Dear Friends

We have two special services in the next week, and we hope to see you and your friends and family if possible. On Sunday morning we will conclude Advent by lighting the fourth candle representing Love. My sermon will focus on Mary and her song of joy, the Magnificat, as found in Luke 1:46-55. On Christmas Eve at 6 pm we will celebrate the mystery and the beauty of the incarnation. We will hear the ancient story and one rendered in the ancient story from Luke 2:1-20 as well as a contemporary version by Todd Atkins-Whitley that brings the old story into the present. Join us on this night when God comes to us in the form of a child and experience spiritual re-birth through the birth of Jesus. I hope to see you! Merry Christmas! Rev. Jim
Rev. Jim Mitulski

From Pastor Carol …

How do you thank people for incredibly loving and generous hearts? I am so grateful to all of you for your fond and affirming farewells, and wonderful gifts. So I offer a few words – first from Sunday’s message.

Remember in the days and weeks ahead to: Show Up… Pay Attention… Tell the Truth… and Be Open to the Outcome. (Thank you, Angeles Arrien.) This is a life-giving practice which I am sure will lead you as individuals and as a congregation into a wonderful future.

Secondly from poet, meditator, and yoga practitioner, Danna Faulds:

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear
fantasies, failures, and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, your practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.

May you continue to be blessed, and live as blessings to others –       Carol

Draw the Circle Wide

It’s always a special joy to worship on LGBTQ Pride weekend. This is a not just standing up for equality and justice for our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. It is also a reminder that ours is a God of love, without condemnation or fear, and that all are created in the image of God. ALL. These are our friends and our families. The United Church of Christ has taken a lead for over 40 years in championing LGBTQ rights and equality, but the effect is not even, or universal, and there is much work to be done. It starts – as so many things do – with one-on-one relationships, letting people know they are valued and safe; even revered for the gifts they bring to family and community. At the close of worship we sang “Draw the Circle Wide,” with the chorus:
          Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still;
          Let this be our song, no one stands alone,
          Standing side by side, draw the circle wide.
No one stands alone. Inspired by Jesus, who welcomed all, draw your circle wide and wider still, and imagine ways that Island United Church can be that welcoming circle for the LGBTQ community on the peninsula. After all, we have a sign over the front patio that says “Welcome Home!”
Blessings,   – Pastor Carol

What Is It?

Jesus keeps telling his disciples that the kin-dom of God (or realm, reign, etc.) is like a whole bunch of interesting things…a pearl, leaven, a sower, seed, yeast, treasure, a merchant, a net, a landowner … huh? Now we are all thoroughly confused. What is it?? It is a place where all people are fed in body and spirit….a place where all people are free and respected….a place where compassion reigns over competition and negativism….a place where forgiveness and grace count for more than accomplishments and winning….a place that belongs to children and the young….a place where there are no weapons of destruction….a place where attributes like skin color, sexual orientation, gender expression, language or dress are interesting, but do not define people. Rather, it is the quality of their hearts. Maybe it’s even a place where the diverse, the wild, and the puzzling are valued as just more manifestations of the images of God.

Of course, the realm of God is not a “place.”  It is to be built and cultivated inside of ourselves individually and communally.  The realm of God – which is a world changed by daring compassion and justice – is not a thing for which we can create blueprints, cost estimates, and then go out and build it. Frankly, anybody can do that. What we are called to do as God’s people, as brothers and sisters, is to continue and expand the work to heal a hurting world. If we are not doing that, then we are not working on the realm of God.

Blessings,   – Pastor Carol

Always Room for Gratitude

Scripture and other wisdom literature remind us to be grateful; to be thankful. Gratitude is one of the core values of every religious tradition. We even have medical evidence that adopting gratitude as a life practice is good for our health. If it’s so good for body and soul, why is it so difficult to do? We came up with a few reasons: (1) We are just so darn busy, programmed with tasks and worries, that we don’t feel like we can take “time out” – even for a minute. (2) Complaining is contagious and when we are around complaining people, it’s hard to be grateful. We need to extricate ourselves from whine-fests. (3) We really are ungrateful, or acting that way – but most likely we are unhappy rather than ungrateful. Try breaking a seemingly insurmountable problem down into manageable pieces and likely there is room for gratitude. (4) We get complacent. Everything is going well for us. Besides, we work so hard and deserve all this goodness we have. Try reclaiming the awesomeness of the universe. It’s not all about you! (5) We have been spared true disaster and loss in life, and the accompanying experience of just being grateful for life, breath, a small keepsake, and those we love.
Remember to begin and end each day with a grateful heart.

Blessings,   – Pastor Carol


Jesus was perpetually involved in controversy.  He knew the letter of the Law as well as the Pharisees, but he had the spirit part down, too. He grasped the meaning and intention with which God had infused the “rules.”  That understanding permitted him to heal people on the sabbath, eat with tax collectors and other offensive sorts, and rescue women being stoned for adultery.  He was freed up to show love in action. By contrast, others appeared to care only for rules, and nothing about an ethic of humane justice.  Too often faith leaders mistake human interpretations of God’s hopes and intentions for our living to be, in fact, the iron-clad word of God.  Maybe the Pharisees thought they were faithfully upholding God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, but it is easy to see how values can turn oppressive.

Sometimes rules must be ignored in the interest of preserving life – physical and spiritual. What does it mean when Jesus breaks rules? Is this blanket permission for all people of faith to get disobedient? I’ve marched; I’ve protested; I’ve lain down in a street. But no, it’s not wild justification or a blank check for whatever view or action we choose.  When Jesus broke the rules as he did with the sabbath healings, he did so to lift up God’s priorities:  Do good. Save and enhance life. Marginalization, discrimination, violence, hatred, and so forth, even dressed up with righteousness and legalities, still show that holy priorities are being undercut by personal or collective human interests.  When Jesus broke rules, he did so for others, not for his own personal gain.  Convoluted justifications for the unjust rules some so passionately defend are of no interest to God. God only desires that we “do good” and “save life,” even if it means breaking rules.

