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Before yesterdayQuest for Meaning

What A Wonder-Full World

1 May 2023 at 00:09

Often, when people find out that I was a scientist before becoming a minister, they make assumptions about how my brain works, or about how I must see the world. These assumptions are based in a perception of science as cold, distant, and rational. And while it is true that I bring a certain rational brain to bear on collecting and analyzing data, that skill is reserved for when it is truly needed.

Instead, my science background invites me to see magic and mystery in the world around me. It invites me to wonder at everyday occurrences—to find the special and the sacred in the blooming crocus, the varied songs of the cardinal, the laughter of children, and the storm blowing in from across the river.

My science background invites me to see all of these things as intricately interconnected to all of existence, and to marvel at how complex it all is.

My science background invites me to realize that the depth of that complexity means that it is impossible that humans will ever understand it fully.

Too often, people see science as an attempt to do just that—to understand everything fully. But any good scientist will tell you that every new discovery brings with it a new depth of understanding of what is still not known. Every question answered means two more questions asked. As Physicist John Archibald Wheeler once said, “We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”

My experience of science is that it asks me to see our world as full of wonder. Full of possibilities for understanding. Full of questions that are exciting to pursue.

Many times as a graduate student in cell biology, I holed myself up in a small, dark room with a very large microscope for hours as I experimented on immune cells taken from lungs.  My experiments examined the movement of those cells, and on testing whether the proteins I studied stimulated those cells to move.

It was amazing and humbling to understand that the things I did on the large scale made those cells move on the microscopic one. There, in that small, dark room, looking at those very tiny cells, I could not help but be overwhelmed by my connection to a vast and unfathomable universe.  I could not help but be filled with a sense of wonder and awe.

petri dish


In this world away from that microscope room, I also see wonder and awe everywhere.

I want to invite you into this wonder-full way of experiencing the world. This way in which everything is an exciting and sacred thing.

When next you read about a scientific study, I want you to imagine the scientists who produced it. I want you to imagine them in their labs, or field stations, or conference rooms. Imagine them asking questions—lots and lots of questions. Imagine them getting more and more excited by the questions before them. And then imagining them figuring out how they are going to ask those questions in their work. Not how they will answer them—but how they will ask them.

When next you experience something you don’t understand (and for me, that is almost every moment of every day), ask questions about it. Change your questions and see if it changes your experience of that thing. Ask other people what their questions are and see if those questions change your experience. Enter into the world of wonder. It’s a wonderful place.


1 May 2023 at 00:08

How do you access a sense of wonder? What does wonder feel like?

CLF Member, incarcerated WI

I remember how excited I always got as a kid at an approaching thunderstorm. It always started with me smelling the charged Earth in the breeze. Then the feel of warm wind mixed with cool. The fast approaching thunder clouds signaled the parade of the oncoming natural light show. Fingers of lightning streaking across the deepening gray sky. Then the reverberating boom of cackling lightning growling down at us small people below. It always made me feel like a spy on Mother Nature’s most active display of beauty. The thrill of such power felt like a roller coaster that never lets you down!

And the softening of the end of the great scene let me feel relieved that I wasn’t set on fire on the spot by a stray bolt of lightning, each time I watched a storm. I was aware of the danger it posed. In nature’s everyday workings is wonder beyond my wildest dreams. A baby bird learning to fly, a car crash avoided in split seconds, a last minute three pointer from my favorite basketball player at the buzzer for the win.

All of these things seem ordinary at first. But when observed, one can easily tell that there is a hint of brilliance hiding in every act. What is there not to find wonder in once one realizes this fact?!

lightening storm


Article II Reflections

1 May 2023 at 00:07

In a recent Quest article titled “Embracing the Living Tradition,” Rev. Dr. Michael Tino shared more about the work of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Article II Study Commission, and the changes they are proposing to our Association’s Bylaws. These changes propose new language for how we articulate the center of this faith tradition, replacing our Principles with seven core Values. We have received numerous responses to that article and the proposed changes, some of which are shared below.


CLF Member, incarcerated in NC

Inclusiveness is what drew me to the CLF. At 63, I have explored many faiths, endeavoring To chart a path and find a spiritual home.

I grew up Christian, as a member of the United Methodist Church. Being gay, I knew that the dogma of traditional Christian churches fluctuated from “love the sinner; hate the sin,” to outright abhorrence, considering me an “abomination” in God’s eyes.

Seeking a place, I drifted to the Roman Catholic Church, going from mild disdain to sheer condemnation. Yet, I found a certain measure of comfort in the liturgy and ritual, and a presence of the Divine amidst the incense, prayers and Eucharist. Still, I could not be me.

I joined the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) — the “gay” church. At last, I thought, I have found a place. I became sadly disillusioned when the MCC visitors came to see me only to develop relationships with younger, better looking inmates they asked to be introduced to.

I left the MCC and explored Buddhism, seeking the inner peace so elusive in my life. While Buddhism did offer comfort, I wanted a connection to the Divine.

For 9 years I practiced Wicca. I even attended Wiccan Seminary and became a First Degree Wicca Priest — a Witch. I should also point out that I hold a degree in Pastoral Ministry from Seminary Extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Nashville, TN.

I felt “at home” in Wicca, only to be again disenchanted by our Coven’s High Priest, who, contrary to Wicca belief, used our services to lambaste all other faiths and employed foul language to do so.

I briefly explored Humanism, but I fundamentally believe in “God.”

No, not an old bearded white man sitting on a gold throne, smiting all who cross “Him.”

Rather, I believe in the Divine God without sex, without race, who is love.

Then, I discovered the CLF. I can’t say exactly how it happened, to be quite honest. Maybe it was the work of that Divine Creator, who I had prayed to, begged for mercy, help.

It was in Unitarian Universalism that I found that beautiful inclusiveness, that spiritual liberty to embrace those elements of any or no particular faith, and to chart my own path. Here I could embark on my own spiritual journey, unique to me as my DNA.

I can combine the love of Christ, the wisdom of the Buddha, the ritual prayers of Catholicism, the peace of Islam the Mystical qualities of Wicca, and make my own spiritual “vegetable soup” using the very best of all faiths as I continue this beautiful journey called life.

The Article II as described in Quest captures the tradition of Unitarian Universalism as a living faith. UUism is not mired in dogma with an unwillingness to progress as humanity does. Who could doubt that were Christ to be on earth today that he would not avail the use of social media?

Illustration of the new Article II language

Illustration of the new Article II language by Kavin, CLF member incarcerated in OH

As I study the image of the new Article II language, I ponder the meaning of each:

Interdependence: No one is an island. As the Baha’i say, “The world is one nation, mankind its citizens…” We are all neighbors on this tiny blue speck in this great universe.

Equity: We are all equal. There is a sanctity in life. All lives matter. Race, ethnicity, gender, identity, sexual orientation, are of no consequence.

Transformation: Everyone has the capacity to “do good.” There are no “evil” people, only poor choices. All have the spirit of the Divine dwelling within, with the power of this transformation.

Pluralism: Every faith practiced by humanity has worth. Labels are but a device of humans and like race, gender, origin, has. no consequence. There is room at the table for all.

Generosity: It is only in giving that we can experience a taste of the very Divine which we claim to worship. Love one another is, perhaps, the greatest of all commandments. The poor, homeless, sick, aged, imprisoned, orphaned, abused — are not these our fellow humans equally created in the image of the Divine?

Justice: It is indeed sad that America ranks third in human history (behind Hitler’s Nazi regime and Stalinist Russia) to imprison such a huge percentage of its people. The US is but 4% of earth’s population, but this country houses 20% of the world’s incarcerated people. Justice isn’t justice until it is truly justice for all.

So you see, UU embraces the very best of what it means to be human. I, for one, am glad I was somehow led to the altar of acceptance, love, mercy, and a congregation where my past does not define me.

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.

CLF member, incarcerated in NC

My reaction is simple: I love it. One of the main characteristics of the Unitarian Universalist faith that I felt so strongly about was what I will call “evolution.” This evolution of growth and the ability to honestly and continually re-visit the Association’s bylaws in order to not only stay current but ensure progress is, I believe, a necessity.



Doctrines and dogma have destroyed tons of potential in other organizations who may have otherwise progressed in spiritual growth. It’s sad, but very true. By embracing a living tradition, we are setting a fantastic example, one that I believe that great spiritual teachers such as Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, Moses, etc. would all approve of. I often look to the greats for inspiration, and this bylaw inspires me in and of itself.

In response to whether or not I am interested in learning more about the process and language, I definitely am. Today, I live and breathe spiritual knowledge mainly because of the deep impact it has had not only on my life but on those closest to me. Altruism has become a life-long goal and a driving force in many people’s lives who have been fortunate enough to find organizations just like this one. I thank you all and hope that Unitarian Universalism continues to be a beacon of light in a harsh world.


1 May 2023 at 00:06

Prison life has beaten the hell out of me. It has helped me to learn not to be hardheaded, when God is trying to teach me something. For these lessons, I thank God.

Life is a painful struggle, but only the dead need not struggle. For these struggles, I thank God.

Working through the trials and tribulations that have made me stronger, and when that pain mysteriously turns into beauty. For the trials, tribulations, and pain, I thank God.

“Prison Wisdom” by Leo Cardez

“Prison Wisdom” by Leo Cardez

When I can use my strengths, to help others who are going through what I have endured — for what good is being strong, unless it can be used to help the weak? For those opportunities, I thank God.

Honest friendships, deep conversations, and a good laugh, even in the midst of chaos, I thank God.

The opportunity to focus my energy into making needed changes in my thinking; that even behind these bars, I can make a positive shift in my outlook. For these changes, I thank God.

Food, water, and shelter — for these basic necessities whom so many lack, I thank God.

For getting into shape and living a healthier lifestyle removed from my addictions, I thank God.

For all those who go out of their way, to make things harder than they need to be; For all the inmates who whine and complain about anything and everything;

For all the friends and family who turned their back on me in my darkest hour, and chose hate instead of love, anger instead of compassion, animosity instead of understanding, and rancor instead of forgiveness;

For all the frustrations that come with a life lived inside a concrete jungle on the fringes of society — all of which drove me to do what I didn’t before: give my life to Jesus Christ. For all these people, I thank God.

For this soul-saving intervention that has opened my eyes and heart to the importance of real family, loyal friends, unflinching love, and to the God who made it all.

For all of this, I will forever thank God.

Quest May 2023

1 May 2023 at 00:00

May 2023

Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. -Socrates


    What A Wonder-Full World

    Rev. Dr. Michael Tino
    Often, when people find out that I was a scientist before becoming a minister, they make assumptions about how my brain works, or about how I must see the world. Read more »


    Quest for Meaning
    How do you access a sense of wonder? What does wonder feel like? Read more »

    Article II Reflections

    Quest for Meaning
    In a recent Quest article titled “Embracing the Living Tradition,” Rev. Dr. Michael Tino shared more about the work of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Article II Study Commission, and the changes they are proposing to our Association’s Bylaws. Read more »


    Quest for Meaning
    Prison life has beaten the hell out of me. It has helped me to learn not to be hardheaded, when God is trying to teach me something. For these lessons, I thank God. Read more »

Keep on Imagining

1 April 2023 at 00:10

Suzelle and Brad have been pen pals for years. They wrote this exploration of imagination together.

Suzelle:  Imagination is human magic. It gives us the power to make mental pictures and feel feelings beyond the input of our senses. It helps us believe, remember, reason, fantasize and solve problems! Imagination misused fuels our fears, but more often it beckons us toward a better life.

I always thought I had a good imagination. I’m a writer, an artist, and a songwriter… But I never imagined I could have a rich, beautiful, loving friendship with somebody like Brad the Dad, a young incarcerated Black man who grew up on the streets in poverty, fear, and violence.

Brad the Dad:  Imagine a child born to a single mother addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol. She has utter disregard for this child; his basic needs are at war with the merciless enemy, crack, and only one desire can be fulfilled. The child loses every time…

There is no father. Often, there are no lights, heat, or hot water; no food or rules; no love, attention, or affection. There’s only crack smoke, empty beer cans, and strange men coming and going day and night. And if the child cries from hunger, he’s fed punches to the face to shut him up.

Imagine a child who wanted to be Superman; who dreamed of being a lawyer or policeman; who dreamed of his mother loving him and his daddy being home. Feel the bite of cold, hard steel around his tiny wrists; the loneliness, fear and sadness of being locked in jail for trying to protect and earn the love of a mother who cursed the day he was born. Honestly, would it surprise anyone if this child answered the call of self-preservation and took to the streets?

Now imagine the surprise of this child grown to adulthood, in a prison cell, watching TV as a crowd of black and white people march through the streets, professing “Black Lives Matter!” I thought it was some kind of a hoax. Frustrated and angry, I asked myself, “Who are these Black Lives everyone claims to matter…?”

Suzelle:  It was my congregation and me that Brad saw on the TV news.  We were marching to fight the dismissal of charges against the police officer who murdered Jay Anderson, Jr., a young black man from our neighborhood.

Brad wrote to me. He asked. “Does my black life matter? Does my son’s black life matter? Or is it just the black lives who are dead that matter?” His question hit my face like a dash of cold water. We began writing back and forth.

Brad the Dad: Throughout the 20 years I’ve been incarcerated, I’ve always imagined myself as something greater than the six-digit number the prison system assigned me. I HAD to imagine in order to survive. I’ve spent more than ten years in solitary confinement, with one stint lasting almost four years straight. Having a vivid imagination and hope is the ONLY way to survive the hole for such a duration. You must be able to live in your mind and work towards something greater for tomorrow. I imagined myself as the most loving and understanding father the world has ever seen, and the most supportive, loving, and loyal husband a wife could ask for. I imagined I was smart; a scholar even, so I studied and read a lot of books. I imagined myself as a Freedom Fighter. Despite the barriers the prison administration placed in front of me, I never ceased to imagine. To believe. To hope.

Suzelle:  I didn’t understand Brad at first. I thought he wanted help from me. I asked a committee of my congregation to assist, but they returned only fear and suspicion. But Brad had imagined something far more powerful than help: he imagined honest conversations, a sharing of laughs and lives, caring support for his son.  In a word, he imagined kinship.  And that is what we now have — Brad and me, my partner, Brad’s wife, his son, and Lynn and Marc — a wonderful couple from my former congregation who wrote to Brad when I could not. We are a circle of kin, companions on life’s path. We love each other; we listen and learn from each other.

Brad the Dad:  I never knew exactly how I would bring my imaginings to fruition, but I always believed I would.  Now I can proudly profess to you that I stand here today as a loving husband of an amazing wife, who has enriched my life beyond anything I could have ever imagined; a supportive father of a wonderful son and step daughter. I am a college scholar with a 3.8 grade point average, and I am a staunch defender of the freedoms and liberties of all people, regardless of age, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. So much love is reciprocated between my great friends Suzelle and Lynn and me, and their partners, whose friendship and support has helped me turn my imagination into reality. We have all dared to hope, believe, and imagine something beyond the boxes of each of our cultural or social demographics. I encourage you to have the courage to do the same.

Black Lives Matter



1 April 2023 at 00:08

What role does imagination play in your life?

CLF Member, incarcerated TX

Imagination has had a major role in my life ever since I was a little boy. My imagination started and grew, from my shoe box full of G.I. Joe vs. Cobra action figures. I’d create story lines, and they’d be my actors for my imaginative movie. To be honest, that carried on until I was 17 years old. At that time, I gave my action figures to my oldest nephew.

Then, I started writing short stories, getting critique and advice from my Reading and English teachers in high school. By 20, I went online to find out how a screenplay is properly written and formatted. After reading a couple of screenplays online, like Die Hard and The Sixth Sense, I started writing my own screenplays.

Every day, I have new ideas and imaginative plots for stories, screenplays, and novels. Being able to go into my world of imagination really helps me to be able to cope and manage a cool mind and time while in prison. Of course, movies, commercials, TV shows, classic literature and novels, really help to spark an idea and let my imagination fly and take me into a place of wonderful, awesome, and potential possibilities. I’d be one lost and crazy individual without my imagination. I’m very thankful for the imagination I have and hope one day, I can use it to help and bless others.



CLF Member, incarcerated WI

Your mind controls whether you live in a paradise, or hell. Imagination gives us the power to believe, and push the limits. My imagination has granted me ideas, innovation; the natural outcome of creative thinking. The proper use of imagination is to give beauty to the world.

CLF Member, incarcerated FL

When we’re incarcerated we lose a lot, but one of the main things we lose is our ability to connect to the world. We become very isolated, and we start to forget the world outside this one — our dreams even start to become defined by the parameters of prison. Our interpretation can become distorted through the prism that is prison.

Our imagination plays the vital role of keeping us connected to the outside world.

We use our imagination in a variety of ways: we tell stories about our life before incarceration, or imagine what we’ll be doing upon release. We imagine playing games with our kids, of having intimate moments with loved ones; we use artistic mediums to remember the world as we once saw it, or re-imagine it in a way that renews our connection to it. There is no shortage of inventive ways that those of us in prison use our imagination as a means to feel connected to a world that some of us haven’t seen in decades.

I will tell you the three main ways I use my imagination as a means of connection. First, I am a constant student. I enjoy learning; I love to study philosophy, sociology, and politics. I strive to understand reasons. My love of studying started with myself: I was 20 years old, facing down the rest of my life in prison, and did not understand why. I needed to figure it out. I wanted to know what happened to me that caused me to want to be someone who inflicted pain. This led me down a rabbit hole in which I found some of those answers, and also led to me finding myself, and being able to imagine how I fit in the world.

Next, I am a writer. I write a variety of things, but my passion lies with poetry and short-fiction: this is where I can play with ideas of identity and emotion. Writing helps me to imagine the world in new ways, the type of people that exist in it, and how we’re all connected to it. It allows me to imagine an existence beyond the walls. When I write, I am in a different world — connected to it, not in a prison cell.

Lastly, I use imagination with the people I correspond with. I have been told that I can be quite an inquisitive person, it is only because I desire to know. I’ve spent my entire 20s and almost all of my 30s in prison, and the experiences that people normally have at that age — things that helped them discover themselves — are things I didn’t get. I live somewhat vicariously through others’ stories. I rely on their information when discussing an array of topics, to hypothesize my own likes/dislikes and desires/needs. The more detail, the better I can imagine. It is through those interactions that I can see the world.

My imagination for me, and for others in my position, is about maintaining a connection to other people and the world. It is a necessary component to staying a person, instead of becoming a prisoner.



CLF Member, incarcerated FL

Imagination has always played a big role in my life. As kids we often imagine ourselves as superheroes or any other type of fictional hero. As we grow up, so does our imagination. As a teenager, I used to imagine myself as a firefighter or a police officer (still heroes, but more reality based). Now as an incarcerated man, I truly understand the power of a good, strong imagination.

Relaxed thinking is the key to your imagination, and imagination is the key to your power and talent. As an incarcerated man, I have time to think clearly. Once activated, it’s easy to find and focus on your power and talent. For some it’s drawing, and for others it may be writing or story telling. For me it’s all of the above. I tell stories in graphic novel form, so my imagination is always going, even while I sleep. For all people in the free-world or who are incarcerated, if you want to be successful or just happy in life, my advice is to slow down. Close your eyes and let your imagination guide you to your true calling. Blessed be.

Children decorating rocks


CLF Member, incarcerated MD

I have discovered that the most powerful super power in the Universe is the imagination.

Imagination dictates every single thing I do. Many people may be unaware how our imagination creates everything around us. As a lifelong artist I know this to be true. Before I draw, I imagine. Before I sleep, I imagine. Before I awake, I imagine. It is a fact that dreams are mere imagination run wild.

What I do is allow my imagination to combine with the actions that will lead to my revealing the imagined thing simply by not interfering. In Buddhism, this is said to be what Zen is: the mind and actions moving effortlessly in unison.

My imagination gives me inspiration to contribute to a future world where everyone loves one another and shares all of earth’s resources for the good of the whole planet. Those that are using their imagination in the same way will quicken this imagining into physical reality.

If I never learned to just let my imagination live free I would be one of the most miserable people alive. I believe I only exist simply because I imagine it!

In Passing

1 April 2023 at 00:07
By: Vylet

A poem by Ultra Vylet.
In Passing

UUA General Assembly – Pittsburgh – June 21-25, 2023

1 April 2023 at 00:06

Would you like to represent the Church of the Larger Fellowship at General Assembly (GA) this summer?

GA June 21-25 2023

The CLF is entitled to 22 delegates at the UUA’s General Assembly, which will be held both online and in-person in Pittsburgh, PA from June 21-25, 2023. You will be able to attend online or in-person workshops, programs, and worship services. Proof of vaccination for COVID-19 is required to attend in person.

As a delegate you will vote on association business during General Sessions. General Sessions will be held from 2:30-5:30pm ET on 6/22-6/24 and 2:00-4:00pm PT on 6/25.  Delegates should be able to be online or in person to attend the majority of these General Sessions. CLF delegates vote their conscience on matters related to the denomination of Unitarian Universalism, and are responsible for their own expenses. There is no set registration fee for delegates who are attending only for business virtually at General Sessions.

If you’d like to participate in GA 2023 in this role, please fill out the online application here. Visit the UUA’s GA website for details.

Quest April 2023

1 April 2023 at 00:00

April 2023

Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning. -Gloria Steinem


Quest March 2023

1 March 2023 at 00:10

March 2023

The best way out is always through. -Robert Frost


Persistence is a Group Activity

1 March 2023 at 00:09

When Rev. Michael Tino reached out to me and asked me to reflect on persistence, I laughed and laughed. The dictionary definition of persistence calls it “an obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.” As a person with ADHD, I am pretty much the opposite of the definition of persistence. My squirrel brain is easily distracted and finds anything new more interesting than something old. I have been known to make to-do lists and then think I have already done the task. I am then surprised that my laundry is still in the bag by the door because I was sure that I had done laundry. I mean, I wrote it down!

This essay is already three days late.

In 2017, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts read a letter from Coretta Scott King into the record on the Senate floor. As she continued to read it, Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told her to stop. After much back and forth, the Republican majority voted to silence her for the remainder of the hearings.

Afterward, McConnell explained himself: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

That line became a full-throated rallying cry for many people. It resonated deeply within a broad U.S. culture that lays out the idea that persistence in the face of opposition is a sign of strength. Warren didn’t take no for an answer. We love that stuff. We read story after feel-good story of the person who tried for years to accomplish their goal and then did, through persistence.

If only we try hard enough, we are told, we will be able to succeed at whatever we put our mind to. Our single-minded commitment will overcome all obstacles. Persisting, someone decided, is something that a person does or does not do. Keep going. Don’t stop. Continue in the face of opposition. Just Do It.

But hand in hand with that idea is the ugly underbelly that if persisting will get us to our goal, then if we don’t accomplish something, it will be our fault for not continuing. Just Do It. And if you don’t do it, it’s your fault.


Joking aside, there are plenty of things at which I’ve persisted. I have completed complex tasks, essays written, children fed, courses completed, and painted rooms. But I never did them alone. That’s the myth that we persist independently.

I think persistence is not an individual character trait. It’s a group activity, and we should understand it as part of community care.

Persistence is collective. It is in the endurance of actions of those who would not give up on me when I gave up on myself. It’s the support of our family and friends and even strangers. It’s the people who grow our food, even people we pay to help us do those things we cannot accomplish alone. Persistence is in the people who let me sleep on their couch while I commuted from Philly to N.Y. for school. It’s the people who took me in and fed and watered me when my mental health collapsed in on itself. It’s the people who send me cards with stickers in them to remind me I am loved. We move forward together.


Persistence is a group of people moving toward their goals. Taking turns, like geese flying in formation, take turns at the front, at that hardest bit. As a community, we take turns with the things we are best at and alternate our effort at the most challenging activities. We persist collectively in the face of collective opposition.

Wonder what happened to the letter by Coretta Scott King? Senator Jeff Merkley read it into the Senate record. Warren persisted, and then Merkley continued. Someone else completed the task she set out to do.

Persistence is a group activity. All of us persist together, supporting one another when and how we can, accepting the help of others. This group activity is part of how we all get free together.


1 March 2023 at 00:08

What is the value of persistence? When have you struggled with it, or felt its benefits?

CLF Member, incarcerated WI

Persistence drives people to accomplish great things. I have struggled with persistence throughout my life, I put limits on the tasks I take on, and at times, I take on too many tasks. I keep it up, because I can feel the benefits of 90% of my persistence.


CLF Member, incarcerated in MD

Ever since my first incarceration at age 14, I have been meditating with the goal to escape my physical body. I sucked at meditation at first! I would either fall asleep trying to do it, or give up out of boredom. But I had read every book about the subject, so I knew that the goal to escape my body was possible.

