Water from the Well

Water from the Well

Thursday, December 1, 2016

What does it mean to be a community of Presence?

Our theme for December is “What does it mean to be a community of presence?” I think of the obvious parallel—the best present we can give to someone is our presence. When we listen to each other, when we revere each other, we enact the power of love in each other's lives. Is there someone who needs your presence this holiday season?
I thought you might like to see some words of wisdom that were included in our packet from the Soul Matters Sharing Circle this month.
This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” ~Mary Oliver
The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” ~Henry Miller
At the end of the day: do others feel loved in your presence? This is the spiritual bottom line.” ~Masin Kipp 
Sometimes, people can go missing right before our very eyes. Sometimes, we lose sight of ourselves when we're not paying enough attention.” ~Cecelia Ahern
"When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there? The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh 
At the center of the world and in each breath this is the holy temple, the birthing moment: giving and receiving love. That is all. This is the sacred point, the love in you meeting the love in the world. However broken or weary you are, bring yourself here, in love, now.” ~Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Whether we are joyful or fearful, anxious or angry, lonely or inundated with other people in our house, love is the answer. One of my colleagues said on Facebook: “Love always wins.” Someone else said, “I don't know if love always wins, but I know that I must answer the call of love, win or lose.” May you find a way to answer the call of love, may you find a way to express and experience that love during this season of generosity and peace.

Rev. Myke Johnson

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Our theme for November is “What does it mean to be a community of story?” Of course, stories can be truth-telling, or truth-hiding. Many of you know I have mixed feelings about the Thanksgiving holiday. I am very much in favor of gratitude. But the stories we tell about the holiday have been used to hide the truth about a deep crack in the foundation of our nation, and have distorted and corrupted the high ideals we cherish as the basis of our American democracy.

Of course, I am speaking about the colonization of this continent, a destructive process unparalleled in history. Millions of Indigenous people were killed, or died from disease unknown to them. Land was stolen. Treaties were signed and then broken, and then never talked about again. Most of our senators and representatives in Washington know nothing about the legal responsibilities of our federal government to the Indigenous nations within our borders.

Why should we care? Those of us whose ancestors were among the settlers of the continent? We have benefited from this colonization, but we have also been harmed by it. Colonization is at the root of the many of the problems that all of us are facing now: the destruction of the natural world, climate change, oppression of one group by another, the overarching greed that has bankrupted our economy. I don't believe we can fix those problems without revisiting our history.

Sadly, churches were a large contributor to colonization. I am part of a new project here in Maine, called “Decolonizing Faith.” A few clergy colleagues and I, under the auspices of the Wabanaki REACH program, are exploring the history of colonization, and the role of the churches in it. We recently spent a long weekend with a few partners from the Wabanaki people having deeper conversations about the impacts of colonization on Wabanaki people, and building trust for future work together. We hope that we might begin to envision how churches could help in the process of de-colonization, joining together with Indigenous people for the benefit of all people.

Our next plan is to create and hold day-long workshops for people in faith communities to explore these questions together. But we realized this topic is so huge, that perhaps we should start by encouraging people to attend the Ally workshops that are already being offered by Wabanaki REACH. These workshops look at the history of U.S. Government relationships with Native people, explore the dynamics of systemic racism, and ask what non-native people can do as allies. Once people have this basic foundation, they will be better prepared for looking at how churches were involved in the problems, and how we can be part of the solutions.

I would encourage folks to sign up for the ally training to be held in Falmouth on Saturday November 12, or in Augusta on November 19th. You can email Barbara@mainewabanakireach.org or call at 951-4874 for details and more information. These trainings will be a prerequisite for the first Decolonizing Faith workshops we hope to offer this winter.

On another note entirely, some of you may have noticed that we've moved the chalice and the candles of joy and concern to the side table for worship. Part of this is due to my allergies—I often find myself reacting to something in the sanctuary during worship, for example, by coughing. One of our members suggested that it might be the oil burning chalice or candles that were triggering this, and that made sense to me. So we moved them further away from the pulpit. I think it looks nice on that table. I am also exploring beeswax candles for the chalice, rather than lamp oil which is a petroleum product—wouldn't that be more in line with our ecological vision of weaning ourselves from petroleum?

