Building a Bridge to Belonging

Building a Bridge to Belonging

Building a Bridge to Belonging

Details

Date:
Sunday, April 7
Time:
10:30 am - 11:30 am
Event Categories:
,
Join Us:
https://tinyurl.com/ESUCWorship

Venue

East Shore Unitarian Church
12700 SE 32nd Street
Bellevue, WA 98005 United States
+ Google Map
Phone
425-747-3780
View Venue Website

Images hold power. They shape and inform how we perceive the world. They also influence how we treat people around equity, accessibility and inclusion. Join us as we learn to break down societal barriers in order to break through, break open and break free into a more expansive, liberated world for people of all abilities.

Rev. Jennifer DeBusk Alviar (she/her) is an ordained, Unitarian Universalist minister whose unique call is to expand the welcome table of hospitality, inclusion and liberation. To this end, she cultivates positive relationships with community organizations and diverse faith traditions actively engaged in the healing work of bridge-building and social change. In particular, she advocates for accessibility and inclusion for brain injury survivors, along with those who identify as neurodivergent. Rev. Jennifer received her Master of Divinity degree at Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley, California. She currently lives with her family on the indigenous land of the Duwamish people known as Seattle, Washington.

How to Attend

Today’s Bulletin

We encourage masks in all buildings. Read more about our In Person Guidelines here.

• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078, passcode: chalice.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.

For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.

More Information

Religious Education for children and youth happens during worship on Sundays. Children and youth arrive in the Sanctuary for the just a little bit and welcome in Sunday with a story and song. Then, they attend their own programs in the Education building. Learn more here!

If you don’t have a chalice, but want to light one, check out our Making a Chalice at Home page.

In person services are followed by coffee hour.

Children’s Story

Sermon Audio

Building a Bridge to Belonging

by Rev. Jennifer DeBusk Alviar

Sermon Text

I invite you to join me in imagining a garden. 

In this garden, we cultivate a diverse ecosystem with rich, nourishing soil. A hearty environment where plants and species of all kinds can grow and thrive to co-create vibrant life together. A fertile green space alive with cross-pollination. This is the gift of a healthy garden in its most natural state. 

HUMAN/ NATURE CONNECTION

The same is true with people. Especially folks who may grow more like wildflowers. Ones who cross-pollinate ideas and ways of thinking and behaving that may diverge from the usual garden variety. Yet if we cultivate the soil for a healthy, diverse ecosystem, then healthy, diverse people grow and thrive. Isn’t this what we want for our community? A place where all people are welcomed and affirmed in their natural state of wild beauty, wonder, vitality and human flourishing? 

NEURODIVERSITY 

Well, I am one of those wildflowers. My brain and body diverge from the usual garden variety. I am considered “neurodivergent.” Neurodiversity reflects diversity in the human brain, body and behavior. So how does this play out for someone, like me, with hidden disabilities? Here is how I engage with the natural world as a vital ally in my advocacy work around equity, accessibility and inclusion. 

CHILDHOOD ILLNESS

Growing up, I was always a wholesome, nature-loving kid. This photo was taken in 1977 on a family backpacking trip in Northern California. I was six years old. This image evoked in me a sense of wonder and delight when a tiny, red ladybug landed in the palm of my outstretched hand. 

Just a few days later, my perspective on the world drastically changed. 

Here I am as a critically sick patient lying in the intensive care unit at Stanford University’s children’s hospital. My neurosurgeon, Dr. Jerry Silverberg, diagnosed my condition. It turns out that I was born with a cluster of abnormal blood vessels known as an arteriovenous malformation. AVM for short. On that day, the blood vessels burst leading to a life-threatening brain hemorrhage. 

COGNITIVE IMPACT & NATURE

The cognitive impact of my medical condition occurred in the left hemisphere of my brain near the speech and language center. The bursting of blood vessels left me temporarily voiceless and silent. In the months following my surgery, I regained my speech. Yet I noticed a marked difference in how I accessed my words. I didn’t “think” my way into speech by gathering ideas in my head. Instead, I “felt” my way into speech through embodied movement. This sensory, kinesthetic approach helped me navigate my executive functioning challenges around word-finding difficulties and memory recall. 

For example, I grew up near greenbelt districts and open space preserves on the indigenous land of the Ohlone people in Palo Alto, California. I thrived in this eco habitat. Nature offered a tranquil, calm space for me to listen and observe. I used my senses to track my thoughts without distraction. It ignited in me a newfound sense of agency and vitality. 

After graduating from college, I backpacked for a month in the wilderness of Alaska with National Outdoor Leadership School. 

This awakening to nature, soul and embodied movement led me toward seminary at Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley, California. 