One day in 2004 while I spent the summer in solitary confinement, I had read a book that gave me the key I was missing. It said: lay down. Plug your ears and cover your eyes, deprive yourself of all senses. Relax. Breathe easy, don’t concentrate on anything but leaving your body. Once you feel your body begin to feel loose, commit to forcing your consciousness up and out of your forehead, and don’t stop this course, come whatever may. I did this. I felt the looseness as if I were half asleep and half awake. Then came swirling white light in a cyclone type motion behind my eyelids that began to increase more and more as I looked at it and forced my mind upward and outward. Suddenly the swirling light began to make the sound of a tidal wave, like crashing water in my ears. It grew louder and louder as I forced my concentration upward. Without warning my body felt light as a feather, as if I was laying down on the floor of an elevator as it was going up.

This feeling increased until I felt myself being sucked through the cyclone like a wind tunnel. Within seconds I was surrounded by darkness so thick that it felt tangible. I was aware that this experience was real and that I was no longer in my body. I sought to prove it by waving my hand before my eyes. What I saw was an imprint of atoms that made up what was my physical hand. I had no words for this experience other than utter amazement. I saw no up or down, only space.

I became afraid that a guard might come up to my door and think I was unresponsive, so I sought a way to get back in my physical vehicle. There were no sounds to hear, nothing to see. Suddenly a thought occurred to me. Since I felt myself ascending, and I saw the light atoms of what made up my hand, if I pushed myself back down into my body I should be okay.

As I thought this idea, I began to feel myself descending. I kept pushing myself down until I suddenly heard voices, the same waves crashing and swirling white light. I had the feeling of being shocked awake as when someone makes a loud bang and one wakes with their nerves buzzing. Then I could feel the shirt over my eyes and toilet paper balls I used as ear plugs in my ears. I moved my hand before my face and saw only the fabric of my state shirt. I jumped up and screamed, “I did it! I escaped my body for real!” I was absolutely ecstatic with joy.

Were I not persistent, I would never have learned what exists beyond the physical world. My reward was a disillusionment about life and death that only comes from personal experience. Never ever give up!

A Class on Fear

1 March 2023 at 00:07

The purpose of this class is to give the tools necessary to confront deeper issues based in fear.

Students will learn what fear really is and how it applies to them. They will learn that some of the negativity in their lives is based in their own fears, and hopefully begin a journey on a more positive path. Coming to terms with fear can lead to a more positive outlook on life and on people as a whole. This can result in more peace and happiness for the individual negating the need for negative expression (i.e. violence). Confronting one’s unhealthy fears in a positive way can influence genuine change. Students will also learn that some level of fear is natural.


What is fear & how do we master it?


  1. A feeling of alarm, caused by the expectation of danger, fueled by a basic lack of trust.
  2. Anxious concern.

Judging by these definitions, fear can range from not jumping off a cliff because of the fear of being hurt, or buying coffee because you are running out. Fear can motivate you to do something as well as not to do something.

The 5 Universal Fears:

  1. Being hurt
  2. Hurting others
  3. Abandonment
  4. Inadequacy
  5. Losing ourselves

These are the roots of other fears. Everyone has some level of these fears. It’s okay and natural. When we allow ourselves to act in ways that affect ourselves or others in negative ways, you may be experiencing an unhealthy amount of one or more of these fears. It’s time to confront this within yourself. Let’s break down these fears…

Being Hurt:

In what ways can we be hurt?

  • Physically: any way to the body
  • Mentally: any way to the mind
  • Emotionally: any way to emotions
  • Financially: any way dealing with money
  • Materially: any way to do with material things
  • Spiritually: any way to our sense of spirituality

Looking at this list, which one do you think affects you most?

Hurting Others:

In the same ways we can be hurt, others can also be hurt. Some fear hurting others. There are multiple reasons for this fear, but most are attributed to empathy or fear of consequences for doing so.


This is in greater or lesser degree the fear of being alone or rejected. This fear can lead to poor relationships, isolation, depression, and bottled up feelings. Remember you cannot have healthy relationships if you have no trust.

People who have an unhealthy amount of this fear may contribute to one or more of these categories:

  • People who have never dealt with being alone. People who always were alone or away from key members of their development (i.e. parents).
  • People who have been in traumatic situations. Socially under-developed individuals.


This is the fear of not being “good enough.” This comes from setting your expectations for yourself too high, or from low self-esteem issues that may have a deeper cause that you need to confront.  Oddly enough, one common way this fear is expressed is defensiveness, though not all defensiveness is caused by this.  Another way this may be expressed is self-defeating attitudes.

Have you ever not done something because you thought you would fail?

Losing Ourselves:

This is the fear of losing our sense of self, how we want to be seen, or what we represent. People who have an unhealthy amount of this fear, may have at one point lived a shallow life with no purpose or direction. Or at another level, live in or worry about the opinions of others too much.

A thought that may go with this fear is, “This is all I have so I have to maintain it.” Some people express this fear with the fear of change.

Have you ever not talked to somebody because they were a “weirdo” and you don’t talk to weirdos?

What fear really boils down to is lack of trust in Yourself, Others, and/or A Higher Power or Greater Power. That being said, it is perfectly normal to have some fear. We would be dead without it. Fear is normal, fear is natural.

Ask yourself this question:

When have any of my fears caused me to act or think in a way that was negative?

When fear becomes that, or False Expectations Appearing Real is when it becomes unhealthy.

Unhealthy fear may affect our judgment and reasoning, it may harm our relationships, and it may affect our spirituality or our sense of purpose.

So how do we balance fear? A way to balance something may be to seek its opposite. There are many schools of thought on the opposite of fear but for the purpose of this lesson see fear as a lack of trust.

If fear is a lack of trust, the first step is to recognize where the lack of trust lies and to take it for what it really is. This does not mean to go around trusting everything!

A lack of trust in self can be helped with a buildup of self esteem.

  • Set realistic goals for yourself
  • Don’t compare yourself to others
  • Learn from mistakes instead of holding them against yourself
  • Challenge yourself
  • Bask in your achievements, no matter how small
  • Force yourself to smile sometimes
  • Be honest with yourself

Do not confuse this with ego, which has its roots in self centeredness.

A lack of trust in others is a harder one to balance. First, determine if you are basing this fear off an experience with someone else. Look for another way to assess your relationships.

Trust in relationships is built with honesty and the acts of sharing deep feelings. This often requires you to share your feelings first. Don’t hold others to your own expectations. Learn to appreciate what makes others unique (the world would be boring without it).

A lack of trust in a Higher/Greater power comes with time and development. What’s the difference between a Greater power and a Higher Power?

A Greater power is anything greater than you alone (i.e. an organization, authority member, or a cause/idea). For those who have a Higher power, this comes with building your relationship with your higher power.

The same effort that goes into your other relationships should go into developing your relationship with your greater or higher power.

Become part of a greater purpose. You already have taken the first step. Build upon your knowledge on various subjects.

Keep an emphasis on the question of “why” when searching within yourself. This is only the surface of fear but it does give you a starting point. Remember that this takes time.

Notice of the CLF Annual Meeting

1 March 2023 at 00:06

To all members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist:

Per Article VII, Sections 1 and 2, of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) Bylaws, the 50th Annual Meeting will be held via video/telephone conference call and screen sharing on Sunday, June 11, 2023 at 7:00PM EDT. Link to RSVP for Zoom link.

We will be distributing materials electronically to all CLF members for whom we have a current email address, and posting the documents to our website. All incarcerated members will automatically receive paper copies of the materials along with postage-paid ballots to return. Others may request hard copies mailed to you by sending back the form on the final page of this issue of Quest, or calling the CLF office at 617-948-6150.

All those who have access to the Internet or phone are encouraged to join our meeting via Zoom and participate in the discussion. Meeting materials will include absentee ballots for those unable to attend in person.

The purpose of the meeting is to:

  • Report on highlights of CLF activities and finances
  • Vote for the following leadership positions (see nominations from Nominating Committee in the packet):
    • Elect three members to 3-year terms on the board of directors,
    • Elect one member to 1-year term on the board of directors to fill a term vacated before the term was finished,
    • Elect one member to a 3-year term on the nominating committee,
    • Elect a clerk and treasurer for one year

We will elect a moderator from among members present to preside at the meeting.

Aisha Ansano, Board Chair

A Space Where There Is No Other

1 February 2023 at 00:10

“Where do we find that space of connecting, of belonging. Really, that space  where there is no other.”  — bell hooks

Connection is a lifeline. To extend oneself, to belong to something larger. Inviting a conversation outside of one’s head or examining an internal relationship, perhaps to bring it into a state of balance.

That internal state of balance is one of the underlying losses during the pandemic that is rising to the surface for some of us as we emerge—in whatever ways we do, don’t or can’t emerge—from these last three years. There’s a yearning for a long-promised return to “normal” even when we know there is no normal and that what society has called “normal” was problematic, full of injustices and oppressive systems that continue to hurt so many of us.

Living through a time when our lives depended on our distance from one another and when breathing in the same space together could be deadly, some of us were able to question, “How can I possibly find safety and still have a sense of connection?” And some of us didn’t have the ability or choice to be safely distanced. At no time in recent history have we been so in need of connection and so uncertain about the means or the consequences of such contact.

Now, many of us are having to relearn how to connect and who to connect with. Even before we reach out to other people, we may have to go through a process of considering how connected or disconnected we are with ourselves. We’re, at once, catching up with and reinventing our lives and the process can be overwhelming. Even in writing this, we are feeling the challenges of reintegrating into some kind of new rhythm. We are bridging our own gap between what was and what is now, who we were and who we are becoming to meet this new reality. And we’ve needed a lot of patience and compassion, trust and love, both for ourselves and for each other, so that we can help create whatever happens next, personally and societally.

We’ve weathered our own losses and made dramatic changes to what we do in the world. And, like a snake shedding its skin, this new layer is still tender as we grow into it.

As songwriters, we connect best to ourselves and to the world through our music. What keeps us most rooted to the larger community is that we’re activist songwriters. Our job is to listen closely to people’s stories, especially stories that are silenced or obscured by dominant culture, and amplify those stories through songs that invite you to close your eyes and sink into a steady rhythm, shed a tear for a story of someone you’ve never even met, shout down an injustice or celebrate in joyful harmony.

Music creates a web of connection. It suspends a moment in time for us to get a closer look at what’s really going on, what we feel in our hearts and in our bodies: the loss, the pain, the power of what’s possible when we join together to create change. The song can reveal for us how we’re all connected in a moment in time. What things in our lives have we done that led to that moment. And what things have we not done that led us here. What needs have we paid attention to and what needs have we not.


In March of 2020, we started leading a weekly songwriting class that is still ongoing. We began the class so that we would have some source of income when all our gigs disappeared but we have found that it went much further than that, keeping us connected to our own writing as we pass on what we’ve learned over our decades of writing songs and giving our students an opportunity to hone and strengthen their skills, an expanding exploration into themselves—what they care about, what they love, what makes them laugh, what brings them comfort. We also started a weekly Sunday online gathering that included teaching our songs, inviting guest artists to teach theirs and joining together for monthly concerts. (The videos are archived on our YouTube channel and our Facebook page.) These gatherings lasted until the end of 2022 and were a touchstone for people—including some who were isolated because of health concerns, disability or geography—a place they could come every week, make friends and be in community. It was a touchstone for us, too, because it provided us with a routine for doing music and being part of and caring for a community. While we miss those gatherings, the demands of planning for and performing in person again require more of our time.

Writing, singing, performing with and to an audience has all shifted in these times but the power of music and song to connect us remains strong. Music super charges connection. The message goes deeper when it’s carried in a tender or powerful melody. It spreads farther as we carry these songs, sometimes through many years of our lives. As the CLF community knows well, people can still sing together, with the music physically vibrating in them and from them, helping to create a moment of sanctuary, even if our surroundings are not a sanctuary or a moment of collective power and unity, even when we are singing from our own separate spaces. May we each find that place of connection, of belonging. That space where there is no other.


1 February 2023 at 00:09

How do you cultivate and sustain friendship? What role does friendship play in your life?

CLF Member, incarcerated in MD

This may sound ridiculous to some people but, I didn’t know what actual friendship was until I got sentenced to Life Without Parole. When I found all of my known family and the people I considered friends fleeing my side, I felt devastated. I felt betrayed, neglected, rejected, lied to, and despised by everyone that I ever knew who said they loved me.

In this abject abandonment I held on to one sacred truth: “I still love me!” I was the only friend I actually ever had regardless of who rode with me through my hard times or smiled alongside me on the ones that were good! And as long as that love resided in me, the people who were truly meant to be in my life would damn sure show up. Why? Because I never gave up on myself. Friendship means never giving up on a friend.

It took me hitting absolute rock bottom to learn that that’s where I’d find all the true friends I would ever need in this world! When I felt that I “lost” all these people I previously knew, the truth is that I realized that I never “had” them. Learning how to be my own best friend prepared me for being another person’s best friend, not to be quick to judge them in their circumstances, how do I know what I would do if the shoe were on the other foot? Be honest but understanding, not laying out ones faults but helping them through them. And above this, love them for loving you! Not to seek to use them for personal gain, or violate their privacy when you feel inadequate. In doing this, a Twin-Like bond will appear and the communication will always continue to improve. Friendship is a word made up of Friend and a Ship. If two Friends work together there will always be Smoooooooth Sailing!


Embracing the Living Tradition

1 February 2023 at 00:08

We are writing this in pencil, not etching it in stone.”  — from the Article II Study Commission Report 1/17/23

One of the defining characteristics of our Unitarian Universalist faith is that ours is a “living tradition.” We do not etch our faith in stone precisely because we hold sacred that it must change. It must adapt to new challenges, it must meet new understandings, and it must evolve based on new experiences and connections.

Members of the Article II Study Commission & some UUA Board/Administration Liaisons (l-r): Dr. Paula Cole Jones, Dr. Rob Spirko, Maya Waller, Becky Brooks, Kathy Burek, Rev. Meg Riley, Rev. Cheryl M. Walker, Satya Mamdani

This change includes our most central language as well, which is why our Association’s Bylaws mandate regular reviews of Article II of the UUA Bylaws, better known as the Principles, Sources, and Purposes of Unitarian Universalism.

The current version of how we articulate the center of Unitarian Universalism is the seven Principles. Those principles were introduced to us in 1985, and were a significant change from the concepts that preceded them. Their passage was not without disagreement, some of which was rooted in a love for the 1961 language.

In mid-January 2023, the commission that has been faithfully working for the past two years released their proposal for an Article II that leads our faith into the future. Most dramatically, it replaces our Principles with seven core Values, each of which comes with a charge to each of us, expressed as a covenant.

The values are centered on Love, named as a spiritual discipline that holds us together, and are named as Interdependence, Pluralism, Justice, Transformation, Generosity, and Equity. There’s even a beautiful graphic representation of them in the report. There are more words, of course. And most of what we love about our current Principles lives on in some version in our Covenant.

Of course, this is the central document for the Unitarian Universalist Association, centered in the United States. It is not the guiding force for UU congregations outside of our Association—including non-UUA member congregations elsewhere in our world. It remains to be seen how this understanding of Unitarian Universalism might ripple out and be transformed as it meets the realities of other cultural understandings of our faith. I hope it changes as it does so. It’s a living tradition, after all.

I hope that CLF members will read the report and reflect on this new way of understanding our Unitarian Universalist faith. Delegates to the 2023 UUA General Assembly will vote on a final version of this proposal in June. We will likely hold engagement sessions over the next few months as materials come available to do so. Keep your email open for such announcements.

From the Article II Study Commission Report: a visualization of the new proposed language for Article II, defining six Unitarian Universalist Values, all centered in Love. Graphic design by Tanya Webster.

untitled flowing thoughts

1 February 2023 at 00:07

A little girl said to her make-believe best of friends:
“Today, I shall light a white candle.
No wait, maybe a green one, or
Perhaps an orange and a red.
There are so many to choose from —
Why not one of each color?
Yea! That will do,” and so she told her make-believe best
of friends,
“We shall see
A white light
A green light
A red light
A brown light
A black light, and even a
Blue light, and let’s not forget,
An orange light.”
And so she lit one of each —
Only to find that the rainbow of colors
She had hoped for, got lost somewhere in the dark.
Should she cry and wait for Mom to come
To help her look for the rainbow of color lights?
Her make-believe best of friends said,
“Wait, call no one. Look, do you see?
All the tiny flames, their heat and their light
Are the same, and just as bright.”
Even the space which separates one candle and the other
Can not change the sameness.
Oneness was born in the mind of the child.
Colors like skin and like many dresses were only robes
Which neither added nor subtracted anything from the flames of the chalice.

Colors are stronger than light:
They blind the darkened mind
From seeing the same flame in one, as in the other,
Including the reflection of “mine.”

General Assembly

1 February 2023 at 00:06

Would you like to represent the Church of the Larger Fellowship at General Assembly (GA) this summer?

The CLF is entitled to 22 delegates at the UUA’s General Assembly, which will be held both online and in-person in Pittsburgh, PA from June 21-25, 2023. You will be able to attend online or in-person workshops, programs, and worship services.

Proof of vaccination for COVID-19 is required to attend in person. As a delegate you will vote on association business during General Sessions. General Sessions will be held from 2:30-5:30pm ET on 6/22-6/24 and 2:00-4:00pm PT on 6/25. Delegates should be able to be online or in person to attend the majority of these General Sessions. CLF delegates vote their conscience on matters related to the denomination of Unitarian Universalism, and are responsible for their own expenses. There is no registration fee for delegates who are attending only for business virtually at General Sessions.

If you’d like to participate in GA 2023 in this role, please fill out the online application. Visit the UUA’s GA website for details.

Quest January 2023

1 January 2023 at 00:10

January 2023

Nobody’s free until everybody’s free. –Fannie Lou Hamer


A Hard-Won Hopefulness: The Journey to Liberation

1 January 2023 at 00:09

In 2019 the Rev. Bill Sinkford and the wonderful staff at First Unitarian Portland invited me to join them for “Seminary for a Day,” when we reflected together on how our inherited liberal tradition is accountable to the theological work of liberation. Such transformation is central to the promise I find in our living tradition. I rarely speak of liberal theology in isolation unless specifically asked to do so. This conversation, this accountability, and this transformation are why I consistently draw on my understanding of our liberal and liberating faith. So what does that ask of us in this season where we are working together on expressing our highest values in community?

Recently the Rev. Dennis McCarty in his blog “Thoughts from a Gentle Atheist,” reminded us of the central values of Unitarian Universalism. He writes, “The worthiness of the human condition is one… investigation, research, and intellectual growth is another. Openness to change produced by that intellectual investigation and research is a crucial third.” This promise is described in the current language of Article II as “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” and in the latest proposed draft for a revised Article II as both a promise to “collectively transform and grow spiritually and ethically,” as well as “learn from one another in our free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” The human worthiness that Rev. McCarty highlights is beautifully reflected across both versions, and both call us to the work of justice.

Latin American liberation theologies often speak of a preferential option for the poor, but also for a range of inequities in our living. The “preferential option” teaches that God themself, the work of the Church writ large, our values, and our wisdom are centered on those most impacted by systemic oppression. Traditionally one might say that if we want to know God, we need to live in solidarity with those facing the injustices of poverty and class oppression.

Unitarian Universalists might say that we are most able to co-create the All-Embracing Love that our tradition teaches us when we center those most impacted by long established systems of injustice. We save one another, and remake the sacredness of the world, through prioritizing what is truly needed for that remaking. Anything less drives us away from our faithful living.


Today’s Unitarian Universalism asks us to re-engage the largest questions of our living in the service of liberation. I want a Unitarian Universalism that troubles the waters of what we mean by freedom, just as the Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison Reed asked of us quite some time ago. I want a Unitarian Universalism that offers up its power and authority in the service of justice, and embraces new learning and surprise as sacred offerings. This especially when our beloveds directly impacted by injustice over generations somehow still welcome us when we show up in the spirit of lamentation, regret, determination, and a deeply invested discipline of hopefulness that together we might yet survive.

My hard-won hopefulness, as Ecowomanist scholar the Rev. Dr. Melanie Harris would call it, is that many of you might want to build a Unitarian Universalism together that is humble, that demands little from those who have been made to sacrifice much, and that prioritizes its commitments to faithful living even when we don’t quite know how to make our way. That is the Unitarian Universalism that I believe in. Right now, I think it is on a journey from liberal to liberation. And I am orienting myself toward the day when those words have new and fully empowered meanings in the world.


1 January 2023 at 00:08

What does liberation mean to you? What does it feel like, and how do you access it?

CLF Member, incarcerated in MD

I often hold deep discussions over the tier between me and my Brothers in Chains. The object is always to get each other to share what we’ve learned from life and insights we’ve gleaned while doing time.

Often this leads to arguments, but for the most part it leads to self discoveries. When I find myself learning something unexpected from a brother I feel elated at the new information. Especially when it destroys a long held belief of mine that is ultimately wrong.


This is liberation to me. A changed view. A new realization, some witty information I’m made aware of, or simply something I’ve deduced via the open conversation that leads me to a feeling of evolving and getting closer to a certain truth. Often, these revelations come simply because I don’t look for them, but keep an open mind. It is often said that liberation can not be obtained in its actual form in physical life. I have discovered this to be a lie.

Liberation is anything that frees you from your current state of ignorance. We alone can prevent our own liberation. I strive to be liberated in my everyday affairs!

The Learned Among Us

The following is adapted from a sermon that Aisha gave in CLF online worship on Nov. 6, 2022.

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about learning to love myself fully, especially my body. I was jokingly explaining that I never learned to dress myself in a way that was truly flattering to my body type. She explained that the problem wasn’t that I didn’t know, it was that I was conditioned through marketing to think fashion looked a certain way and only on certain bodies. Primarily what looks good on thin, white women — and those things simply didn’t look good on me.

She suggested I follow plus sized, Black women on social media. She sent me invitations to gorgeous Black models and activists who I continue to follow.

As their posts showed up in my feed, I was able to expand my notion of what is beautiful and as time went on, I was able to see myself through a more expansive and generous lens.

These fashionistas are unapologetic, fierce and simply beautiful.

One of the people I found myself in awe of was Leah Vernon, a Black Woman whose posts continue to expand my imagination with regards to fashion, because she does not exist in a prescribed paradigm. She is the author of a new book, Unashamed: Musings of a Fat, Black Muslim.

Through Leah’s posts and those of Black leaders like, Sonia Renee Taylor, Ijeoma Oluo, Jessamyn Stanely and adrienne maree brown, among others, I was able to change my perception of beauty through changing the default of what I was exposed to throughout my entire life.

Through a friend’s recommendation, I was able to challenge assumptions I held about myself and about beauty for my entire life. This has helped me experience beauty differently and in a much more liberated and loving way, for myself and others.

This brings me to an email the CLF received a while back about the assumptions the writer seemed to hold. The person, who is not incarcerated, wrote to us asking why they seemed to be getting the “prison ministry version of Quest.” They said that, though they support work with incarcerated people, it is not their work, and they have no interest in being a part of that ministry — they would simply like to get the traditional version of Quest.

Over two long email responses, I told this CLF member that as we center liberation at the CLF, we care about giving opportunities for all to grow an awareness that extends beyond an intellectual understanding that there are “people in prison.” For those of us who are not experiencing incarceration, reading the thoughts and feelings of those who are is powerful. I invited this member to consider the possibility that they have something to learn and be moved by something written by someone whose words you may not otherwise be exposed to, and emphasized that the Worthy Now Prison Ministry is not separate from the ministry of the CLF. We are one entity and one congregation that centers Unitarian Universalist values of community care.

This exchange and the response of this person to the changes in Quest, a publication that for decades centered primarily on the words of ordained clergy, had me thinking about assumptions being made about others.

We are a faith community that does not promise heaven or hell. In essence, we are trying to figure it out. Why are we here? What does it all mean? How do we navigate this beautiful, scary, joyful and painful thing we call life?

I don’t have answers to these questions and the hard truth is no one really does with any degree of accuracy. No one is an expert at being human, not even faith leaders.

What we can offer as faith leaders is a place to grapple with the questions and create a container that invites into an expansive and loving way of being.

Faith leaders receive training to become either ordained, credentialed, or lay leaders in order to have a shared understanding of the container we are creating. Faith leadership is not a science, it is where those given the sacred charge of ministry (in all its forms) choose to be in an accountable relationship with the members of the congregation and in many ways an accountable relationship to UUism itself. I center UU values in how I approach my faith leadership, a leadership rooted in religious education.

Revelation is not sealed, and as part of the search for truth and meaning, learning from those most impacted by oppression is a crucial way to learn the ways we need to do better and love more as we work to dismantle systems that actively cause harm.

When the three of us, the current Lead Ministry Team, started our leadership of the CLF, one of the aspects of this ministry we knew we wanted to transform was that of Quest and how this publication can more faithfully serve all of our members, both incarcerated and free world.  The three of us were in agreement that Quest can both include reflections and sermons from faith leaders and our members, both incarcerated and those that are “free.”