                                          – Pastor Carol    

Stumbling Along in the Dark

The world is full of all sorts of smart, creative, dedicated and very articulate people.  We can be in awe of them and feel dumb and inadequate by comparison.  Don’t do that!  We all have “empty spaces” in terms of what we do not know.  We are ignorant.  There are things we aren’t trained to do.  We are all full of unanswered questions that threaten to swamp us in mystery and sometimes irrationality.  Basically, we are all ignorant and unprepared, and God has always sent the ignorant and unprepared to do holy work!

God has filled us with purpose and equipped us with everything we need to step forward into the fog.  Jesus, the prophets like Isaiah, and characters in scripture like Nicodemus were all subsumed in their questions and wonderings, but went ahead anyway.  “Send me,” said Isaiah.  Nicodemus followed Jesus even though his questions about the nature of the man were never answered.  Questions are important.  The poet Rilke tells us to “live the questions,” in fact to “love the questions like locked rooms … and books now written in a very foreign tongue…and live along some distant day into the answer.”  God needs you and loves you.  The church needs you and loves you.  Believe it.

                                                                                – Pastor Carol    

Do We Hear All the Voices?

The Day of Pentecost was not about speaking suddenly in different tongues. It was about being able to hear in a new way – and understand across differences. Like birth, our most difficult moments are often just before the wonderful joy, release, and discovery of how God has worked in our midst. Just when voices are most confusing, contentious, or depressing is when we must listen intently. We may be right at the moment of Spirit-led understanding!  The important voice in our midst may be hard to discern because sometimes it whispers rather than shouts – speaking difficult words, or calling us to work which seems impossible or unpleasant. It is also the voice which asks us to play and rejoice like children, loving one another simply and wholly.

It is the voice of God.  God did not stop speaking when a small group of people decided that the Bible was “finished.”  To this day, God finds new ways to be heard. When we truly hear God’s voice – hear it speaking to us in new ways, languages we did not expect but are open enough to understand – then we will live in a new way, and others will see and feel it. We will take down assumptions which insulate us and become one larger body with those around us. Remember the Pentecost fire? We must have fire within us to live differently and step outside our comfort zones. God’s realm of peace and justice, of shalom, of wholeness, does not come easily. God asks us to do uncomfortable things – radically uncomfortable things, like Jesus did. Hang out with the “wrong” people, the despised, the dubious. Challenge authority. Justice demands of us a fire in the gut, and the understanding that turning our backs, hunkering down and living in the same silos we have always inhabited with people who are just like us … is neither permissible, nor possible. Hear the voices.  Blessings,

                                                                                                       – Pastor Carol    

The Strongest of All Possible Loves

Mother-love is one very strong form of love. Jesus teaches us the strong, and life-giving, love of God. By some analysis, Jesus might be considered a very feminine character. He does not show macho traits of control or violence. He expresses outrage at injustice, rather than unbridled anger. He is humble and a peacemaker, but he is outspoken. He allows himself to be vulnerable. He expresses care for people, especially for children. He is sensitive to the plights of oppressed women. He feeds people. He touches people. He weeps. These would be stereotypically female activities or qualities in the ancient world, yet gospel writers think nothing of lifting up all of these aspects of Jesus.

I suggest that the eucharistic statement to “do this in remembrance of me” might be rethought as doing aspects of our living in a motherly, Jesus way. In fact, try this. Mentally say “be,” rather than “do.” Be this in remembrance of me. Be filled with the strong love manifested by Jesus, and all the women of the faith. Remember the love and power of the mothers of the Black church – the glue that has held the church together for generations. Be filled with the strong love that your mother or a mother-figure gave you, even when you were furious at her, or disappointed in her. Or even when your mother-figure was a man. For those who knew mistreatment at the hands of a mother figure, can you find strong mother love in God, in Jesus? It is there. Can you find a channel for that strong love to flow from your heart and mind out into a world that desperately needs mothering in so many ways? I hope so. There are angry, abusive individuals in our world, and we will all be better if we can free ourselves to give – and gracefully to receive – a little divine mothering.

Blessings,      – Pastor Carol

Love is Hard Work

Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you,” seems simple, but we know how hard it is to live out when “the other” is someone you instinctively don’t like, or you find their behavior or politics reprehensible. Or worse, when it’s someone you have been taught or influenced to despise.   Sadly, some people have been raised actively to hate. They are taught. Nelson Mandela wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. [and you might fill in the characteristic of your choice here, visible or invisible]. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Jesus was on to something psychologically. Truly, throughout history, while love comes more naturally, people have been taught to hate, to carry forward old, tired, hurtful prejudices. The Broadway musical South Pacific told of a relationship across ethnic lines, and the issue of racial prejudice. The romance between a young U.S. naval lieutenant and an Asian woman, is fraught with his fears of the social consequences of marrying her. Before he sings the particularly controversial song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” Lt. Cable’s script line is “racism is not born in you. It happens after you’re born…” So the instruction to love one another is simple in words but can be difficult to live out. In the last fifteen years, as the struggle for marriage equality across genders wound its way through society and the courts, a favorite mantra was “It’s just love,” against a rainbow background. Of course, it’s just love, but it was remarkably hard to get through all that people have been “carefully taught” in upbringing and prejudices. My friends, hopes and prayers for change are not enough. To love one another means to work hard, and take action to make it real.

Blessings,      – Pastor Carol