Wednesday, December 27, 2017

In a Dark Time

Reflections on 2017

The year began with me grieving the loss of my friend Jan, who died on November 9, 2016.  I spent New Year’s 2017 at a wonderful retreat at Pendle Hill, a retreat center in the Philadelphia area, made famous by Parker Palmer who lived and worked there for many years.  In the mix of silence and sharing and speaking and listening to the deep longings and intentions on our hearts, I gained some needed strength to face the new year without Jan, and to do what I could to counter the storm the new administration was sure to bring to our country.

I know it has been a hard year for many of us.  We are, as Parker Palmer so aptly said, brokenhearted.  Brokenhearted, and angry, and questioning how and why, but most importantly asking, “What can I do?” I am glad that so many have heeded the call to be the peace and justice makers and keepers that we long for.  It is up to us; we are the change that we long for.  The work is hard because we have to be in it for the long haul; for some of us, change will come after our lifetimes.  It is easy to feel that things are hopeless, that my little contribution will not matter.  But history tells us that change can come, and does come, when people come together across divides, to make life better for all, but especially for those who suffer through poverty, discrimination, illness, and neglect.

I have been fortunate that my ministry has allowed me to make friends with people who suffer.  I know that personal relationships are the key to love and understanding and supporting those who are not “like me.”  This year, I became the co-President of Farm Worker Ministry Northwest, part of the National Farm Worker Ministry.  We organize the faith community to support farmworkers and their labor unions/organizations. 

Farmworkers in this country have always been exploited workers, which the current tactics of Immigration & Customs Enforcement have made much worse.  It is unconscionable that the people we depend on for our food are not only suffering through poor wages and working conditions, but they are also denied legal status and can have their families torn apart.  Because of the new administration and ICE tactics, we have seen a rise in people who now “get it” and can connect their daily sustenance to abuse and exploitation! 

“Did you eat today?” our slogan goes, “Thank a farmworker!”  Better yet, demand justice for them!

In June, there was a major success as the berry pickers at Sakuma Bros. were able to get their first contract!  I went up to celebrate with them in Mt. Vernon, Washington with Debi Covert-Bowlds, my colleague co-President.  The celebration was marred by a death of a girl at the labor camp (circumstances we never found out about), and in early August, the death of a worker at a different berry farm in Washington. 

And so the work continues.  In July, I organized a visit and tour for about 50 people to Woodburn, Oregon, hosted by our Oregon farmworker labor union, PCUN, and their very faithful president, Ramon Ramirez.   In October, I was part of a panel with Ramon, and Leecia Anderson of Western Farmworkers Assn., at my own church, First Unitarian.  In November, I testified at an Oregon OHSA hearing asking that farmworkers be given the same considerations we give to salmon – a 300 foot “no pesticide spray” buffer zone – OHSA feels that 150 feet is sufficient!

I pray that the ending of this year finds you at peace.  At the end of a hard year, I find sanctuary in the silence, and gratitude for the gift of friendship.  The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”  Who knew at the beginning of the year that sexual abuse would finally come out of the closet?  It gives me the courage, finally, to say, #MeToo.  Our stories matter.  Truth matters.  Solidarity matters.  May it be so.

Copyright 2017 Constance B. Yost. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 21, 2016

In a Dark Time, Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!

A sermon by the Rev. Connie Yost

First, I want to say that I know many of you are concerned about the recent election and what it may mean for the future of our country, our democracy, and our people. I share your anxiety and disbelief. November 9 was especially hard for me because in the midst of what I thought was the impossible happening, a very good friend of mine passed away. So I, too, am reeling from a world seemingly turned upside down and very dark.

My topic for this sermon - inequality - which I had been planning all along, is even more crucial and timely today. I wish I could say that we have some reason for hope that policies with this new administration and Congress will work for the good of all people, especially those in poverty. But I cannot say that I see much chance of that.

What I do hope is that we can turn our disbelief, our outrage, our fear and our anxieties into a renewed commitment to work for justice. This is my prayer and my hope, and I hope that you will join me in this.