In the email I referenced earlier, this CLF member took exception to being called a “free world member.” In retrospect, I realize that this person is accidentally correct to take exception to this term.

As Fannie Lou Hammer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Every day in the U.S., it is painfully clear how those in power who want to affirm white supremacy and patriarchy are doing all they can to make sure no one is truly free. The rights of half the population have been taken away with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. There are hundreds of anti-trans bills across the United States and there are people running for office in the U.S. that are running on platforms of intentional disenfranchisement of those with target identities. While the CLF is based in the U.S, the results of policies enacted by the U.S. government impact people all over the world.

It is more important than ever that those of us in faith leadership positions center the voices of those most cruelly impacted by the systems of oppression that harm us all.

However, those with privileged identities have been deceived into believing they are separate and somehow protected from oppression. This is a lie. Humans are inextricably connected and the destinies of the most powerful are tied to the most marginalized, history has demonstrated this over and over.

Countries with wealth disparities like the ones we have now in the United States do not last, and in fact topple.

We have an opportunity to save ourselves by caring for each other and learning from each other by being open to the reflections from those who are most in harm’s way. Not only Black people, but also indigenous people, trans people, immigrants, those with seen and unseen disabilities, but also learning from people who are incarcerated, most holding some or all of the identities I just listed.

Let us embrace the opportunity to be nourished and impacted by the reflections of people we may never meet in person, but whose lives matter.

I want to share with you the words of Joseph, an incarcerated UU and CLF member. Joseph shared their reflection of the idea of sacrifice. They write:

The value of sacrifice is relative. Without sacrifice, I would not be here living life as I know it. If my mother hadn’t sacrificed her time and put her dreams on hold, then she wouldn’t have been able to raise me so lovingly. She was 20 years old, barely an adult and I feel certain I wasn’t planned. She probably had many other plans. Maybe traveling, concentrating on school. I thank mom for her sacrifice, it was very valuable to me.

Some sacrifices seem small to us but can be very valuable to the recipient. Perhaps you sacrifice some time once a week to go visit a nursing home. If you have spare time, you would normally watch TV or spend it on the internet, you could make a sacrifice that is of little value to you, but could be of enormous value to the nursing home resident who has no family.

Our sacrifices are offering to the group soul of humanity. No matter how small or large, if it does good for one, it is good for all. Depending on my commitment and intention, my sacrifice doesn’t have to be public. When things are done without my attachment to the result, they are more pure and powerful. Some sacrifice all their lives, in order that others may live. Some make small sacrifices of that social awkwardness to overcome that to share a kind word with a stranger. No matter how small a good thing is, it is still good.

In sharing their reflections in Quest, incarcerated CLF members — people who have had their freedom taken away — are now giving the gift of their presence and reflections.

It is incumbent upon those of us with more privilege to examine our assumptions and do what we can to learn from those most impacted by this cruel and harmful system we call the United States. It is incumbent upon us to center love, community, compassion and liberation.

May we be humble in how we receive and move through this faith community and the world.


1 January 2023 at 00:06
By: Gary

Last night, I awakened
from a dream
I dreamed of an America
in which those sworn to protect
and serve, abused and killed instead
An America whose hunger turned barbed
wire into shredded wheat and
stomachs became caskets
An America where masks were discarded
and grown men hid under sheets
as they stormed halls of democracy
An America who forgot her history
her polls claiming hate was history
an animal extinct like polar ice caps
An America in which no one escaped the
brutality of law and order ran amok
or escaped the massacre in a nightclub
or massage parlor
or a high school
or a supermarket
An America that claimed there were “good” Nazis
but… didn’t Uncle Sam go to war
to stop the goose-stepping in ‘44?
An America where a wall grew in a
land that once told a foreign leader
to “tear down this wall”
An America where hatemongers
quoted the words of Dr. King
and you are no longer safe in a church
An America whose Statue of Liberty
was silenced, her torch gone cold
the ashes our new mascara
An America whose populace quaked
slouching towards a coming apocalypse
Was it just a dream?

CLF member, incarcerated in SC

Quest November 2022

1 November 2022 at 00:10

November 2022

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day


November’s Theme

1 November 2022 at 00:09

Our theme for the month of November is comunidad // community. In honor of that bilingual theme and the Spanish-speaking members of our CLF family, some parts of this issue of Quest are in both English and Spanish. Would you like to see more Spanish language content from the CLF? Please write to us with your thoughts, we would love to hear from you! As always, we’re so grateful to be in community with you.

Nuestro tema para el mes de noviembre es comunidad // community. En honor a este tema bilingüe y a los miembros de habla hispana de nuestra familia CLF, algunas partes de esta edición de Quest están en inglés y en español. ¿Les gustaría ver más contenido en español de CLF?  Escríbanos por favor con sus pensamientos, ¡nos encantaría saber de ustedes! Como siempre, estamos muy agradecidos de estar en comunidad con ustedes.

Breaking Our Hearts Open // Romper y Abrir Nuaestros Corazones

1 November 2022 at 00:08

Our hearts break open for the pain of the world. For the pain of our planet, whose delicate balance has come undone, and for all her creatures. For mudslides and floods, for rising seas and melting ice, for storms and droughts.

Our hearts break open for the pain of nations. For the cries of war, for the brutality of despots and dictators. For bombs and guns, trained on enemies whose hearts beat the same as ours. For leaders whose greed goes unchecked while their people starve, whose anger defies reason and ignores compassion.

Our hearts break open for the pain of communities. For hatred that marches down the street, and for history that has not yet been relegated to the past. For acts of terror that leave blood in their wake, for cries for help that go unanswered, for every time those sworn to protect instead inflict harm, for the brutality of our carceral state.

Our hearts break open for the pain in our homes. For sickness and death, for abuse and its aftermath. For those we desperately want to help but cannot. For relationships that require constant work, and for the anger that erupts to signal yet more work is needed. For children who struggle to keep up, bodies that no longer do what we want them to, and siblings who lose sight of what is most precious. Our hearts break open for the everyday pain that being connected and vulnerable brings to us.



Our hearts break open for the pain in our hearts. For the mistakes we’re still beating ourselves up over. For the imperfections we have yet to embrace. For relationships we have lost and fear are irreconcilable, amends we have yet to make with those we have hurt, and the unfinished business of forgiving ourselves. Our hearts break open for life.

If you care about the world, your heart breaks open on a regular basis. If you care about another person, your heart breaks open on a regular basis. This business we call life, it breaks our hearts open wide. Again and again. And as our hearts break open, we have an opportunity to put them back together differently—to put them back together connected to one another.

Juana Bordas, in her book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit, challenges us to move from “I” to “we,” from the individualism rampant in modern-day European and Euro-American society to a collectivism found in Native American, Latino, African, and African-American communities. As Bordas writes from her own experience, “Latinos cherish belonging, group benefit, mutuality, and reciprocity. Interdependency, cooperation, and mutual assistance are the norm.”

Forming real relationships in community means engaging in the vulnerability of exposing our hearts to the world. And it means finding ways to engage in healing our hearts together—as one community, as a “we” instead of simply a collection of individuals. Forming real community means finding ways of mutuality and connection.

Beloved, you are not alone. You are part of a “we” that extends beyond your understanding. Let us knit our hearts together in community and commit ourselves to mutuality, curiosity, reciprocity, and cooperation.


Nuestros corazones se rompen y se abren por el dolor del mundo. Por el dolor de nuestro planeta, cuyo delicado equilibrio se ha roto, y por todas sus criaturas. Por avalanchas de barro e inundaciones, por el aumento del nivel del mar y el derretimiento del hielo, por tormentas y sequías.

Nuestros corazones se rompen y se abren por el dolor de las naciones. Por los gritos de guerra, por la brutalidad de déspotas y dictadores. Por bombas y cañones dirigidos a enemigos cuyos corazones laten igual que el nuestro. Por líderes cuya codicia crece incontrolable mientras su gente se muere de hambre, y cuya ira desafía la razón e ignora la compasión.

Nuestros corazones se rompen y se abren por el dolor de las comunidades. Por el odio que marcha calle abajo, y por la historia que aún no ha quedado relegada en el pasado. Por los actos de terror que dejan sangre a su paso, por los gritos de auxilio que quedan sin respuesta, por cada vez que los que juraron protegernos hacen daño, por la brutalidad de nuestro estado carcelario.

Nuestros corazones se rompen y se abren por el dolor en nuestros hogares. Por la enfermedad y la muerte, por el abuso y sus secuelas. Por aquellos que queremos ayudar desesperadamente pero no podemos. Por las relaciones que requieren un trabajo constante, y por la ira que estalla para indicar que se necesita más trabajo. Por los niños que luchan para no quedarse atrás, por los cuerpos que ya no hacen lo que queremos que hagan y por los hermanos que pierden de vista lo más preciado. Nuestros corazones se rompen y se abren por el dolor cotidiano que nos causa el estar conectados y vulnerables.

Nuestros corazones se rompen y se abren por el dolor en nuestros corazones. Por los errores por los que todavía nos estamos castigando. Por las imperfecciones que aún tenemos que aceptar. Por las relaciones que hemos perdido y que tememos son irreconciliables, por las enmiendas que aún tenemos que hacer con aquellos a quienes hemos lastimado y la tarea pendiente de perdonarnos a nosotros mismos. Nuestros corazones se rompen y se abren por la vida.

Si te preocupas por el mundo, tu corazón se rompe y se abre regularmente. Si te preocupas por otra persona, tu corazón se rompe y se abre regularmente. Este asunto que llamamos vida, nos rompe y abre el corazón de par en par. Una y otra vez. Y a medida que nuestros corazones se rompen y se abren, tenemos la oportunidad de volver a unirlos de manera diferente, de volver a unirlos conectados con otros corazones.

Juana Bordas, en su libro Salsa, Alma y Espíritu, nos desafía a pasar del “yo” al “nosotros,” del individualismo desenfrenado de la sociedad europea y euroamericana de hoy en día a un colectivismo que se encuentra en los nativos americanos, los latinos, las comunidades africanas y afroamericanas. Según escribe Bordas a partir de su propia experiencia, “los latinos valoran la pertenencia, el beneficio grupal, la colaboración y la reciprocidad. La interdependencia, la cooperación y la asistencia mutua son la norma.”

Formar relaciones reales en comunidad significa comprometerse con la vulnerabilidad de exponer nuestros corazones al mundo. Y significa encontrar formas de participar juntos en la sanación de nuestros corazones, como una comunidad, como un “nosotros”, en lugar de simplemente una colección de individuos. Formar una comunidad real significa encontrar formas de reciprocidad y conexión.

Amados, no están solos. Son parte de un “nosotros” que se extiende más allá de su comprensión. Unamos nuestros corazones en comunidad y comprometámonos con la colaboración, la curiosidad, la reciprocidad y la cooperación.

Community / Comunidad

1 November 2022 at 00:06

Who makes up your community? What role does community play in your life?

On Community

Talib (Anthony)
CLF Member, incarcerated in IL

My community consists of two parts: 1) my fellow prisoners, and 2) those who correspond, speak on the phone, or visit. Each plays a necessary role helping me to maintain some semblance of mental and physical stability.

I’ve been incarcerated for almost 17 years, and if it wasn’t for my community I don’t believe that I’d be here writing this for you. They have been there in my loneliest moments, my rock bottom, and have talked me back from the edge.

The first part of my community that I’d like to talk about is my fellow prisoners. There are guys who I’ve known for over a decade, living day-in and day-out with them; they know me better than my own family does. There is your cellmate: when you live in a bathroom with another person for years, you can’t help but develop a bond with them. You eat together, sleep around them, celebrate birthdays and holidays together, and when you’re going through hard times, that’s who you share them with. You are at your most vulnerable around them.

Beyond the cellmate, you also develop a familial bond with those around you. When you do so much time, you are living a life, and when you have people that do that much time with you, they become your family — you end up sharing big life moments together. When a brother of mine became a grandfather, he shared that with me. He got off the phone and called out to me, beaming, “Talib, my daughter just had a kid. I’m a grandpa!”

There were years that I went without anyone because my family and friends on the outside had abandoned me to live their own lives. I had nothing coming in, no one to help, and I had to rely only on my own devices. I had to build a community of people around me in here who helped when I needed it the most: they supported my business, they would cook and send me something to eat, and if I was in desperate need, all I had to do was ask them for help.

A quick anecdote that puts it into perspective: my last night in a maximum security prison, my property was packed up, so I had nothing, and the cellhouse had already gone to commissary that day. My friends and neighbors all contributed food items and snacks, and they cooked burritos to celebrate my transfer to a medium security prison. They even threw me a going away party.

Now, I’d like to speak on the second part of my community: those who correspond with me, speak on the phone, or visit from the outside. I’d like to speak directly to those who are reading this who write to individuals in prison — you are so important. You are our connection to a world outside of this one, and sometimes a connection to a community that some of us have never known.

I know that it may not always seem like it, or maybe you have a pen pal who asks for so much that it seems they are taking advantage of you, but remember that you may be the most important connection that person has. Imagine that you have been starving for years, barely surviving on scraps, and then someone comes to you with a plate of doughnuts. Are you going to take just one and nibble on it? No, you’re probably going to devour as many as you can before the plate gets taken away. As a pen pal on the outside, you may be the first person who’s cared about them in a long time.

Sending books, magazines, and anything else; taking the time to write or answer the phone; and caring about our wellbeing all goes a long way in making us feel connected to the outside world. We lean on you out there. We do not have the means to connect to the world, nor the resources to obtain the means — you are that.

Human beings are social in nature, and community is key to our survival. It is no different for those of us who are in prison. We lose so much when we’re incarcerated, so we turn to connection and community to survive, mentally and physically. My community has helped me to make it through.

I appreciate all those in my community, inside and out. You’re the reason that I’m able to write this.

Let's Love Our Community


Correctional Community

CLF member, incarcerated in SC

Prison is a microcosm of the larger society. You will find individuals from virtually every walk of life serving time. I have met former doctors, dentists, attorneys, police officers, airline pilots, business owners, ministers and people from all aspects of society. Just as in every community.

Rare, however, is that sense of community behind these walls. Prison often acts to separate and even isolate individuals in a “me versus the rest of the world” mentality. Feelings of having to constantly be “on guard” and being unable to extend trust and friendship for fear of being taken as “weak” is bred into the atmosphere.

The foundation of any community is trust. Attributes of community are a sense of responsibility and unity. Overcoming the despair and sense of isolation requires the willingness to step out in faith, extend oneself, and become vulnerable.

Here at MacDougall C.I. in South Carolina there exists this sense of community. The Men Achieving Character or MAC Unit is built upon the community mind orientation to foster a prosocial environment, accountability, spiritual growth, and responsibility to each other and ourselves. Acceptance, zero-tolerance for violence or conduct degrading to humanity for oneself is enforced.

This bond is unique. It acts to reverse all the negativity so often found behind the wire and replace it with a spirit of community. Built upon teamwork, a positive mental attitude, and social responsibility, one is typically greeted by others with a smile and “good morning”; there are random acts of kindness and generosity, and an environment that encourages development of skills leading to a successful transition back into the larger society.

Acceptance, tolerance, kindness, a spirit of unity: all these are vital components of my community here.

“Where two or more are gathered
There I am also…”
(Adapted from Matthew 18:20)

The Strength of Community // La Fuerza de la Comunidad

1 November 2022 at 00:05

In a recent conversation with other religious professionals at Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) Fall Con—the annual conference for religious educators—Aisha Hauser, one of our CLF lead ministers,  invited us to name what gives us joy and what sustains us in these difficult times that feel like a slow-moving apocalypse. Some of us named family, and some of us named fun hobbies; what became clear in that conversation was that communal joy, and the sharing of it, was a key ingredient to gaining resilience in these challenging times. Community gives us strength and amplifies joy. Knowing that we are part of something larger than ourselves can be comforting, it can help us feel less buffeted by the challenges of our lives.

The Church of the Larger Fellowship is just that: a great community of communities made up of people connected and committed to reminding each other that we are more together, that we can take turns at the resistance, that cultivating and growing communal joy is part of what helps us stay stronger and focused on the collective liberation and transformation of all.

One of the tasks of the Nominating Committee is to help our community leadership stay fresh and strong. The Nom Com knows that the lead ministry team and staff of our church need the energy and joy and enthusiasm of leaders to co-create our future. Does CLF help you grow your joy and keep your eyes on the prize? Would you like to join leadership teams to continue to work for liberation and transformation at church?

Nominating is seeking individuals who are actively involved in our congregation to assist how we engage in ministry, leadership, and governance together. Specifically, we are looking for individuals to serve on Nominating who are committed to matching peoples’ gifts with opportunities to contribute and who understand the role of Nominating in widening the circle of care and leadership on Nominating and the Board.

We are also seeking individuals to serve on the Board who are deeply rooted in Unitarian Universalism. The Board and Nom Com are explicitly seeking ways to incorporate CLF members with personal or familial experience with incarceration, as we continue the journey of involving incarcerated and recently incarcerated members in leadership opportunities.

Please let us know if you or someone you know is interested in this way of investing in our community. Email nominating@clfuu.org with the subject “Board/Committee Interest” and let us know if you would like to learn more about leadership opportunities at CLF, or if you think someone in your circles would be an excellent person to recruit.  Thank you!


En una conversación reciente con otros profesionales religiosos en la reunión anual de Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA)—la asociación de directores liberales de educación religiosa—Aisha Hauser, miembra del equipo líder de CLF, nos invitó a nombrar lo que nos da alegría y nos ayuda a sobrellevar estos tiempos tan difíciles. Algunos de nosotros nombramos actividades creativas, y otros nombramos la importancia de nuestras familias; lo que quedó muy claro en nuestra conversación es que la alegría comunal, y el poder compartirla, es un ingrediente fundamental para generar resiliencia en estos tiempos de apocalipsis lenta.

La Iglesia de la Gran Comunidad es exactamente eso: una gran comunidad compuesta de otras comunidades más pequeñas, todas con personas conectadas y comprometidas a recordarnos los unos a los otros que juntos somos más, que podemos tomar turnos en la resistencia, que al cultivar y crecer la alegría comunal estamos ayudándonos a mantener la fuerza y el enfoque hacia la liberación y la transformación de todas las personas y todas las instituciones.

Una de las tareas del Comité de Nombramiento es ayudar a mantener un liderazgo comunal que es fuerte y vital. El Com Nom (nuestra abreviación cariñosa) sabe que el equipo líder y el personal que trabaja en nuestra iglesia necesitan la alegría y la energía y el entusiasmo de nuestros muchos líderes en esta gran comunidad, para co-crear nuestro futuro. ¿Te ayuda esta Iglesia de la Gran Comunidad a crecer tu alegría y mantener tu compromiso a la liberación? ¿Te gustaría unirte a los equipos de liderazgo que también están comprometidos a este cambio?

El Comité de Nombramiento busca a individuos que ya son activos en nuestra gran comunidad y que quieren asistir en nuestros esfuerzos de ministerio, gobernancia y cambio. Específicamente, buscamos a gente que tiene la habilidad de aparear los dones naturales de las personas con oportunidades para contribuir, y que entienden que este comité juega un papel importante al crecer el círculo de cuidado y atención en nuestra comunidad.

También buscamos a individuos que les interesa ofrecer sus habilidades en la Junta Directiva, y que ya tienen una profunda conexión al Universalismo Unitario. La Junta Directiva y el Comité de Nombramiento están conduciendo una búsqueda explícita de miembros de la Iglesia de la Gran Comunidad que tienen experiencia directa (en persona o en familia cercana) con el sistema de encarcelamiento. Deseamos seguir explorando oportunidades de liderazgo en particular para esos miembros.

Déjenos saber si tú o algún conocido tiene/n interés en este tipo de contribución a nuestra comunidad. Manda un email a nominating@clfuu.org con el tema “Interés en la Junta Directiva/Comité” y haznos saber a quien debemos invitar, o si quieres recibir más información.  ¡Gracias!

The CLF Nominating Committee: Michele Grove, Gail Forsyth-Vail, Debra Gray Boyd, and Julica Hermann de la Fuente

Quest October 2022

1 October 2022 at 00:10

October 2022

“When you go in search of honey, you must expect to be stung by bees.” -Joseph Joubert


    At the Water’s Edge

    Quest for Meaning
    Down the cliffs to the black sand of the Pa’iloa beach, and right on the shore, was an opening. Read more »


    Quest for Meaning
    What is the value of sacrifice? What are its downsides? Read more »

    tikkun olam

    Quest for Meaning
    Most Sunday evenings, members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship with internet access gather for an online worship service. Read more »

At the Water’s Edge

1 October 2022 at 00:09

Down the cliffs to the black sand of the Pa’iloa beach, and right on the shore, was an opening. Not a comfortable one for me. It was just big enough to fit my body, but I had to bend down and contort myself a bit to make my way through it. Once inside and able to stand, I realized I was in a small lava tube that sat right at the shoreline of the beach. It was absolutely stunning. Black rocks wide enough to sit on and black sand everywhere, all as a result of lava flows hundreds of years before. An opening to the ocean let the Pacific in, waves crashing and settling right at my feet.


I won’t lie. It was scary. I’m not a swimmer. Those classes I took 30 years ago, without a lot of access to pools and large bodies of water in my everyday life, mean very little to me now. And so the idea that I was even in this tiny space with water coming in and out made me question myself. It was pretty and everything, but it seemed dangerous. A large swell could fill this little cave with water at any moment, and I’d be left with very few options to protect myself beyond trusting my body or mind to do what they need to do to get me out. Before I knew it, I was already in a space of worry and regret that I’d even bothered to go in.

But the word ‘trust’ stirred me in ways I wasn’t expecting. I was reminded of a book I’d been reading off an on over the last year called Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. In it, she offers these words about surrender:

And what happens if we just let go? Like dolphins who beach themselves on shore to eat, and trust the tide to bring them back into the water… What would it take to tune in with our environment enough to be in flow with the Earth, instead of in struggle against it.


As I began to reflect on the immediacy of my worry and lack of trust, and Alexis’ hopes for our surrender in her incredible book, I noticed my body start to settle into the moment. My breathing slowed. I started listening to the water and the sounds the waves made at different points of contact with the rocks and the walls of the lava tube I was finally able to sit down and rest in. I sat on one of those rocks for a long time, watching the water and feeling the waves as they ebbed and flowed. Truthfully, it was a lot to take in all at once. And it was okay that it turned out to be simultaneously tranquil and still a bit terrifying in the place where the waves and the land met.

Isn’t it not unlike the place where many of us find ourselves in our work of belonging and meaning-making?

Be well, dear ones.


1 October 2022 at 00:08

What is the value of sacrifice? What are its downsides?

CLF Member, incarcerated in IL

Being in an institution, sacrifice takes on different meanings. Are you sacrificing time to help someone? Are you sacrificing your favorite food to save your money so that you can contribute to your religious service meal? Are you sacrificing your spot so someone else can experience something they haven’t, that you have?

Sacrifice becomes more personalized when you don’t have that much to begin with. So the value of sacrifice changes as well.

As an elder in the Wiccan service here, there have been times that guys from the service have called me out to the yard or out to a group room to have me help them. Knowing this is a possibility, I am happy to help, though not always right when I’m being asked. The sacrifice for me is knowing that there may be times I’ll be asked for help and even though I’m doing something else at the time, unless it’s something like legal work or something else equally serious, I will sacrifice what I’m doing to help my brethren.


Of course, the downside as shown above is the interruption of whatever I was doing. It can also mean loss of personal time that I might need to unwind from the stresses and pressures of being in an institution.

I used sacrificing a favorite food to save money to contribute to a service meal as an example. Some guys walk a delicate balance of what they buy off commissary and the very few things they eat from the dietary. So to have to sacrifice their commissary to contribute to a religious meal becomes a big deal. It then becomes a question of whether they are putting their health at risk just to contribute to a meal­—and for some that sacrifice is still worth it.


CLF Member, incarcerated in NC

The value of sacrifice is relative. Without sacrifice, I would not be living life as I know it. If my mother hadn’t sacrificed her time and put her dreams on hold, then she wouldn’t have been able to raise me so lovingly. She was 20 years old when I was born, barely an adult, and I feel certain that I wasn’t planned. She probably held many other plans, like traveling and concentrating on school, before I came along. I thank my mother for her sacrifice — it was very valuable to me.

Some sacrifices seem small to us but can be very valuable to the recipient. Perhaps you sacrifice some time once a week to go visit a nursing home. If you have spare time, time you would normally spend watching TV or on the internet, you could make a sacrifice that is of little value to you, but could be of enormous value to the nursing home resident who has no family.

Our sacrifices are offerings to the group soul of humanity. No matter how small or large, if it does good for one, it is good for all. Depending on my commitment and intention, my sacrifice doesn’t have to be public. When things are done without my attachment to the result, they are more pure and powerful. Some sacrifice everything their whole lives so that others may live. Some make small sacrifices of their social awkwardness to share a kind word with a stranger. No matter how small a good thing is, it is still good.


