Welcome to our Month of Beauty

If one were to peel back the influences that pop culture has had on me, one of the biggest would be science fiction. From an early age, it was science fiction stories and shows that grabbed my attention. So, it should come as no surprise that when I think about the theme for the month of June, beauty, the first thought that comes to my mind is from a classic science fiction show.

The show in question is the original Twilight Zone, and the episode that comes to mind is one titled Eye of the Beholder. Perhaps you’ve seen it too? For most of the episode, we see a person in the hospital with bandages around their face, talking about an operation that was a last chance to alter a physical deformity. We, the viewers, don’t see the faces of the doctors and nurses who are telling the patient that regardless of how this operation comes out, the bandaged person can live a happy, normal life. This being the Twilight Zone, there’s a twist ending. Spoiler alert—once the bandages are removed, the person looks like a “normal” person. We then see the faces of those who were talking to her and they all have malformed faces, turning the idea of what is beautiful and what is ugly on its head.  This episode was written by Rod Sterling, a noted Unitarian Universalist. The episode debuted in November of 1960 and the message it sends is still relevant to us today—that beauty is a subjective thing, not to be dictated by a government or society.

For many years the idea of what is beautiful and what is not has been informed by white supremacy in our popular culture. When one looks at magazine covers or what we see in movies or television, up until recently there were very few people of color that were represented in these mediums, which is why Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura on Star Trek was such a groundbreaking role. Representation matters. In our current political climate, white supremacist ideals are re-asserting themselves. It’s up to us, as allies and as people of conscience, to fight white supremacist ideals, ideals like voter suppression, putting children in cages, or from police shootings and so on.

One of my favorite books is Ms. Rumphius, who is tasked by her grandfather to make the world a more beautiful place. This is a task that I give to you all—to make the world a more beautiful place, be it through the ballot box, social justice, or by taking to heart a science fiction show that held up a mirror to our own failings in an effort to teach us something. Amen, and blessed be.

The Almost Rev. Kevin DeBeck

The Almost Rev. Kevin DeBeck Welcomes us to a Month of Curiosity

One of my favorite stories I like to tell from my early days of dating my now wife is from the first spring she ever spent in Maine. We had met in the fall of 1996 and started dating each other in January of the following year. That spring was very much like this year—cold and wet. Amy kept asking me when it was finally going to warm up. I kept reassuring her that by the end of April, the snow would finally stop falling and the warm weather would finally arrive. Mother Nature proved me wrong that year, as it snowed on the first day of May. It was the first time in my life that I had seen that happen. Sure, I’d experienced blizzards in April where one day it was 70 degrees, and a few days later there was 2 feet of snow on the ground. But I had never seen it snow on May 1. I felt like Mother Nature had punked me. At that point in history, there was little talk of the effects of climate change—we all just figured it was springtime in Maine. And perhaps it was just a strange weather pattern that year. Perhaps if the powers that be had been a little more curious about why that was happening, there would be solutions for climate change taking place now. It’s hard to say. If a solution is to be found, and it needs to be found sooner rather than later, it will be scientific curiosity that will save us, and all the living things that exist on this planet. The Soul Matters theme for this month is curiosity. Curiosity is built into the DNA of Unitarian Universalism—without it, our faith literally wouldn’t exist.  Over the centuries it was the curiosity of philosophers and theologians that wanted to expand the knowledge of humanity that led us to where we are today. Many of them suffered and died to satisfy this curiosity. People like Francis David, Michael Servetus, Jan Hus, Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb. Curiosity led them to express new ideas and to take a stand for those ideas. As our faith allows us to think in different ways which helps us to become more enlightened, so to we honor those who fought and suffered to bring us those new ways of thinking. So, as you’re waiting for the warm weather to finally arrive, remember that free thinkers haven’t always been appreciated. Perhaps offer up a silent prayer and a thank you to those who helped advance human knowledge. And know that the snow will stop falling, eventually.

In peace,

The Almost Rev. Kevin DeBeck

As You Journey

Greetings to you all. The theme for this month is Journey. I’m reminded of a few things when I think of the word Journey. One of course is the rock band from the decade of the 1980’s, and how in my wife’s and my early life together, we would go with some friends of ours to karaoke every Friday night. The guy who hosted this at our favorite bowling alley was named Ed, and when there was a lull in people who had signed up to sing, he would stand up and belt out a Journey tune, usually the song Separate Ways. I think he especially liked the last word in that song, a long and loud, “NOOOOOOO!!!” I’m also reminded of our wedding, where Helen Boucek, who had worked with Joseph Campbell when he taught in Pittsburgh, read a poem titled Ithaca by C. P. Cavafy. It reads, in part:

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

How these things relate to each other, I believe, is that sometimes in life, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest political goings on in Washington, or Springfield, or what our latest teams seem to be, or not, doing and lurching ever forward into the next minute without taking some time to put our phones in our pockets, shut off the computers and take a look around at what nature has to offer. It might be hard to appreciate when it’s 10 degrees with a wind chill, but here’s to hoping in the month of March we’ll finally see the snow melt, the sun will feel warm on our faces again, and we’ll be able to stop and bear witness to the earth coming alive again. Even if that means you might have to smack a mosquito or two along the way. Be it through nature, poetry, or music, I hope you all are able to take a few moments on your journey to Ithaca to see the sights along the way.