What this election has made clear to me is the deep disenfranchisement of working people who have experienced the downward effects of the last decades of our economic policies. In a very sad way it comes as no surprise that someone outside the political system, making promises to restore jobs and communities to some past idyllic time, would appeal to so many.

I can only hope that when it becomes clear that new policies have made things even worse, that more Americans will stand up and fight for justice.

We cannot ignore the fact that a white man who brazenly trumpeted his xenophobic, sexist and racist beliefs won this election. It is not all about our failed economic policies. For some, it was the backlash against eight years of a black man in the Presidency. For some, it was the fear of a woman in the Presidency. And surely it was also the rush of white America to find someone to blame.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

On Friendship

Ministerial Meditations

by The Rev. Connie Yost 
March 10, 2016

Jan and Me

On Friendship

My friend Jan recently gave me a birthday card, which perhaps doesn’t sound very remarkable except for two things:  1) it wasn’t my birthday and 2) she thanked me and said “I love you very much.”

I have known Jan for about 40 years, and though I moved away from Seattle where she continued to live, I tried to keep in touch with her when I came back to visit.  In the beginning of our friendship, I wasn’t aware that she had a neurological condition.  But over the years, she became progressively more unable to take care of herself.  For years, she lived in a little rented house near Seward Park.  She enjoyed cooking and gardening and her cat, Baby.  She had help that came in a few times a week.  Then she started to have falls, and surgeries, and a stroke.  On the phone one day she told me that she had had to move from the little house into an adult family home on Beacon Hill.  Though it was hard to give up the independence that she had had, the worst thing was that she couldn’t take Baby with her.  A cat person myself, I grieved for her.

Jan lived in that first adult family home for about 5 years, then was told she was moving one morning.  She never did know why.  The new adult family home was visually unappealing to me, located next to an auto repair shop with a dump of tires visible in the back yard.  But Jan became quite attached to the older woman who cared for her, and she had a large room to herself.  All seemed well for a couple of years until her caregiver went to the hospital for back surgery.  A new, younger couple took over as the caregivers.  Jan thought this was temporary until the older caregiver recovered enough to come back, but as the months went on it became clear that the younger couple was there to stay. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Reflections on Selma

Ministerial Meditations 

by The Rev. Connie Yost  
January 12, 2015

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

I recently saw the movie Selma, which was a moving and powerful experience.  I urge you all to see it.  It showed the courage and sacrifice that so many had to make in order to get their voices and concerns heard.  It showed the power of people who organize, who persist, whose leaders struggle to make the right decisions and find the most effective tactics.  Above all, it made me remember why I entered the ministry, why the struggle for justice and peace can never be abandoned to cynicism, despair and helplessness.   We need each other in this struggle.  We need a community where we can come together to work for justice, strengthen our faith and hope, and love and be loved.  For me, that is what I find in my Unitarian Universalist community. 

Unitarian Universalist's celebrate Community Ministry the first Sunday in February each year.  Community Ministry extends our UU faith into the larger world, beyond the parish walls.  Our ordained UU Community Ministers work as chaplains in the military, hospices, hospitals and other settings, in various social justice capacities, in the arts, in educational and institutional leadership.  We are called to advocate for the sick, the poor, the oppressed.  We are called to minister to all living beings and the Earth.  We are called to dedicate our lives to the work of justice, peace and love.  I am proud to be a UU Community Minister.