CLF Member, incarcerated in SC

For me, the act of sacrifice is allowing myself to feel the loss or absence of something that I took for granted. The immediate downside is that I no longer have the specific thing, but that feeling, like so many others, is temporary. The feeling that I get when I receive that missing thing is joy — pure, undiluted happiness. When I remember that cycle, I can learn to enjoy and cherish parts of my life more.

tikkun olam

1 October 2022 at 00:07

Most Sunday evenings, members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship with internet access gather for an online worship service. We are exploring ways to bring the spirit of those services to our many members who do not have regular internet access. The following is an abbreviated outline of a CLF worship service that can be read through or shared out loud in a gathering. Please feel free to make it your own, adding whatever music, ritual elements, and readings are most meaningful to you.

Opening Words & Chalice Lighting

We light our flaming chalice and enter into our worship service together with these words from CLF Learning Fellow, JeKaren Olaoya:

We light this chalice
As we come together
To center love
To create community
To honor the world we live in

Sharing of Joys & Sorrows

Every time we gather, we share what is most present in our lives. Whether you are arriving to this service full of excitement or with a heavy heart, take a moment to name that which you are carrying. You may write your joy or sorrow down, or share out loud with those in your gathering. We know that every joy shared is multiplied, and every sorrow shared is halved.

We hold these joys and sorrows with you, and say in response:

May we all be held in the heart of love


Rev. Dr. Michael Tino; Lead Ministry Team, Church of the Larger Fellowship

Sixteenth century Jewish mystic Isaac Luria told a story of creation in which God, in order to make room to create the world, stored divine light in earthen vessels. Some of these jars broke, and the light that they stored scattered with the broken pieces of clay.

In Luria’s account of creation, the goal of humankind was to gather the divinity scattered with these shards, and to separate this sacred light from the sharp, jagged pieces of brokenness. Luria named this goal tikkun olam, the repair of the world.

Over the years, this calling has evolved into an understanding that the sacredness of our world is broken—torn apart by violence, oppression, injustice, and hatred—and that it is up to humanity to fix that brokenness in order to live up to our covenant with God.

Our Unitarian Universalist forebears saw this brokenness as well, and through the years handed down to us a religion that calls upon us to participate in the healing of creation.

Many of our Unitarian, Universalist, and UU ancestors have written about the calling of our faith to participate in the healing of relationships, including our relationship with the ultimate, about our calling to participate in the creation of liberation and justice, about our calling to participate in dismantling systems of oppression that divide humanity in part by assigning power to identity.

I feel like that’s something you hear a lot from us, from me. And while I could go on at length about it, today I want to go in a slightly different direction for this month in which we are focusing on healing: you are part of the world. We are each part of the world.

If we are to understand ourselves as part of the world and simultaneously commit ourselves to healing the world, we must see healing ourselves and others as part of that process.

Jewish feminist new-age storyteller and cancer survivor Deena Metzger writes about this connection.  Metzger understands the healing of the self—be it from diseases of the body or wounds of the soul—as integrally connected to the healing of our society as a whole.  While Metzger’s writing is concerned primarily with the physical healing of the self, it also addresses wounds of the soul–wounds of the spirit. She writes:

In my mind, there is a direct relationship between the healing of my body and the healing of the world. Where healing and peacemaking are one, they are the bridge between individual healing and the healing of the community. I do not ask for my healing without committing entirely to the healing of the other as the small possibilities of the healing of the world are sacred gifts extended to me as well. The world’s body. My body. The same. This is the very nature of healing.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith asks us to heal the world. It asks us to attend to the brokenness in our systems and our society. And it asks us to attend to the brokenness in ourselves, and the brokenness in our midst.

We each, every one of us, know something of brokenness. We have experienced it ourselves, we have witnessed it in others. And every one of us, know something of healing, of wholeness, even if that knowledge is hidden deep within our hearts under layers of scar tissue. Each of us has received negative messages of some sort about ourselves. Messages that make us question our self-worth, our inherent dignity.

Some of these messages are in the form of abuse, and out of respect for the diverse trauma histories in our community I want to name that and create a space for you to do what you need to do in order to protect yourself from the re-emergence of your trauma.

It is a sad reality that too often our brokenness comes from people who were supposed to love us, who were supposed to care for us, who were supposed to protect us. Too often, our brokenness comes from institutions—especially religious institutions—that were supposed to heal us, and instead they hurt us deeply.

I received those messages as well—messages that I was not worthy of respect and love because of who I was. I am thankful that they didn’t come from those closest to me, but they were present all around me. I internalized them. They broke me.

As a teenager, I didn’t know how to deal with that brokenness. I tried pretending I was someone I was not—that didn’t work. Ultimately, I rejected religion categorically because so many of the messages about my sexuality came from religious figures. I convinced myself that I would never find wholeness in a religious community, that all religion had to be avoided.

That led to more brokenness—deep within, I had a yearning for spirituality. A yearning for connection to something greater than myself. I had a yearning for a communal expression of our call to love and liberation, for a theological grounding to my justice work.

It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I learned that there was a religious tradition that preached love and acceptance, a tradition that insisted on the inherent worth and dignity of every person, a tradition that encouraged spiritual journeys and didn’t insist on a narrow theology.

Unitarian Universalism helped me heal some of the broken places within me. It helped me overcome the negative messages I had received about myself by teaching me that I was beautiful, that I was loved, that I was a bearer of the divine within me just as all people are. Slowly, the people I met who lived these values in the world again and again helped me put back together the pieces of me that had been broken off and hidden out of self-protection.

Our Unitarian Universalist religious community can be a place of healing for you as well.

In the context of religious community, we can come to recognize and name our brokenness.  We can also come to recognize and name our inherent worth and dignity. We can create communities of love to work on our healing—together. We can begin the process of healing. We can put together our own pieces of the jar holding the divine light within us.

Here you are loved.
Here you are whole.
Here you are holy.
Here your worth is affirmed.
May the love you find in this
community be a healing balm
to your soul.

Closing Words & Chalice Extinguishing

We extinguish our flaming chalice and close our worship service with these words from CLF Learning Fellow, JeKaren Olaoya:

We extinguish this chalice
As we depart this space
But never in our hearts
We carry the flame within

A Theological Mandate of Liberation

1 September 2022 at 00:10

The following sermon was originally given at the service to formally install our Lead Ministry Team in their role as ministers of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which took place on June 25, 2022, during UUA General Assembly in Portland, OR. 

Hello beloveds! What a joy to be here with you all this morning, celebrating the installation of the Lead Ministry Team of the Church of the Larger Fellowship! And what an honor to be asked to share a reflection with you all on this joyful occasion.

I have served on the Board of the Church of the Larger Fellowship for the past 4 years. I served as the Board liaison to the nominating committee, and on the search committee, and am now the President of the Board. And yet: when I was asked by the nominating committee if I would consider joining the Board, I was pretty sure I was going to say no.

I didn’t know much about the CLF at the time, and I didn’t think that I had the time or energy to serve on the Board. I was already feeling a little overwhelmed by all of my other commitments, and I had never served on a Board before, and I just didn’t think it was for me. I knew I would have to give something else up to do this work fully, that I didn’t want to say yes and then only serve half-heartedly. And so, I went into the conversation ready to say no.

Christina Rivera, Rev. Dr. Michael Tino and Aisha Hauser, MSW, CRE-ML, were installed as co-lead ministers of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. At right is CLF Board Chair Rev. Aisha Ansano.
© 2022 Nancy Pierce/UUA

I am so grateful that instead, I said yes.

I said yes because I learned what the CLF has been, is now, and can be. I said yes because my wildest dreams for Unitarian Universalism, my deepest hopes of what is possible for this faith, seemed possible because of the CLF. I said yes because I believe that the Church of the Larger Fellowship can help lead us to liberation. It is already doing so. I said yes because the CLF says yes — to justice, to radical welcome, to liberation. I said yes because there was really no other answer.

The Church of the Larger Fellowship has always held space in our denomination for folks on the margins— from our beginnings as a “correspondence church” for geographically isolated Unitarians to today, when over half our membership is incarcerated Unitarian Universalists, and many religious professionals, BIPOC UUs, and geographically- or otherwise-isolated UUs find their spiritual home here. The CLF has been, and continues to be, a place of radical welcome, a congregation that believes in the power of liberation and the potential of Unitarian Universalism to forge a way to that liberation. The CLF is a congregation that continually draws the margins toward the center, that invites us all to think about what is possible and how we might make it come true. The CLF is a place for big dreams and for trying new things, a place where there is so much space and excitement for innovation and experimentation.

The CLF has proclaimed, over and over, that the way we’ve always done things need not be the only way, and then forged ahead to make it so. Can we serve incarcerated Unitarian Universalists with love and dignity, in a system and a world that tries to convince them they have and deserve neither? Yes. Can we engage UUism and the questions of the moment through an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural lens? Yes. Can we call as the leadership of the largest UU congregation a collaborative team of religious professionals that break expectations? Yes. Can we do difficult, sometimes uncomfortable work with love, knowing that liberation is possible and that we can help make it so? Yes. Yes we can.

Cole Arthur Riley is a writer and poet who created the “Black Liturgies” project on Instagram. In her recent book This Here Flesh, Arthur Riley uses stories from her life to reflect on questions of spirituality and liberation. In a chapter entitled “Dignity,” she writes the following:

Our liberation begins with the irrevocable belief that we are worthy to be liberated, that we are worthy of a life that does not degrade us but honors our whole selves. When you believe in your dignity, or at least someone else does, it becomes more difficult to remain content with the bondage with which you have become so acquainted. You begin to wonder what you were meant for.

So, beloveds: what were we meant for? The wildest dreams of our spiritual ancestors could not have brought us here, and our wildest dreams may never take us where we need to be, but we are going to keep dreaming anyway, keep growing and shifting and trying again. We have a theological mandate for liberation, for worthiness, for honoring our true selves. We believe in our own dignity, and the dignity of others.

We are meant for liberation, for joy, for celebration. We are meant for justice, for compassion, for community. We—Unitarian Universalists, the Church of the Larger Fellowship, our free world and incarcerated and global members—we are meant for all of this, and more. So let us live into it, let us make these moves, let us believe deeply in liberation and act as though we do.

Aisha, Christina, Michael: the search committee chose you, the Board affirmed you, and today the members of the CLF install you, as our Lead Ministry Team, all because we trust your dreams for the future of this congregation and this denomination. This is a time for big dreams, for throwing open our arms and saying come, you have a place here.

But we cannot simply celebrate your dreams and leave you to fulfill them. We will follow your lead, yes, but we — members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, and Unitarian Universalists throughout the denomination — we are also going to do this work alongside you. We must — that is the only way it can get done. Not because we don’t trust you to get it done — if I trusted any three people to make it happen, it surely would be the three of you — but because the work of liberation is collaborative, and is going to take all of us to fulfill it. Liberation is the work of community, of relationship, of coming together.

So beloveds — lead ministry team, CLF members, Unitarian Universalists — this is our time. Let us meet this moment, collaborate, and take a giant leap into together the belief that liberation is necessary, and possible, and that we all have a role to play.

Let’s create a world of justice and liberation now, together.

May it be so.


1 September 2022 at 00:09

How do you cultivate awe and wonder in your life?

CLF Member, incarcerated in NC

How do I cultivate awe and wonder in my life? These are actually byproducts of daily observations of my surroundings, and doing a mental or physical gratitude checklist. If I remain mindful of the many blessings and miracles of seemingly ordinary life, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.


For instance, every person, animal, insect, plant, mineral, atom, and subatomic particle has a purpose. That is an awesome wonder. Also, looking into the daytime sky, one sees the clouds floating by on the sun, giving life and warmth. And at night, we see the stars and the moon, luna in all her glory. How can we view these things without being awestruck? Even though at the moment I am deprived of these experiences, I still have the vivid memories that can not be taken away, and they will suffice until I am released and able to soak in the day and night sky without restriction.

Think about the human body and all its functions. The breath, the heartbeat, the blood stream. What a truly awesome, wondrous creation. Think about the miracle of the moment, right now, breathing, blood flow, consciousness, the mind, thoughts, memories, life. The knower that witnesses these things. The awesome power of love and compassion that can destroy hate and violence.

When I mentally or physically write a gratitude list, I feel wonder that I am even still alive to write it. I am in awe and wonder that I received this chance to start over, and enjoy the things in life that I had forgotten I enjoyed.

I pray that I will continue to be content with what I have right now, and have the desire and enthusiasm to keep doing the next right thing, making the next right choice.

CLF Member, incarcerated in FL

Awe here goes. How do I cultivate it? To prepare land for the praising of crops. To not only prepare the land that is my soul, for the production, experience and recurrence of awe, but to also both improve upon and develop by careful attention, training and study, a life which is awestruck.

Hmm… That’s an awesome question. An awfully intriguing notion; I find myself compelled to contemplation, of which I shall here expound upon. Awe here goes.

Homage, spectacular wonder and a smidge of fear, simultaneously felt in one moment or experience. That’s awe.

I think back to when I was a child. When this kaleidoscope of an emotion was more frequent, more common, yet no less powerful, yet no less enchanting.

We grow up and lose something, don’t we? We forget how to play with reckless abandon. Our imaginations lose their zeal. Our sense of wonder abates.

Why?? How??

Questions I pray liberate your mind and soul, should you find your answers.

As a child I knew. The world (contemporary society) tried to teach me otherwise, but I refused. My spirit rebuked their soul siphoning psychologically crippling delusional doctrine.


As an adult, my path of enlightenment which taught me to “empty thy cup,” has only strengthened my resolve. Preserving the purity, in which awe has so firmly taken its roots.

I still play in the mound of snow left by the plow trucks on the side of the road like a 5-year-old child (pretend bad guy sound effects and all).

After much theological, theoretical and politically correct intellectual discourse, I still imagine what could be, with awe for its potential fruition.

I daydream absurdities, fantasies and abstractions. So vividly creating alternate dimensions, to which I teleport often.

My cup ever empty, I wonder still of aliens, of outer space, of why they say animals don’t have free will. I wonder how orangutans figured out how to make boats and go fishing (yes! Orangutans make boats and go fishing). Did they learn from us or did we learn from them? I wonder how scientists and zoologists figured out that dolphins recognize their reflection.

I ponder why in this age of scientific advancements, where astrophysicists and astronomers can tell us of distant galaxies, suns and planets; their orbit, chemical and elemental composition, temperature and weather conditions and every minute details literally down to the core.

But I can’t go online or to the library and get a surface picture of the terrain of a single planet in this solar system (and I don’t mean the computer generated photos NASA loves to so factitiously parade). Yes, how could one not wonder…

Thus I prepare the land that is my soul for the resurrection of awe. To both improve upon and diligently develop, an existence which is auspiciously awestruck.

With homage, spectacular wonder and a smidge of fear, I stand at the cusp of a rabbit hold called life. And with honor strong, un-defiled amazement and a bit of fright, I smile like a child and dive headlong, awe here goes awe right.

Called and Installed, Your Lead Ministry Team

1 September 2022 at 00:08

One of the spiritual joys a religious professional receives is their installation to the congregation to which they’ve been called. Michael, Aisha, and I were called to be your Lead Ministry Team in 2020 and immediately knew that we wanted our installation to be at General Assembly (GA), not just because it is one of the only opportunities for CLF members to be together in person, but also to be able to share the spirit of our collaborative ministry leadership. Happily, June 2022 saw us with the first fully hybrid virtual/in-person GA in Portland.

We invited a team of worship leaders to dream with us about an installation around the topic of “A Theological Mandate of Liberation.” Saying yes to our invitation were:

Sermon: Rev. Aisha Ansano, CLF Board Chair

Music Director: Francisco Ruiz, Director of Music UU Long Beach

Chalice Lighting: CLF Board of Directors

Embodied Movement: Rev. Jessica Star Rockers, former CLF Learning Fellow

Voices of the Congregation: Lecretia Williams, Rev. Erien Babcock, and Rev. Dr. Althea Smith, CLF Learning Fellows reading the words of incarcerated UUs

Presentation of Stoles: Julica Hermann de la Fuente, CLF Board member

For those who have internet access, a video recording of the installation can be found here. We were moved to laughter and tears throughout the service. We appreciated how every celebrant wove our unique religious professional identities throughout the service. The embodied ritual gave us roots and wings and the music was FIRE!

Musicians performing at the installation service, led by Francisco Ruiz (center)
© 2022 Nancy Pierce/UUA


Some of the joyful crowd gathered at the service in person
© 2022 Nancy Pierce/UUA


CLF Board members Rev. Aisha Ansano, Darbi Lockridge, Martha Easter-Wells, Julica Hermann de la Fuente (left-right) lighting our flaming chalice
© 2022 Nancy Pierce/UUA

An installation gives the called religious community an opportunity to reflect on itself and its future. We hope this installation gives you a sense of our shared calling to ministry and our shared Theological Mandate of Liberation. To quote our sermonator Rev. Ansano quoting Cole Arthur Riley, writer and poet:

Our liberation begins with the irrevocable belief that we are worthy to be liberated, that we are worthy of a life that does not degrade us but honors our whole selves. When you believe in your dignity, or at least someone else does, it becomes more difficult to remain content with the bondage with which you have become so acquainted. You begin to wonder what you were meant for.

Julica Hermann de la Fuente presenting Rev. Michael Tino with a stole as part of the installation ritual, with Christina Rivera (left) and Aisha Hauser (right) looking on
© 2022 Nancy Pierce/UUA


Aisha Hauser, MSW, CRE-ML, Rev. Dr. Michael Tino and Christina Rivera were installed as co-lead ministers of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. At right is CLF Board Chai
© 2022 Nancy Pierce/UUA


Voices of the Congregation
© 2022 Nancy Pierce/UUA

The Rainbow

1 September 2022 at 00:07
By: Timothy

CLF member, incarcerated in NY

I was walking in the yard.
He looked like a mob enforcer — probably because he was.
I’d seen him often, fierce and intimidating. We never spoke.
He was looking up. I turned to see a rainbow.
“You have to search for beauty. There is none here in prison.”
“Is that a double rainbow forming?”
“Yes, they are rare.”
We watched with reverence. It faded away too soon.
“As a kid I’d run out after a rain to look for a rainbow.”
“Did you find many?”
“No. Almost never. But I kept trying.”
“Looking for beauty is always worthwhile.”
We continued talking.
Sharing awe made us humble,
dissolving barriers,
allowing us to act like old friends.
It was beautiful.

Quest September 2022

1 September 2022 at 00:00

September 2022

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” -W.B. Yeats


    A Theological Mandate of Liberation

    Rev. Aisha Ansano
    The following sermon was originally given at the service to formally install our Lead Ministry Team in their role as ministers of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which took place on June 25, 2022, during UUA General Assembly in Portland, OR.  Read more »


    Quest for Meaning
    How do you cultivate awe and wonder in your life? Read more »

    Called and Installed, Your Lead Ministry Team

    Quest for Meaning
    One of the spiritual joys a religious professional receives is their installation to the congregation to which they’ve been called. Read more »

    The Rainbow

    I was walking in the yard.. He looked like a mob enforcer — probably because he was.. Read more »

No Saviors

One of the many reasons I choose Unitarian Universalism as my faith is that I don’t believe in saviors. When I say I don’t believe in saviors, I’m really serious. I don’t find that having famous prophets has consistently served humanity. We can’t seem to put into context the fact that those revered and held up as messengers of the holy are simply human beings. Humans who have made enough of an impact on those around them that their stories live on for millenia. Their stories become embellished and larger than life. I love stories and learning lessons from them, but whether or not some of these stories are “true” sometimes get in the way of how we are called to be in community.

The life and experiences of Jesus of Nazareth changed the course of human history. He is credited with being the catalyst for starting a new religion, Christianity. The fact is, he never wanted to start a new religion. By all accounts, he wanted people to become better Jews, not leave the Jewish faith altogether. He preached love, compassion and pointed out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his time.

He didn’t claim to be God, he wanted those in power to stop abusing their power and offer care and mercy to those with no power.

Each of us has agency to affirm each other in the fullness of our humanity. We hold the spark of the divine, and we are connected to each other through that spark.

We cause pain and horror when we forget this connection to each other. History has shown us that time and time and time again, when the masses succeed in dehumanizing whoever is deemed the “other,” this has resulted in horrors perpetrated to those who are oppressed.

The United States, since the arrival of colonizers, has been in the business of dehumanizing entire populations in order to steal land and steal labor. It is the only way violent extractive capitalism flourishes.

Black and Indigenous people have borne the brunt of the dehumanization and now white women, with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, are facing a renewed understanding of what it means to not be viewed as fully human, and how one cannot rely on a system created out of cruelty and oppression.

Black and Indigenous populations have been sounding the alarm and trying to scream from the rafters what has been the core truth of this country, that in order for those in power to thrive under capitalism, there are those that must be subjugated. As time went on and this country grew,  the list of who became dehumanized grew and grew. Now we have the highest population of incarcerated humans of any industrialized nation on earth, we have caged children whose only crime was to be traveling with their parents in search of a better life. It is all so overwhelming, I sometimes want the story of a savior to be true, I mean now would be a great time for Black Jesus to come back and save us, but the truth—as I believe it—is that no one is coming to save us, we must work together and affirm each other to transform this country.


I believe it is possible when we do what we can from where we are. I am clear in my support and affirmation of those with targeted identities, descendants of enslaved Africans, indigenous people, immigrants, those with seen and unseen disabilities, people in the LGBTQI+ communities and anyone else targeted, I am at the ready to fight for and affirm them. The ones I have trouble maintaining their humanity are those who are in power and the oppressors. I have had to remind myself that I do not condone (to put it mildly) oppression and I combat oppression in the ways I am able, and I also need to maintain that even those people who I distrust and abhor are still human. I do not want to fall into the trap of dehumanizing anyone.

I do have boundaries that I maintain, I do not pretend the world is not a scary and cruel place. I do not “agree to disagree” about the humanity of others. I do try to refrain from holding hate in my heart. I focus on liberation, rather than bitterness. It’s not easy; it is a spiritual practice for sure.

Yes, we must fight systems of oppression in all the ways available to us. AND we must remember that each day we can affirm each other and show up in love and with care.

It is this love, care and compassion that affirms community. Amen, Ashe and Blessed Be.

Compassion & Healing

1 July 2022 at 00:09
By: Jason

What does compassion feel like to you? What does healing feel like?

CLF Member, incarcerated in IL

For me, growing up in the nightmare of my childhood and the abuses I suffered, compassion was an unknown word and concept. It wasn’t until I was in a Department of Children and Family Services funded youth facility that I learned about compassion.

I learned from my therapist and his wife, who both worked there. They saw how messed up I was and how much I distrusted everyone and everything. So they both went above and beyond their responsibilities to show me how to trust, how a normal family is together (loving, supportive, caring). They showed me that it’s okay to make mistakes and that I shouldn’t have to fear severe reprisals, and how to actually start to live and not just exist. They showed me how to be human and in doing so, they taught me the meaning of compassion.

You ask what does healing feel like? As my therapist and his wife showed me their home and family life, and taught me what it means to actually live and know what a normal, loving family is supposed to be, the pain that I experienced in learning those lessons was unlike any I have experienced before or after.

I felt as if something vast and dark that had been slowly crushing and killing me was torn off by their compassion and kindness, leaving me crying with the pain of the realization of what I had been missing and what I had been so desperately searching for. It left behind a hollowness within me. Though I had been warmed by their compassion, at that time I still did not know what it meant to feel loved.

Healing, for me, has always been a painful experience. The hurts of my mind and soul have far outweighed those of my body. And for me, though it has been painful each time I have gone through a healing experience, I have come out of it wiser and more human. So, although I do not look forward to the pain it brings, I am always looking for ways to heal the scars and pains of the past.


Voices of Compassion

1 July 2022 at 00:08
By: Brandon

CLF Member, incarcerated in ID

In October of 2020, I suffered a week of torment within which I was repeatedly beaten, extorted of property and medication, and sexually abused by a cellmate. What’s worse is that the correctional officer who put me in that cell had prior knowledge that the scenario might occur. The inmate I was housed with had not only been incarcerated for that sort of behavior focused toward women in his life, but also had prior instances of doing such to his previous gay cellmates. I tried to get staff’s attention without just telling, because I was already being beaten and had been threatened worse if I told.

I have spent twelve years in here (ten at that time), and in situations like this, I know that could have been in bad enough shape to be hospitalized by the time an officer would respond. Staff ignored me. After being moved I did not make an official report right away because I had attempted to poison my abuser by drugging him with atropine, the deadly poison found in atropa belladonna, a plant like deadly nightshade (I am prescribed medication that contains atropine).