I earned a Master of Divinity degree specializing in ecology and theology as an interfaith minister ordained in the Unitarian Universalist tradition.  

For many years, I crafted a series of nature-based sermons that incorporated a multi-sensory approach toward preaching. Each worship service included photos of my sports-related travels. Bicycling 5,200 miles coast to coast from Bellingham, Washington to Portland, Maine. 

Canoeing down the Missouri River in Montana with my husband, daughter and my parents. 

Joining the local community crew team for rowing excursions along Lake Washington in Seattle. 

Hiking in the mountains of Mexico at a music festival. 

And walking along the lush, green Highlands of Iona, Scotland for a Celtic pilgrimage. 

I loved my life as a contemplative eco-traveling athlete preacher. 

GRIEF

And yet, as seasons change, life changes too. 2020 marked a season of tremendous change for all of us during the global health pandemic. This timing happened to coincide with my own threshold crossing into midlife. I turned 50 years old in the summer of 2020. This pause caused me to slow down and pay attention to my body in new ways. I experienced a deep fatigue that I hadn’t noticed before. I was exhausted!

Not just physically from all my sports-related travels. But emotionally too. And I felt something else stirring inside me. Something akin to grief. Francis Weller expressed this feeling well in his book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: “Grief and love are sisters, woven together from the beginning. Their kinship reminds us that there is no love that does not contain loss and no loss that is not a reminder of the love we carry for what we once held close.”

Grief and love. Love and grief. Together. Inextricably intertwined. This is a wise and poignant reminder. But not an easy truth to embody. The truth of my life was this: I longed to experience a sense of belonging. The ache of loneliness I felt centered around my own particular timing in history. 

My brain injury occurred in 1977 – 13 years prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. At that time, no language existed for neurodiversity or disability justice. Instead, all that existed was the medical model of curing and fixing what was broken. But what if I didn’t feel broken? Instead, what if I explored ways to break down societal barriers in order to break through, break open and break free into a more expansive, liberated, vibrant way of life? And so began my life-long journey of working toward equity and justice leading to greater healing and wholeness.

And yet, I hadn’t factored in the grief and exhaustion embedded in what it means to live in a world neither designed nor intended for neurodiverse people like me. Do you know what it feels like to be invisible? Let me bring it home to you unvarnished in the words of Adrienne Rich: “When someone with the authority of a teacher describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as though you had looked into a mirror and saw nothing.”

Invisibility takes many different forms. I am a white, cis-gender, able-bodied woman who lives with hidden disabilities. I acknowledge wholeheartedly how the intersectionality of race, gender and other marginalized identities further impact neurodiverse people around barriers to accessibility and inclusion. This is why disability advocates have shifted language and focus from “disability rights” to “disability justice.” In doing so, it centers the voices and lived experiences of people from underserved, underrepresented communities within this movement.

So my question around invisibility is this: “How do we hold grief and love in such a way that moves us toward liberation with our souls intact?” Let me repeat that. “How do we hold grief and love in such a way that moves us toward liberation with our souls intact?” Grief without love embitters us. Love without justice cannot lead us toward transformation and healing. 

NATURE POETRY

This question is the very soul work that each of us is called to live into through our own unique perspectives. As someone who experiences the world kinesthetically, I find myself drawn to reflect on this question by engaging my body in nature. In particular, an arts-based approach to nature through photography and poetry. This intuitive process offers grounded presence without analysis. I simply show up each day curious and open to what my nature walks might reveal to me. 

On one bright October day, I strolled through Colorado’s beautiful aspen groves. 

I marveled at the sunlight filtering through the golden aspen leaves contrasted against the brilliant blue sky and elegant, white bark. Along my path, I noticed a deep wound pierced in the trunk of one of the aspen trees. 

Instinctively, I reached out my hand to touch its wound. I felt my way along the edges of the exposed bark. My eyes softened in recognition and tenderness to the mystery of how wounds come to be. Perhaps lightning? Fire? Who knows. I wasn’t there. Yet the tree’s presence moved me without any need for words. This aspen tree – scarred and wounded as it was – embodied wholeness, integrity and dignity. In witnessing the tree’s wound, I felt seen and witnessed in my own invisible wounds. No explanation necessary. Just a simple act of solidarity. In this quiet moment of reciprocity with nature and soul rooted in earth, I found the words I needed to write my poem for that day.