Sick and Tired

A sermon by The Rev. Connie Yost given on UU Community Ministry Sunday February 1, 2009 at the UU Congregation of Salem, Oregon

Bryant Grocery in Money, Mississippi

It was August 24, 1955.  It was a hot day in Money, Mississippi -- humid and sweltering.  A group of black teenagers went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to buy some candy after picking cotton in the fields.  One of them, a fourteen year old boy visiting from Chicago, whistled at white store owner Mrs. Bryant.  A few days later Mr. Bryant and his half brother dragged the boy from his bed at his uncle's house, beat him brutally, shot him in the head, tied a cotton gin to his body with barbed wire, and threw him in the Tallahatchie River.  His name was Emmett Till.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year 2015

Ministerial Meditations

by The Rev. Connie Yost

January 4, 2015

Beautiful Big Bend National Park, Texas

New Year's Resolution

Well, I did it again, bringing in
that infant Purity across the land,
welcoming Innocence with gin
in New York, waiting up
to help Chicago,
Denver, L.A., Fairbanks, Hon-
olulu--and now
the high school bands are alienating Dallas,
and girls in gold and tangerine
have lost all touch with Pasadena,
and young men with muscles and missing teeth
are dreaming of personal fouls,
and it's all beginning again, just like
those other Januaries in
instant reply.

But I've had enough
of turning to look back, the old
post-morteming of defeat:
people I loved but didn't touch,
friends I haven't seen for years,
strangers who smiled but didn't speak--failures,
failures.  No,
I refuse to leave it at that, because
somewhere, off camera,
January is coming like Venus
up from the murk of December, re-
virginized, as innocent
of loss as any dawn.  Resolved: this year
I'm going to break my losing streak,
I'm going to stay alert, reach out,
speak when not spoken to,
read the minds of people in the streets.
I'm going to practice every day,
stay in training, and be moderate
in all things.
All things but love.

~ Philip Appleman ~

(New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996)

Here we are at the beginning of a New Year, so let me start by wishing you a Happy New Year.  I’ve long enjoyed the ending of one year and the beginning of another as a time of reflection and discernment of what I want to bring more of into my life this year.

I like this poem because it highlights the pitfalls of the process.  Reflection on the year gone by is necessary so we can know where we’ve been, where we’ve had success, where we’ve had joy, where we’ve gone off-track, and where we need to make amends.  All necessary for our growth, relationships and well-being.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fully Alive

Fully Alive

A Sermon by the Rev. Connie Yost
preached on Easter at the UU Fellowship of McMinnville

As some of you know, I love to travel.  I just returned from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, where my nephew was married.  It was a beautiful wedding at a fancy restaurant in the old historic city.  The city, which I had not visited since I was 10 years old, is a truly gracious and lovely place.  At this time of the year, the azaleas and dogwoods were blooming with glorious color, and the wisteria grew wild up the trees in the forest.

Weddings and spring are surely signs of hope and life.  It was the first wedding both sets of parents had experienced, and the mothers, especially, were ecstatic.  Being the slightly eccentric old auntie, I decided to go ahead and ask my nephew the question we all were dying to ask:  “Are you and Becca going to have kids?”  My sister and I waited in hopeful anticipation as my nephew cleared his throat and announced, “Becca says the official answer is ‘We hate kids’” but he was smiling so I knew that this was not true.  He went on to explain that they wanted to get a house first, get out of the inner city of Washington DC where they live, and then – yes, maybe then we will have kids, he said.  OR, I suggested, it could happen the old-fashioned way – SURPRISE!

 Well, that’s life, isn’t it?  SURPRISE!  And we are!  For some reason, most of us are surprised when stuff happens that is out of our control.  Whether a good thing or not, it takes us a while to grapple with the things that happen to us.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 Holiday Blessings

Me at Disibodenberg, Germany in November 2013
2013 Holiday Blessings

There are years that ask the questions, and years that answer.    – Zora Neale Hurston

I have often reflected in my annual holiday letter that the year has been the usual mix of blessings and curses.  But for me, 2013 has been nothing short of miraculous blessings.  The impossible just takes a little time!

Some of the blessings came out of the blue – grace many people would call it – and some were the result of very hard work on my part.  But even when I knew I was working hard and participating, there still seemed to be an element of grace in the result.  For instance, I scoured Portland for months seeking the right house, and just when I thought I would never find one for the price I wanted to pay, a house more perfect than I thought existed appeared.  And I am very happy in it today.