Innovation, Change and Me

Cover of the Summer UU World
Cover of the Summer UU World

The Summer 2014 issue of UU World recently arrived in my mailbox. And although I get a lot of news and commentary online, there is real comfort in leafing through color glossy pages. On the inside back cover I spot OMD youth leaders, and throughout see photos and names of familiar people and places. Yet while clutching this comfortable format, what I am reading about is change. Some is physical – the move of UUA headquarters from 25 Beacon to 24 Farnsworth; some is practical – enough interest to publish a digital edition of UU World; but most challenging was Teresa Cooley’s article on “Spiritual Innovators: Into the Beyond”. It should be required reading and the first item on the agenda of every UU congregation’s Board of Trustees meeting!

I will be the first to admit that it is a heck of a lot easier to preach flexibility, innovation and being open to change than to actually seek it out and feel “out of sorts” with new ways of being – especially in MY congregation! In the same UU World issue Peter Morales tells us that “Opportunities are always there”. You and I are challenged to discover those opportunities in the months ahead. After six years of service to the St. Lawrence District and three in Ohio Meadville, a staff reorganization has forced me to consider new options. Chris Neilson’s sudden medical leave has challenged remaining staff to imagine different ways of being in relationship. The losses are real. We feel it in our bones. Yet what a gift to be forced into the chaos where great dreams can begin and stars are born! Now is the time when all of us are being called to be co-creators in the new future. I remember the picture of a sailboat in my grandmother’s bathroom – we waste time and energy cursing the direction of the wind, when what we called to do is to adjust the sails. This summer and beyond, let us embrace the opportunities that changing winds bring us!

Karen LoBraccoKaren LoBracco
Until June 30, 2014, Lifespan Faith Development Consultant for the Ohio-Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts, UUA

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Guilty As Charged?

Bumper sticker 7487A common question posed in religious education programs to older children and youth is “If being a Unitarian Universalist was against the law, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In the Tapestry of Faith curriculum for 2nd-3rd graders Signs of Our Faith, the characteristics mentioned include seeking knowledge, worshiping together, fair group decisions, a sense of faith as a journey and witness for justice. It is not just one of these or other shared characteristics that marks us a Unitarian Universalist, just as it not just treasuring one or more of our 7 Principles or 6 Sources. Rather it is, in my mind at least, valuing all of them, with all the challenges and contradictions inherent in that adoption, that marks us as Unitarian Universalists.

Another angle to this question involves appropriate behavior when you proclaim to the world that you are a Unitarian Universalist. My automobile sports a UU bumper sticker. It’s mighty handy for picking out my car out in a parking lot, but what does it mean when I drive 37 in a 25mph school zone? Or speed up to get through the intersection before the light turns red?

I own and wear several pairs of chalice earrings, necklaces and pins. To be honest they are worn much more on Sundays and at UU gatherings than M-F. Am I afraid, lazy, or what? At a recent training for religious educators in Cleveland, OH the discussion turned to tattoos. One of the participants had a depiction of her vision of faith development. Another had a chalice clearly visible on her inner right wrist as she reached out to shake hands. Hard to ignore and sure to invoke conversation!

What about you? Would your deeds convict you of being a Unitarian Universalist?

In faithful conversation,
Karen LoBracco, Lifespan Faith Development Consultant
Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts, UUA

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St. Patrick’s Green

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m wearing green – how about you? And after a winter such as we have had, that green is a precious promise of spring. A promise of fresh green grass, new lettuce and peas in the pod. This is also the season of pledge campaigns, a plea and a hope for plentiful funds and healthy budgets. I don’t think the timing is coincidence.
Spring is a time of stirring and growth, of movement and hope. My church budget, my curriculum plan, my garden and indeed my life – all will do so much better with preparation, planning and inputs at just the right time. Yet I need to keep asking, is that budget, faith development program, garden or whatever looking at potential and not just maintenance?
I have a strong need for structure and planning, so this spring I will be mindful of mission as I plant my garden and budget my time and finances. Within that container of mission there is space for experimentation and risk-taking without abandoning all of what feeds my soul and body. Diversity and adaptation are the keys to thriving in the long run, so plant your UU church garden and program within that raised bed of mission and value. Hope and pray for adequate sun and rain, but sow with an eye to trying something new and different. How cool is it that every year we get another chance to grow!
Karen LoBracco
Lifespan Faith Development Consultant for Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts

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The Olympics and Unitarian Universalism

Olympic RingsThe winter Olympics are in full swing in Sochi. The media report performance times, medal counts, stories of triumph and bitter disappointment. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, which is a good thing for me, because it turns snow and cold into assets rather than something to struggle against. In today’s news I heard of team Figure Skating, an event which proceeds all the individual and pair events that we are so familiar with. One skater dismissed it as something you just have to get through before the “real” work of her individual event, while another spoke of how the team event prepared her in very tangible and practical ways for personal excellence. Which got me to thinking about what Joan Van Becelaere wrote about last week – how sharing is mutual and reciprocal, not a one-way street where I bestow my wisdom upon you.