Later, when I did make the “official” report, the C.O. I unofficially reported the situation to did not step up and say anything about my confessions to him. The investigation staff did not interview any of the witnesses who knew it was happening when it was happening. They found the report unsubstantiated the same day that it was opened, without notifying the police. They confiscated much of the paperwork that I had been filing, and warned me that if I continued with the paperwork, they would further separate me and another inmate to whom I was handfasted (married). They said they were giving me and him more freedoms than they’d typically give two inmates in romantic relationships. They went so far as to tell me that I was unable to use the grievance system on an issue that occurred over 30 days prior, but when I kept up the fight, they said they’d try to get an exception, though that was after I submitted forms to retrieve the confiscated documents for “legal reasons,” that prove neglectful behavior on their part.


Before that October, I would have seen compassion and healing in the achieving of a sound mind and heart from a past of broken and failed relationships. I would have seen it as smiling and my ability to be happy at last with the man I had chosen to marry. But after that October, even the happiness he had brought to my life was not enough to heal the nightmares and anxiety attacks that, like COVID, had become the new normal. I sought out the help of clinicians to help with talking about the rape and the relationship issues with my husband, but they only tole me to do the same things I have always done, like to count and breathe if I felt a panic attack coming on. And then they told me to think “happy thoughts,” as if I were Robin Williams being taught to fly by Julia Roberts in the movie Hook, after the children were abducted. However, unlike Robin Williams, that was “professional” advice that I would not accept. If I could just think happy thoughts… don’t you think I would be doing so?

It is now 2022, I am single and I have healed a lot from last year’s devastation of my severance ritual from my husband. It’s been a long journey, but the week in October 2020 still haunts me. I brought it up in a mental health evaluation that the prison’s medical contractor conducted. The psychiatric doctor responded coldly, saying “still?”, which elicited a cold response of my own: “yeah, still.” Today, I reflect on that appointment and I also ask myself, “still?”

The people I’ve reached out to for support have told me that things will get better in time, but the effects of the trauma that I’ve experienced may last forever. Where is the healing in that?

I had made a promise back then that was holding me back from the kind of self-protection that I would have normally engaged in. Yes, I was poisoning him — but the doses were low and would only cause drowsiness at that level; it was the justification I told myself as I risked his life. But after time moved on, I made myself a promise that if I had to, I’d engage in the defense needed. But the question is, what does healing and compassion look like to me now?

I am looking for the voices of compassion and of justice to stand against those in places of power that abuse that power, who don’t use their power to enact a compassionate justice. Healing looks like change. Reckoning those powers and replacing them with those who would protect others from suffering what myself and many others have experienced. The justice system as long been flawed and it punished consenting partners while ignoring a lot violence and rape. It also is a breeding ground of hate, not love. People in here do not always take an opportunity for rehabilitation and instead, the harsh environment makes us harder. And many leave as harder criminals than when they came in.

Compassion would mean reaching out to inmates, especially the LGBT communities within the prisons, and learning about the condition they live in. Joining groups that act against injustice in the justice system. Voting on laws that would help inmates, not harm them. And healing would mean change.

I hope that if you’ve suffered the same sort of experience, and you’re reading this now, that you take some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. This is a common problem and there are people, like us, who will fight the system until change occurs. And there are people outside of prison who are compassionate and will help people like us. We cannot give up, we will win. Blessed be.

A Compassionate Life

1 July 2022 at 00:07

Religious scholar Karen Armstrong has studied the teachings of religions large and small all around the world. And she has, as we all have, witnessed the strife in our world: the pain, the isolation, the injustice, the inequality.

And yet, she realized, no religion teaches that those things are acceptable.  All of the world’s religions, in fact, teach compassion.  They use different words and different concepts to talk about it, but all of them teach their followers to treat other people with kindness and respect.  All of them teach their followers that moral, good people help others.

In her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Armstrong asks us first to learn about compassion.  What do the religions of the world say about it? What have we been taught about compassion—from our heritage, from our families, from our experiences? And most importantly, what does Unitarian Universalism teach about compassion?

We’ve got a principle about it, certainly.  We covenant to affirm and promote, among other things, “justice, equity and compassion in human relationships.” And yet, how often does our practice of this principle stop with promoting justice?

What does it mean to promote compassion in human relationships?

How would our society be different if we made it the norm that we try to feel one another’s pain—that we suffer with one another instead of watching one another suffer. Justice and equity only require the latter—it’s compassion that requires the with.

Our Universalist heritage also encourages us to compassion. The promise of universal salvation, at its most basic, is that all of us are going to end up in the same place when we die (we can disagree about where and what that place is). I don’t think of heaven as a realm for the soul that is outside of what we know—I think of it as right here, in the midst of the world that we know.

Your being, mine, and everyone’s—all part of one, interconnected, closed system.  I am regularly stopped in my tracks by the unfathomable beauty of this notion that we are inextricably bound to one another. The promise of our connectedness requires us to realize our unity with all of creation.

In his 1945 work A Religion For Greatness, Universalist minister and theologian Clarence Skinner emphasized our religious call to work toward the unity of all beings, which he defined as “the coherence of what may seem to be separate, into a oneness. Unity,” he wrote, “means an operative harmony, a functional relationship which belongs to all the parts of a whole.”

Later in this work, Skinner also wrote, “This great religious experience of the unities and the universals, however, tends to direct [humanity] outward toward what is greater than the atomistic human.”

Clarence Skinner pushed to expand the notion of Universalism that his spiritual ancestors had developed.  He called us to a “cosmic mind-set” in which we all realized our connection with—indeed our unity with—everything that is, everything that has been, and everything that ever will be.

We are one with the stars.  With the planets.  With the oceans and mountains and ice caps.  With the forests and the deserts and the fauna running through them.  We are also one with one another.

This unity of existence has profound implications for how we live.

This unity of existence calls us to suffer with those who suffer, because we are they and they are we.

This unity of existence calls us to practice compassion. Our faith teaches us we must.

Updates from the CLF’s 2022 Annual Meeting

1 July 2022 at 00:06

The CLF held its Annual Congregational Meeting on Sunday June 5, 2022. Anyone who could not attend the meeting was invited to vote by mail ahead of the meeting. We received over 300 votes via mail. 32 members voted in person at the meeting.

CLF members voted for the slate of nominations presented by the nominating committee (318 yes, 0 no, 12  abstain) as follows:

  • Rev Jessica James for Board of Directors for a three year term
  • Darbi Lockridge for Board of Directors for a three year term
  • Mandy Neff for Board of Directors for a three year term
  • Rev Dr JJ Flag for Board of Directors for one year (to complete an unfinished term)
  • Darbi Lockridge for Treasurer for a one year term
  • Mandy Neff for Clerk for a one year term
  • Michele Grove for Nominating Committee for a three year term

CLF members also voted to ordain Dr. Althea Smith, a CLF Learning Fellow, as a Unitarian Universalist minister (320 yes, 0 no, 16 abstain). Althea was recommended for ministry by the UUA Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee. Althea’s ordination was on June 18, 2022. She is now Rev. Dr Althea Smith!

Quest June 2022

1 June 2022 at 00:10

June 2022

Be faithful to that which exists within yourself. –Andre Gide


Thoughts About Integrity and Our National Character

Integrity is not a trait that can exist on its own. The word is a noun that refers to an entity, quality, state, action, or concept. Whether describing a trait of character or expressing a property of strength, integrity is always related to something else. However it is used, an essential quality of integrity is its role in describing completeness and soundness for what it refers to.

As applied to people, integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong principles. By extension, integrity implies that any organization of persons is more vital when honesty and a striving towards principles promulgated for the good of the whole. These attributes are a source of pride for Americans. We like to believe we define our character as rugged individuals who, by sheer will of force, carve out for ourselves and our families a superior way of life that attracts other such people to form a “more perfect union” governed by fairly applied laws.

James Burke wrote a book in 1985 called The Day the Universe Changed. In the book, Burke describes how seemingly small random events, or isolated moments, can radically change our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

I believe such a moment occurred on July 27, 2016 after the Republican National Convention concluded.

Pro Trump Mobs Storm Capitol sign

My wife and I watched an interview with former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. We were horrified to hear Gingrich explain what we now all understand as “alternative truth.” When confronted with the fact that crime in the United States had decreased, he insisted that facts don’t matter as much as feelings about crime. He said, “The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics which theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are. People are frightened… As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel, and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians.”

I believe that was the instant that heralded the death of truth and the political weaponization of fear in our country. It is when temptation overtook our national ethos. We succumbed to fear and ran willingly into the darkness of disenfranchisement, supremacy, and othering. We have been damaged by the false narrative of “exceptionalism” that denies our actual past and obscures our present. Our nation is imperiled because many of us are willing to sacrifice integrity and the rule of law for authoritarian power.

Democracies operate on fact, science, and objectivity, along with law. When there is no basis for action, save feelings, there is no democracy. We knew that, but we abandoned our highest path because a messy democracy became too complicated for some to bear. Newt Gingrich and his ilk smashed our Achilles heel to herd us into temptation and usher us into an era of darkness.

The events of January 6, 2021, may have sealed our fate.


1 June 2022 at 00:08

What does integrity mean to you?

CLF Member, incarcerated in TX

Integrity, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, is, “completeness; unimpaired condition; soundness; honesty, sincerity, etc.” Some of the synonyms in Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus are “honor, uprightness, goodness, principle, probity, purity, righteousness, virtue, simplicity, stability and unity.”

To me, integrity means being true to oneself, with actions of uprightness and goodness towards others. By being true to yourself you remain the same when you’re alone as with others. There is a saying: “who are you when no one is looking?” The “you” that your family, friends, classmates, co-workers see — is it the same “you” as when you are by yourself, or are you a different person altogether in both worlds?

Sun and Mountain


By letting your actions be upright and good towards others, family or friend, stranger or foe, it makes no difference, for those actions show the world who you really are, the character that is built in you and the love that engulfs your heart. “Actions speak louder than words” has always been a true statement.

Some people are born with integrity, others have to work to integrate and cultivate it into their lives. Some have to work harder than others. Nevertheless, it’s a virtue and principle that everybody can have and should want to have. Everybody, I believe, should practice having one percent more integrity with every new dawn and day we wake up to. It could make a difference.

CLF Member, incarcerated in IL

Integrity to me means standing solid and firm in one’s own beliefs. Exhibiting good faith in a certain set of morals, principles, and values.

I hear that the pen is mightier than the sword; the tongue has been known to dismantle empires. The quality of a person’s integrity can only be measured through the weight of that individual’s actions. Though we are all animals at the end of the day, language and our intentions are two of the most fundamental elements in which the value of integrity is allowed to manifest itself within the physical realm.

The ability to connect and communicate with all, in pure harmony, in my opinion represents integrity in its highest form.

CLF member, incarcerated in CA

A building or any such structure having integrity means that it is not only whole but sound. For a person, integrity is defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral values. These definitions are closer than they appear. Let me tell you how.

Integrity, to me, is not only recognizing the wholeness of oneness of everything, but realizing that I am in unity with that oneness. And therefore, everyone is unified with that oneness.



This reminds me of one of Buddha’s revelations: that if we have lived many, like hundreds of thousands of incarnations, then it could be very likely that anyone you meet could have been your mother, in a previous incarnation. In addition, Jesus stated that he came to give one commandment: to love the oneness and each other as the oneness.

How are we treating each other? Is it even close to how you would treat your mother? Integrity is like that. When we treat each other with love, respect, and we “do no harm,” we would not be lying, stealing and all the other “thou shalt nots.” Integrity is not being divided or separated from anyone else. Recognizing blood color before skin color, the color of their flag, or the shape of their wholeness. Use unity as the basis of integrity and all the rest will take care of itself.

The Unknown

1 June 2022 at 00:07
By: Vylet

Ultra Vylet
CLF Member, incarcerated in FL

They wouldn’t show me the path in which to walk
Only the roads sidelined, with bodies in chalk
Vague directions and a god that refuses to be known
Look for me in darkness, the heartless child’s foster home

And so I cut my own path
Became my own god
Created my own ceremonies
Ordained my own laws

Instituted my own rituals
And sent my demons to hell
From the darkness I came
Illuminating myself

I created the light
And saw that it was good, you see
For no guru
Would show their wizen face
to me

And so my own master
No generic I’ve become
A unique soul
The esoteric sun

Whatever comes,
I will not be disrupted; the essence
My solar-systems spun
Spins spirit relentless

Energy vampires un-repented
Eternally burn on my contrite cross
For blood is an illusion
A conundrum delusion wrought
So look for my blood, if you
so choose
That which you seek your own you shall lose
Lost in confusion are all my foes
Bound by habit circled in woes

That’s a stick of dynamite
Not a candle they’re holding
But what’s a spiritual truth
To a creation so soulless

Pastors packing pulpit power
In their proverbial pipes
Puff puff; boom, plume!!
Eradication of life

On a nimbus cloud, I span the skys
The earth my love, the rain and I
Does everything natural not love the storm
Water is life, is light, is lore


From Membership to Stewardship

1 June 2022 at 00:06

When Aisha, Michael, and I were called as your Lead Ministry Team in 2020 we were excited to learn all the behind-the-scenes workings of CLF. All of us had been affiliated with CLF in one way or another over the years, be it as members, co-hosts of the VUU, and/or CLF programs.  We were and remain energized about the potential for CLF global ministry. We see the hunger for UU Faith Development offerings, Prison Ministry/Abolition programs, and of course the deep community building that happens during weekly worship service and covenant groups.

One aspect of CLF life which emerged into clearer focus for us were the ways in which CLF operates both as a church and a non-profit:

  • Sunday/Monday Worship – Church
  • Staff Structure – non-profit
  • Pastoral Care – Church
  • Membership Structure – non-profit

As we began interviewing staff, lay leaders, and members it became clear that there is a deep desire to build the CLF as a congregational community. The reasons we gather as a spiritual community are vast but they are always centered on building beloved community.… a spiritual community, a faith, a Unitarian Universalist home.

Chalice Drawing

‘Flaming Chalice’ by Larry. CLF member, incarcerated in NJ.

Michael, Aisha, and I, with the support of the CLF Board, set about realigning the staff and resources to more fully embrace a structure and culture of faith. In 2021 we underwent a wildly successful staff realignment which saw staff embrace those areas of their expertise and creative expression. Today our staff continue to report how excited and fulfilled they are working in this collaborative environment. And it shows because you, our members, are showing up to worship, covenant groups, and faith development offerings in droves. Our incarcerated UUs are finding us and flocking to our prison ministry.

So now we turn our attention to our membership structure. And friends let me tell you, the CLF is in full non-profit mode when it comes to membership! To join the church all one had to do is pay $50 and bam! you were a CLF Unitarian Universalist. Incarcerated UUs joined via membership form and then attended a ‘New UU” correspondence course in order to participate in our Pen Pal program.

But what Aisha, Michael and I asked is this question “who are the stewards of CLF Unitarian Universalism?” because in a faith community we are not just members but stewards. Our incarcerated UUs are stewards of our faith by their frequent contributions to Quest and sharing the good news of Unitarian Universalism within their incarcerated community.  Our free-world members tend towards the non-profit designation of member by paying a yearly membership fee. This isn’t to say that we don’t have self-identified stewards of CLF, we do. It’s to say that the way that we as the institution of CLF has positioned membership leads to a transactional nature rather than one of stewardship.

So we are excited to announce that beginning this summer we will launch a “From Membership to Stewardship” campaign. We will be asking folks to consider their “membership” in CLF from a stewardship perspective. We will be doing this in a variety of channels including mail, email, website, worship announcements, and faith development offerings.

We will be asking for you to think about your time, treasure, and talents as community offerings to stewarding Unitarian Universalism via the Church of the Larger Fellowship. And we will be creating opportunities to talk about stewardship, practice stewardship, and gain deeper understandings of just what being a steward of Unitarian Universalism is all about. We are soooo excited to be on this journey with you and look forward to exploring with you this upcoming season of “From Membership to Stewardship” at the CLF.

YoUUrs in faith,

Christina Rivera
Co-Lead Ministry Team

Quest May 2022

1 May 2022 at 00:10

May 2022

Where there is love there is life. –Mahatma Gandhi


Teaching Love

1 May 2022 at 00:09


Just four letters.

Inspiration for artists and musicians, poets and dancers, an elusive, harkening, echoing, beckoning promise of what is and might be, no multi syllabic synonyms are needed to evoke Love’s deep complexities.  A foundational influence from the time we are born, if we are lucky to have it, binding us to its mysteries and intricacies, some might even think of Love as God.

Minstrels and sonnet writers praise its wonders. “All you need is love,” sang The Beatles. “Love is all you need.”

Some spend an entire lifetime unraveling the enigma — is love a social construct or something that is hardwired into our physiology? Does it belong in the spiritual realm? Whatever form or shape it takes, one can be certain that an examination of love is not likely to make an appearance on a standardized test. Many of us devote decades to exploring Love’s many facets through the prism of our own understanding and experience.

For me, love means commitment and consistency, devotion and dedication. Love is present in the joy that results when understanding and transformation occur. Love is at its best when it gives rise to that other four letter, equally powerful word that makes us or another say: “Free.” And when it does not, we can know that Love is being mis-used.

For me love takes the form of sexuality education; offered freely, offered with commitment and consistency, devotion and dedication. For me sexuality education is offered through Our Whole Lives (OWL), a comprehensive values based sexuality education program developed by two religious groups, the UUA and the UCC (and yet completely secular).

Sexuality education is much more than learning about sexual intercourse and all it’s inherent dangers; it is about body image, self esteem, friendships, intimacy, whom we chose to love, how we see ourselves, within or beyond gender binaries, how we consent to love and  loving; it is an exploration of what makes us who we are, the most fundamental of human questing.

I’ve been an OWL facilitator for almost two decades — and I have to ask, “Am I getting complacent?” What if I were asked to double down on love? What would that look like for me and how I offer sexuality education?

I know that I have work to do in widening the circle to include people beyond those who “find themselves in our group.” I am called to engage the large community, whether through schools, neighborhood programs, adult schools, justice systems, or families. I need to work more intentionally with communities of the global majority whose access to and engagement with sexuality education might be compromised.

What of you, Beloved? What if you were asked to double down on love? What would you do differently?

With blessings for each of your journeys of exploration and discovery, deepening, questing, and questioning,

— Tuli


1 May 2022 at 00:08

What does love look/feel/sound like to you?

CLF Member, incarcerated in IL

That has always been a difficult question for me. As a kid, when I was being abused, I was told it was for my own good and because my dad loved me. My mother told me she loved me, then ran away to the other side of the country. As a teenager, my stepmother said that she loved me, then cut all contact with me for fear my father would find her after he got out of prison.

The only person who has told me that loved me and not abandoned or abused me is my aunt. Through all of the institutions and all of the trials and pain I have had to deal with, my aunt has supported me. Though she didn’t and doesn’t condone the behaviors that got me institutionalized, she has stood behind me. That, to me, is love.

I have never had a girlfriend and never had a date, so I don’t know what that kind of love is like. I have experienced the love of a pet. I had a dog as a child named Alfred. He made the nightmare of my childhood a little less dark. He could always make me smile and even make me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry.

Once I began to walk the pagan path and began to understand who and what I truly am, I have felt a serene love when communing with nature, and an unconditional love from my brethren in the pagan services here.

Now, as for loving myself: that has also been a difficult road. As a child, I was made to believe that I was nothing, that I was worth nothing, that I would never amount to anything. It has been very difficult for me to overcome that. It has taken years, a number of people helping me, and a lot of self-reflection and growth for me to get to where I can love myself and accept myself. As it  has been said over and over, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

So love to me is supporting someone when they need it most, even if you don’t like what they did. It is making someone feel better, making them smile or laugh when they are hurting. Love is accepting someone for who they are, without judgment or reservations. Love is casting away negative external and internal perceptions and truly figuring out who you are and accepting that person.

What is Love?

CLF Member, incarcerated in FL

L-O-V-E. Probably one of the most misunderstood words in the English language. Mostly due to the fact we only have one word for it. The Greeks however have multiple words to describe different types of love. Here are four of them:

Eros, the easiest, is physical love. This is where we get words like erotic. It’s the love of how things look/feel/smell/taste or any other physical property. This might be an initial feeling towards someone we’re attracted to.

Philia is brotherly love. Think of philanthropy, coming together to raise money for a cause. This describes the love towards friends, co-workers and even humanity as a whole.

Storge is familial love. Not a common root word in the English language, but this is the love one typically feels towards parents, children, siblings or cousins.

The most powerful form of love is agape, or unconditional love that continues despite and perhaps even due to our flaws.

This is sometimes the hardest to achieve because as humans we put conditions on so much, usually unconsciously. This is what we as UUs strive for, especially in our acceptance of the LGBTQ+ and incarcerated members. This is the love to strive for.

What about your love?


CLF member, incarcerated in CO

Love is a simple yet complex emotion for us to truly describe. However, we seem to know it when we feel it. Problems arise when we grasp at, try to control or desire love. Problems also happen when we reject or do not reciprocate love.

Love is at its best when we just allow it to be, and in turn, when we just “be” in it. Love exists outside of us, sometimes with, sometimes without us. We are not necessary for love, but love is a necessity for us.


CLF Member, incarcerated in MA

To put into words that which transcends words is something the greatest poets all throughout time have tried to do (with varying success). Since I consider myself to be a bit of an amateur poet and writer, this is something that I have thought on many times.

An over-simplification is that love is just a basic chemical reaction, impulses that are instinctive. Perhaps you can say that of lust, but not love, for love is not a physical reaction, but a social construct, a characteristic of thinking beyond the self.

When I think on love, an old Greek story comes to mind. There was a creature that walked the Earth that was so powerful, it could overthrow the Gods themselves. It had four arms, four legs, and two heads. Zeus, being fearful of what these creatures could do, rendered them in half; to this day, these now split creatures look for their other half, so that they may once again be as one.

What this story is talking about is humans and the concept of soulmates. I always liked the idea that when you are with your soulmate, that the love you have, is the greatest power in all the world.

Another way of looking at it is a puzzle, composed of two pieces. On their own, you have a slight understanding of the image. Maybe two pieces that are not truly matching can be put together, but the story told is disjointed, and doesn’t make much sense. But when they match up, a story for the ages is told.

Nearly 20 years ago, I found that one, the missing piece, my missing half. With her, I felt at peace. The best way I can describe that feeling is with a smile. It’s a special smile, one that only came across my face when I looked at her. It drove her crazy, because one could consider it a “I have a secret” smile.

In a way, I did, and I’ll let you in on it. Now come close, for not everyone can handle this, so they shouldn’t hear it: my love for my wife is the power that makes the Gods themselves tremble. Forever & Always.


1 May 2022 at 00:07
By: Gary


In the beginning
it was all darkness and fear
I saw no way out
no end to my anguish
a place that conveys death
yet, can offer life?
to become new
I entered into this cocoon,
a target of transformation,
the time out in darkness
becomes a metamorphosis
death and life working together
to bring about a transformation
from the ruins of the old
like a butterfly, to emerge
forever changed
a person I have never been,
but the world, this life
isn’t all rainbows and butterflies,
for you can’t change the mind
if you have not touched the heart

Interminable Affinity

1 May 2022 at 00:06

(an intermission of love’s omissions)

Chase Cole
CLF member, incarcerated in MA

this memory unfolds
spilling over my shoulder
with Hyacinth coolness
shades of hair
spiral downward
rose and sweet a meadow’s breath
tickles my tongue
tingling red wine kisses
little sips of you

pale fingers caress shadows
cinders spear lambent gazes
never wandering eyes
tease my vibe
you are the bee
who robs my hive
unfolding myself beside you
will this last?

you ask
shivering autumnal sun
folded legs tucked under mine
petals of fallen white
holding me
shaping your outline
a nimbus of startling height
passes above us
our love
falls before us

we are a tangle of consciousness
steep and wild
merging rivers crashing together
hidden in veils of light
small wild fruit grows upon your
stop and speak
to me
your silk-blue eyes
purple crescent skies
plum blossoms inhale you
I steal your smiles
cup them inside my heart
trap them inside your warmth
hold me lovely tell me I’m yours

you will come dazzling beside me
risen from jelly shaking your soul
I calm your tremors
kissing you lightly on night’s wind
this world hints of you
your rise and fall
inhaling a life we built together
exhaling empires we destroyed
forever promises eternity
love demands it
—we rise mountains
smooth summits—
sail thermals

Notice of the CLF Annual Meeting

1 April 2022 at 00:07

To all members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist:

Per Article VII, Sections 1 and 2, of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) Bylaws, the 49th Annual Meeting will be held via video/telephone conference call and screen sharing on Sunday, June 5, 2021 at 7:00PM EDT.

To join the meeting, click here.

We will be distributing materials electronically to all CLF members for whom we have a current email address, and posting the documents to our website (www.clfuu.org/annualmeeting). All incarcerated members will automatically receive paper copies of the materials along with postage-paid ballots to return. Others may request hard copies mailed to you by sending back the form on the final page of this issue of Quest, or calling the CLF office at 617-948-6150.

