Continuing Conversations

with Reverend Gordon Clay Bailey

As the dawn of a New Year has come, it is time for many of us to consider our New Year's resolution(s).  This is a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year.

The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.  The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.  In the Medieval era, the knights took the "peacock vow" at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.  At Watchnight services, many Christians prepared for the year ahead by praying and making resolutions.

There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism's New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one's wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. People may act similarly during the Catholic fasting period of Lent, though the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility, in fact the practice of New Year's resolutions partially came from the Lenten sacrifices. The concept, regardless of creed, or even religiosity, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually and, I don’t know about you but to me, we as a society need this!

So what does all of this have to do with you? At the end of the Great Depression, about a quarter of American adults formed New Year's resolutions. At the start of the 21st century, about 40% did.  Most people aren’t into the practice; most don’t even want to go through the exercise.  But I’m here to encourage you; to help push you; to employ a bit of UU magic that just might stick.  This is about making a real change in attitude and in practical realities.

Whatever it is that has held you back from being all you want to be.  If your health is an issue? If your spouse has poo-pahed your attempts?  If your workload and free time don’t allow for it, it is time to change for the better now!  2016 is here and so is the very best chance for you to live the way you want to live.  It may not be all at once but the first 30 days of change are truly the determining factor.

Resolutions come and go, so do old friends, lovers, relatives, jobs, marriages etc.  But when we find the greatest love of all… an unparalleled appreciation for self, then, and only then, do we start to live the life we are meant to live! Use this time.  Use the season.  Find your way to creating the world, nation, state, UUCVH and home-life you always dreamed of.

We are in need of more strong supporters in our congregation to find their voice and take leadership positions.  Changing of the Board and committees happens every year or so.  I am really looking for a few good women and men to step up this year.  UUCVH needs you!  And, so do I!  Ministry is a fellowship of committed minds, bodies and spirits.

Let’s do this year right!  Let’s say yes to the pledge and really dig in deeply (UUA recommendations for a pledge, or volunteering at the UU for the equal amount of time).  Let’s find our best selves in the social action that comes from commitments to causes bigger than ourselves.  Let’s share the love of our spiritual/ religious community together in a new and deeper way and let our light shine for all the world (LA County especially) to see.

May health, peace and love be ours this day and all of our days,

Gordon Clay Bailey (Happy New Year)

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!" -- Charles Dickens

“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation.” -- Anthon St Maarten

“May the lights of Hanukkah usher in a better world for all humankind.” -- Anonymous

"The seven principles of Kwanzaa -- unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith -- teach us that when we come together to strengthen our families and communities and honor the lesson of the past, we can face the future with joy and optimism." -- President Bill Clinton

Holidays, secular economic frenzies, and the end of another year; here we go again…

Each year, December brings a month filled with holidays, celebrations complete with a variety of gift giving traditions, and—to the glee of students and educators alike—school vacations.  But before the holidays, before the celebrations, before the money is gone let us consider a few things again or for the first time.

How do we as individual families celebrate our holiday celebrations?  Do we do it with gift exchanges and other rituals?

In what ways does holiday gift-giving figure in the collective imagination through movies, TV shows, and great literature. Some of these offerings are performed, rerun and re-read year after year?

Trace your holiday traditions especially the practice of gathering for the feast and of course gift giving as it unfolds over time and consider if common themes and elements can be found within the great variety of spiritual traditions.

As the holiday season fast approaches, so often we find our days speeding faster past us. There just doesn't seem to be enough time in the month, for all that we have to do. We are trying to keep up with decorating, shopping, parties, end of the year meetings, purchasing that special new item that is on sale and keeping up with the gift giving of our friends and neighbors. We are so swamped with everything that we often don't take the time for the true spiritual meaning of the holiday season.

However, there is still time. These few words, hopefully, will give you some ideas on how to rekindle the special meaning of the season before it passes.

Here a few tips- first, write down your affirmations for what you want the season to be about. Place it where you can see it. Place it on your bathroom mirror or in your wallet, the refrigerator is really good too.

Look closely at your reasons for the holiday season. Is it about keeping up with your gift-giving friends and relatives? Is it about trying to compete with them? Or, is it about bringing service and light to others? Is it about trying to make every persons party? Or, is it about visiting someone that you haven't seen in some time? Is it about eating and drinking more, until you feel wasted? Or, is it about your quest for a deeper meaning in your values? Only you can examine this yourself.

Work to control things that you can. In life, there are things that you can control and those you can't. Focus on what you can. You can control over eating and drinking. You can control arguments and bad language. You can control charity towards those in need. You can control over spending. You can control visiting a lonely friend or neighbor. You can control if you come to the various offerings our church has for you this season.