WOUND

Whispers in the woods 
Of grief & pain
Untold stories of longing 
Necessity to be witnessed in the quiet company of nature’s healing presence
Deep & ancient soul practices of grounding & renewal

ACADEMIC & RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS

This moment of solidarity in nature gave me the courage to speak from a more rooted place of advocacy and justice. I wanted to offer a strengths-based approach toward neurodiversity within academic and religious institutions. For example, higher education prizes excellence and leadership around the written and spoken word. Not only that, but this didactic, lecture-style approach assumes that all people process information verbally. Furthermore, it assumes that students learn best through a posture of stillness as a model of attentive listening. 

As a neurodivergent person with lived experience in academic institutions from grade school to graduate school, those are a lot of unchecked assumptions. My brain and body require kinesthetic movement as a core access need. This tactile approach to learning is how I compose my thoughts and translate them into language for writing and preaching. In addition, grounding my body in nature offers a calm, sensory-friendly environment to support my epilepsy in regulating my body and reducing stress. This, too, is an access need of mine. 

I began asking myself a two-part question: 

  1. “How might we center the voices and lived experiences of neurodiverse people to design more inclusive learning spaces in academic and religious institutions?” 
  2. “What might it look like if we shifted these institutional models toward a nature-based, embodied, multi-sensory approach toward learning to meet a wider range of access needs for neurodiverse people?”

NATURE AS UNIVERSAL DESIGN

It occurred to me that nature offers a valuable model of universal design benefiting neurodiverse and neurotypical people alike. From a healthcare perspective, U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, highlights belonging as central to his work in healing the loneliness and isolation that he identifies as a public health crisis. We are biologically designed to be in community with others. As he eloquently puts it, “Healing is about making whole. To be a healer, you have to be able to listen, to learn and to love. …Healing leads to relationships, community and belonging.”

From an ecological perspective, human beings thrive in reciprocal relationships with nature. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a biologist, author and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She expresses reciprocity beautifully in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: “Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.” She offers a living, dynamic, relational sense of kinship that cultivates a deep sense of belonging through nature’s diverse ecosystems. 

KUBOTA GARDEN

I decided to research public gardens as a nature-based model of belonging, reciprocity and universal design. This path led me to cultivate a relationship with the Kubota Garden

The Kubota Garden is a stunning 20-acre landscape that blends Japanese garden concepts with native Northwest plants. It is located in the Rainier Beach neighborhood in Seattle’s south end – one of the most diverse zip codes in the state of Washington. 

Fujitarō Kubota lived for 94 years from 1879-1973. He was a landscape designer who carried seeds of change both literally and figuratively. Not only did he bring seeds from his native Japan to plant in his Japanese-inspired Kubota Garden in Seattle, but he carried these same seeds to the internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho during WWII. 

Fujitarō’s nature-based Shinto religion sustained his spirit in the face of racial injustice. By grounding himself in the natural world, he found the inner resources to design beautiful rock gardens within the walls of his imprisonment. The war may have contained his body, but not his spirit. 

Fujitarō designed his garden in 1927. It became a public garden in 1987. Today, this tranquil green space is free and accessible to the public maintained by the Seattle Parks and Recreation. Volunteers from the Kubota Garden Foundation also contribute toward supporting the garden through plant sales, community events and garden maintenance.

KUBOTA GARDEN PARTNERSHIP

Inspired by the history and beauty of this garden, I reached out to Sophia Eicholz, the Kubota Garden Volunteer Engagement Coordinator. I asked her this question: “How might we collaborate together in designing inclusive spaces where neurodiverse brains and bodies can learn and thrive best within this nature-based environment?”

Over a period of several months, she and I explored creative partnership possibilities. Sophia shared with me a wide range of community events designed by the Kubota Garden Foundation to meet diverse interests, ages and needs. Some of these garden activities include: 

  • Monthly public garden tours
  • A nature-based, guided meditation called Forest Bathing
  • A Japanese Butoh dance performance
  • Taiko drumming
  • Jazz in the Garden
  • An Iris Exhibition
  • A Pollinator Safari
  • A Soapstone Carving Workshop for Youth
  • An art-inspired sculpture walk

Currently, my advocacy work around connecting neurodiverse people in nature-based learning environments is still in the early phase of development. My vision is to serve as a bridge-builder and garden liaison. I hope to invite healthcare organizations, faith-based communities and academic institutions to experience the Kubota Garden as a model for greater equity, accessibility and inclusion. This, in addition to fostering a tranquil green space model of universal design where people of all abilities benefit by grounding our bodies in nature. 

BENEDICTION

Whether you are a wildflower like me who diverges from the usual garden variety, or someone who simply loves to be part of a vibrant, thriving eco-community, may you feel welcomed. May you find solidarity with those who have been scarred by struggle, yet united by nature’s gift of healing presence and reciprocity. May you find solace and kinship in honoring the wisdom that “grief and love are sisters, woven together from the beginning.” Collectively, let us build a bridge to belonging where all people are affirmed in their natural state of wild beauty, wonder, vitality and human flourishing. May it be so. 