The Almost Rev. Kevin DeBeck

Our Month of Possibility

Dear Friends,

The theme for the month of January is Possibility. It’s of possibilities that I wish to speak about here. On January 27, we’re going to have a shortened worship service to begin the process of creating a congregational covenant. This will serve two purposes, the first being that we will make official the rules of engagement that we’ll have with each other—be that in committee meetings, social gatherings, or in worship services. The second reason being that this covenant will also be the framework for which the Right Relations Team will use to do their work.

Conflict is inevitable—what matters is how it’s handled. Is it handled in such a way that the people or organizations involved figure out a way to resolve their differences and have a way to move forward? Or does it descend into triangulation, name calling and hurt feelings that are never addressed? I don’t believe that most people like conflict. I know I don’t. I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid it. Much like Jonah who in trying to avoid what God had asked him to do, avoiding something has hidden consequences. For me, when I try to avoid conflict, the conflict itself doesn’t get resolved and it usually gets worse before it gets better. As for Jonah, well, we know what happened to him. While I don’t think Tree of Life is going to be swallowed by a literal Great Fish, unresolved conflict can be a great fish unto itself. It might not be an animal that swallows us whole, but unresolved conflict can kind of feel like being swallowed whole.

I have great hopes for the creation of this congregational covenant. And I look forward to walking with you all through the process. To get the process moving in the right direction, I have enclosed some sample covenants for you all to look at and be thinking about when we break into small groups on the 27th. I hope as many of you as possible can join us on that Sunday. See you then!

Kevin DeBeck minister@treeoflifeuu.org

5 Sample Covenants

Atkinson Memorial Covenant of Right RelationsEvanston Covenant of Engagement

Notes from the Almost Rev. Kev

Greetings everyone.

The theme for the month of November is Memory, and given that the Holidays are now upon us, many of us will be thinking of holidays past, perhaps thinking of beloved family members who are no longer with us.

It doesn’t take much to trigger a memory—our brains are hardwired to associate all our senses with memory to help us remember things. In the distant past, this was used for survival. If that person recalled that a particular smell happened right before the saber-toothed tiger attacked, or heard a particular growl, then that person was likely to live longer. In our modern sensibilities, sometimes memory can be so strong it’s like you’re living that particular moment over again.

Back in the early 1990’s, I recall a song by Patricia Yearwood titled, “The Song Remembers When.” There are songs that I hear, either on the radio or on my smartphone, that can literally bring me back to an exact place and time in my life. I’m sure you all have those moments too. Where we run into trouble is when those memories can cloud our judgement or perception of what’s happening today. This idea was used for comic effect in one of my favorite Christmas movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The main character, Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, spends the length of the movie trying to re-create the magic of Christmas from his childhood. Therein lies the chaos that ensues for the length of the movie. I think this is where many of us get trapped this time of year—we see the past through a sentimental lens and don’t see what’s in front of us, for good and for bad. The uncle that you had a lot of fun with as a child now might be sitting at the Thanksgiving table espousing the latest he heard from Fox News, and it’s hard to maintain your feelings for who they were and who they are now. The question then becomes, how does one deal with this? I believe the best way is to remember who they were, and set boundaries for who they are. And probably change the subject, if possible.

So, in this month of Memory, let’s remember those who are no longer with us, and remember who we are with now because, someday, we’ll hopefully be the pleasant memories for others.


October News from Our Minister

Greetings everyone. First of all, I want to thank all those who sent me good wishes before I went to Boston to visit the Ministerial Fellowship Committee at the end of September.  Your support and good feelings helped me achieve something that I’ve been working toward since starting seminary 4 years ago—becoming a fellowshipped minister with the UUA. Our congregational polity states that any church can ordain anyone they wish, regardless if a person is fellowshipped with the UUA or not. I chose to go through with that process because I want the sanction of our national governing body. Now that I’ve passed, I can become ordained.  When, how and where that happens remains to be seen. But I will keep you all up to date as that progresses. But for now, I can say that I’ve graduated from the Not Yet Rev. Kevin to Almost Rev. Kevin.