For some, this is the loneliest time of the year. The holiday season can be fraught with pain and upset. Look around you. Has a friend or neighbor recently lost a loved one? Seek them out and spend some time with them. Invite them over or take them shopping. Plan something that is constructive with them. If a person lives far away, pick up your cellphone and give them a call. Do you have a co-worker or relative that has recently divorced?  How about someone that is unemployed or underemployed, same thing reach out to them.

Look for something good around your life. Many people brace for the holidays, when they should be embracing the holiday season. Sometimes the smallest good can shine through to lift up your spiritual meaning of the season. You have to look for it.

Finally, take some time for yourself. Get away from everything for a few hours by yourself. Pick a place and time just for you. Schedule a block of time for your mind. Find a place to just relax and enjoy yourself. For some, it might be a few quiet moments in church. For others, it might be a stroll through the park. This time, for yourself, will give you the opportunity to focus on the spiritual meaning of the holiday season.

In faith and love,

Rev Gordon Clay Bailey

Happy November to all.  While many in the nation bemoan this season I love it.  The trees back east have usually been a delight this time of year.  But now I’m learning of new wonders.  Here in California its warm, a bit wetter than I expected and incredibly beautiful as it is all year long.  I’m learning about the flowering things that seem to appear almost daily.  And sweet smells as I walk and take in the sights.

This is a big season for me for multiple reasons. I’m celebrating my first Holiday season with you (UUCVH) and feeling pretty good!  I am very fond of this community and have grown to love this place so quickly.  You all make it really easy!

Now comes the hard part, or at least the more rigorous part of why I’m with you.  I’ve got a good feeling that we are on the verge of doing something special here.  It’s the kind of feeling I get when I know the groundwork has been laid and all we, as a community of faith, have to do is reap the harvest.

This congregation has done much work.  You all have sustained a liberal spiritual community in a mostly theologically conservative neighborhood for years. 

You have stood for many good and righteous things like integration and tolerance, love and nonviolence for many years.  Your Unitarian Universalist credentials are good!

Heck, you hired me and that speaks volumes about the kind of community your willing to be.  But, folks, I have to ask more of you.  Now is the time to push up your sleeves again.  I believe we are on the precipice of growth.  I have seen new people coming through our doors, calling and asking questions and even stopping by.

My hope is that we are ready?  Do you feel it?  If not, get ready to jump on board because its time to grow and here are a few things I have in mind that I think will help.

Be passionate. If we are going to grow our congregation, we must be passionate about this ministry. Those in the Bible who accomplished great things were passionate and committed men and women. Elijah was passionate and unafraid when he confronted Ahab, the king (1 Kings 17-19). As a result, he saw a nation touched by an awesome power. So, let’s be passionate men and women of Spirit. Our ministry will be the better for it.

Be open. If UUCVH is going to grow we have got to be open to doing things differently.  This applies to the Sunday Services, the new Soulful Saturday Service (starting Saturday November 14th from 6-7 pm), Religious Education for adults and families, the upkeep of our buildings and grounds, our committees and groups, and, of course, our attitude. 

Being open doesn’t mean what we did before wasn’t good enough.  It means we can, and will, do what it takes to improve, change develop, and make new.  Its about the way we do things around here.  It’s about RADICAL HOSPITALITY!

Be of service.  Yes, this means you! If you’re homebound, maybe you can make phone calls or emails?  If you’re working all day, maybe it’s a few batches of cookies by night to share with a group home or the homeless?  If you’re not sure what gifts and talents you have to share, come by and speak with me one-on -one or in a group to find out exactly which of your many talents you will share. 

Trust me; we all have something good, something right, and something of value to give to this congregation and more importantly to this community.  So, noone is exempt!

I’m looking for us to grow by at least two members each month – twenty to twenty-four this 2015-16 year. 

I know we can do it!  I’ve got a feeling! This year’s going to be a good, good year and it all begins with you!

Lets celebrate November in all of its glory.  For some people this means Thanksgiving, for others a reemergence of traditions from their people long forgotten and needing to be heard, seen, and experienced again. For others, new traditions just recently found.

So I’m wishing you all a Happy November- to All Saints, All So,uls, All People together as one united to bring a message of hope, peace and love to Los Angeles county, Glendale, La Crescenta and all people far and wide.

In faith,

Rev. Gordon Clay Bailey

“Mindfulness” is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

That definition is awesome!  That understanding is very desirable to me.  That way of life is not mine but I would sure like to try to incorporate it into my daily life as I am concerned that if I don’t pay closer attention to all the beauty around me it might be lost to me in a fog of memories come and gone.

So I went on a search and discovery mode and found many interesting and insightful resources.  Clearly Mindfulness as a cultural phenomenon is here to stay.  We as people fro a western ideological standpoint are engaging this important precept.  In a cover story in the November-December issue of Psychology Today, I learned of   paradoxes of living in the moment. Since then, I’ve been trying to live in the moment as much as possible. Whenever I feel upset or worried, I try to bring myself into the present. And when I can I take a few mindful breaths.  Look at my surroundings, and pay attention to the moment.  Wow, have I got a long way to go, but I’m living less in my head and more in the moment now than ever before—and I can feel the difference.