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, Namaste and Ashe.

East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
Building a Bridge to Belonging
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Flower Communion and Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV)

Flower Communion and Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV)

Flower Communion and Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV)

Details

Date:
Sunday, March 31
Time:
10:30 am - 11:30 am
Event Categories:
, ,
Join Us:
https://tinyurl.com/ESUCWorship

Venue

East Shore Unitarian Church
12700 SE 32nd Street
Bellevue, WA 98005 United States
+ Google Map
Phone
425-747-3780
View Venue Website

Join us in celebrating Easter, Ostara, and the amazing Trans siblings in our lives! Easter and Ostara celebrate new life, the Resurrection, and Spring. TDOV celebrates the joy and resilience of trans and non-binary people everywhere by elevating voices and experiences from these communities. Special Guest Speaker: Jamison Green.

​Rev. Dr. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa will be preaching.

How to Attend

Today’s Bulletin

We encourage masks in all buildings. Read more about our In Person Guidelines here.

• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078, passcode: chalice.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.

For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.

More Information

Religious Education for children and youth happens during worship on Sundays. Children and youth arrive in the Sanctuary for the just a little bit and welcome in Sunday with a story and song. Then, they attend their own programs in the Education building. Learn more here!

If you don’t have a chalice, but want to light one, check out our Making a Chalice at Home page.

In person services are followed by coffee hour.

Sermon Audio

Flower Communion and Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV)

by Dr. Jamison Green

Sermon Text

Coming Soon!

East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
Flower Communion and Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV)
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Little Altars Everywhere

Little Altars Everywhere

Little Altars Everywhere

Details

Date:
Sunday, March 17
Time:
10:30 am - 11:30 am
Event Categories:
,
Join Us:
https://tinyurl.com/ESUCWorship

Venue

East Shore Unitarian Church
12700 SE 32nd Street
Bellevue, WA 98005 United States
+ Google Map
Phone
425-747-3780
View Venue Website

Join Rev. Maria Cristina and members of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) as we explore the rituals of making home altars as a healing spiritual practice. 

​Rev. Dr. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa will be preaching.

How to Attend

Today’s Bulletin

We encourage masks in all buildings. Read more about our In Person Guidelines here.

• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078, passcode: chalice.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.

For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.

More Information

Religious Education for children and youth happens during worship on Sundays. Children and youth arrive in the Sanctuary for the just a little bit and welcome in Sunday with a story and song. Then, they attend their own programs in the Education building. Learn more here!

If you don’t have a chalice, but want to light one, check out our Making a Chalice at Home page.

In person services are followed by coffee hour.

Sermon Audio

Little Altars Everywhere

by Rev. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa

Sermon Text

I grew up in a household with little altars everywhere! Everywhere you looked, there was a special spot, a photograph of a family member, an image of a saint, a vase with flowers, or a single candle, to make sacred that little humble spot, to transform that space into a source of strength, a place filled with potentiality for a miracle, for a prayer answered. These everyday altars reminded us that we were not alone. The altars changed according to the season, or to the particular need. Each Saint had their specialty area: San Martin de Porres, guardian of the household, protector of our animal companions, his image was always behind the door; Saint Jude, Saint of the impossible, when all else failed, you lit a candle to St Jude. Saint Anthony, patron saint to help you find the thing you lost; St Christpher, to ensure safe travels, Virgen de Guadalupe, our mother, to protect all children and all on a migrating journey, leaving families and home behind. Later on in life, I began building community altars when our communities were being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. I moved to Boston where I worked in the AIDS law clinic and later at the Latino Health Institute. There was so much death, so many funerals, so many families who could not find consolation and compassion in the churches that had shunned and discarded their children… and when the mothers, sisters, and lovers asked me to create a communal ritual to honor the memory of their loved ones, I said Yes! And so we gathered to make paper flowers, to light candles, to bring photographs, to remember and to call out the names of their loved ones. as we responded PRESENTE! They are here with us! These community altars became a tradition which I bring with me wherever I go. Building community altars offers us the opportunity to share stories, to make meaning as we grieve and rebuild our lives. Altars can also be celebratory, to mark the seasons and express our joy and gratitude for all the blessings we receive from mother earth, from the universe, from our friends and families. Sometimes the altar is very elaborate and takes days and many hands to build. Sometimes it’s a handful of seashells, seaglass, driftwood, a bowl of water with a tiny silver mermaid. Sometimes it’s the framed picture of my grandmother, on top of a crochet doily yellow and frayed, next to her favorite yellow roses. When I set up that special spot, even the most humble altar emanates a special energy, reflecting beauty and light and connecting me to my ancestors, and to everyone who needs a prayer. An altar can be a source of hope, a prayer made from paper flowers and the light of a candle. An altar can help me connect with my quiet inner self, to practice mindfulness and the Tibetan spiritual  practice of tonglen: 