All those who have access to the Internet or phone are encouraged to join our meeting via Zoom and participate in the discussion. Meeting materials will include absentee ballots for those unable to attend in person.

The purpose of the meeting is to:

  • Report on highlights of CLF activities and finances
  • Vote for the following leadership positions (see nominations from

Nominating Committee in the packet):

  • Elect three members to 3-year terms on the board of directors,
  • Elect one members to 1-year term on the board of directors to fill a term vacated before the term was finished,
  • Elect one member to a 3-year term on the nominating committee,
  • Elect a clerk and treasurer for one year

We will elect a moderator from among members present to preside at the meeting.

Aisha Ansano, Board Chair

The Shape of Memory

1 April 2022 at 00:06

A phrase landed in me during the week that my mother was dying, as I grasped at any words I could find to make sense of the enormous shift in front of me.

The shape of every memory is changing.

I was seeing with painful clarity what anyone who has experienced big loss knows: I would now have two lives. The first life was the previous 26 years in which I was lucky enough to have my beloved mother with me in life, and the second, however much time I have in front of me, in which I would have to hold her close as a beloved ancestor. And every memory from that first life was now changing, shaped by the reality of this sudden ending.

My mother was a constant in all of the life I’d already known. Her steady presence, her love and care, was a backdrop to all things — a backdrop so fundamental to my experience of life that it was hard to see it clearly at times. Her love had always been at the center of my life, but I wouldn’t have named it as such until I realized I would have to live without her living presence reinforcing it. Perhaps that’s just the way of everything that is fundamental. We assume there will always be air to breathe, until there isn’t; we assume the sun will rise every day, until it doesn’t.

Now, the backdrop of my every memory was suddenly shifting into focus. Now, in the constant foreground: the gift of having had my mother for any time at all, my gratitude for any moment we spent together in life. The shape of every memory had changed.

So many other things have come into clearer focus along with that shift. There is painful truth to the cliche that major loss makes you realize what’s most important. I’ve moved through the past year with much more clarity about how I want to use my time and energy, letting go of past insecurities and narratives that no longer serve me. With my mother’s love at the center, I understand the sacredness of my life more fully. The shape of my every memory has changed, and with it, the shape and direction of my life.

Memory is not static, an unchanging account of events and relationships and facts. It is the source of our meaning-making, a collection of threads from which we weave the narrative that holds our life. The shape and texture of our memories change along with us, as we need them to, to make sense of the ever-changing reality we are faced with.

Letting the shape of my memories change to foreground my mother’s love is one of the things that has saved me, that has made surviving this first year without her possible. How we remember matters — and the shape of our memories can shape our lives as we move through them.

May you each find a shape to your memories that allow you to move through loss and change with more ease. May you know, always, that you are loved, and let that holding shape all of your life to come.

Quest April 2022

1 April 2022 at 00:10

April 2022

One lives in the hope
of becoming a memory.
–Antonio Porchia


    What is Memory?

    Rev. Jane Dwinell
    I am terrible at remembering names. I have tried all of the tricks to be able to do that, but nope, not for me. Thank goodness for name tags! Read more »


    Quest for Meaning
    How do you honor memory in your life? Read more »

    Notice of the CLF Annual Meeting

    Quest for Meaning
    Per Article VII, Sections 1 and 2, of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) Bylaws, the 49th Annual Meeting will be held via video/telephone conference call and screen sharing on Sunday, June 5, 2021 at 7:00PM EDT. Read more »

    The Shape of Memory

    Rose Gallogly
    A phrase landed in me during the week that my mother was dying, as I grasped at any words I could find to make sense of the enormous shift in front of me. Read more »

What is Memory?

1 April 2022 at 00:09

I am terrible at remembering names. I have tried all of the tricks to be able to do that, but nope, not for me. Thank goodness for name tags!

But I remember so many details about so many people, even if I have forgotten their names. I could list them all, but one stands out — the nurse’s aide who held my hand in the emergency room after I was in a terrible car accident when I was 19.

Is it necessary for me to remember this? What if I forgot? Would it matter?

Thinking about memory suddenly became important when my

husband, Sky, was diagnosed with dementia in 2016. I had known something wasn’t quite right with him for a few years. He denied anything was wrong, but eventually agreed to be tested: probable early stage Alzheimer’s. We were stunned.

As we processed this devastating news, Sky said he assumed he would eventually forget his family, but he was mostly afraid that he would forget his Self.

So we read books about memory. It turns out that there are several kinds of memory — ranging from memories of how to do things (ride a bike, tie our shoes) to memories of things that happened to us (however incomplete those memories are) to memories of factual information (Where is the bathroom? What is the capitol of Mali?).

Then Sky wrote:

As the attacks on our intellects and memory continue, we feared changing into people neither we nor our loved ones would value spending time with.  What is left for us if the glue of memory no longer holds our selves together?

As time went on, Sky gradually lost the ability— the memory — of how to do many things. What clothes to wear. How to button buttons or zip zippers. How to read. How to get into bed. How to pull up the covers.

Did he still know his Self?

Sky spent his last year in a memory care facility. He walked the corridors, interacting with other residents and the staff, singing songs, making jokes. Sky was one of those people that had a song lyric for every occasion. Me? I can’t remember song lyrics, never mind who starred in what movie.

When he was dying, he was still singing, and he seemed happy. He told me I was beautiful, and he told me the end was near.

He may not have remembered his Self, but I sure did. It was all there, in its blazing glory.

Is it only memory that is the glue that holds our selves together?

I think there is a fourth kind of memory — emotional memory. We all have negative emotional memories, but we all have positive emotional memories as well.

I was so, so grateful for the nurse’s aide who soothed me, scared and in pain, as I waited in a cold, stark ER. I can still feel her love and care fifty years later.

And when I remember Sky these days, a year after his death, of course I remember all the things we did together.  But mostly I remember the love we shared.

And what could be more important?

What about you? What memories are important for you to remember? Are they factual? Emotional? How would it feel to not remember?


1 April 2022 at 00:09

How do you honor memory in your life?

Post-it notes


CLF Member, incarcerated in TX

I feel like I am going to take this topic in a direction most are not expecting. The way I honor memory in my life is by trying to remember it. I know that may sound strange, but allow me to explain. Due to a past of very heavy drug use, I have done some pretty severe damage to my brain. My thoughts are slow, my ADHD is harder to keep in check (and yes, I actually have ADHD, unlike the massive numbers of people who have been falsely diagnosed). I will lose my train of thought, and if I don’t have a good reminder it stays lost, no matter how much I rack my brain to retrieve it.

When I think of things I need to get done, I either have to do them right then and there, or I have to make a note of it, or it won’t get done until something reminds me to do it. When I pick up a book I’m reading at the time, I have to skim the last page or two to remember what happened before I put it down. When I write a long letter, I periodically have to reread the letter to remember what I have already written (I’ve already done it once with this essay). I used to be quite skilled at mathematical calculations in my head, but that’s impossible now, I have to do it on paper.

I have been sober going on two years now, and unlike all the other times I quit using, I honestly have no desire to use anymore. Yes, on occasion I feel a slight urge, but it’s so fleeting that I have already decided I don’t want to before the thought is even finished. I know from experience that if I indulge in any kind of intoxicant, even slightly, it’s a full on cannonball into the pool. I’m that kind of addict. I know this about myself. Ten years of experience taught me, so I stay away from everything.

Since I’m sober, the ongoing damaging of my brain has stopped. I was told by a highly intelligent friend of mine that my brain can slowly heal the damage that I have done to it, and omega-3 fish oils will help. So I take two 1000mg gel tablets a day. He also told me that exercising my memory by memorizing things helps. I memorize song lyrics. I’m also trying to teach myself to speak Russian and read and write Cyrillic. Tackling a new language at thirty with a brain that drugs have turned into oatmeal is difficult, but I persevere.

I’m doing my best to honor my memory. I really hope that I can bounce back from my poor decisions. But if I can’t accept the consequences of my bad choices, I really have no choice, right?

Mobile phone


CLF Member, incarcerated in MA

Memory can be a fickle thing, especially with me. “You have autism, so you must have a photographic memory!” Well, a) it’s technically called idyllic memory, and b) I don’t have it either way. My memory just functions differently than the norm; some things are just easier for me to recall, and others less so.

Pretty much anything that involves static events and not people, I can recall, even if I can’t recall them that quickly. When people become involved, even in those life-changing, life-affirming events, I struggle to remember. I may know that something happened, the “wide-strokes” if you will, but the nitty-gritty details can escape me.

But not always. Not in the sense that when I was younger I could and that as I got older the ability lessened, but that there was a time for me when I could recall all memories with the same level of clarity.

The time is simple to define: it was when I was able to be with, be near, my one and only, my Forever & Always. When in her presence, I could bring to mind all those things that mattered so much. When I first met her and when our daughter was born, everything, good and bad, felt as if it just happened. (Though mind you, the bad wasn’t really that bad, for it was always a learning experience, and something greater always came out of it.)

Then with the separation, brought about from me being charged and incarcerated, things started to slip. Now it’s a struggle to hold onto any little detail, every smile, every hiccup, fading away to nothing.

What hurts even more is that I know that there’s a hole there, a missing spot within my memory, like an empty folder in a filing cabinet. Something important was there, I just don’t know what it was.

Nowadays, people bemoan social media and living your life online, taking needless pictures, posting irrelevant information that only matters to them. But that’s the thing: all of that matters to them. It’s a digital record, a “backup” of your memories, that allows one to easily go back and relive those memories. I find the expression of the self and the sharing of it to be a wonderful thing. Through that, one can live true to themselves, and remember all they were, are, and can be.

Memory jar


CLF Member, incarcerated in CO

When I reflected on this question I realized I don’t really honor the memories in my life. What I do is long for them, grieve for them, reminisce, and become nostalgic. Memories come all the time, triggered by sights, smells, sounds, and stimuli that I can’t always put my finger on.

When these memories arise now and flood me with emotion, I will pause and rest in whatever it is I am feeling. I give that memory the proper place it deserves, and give myself the extension of that time and place. This will give that memory the honor and respect it deserves — good or bad, there is always a knowledge and understanding to be grasped.

The Aunties Have Always Known

1 March 2022 at 00:10

When I was a teenager, I loved Ralph Waldo Emerson, particularly his essay on self-reliance. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. I repeated these words to myself often. Back then my family was large and everyone knew everyone’s business. This was by design. As somewhat recent immigrants, we had learned how to keep our family safe. My mom and aunties would often prod me on the details of my life, cross-referencing information, verifying. I kept several diaries at that time, some of them in code, because I knew that if my diary was discovered it was getting read. Probably by more than one person.

All of this was done for your own good, they liked to tell me, because they loved me. And I felt loved. I also felt stifled. I planned my escape to a mythical land of self-reliance, where one day I could do for myself alone and not worry what anyone else thought. Think Henry David Thoreau, but Doc Marten boots, drug addiction, and a basement apartment in downtown Seattle.

My journey of rebellious self-reliance indeed led me to some mythical places, but they were scary, too. And self-destructive. It took many years of sobriety for me to finally appreciate my family. During some of the worst days of my addiction, those same aunties helped my mom pull me out of drug dens and bring me home. These are the kind of aunties who will drop everything when called, pick you up from anywhere you ask, and bring along a plate of salami and bread in case you’re hungry. They arrive early to help and stay late to clean up and they never ask for anything in return. They know how to care for you because they know you. They take the time to get up in your business and ask.

The aunties know that Emerson’s idea of self-reliance is a white supremacist lie. And it is always, ultimately, self-destructive. None of us, no matter who we are, relies on ourselves alone. Not even Thoreau, who was famously cared for by his aunties, too. The aunties have always known. We are all inherently interdependent, meaning mutually dependent, dependent on one another to survive. Without community care—without a multitude of generations leaning into that interdependence and making use of it—none of us will make it. The earth and its creatures can live no other way.

Emerson was wrong. It isn’t self-reliance that secures the integrity of my mind, but self-care. And even that doesn’t secure the integrity of my soul. For the integrity of my soul, I look to my community: my family, my ancestors, the earth, all the communities of people who claim me, and my body, as I claim myself. For the integrity of my soul, I build resilience by building relationships. I follow the example of my aunties, asking for help when I need it and showing up for others when they need me. Interdependence means we rely on one another. We depend upon each other. We actively care. It is the very opposite of self-reliance. And in this time of global pandemic and social revolution, it is the only way we will survive.


1 March 2022 at 00:09

What does it mean to live interdependently?

CLF Member, incarcerated in TX

RiverTo be interdependent is to depend on one another. Living in a way that not only allows interaction and participation with others, but encourages and is founded on such principles.

It can be one living within a fully functioning community of like minded individuals, or simply a fellowship of individuals living separately operating as a collective. Either way, it is an active union amongst individuals.

To live interdependently is to give, receive, and share what one has to offer with others. It is to allow yourself to rely on and trust others outside of yourself to meet needs in your life.

In a way, it is an acknowledgment through lifestyle choice that we as humankind are meant to live in connection with life outside ourselves. It is a need that when not fulfilled, we are left with a feeling of incompletion. Can anyone truly make the claim that they have met every need in their life without the assistance of anyone else?

When I have people around me as a part of my life whom I can depend and rely on, my life seems as though it flows more easily and is not as restricted. It opens up more and new possibilities in my life to explore.

CLF Member, incarcerated in VA

Island with palm trees“No man is an island.” This is a quote that most of us heard early in life, along with such aphorisms as, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” and “slow and steady wins the race.” But what does it actually mean, this figure of speech that brings to mind palm trees and coconuts?

I would like to think that the meaning of this saying lies under the fact that each of us, as individuals, as families, as communities even, live in ways that are interdependent with one another. By this I mean that each of us, whether intentionally or not, affect the lives of those around us — and it is up to each of us to decide whether it is for the good of others or not. In the same way that a soft breeze can throw a flurry of oak leaves in the autumn, so can the simple act of a friendly gesture, a smile, or a sharp word affect the outcome of someone else’s day.

In this way, each of us is interdependent with everyone else — we are each free to act as we will, but with the knowledge that our actions affect others, not just ourselves.

CLF Member, incarcerated in WA

I used to believe that the only way to be successful was to be independent, and that meant that I needed nobody’s opinions, teaching, or help. This worked well all the way up until about 4th grade. At that point, I wasn’t getting picked to play on anybody’s team. I was an outcast and alone.

I had to come up with a solution, and my solution was to ask for help. Knowing who to ask and when developed over time, and I created a network of friends, family and spiritual leaders that guide me interdependently.

Please don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. I believe that God intends for us to need each other!

CLF Member, incarcerated in MA

Spider webAs COVID has shown us, we live in an interconnected world. One life affects another, distance no longer isolating each of us. Mind you, to combat this virus, we physically had to distance — which highlighted our need for physical connection, many not realizing until it was too late how much we depended upon each other, needed each other.

For we do need each other. We all have something to contribute. Some may say that those of us in prison don’t do anything to help; I feel the same way about the talking heads that say this. It may be hard, and there are those that feel they don’t owe anything to the greater world, but we do help, in our own way.

Beyond that dichotomy, looking all around, you see new and inventive ways for people to connect and stay connected. That human interaction cannot be stopped, for it is a part of our core, as essential as the air we breathe.

There are those that isolate, not in a medical sense, but a geopolitical one. They feel that they don’t need anyone, that caring for the hurt and downtrodden is not only beneath them, but it is their right to, well, tread on them. It’s sad, for in the end, not even they gain from these actions.

For we all need each other, Everyone has something that they can do, something that is needed by another, not only to live, but to thrive. You can exist without others, but can only prosper with the support of others.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

1 March 2022 at 00:08

In April of 2019, I led a youth and adult delegation from the local congregation I serve on a service-learning trip to Pine Ridge, South Dakota. We engaged in a year-long series of learning sessions about Native American history, with an emphasis on the history, spirituality, teachings, and practices of the Lakota people.

Our time at Pine Ridge began with a tour of important sites on the reservation. I wrote this after returning from Wounded Knee, site of the 1890 massacre of nearly 300 Lakota people by the United States Army. I was reminded then that our interdependence transcends not only place but also time—and that in order to make a better future we must learn about and atone for the sins of the past.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

(Pine Ridge Reservation, 4.14.19)

How do you prepare
to visit the site of genocide?
Where the soil has been stained
with the blood of innocents?

If you’re Jewish, perhaps
you find a small, smooth stone
and carry it reverently
to place on the grave of
Lost Bird, infant survivor,
kidnapped and sold and displayed
like a trophy.
We remember you, you might say.

I took a walk with friends
up a steep, snowy hill
to pray,
to see the sun set,
to feel close to the Earth.
Along the muddy path
the meadowlarks trilled and chirped
from their hidden nests
amidst the dry grass
blessing the journey
with their song.

At Wounded Knee, we listened.
First to an oral history of a people who survive, told
with sage burning for purification,
eyes closed in memory of
the inherited trauma of generations.

And then,
after the stories,
to the meadowlarks.
The lost birds singing
through time
across borders
announcing the holiness
of the ground on which we stood.

A Message To The Community: A Letter From Prison

1 March 2022 at 00:06
By: Reggie

CLF Member, incarcerated in PA

Drawing of hands holding sunflowerI offer my condolences to the families who have lost loved ones
And became victims to the violence

I offer my apologies for having been derelict in my duty and responsibility as a man
In not being the guardian, educator, and leader my communities needed
In order to be vital and life-affirming

I want to inform you that it is my goal to counteract
the insanity of the destructive mindset
And I do not embrace those who prey upon any people
But particularly, my people

I want my voice to be heard:
Let the violence, drug dealing, physical, and spiritual
abuse of the communities stop

As a man, I want it to be known that I have come to value and recognize
That the children need and deserve a safe and secure
environment in which to grow and develop,
Be educated, have access to equal opportunities to excel
And become who the Creator intended them to be

I ask that everyone reading or hearing this looks at a child
Whether at home, school, at play, in church, or mosque, and consider these words:

I am the African child

The whole world awaits my coming, all the earth
watches with interest
To see what I shall become
Civilization hangs in the balance; for what I am, the
world of tomorrow will be

I am the African child

You have brought me into this, about which I know
You hold in your hand my destiny
You determine whether I shall succeed or fail
Give me, I beg you, a world where I can walk tall and proud
Train me, as is your duty unto me
To love myself, and my people
And to build and maintain a great nation
It is I who proclaim

I am the African child

The whole world awaits my coming, I shall not delay it
For I too have a dream

General Assembly Delegate Information

1 March 2022 at 00:05

UUA General Assemby


The February 2022 issue of Quest included information about 2021 General Assembly by error.

 Apologies for the mistake! Below is information about becoming a CLF delegate for the 2022 General Assembly.

Would you like to represent the Church of the Larger Fellowship at General Assembly (GA) this summer? The CLF is entitled to 22 delegates at the UUA’s General Assembly, which will be held both online and in-person in Portland, OR from June 22-26, 2022.

You will be able to attend online or in-person workshops, programs, and worship services. Proof of vaccination for COVID-19 is required to attend in person.

As a delegate you will be able to vote during General Sessions. General Sessions will be held from 9:30-12:30pm PT on 6/23-6/25 and 12:30-2:30pm PT on 6/26. Delegates should be able to be online or in person to attend the majority of these General Sessions. CLF delegates vote their conscience on matters related to the denomination of Unitarian Universalism, and are responsible for their own expenses.

If you’d like to participate in GA 2022 in this role, please fill out the online application at clfuu.org/delegate-application. Visit the UUA’s General Assembly website at www.uua.org/ga for details.

Quest March 2022

1 March 2022 at 00:00

March 2022

All are caught in an inescapable
network of mutuality, tied in a single
garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects
all indirectly.
–Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Whole and Holy

1 February 2022 at 00:10

SpiralI came fractured, I healed, and now I live in a stained glass mosaic of faith. The ME you see is a collection of shards, reconfigured and made into a whole new kind of beautiful.

I am proof that spiritual growth is both possible and worth it, proof that life is such a beautiful, complicated mess.

I grew up in a home where faith was spoken but never personally practiced. I know the words of belief, but not the behaviors. We swore to g*d, but we never visited a house of worship. I learned reverence for faith, but I never adopted a faith ideology.

As a teen, I came out to myself as a bisexual. This knowing was huge and shaped much of my life at the time. In parallel, having always been drawn to topics of faith, I began seeking out a faith community.

The churches I attended told me two things: I was a divine creation of g*d, AND g*d was casting me into hell for being bisexual. I tried to reconcile these two juxtapositions. I lived as a sacred creature of g*d who was also hell-bound. I took on the posture of the unredeemable.

In 2000, I took a job at a local Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church, a faith/church/ way of relating to g*d that was new to me. I treated that first community like a hostile suspect. I took on the posture of a disbeliever. Who were these people? Where is the sales pitch? When do we talk about my time in hell? 

My suspicion dissolved when I learned more about the seven principles of UU, communal rituals, and social justice dedication. This faith was not asking me to worship a book or man; the ask was to join a beloved community aspiring to be their best self.

This invitation was the gateway I needed to dive “heart first” into the faith community and bring myself whole/ holy. You can see the evolution of my journey as I have moved from lay leader, paid staff, and now as a minister in training. I have come a long way in 20 years. And over time, I have gained a posture of spiritual maturity and curiosity.

My faith looks like being a community member, volunteering on different committees, and financial stewardship. It includes the hosting of altars for African Ancestors, participating in seasonal rituals, movement as prayer, and by no means is bound to Sunday morning.

I used to say I came to UU whole, but that was not true. I stumbled into this faith with open wounds and deep scars that needed severe tending.

I stayed because the approach to healing was holistic, encompassing, and expansive.

I remain because I believe that access to spiritual healing will be a crucial component in our freedom fight.

Can you imagine what systems we could dismantle if we came to work from a place of healed + honored wholeness?

That is what I am working toward, what I believe is necessary and possible.

A stained glass mosaic of faith, reconfigured and made into a whole new kind of beautiful.

Whole and holy.


1 February 2022 at 00:09

How do you practice and cultivate joy, especially when times are hard?

Double-Edged Joy

CLF Member, incarcerated in CA

“ I slept and dreamt that
    life was joy.
I awoke and saw that
    life was service.
I acted and beheld
    service was joy.”
—Rabindranath Tagore

Joy is one of the few things we humans desire for its own sake. It inspires us to pursue our highest ideals and is the fuel of hope when the fell clutch of circumstance gives us no season to continue. The swell and rush, the soaring of the heart, the urge to smile and laugh and dance: we dream of life being filled with such joy.

There is, however, a dark side to joy. Too much can be an easy lure into complacency or can feel like a veil hiding our problems from ourselves. Depression has its secret joys — the enticing liberation from the duties upon our weary shoulders. Drugs are abused exactly because they throw a euphoric haze over the brain, even as they rob it of chemical self-reliance. Then there is the dogmatic zealot, who condemns, while reveling in the joyous throes of blind faith. Joy can lead away from service to our better angels.

Where does that leave us? Should we moderate our joy? I think we are better off rethinking joy: it is a practice we can cultivate. We can learn to find joy in the small details of life, the everyday gifts we largely take for granted. We do not have to wait for disaster to rob us of our bounty to finally appreciate it — that is the power of a spiritual practice. For me, having a liberal spirituality calls me to love the world as it is right now. It helps me see the beauty everywhere and resist the darker joys that try to pull me away from my own path. I want joy to better serve me so that I might better serve others. That is a joy worth having.


CLF Member, incarcerated in NY

Joy is all too rare behind bars, yet it is here that I experienced its power.

After a year of legal proceedings, I was transferred to a state facility. Arriving well into the evening I was physically stunned at the intimidating walls, razor wire, and unearthly lights from the towers creating a forbidding estate — ghostly and lifeless. If the prison designers intended to conjure Dante (Abandon All Hope All Yet who Enter Here) they succeeded.

Soon I received a letter from my aunt saying she was planning to visit me. I considered writing to wave her off. I longed to see her, but how can I be so selfish as to allow her to experience the visceral injury that is arriving here and being subjected to visitor processing. I did not write.

After a long hug and happy greetings, I told her how I worried for her, entering a totally depressing environment. She held my hand and said, “As I pulled up, all I felt was joy for seeing you.”

What an incredible gift! Circumstance did everything to defeat joy. Ignoring the circumstance, she lovingly created joy for both of us.

CLF Member, incarcerated in NC

How do I cultivate joy, especially when times are hard? Well, the first thing I do is wiggle my toes, move my legs and arms, open and close my eyes, remembering that all things I can physically do with my body should not be taken for granted, and I thank the higher power for those gifts.

I also give thanks for many other things. Even though I am in prison, there are many blessings if I count them. Food, water, shelter, clean clothes, and a clean comfortable bunk to sleep on. Even though many of the people surrounding me have been sentenced for violent offenses, I somehow feel safe and serene.