        Affectionately, Rev. Myke

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Water Is Life #NoDAPL

Those of you who follow me on Facebook may have noticed that I have been posting a lot about events in North Dakota during the last month. You may be asking, why does she keep posting about this? One reason is that the mainstream media hasn't been paying attention—and in those situations social media can become an alternative resource for keeping everyone informed and safer. But a second reason I am posting is that I believe what is happening there is one of the most important events of our time. It is the largest gathering of Indigenous people in over a hundred years, and impacts the issues of environmental justice, racial justice, and protecting clean water for everyone.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and thousands of Native and non-Native allies are peacefully camping near the junction of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, to protect the water from contamination by the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. These are the waters that the Tribe relies on for its water supply.  Water is life, water is sacred. This is a non-violent gathering to pray and to stand up for life. But construction has already begun on the pipeline, meant to carry fracked crude oil from the Bakken plains through North and South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. The plan is for the pipeline to go underneath the river, despite the risk that creates for the tribe and for millions of others who rely on the Missouri for water.
As the tribal spokespeople remind us, oil pipelines break, spill and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when. In fact, a route close to Bismarck was deemed not viable due to its proximity to Bismarck. The Army Corps of Engineers never took a hard look at the impacts of an oil spill on the Tribe, as the law requires. Instead, now the pipeline is set to run through land that is sacred to the Tribe. Federal law requires that sacred places be protected in consultation with the Tribe, but the Corps has not complied with that requirement, either.
What is incredibly inspiring is that thousands of people have rallied to stand in solidarity with the Tribe.  In August, 10,000 people joined in prayers with the elders from the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation.  People continue to gather in peace and prayer. Representatives from over 300 Indigenous nations have offered support, along with faith leaders, Amnesty International, and the United Nations. I am happy to say that my Unitarian Universalist colleagues and I are among those supporters.  I sent a letter that was signed by 100 UU faith leaders.  Following that Rev. Peter Morales and the UU Service Committee also issued statements of support. I thought you might like to know about my letter:
Mr. David Archambault II, Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Building 1, N. Standing Rock Avenue, P.O. Box D, Fort Yates, ND 58538August 29, 2016Dear Chairman Archambault,We write as Unitarian Universalist faith leaders to let you know that our prayers and support are with you in your courageous actions against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  We understand that the pipeline will cross treaty lands, burial grounds, and the Missouri River, the water source for the tribe as well as for millions of others.  We are appalled that this project was approved and construction begun without any meaningful consultation with the tribe, counter to federal law and treaty obligations. We support you in your effort to protect your sacred land and water, as well as to create a future for all of our grandchildren.We speak as people of faith whose principles call us to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  In these times, when the well-being of our entire ecosystem is threatened, we honor the leadership of Indigenous peoples who are showing us a path toward creating a more beneficial relationship to the earth and all beings of the earth.We are writing to you to offer our support, and to let you know that we are also contacting our government officials to call on them to follow treaty and federal law obligations, and to protect the water which is so utterly necessary for all life on earth.Sincerely… Rev. Myke Johnson (and signed by 99 other Unitarian Universalist leaders)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Welcome back from summer adventures!

