Minister’s Mind–Wonder

Our theme for the month of December is Wonder. My hope for each of you reading this is glimpses of wonder throughout what is often a month of busyness and overwhelm. In that spirit, I offer you again this year a “calendar of care” to help remind you to take a moment or two each day to center yourself on what is truly important and that which may offer you a chance to feel the true wonder of this holiday season.

  • December 1— Take a moment to stop and breathe, appreciating the air, your lungs, and the simple miracle of breath.
  • December 2— Find a short time–waiting in line, between tasks, just before sleep–to turn everything off and appreciate the quiet.
  • December 3— Take time to feed your body healthy, nourishing food.
  • December 4— Let go of perfectionism and celebrate something that is “good enough.”
  • December 5— Give yourself a real compliment.
  • December 6— Take time to appreciate something or someone beautiful to you.
  • December 7— Come to church and join your community in gratitude for this wonderful world.
  • December 8— Find a time today to stop and take three deep breaths.
  • December 9— Write a quick thank you note to someone you love.
  • December 10— Take time to be with someone you love spending time with.
  • December 11— Do something nice for yourself.
  • December 12— Find a way to be playful today.
  • December 13— Get a good night’s sleep.
  • December 14— Come to church and learn about winter holidays from our children in this year’s pageant.
  • December 15— Listen to a song that reminds you of a favorite time. Let yourself linger in the memory.
  • December 16— Take joy in giving. Don’t wait. Give a gift today.
  • December 17— Say “I love you” to someone and to yourself.
  • December 18— Reconnect with someone or something you have missed.
  • December 19— Forgive yourself or someone else.
  • December 20— Prepare for the longest night of the year. Befriend the darkness.
  • December 21— Come fill your soul with wonder at the Choir Concert.
  • December 22— Look for the silly and absurd and find a reason to laugh.
  • December 23— Make time for yourself today.
  • December 24— Come to the candlelight Christmas Eve service at  7:00 p.m.
  • December 25— Spend time looking for the real gifts this day. Show your gratitude.
  • December 26— Rest, relax, recover.
  • December 27— Say “yes” to something you’ve been wanting.
  • December 28— Come to church and welcome the new year with your community.
  • December 29— Give a hug to yourself or someone else.
  • December 30— Immerse yourself in the beauty of the world around you. Look out the window or take a walk.
  • December 31—Welcome the new year by making a wish you can help make come true.

If you’ve been enjoying the Soul Matters resource guides, you can find this month’s materials on “Wonder” here.

A Letter from the President

November 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

Every organization, be it religious, educational, civic or business, needs to step back every now and then and ask, “How are we doing? Are we headed in the right direction?” It has been some time since the church has engaged in such a process. A full assessment of the life and ministries of a church is a multi-year task that requires a lot of planning and coordination. It is my hope that the Board will begin laying the groundwork for that process this year.

Until that time, however, we are asking you to share your feedback about all of the ministries of our church. This means all the activities that contribute to the work of the congregation, including, but not limited to the work of our minister. The work of the church is a shared ministry that includes so much–religious education, the running of the office, the music program, the Board, our committees (Building & Grounds, Community Care, Endowment, Fellowship, Green Sanctuary, Membership Development, Social Justice, Stewardship, Worship Arts) as well as all the various groups and classes that are offered here.

We understand that everyone doesn’t have knowledge of or an opinion on every aspect of ministry in of the church; please speak to those areas which you feel you can. Also, we are asking that responses be respectful and constructive, and that you include your name. Anonymous responses will not be considered. You may respond by filling out the form that will be included in the order of worship November 9, 16, 23 and 30, or via Survey Monkey:

All responses should be submitted by November 30, 2015.

We thank you in advance for your thoughtful responses and for providing us with information that will help us move forward together.

In spirit,

Carol Alfus ,President, Tree of Life Board of Trustees

Haystacks Coffee House Open Mic & Jam Night

haystacksOn Friday, November 7, from 7 – 10 pm, Haystack’s Coffee House will present another Open Mic & Jam Night. The evening will feature local performers showing their skills as folk, R&R, jazz, classical musicians, comedians and poets. All are invited to attend. Bring your friends!! Please contact Tom Steffens at for information or to make an early reservation to perform. There will be a limit placed in the amount of performers. Admission to Haystack’s Coffee House Open Mic & Jam night is free.There will be a free will offering taken to cover expenses.See everyone November 7!!

Minister’s Mind–Grace

The popular song “All About That Bass” has been stuck in my head for weeks now, but with slightly different lyrics. I keep hearing:

All about that grace, ’bout that grace, no trouble! All about that grace,’bout that grace…

Maybe it’s because “grace” is our Soul Matters theme for November and it’s been on my mind. What is grace, anyway? How can it mean moving in a lovely way (a graceful dancer) or “God’s favor” or “saying a prayer, especially at meal time” all at once? It seems like these words are very different, how can they come from the same root? That root, traced back almost 5500 years, is gwere which means “to favor or praise.” The word grew to describe things that are pleasing, beautiful, and inspire gratitude.

Of course, the word became associated with religion and with some people being favored or chosen, while others were not. “Saved by grace” became synonymous for being one of the chosen: those who, by virtue of their privilege and power, were seen to be God’s favorites.  This kind of limited grace,  sometimes called Partialism or Calvinism (after John Calvin), is not what we, as Unitarian Universalists mean, when we use the word. For Hosea Ballou and other early Universalists, a loving God could never abandon some of his children, so grace must be available to all.

As Universalism and Unitarianism evolved in parallel, but not identical ways, more and more of us moved away from traditional theology, yet many of us aren’t willing to give up on the concept of grace. I think that is because we need a word for the times in our lives when good things happen and we feel undeserving and grateful. That’s my working definition of grace.

I find grace at work in my life and in our congregation quite often. People reach out generously to help each other and to make things happen. They don’t wait to see if someone is “deserving” before offering a hug or a ride or a shoulder to cry on. That is a kind of grace that we share with each other, in small ways and large.

Then there are the BIG graces. When the brakes fail, but we somehow stop safely, avoiding an accident. When the storm comes right through the middle of everything, but there is no damage. Grace is what we acknowledge when we whisper “thank you” to the universe because we feel grateful that what we thought would happen–what seemed fair or obvious or inevitable in that moment–didn’t happen. Or something better than we could have wished for did. Those moments are moments of grace.

May our hearts and minds be open and loving  as we spend November exploring and practicing grace. You can find this month’s discussion guide here.

If you are curious about how the Soul Matters themes can continue to enrich and deepen our community at Tree of Life, you may want to join me at  Moving from Theme-Based Worship to Theme-Based Church, a workshop with Soul Matters founder Scott Tayler, on November 15th at Countryside  Church in Palatine, IL. Click on the link to learn more and register.