October 24–Let This Be A House of Peace: Covenant

At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, we are a covenantal community. That means several things.  It means that we have taken the time and intent to talk together, explore together and put down on paper the ways in which we want to be a community together.  Just the preparation and process to create a covenant begins to form covenantal life together.  A covenant, as I experience it, is not just a list of things we value, though it does include that.  A covenant finds a way to remind us how to be, act and respond to one another in all kinds of situations.  A covenant finds a way to help us return again and again to who we say we are especially when we have lost our way, personally and collectively, and a covenant helps us see ourselves–both when we have forgotten and when we have remembered who we are, where we come from and where we are going.

A good covenant helps us in real time to build a house of peace.

I was talking recently with another member of our community.  She remembered to me a time when she felt that she was in a very bad place. She remembered me during that time gently helping her to reconnect to our community.  My first thought, which I expressed to her, was how much she has contributed to our community over time. It became clear, in our conversation, that this is what covenantal community means, and it is what happens in our covenantal community often.

This is what building a house of peace looks like “on the ground” where we often fail to see the big picture.  In this moment one of us is in the midst of suffering and others of us reach out with compassion and curiosity, each of us becoming the recipient, each of us becoming the helping hand, over time.  It strikes me that even in a progressive, liberal religious community, without a covenant we would very likely become separate islands unto ourselves, people of good intent but with little follow through.  We have chosen to be a people of covenant, and in so choosing, we have made it clear that being a house of peace is not just a high-brow idea.  It’s actually a way of living and being together–which we demonstrate on a daily basis.  Sometimes broken, sometimes suffering, sometimes stubborn and forgetful–we return again and again to the home of our souls–and to each other.  That’s a real house of peace.

Bob Patrick

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October 21–Let This Be A House of Peace: Self-Care

Recently, I began going back to yoga class.  I have practiced yoga, on and off since the 1990’s especially hot forms of yoga which work for me.  So, in that first time back in class, the room so hot, me so sweaty, a couple of insights came to me.

At one point toward the end of the 90 minutes, I found myself breathing a little loudly.  I just noticed it, and it changed back to silent breathing, but a memory came with it.  As a child, I would often let my breathing become loud especially if I wanted an adult to notice my suffering.  It could be one of my parents.  Later it was usually a coach in PE or on a basketball team.  It was a very unconscious thing, but by breathing loud, I seemed to be saying:  notice my suffering and give me permission to stop suffering (whatever that meant at the time).  And here I was, a grown man in my 50’s in a yoga class that I chose to go to, drove myself to, paid for, once again breathing loud as if to say to the teacher:  notice my suffering.  Give me permission to stop suffering.  Do I really need someone to notice my suffering in order to take care of myself?

I looked back over that first “prodigal’s session” of yoga.  I’ve been doing this so long, that I found myself observing:  “I know how this unfolds.  I know each pose.  My body remembers where each move goes.  I can hear all of the instructions I’ve been given by good teachers over the years in my head.  But, where am I right now?  What is my edge beyond which, right now, I would hurt myself if go there?  Notice where I am right now.”

Both of these little insights seem to me a help in building, becoming and being a House of Peace in this world.

First, I really don’t need anyone to notice my suffering and give me permission to take care of myself.  If I choose that route, I choose to be a victim who can only be freed by someone with more power than I do.  But, when it comes to my own life, I am required to see myself, notice my own suffering, and give my own self permission to take care of myself. Magically, powerfully, transformingly, when I do that for myself, I can allow others the same space to take care of themselves.  While I don’t need anyone to notice my suffering, it does make a huge difference to have a community who stands with me when I suffer.  There in that yoga studio, there were a dozen other practitioners who were doing just that.

Second, I may know very well through skill and intuition how today’s path is going to play out.  Or, I may be one of those who worries to no end about every bad possibility that could happen on today’s path.  Both are helped only by this:  be here, right now, and notice where I am.  Notice where the edges of my life’s energy are and work with those.  Going beyond them will only do harm.  Be here, in this space now.  Begin building a house of peace.  Here.  Now.