I have plenty of time to study and plenty of material to fuel my desire for self improvement, as well as knowledge of self. I have a budget that allows me to buy things I want. I have a job that allows me opportunities to serve others, which allows me to take my mind off myself for a change as well. I have a release date, which some people in here do not.

I have developed a meditation practice which has begun to calm the stormy hail-field of my mind, parting the clouds and fog slowly, allowing me to realize many things and gain insight on developing a purpose-driven life.

So anytime things seem to get hard, and I feel down and out, I practice these steps, and I pray to my creator and all is good, and ask forgiveness for any past violation against the order of goodness and love. I ask for the peace that surpasses all understanding to come over me, and that’s when I receive the gift of joy, and how I cultivate it daily. This was not an overnight result, it is a practice, one that I have and will continue to revise and allow to evolve in my life. Even though I am in prison, and still have some time to go, I have significant hope for the future, and I’m filled with joy when I think of how far I’ve been brought out of the pit of despair that I found myself in prior to being incarcerated. I am blessed and look forward to future opportunities to bless others as part of my spiritual quest here on this earth. ′

CLF Member, incarcerated in VA

I practice and cultivate joy by helping others through these times of hardship — and I still take time for myself to connect with our Creator and Savior so that I can remain in a joyous spirit, to continue passing joy to those that come to me, or I find in my walk of the day.

I surround myself, even when the negativity surrounds me, with the light from who created us, and remind myself that this is all part of the “plan.” I believe that all is part of the trials and tribulations that we have to go through until it, the whole plan, is put to rest and made new and everlasting.

So, surround yourself with this knowledge — seek and you shall find, as all you have to do is ask and receive and know that one must have faith. Believe and fight the good fight and it (the Joy) will come in time. Seek friends, company, to help bring you out of the funk you might be in.

Be hopeful, be around others, and activate the energy to create the joy needed for our lives.

CLF Member, incarcerated in TX

I’m a 50-year-old menopausal Black mother of three, who has been living in a non-air conditioned solitary confinement cell the size a parking space for the past five and a half years.

In this environment, which has been designed for human torture and suffering, the holidays are always a time of increased suicides and suicide attempts. I practice and cultivate joy by “mothering” the many 17-19 year old adolescents living with me in here.

It’s fulfilling to offer guidance and life lessons in kindness to other people’s children, as I would my own. I can only pray and hope the Universe will reciprocate for my three children. These acts of love and kindness provide an immense sense of purpose for me.

Lead with Examples

1 February 2022 at 00:08
By: Adrian

CLF Member, incarcerated in FL

What do I think of the Quest Monthly theme?

How joy from within will be as a light beam,
when you live in the present moment,
connecting and uniting with humanity
Start now and make a covenant,
with the I am I am within

Interconnectedness through humility,
We are one so count me in…

Balance, spirit, covenant, and race:
all part of my daily compass
Union, embodiment, creativity, and grace:
What I will express en-mass

But first I must connect
with divine love within and not neglect,
the mission of compassion today,
touching hearts with my words and
leading with examples one way.

Daily Compass

1 February 2022 at 00:06

The Daily Compass is a ministry of the Church of the Larger Fellowship crafted by Rev. Michael Tino of the Lead Ministry Team and other CLF staff members. It offers words and images to inspire spiritual reflection and encourage the creation of a more loving, inclusive and just world. Short reflections and prompts related to monthly themes are posted every day at dailycompass.org. The following are a few selections from February Daily Compass offerings.

Jumping for joyJoy

Amidst the harshness of our world, it is an important spiritual practice to claim (or reclaim) joy. To wrap it around us like a blanket against the coldness of our world. Joy keeps the ember of our soul burning when forces outside of us would conspire to snuff it out.

Find something today that makes you rejoice. Find something that makes you feel warm and alive.


Black, smiling womanResistance

In recent years, I have come to embrace joy as an act of resistance. There is so much evil and sadness out there and it was through reading and following Black activists that I realized that we can’t get lost in the idea of finding joy wherever we can.

How do you resist the evil and sadness of our world?


Mayhem bannerMayhem

We must find places to restore “our deep knowing that we have to take care of ourselves and each other with love and joy if we are to soulfully survive the world’s mayhem.”
—Heather Rion Starr

What is your place of refuge amidst mayhem? How is your joy restored?


Smiling, black womanWholeness

“I have learned to trust those who are witnesses rather than gurus, those who express their confusion as well as their knowledge, and those who share their suffering along with their joy.”
—David Rankin

Practice being a whole, authentic person with someone you trust.

Representing the CLF at GA 2022

1 February 2022 at 00:05


Would you like to represent the Church of the Larger Fellowship at General Assembly (GA) this summer?

The CLF is entitled to 22 delegates at the UUA’s General Assembly, which will be held both online and in-person in Portland, OR from June 22-26, 2022.

You will be able to attend online or in-person workshops, programs, and worship services. Proof of vaccination for COVID-19 is required to attend in person.

As a delegate you will be able to vote during General Sessions. General Sessions will be held from 9:30-12:30pm PT on 6/23-6/25 and 12:30-2:30pm PT on 6/26. Delegates should be able to be online or in person to attend the majority of these General Sessions. CLF delegates vote their conscience on matters related to the denomination of Unitarian Universalism, and are responsible for their own expenses.

If you’d like to participate in GA 2022 in this role, please fill out the online application at clfuu.org/delegate-application. Visit the UUA’s General Assembly website at www.uua.org/ga for details.

Inviting You into Community

1 January 2022 at 00:10

As we enter the third year of the global pandemic, there has been a general malaise and exhaustion. We wonder when it will be over and we long for socializing in person, we long for gathering carefree. We long for the time when we receive an invitation to meet in person and we gratefully accept the opportunity to be with those we love.

Some of our most sacred moments in life start with an invitation. We are invited to witness weddings, celebrations of birth, memorials of loved ones just to name a fraction of the ways we gather. These times remind us of our connections to each other and to the community.

In community, we are invited to learn and grow. In community, we are invited to listen to the experiences of others and to share your experiences with them. In community, we are invited to be a part of a constant process of change that pulls us all towards liberation.

Choosing to be a part of a Unitarian Universalist religious community comes with a host of invitations.

It is in the religious community that we are invited to a way of being with one another. Through bringing our skills and gifts to bear in service to others, we find and express our calling. We invest in the institution of our congregation in real and meaningful ways. We are invited to be faithful stewards of a common mission.

Often, when we think about the invitation to stewardship, we understand that to be a request to financially support our congregation. And certainly, it is that, but it is so much more. We are also invited to participate. Members of the CLF serve our church as facilitators and moderators of online community groups, as members of committees that write grants and monitor our finances, leaders in our governance, and authors for our publications (like this one). Our congregants serve each other as pen pals, witnesses to the joys and sorrows in each others’ lives, and members of our circles and groups. Our congregants serve the world by working to make everyone free and building beloved community one small piece at a time.

You are invited. You are invited to the stewardship of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. To support one another and our common mission of liberation and justice. Over the years, the CLF has invited Unitarian Universalists to engage with our faith in myriad ways. We began as a monthly snail mail packet to soldiers in WWII and we have evolved to provide worship each week through a weekly live stream. We provide a ministry to incarcerated UUs who find sustenance in a liberatory faith. We are finding new and creative ways to invite all those who seek a liberal, loving community to engage with this expansive and inclusive faith.

As you flip through the pages of this month’s Quest, let it be an invitation into deeper reflection and contemplation.

In Faith from the Lead Ministry Team,

Christina Rivera
Aisha Hauser, MSW CRE-ML
Rev. Dr. Michael Tino


1 January 2022 at 00:09

When have you felt invited and welcomed as your full self?

CLF Member, incarcerated in SC

Growing up gay in the South, especially in the turbulent 1960s, was a childhood of secrecy and shame. The established mainstream churches preached intolerance and damnation on being “queer,” just as 11am on Sunday is still one of the most segregated hours of the week. I attended Sunday School, worship services, youth fellowship and never once did I truly feel part of all that was going on. I knew I was “different.” Sneaking into my father’s den, I scoured books, trying to decipher this mystery of who I was and where I fit in.

As the confusion of childhood became the certainty of adulthood, I was active in political campaigns on a local, state, and national level, and even sought local office myself. Still, the “full” person of me, who I am, could not be admitted, accepted, or even acknowledged. A gay politician in the South doesn’t go far. So I closeted myself and denied myself the freedom I observed others enjoy.

Strangely, as I’ve said before, incarceration has been a liberating experience. Having lost virtually everything (home, bank account, reputation), I had nothing to lose by emerging from the shadows of shame, and being me.


Still, my spiritual life lay vacant. I maintained a belief in the Divine and sought books on being gay and Christian, but could find no house of worship accepting. I gravitated to Buddhism, Wiccan, and explored Humanism, but my ingrained belief in “God,” and yes, in Jesus, would not let me enjoy any other faith fully. I tried the Metropolitan Community Church, which a friend had told me about, but could not find a willingness to admit a prisoner by those I contacted.

Then I discovered Unitarian Universalism and the CLF, and it was as if (waxing poetically), the clouds of gloom parted and a shaft of light finally appeared to my battered soul. Here was what I had sought! A church home. I can not only be me, but the CLF wanted me.  I felt the warmth, the love, the genuine desire to welcome me and show me the love of the Divine that I had been so long denied. I am still on a spiritual journey as I evolved in my relationship with God. The CLF allows me the freedom to explore, to reach for beyond the limits of church dogma, to finally enjoy my road to religious liberation. For I can be Wiccan, Christian, Buddhist, or none of the above, but most importantly, I can at long last be me — fully invited and welcomed just as I am.

CLF member, incarcerated in VA

I have found my home in music. Music is forgiving and it resonates not only physically, but also spiritually.

In singing with my congregation, the very attempt to harmonize with each other brings a sense of inclusion and belonging. Each note I contribute lends itself to the melody of the community’s worship. There is no past, no regrets — only a collaborative effort to unite our efforts into making something beautiful. There is a selfless giving of our individual talents, great and small alike, to convey the melody of a given piece of music.

In music, I feel valued and at home.

CLF Member, incarcerated in MA

What is to be truly invited in? Being yourself, letting who you truly are shine through, not be covered up, hidden. Not only that, but when you felt welcomed to be that person.

Growing up, there was always that expectation to fit in, to be like the rest of my family, so I was never able to relax, ultimately for my entire childhood. Being myself was frowned upon, because otherwise I was just too odd.


The side-effect of that was my happiness. I was typically a bit too serious, a bit dour, if you will. I existed but never really lived. It took major changes in my life, where and how I lived, to not only feel welcomed, but comfortable in my own skin.

Like many things in my life, the turning point, the linchpin, occurred once I became a husband and became a father. The first time I felt like I belonged was when our daughter was Dedicated.

My wife and I, by the Church’s altar, having our little one blessed. Her whole life was in front of her, and my life was now just truly starting. The two most important people in my life, the ones that I would lay down my life for, were there: one in my arms, one right next to me.

At the party afterwards, the celebration of introducing her to the world, was when it was acknowledged by my aforementioned family. My uncle came up to me and let me know that seeing me up there, with my wife and daughter, was the first time in 25 years that he had ever seen me happy.

Periodically. I think back on that, both the Dedication, and what my uncle said afterwards. That sense of belonging is hard to put into words, for it transcends description. It’s a feeling of perfection, a pinnacle obtained, a sense that everything is right in the world.

I miss that feeling. I miss them. In here, I don’t have that access; you’re not allowed to be your true self, to show that vulnerability. There’s a need to always have a front, a “tough guy” persona, which I am not. To be able to relax, welcomed to be yourself, is a treasure, and not noticed until it is lost.

To Whom It May Concern

1 January 2022 at 00:08
By: Gary

Dedicated to the CLF

CLF Member, incarcerated in SC

To Whom It May Concern
Last picked for softball
first to be blamed
taunted and jeered at
hiding in shame

To Whom It May Concern
Last born child of eight
awkward and confused
never feeling love
knowing only feeling abused

To Whom It May Concern
Told there’s no place for me
I would never fit in
God’s love is not for you!
no way to win


To Whom It May Concern
Rejected and ashamed
life as dark as night
love finally parted the clouds
at last I saw the light

To Whom It May Concern
I found a place at Christ’s table
there really is room for me
I have emerged from the abyss of despair
and at long last I am free

The Eclipse of Our Lives

1 January 2022 at 00:06
By: Jack

CLF Member, incarcerated in TX

I’m a volunteer Suicide Companion, assigned to watch over and talk to other prisoners who are in crisis, severely depressed, who hear voices telling them to harm themselves, those who have found prison life beyond their ability to endure.

My schedule had me leaving my unit at 3am recently, only to find a gaggle of officers outside staring up at the moon, as it was nearing a total eclipse, something no other inmate was blessed to be outside to see.

As a Druid and practicing UU, we are taught that there are three facets we must honor—the Earth Path of nature awareness and natural living, the Sun Path of seasonal celebrations honoring the Sun’s cycles and the yearly cycle of growth and harvest, and the Moon Path. To live the Moon Path is to touch the divine energy that creates the universe and lives in all things. We do this through meditation and prayer, opening a wider awareness of the universe, ourselves, and our place in it.



Locked up, I seldom see the moon, since prison yards are islands of light at night, making the moon and stars invisible, and seldom are we even allowed out at night. So to see the full moon at 3am is true soul food. To see the moon nearly covered by the Earth’s shadow put my mind to thinking, meditating for days after.

The moon’s white color comes from the Sun’s rays. The blue tint is a reflection of the blue marble that is the Earth during the eclipse, the white and blue had become a dusky red-brown disk. I began to wonder if it was a reflection of my soul, my daily life. Prison has a way of tainting our lives with negativity and endless drama. It taints our Moon Path meditations and prayers.

Seeing the moon fainted by Earth’s shadow rather than the pure blue made me take stock of the red-brown reflection of my current life and the place I’ve allowed negativity to grow in it. The only way I’ve been able to do nearly 20 years behind bars has been to be positive, to reflect the pure blue, the pure white light of positivity, to not be drawn into the prison dramas and voices of negativity. Yet like the Moon’s eclipse, I’ve been eclipsed by those who live negative lives, those whose lives are drama, those who stare vacantly at nothing while the drug courses through their veins, and whose every waking minute is focused on finding something to alter their minds. I’ve allowed those who live negative lives, who live for drama, who live for conflict, and who live to escape reality to affect me.

My meditations since that 3am shocking visage have shown me the way out of my frustrating and negative prison games. The first way is to say: “No! I’m not going to play your games. I’ll be here to talk, if you need me to be a sounding board, to counsel you as a friend, but don’t bring your drama, your negativity to me. If you are going to do drugs, take it somewhere else, but I’ll gladly support you if you want to quit.”

At 76 with seven years to go on my sentence, I’m considered one of the trusted people by some, but to become a part of the problem negates my status as “old school,” and I begin to reflect the dull red-brown of the Moon’s eclipse and I begin to wallow in the my pity pot of negativity.

It was fated for me to see the total eclipse while over 1200 other inmates slept behind locked doors. It was fated for me to see the Moon’s Path when I had been sinking into the pit of negativity and feeling helpless to escape it. Once again the Moon’s path of reflective meditation allowed me to see the road to freedom from the negatives of prison life. It allowed me to be a touchstone for some who need me to listen and reflect, to help them overcome the ever-present negativity of prison life, the trap that we all face.

Buddha, the Goddess, Allah, or God of three persons — whichever — we are led when we open our lives to the creation of the universe, and we open our lives and our hearts to hear them speak to our souls.

Liberation and Salvation

10 January 2022 at 16:09

Rev. Dr. Michael Tino preached this Sermon on December 5, 2021 in the Church of the Larger Fellowship’s Online Sanctuary

Our Universalist ancestors believed that a powerful, radical love awaited them at death, a love so powerful as to be able to cleanse them of even their most vile sins, a love so radical as to be freely available to all. In the days when John Murray ran aground on a sandbar on the coast of New Jersey, it was a wild and heretical theology, this stuff of Universal salvation.

Over the ensuing two hundred and fifty-one years, a theology that holds that all people will ultimately be saved, a theology that rejects the eternal damnation of hell in favor of a reconciliation with a greater love, that theology is not so wild anymore. It is barely even heretical in some corners.

And yet, since Thomas Potter convinced John Murray to preach Universalism  in his little chapel, our faith has struggled with the question of what Universalism calls us to in this life, before we die, right here. After all, if we’re all going to be saved anyway, why bother doing anything in this life? Why even bother being good?

Through the generations, our Universalist ancestors came up with decent responses to these questions. And today I want to call us to an answer that Clarence Skinner gave us some 80 years ago.

I don’t always agree with Clarence Skinner, 20th century Universalist theologian. For starters, his history of embracing eugenics is more than a little problematic. 

But in particular, I think he led us astray by claiming that big-U Universalism was little-u universal—that we uniquely had a religion for all people and should strive to make it so. That’s modernist, colonizer talk right there, that little-u universal religion stuff. It asks us to point to the existence of a truth that is equally valid for all people, and to claim as that truth a theology of white Europeans and Americans. I don’t believe such a truth exists, much less that white folks would hold it, so I don’t do little-u universal religion.

But when Skinner asked the question “What does Universalism demand of us in this life?” he got to some things I find worthy of holding up. 

Universalism, he insisted, call on us to fight the perpetuation of racism. In his 1945 work “A Religion for Greatness,” he wrote that racism is based in selfishness, superstition, and distortion. “If we ‘see life steadily and see it whole,’” he wrote, “we can appreciate all the parts. the part becomes misunderstood only when we see it without relationships, as an end in itself.” Each race, each culture, each difference in humanity, he wrote “has its own genius and each may contribute to a life that is ‘rounded, divine, [and] complete.’”

I believe it is our call to once again make our faith a radical, prophetic, challenge to the way things are. It is time to reclaim our place as the wild heretics pushing society forward, pushing theology forward, pushing humanity forward. It is time to re-think the powerful love our ancestors believed awaited them when they died as a powerful love available to us in the present, while we live.

I believe it’s time to re-think our theology of Universal salvation as a theology of universal liberation, right here.

I believe it’s time for Universalists to claim the radical, powerful love that our ancestors once attributed to God as a possibility of humanity.

Not as an automatic of humanity—we all know that real evil exists in our world, and that systems created by humans perpetuate evil daily—but as a possibility. Which makes our call, as Universalists, making it happen.

In 1915, ten years into his ministry and two decades before he became a professor at Tufts, Clarence Skinner published “The Social Implications of Universalism.” Here’s some of the non-problematic part of what he wrote:

“Universalism was born out of the new humanity; it is the gospel of the new heaven and the new earth. It throbs with hope. It was part of the great world movement to reinterpret life in terms of a regenerated, buoyant, self assertive human nature. Universalism believes in the world and in its potential goodness. It repudiates the gloomy and disastrous outlook of the old anti-social theology. It is not frantically searching for an escape from life.”

He continues, “Only those theologies which frankly and persistently align themselves with the world, and openly champion its potential goodness, can logically enter the great reformation of the twentieth century. They alone believe that salvation comes in, by and through a saved world. This is social salvation. All others believe that salvation comes by escaping from a world which is inherently unsavable. That is the individualistic, anti-social, mediæval faith. Goethe once said that the ideal is not an escape from reality but a completion of it. The Universalist conception of religion is not that of an escape from reality, but that of the harmonious and spiritual development of all the elements of real life.”

How do we persistently align ourselves with the world? How do we openly champion the potential goodness in our midst? What is our call? It is the collective liberation of all of humanity.

And not just the spiritual liberation of all of humanity, but the physical and emotional liberation of humanity as well. These things cannot be separated.

As long as we are not naming the white supremacy culture in our midst and openly, explicitly, constantly working to dismantle it, we are failing in our call to champion the goodness of humanity.

As long as listening to the voices of those who have experienced marginalization and naming the ways in which racism is systematized in our society are somehow controversial things to do, we are failing in our call to champion the goodness of humanity.

As long as violent, extractive capitalist systems are allowed to make policy—to block action on climate change, to enact colonial foreign policies, to abrogate the bodily autonomy of people with uteruses, to let this deadly virus run rampant in communities of color and schools because we insist that certain adult bodies are needed to show up for work, we are failing in our call to champion the goodness of humanity. These evils exist because someone is making money off them, and their money is power in a society that falls short of the radical love that is possible in this world.

And as long as our siblings are locked behind bars, as long as their bodies are fuel for the fire of our prison-industrial system, as long as we insist that punishment by dehumanization is a necessary response to breaking laws, as long as our nation’s constitution allows a loophole in our abolition of slavery for incarcerated people, we are failing in our call to champion the goodness of humanity.

And let’s make no mistake—the systems of injustice that I’m talking about today, these systems are using the very beings—the bodies and the spirits—of black people, indigenous people, people of color, of poor people, of disabled people, of queer people, of women and transgender people, as fuel for the creation of wealth for a very small number of folks.  

Let me repeat that—the very bodies of those who are marginalized in so many ways around the world are being used as fuel. Our systems dehumanize people and then turn them into commodities to be used.

As surely as the fires of hell that John Murray rejected burned, human systems of evil burn. 

And so it is our call as Universalists to reject that fire consuming our siblings.

It is our call as Universalists to amplify the radical, powerful love that we know humanity is capable of.

It is our call as Universalists to work for the liberation of all of humanity—for the spiritual emancipation that Clarence Skinner wrote of in 1915 as well as the physical emancipation so desperately needed in 2021.

“Light the fuse,” Skinner wrote, “and the fire will reach the bomb.” It is time to set off a love bomb on our world. It is time to act like we are worthy of the God of John Murray and Hosea Ballou, the God of Olympia Brown and Joseph Jordan, the God of Gloster Dalton and Amy Scott. Like we are worthy to call ourselves inheritors of a faith in which all are saved, in which all are free, in which all are loved.

It is time for us to practice radical, powerful, life-saving love. Liberation and salvation. Right here. Right now. Over and over again.


1 December 2021 at 00:09

What role does wonder and mystery play in your life?

Dark Forest



CLF Member, incarcerated in TX

Mystery is defined in the Webster’s Dictionary as “something unexplained, unknown, or kept secret…” It is, essentially, the void of knowledge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As I’ve pointed out to many students in my tradition, sometimes the fact that there isn’t an answer is the most beautiful thing about the question. The purpose is to seek, not to know. Mystery gives us something to strive for, and even if we don’t really need the answer, the journey we take shapes us and helps us grow.

Imagine a world where all information is readily accessible. Sound familiar? Today, finding wonder and mystery is truly a gift, and one that, in my opinion, shouldn’t be overlooked. Take joy in the mysteries you come across, whether it be something as simple as whether or not it will rain today (without the assistance of the local news), or something as deep as who and what

Divinity is. Remember that even if the answer isn’t one you wanted or expected, you went on a journey for this wisdom, and you are forever altered by it.

What will tomorrow bring? I truly don’t know, but I do know that I will face the day with courage, honor and joy. I challenge all who read this to do the same. May the Gods and Goddesses of the Northern Traditions watch over you all on your journeys.


CLF Member, incarcerated in TX

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. Whoever does not know it can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead” — Albert Einstein

“Oh mystery! Oh mystery! It’s you…” — Yeah Yeah Yeahs

The first prayer I ever actually “felt” was labeled a Native American prayer, and a friend had brought it back in her stuff from rehab. She showed it to me and I insisted that we hit our knees at the edge of the bed to say it… My own spirituality was still operating within the Western Christian paradigm (or prayer-adigm, rather) at the time.

I remember that the prayer started, “Oh Great Mystery, we pray to the North, South, East, and West” (maybe not those exact words but that’s basically how it started).

What I “felt” then is that if any prayer I’ve ever prayed could fly, it’d be that one. Oh Great Mystery.

Today, I see mystery as what hides the seams between the world and dimensions of the life I live in. Mystery keeps my ego in check when universal synchronicity lines up exactly as I wanted, when I wanted it, how I want it. Mystery delivers humbling failures during the most seemingly simple operations or endeavors, just to let me know I can’t ever know Her, let alone master Her. Harsh yet beautiful. Baffling and elegant.

Mystery is also a place. The place where waves become particles that function as waves. It’s the space between our consciousness and the moon when we look up at the night sky. Mystery is that island we reach when we just know this ocean called life is about to drown us.

The Mystery that I find essential to my emotional and intellectual survival everyday, especially the days we call today, is the mystery of why and how the lost are often the first to try to give you directions; the haters are often the ones to tell you how and who to love; the spiritually dead tell you how to live. This mystery removes all the mystery from why I am, who I am, and why I’m a UU.

Starry Night Sky



CLF Member, incarcerated in FL

​​The Holy Bible is full of mystery. I am fond of the men and women of God (prophets and apostles), who explained the mystery of God and his wonderful traits that produce light and life in all created things. Furthermore, by studying what role wonder and mystery played in their lives through wonderful miracles and fantastic, mysterious assertions, I have been able to understand how it plays out in my life.