Every Olympic athlete and team has a coach, a person dedicated to developing excellence – the best that we can be. That coach will fail miserably if they assume what worked for them in another time or place should be repeated today in Sochi. Rather, to succeed, an athlete or a congregation needs to engage their unique talents and gifts with the wisdom and experience of their members, their neighbors (including UU congregations), their staff and that of the wider UU community. Team UU celebrates not only when one of our congregations achieves Gold Medal status, but when each of us shares our distinct way of transforming the world and pays attention to what works for others. We are, after all, our best coaches!

Karen LoBracco, Lifespan Faith Development Consultant
St. Lawrence and Ohio Meadville Districts

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January – A Good Time for “The Conversation”

It’s January, the month of New Year resolutions and new beginnings.  It’s also the month of leaving, with the highest death rate in the US (followed by February, December and March).  On December 30 I turned the radio on and caught Diane Rehm interviewing Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Death.  Katy wrote the book in response to the deaths, and the decisions made preceding the deaths of first her father then her mother.  Memories of my mother’s death just 2 years ago at age 90 quickly resurfaced.  I began to consider the kind of conversation I should be having with my husband’s 89 year old mother.

According to Butler, “I think we need to start these conversations years earlier than we are, and we need to regard them as emotional and spiritual conversations, not conversations just about, I don’t want to be plugged into machines, or I don’t want a pacemaker.”  Legal documents – living wills and durable power of attorney – important and helpful as they are, can never anticipate every situation nor provide specific direction to family members in times of conflicting priorities.  So many times I have seen and been part of a cycle of interaction focused on “What’s the matter?”   For someone in declining health there is so much to pay attention to that we often skip the conversation about “What matters?”  “What matters” is about the soul, not about flatness of an EEG line. 

As UUs we talk about the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and so I was drawn to the way The Conversation Project http://theconversationproject.org/  seems to support each of us, young and old, those near death’s door as well as those seemingly far away, in providing a structure for having conversations about our values and priorities.  Check it out, share it, and initiate “The Conversation” with your family and friends.

                                Karen LoBracco

                                Lifespan Faith Development Consultant, St. Lawrence and Ohio Meadville Districts

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Open Source or Best Practice?

11/18/2013

What does the UUA recommend?  What is the right way to do XYZ?  These are questions that district and regional staff get asked all the time.  We are, after all, the “go to” persons, the “experts” who have made a career in church work.  Because I have gotten to know fairly well roughly 50 congregations of all sizes in 9 states, yes, I have seen a lot of mistakes which can be avoided and many things that worked well.  And our UUA, drawing on the experience of 1000 congregations, can indeed speak with some authority about best practices.

from the UUA websiteOn the other hand I have lost count of the number of times something has been tried which bucks the conventional wisdom, yet works!  Recently I have been reading Open Source Church: Making Room for the Wisdom of All by Landon Whitsitt.  He discusses the collective wisdom of crowds as opposed to the views of select experts like me.  An Open Source Church is always in flux, changing and evolving, and thus stands a better chance of surviving in a changing world.  But it is scary!  By accepting new members we give them power to change the mission and ministry of MY church.  Is nothing sacred?

Should we be open to the wisdom of the crowds OR the wisdom of the ages?  The answer of course is YES!  There is a dynamic tension between roots and wings, navel gazing and star gazing.  May we work on finding the balance between each in our personal and congregational lives.

Karen LoBracco
Lifespan Faith Development Consultant

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What Should I Celebrate?

Idigenous Peoples dayToday the USA celebrates Columbus Day and Canadians Thanksgiving.  Our US Thanksgiving comes around next month.  Both leave me conflicted.  Surely I honor the heritage of my husband’s Italian American family, yet Christopher Columbus was a cruel and greedy person.  The traditional Thanksgiving tale speaks of gratitude and cooperation – admirable virtues – but fails to mention the 500+ years of systemic genocide of native inhabitants and their culture.  I love parades and family gatherings, and the thought of giving it all up is too much to bear!  What has evolved then is my personal strategy for being faithful to my values while remaining engaged with family and community.

  • Identify my personal values, AKA the grounding of my faith.  This can get challenging as what I think should be my values might not be reflected in my living.  I say family is highly valued, but would you know that by looking at my calendar?  Hmmmmm.
  • What in this celebration resonates with my values?  What part can I feel good about promoting and encouraging?
  • What feels so wrong?  For me, being able to articulate and name the difficult part of the holiday is an important step.  When I know what I am dealing with a decision is needed – ignore or expose and resist?  The answer changes, based on the situation and what I feel capable of.
  • Make Lemonade.  What can I do to build on the positive instead of just being “anti”?    What can be my small contribution to building a new way?  For example, I chose to share resources with my children’s teachers from Preschool through Middle School on age appropriate ways of celebrating Columbus Day and Thanksgiving which tell the whole truth and challenge us to build a community where all are valued.  If you are interested in exploring more, here are some places to start:

Karen LoBracco
Lifespan Faith Development Consultant
St. Lawrence and Ohio Meadville Districts

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