Bob Patrick


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October 19–Let This Be A House of Peace: The Walk

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

These words in the Hebrew scriptures, the prophetic work of Micah, offer a simple invitation to a life of peace, even if the word “peace” is not mentioned in the 30 or so words that make it up.  Three words–often misunderstood–in those 30, however, do begin to define the House of Peace: Justice, Mercy and Humility.


These three key words are given in the image of how we walk through life.  The first part of the invitation is to act justly on this walk.  Frequently, and sadly, the word justice is used to mean getting revenge for a wrong.  I have an illustration on the wall of my classroom illustrating the difference in equality and equity.  When students see the difference, they immediately understand.  Three boys are trying to see a ball game over a fence.  They each have been given a crate to stand on.  The problem is that each boy is a very different height so giving them each the same sized crate means that one can see well, one can see barely and one still can’t see at all.  Justice is not revenge.  Neither is it mere equal treatment.  To act justly means to work so that everyone receives what they need to survive and thrive in life.


Mercy is one of those feel good words.  It sounds nice and evokes warms feelings, but mercy is, like it or not, about politics.  I have noted before, while we like to make politics out to be an evil thing, politics is nothing more or less than how we choose to use our power.  We all engage in politics–even those who eschew politics.  That is how they choose to use their power–by not participating in the electoral process.  It’s still politics.  What does that have to do with mercy?  Mercy is always how we choose to use our power towards those who have less power than we do.  Always.  Micah urges us to love mercy.  I understand this to mean that we walk this life journey always on the look out for ways to use our power in a beneficial way toward those who have less power than us.  For me, that cannot be condescending or patronizing–but empowering.  Real mercy is using my power to help those with less power in life gain more.  If I choose an image, it’s the difference in tossing a coin to someone on the side of the road and finding a way to help them join me on the walk.


The third often misunderstood word, is often likened to self-debasement.  This is never how the word should be understood in the Judeo-Christian traditions.  Humility can be likened more appropriately to words like “grounded” and “centered.”  Humility is the practice of knowing who you are, where you are, and what you bring to the table.  To be dishonest about any of those is the opposite of humility whether you over or under estimate yourself.  The House of Peace is built on our willingness to know where we are, who we are, and what we bring to any human endeavor.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

These three elements make up “what is good.”  To put another way, this is the “good life.” This is what we are calling a House of Peace.  How we walk the walk helps build the house.

Bob Patrick

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October 18–Let This Be A House of Peace: Invitation

I recently read the amazing story of Derek Black.  I won’t try to retell it here except to say that Black was raised in a racist family which was a part of leadership in White sepratists movements during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  He was groomed to be the heir apparent of that movement.  You can read the story of his life thus far here.

There are unbelievable turns and twists in his story, most of which made me cringe when I read them, but there was one moment that I want to lift up here, the moment that I consider an act of life changing peace-making.  Black had already become a notorious leader in the white racist movement in the US and was also attending the university, seeking a degree when his friends found out who he actually was.  Immediately, he become the object of scorn, rejection and threats himself on the college campus.

Imagine what you would do if you found out that one of us in your trusted community, among your good friends, was actually engaging in the work of hatred, was fomenting ideas and attitudes among one group of people against another, was actually working for civil war in this country again.  Which would you do–make as much distance between yourself and that person, or invite them to dinner?

One of Derek Black’s friends at the time was the only Orthodox Jew on the campus where they attended school.  He had begun to offer to his friends a Friday night Shabbat dinner where they gathered around traditional Jewish food, the Shabbat prayers and then conversation about all the issues of the day.

After finding out that Black was the leader of this white hate group, and after much pondering over what to do, he decided that the best possibility in his relationship with Black was not to reject him, but to invite him to dinner.  And so he did.  And, Black came, every week for months.  Many in the original group who came to those dinners fled the dinner in fear, but over time, they returned.  And there, at the table, surrounded by food, friends and what can be called nothing short of compassion, courage and curiosity, Derek Black began a transformation.  So did everyone else at that table.

This is building the House of Peace.  We might even say that this is building the House of Peace, one dinner at a time, one invitation at a time, one bold idea at a time.  This invitation to dinner became the ripple in the unified field, if you will.  Take the time to read his story (it is long, but it is very well written) as what happened there, week after week, not only changed Derek Black, but it began to change and affect his other relationships as well.

