Water from the Well

Water from the Well

Monday, November 27, 2017

December musings

We're coming into winter soon now... cold mornings, early dark evenings, but the unreal politics goes on and on. I will be preaching on hope this month. And bringing back one of my old favorites for the holiday of Hanukkah. And in case you're wondering, on Christmas Eve we'll have three services—one Sunday morning service at 10, and two evening services at 6:30 and 8:30.

I seemed to be devouring books this past month as I wrestled personally with the potentially devastating consequences of climate change—you can see which books if you look at the sermon transcripts for the month on our website at a2u2.org. (And by the way, say thanks to Diane Oberbeck for our beautiful new website design! I understand that updating it is much easier—and Diane is looking for volunteers who would like to be a part of the website team—let her know if you can help.)

But back to books, after plunging into the depths of the climate change crisis, I found myself coming back to an earlier favorite book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, by Charles Eisenstein. I like it so much, in fact, that I would love to have a book discussion to talk about it. If you are interested let me know at revmyke@a2u2.org. If we have a critical mass, we can find a date after all the holidays. And by the way, you can get a digital copy for free online at https://charleseisenstein.net/books/the-more-beautiful-world-our-hearts-know-is-possible/. He reminds us that the paradigm shift we need—from a world of separation to a world of interbeing—means that the ways we have thought about social change might no longer apply. Maybe we need new methods to get to a new paradigm.

And speaking of books, if you are thinking about gifts for family and friends, consider whether they might like the book I published last year, Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community. You can order it at your local bookstore, find it on Amazon.com, buy it through my site at http://www.lulu.com/shop/myke-johnson/finding-our-way-home/paperback/product-22972214.html, or talk to me at church—I have copies in my office for $15. (If you like the book, please consider reviewing it on one of those sites too—it is only by word of mouth that people will hear about it.) I appreciate your sharing it with friends who care about the earth. I also want to say that I had such a wonderful time with the group who shared conversations and rituals based on the book in the course I led this fall, called “A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community.” Thank you to all of you for sharing your magical moments and deep feeling for our planet.

I look forward to seeing folks at the holiday fair on December 2nd, and bring a friend to church & RE on December 3rd. May we enter into the season of darkness and light with hearts turned toward celebration—community, family, friends, values, life.


Rev. Myke

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hope in Our Times

During the “question box” service on October 8, the most predominant question written down and placed in the basket for me to answer was some version of: “With everything that is happening today, how can we hold on to hope?” I mentioned at that time some wise words of Rebecca Solnit about hope in the midst of darkness. So I went searching around to find more and wanted to share them with you here, along with some words from Howard Zinn. I will revisit and expand on some of these ideas in December, when our theme will be hope.

A writer and activist, Rebecca Solnit says: “To be hopeful means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart.” In her Field Guide to Getting Lost she writes: “Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from...” “To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly.”

Professor and historian Howard Zinn writes: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness… If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction…The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

In her book Hope in the Dark, Solnit concurs, “...if you embody what you aspire to, you have already succeeded. That is to say, if your activism is already democratic, peaceful, creative, then in one small corner of the world these things have triumphed. Activism, in this model, is not only a toolbox to change things but a home in which to take up residence and live according to your beliefs, even if it’s a temporary and local place... Make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.”

Howard Zinn continues: “The struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, and patience.”

Rebecca Solnit explains, “Nobody can know the full consequences of their actions, and history is full of small acts that changed the world is surprising ways.” Like the antinuclear activist from Women Strike for Peace (WSP) who recounted feeling foolish and futile while standing in the rain one morning protesting at the Kennedy White House only to learn years later that Benjamin Spock, a high-profile activist in the anti-nuclear movement, was first inspired by “a small group of women protesting outside the Kennedy White House.”

Zinn writes: “There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible. What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability.”

And finally, Abby Brockman says: “In my own life, I’ve noticed an anecdotal relationship between engagement and hope, and between disengagement and despair. I don’t know if it is causal or correlative but I have found that the people who have the most hope are also the ones most engaged (in fighting poverty, sickness, inequality, injustice both here in the US and abroad), and the the most cynical ones are the ones who are distant and disengaged.”