Wonder is the wisdom gained through hard work and studying, and mystery is how I’m going to use these great gifts; on what platform will I be able to explain my mysterious revelations to share with all living humanity. Moreover, the role of mystery and wonder will play out in my life through mentorship and counseling to whoever will listen or is in need. I desire to lift our collective conscience, that I see as the literal consciousness of God. I rebuke all doubt, fear, guilt and all evil thoughts. I acknowledge that the devil is only a manifestation of evil thoughts like doubt, anything less than truth, and fear that can only materialize as death and hell.

So, today try to think only the thoughts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23). Keep your conscience clear and do not let guilt have any place in your mind, and do not let the adversary of doubt, lies, guilt, and fear possess you, leading down the road of death and hell. Instead, choose the road of wonder and unpredictably keeping only good thoughts and shunning evil as you walk down the road of light and life. Although, I may stumble and it may hurt my perseverance and endurance will help me get back up to that mysterious, wonderful place with you!


CLF Member, incarcerated in SC

The old television show, “The Wonderful World of Disney,” would begin with a song “the world is a carousel of color.” Truly, if one stops and looks, the divine is present in our everyday life. Even in prison, amidst the drab colors and harsh contours, the beauty of a snowfall drapes the ugliness with a mantle of beauty. The glint of barbed wire can be ignored when one beholds the swath of red, purple, and pink as the sun rises in a burst of magical colors that no artist but the Creator could possibly exact. Have you ever watched a hummingbird hover? Or a bee gather nectar? Or the changing colors of Autumn, like a quilt of patchwork as nature puts on a show every year? The world is filled with the intricate mysteries of nature and the marvelous wonders that we are often too busy and rushed to consider.

This spectacular daily display fills me with a humble reverence for our world. We are stewards of this celestial orb and caretakers of its treasures. With this role comes responsibility for its care, just as parents care for their children. But earth is not our child; in many spiritual traditions, the earth is understood as our mother.

We have no other home. No place else to go. Alone here in our “Cinderella belt” of the solar system, the very hand of the divine is present and available to us, if we only (as the old saying goes) stop and smell the roses. Yes, Disney was right. The world is a carousel of color.

Collective Lights of the Holidays

1 December 2021 at 00:08

The theme of this issue is mystery, which is defined as something difficult to figure out. It conjures up images of unclear paths, murky environments with the way forward vague, narrow, and tricky to follow. If the idea of mystery feels fitting for the darkest time of year, perhaps the traditions and celebrations of this month offer us a way forward.

On the first Sunday of December, I was amazed and somewhat relieved to find the altar at my brick and mortar church’s worship service filled with many lit candles creating a brilliant light. As always, we began this service by lighting our flaming chalice, the symbol of our faith. Every time the chalice is lit, we recommit to building Beloved Community, creating a safe harbor for all. It restates our commitment to love, acceptance and working on social justice. The light from the flame serves as an anchor for the service. It helps to light our way.



Also on the altar was a Hanukkah menorah, with seven candles lit on that day. Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights. By the end of the festival, the Hanukkah menorah will have nine candles lit, producing a glorious light which is traditionally placed in a window to amplify the glow. This is the time of the year that, through this holiday, Jews celebrate, dedicate and re-dedicate themselves to justice and freedom.

Sitting next to the Menorah were Advent lights, with four candles signifying the four weeks of Advent. Some Christians light them with the idea of hope, love, joy and peace. Two candles were lit on the first Sunday of December, the second Sunday of the Advent season. This is the season of preparation for the mystery of Jesus’ birth. It is the time of year when we are reminded of the importance of creating heaven here on earth; when we hold both the divine and human inside of us, and when, true to Jesus’ life, we must feed the poor, heal the sick, and redistribute wealth.

Although not represented yet, Kwanzaa will be added at the end of the month. Seven candles will be placed inside the Kinara. Each candle represents one of the seven principles Umoja (unity), Kujichaglia (self determination), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Kuumba (creativity), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Nia (purpose) and Imani (faith). For African Americans, Kwanzaa is a celebration of our culture, our history, and each other.

The entire month of December will have all of these lights coming from our shared altar. They will be extra beacons showing the way, acting as anchors, reminding us that we belong to a group that cares about creating a Beloved Community. A chalice flame will continue to be lit at the center, to remind us that love is a principle that we embrace.

This is often a difficult time of the year. In this culture, there can be so much pressure to smile, pressure to be merry. Adding to regular difficulties, this year has been particularly hard; in addition to the toll of the pandemic, there has been increased violence against trans people, Black people being targeted for more violence, gun violence escalating, homelessness on the rise, opioid drug abuse increasing, more and more Black and brown people being incarcerated, and increasing demonstration of white fragility.

I want to hold on to hope, love and peace — but if I’m honest, I am really tired of 2021. I would like to be done with it and try anew. Here’s hoping and praying that 2022 is less violent, includes fewer deaths caused by guns, and that it begins a dismantling of the prison industrial complex and a redistribution of wealth. Is that too much to ask? Maybe. But I think the holidays of this season call us to dream big. With the bright lights of many traditions sharing space on our collective altar, let us rededicate ourselves making the promises of those traditions come true in the world around us.

For Your Reflection

1 December 2021 at 00:07

In this section, we offer questions for reflection based on ideas explored in this issue. 

You may wish to explore it individually or as part of a group discussion. To submit your reflection for possible inclusion in a future issue of Quest, tear off your answer and mail it back to us using the envelope included in the middle of this issue, or mail a longer reflection separately.

Do you love mystery, or do you often look for a way out of it? In what ways do you feel the presence of mystery and/or answers to it around this time of year?

If you would like us to be able to publish or share your writing in the future, remember to include “You have permission to edit and publish my words” somewhere on your submission.

Quest December 2021

1 December 2021 at 22:37

December 2021

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. –Anaïs Nin


Mysterious Ways

1 December 2021 at 00:10

About a decade ago, my husband and I traded in our old cell phones for iPhones, a move that heralded a subtle but profound change in our lives.

You see, wherever we go, we have instant access to the internet in our pockets. With Google, Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database and other sites at our fingertips at all times, most questions that come up in conversation can be answered in a matter of minutes. Our shorthand for this phenomenon is “no mysteries.”

There are many fewer mysteries in our lives since this technology attached itself to our hips. And that’s not always a good thing.

You see, I love mystery.

I love being surrounded by the unknown and the unknowable.

I love living in a universe whose known parts are dwarfed by the immensity and vastness of those parts yet to be discovered.

I love being a human whose knowledge is just deep enough to reveal all of the things I do not know and never will.

As a child, I devoured mystery books by the dozens, graduating quickly from The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie and beyond. I was invariably upset at the end when everything was tied together neatly.

What makes a good novel, I guess, isn’t the stuff of real life, in which the right answers are, more often than not, never known. I’m pretty sure there’s not a single book in which Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple gathered people together at the end and pronounced “I haven’t the foggiest idea who did it.”

Now that would be a mystery. And I’d love it.

I knew I had found the right college for me when the essay I was asked to write was to ponder “a question with no provable answer.” I should have re-examined my intended major, though, when I wrote my es say on belief in God—it would have saved me lots of time wandering in the desert of cell biology.

I became a scientist not because I thought it would be a way to find answers, but because it was a field based on questions.

I loved asking questions, probing their depths, removing successive layers of ignorance to reveal deeper and more numerous questions at every turn.


I loved the mysteries of science. I loved making guesses at the unprovable, amassing evidence for the unseeable, moving deeper into the unthinkable, and asking more questions than I ever answered.

I loved contributing to the mystery of the universe.

Ultimately, the mysteries of science weren’t enough for me, though. I moved on to being part of a greater mystery, a greater question: What is the purpose of our existence?

I know that there will never be an answer to that question that satisfies me. Rather than turning me off from the pursuit, though, it ignites my love, my passion, and my drive.  I am energized and fed by the pursuit of unprovable knowledge—I am inspired to pay closer attention to all that I experience, lest I miss a clue, a path to the ultimate or an experience of the true.

I love mystery, and I love thinking that there is an unknowable love that surrounds us all—a love that can be sensed, but whose source remains beyond our comprehension.

It is this mysterious love that drives my ministry and asks me to seek connections with all the beings with whom I share this universe.

In their 1991 song “Mysterious Ways,” the group U2 sang of love that came from an unknown and unknowable source. Their song has the added bonus for me of mysterious meaning: people have debated for almost 30 years whether the song is about love between two humans or the love of God, referred to in the feminine. The band members aren’t saying. Good for them.

In that song, they sing:

One day you’ll look back,
and you’ll see
Where you were held now by
this love.
While you could stand there,
You could move on this moment
Follow this feeling.

That mysterious love holds us now—and yet we have no idea where it comes from. One day, it might be clear, but for now, just go with it. Just feel it, just kneel before it and make yourself humble in its presence. Wherever it comes from, whatever it means, whoever or whatever is its ultimate source—just let the love surround you.

It’s all right, they conclude, she moves in mysterious ways.

“When all else fails…”

1 November 2021 at 00:10

WTF?!?! Those three letters and what they mean seem to come to mind and sometimes roll off my tongue with more regularity these days. Honestly, there was a time in my life when I would never have admitted that, especially as a clergy person. There’s a spoken and unspoken expectation that those of us who are ministers will be more put together, more pious than others. We definitely shouldn’t use four-letter words that aren’t “love.”

I get it. People want and expect their spiritual leaders to have a certain level of control. The work we do is sacred, and I am by no means trying to evade the responsibility of what it means to journey with others through the highs and lows of life. However, sometimes all you’ve got in you, no matter who you are, is, “WTF?!” COVID-19 has been one of the greatest WTFs as of late, but so is the presence of ableism, racism, sexism, and so many other isms present in our world today.  W…T…F…? It’s 2021! When will we get beyond where we have been and where it feels we still are in so many instances?

Some may choose not to use certain words or language to express their frustrations or dismay. But, again, I get it. Eloquent articulations come easier to some than others. In any case, I want to convey more than anything the collective need for lament. We lament the loss of loved ones and friends, the loss of work and provision, the loss of community, the loss of *a sense of* balance. Loss. The weight of it all is tough to bear. And so, I am; we are all seemingly screaming, “WTF?!”

I said earlier that the only four-letter word ministers should use is love. But, unfortunately, the English language (my native tongue) and its conventions make this an impossibility. To adequately convey a thought using English, one would need to string together a collection of words that are maybe four letters or more, and perhaps even less. For example, the words that comprise the fullness of WTF are 4, 3, and 4.

Now, some might critique my message as being crass or irreverent. I’m not trying to be. What if we experienced WTF as an invitation to create and hold space for our collective lament at this moment? Space to cry, space to yell, space to pause and ponder. A space that is absent the policing of language and the angst of respectability? One open to the lament of our hearts? Over the last eighteen or so months, WTF has become my most honest prayer. It is a lament and a statement that seeks to make meaning out of what has been confounding.

May we all experience the kind of liberation that frees us to lament those things that weigh heavy on us, with whatever words we choose. May we be reminded that we are held together by a word that is just four letters long yet is so much bigger than that, LOVE.


1 November 2021 at 00:08
By: Tyson

What does it feel like to have your experience centered?  How do you find your own center?



CLF Member, incarcerated in TX

When I think of “centered,” several concepts pop into my mind. Spatial reckoning. Centricity. Centrifugal forces. Center punch, meaning the tool I used to mark metals and plastics for precision drilling — and the center punch that I used to use to swiftly break car windows when I was a “bad kid.”

What makes me feel most centered is the sky at dawn. Looking at the sky, I often think, “wow, all of this for me right this moment. Thank you for allowing me to share it with everything else.” I get pretty emotional these days, seeing the sky at dusk, and at midnight… the sky and me seem to have a thing going lately.

My experience feels centered when the sky tells me that I am precisely as insignificant as I am suppose to be. The sky tells me to stop belittling myself even more; I have the entire world between my ears and the universe is in my mind and the sky is in my eyes. So what else could matter?

How do I find my own center? When I can’t find it, I go outside and look up. Maybe it finds me?

I Am Now Whole

1 November 2021 at 00:07
By: Ethan

CLF Member, incarcerated in AZ

To find a gathering of like minded souls
Makes me feel at home, I am now whole
Acceptance of every person no matter the faith
Has opened my eyes to a new loving embrace

My spirituality has grown in so many ways
I look forward to your publication as I count my days
Being forced to sit here and do time, I mean literally wait
Has shown me how I can strengthen my traits

Patience takes on a whole new truth
Hope that I can make up for lost youth
Understanding that the world must move on
Acceptance that an old love is gone

How I reminisce the good ol’days
Except I know I must change my ways
At least I do not fight this fight alone
I try to learn and make lessons known

Maybe I can help another like you helped me
Behind bars your mind can still be free
I joined a Church of Larger Fellowship
In a past life I was anti-religion, what a trip

So I want to thank the people who opened up my mind
I received a gift that is rare to find
That is acceptance of my lost soul
You make me feel at home, I am now whole

Daily Compass

1 November 2021 at 00:07

The Daily Compass is a ministry of the Church of the Larger Fellowship crafted by Rev. Michael Tino of the Lead Ministry Team.It offers words and images to inspire spiritual reflection and encourage the creation of a more loving, inclusive and just world. Short reflections and prompts related to monthly themes are posted every day at dailycompass.org. The following is a selection Daily Compass offerings from recent months.


KeystoneVital to the balance of a stone arch is the keystone, the wedge-shaped stone against which the two sides of the arch push in equal measure. In architecture, this is a vital and important role; in life, this is not a healthy situation in which to find ourselves.

When have you experienced balance brought about by things pushing you in opposite directions? How did you interrupt this?


Spirit of LifeCarolyn McDade described the night she wrote the hymn Spirit of Life to Kimberly French of UU World: “When I got to Pat’s house, I told her, ‘I feel like a piece of dried cardboard that has lain in the attic for years. Just open wide the door, and I’ll be dust.’ I was tired, not with my community but with the world. She just sat with me, and I loved her for sitting with me.” Writing the song was the prayer that refilled her spirit.

What words or prayers refill your spirit when you feel like you’re about to fall apart?


ConsentThe power of covenant derives in part from the fact that all parties to it must agree, and that agreement must be renewed and renegotiated constantly. Healthy relationships require mutual consent; that includes spiritual relationships as well as intimate ones.

How do you seek consent from others in meaningful ways?


PersistenceSometimes grace comes through sheer will, through persisting despite the odds against us. Sometimes grace comes from hanging on, from inching ourselves forward until we are somewhere better.

What do you need the strength to persist through today?


NegotiationThe union of two people or two entities requires negotiation. The best negotiations don’t get mired in positions, but instead focus on needs and values. Each party must be able to articulate their values and state their needs; each party must be able to say how they will help meet the needs of the other. Sometimes, sacrifices are made. Sometimes, synergy is developed.

How can you make your needs and values known to others today in generative ways?


DNAYou share 55% of the DNA in your genes with a banana tree, 80% with a cow,  98.5% with a chimpanzee, and 99.99% with every other human being on the planet. One ten-thousandth of the DNA in our genes is responsible for all of the differences we see in humanity. For the hundreds of rainbow shades that skin, eyes and hair come in. For the differences that make it so hard to find organs to transplant. For every shape and size that humans come in.

Notice your connection to other living beings today. Feel your relation to them. They are your kin.


PersistenceWhere will you pause to touch the Earth? Where will you marvel at the hints that lie scattered around you in the grass? Where will you discard what you previously thought was true, and try on a new belief for size? Where will you stop for directions, for advice, for a conversation with another, for a relationship, for a moment of grace brought to you by the mind of a child?

What does it mean to you to persist through difficult times on your journey?

Centering: A Little Bit At A Time

1 November 2021 at 00:05

Lead Ministry Team, Church of the Larger Fellowship

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

—Taoist philosopher, Lao-Tse, sixth  century BCE



Philosophers and theologians throughout the ages have pondered the roots of peace, and have come to the conclusion that peace between and among people is not possible without smaller bits of peace, especially peace within oneself. “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me,” the popular song goes.

Peace within oneself is the challenge of centering: How do we center ourselves? How do we go within and cultivate peace?

Many people turn to spiritual practices to do this. Spiritual practices are regular things that we do that connect us with something greater than ourselves, and there is not one right way for everyone to engage in them. We each need to figure out what it is that gives us that feeling of inner peace, of centering.

But the trick to spiritual practice is doing it regularly, and if we’re already overwhelmed by the world or our circumstances, one more thing to add to our day is just one more thing to knock us off of our center, one more thing to cause anxiety instead of cultivating peace.

I have begun to think about this differently.

Instead of carving out twenty minutes to sit in meditation, or an hour to walk a labyrinth every day, I find moments of spiritual centering throughout the day.

In giving advice to people in caring professions about cultivating peace and centering themselves, psychologist Ashley Davis Bush writes about “micro-practices,” one-moment-long glimpses of peace and mindfulness. Bush encourages people to fit them in throughout the day—in the pauses and cracks around other things, with no pressure or timeline or necessary outcome.

Take a breath. Notice how the air moves in and out of your body. Just one long, slow, deliberate breath.

Drink a glass of water. Feel it fill your body and think about how you will absorb that water.

Take just a moment and visualize in your mind something that makes you feel happy, or calm, or connected, or grounded. Choose an image and come back to it­—just for a few seconds—throughout the day.

Choose a few words to guide you, and repeat them in your mind every now and then, whenever you’re feeling unmoored. “I am grounded,” perhaps, or “I am loved.”

Spend a moment acknowledging the difficulties in your life right now. They are real. You are real. Your pain is real, too, but it does not own you.

Find a way—a small way—every day to connect to another person. Write a letter to your pen pal. Smile at a friend, or if it’s safe to do so, a stranger. Help someone out. Cultivate the knowledge that you are not alone in this world.

Think of something you’re thankful for. Take just a moment to feel gratitude.

Say something kind to yourself.

These practices don’t need to be long—ideally they’re just a minute, a moment, a breath. And they are all ways to connect to our center, to cultivate peace within our hearts, and to connect to something beyond our individual being.

Let peace begin with you. Let peace begin in your heart. Find your center, a little bit at a time.

Praying With Our Everything

1 October 2021 at 00:10

I love the phrase “praying with our feet.” It often comes to mind for me in protests at the Texas Capitol, when I wait in line to vote, and perhaps most especially every Friday, when I lead my Zumba class, where we pray with our arms, our hips, our everything.

“What is your intention for this hour?” I ask folks Zooming in from around the world. “What are you dancing for today?”

On a recent morning, the answers included, “my 18-year wedding anniversary!” “another job interview,” and “seeing my grandkids again for the first time in COVID.” A woman in College Station, Texas, showed us her wrapped wrist and asked for healing prayers after surgery. A dancer in Canada requested the song “Best Friend” by Saweetie and shared sadness about a friend in hospice care.

We took deep breaths and held each other across the miles. Then we danced — for joy, hope, and grief. For the chance to move together as one, even in a time of isolation.

Happiness ain’t something you sit back and you wait for
Feels so good to dance again”
—Selena Gomez, “Dance Again

Since finding dance nine years ago, it has become my joy practice and a form of embodied prayer. I choose music and choreography to reflect Unitarian Universalist principles like interconnectedness, equity, and acceptance. Moving to the music of Lizzo, Kesha, and Gente de Zona, I am praying to the Spirit of Life — to summon the energy for another day of pandemic parenting, to feel in my hips and heart that I am enough. We are all enough.

Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano wrote, “The church says: The body is a sin. Science says: The body is a machine. Advertising says: The body is a business. The body says: I am a fiesta.”

As UUs, I hope we can bring church and science into the body’s celebration (and do our best to ignore advertising altogether).

Lately, my own body and spirit have been telling me to slow down. I am feeling the impact of pandemic trauma, plus the natural effects of aging (and a decade of jumping up and down to Pitbull songs).

Thankfully, Zumba can be medium-impact or low, on your feet or in a chair or swimming pool. Sometimes just listening to the playlist is enough. When I forego a high-impact jump in favor of a grounded shimmy to protect my back, I am not failing my class — whose members range in age from elementary school to their 80s — but honoring the sacredness of all bodies.



Similarly, when my brain is tired and I forget a move, I try not to apologize (as I have been conditioned to do for the most human of mistakes). Even though I feel embarrassed on the inside, I throw my head back and laugh, improvising through the moments Richard Simmons used to call “accidental solos.” I remember that we are called to let go of perfectionism — a piece of dismantling white supremacy culture in ourselves and our institutions. I remind myself that we need these moments, to dance through discomfort and even embrace mistakes, having faith we will learn from them.

I remember the wise words of Cynthia Winton-Henry in her book, Dance – The Sacred Art: “As much as you might want a ‘perfect’ spot in which to dance, it is really the other way around: You make the space around you holy when you dance.”


1 October 2021 at 00:09

What does prayer look/feel/sound like to you?

CLF Member, incarcerated in MA

Little things, big things, anything; people pray for them. From the mundane, like to perhaps hit the lottery, to the serious, like for someone’s life. (Though perhaps, for some, winning the lottery isn’t mundane at all, but a serious need.)

It all cycles around to prayer. A want, a need, a desire, leading to hoping, wishing, possibly even begging, some greater power to hear you, to help you.

Do I pray? Probably not enough. I attend services, I meditate, I take part in my faith, and take it seriously. But praying? In here, it can be hard to do.

Holding hands


There’s a mentality that pervades all here: avoid weakness, lest you be preyed upon. To pray, is, in a way, a surrendering yourself to another, to ask for help to do something.

Is that weakness? No, but in here, it can be viewed as such. So that energy hangs in the air, sapping you, putting you on edge.

But when I pray, it, in its way, helps and hurts. That surrendering lifts a weight off of you, it can be an emotional release, a reset of one’s self, an acknowledgment that you can’t do it all on your own, and that everything will, in its time, be okay.

So pray. Not for me (though admittedly I wouldn’t mind), but for you. For your world, big, little, whatever size it is. May it help you.

That is my prayer.

CLF member, incarcerated in VA

We all should know that though the look of prayer could be one on their knees with hands held upright, fingers straight up, palms together, prayer can look many different ways. For me it is often sitting down anywhere — on the ground, in a chair, at a desk or table, with my hands held together. Of course it might be alone, or it could be with someone who needs a prayer more than me, as I say a prayer for them. I pray anywhere, anytime, needed or not, as a way to think about what the situation needs.

If I see a death happened in the news,  I say a prayer for the family for strength, a prayer for the deceased. A flood — I say a prayer for support, goods, rescue. A fire — the same and more, to have shelter along with healing. A nice day with no huge troubles — a prayer of thanks and gratitude, with a prayer for more of these days.

The sound of prayer: it could be noisy, mildly busy with the hum of every day life all around, or it could be complete silence, a prayer said or thought.

The feel: if nervous, anxious, or feeling the weight of the world on one’s shoulders, then a prayer feels like relief. A great feeling of no burdens.

I’ll end with a prayer of thanks and acknowledgment, for the gift of all that prayer is for me.

7 Centers 1

1 October 2021 at 00:08
By: Vylet

CLF member, incarcerated in FL

Quiet as kept, be slow to speak
The tongue of death is death indeed
Let temperance and virtue be thy speech
Consider silence and still thy feet

Be thou fearless, feel not dismay
For thou art spirit to what is pain
Deep meditation shall make things clear
The weapons of war that thou should fear

Speak no lies, be not the fool
Boomerangs of deception bareth dark rile
If a word be uttered, let freedom reign
Sever the yoke and break every chain

If I be bound, may they be free
If I face danger, let them have peace
If I must die, let them live
Return I shall and with them sing

Divine decrees establish the link
Of things unseen, oh what of faith
This body clad of clay and dust
But I am greater, the creator’s touch

Infused in soil, the morning star
A living soul, the lawful heart
Ponder the path thy foot is upon
Consider the workings thy hands have wrought

Be thou calm in every endeavor
And radiant as the sun
Forever-ever, forever and ever
I and my father are one

Phoenix Rising

1 October 2021 at 00:07
By: Dale

CLF members, incarcerated in TX

Milky Way


Looking at the night sky,
Staring at the galaxy,
Watching the Milky Way swirl.

Pondering things like,
“What is my purpose in life?”
While I’m watching the stars
Coalesces into a ball of fire
Brighter than the sun.

As I watch it forms
the face of God.

Burning white hot,
Igniting my world,
causing my fears and doubts
to flee, clearing my mind
and chasing away the shadows.

Searing through me from the ashes
A phoenix arises,
stronger than before.

And as I look at the face of God,
I see me.

October Walk

1 October 2021 at 00:06
By: Gary

CLF member, incarcerated in NC 

Farlow, Gary 2020-10-16 Artwork - October Walk.

Farlow, Gary 2020-10-16 Artwork – October Walk.