As I read the story, it reflects back to me some of our own words of faith.  A simple moment of compassion–the decision to include and not to exclude–created an act of courage–to invite one’s enemy to dinner–where the slow and careful work of curiosity broke down walls and broke open hearts and minds.

Bob Patrick


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October 14–Let This Be A House of Peace–Steps

Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, often addresses the theme of peace in his teachings.  They are practical, focused on the present moment, and for me offer ways to begin building this house of peace that we need in our lives and in the world.

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

He reminds me that in each moment there is joy and happiness to be found–if I am looking, open and curious about finding them.  This is foundation building, for me, in raising a house of peace.  If in this moment I can open to and find some joy and happiness, I am in that moment transformed.  My transformation in that moment touches and influences others, in that moment.  It is a world changer–one moment at a time.  As I write this, I know that joy of classical music playing in the background, and two eggs boiling on the stove for my breakfast.  I am grateful for the gift of music-makers and chickens (chickens, by the way, that I know Karen and Steve Smith have loved and well cared for).

When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight.

I don’t think of myself as having enemies, but I do encounter people in my life who are difficult to get along with.  In this moment, if I consider one of those irritating people and that they are suffering, it does in this moment soften the edges that I hold around that person.  It does allow me to let go of some of my own defensive posture toward that person.  What if, today, I allowed myself to see each person–especially those who seem difficult to me–and acknowledge that they are suffering, before I draw any other conclusion? For our relationships in general, he advises:

We really have to understand the person we want to love. If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love. If we only think of ourselves, if we know only our own needs and ignore the needs of the other person, we cannot love. We must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the person we love. This is the ground of real love. You cannot resist loving another person when you really understand him or her.

Building a house of peace is about cultivating our relationships.  The two are always related.

Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

Bob Patrick

All quotations― Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

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October 13–Let THIS Be A House of Peace

What is the “this” when we sing or say “let this be a house of peace?”  Written by Jim Scott but with inspiration from the life and works of Unitarian-Universalist poet-prophet, Kenneth Patton, there are immediately three possibilities.  This is the local congregation that sings the song.  Let this group of people who gather here in this place and live in covenant together be a house of peace.

Or, this could be the living tradition of Unitarian Universalism. In that context this is the way the philosophical and theological movements of Unitarianism (the belief that God is One and not Three in One) and the simultaneously moving stream of Universalism do a dance together.  Universalism acknowledges both religion as a universal human quality and the universal teachings of all religions.  Ultimately, all of humanity and the Divine will be reconciled.  This could the be the way that these two movements are working to point to the possibilities for all humanity, united and reconciling over time.

If we take that one step further, this could simply be a powerful prayer for our world. Such a prayer is offered through the ideas, insights and vision of Unitarian Universalsim, but the object is the whole world, all peoples, religious people or not.

Let this be a house of peace.

I certainly hold this as a prayer for our world, and I acknowledge how unlikely it feels sometimes that this world of such diversity will be able to form itself into a House of Peace.  All the more reason to make this my prayer.

I am drawn to the ideas and principles behind oneness and unity as well as the belief that if there is a Divine from whom human beings become lost that finding our way back belongs to all of us–in fact–is our destiny.  I cannot conceive of a Divinity whose core is not a wide open welcome filled with compassion and mercy.

It is with my ongoing relationships in our local congregation that give me real hope of a House of Peace.  Our congregation is not perfect, and we do not have everything figured out.  In large part, I think becoming a House of Peace has come to mean for me the way we as a local community choose to take on challenges and work through the unknown and untried and hold each other as we face those challenges.

Which leads me to think that there really is a fourth thing that this might be.  It just might be that I am the this.  So are you.  Let this life of mine be a house of peace.  As I treat and care for myself.   As I engage in relationships today.  As I make decisions, decisions that arise out of knowing myself, being compassionate with myself, being thoughtful and asking questions, I am able to extend those things to others and invite them into my house of peace, build a house of peace together with me and begin to create that ripple in the universe that might just mean that the universe itself is this, too.

Let this be a house of peace.

Bob Patrick

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October 7–Let This Be A House of Peace: Stories

Let this be our house
Of myth and lore and legend–
Our trove of ancient story,
and cradle of our tender dreams.

