Sunday, January 8
Dear Friends, due to the weather conditions, we will not be gathering together this weekend. I was planning to speak about friendship, the kind that invites us into deep listening to one another, and how those skills can benefit not just our relationships with one another; they can also be used to live our UU Principles in our communities to counter the divisiveness that is threatening our commitment to ‘respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person’. Perhaps I will get to share my thoughts with you later in the church year. In the meantime, I thought I’d send you this piece. My mother really did tell me to write this when I told her about our Christmas Eve Service. I never did send it into the newspaper, so I’d like to invite you to read it. I’m sure it would please Mom if you did.
My mother told me to write this. She is 90 years old, living in Philadelphia, PA, where I was born and raised – and she has been an active member of her synagogue for over 75 years.
For the past three years, I’ve been the pastor at Eastrose Fellowship Unitarian Universalist in Gresham. Mom was not very happy when I told her, about 20 years ago that I was entering seminary to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. It’s taken time, but over the years she can see how my Jewish heritage is still alive and well in my ministry.
This holiday season has been particularly rich since the first night of the Jewish Holiday of Chanukah fell on Christmas Eve. At Eastrose we began our family service lighting the Unitarian Universalist chalice – the symbol of our free faith, then the Advent Wreath, and finally the Chanukah Menorah. We said the Jewish blessings in Hebrew and English. During the service, the choir sang one song commemorating Chanukah, one commemorating Kwanza, and one written by our visiting choir director focusing on the theme of the evening – peace.
My reflection, spread throughout the service, tied together how the miracle of the light of the Chanukah story (and Jewish Sabbath), transforms into the light of Jesus’ life and his message of love – and how important it is to use both these stories together to envision peace. Maya Angelou’s story/poem, “Amazing Peace” led us into our own candle lighting and singing of Silent Night.
At the same time, in Eugene, my partner, a Catholic Priest, was also lighting the Chanukah Menorah – as part of her Christmas Eve mass. A family in her small congregation who is both Jewish and Catholic lit the Menorah and led the blessings.
In both gatherings, people talked about how meaningful it was to hear the story of their early Jewish ancestors, and share in blessings that have been recited for over 2000 years. In both congregations those who knew it was the first night of Chanukah, but didn’t know what that meant – learned something.
After those services, there are more people who understand a little better how our faiths are intertwined, how the messages weave and merge through their histories, and how it is possible to look beyond differences, toward the common ground of light and love and peace. Now there are more people who can bring this message into a world that desperately needs paths to mending the divisiveness and distrust permeating our communities.
My mother is proud of my ministry – but she is most proud of how both my partner and I use our different religions to deepen our understanding of how enriching it is to look for the common threads. Mom said that’s a lesson that needs to be shared. That’s why she told me to write this.