Minister’s Mind–Expectation

December is a month full of expectations. For some, those expectations are an inspiration and a joy. For others, this season includes much disappointment and sadness.  In the busy rush of the season, I often find myself remembering the words of Rev.Mark Belletini who wrote, “Take care of yourselves as bodies, for you are a good gift.”  In this hectic time—whether joyful of sad or some combination of both—I hope each of you will remember to take care of yourself.  In that spirit, I offer you this calendar of care:

  • December 1— Reflect for a moment on your greatest accomplishment.
  • December 2—Take time to breathe deeply today.
  • December 3— Take care of your body by eating three balanced, healthy meals.
  • December 4— Give a compliment. (to yourself or another.)
  • December 5— Find five minutes to sit still.
  • December 6—Come to Tree of Life for “From What Remains,” a service about Hanukkah.
  • December 7—Make two wishes: one for yourself and one for the world.
  • December 8—Notice something beautiful and pay attention to it.
  • December 9—Get a good night’s sleep.
  • December 10—Play.  Get out the dreidel or the playing cards, or go to the park.
  • December 11—Make a date with someone you’ve been meaning to spend time with.
  • December 12— Come to the Cookie Walk and indulge in some homemade sweetness.
  • December 13—Come join us for a No-Rehearse Christmas Pageant at Tree of Life.
  • December 14—Write down three things for which you feel grateful.
  • December 15—Spend a few minutes just sitting with your eyes closed, listening.
  • December 16—Make a phone call to someone you love.
  • December 17—Acknowledge the grief that may also be present at the holidays. Come to our Blue Christmas Service at 7 pm.
  • December 18—Give something away.
  • December 19—Say “I love you” to yourself and mean it.
  • December 20—Come to church to celebrate as the Wheel of the Year turns towards light. Fill your heart with song at the Holiday Concert at 4:30 pm.
  • December 21—Tonight’s the longest night of the year.  Revel in darkness.
  • December 22—Look for a reason to smile, chuckle, even belly laugh!  Do it!
  • December 23— Say “yes” to something you’ve been wanting.
  • December 24—Celebrate with us at the tradition candlelight Christmas Eve service, 7:00 pm
  • December 25—Look for real gifts and say thank you.
  • December 26— Make time to rest, relax, recover.
  • December 27—Come to church and learn about Hope Where We Least Expect It.
  • December 28—Be a secret giver now, when no one’s expecting it!
  • December 29—Think about your hopes for the next year.  Say “yes.”
  • December 30— Listen to a song that reminds you of a favorite time. Let yourself linger in the memory.
  • December 31—Say a tender good-bye to the old year and hello to the new.

For more resources for the December Soul Matters Theme, click here.

Love will guide us,

siggoodRev. Sean

Minister’s Mind: Ancestry

Who are your ancestors? Who are the people who have made you who you are? Can you name your biological ancestors? Your spiritual ones?

Our theme for November is “Ancestry” and it has already stirred these questions and more in me. Thinking of my biological ancestors is most often an opening for gratitude. I remember those who made a way for me, who sowed and planted, worked and built, weeded and harvested. Even though they were far from perfect, they did the best they could and I am here because of them. I would not be who I am without all of them–their mistakes and their triumphs. I am glad to be reminded of this.

My spiritual ancestors are another story. These are my chosen line, the thinkers, artists, and rabble-rousers that I take courage from and hope to emulate. These are the lineage of my heart, my soul, and my calling. These are the ministers who preached truth when it was unpopular and dangerous. These are the artists who reveal the truths of naked emperors and pierce the veil of apathy and numbness. These are the gender outlaws who trusted who they knew themselves to be and began to build the world that could hold them. These are the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights pioneers who rallied to the side of the broken, the oppressed, the abused. Remembering these spiritual ancestors is an opening for courage and for the strength that comes from knowing that we are not alone.

Then there is the sense of connection that opens from knowing that in fact, we are descended from the cosmos itself. We are connected to everything and everything is connected to us. Remember this is an opening for awe, for that feeling of being part of something vast and holy and beautiful. Remember this is an opening for inspiration and reverence for all that surrounds and upholds us, all that connects us through time and space. This sense of belonging is also a source of gratitude.

This month, as we explore the theme of ancestry, see what opens in you. There are amazing resources from our Soul Matters partners here. Questions, activities, movies, books, readings, music…there are so many ways to bring our themes into your life between Sundays.

Love will Guide Us,

Rev. Sean

The Minister’s Mind: Letting Go

This month’s “Soul Matters” theme is one that it seems like we human beings need to return to again and again. Even though we know that change is inevitable and resisting it is painful, we tend to get anxious when it’s happening to us. We’ve learned a lot from the Buddhists who know so deeply that it is our stubborn attachment and clinging that causes suffering, and yet…when the time comes to let go, we still have a hard time with it.  We need constant reminders to open our hands and let go. It takes too much effort and causes too much pain to stay stuck.

