista itself is an incredibly charming town. There's a drive-in movie theater (it was playing American Graffiti the weekend we were there), hot springs (packed!), boutiques, a microbrewery, and a big cycling/rafting scene. It's surrounded by peaks on all sides, so no matter where you look, you'll get a big beautiful view of the mountains. 

Best of all are the people. We had planned to stay in a hotel, but we stayed in a cabin owned by Bewy and Helen Duncan (Helen's the Vice-Moderator of CUCC). The Duncans are kind people, so they would never say what I'm about to say, which is that the cabin is inSANEly beautiful. It's right next to a dang river down in a forest. And their hospitality was second to none. 

So yeah, get out to Buena Vista when you can (I recommend fall). 


Congregational UCC of Buena Vista has been serving its community for 135 years. That's a long time. It's been through a handful of buildings, several pastors, wars, movements, and generation after generation of congregants. Rev. Kemper Poos did some rough math during her sermon, and calculated that the amount people served over the years at CUCC was well into the millions. 

She also explored what exactly it means to serve. From her point of view, serving someone can mean anything from lending them a few dollars to helping them build a home. 

We talked about the good that CUCC has done in its community, but I also experienced the good that happens within their congregation. One by one during the celebration lunch, members of the church stood up and told stories about how they had been affected by the church. These people are servants of the community, but they too are served by the church.

The stories made this evident. People talked about times when the church supported them through financial difficulty, helped them raise their children, offered them a place of solace, or gave them a meal to share with others. 

It's a good reminder to me that the Conference doesn't support churches; churches ARE the Conference, and the work that the "Conference" does is really a shared history of kind acts and grace between neighbors. When a church like Congregational UCC in Buena Vista serves its community, it often means a community made up of good individuals who regularly do what they can to make life easier for other people.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Keep Your Spirits Up: Oklahoma Loves You

Today marks the 14th anniversary of 9/11. 

It's insane to me that it's been 14 years. Right now, my wife is teaching a classroom of children who weren't born yet when 9/11 happened. To them, 9/11 may as well be Vietnam or the Titanic. 

In the fall of 2001, I was just beginning my sophomore year at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. I'd just had my heart broken for the first time, and I was still feeling overwhelmed by the transition to Crete from my hometown of Ventura, California. 

That morning, I woke up to an email from my college newspaper editor/adviser. He informed us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and he needed writers to cover it. I mentioned it to my roommate, and while I was oblivious to what was going on at the time, he instantly knew what was happening (he was a Middle-Eastern Studies major). 

He jumped out of bed and turned on the TV, just in time for us to watch the second plane crash into the North Tower. 

Photo courtesy of Wally Gobetz via Creative Commons license
Coincidentally, I had Political Science 101 that morning, and together, we watched the coverage in class. Our professor told us, "Watch this; this is important. This will define American politics for years to come." She was right, of course. The effect that 9/11 had on our world was immediate and intense. No explanation needed. 

Now, 14 years later, the pain has subsided. The Iraq war has (thankfully) ended, and the nation's focus is inward, rather than outward. The outrage and contention about our foreign policy has been replaced with outrage and contention about America's racism, sexism, civil rights, and social justice. 

At this time, I am wondering what it means to never forget. I've visited Ground Zero several times (before and after construction of the new towers), and Lower Manhattan holds a special place in my heart. Since 9/11 happened at such a formative time in my life, it will forever be a focal point in the narrative of my passage from youth to young adulthood. So I wonder, what is to be done now? What should I learn from this tragedy? 

St. Paul's Chapel - New York City, New York
My favorite spot in all of New York City (and maybe the country) is St. Paul's Chapel, right across from Ground Zero. The chapel is home to Trinity Church. Built in 1764, it's Manhattan's oldest surviving church building. To me, historical buildings are sacred; churches even more so. This is likely the most sacred building I've ever stepped foot in. 

In the aftermath of 9/11, the church took on a whole new sacredness. For eight months, the church gave rescue workers a place to rest, meals to eat, and solace during a most trying time in their lives. 

The church also served as a beacon for prayer. People from all over the world sent postcards, patches, and letters of support to America, care of St. Paul's Chapel. Even today, there are banners and notes displayed in this holy space. 

I feel like there's some sort of very tangible thing I am supposed to take away from 9/11. Maybe I am supposed to learn the names of the victims, or maybe I am supposed to try and understand the hate that led to this awful event. It's hard to do that. I am not sure how to incorporate the lessons of 9/11 into my everyday life in a meaningful way. 

Maybe the biggest takeaway there is from 9/11 has nothing to do with politics. Maybe the message is perfectly encapsulated in the grace of God present in all of those messages from good people around the world, still on display in St. Paul's sanctuary. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Camel, Needle, Etc.

Summer is coming to an end in the RMC. Fall programming is starting back up, there are new and familiar faces each Sunday, and Church Stewardship season is upon us. 

A man walking around in autumn, thinkin' 'bout Jesus.
This should come as no shock to you: The church survives on donations, which means we have to ask for money (kind of a lot). Which also means that we have it down to a science. Sometimes, we build entire webpages dedicated to it

It's not that pastors love asking for money. In fact, I think most of them probably hate it. It doesn't feel good to ask for money, especially when you're asking it of those who already give so much to the community. But we've got to send the offering plate around in order to continue doing the good work that we do. 

Thank you.
Usually, solicitations for donations are in the "We know/But" format. "We know you are struggling to get by as it is, but anything you can give helps." "We know you donated a substantial amount last year, but it's this year, and we need you." "We know you already volunteer your time for the church, but our building is falling apart." 

All of these have something in common: They name giving as a sacrifice necessary in spite of the donor's well-being and peace of mind. 

I recently learned that it's a relatively new development, at least in the Western World. Professional Acting Associate Conference Minister Tamara Boynton recently told me that, while she was researching her genealogy, she found several notes from ancestors indicating that giving away one's money was a necessity for moral purity. Notes like "And near the end of his rich life, he donated most of his fortune to the local university, in order to keep his soul and heart pure." 

I made that up but it sounds legit old-timey so I am going to leave it. 

Not impressed.
The point is, giving seems different when we view it as something that is essential to our well-being, rather than something detrimental to it. 

I thought this sounded familiar, and then I remembered about the Bible. The scripture that most folks can quote is Mark 10:25: 
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
There are as many interpretations of this short phrase as there are Christians in the world, but most of us can agree it means something like, "Being generous is divine." Or maybe "If you love something, give it away." Probably not "Cross-stitch a picture of a camel." 

This Stewardship Season, let's think of giving as something we can do to be more holy.