May these wise words be a small light in the darkness, Rev. Myke

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Tools for Reflection and Action

Last May, we participated along with 600 other congregations in a UU wide Teach-in on White Supremacy. (See the transcript of our worship service at http://www.a2u2.org/services/resisting-white-supremacy/) From the teach-in website, [https://www.uuteachin.org] we read: “White supremacy” is a provocative phrase, as it conjures up images of hoods and mobs. Yet in 2017, actual “white supremacists” are not required in order to uphold white supremacist culture. Building a faith full of people who understand that key distinction is essential as we work toward a more just society in difficult political times. 

This past year, we have seen all too many blatant white supremacists in the news. Perhaps you've wondered how to respond or to challenge such hate and racism. While it may seem counter-intuitive, one of the most important ways is to better understand the underlying structures of our society that are rooted in and support white supremacy. White supremacy has been defined as a set of institutional assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude people of color. If we can begin to understand these assumptions and practices, we have the possibility of making changes.

This fall, a call came out for a Teach-In Part II, and Carolyn Barschow (our fantastic DRE!) and I have been talking about how we can participate here at A2U2. We decided to offer a film and discussion on October 15th following the services. The film is a lecture by Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, President of Starr King School for the Ministry, and African-American UU minister. She shares the personal story of her family's long history with UU Community Church of New York, and reflects on the challenges for our faith going into the future. She wonders what it might take to truly make changes that would enable her sons and other people of color to feel fully at home in our UU movement.

Her lecture was part of this spring's Minn Lecture Series in Boston & Cambridge, on the topic: “Historical and Future Trajectories of Black Lives Matter and Unitarian Universalism.” By the way, the other lecture was given by Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, and you can read an article based on his talk, entitled “The Black Hole in the White UU Psyche” in the September issue of the UU World magazine. http://www.uuworld.org/articles/black-hole-white-uu-psyche.

In this time of transitions in our congregation and in our wider movement, we have a chance to stretch ourselves—to let go of the comfortable and familiar and risk new ideas and possibilities that might make a big difference in our world. I hope that many of you will join us for the film and discussion.

And in a related vein, you may remember when Sherri Mitchell, a Penobscot activist, preached so eloquently at our church last November. Sherri will be returning to A2U2 on October 28th for a day-long workshop entitled, From Traumatic Paralysis to Unified Action. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and stuck with the bad news we face every day—Here is a chance to go deeper, to acknowledge our wounds and create ways to move beyond them.

I hope to see many of you there. If you are interested, but can't afford the registration, talk to me.

Rev. Myke

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Healing the World

I am writing this on the day following the eclipse of the sun—Margy and I didn't travel to see the totality—but it was exciting to see millions of people in our country gazing at the mysteries of the universe. Astrologer friends of mine say the time between the lunar and solar eclipses was good for introspection and reflection. I've been taking that solitary time during these last few weeks to prepare for this upcoming church year—thinking about sermons, thinking about teaching, thinking about what has been happening in our world, and how we can respond to it.

Two events stand out for me this summer. In July, I participated in a gathering led by Penobscot Sherri Mitchell, entitled Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island. Indigenous elders from across the continent came together in Passadumkeag Maine, for ceremonies to heal the violence in the history of our country. The gathering was open to anyone, and we learned that, actually, this was the beginning of a twenty-one year ritual for the healing of our country. There will be three more gatherings here in the East, then four gatherings in the South, four in the West, four in the North, four in the center of the country, and then one more back in the East. A big vision! On the first day, Sherri reminded us that all of us carry wounds from the violent history of our country, whether our ancestors were part of the oppression, were oppressed, or were witnesses to what occurred.

In August, the wound of white supremacy in our country showed itself overtly. A white nationalist rally in Charlottesville turned deadly, when a neo-Nazi man plowed his car into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters, killing a young activist woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring many others. One of the many clergy present there to counter-protest was Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, new president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I was proud to be UU on that day, even as my heart was broken. Since then, many other protests have sprung up across the nation, calling for cities and towns and universities to take down Confederate statues and plaques, and inviting us to affirm a nation that welcomes all, despite our violent beginnings.

Can we heal our nation? There are many Indigenous prophecies that speak of today as a time for healing. We need it so much! I believe we need to acknowledge the violence of our nation's past before we can heal the violence of the present moment. Perhaps we are beginning to do that. The ceremonies at Passadumkeag reminded me that often what is most powerful is not what we see in the news, but what is hidden close to the earth, in small gatherings, in communities of love and vision. I am looking forward to being with all of you again, as together we wrestle with the struggles of our times, and seek healing in the light of the larger mysteries.

Affectionately, Rev. Myke

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)