This month’s theme is Sanctuary. This past summer this church became a literal sanctuary to a family from Romania.  I was pleased to hear that they have all been reunited in Romania and that our church was a big help in keeping that family together. I’ve also been thinking about recent news events that have brought to light issues of white supremacy and toxic masculinity and the intersectionality of both. While no institution is free of either of these issues, my hope is that our church can be a sanctuary where we can talk about what white supremacy means and how it’s affected all of us. Perhaps by opening a dialog with each other, and eventually the wider world around us, we can find ways to heal each other from participating in a culture we didn’t ask for. Perhaps we can offer sanctuary to those who don’t want to partake in the institutions that prevent us from being our best selves, that find ways to prevent us from being fully human. As I mentioned during the window dedication, my hope is that we can be the beacon that can help heal a bruised and hurting world.

Almost Rev. Kevin DeBeck

Minister’s Mind: Creation

April is here and it’s already been wild. Thundersnow and blustery winds, sunshine and daffodils–sometimes at the same time! Living in the prairie midwest is exciting, beautiful, and sometimes strange. The seasons are a paradox of predictability and surprise. There is never a lack of things to experience, witness, and talk about in our little corner of creation.

We’ve already been busy here at Tree of Life, with the amazing Haystack’s Coffee House, our clean-up day that made the building sparkle, and The Church of Vivaldi: Spring filling our sanctuary and our souls with beautiful music. And we have so much to look forward to: April 10th’s service (by members of the Worship Arts Team) about Feeding Your Creative Spirit,  the Western Crescent Choir Festival that same afternoon in Rockford, and on the 17th. an Earth Day service that includes one of our favorite traditions: the Flower Ceremony.

We will also be celebrating our Sesquicentennial (that’s 150 years!) the weekend of April 23 – 24th. The weekend will include a tour of our former building (now the Blue Lotus Temple in Woodstock,) an Open House at our current location with displays about the congregation’s history, a Gala Dinner and Celebration with music from each decade, and a Sunday Service and Celebration with special guest preacher, Rev. Barbara Merritt, who served the congregation from 1975 to 1982.

As we hope you have heard, April also marked the launch of our new Year-Round Giving process. The first letters have gone out and the first pledge has been received! Our hope is to emphasize generosity, gratitude, and community by shifting our focus and our process. Each month, we will be in conversation with approximately one twelfth of the congregation, communicating the congregation’s needs and vision and asking for a pledge of financial support. As pledges come in, volunteer Pledge Captains will acknowledge and thank our givers personally and follow-up by hosting a small thank you event that will do something else that means a lot to our members: create an opportunity to build relationships and community.

The most important question we can ask ourselves and each other is “What would be missing if there were no Tree of Life Congregation?” What would be missing in our own lives, in the communities around us, and in the world?The answer to this question helps clarify the purpose and mission that Tree of Life already fulfills. It may also help us see what is missing—how we could be even more connected and relevant as we move forward.

We hope the Year-Round Giving process will be a positive and creative way to help people understand how important Tree of Life is in their lives and the larger community and respond by giving. We also hope that the changes we’ve made will relieve some anxiety and free up a lot of volunteer time and energy for other fun projects and programs. We will be evaluating the new process regularly and “tweaking” as we learn what is most effective and meets the needs of the congregation. We’re approaching the changes as a grand experiment based on research and “best practices” in the not-for-profit and church fundraising world.

April will also be a full month for me, as I travel to the first-ever Retreat for Transgender UU Religious Professionals. This is an event that several of us have been working to make happen for almost fifteen years. Of the 32 transgender religious professionals we are aware of in the UUA, 18 will be attending, along with 2 UUA staff members and an outside facilitator. I will be in California from April 9 – 16 for this event.

This month is full of so many good things–music, celebration, history, creativity, and community! Let’s celebrate together!

Love Will Guide Us,


Rev. Sean



Minister’s Mind: Liberation

Liberation is a word we may hear often, but may or may not think much about. Women’s Liberation, political liberation, even Liberation Theology may come to mind, but may seem distant issues and not part of our own personal lives. This month, we ask ourselves “What does it mean to be a people of liberation?” How does being Unitarian Universalist or a part of the Tree of Life community challenge and inspire us to liberation? (Our own or other’s.)

In order to know the answer, I think each of us has to take time to look at our life. Have we allowed ourselves to become creatures of habit, living by rote instead of by intention? Have we begun to worry so much about what others will think that we make choices based on fear instead of our real desires and self-knowledge? Have we gotten stuck in unhealthy patterns, even addictions? Do our lives reflect our actual values and passions, or something else, dictated from outside?

We also have to look at the ways we might be a force for liberation beyond ourselves, which can sometimes be tough. What are the things that keep us silent when we could speak out for another’s liberation? Are we more afraid of what will happen if we do speak out than what will happen if we don’t? Has cynicism gripped us so tightly that we don’t even believe we can make a difference? Are we afraid to make a mistake? Do we worry that if we rock the boat we will end up alone?