Pema Chodron described Tonglen practice visualizing taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In the process, we begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others. Tonglen awakens our compassion and introduces us to a far bigger view of reality. Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who are dying or have died, or those who are in pain of any kind. Building an altar, just like tonglen, can be done as a formal meditation practice or right on the spot at any time. Let us now practice this giving and receiving of compassion beginning with ourselves:

May I be filled with loving kindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be whole
May you be filled with loving kindness
May you be well
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be whole
May we be filled with loving kindness
May we be well
May we be peaceful and at ease
May we be whole

Building altars that are ephemeral, that reflect the seasons and our needs, never meant to last forever, but needing to be refreshed and transformed over and over again, is much like the spiritual practice of noticing our breath, practicing mindfulness, never reaching perfection, always starting again with the next breath, rebuilding our days, rebuilding our hope, strengthening our connection to nature, ancestors, and our own selves. We build the altar carefully, intentionally, gently, piece by piece, as we build our inner landscapes piece by piece, prayer by prayer, candle by candle. Doing this in community offers us an opportunity to reflect on our theological diversity, to delight in learning about spiritual practices that bring us new teaching, new paths, new ways of healing. How fortunate we are to belong to a community that encourages us to be curious, to explore and learn about spiritual practices that can bring more beauty and awareness to our lives. 

Ultimately, for me, building an altar is an embodied way of praying, a way to focus my attention, to concentrate and dedicate that moment, that breath, that rose and that candle to sending loving kindness to anyone who needs it. 

Beloveds, today may we be grateful for this community, for all the ways that we bring healing and loving kindness to the world, to our families, and to ourselves. We acknowledge that we need one another to heal and find meaning in our days. We need the love and support of the community to grow and nourish our souls.

We are grateful for rituals and practices that affirm that there is power in prayer, in meditation, just as there is power in community building. If you re new to Unitarian Universalism, you can find in our gray hymnal the many sources that serve as inspiration including: Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to the renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life; Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspire us in our ethical and spiritual life; and Spiritual teachings of earth centered traditions which celebrate the circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. Amen. 

East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
Little Altars Everywhere
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International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

Details

Date:
Sunday, March 10
Time:
10:30 am - 11:30 am
Event Categories:
,
Join Us:
https://tinyurl.com/ESUCWorship

Venue

East Shore Unitarian Church
12700 SE 32nd Street
Bellevue, WA 98005 United States
+ Google Map
Phone
425-747-3780
View Venue Website

Join us in celebrating International Women’s Day by imagining and helping to create a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. Together we can celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about discrimination, and take action to drive gender parity. Also during the service, join us for a very special Blessing of the Children ceremony followed by an ice cream social! 

​Rev. Dr. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa will be preaching.

Child dedications are an opportunity for East Shore’s U.U. family community to gather together in blessing and ritual. Families of every shape and form participate in our service with words of wisdom and sharing. This year, we incorporate the Child Dedication as part of our International Women’s Day Service on March 10. Service will be followed by an Ice Cream social. Please contact Amanda Uluhan, Director of Religious Education, by emailing [email protected] if you are interested in participating. All are welcome.

 

How to Attend

Today’s Bulletin

We encourage masks in all buildings. Read more about our In Person Guidelines here.

• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078, passcode: chalice.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.

For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.

More Information

Religious Education for children and youth happens during worship on Sundays. Children and youth arrive in the Sanctuary for the just a little bit and welcome in Sunday with a story and song. Then, they attend their own programs in the Education building. Learn more here!

If you don’t have a chalice, but want to light one, check out our Making a Chalice at Home page.

In person services are followed by coffee hour.

Sermon Audio

International Women’s Day

by Rev. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa

Sermon Text

“And Ruth said, Urge me not to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God”

The story of Ruth begins with famine, displacement, and three widows, Ruth, Orpah (her sister in law) and her mother in law Naomi, deep in grief, after having lost both her husband and her children, trying to figure out their next step. When Naomi urges her daughters in law to return to their native land, Orpah goes back to Bethlehem but Ruth declares (Ruth 1:16–17), “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.”