One of my favorite reminders is this poem by Jack Gilbert:

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.

Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

May each of us practice letting go. May we do so gently and celebrate our triumph.

You can find more resources on Letting Go (films, books, quotes, activities, questions…) in the Soul Matters packet here.

Love will Guide Us,

Rev. Sean



Minister’s Mind: Invitation

One of the things Unitarian Universalists are most proud of is the wideness of our welcome. So many of us have felt excluded for one reason or another in our lives and, in response, have made a commitment to truly embrace the worth of every person by making room for them in our congregations and our lives.

Sometimes we’re puzzled that our commitment hasn’t meant that our congregations are more diverse. We look around on Sunday mornings and see and awful lot of people who look like us, sound like us, and believe like us. Even though we hope to be truly diverse communities, we’re often disappointed that the reality doesn’t match the ideal.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes it is chalked up to human nature, but I think watching groups of young children play together is pretty good evidence that the way we respond to difference is learned. If no one interrupts them, groups of children seem more curious about differences than wary of them. But somehow, as we grow, it seems that barriers begin to grow.

At Tree of Life, it’s easy to say that our lack of diversity is because of the demographics of McHenry County. According to 2013 data, if we reflected the population of our county, our congregation would be about 82 percent white, 12 percent Latina/0, with the remaining 6 percent being a mix of other races and mixed race people.  It also means that 8 percent of us would not have graduated from high school and only 32 percent of us would have a Bachelor’s degree. We’d have only 49 percent of our members reporting that they were married, and about a third of our households would have children at home. Only ten percent of us would be over age 65. About 8 percent of those under 65 would have a disability of some kind, and 35 percent of those over 65 would report a disability. Approximately 15 percent of us would have been born outside the United States or in Puerto Rico. Over 22 percent would speak a language other than English at home. 14 percent of us would have incomes below the poverty level. The median age of our community would be 37.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. It seems that congregations–where people go to form deep relationships that address our core values–reflect not our ideals, but the realities of societal separation by class, race,age. income, language, sexual orientation, and ability. It is not how we want to be, but it reflects how we are and and how we think about our congregations. So often I hear Unitarian Universalists talk in glowing terms about our congregations as groups of “like-minded” people and I always wonder why we would be satisfied with that. Our faith calls us to be something more.

This month, as we explore the theme “invitation”–I hope we will all look around and begin to think about who and what we invite into our lives and spaces. Are there people or parts of ourselves that we “cover” or push aside in order to belong? Do we truly embrace and celebrate the dignity of every person? Will we invite them to church and if they accept our invitation, will we invite them to be fully themselves, willing for our community to be changed by their presence?

To learn more, check out the packet of Soul Matters resources for this month.



Minister’s Mind: Stories

What does it mean to be a people of stories? It’s our stories that make us who we are and give us ways to share that with each other. A big part of Unitarian Universalism is the commitment to honor one another’s stories, especially those that define our deepest commitments and beliefs. Our Sunday services this month will be full of opportunities to think about, hear, and share meaningful stories.stainglasswindows

As we move through August, we finish up the summer, it’s time to gear up for the Tree of Life sesquicentennial. That’s right, on October 24, 1865, a few brave people signed the charter that formed the congregation that grew into Tree of Life. You can read about the congregation’s history here. We’ll celebrate together with music, a special guest in the pulpit, and a very special project that will beautify our building and honor our past and future.

MichelleWe also welcome our two interns this month.  Michelle Lattanzio and Misha Lentz are both beginning their Congregational Studies year at Meadville Lombard seminary in Chicago. Each of them will be engaged with Tree of Life and other cluster congregations  half-time (~20 hours a week.)

I will act as their Teaching Pastor, supervising their work and reflection, and Rev. Matthew Johnson in Rockford will provide support and additional opportunities for learning. We will be looking for five people to work closely with Misha and Michelle over the next 24 months, giving them feedback on their ministerial presence, preaching, and overall gifts for ministry. If you’re interested in being part of the Teaching Team, please let me or one of the interns know.Misha This is a chance to participate in a minister’s formation–a gift to that minister and to Unitarian Universalism as a whole.

There are many exciting things happening this year! Don’t forget to collect water for our annual Water Ceremony on August 30th. And be thinking about who you’ll invite to our first Bring a Friend Sunday on September 20. That day, we’ll gear the whole morning toward folks we think would be great Unitarian Universalists. We hope that by encouraging everyone to invite a friend on the same day, we can create an atmosphere of welcome that makes it fun and easy for newcomers to feel part of Tree of Life.

We’ll also be launching some new groups and educational opportunities, so keep your eye on Happenings to learn the details. In case you’re wondering about me, I’m on study leave–a time of preparation, reading and planning for the year–until August 13, when I return to my regular office hours. In September, I’ll also be restarting my Community Office Hours in various coffee shops around McHenry County. See you soon.