One thing I know for certain about liberation is that it is far easier to create together than alone. Liberating one’s self, without companions along for courage, strength, and accountability is almost impossible. And liberating our world from greed, prejudice, and hatred is going to take us all–a whole movement of people dedicated to collective liberation. We say it often: No one is free until all are free. What does it mean to live it?

I invite you to talk to me, any member of the board, or each other about what you’d like to see Tree of Life do as a first step to being a people of liberation. Supportive small group ministry? Putting up a “Black Lives Matter” sign? Work to alleviate poverty and homelessness in McHenry county? Let’s get liberating!

Here is a link to the fantastic Soul Matters resource packet on Liberation.

Minister’s Mind: Resistance

I had to laugh when I saw that the Soul Matters theme for January was resistance. So much is changing–in the world, in our lives, and at Tree of Life–and resistance is so often our response to change. It’s a good thing, I think, for us to take a look at resistance and try to see how it helps and hinders us in this changing world.

So much of the media is full of fear-mongering, scapegoating, and even hatred as politicians, parties, and ideologies jockey for power. It seems like many in our nation and in the whole world are afraid and keep looking for ways to keep things the same. It’s hard to admit that the old systems are beginning to fail us. It’s scary to wonder what will happen if we cannot trust the way things have always been. It’s what we know.

The new movements for social and environmental justice that are emerging are both a cause and effect of these changes. Climate change is real and people are beginning to wake up to the possibility of devastating consequences. Social media makes us aware of the brutality with which police have long treated Black people. We see the faces of refugees in ways we did not just a few years ago. We see them and we are changed. And that can be uncomfortable, even painful.

Some people are motivated by these changes to try to make a difference. We’re seeing new efforts–at the grassroots and beyond–that call for a more just, equitable, and compassionate way. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that call. But we may also be uneasy with the anger behind it or the lack of clarity about how to get from here to there. All of this is resistance.

At Tree of Life, we are working hard to understand and respond to the changes all around us. We are looking at the research, asking a lot of questions, and trying to respond to the trends and the needs in our world, including us. We are creating new ways to be together and new ways for our Sunday service to uplift us. We are also creating new systems that acknowledge that people’s lives are changing and are often so full that they don’t have the time to volunteer. We’re trying to adapt, and that means we have to experiment with new ways of doing things.

The Church of ______________

Tom Steffens and I are excited to begin collaborating on a new kind of worship service that we’ve been dreaming of for years. Four times between January and May, you are invited to explore the power of music with us during our Sunday morning Service. On January 24, we kick off our “The Church of _______” series with The Church of Jazz: Duke Ellington In February, we’ll have The Church of Folk, featuring Joe Jencks.  In April, we will celebrate classical music and in May, we are hoping to unveil The Church of Rock.

At each of these services, music will take center stage. Professional musicians will share their talent, interwoven with readings, quotes, and commentary on the artist, the genre, and the message of the music. We know that music touches a deep place in us and we hope that this new way of worshiping together will be moving and inspiring, as we look at all the changes in the world and hope to be transformed as well.

Our New Year-round Pledge Process

The next big change you’ll be seeing is to the way we ask you to support the congregation financially. Instead of relying on volunteers to create, manage, and implement an Annual Pledge Drive, we are creating a year-round system. (Click here to read the proposal the Board approved.) Our administrator, Mila Brinker, and I will take the lead to set up the new system. Each month a group of members, friends, and other donors will receive information about the congregation, our financial needs, and the possibilities of growth through generous giving. A volunteer Pledge Captain will help follow-up by paying thankful attention to our givers: expressing gratitude, answering questions, and hosting an event for that month’s givers.

We hope this new way of doing fundraising will free up much of the time and energy of our volunteers, as well as ease anxiety. Instead of the past process that started each year from zero, we’ll start with the idea that our givers are going to continue to support the congregation and will give a little more each year to absorb rising costs and grow our programs and mission. After all, this congregation has been around for 150 years so far. We’ve decided that trust and gratitude are a better way to start our fundraising! We hope you think so too.

As we continue to adapt to a changing world, we hope you will continue to be involved at Tree of Life however you can. If you are interested in the way congregations and their leaders are learning and growing together, you’re invited to join us for Reinventing Church Leadership–a cluster-wide workshop hosted by our congregation in Elgin on January 30th.  The day will feature workshops, projects, and a keynote address by Rev. Nancy Bowen, Regional Lead of the Pacific West Region of the UUA, called Making Meaning while Evolving and Adapting. The cost for the day, including lunch, is $15.

Love Will Guide Us,

Rev. Sean

P.S. Here is this months packet of resources on Resistance.

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