The story of Ruth stands out compared to other biblical narratives where relationships between women are often described as filled with resentment, jealousy, and sometimes even hatred, thus reinforcing patriarchal systems of dependency and pitting women against each other. I love the story of Ruth and Naomi because it shows women wrestling with the impossible options for widows, yet choosing to remain together, to struggle together, to grieve and reimagine their lives on their terms. As a feminist, I choose to interpret the story of Ruth as resistance, as a breakthrough model for women in solidarity, helping each other, choosing each other, counting on each other, especially during difficult times. I, like Ruth, choose to remain with Naomi, to dwell with grief, and to forge hope out of nothing. The voice of Ruth resonates with me and has brought hope and strength to so many women, widows, women trapped in abusive relationships, women disowned by their families because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. I too choose to remain with Ruth and Naomi because it interrupts a narrative of suffering, subservience, and silence. For me Ruth’s words are a subversive feminist manifesto that is timeless, and that makes us want to lift our voices to say: “I choose this woman to be my family, to dwell with her, to work alongside her, to grieve with her, to seek refuge in her heart , to build a new world with her…” Ruth’s words are prophetic in a world where women are defined by their marital status while their wombs are policed and controlled by a patriarchal society sadly becoming more and more similar to the one ruling during Ruth and Naomi’s time.  

Similar to the book of Esther, women in the Book of Ruth are at the center of the conversation, present in every scene. In the book of Esther, at first reading, we might focus our attention on the outcome, Esther’s courage to go undercover in the presence of the king in order to save lives and the resulting victory. But the book of Esther begins with another woman: the king’s first wife, Queen Vashti, who without uttering a single word, refuses the king’s order to be objectified and dance and perform in front of the king’s drunken friends. It is here that we find another narrative of resistance, courage, after which Queen Vashti vanished, never to be heard from again. Yet that implicit NO, that refusal and disobedience, interrupts another narrative and captures our attention as a possibility, as a glimmer of hope, as a reaffirmation of every woman’s right to refuse the orders of the rulers, to risk being banished, ostracized, and shunned, rather than have her dignity and humanity taken away. To risk it all in the name of dignity, freedom, and self respect. But in the book of Esther we don’t get to see a relationship between the women: Esther and Vashti are presented as strangers to each other and Esther is used as Vashti’s replacement. In contrast, the book of Ruth shows a loving and compassionate relationship between Ruth and Naomi, choosing to remain together when they needed support, strength, to reimagine their future and rebuild their lives, and give new meaning to family.

Giving new meaning to families of choice, choosing each other again and again, building together, resisting laws and systems that continue to police and control our bodies, that is what we celebrate here today. May this International women’s day be a reminder that even when the written narratives silence or make women invisible, we women have a long history of solidarity, we have built homes and raised families and escaped danger and plowed the fields and worked side by side in the factories, and steadied each other at the edge of the grave of our children, and smuggled a love note inside the prison, and found shelter in each other:

So beloved may we be open and willing, to choose love again and again, to reimagine family, to support each other and to rebuild hope, now more than ever, for to be hopeless would dishonor those who came before, our ancestors, as well as those who lead us in the future, our children. Let us keep on moving forward as we sing together: Where you go I will go, Beloved. Where you go, I will go. For your people are my people, your people are mine! Your people are my people, your divine my divine!

East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
International Women's Day
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Healing Ourselves/Healing the World

Healing Ourselves/Healing the World

Healing Ourselves/Healing the World

Details

Date:
Sunday, March 3
Time:
10:30 am - 11:30 am
Event Categories:
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Join Us:
https://tinyurl.com/ESUCWorship

Venue

East Shore Unitarian Church
12700 SE 32nd Street
Bellevue, WA 98005 United States
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Phone
425-747-3780
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Social Justice as a Spiritual Practice. We often make a distinction between social justice actions and spiritual practices. Can social justice activism be sacred? Are we making artificial distinctions that separate us from the spiritual nature of social justice activism? Join us as we explore mindfulness-enriched approaches to antiracism and social justice in an environment that promotes self-reflection, deep listening and community engagement.

​Rev. Dr. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa will be preaching.

How to Attend

Today’s Bulletin

We encourage masks in all buildings. Read more about our In Person Guidelines here.

• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078, passcode: chalice.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.

For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.

More Information

Religious Education for children and youth happens during worship on Sundays. Children and youth arrive in the Sanctuary for the just a little bit and welcome in Sunday with a story and song. Then, they attend their own programs in the Education building. Learn more here!

If you don’t have a chalice, but want to light one, check out our Making a Chalice at Home page.

In person services are followed by coffee hour.