I have been glad to have time this summer to settle into our new home in Portland, unpack many boxes, and get situated in our new place. Margy and I also spent some days at the beach swimming and enjoying the sunny weather. I hope you had a chance to be outside as well. During my August study time, I have been working on preparing for the coming church year.
I want to give a big welcome to our new Director of Religious Education, Carolyn Barschow, and our new Intern Minister, Israel Buffardi. I am looking forward to working with them this coming year, and I hope you all will help them to feel at home at A2U2. 
During my study time, I created a new course, “A Spiritual Journey Into Earth Community,” which I will teach over seven sessions from the end of September into December (mostly on a bi-weekly schedule). Earth Community is a vision of human beings living in mutually beneficial relationship with all of life on earth. Through readings, conversation, and experiential practices, we will explore how to deepen our connection to the earth, to each other, and to the Mystery at the heart of life. (For those of you who may have taken my previous “Spirituality” class, I've borrowed some activities from that class, but enough will be new that I hope you'd find this one engaging.) There is more information about the course later in the newsletter.
I am also trying a new experiment this coming year, called “theme-based ministry.” Over 190 congregations across the US are now participating in a common theme-based ministry through a program called Soul Matters Sharing Circle. It originated at the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, NY, as a way for congregations to go deeper into important questions for our personal and congregational growth. The themes for 2016-17 are framed with a preamble “What does it mean to be a community of...” and include “Covenant, Healing, Story, Presence, Prophecy, Identity, Risk, Transformation, Embodiment, and Zest.” We are starting in September with the question, “What does it mean to be a community of covenant?”

 How it works is that about six weeks before the month of a certain theme, a packet of resources is made available that can be used for worship, music, small group ministry, and religious education. (We have been using something similar in our theme-based workshop model religious education—but designed around themes chosen by the RE Committee. Interestingly enough, our RE themes for this year are somewhat analogous to the Soul Matters themes.) Each month, the worship services will explore various aspects of the theme, and spiritual enrichment groups can also use the theme for their small group sharing topic. If desired, there could also be further conversations based on the theme. (Men's group? After worship discussion group?) If you are curious, be in touch with me, and I can forward you the theme packets to explore for your group. You can find out more about the program at http://www.soulmatterssharingcircle.com.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What's Up This Month?

Last month we got the sad news that Taryn had decided to resign from her position as Director of Religious Education at the end of this church year. She has brought so much to our program, and we will miss her presence and energy. But life brings what it brings, and I keep learning that the only constant is change. So even as we prepare to say goodbye to Taryn as DRE, we are also preparing for next year by searching for a new DRE to start August 15. The last two weeks I have been delighted to work with some great folks on this project. The DRE Hiring Committee is led by Cathy Falwell, and includes Sonia Tonelli, Charley Mitchell, Tara Williams, Betsy Parsons, Sue Butler and I. We have received 12 applications so far, and will begin interviews next week. We'll let you know when we have some news.

In the meantime, we are doing something a little different this June, by going to one service at 10 a.m. on June 5, rather than waiting a few more weeks as we have in the past. This means that the whole congregation can participate in our Religious Education Sunday on June 5, being led by Taryn, and also in our Senior Youth Group led Sunday on June 12. So—mark your calendars 10 A.M. This decision involved the Worship Committee and the Religious Education Committee and the Board of Trustees—we are trying it out, and welcome any feedback. (You can send feedback to my email at revmyke@a2u2.org) We thought it would be an opportunity, during a month when attendance begins to wane a bit, for all of us from both services to have time to be together.

And now, I want to introduce you to our new ministry intern:
Israel Buffardi is delighted to be serving as the ministry intern at Allen Avenue starting this coming fall.  Israel was raised in an Italian-American community in Providence, Rhode Island, where community, celebration, and family were centered joyously around the table in his grandmother’s kitchen.  Israel has a diverse background in community outreach and nonprofit work as well as in the specialty food and sustainable agriculture communities in Maine.  He is also passionate about the local arts scene and can be seen writing for and performing in theatre productions throughout the Greater Portland area.  

Israel followed a call to the ministry after realizing that all of his various passions and pursuits were always leading him towards creating community spaces that fostered meaning-making and mutual support while also striving for justice.  Drawn to Unitarian Universalism because of its free and responsible search for truth and meaning as well as its commitment to justice work, Israel is currently pursuing his M.Div. at Meadville Lombard Theological School, one of the affiliate seminaries of the UUA.  Israel is very excited to continue to develop his heart-centered, embodied approach to ministry by serving the community at Allen Avenue. 