Unitarian Universalists have a well deserved reputation for being braniacs, geeks and other epithets which basically mean “caught in our heads.” On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with loving and exploring ideas, and we certainly do that.  Our principles encourage curiosity and taking on the role of the seeker.  Our tradition celebrates the freedom to find one’s own path and follow it even if it takes one in a direction that others are not taking, the path of “difference” as I discussed yesterday.  So, reading and discussing important ideas can be an important part of our community and life together.

One doesn’t build a house (or any other structure for that matter) by standing around the construction site discussing ideas.  While some discussion of the building process might be useful, finally, the builders have to pick up materials and tools and begin the construction of something that will last, that will sustain those who dwell there during changing weather and harmful storms.

This House of Peace that we are building is not built of ideas alone.  The building of a House of Peace, a community that sustains us and retains us together as a people, is made of stories.  The stories are always there, just waiting to be picked up, told and retold.  The stories are most likely to rise up and construct themselves in our House of Peace building by asking simple questions.  As important ideas are being bantered about, we can simply ask one another:  when do you remember that idea first appealing to you?  What were you going through in life when you began to see things this way?  Who are your heroes when it comes to this important idea?  Who have been your “teachers” when it comes to this idea? Is there an ancient story that exemplifies this idea for you?

Each question invites a story.  Personal story.  Historical story.  Relational story.  Sacred story.  Legendary story.  Ethnic story.  Mythological story.

If we allow ourselves to operate only in the realm of ideas, we remain caught in our heads and in abstraction.  It’s so easy and often so tragic the way we reduce each other to the ideas we have heard coming from each other and turn each other into abstractions as well. When, however, we call forth each other’s stories, we move out of our heads into our hearts, into our hands, into our feelings, into our memories.  Abstractions become paintings, scenery, real people.  Stories turn us into fonts of vision and prophecy, drawing on the building materials of the past while we craft this House of Peace for the future.

Watch for the next opportunity–when someone is talking ideas.  Find the moment to ask about the story underneath the idea, and let’s start building this House of Peace.

Bob Patrick

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October 6–Let This Be A House of Peace: Sacred Differences

Let this be our house
A house of our creation

Where all our sacred differences
Here shall not divide us.

Our sacred differences.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Differences are by definition those things that bear us apart, carry us away from each other.  We might tend to hear this phrase in our theme song and think of those special gifts that individuals have that we so appreciate in one another, but that’s a euphemistic take on “differences.”  The word “difference” is of Latin origin–de, meaning down from, and fer meaning to bear or carry.  A difference is something that carries us apart from each other.

Can I look at and listen to you and the things about which you differ with me and call them sacred?  Can you look and listen to me and the things about which I differ with you and call them sacred?  I suspect that this is a real challenge for us.  Community is easiest with people who are like me, who agree with me, who have similar perspectives on the world.  We get together and call the things we celebrate in common “sacred,” and that feels good and affirming and consoling.

When one or more in my community present ideas or actions that seem to carry them away from me, I think my first response is certainly an interior troubling.  It might also be fear or anger.  It doesn’t feel good, and it certainly does not rank as “sacred” in my realm of experience.  Yet, in our Unitarian Universalist community, I affirm along with others

“Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations” 


“A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”

These two principles of our Association do something that is almost unheard of in modern American culture except perhaps among our current generation of teens and twenty-somethings–they call for a radical acceptance of one another and the pledge of support for the individual who is seeking his/her path–even when that path carries one away from me.

Affirming and supporting sacred differences may even go farther.  I think that when a fellow among us is seeking out her/his own path, and it begins to take them away from us, we are required to remind them that we support them, love them and consider their work sacred work.  This is counter-intuitive, and the person on that path that seems to diverge away from us at the time may him/herself feel isolated and alienated.  They may, themselves, be tempted to give up on the community which seems to them to be carried away.  In these moments, we have been given the gift of this song and these words:  we are witnessing sacred differences.

This is really sort of crazy, isn’t it?  Who does this sort of thing?

We do.  We are building a house of peace.

Bob Patrick

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October 5–Let This Be A House of Peace: Doing the Work

Behold the Beautiful One
from the vantage point of Love.
He is conducting the affairs
of the whole universe
in a tree house – on a limb
in your heart.