Children’s Story

Sermon Audio

Healing Ourselves/Healing the World

by Rev. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa

Sermon Text

As Unitarian Universalists we are on a continuous journey towards becoming our best selves, a search for truth and meaning, the ongoing creation and reimagining of our internal emotional  and moral landscapes as well as ways we interact with the world; a world which demands we answer the call of love, build the beloved community, and bring healing wherever and whenever we bear witness to injustice, oppression, and suffering. We are a liberal religion, a faith tradition rooted in liberation from tyranny from civil and religious institutions alike. The founders of our Unitarian faith raised their voices against ignorance and in favor of freedom of religion: the freedom to choose, to doubt, to depart from dogma that kept people prisoner of guilt, shame, and fear. The freedom and the courage to express new ideas that contradicted the theology of the times, often paying for this with their lives. Unitarianism grew out of answering the call of love, the call of justice, the call of liberation. This was not exclusively an intellectual struggle, people had to wrestle with the beliefs that had been instilled in them, they had to wrestle with their notions of the divine, their entire faith foundation and their understanding of God, and the bible, while retaining their Christian faith, but having the courage to have a different understanding of Jesus, as human and not part of the Holy Trinity. Jesus as a teacher and moral compass to guide us. Likewise, our Universalist ancestors challenged the notion of eternal damnation and believed in universal salvation. They did not believe that only a small number of people would be saved. Influenced by the Enlightenment that revolutionized ideas about God, nature, and the human condition, Universalists believed that God was/is a loving and merciful God, akin to a loving parent who would be incapable of sentencing his children to an afterlife of perpetual punishment. As Unitarian Universalists we have historically embraced both the belief in God, that humans were created in the image of God, and we have also embraced reason, the belief that our human nature holds the potential for transformation, for ongoing revelation, and that our capacity to reason calls us to examine and re-examine, to question and search, to defend the freedom to fashion a liberal faith that makes room for choice. When asked to define Unitarians and Universalists. Thomas Starr King is believed to have responded with: “The Universalists think God is too good to damn them forever; the Unitarians think they are too good to be damned forever.” So, we come from a long line of heretics, dissenters, nonconformists, refusing to accept religious dogma as prescribed by the church. And we would not be doing justice to this legacy if we only understand it as an intellectual movement. Spirit has always been the thread woven into our history. Which brings us to the question of social justice versus spirituality. Is there a distinction? Are they interwoven and can they exist one without the other? What do we understand as spiritual? What do we understand as social justice? 

I grew up in the Catholic church in a small town in Chile. A church which was part of a theological revolution: liberation theology. This theology saw Jesus as human, on the side of the poor and suffering, Jesus as part of the masses who demanded justice, equality, bread, and liberation from oppression. For us to be on the side of the poor and suffering was to be on the side of love.  Liberation theology’s option for the poor reflected the love of that human Christ, the persecuted Christ, the unjustly executed Christ, which reflected the reality of the people, the people who were hungry, homeless, in prison, and crucified every day for being who they were. Liberation theology was coming in close proximity with suffering and being open and willing to be transformed by love. Liberation Theology cannot be simply an intellectual exercise, it requires action. Loving action. We are obliged to promote social justice as an act of faith, as part of our spirituality. Social justice within a liberation theology framework also requires us to go beyond marching, raising our fists against injustice. Social justice is engaging our whole being, building interdependent beloved communities, a network of mutuality, where hope can resurrect, where dignity can be restored, where our humanity is lifted up, where the marginalized matter, and together become agents of liberation, a state of enlightenment that restores and heals through music, prayer, art, nature, dance, planting community gardens, and answering the call of love through our social justice ministries. I can’t speak for all of our social justice ministry team members but I am guessing that if we ask why they do what they do, they would not respond with a simple: because it’s the reasonable or intellectually savvy thing to do. They, like me,  would speak of love, of human connection, of experiencing something akin to a mystical experience, a stirring within, a feeling hard to put into words whenever we connect and engage in the work of healing the world. They, like me, would say that social justice is a spiritual practice and that spirituality would be meaningless without our ongoing efforts to make a difference, to lift someone up from despair, to work together to amplify a message of hope and liberation for all. Whether we replenish our energies and nourish our souls by reading biblical passages, the poetry of Mary Oliver, or being in nature, the important thing is that we keep coming back to the work, that we don’t allow ourselves to make artificial distinctions between social justice and spirituality. If we can widen our vision and use a more inclusive lens of what social justice and spirituality mean, we can experience a dynamic movement, one feeding the other, one giving meaning to the other, integrating our seemingly disparate practices. 