And I am excited to welcome Israel to A2U2. I have had a chance to get to know him by being his teaching pastor during this past year, and I look forward to his being a part of our ministry, even as he learns about ministry.
Affectionately, Rev. Myke

Friday, April 29, 2016

Portland Housing Crisis

Perhaps, like me, you have been reading in the news how many people are being evicted from their homes with no cause, and having real difficulty in finding new homes. Perhaps you are one of the people who has been caught in the housing crisis in Portland, or you know someone who has been evicted, or is having trouble finding an apartment to rent. Jan Bindas-Tenney is the Advocacy Coordinator at Preble Street, and she told me about one person, a disabled person who uses a wheelchair, who had been homeless several years ago, but then was in a stable apartment for the past several years. Suddenly they were caught in these evictions, and now they are back at the shelter.

Seeing the shelter numbers go up after some years of going down, Jan and others decided that rather than just “picking up the pieces,” they would organize to address some of the causes, and look for policy solutions that might address the underlying problems. So the Portland Coalition for Housing Justice was formed. At a initial meeting on April 14, more than 100 people showed up, and on April 27th, the group spoke to the Housing Committee of the Portland City Council. She also told me that they are hoping to form a faith advocacy network for clergy and lay leaders to offer a faith voice on housing.

I invited Jan to come speak to our church about these issues in a worship service on May 15. I am wondering if those in our congregation who are facing housing challenges, or who have recently faced them, might want to share their stories with the congregation as part of this worship service. The stories would need to be rather short—maybe 3 minutes at most, and I could help you with crafting or editing something, if you wish. And, please know that you are always welcome to come have a chat if these or other issues are a burden in your life.

For some good news, you may know that this year I have been mentoring a first-year seminary student who is preparing for UU ministry. Israel Buffardi is now completing his first year, and next year starting in September he will become a half-time Intern Minister at our church. He will be exploring all aspects of ministry and church life, or at least as much as one can do in 20 hours per week. (Last year, our Intern Minister Lyn Marshall was full-time.) One of the commitments of the congregation toward his learning is that we form an Intern Committee with folks who will meet monthly with Israel, giving him support and feedback on his ministry at our church. If you'd like to be a part of that group, please contact me. We will try to have a group that represents various parts of church life. Serving on this committee becomes a chance to get closer to other members of our church, learn more about your own spiritual journey, and offer a great gift to our UU movement as we help to train a future leader.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Reverse Offering

On March 14th, Stewardship Sunday, I tried an experiment called a Reverse Offering, in which I took money from the Minister's Discretionary Fund, and put it in envelopes, ranging from $1 to $20, and invited people to do some good in the world with this money, and let me know what they did. I am beginning to hear some stories of how people have put this money to use. A few:
...I used my dollar from the pay it forward envelop for a "pending coffee" at the gas station.
...using coupons, rebates etc to buy toiletries,food etc, we turned it into 2 colgate toothpastes, 12 bars of Irish Spring soap and 1 Sure deodorant which we then donate to Preble street or the food pantry.
...First we took it to the bank and traded it in for 100 pennies.  Then we brought the pennies home and affixed a happy-face sticker to each one.  Now we are busy distributing the pennies whenever the bill at a check-out counter calls for a few, or when there is another occasion to slip a few into a donation container. We have been doing this for some time now and occasionally have been asked by a cashier to keep our penny. I guess they believe it has more value than an ordinary penny, and they may be right. I tell them, that’s not the point. One cashier, upon noticing the happy face and with a smile on her face, told me she had been having a bad day but this little act turned it around for her. Anyone who wishes to may create their own happy pennies.
...I received $10.00 in my envelope and I have decided to put it back in the plate and match it to give $20.
 ...I decided to put my dollar in the Ferry Beach scholarship jar.
...I wanted to report that I gave my dollar from the service last week to a donation box at Fanueil Hall for sustaining interpreter services for visitor to the museum. It happened to be on St. Patrick's Day!  * I thought that giving different amounts of $ to members of the congregation was a great idea for modeling how growth and good things can happen through community support. 
Finally, another member added a $25 dollar check and gave $26 back to the Ministers Discretionary Fund.  I look forward to hearing about and sharing more stories about what you did with your reverse offering!