Rumi, from “In a Tree House”

There are certain kinds of human activity that promote real peace.  They include grieving and laughing together.  They include creating healing places for those who need them. They include something as simple and as important as asking questions and being open to inspiration.

These come from the first verse of our theme song, Let This Be A House of Peace.  The remaining verses suggestion other human actions that support real peace:  giving platform for a free voice where we can speak our differences and not divide ourselves.  Imagine that right now in the middle of presidential politics.  Human actions for peace include seeking truth in whatever realm we might, through science and through mysticism. They include creating art and music.  They include engaging in prophetic acts–daring to hold visions that support the future.  They include telling the stories of myth, lore and legend and opening to the truths they carry for us from the past.

This invitation to create peace calls on us to engage in activities that we often allow to divide us.  The simple power of asking questions can frighten people, so we must learn to sit with and ponder questions.  In the use of our free voice, perhaps we should learn to use it first to ask probing questions before we make bold and electrifying statements.  As we seek answers to our questions, the work of peace suggests that we gather the stuff of our response both from good research and prayer or quiet contemplation and insist that we hold those kinds of content together rather than apart.  The real work of peace requires not only agendas and plans and covenants, but there must also be artwork, songs and stories. Why are we so fast to put words on paper and not paint on a canvass?  Why do we think that rules and by-laws are more important than a good story or a new song?

Rumi brings the mystic’s view to this working for peace.  He is clear that all of these works required for peace-making happen from within us, God within us, conducting the affairs of the universe from a treehouse perched on a branch in our souls.  If we could grasp that, we’d be much more willing to ask and sit with questions, tell stories, write songs and pray while we create our lists, covenants and by-laws.

Bob Patrick

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October 4–Let This Be A House of Peace: Unitarian Universalism

Our theme for the month of October is taken from the song “Let This Be A House of Peace” written by Jim Scott, but inspired by Unitarian Universalist prophet and poet Kenneth Patton (1911-1994).  Patton led a fascinating life making significant contributions to what we now know as Unitarian-Universalsim.  His speaking, writing and other works often brought together social justice, art, song, and a vision for a “religion for one world.”  In that line alone, we might hear inspiration behind the words of this song.

Let this be a house of peace
Of nature and humanity, of sorrow and elation
Let this be our house
A haven for the healing
An open room for question,
And our inspiration

Let this be a house of peace,
Let this be a house of peace.

This house of peace known as Unitarian Universalism has deep roots in “natural humanism.” Describing this natural humanism, it was said of Kenneth Patton: “It was he who taught a monotone rationalism how to sing; it was he who taught a stumble-footed humanism how to dance; it was he who cried ‘Look!’ and taught our eyes to see the glory in the ordinary.”

Let this be a house of freedom;
Guardian of dignity and worth held deep inside us
Let this be our house
A platform for the free voice,
Where all our sacred differences
here shall not divide us.

Let this be a house of peace,
Let this be a house of peace.

Echoes of our first principle: the dignity and worth of every human being, this house of peace called Unitarian Universalism has deep roots in the work for social justice especially in the issues around racial justice.  Patton rocked the world of his day by saying that he wished that “he were a colored man” launching himself into work for racial equality in Chicago.

Let all in this house seek truth
Where scientists and mystics abide in reverence here
Let this be our house
A house of our creation
Where works of art and melodies consecrate the atmosphere

Let this be a house of peace,
Let this be a house of peace.

This house of peace called Unitarian Universalism is no place to divide the sciences from mysticism from art.  There is a unity in them all as they seek to find and express truth in the world.

Let this be a house of prophecy
May vision for our children be our common theme
Let this be their house
Of myth and lore and legend
Their trove of ancient story
and cradle of their tender dreams.

Let this be a house of peace,
Let this be a house of peace.

Peace is calm and serenity, a cessation of strife.  But, true peace is also dynamic and often is won through a turbulence caused by confronting our fears and the deceptions that arise out of them.  This house of peace which we call Unitarian Universalism offers us personal peace, quiet and rest–but it also always challenges us to live our best humanity in this one world.  As we reflect on this song and its messages, we should prepare to be challenged as well as consoled.  That’s what happens in the house of peace.

Bob Patrick

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