Here are some practical tips to help you on your mindfulness journey.

Meditate. The easiest way to meditate is to simply focus on your breath.   The challenge is to keep your attention on your breathing. Often, your mind will wander and thoughts will arise—and that’s fine. When it happens, just let go of the thought and bring your attention back to the present by focusing once again on your breath.

Use a reminder, something that you can use as a call to attention.  When you notice it, let that serve as a reminder for you to notice your surroundings, become aware of your senses and your bodily sensations, and bring your focus into the present.

Practice slowing down life by attending to the small things of life and experience. Take a minute and go get a handful of rocks or sand. Now look closely don’t just drop them or it. Instead, imagine you’ve never seen a rock before. Look it over carefully. Consider its shape, weight, color, and texture. Rub the rock or sand in your hand.  Notice its feel, texture, color, and weight, all of the qualities.   Remember to focus on what each pebble/rock or grains look like.

Make it new. When you’re cooking, giving a presentation, or even just recounting a favorite story, try to make it new in subtle ways, delivering it in a way you’ve never done before. Rather than performing it by rote, take a risk and try something slightly new—use different seasoning, words, add a pause, try to express a particular emotion to the audience in a new way.

Mind the gap. Whenever you find yourself waiting—for the checkout line to move, for the traffic light to change, for the Web page to load—get present. Instead of being impatient and wishing things would go faster, be grateful for the gift of a respite—for the 30 seconds or a minute or two minutes during which you have no obligations. Take the opportunity to mindfully breathe in, breathe out, and savor the moment.

Focus on your senses. When you observe your surroundings without judging them good or bad, you naturally move your awareness into the present moment.

Close your eyes and focus on your sense of scent and mentally list all the smells you're aware of—the restaurant downstairs, the wet pavement outside, the perfume of a nearby co-worker.

Next, list all the different sounds you can hear—the ventilation system, cars in the distance, and the hum of your a/c unit, texting, and footsteps.

Then, open your eyes and list all the things you see—the rustling of the trees, the faces in the crowd, and the wrinkles on your palm.

Finally, list all the things you can sense that you appreciate—the way a beam of sunlight hits the brick building across the street, the welcome sight of a friend's smile, the smell of cookies baking. Remember, you're not looking for things to appreciate—you're appreciating the things you sense.

With practice, this exercise will put you in a state of relaxed attention that reduces anxiety and makes you feel more fully alive.

That’s ultimately my goal for each of us...  to be more fully alive this day and all the days of our lives.

In faith,

Rev. Gordon Clay Bailey

I’ve traveled the long and sometimes dusty highways and byways of our beautiful continent this past month.  The journey from New York City to La Crescenta has been one that took some twenty years in ministerial aspiration and resulted in my coming to UUCVH as your called minister.

I’ve decided to develop a month-by-month approach to our shared ministry for this coming year.  Id like to start with RELATIONSHIP as the topic for September.  We will look at the many types of relationships that congregational life cultivates.

We can look to ourselves and how we relate within the context of the self as unique beings amongst the billions.  From there, we will venture into our church family and the relationships we have and share here.

Next, we delve into denominational life, activities, UU values, mores, structures and how they affect our individual journeys.

The Adult RE on Building Your Own Theology will kick off on the 20th before church and our engaging World Religions will begin on the 22nd in the evening.  Both of these are natural to UU identities, both of these enlist and engage our UU principles and purposes.

Lastly, I want to take us into a critical analysis of our relationship to La Cresenta, Glendale, LA County and beyond if we make it that far.  What do we ultimately desire for our congregation?  How shall we draw closer to the peoples, cultures, and diversity of this beautiful community.

So, here is a quote that says a lot about how I am operating-

Empathy is the starting point for creating a community and taking action. It's the impetus for creating change. -- Max Carver

And, here is a quote for activating our bodies, mind and spirit-

In our religious tradition, it is not just ministers and religious professionals who have power to bless. Each of us has to bless another, and to bless the world. Therefore I invite everyone here to participate in this blessing. The words are ordinary words, but we make the blessing real through our shared intention.

In closing, Id like to seek your help -- for in order to do this work together we need to develop a paradigm that is open.

We are constituted so that simple acts of kindness, such as giving to charity or expressing gratitude, have a positive effect on our long-term moods. The key to the happy life, it seems, is the good life: a life with sustained relationships, challenging work, and connections to community. -- Paul Bloom

Dear Friends, let our lives together begin in earnest and let the love guide us in all we do!

In faith,
Rev. Gordon