Sometimes, when we have a particular idea or set expectations of what a spiritual experience should look, sound, or feel like, we might set ourselves up for disappointment. Being Unitarian Universalists means that we embrace a multicultural and theologically diverse way of being, a faith tradition that has multiple sources of inspiration, a history of being both and, a challenge to become more and more inclusive, and to do our heretical ancestors proud by continuously questioning the status quo and dismantling systems of oppression. Being Unitarian Universalist means that we are willing to co-exist and not just tolerate but celebrate and lift up different ways of expressing our religious and spiritual beliefs. This too is social justice: to sit next to someone who would find solace, a renewed sense of hope, and their faith restored when singing Amazing Grace or “There’s a Balm in Gilead” and then the next week to sit next to someone whose theology emanates from the mycelium networks that are healing the world. And then to be the one who chooses to believe in the best that our sources have to offer, to delight and derive inspiration from biblical passages that reveal women’s wisdom, to sing songs of protest, and to share a communion that acknowledges our infinite potential as co-creators and stewards of this hurting world. 

After I left Chile, I was unchurched for a long time. The catholic church here in the united states was very different from mine. While they offered some opportunities to serve the poor, it looked and felt more like charity than solidarity. Needless to say, the catholic church’s stance on women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, especially during the AIDS pandemic, was not something that inspired me or nourished my soul. So I took refuge in social justice devoid of a sense of spirituality, driven by a moral obligation. I went to law school to become an advocate only to discover that it was precisely in the prisons, in the AIDS hospices, in the streets of New York City and Boston that I found my calling to the ministry, when I visited a Unitarian Universalist church where a lesbian minister from the pulpit invited us to be in solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS, to join in solidarity with the People of Puerto Rico struggling to get the US navy out of Vieques, to fight for marriage equality, to provide friday night suppers to anyone in need, and to renew our energies by practicing Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness or singing in the choir. From that moment social justice and spirituality were no longer separate things. Worship and service within a Unitarian Universalist community was liberation theology at its best. 

From Joanna Macy,  I have learned that the spiritual practice of environmental awareness and honoring the pain of the world offers us a wider sense of self, a richer experience in community, and the strength of what she calls “active hope.” She writes that active hope is not just wishful thinking but something we do rather than have. It involves being clear about what we hope for and then playing our role in the process of moving in that direction. She calls this time the Great Turning and teaches us that the journey of finding, and offering, our unique contribution to the healing of the world in this time helps us to discover new strengths, to be open to a wider network of allies and to experience a deepening of our aliveness. She says that when our responses are guided by the intention to act for the healing of our world, “the mess we’re in” not only becomes easier to face, but our lives also become more meaningful and satisfying.

Our Sunday worship services are carefully, intentionally, and lovingly  created to offer us opportunities to nourish our spirits, to put our burdens down, to find inspiration, to connect to a loving community, to bear witness to the power of collective action, including prayer, music, and meaningful reflections from a variety of sources. This is where we get to co-create active hope, build the beloved community, and reaffirm our commitment to healing our world. 

When we expand our understanding of activism and of spirituality, we can feel a deeper connection to our best selves and derive a greater sense of hope in the face of injustice and despair. 

These days I am reading and re-reading A fire at the Center: Solidarity, Whiteness and Becoming a Water Protector by Rev. Karen Van Fossan,  Lyanda Haupt’s Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit; Victoria Loorz’s  Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites us into the Sacred, Dorcas Cheng-Tozun’s: Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul: How to Change the World in Quiet Ways, and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s books Braiding Sweet Grass and Gathering Moss. They are all testaments of the presence of the divine in prayer, in plants, science, stardust and moss, in the mystery of the universe, in human connection, and the interbeing of us all. And you are testaments and sources of inspiration, reaffirming that our social justice actions to protect Mother Earth and to amplify the voices of all suffering beings are also our spiritual practices. It is in the act of  weaving or braiding that we experience the web of life of which we are all a part, the deep connection rooted in the ancient practice of being human and curious and needing one another to become our best selves and to give the best of ourselves to a hurting world. 

When we gather to worship, to meditate, to plant a garden, to sing, to be in nature, to make sandwiches, to make art, to show up in solidarity with our indigenous neighbors, to march in solidarity with our LGBTQIA+ siblings, our spirits feel it, there is a stirring deep within us, we are embodying and expressing our deepest common bond as humans who need one another, who need to express love and receive love. 

Beloveds, may we, like our Unitarian and Universalist heretical ancestors forge new paths and understandings of our human condition, with courage to denounce and dismantle systems of oppression,  answering the call of love to restore hope, and bring healing to this broken world. We need not think alike, but we do need to love alike: to love justice, love freedom, love our neighbor, love nature, love beyond categories and labels, love the song if only because it makes someone feel seen, held, embraced, restored, whole, and free. Now let us sing! 

East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
Healing Ourselves/Healing the World
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