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Remembering my Ordination

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As I prepare to retire from active ministry, no longer physically able to serve a congregation, I am reminded that ordination is for life.  I will find ways to continue to honor these vows I took on November 4, 2007.

Act of Ordination                                                                     led by Dan Mansergh

Dan Mansergh: In the Unitarian Universalist tradition of religious freedom, the authority and privilege of ordaining ministers rests solely with the people of the congregation. Ordination is recognition of a unique commitment to leadership in a religious community.

Theresa Jane Novak, you have been a member and a lay leader of this congregation.  It is here that you discovered Unitarian Universalism and first felt the call to ministry.  We proudly recognize your call and your preparation for Unitarian Universalist ministry.  You have earned your Master of Divinity Degree from Starr King School for the Ministry, served a year as the intern minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis in Maryland, and received the recommendation of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.  By the authority of the vote of the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin, we are pleased to offer you ordination.

Are you ready to accept ordination to the Unitarian Universalist ministry?

Theresa Novak:  Yes, I am.

Dan Mansergh:  Theresa, in the sacred work of ministry, do you pledge to lead and to serve our faith fully; to speak, act and live as a voice of courage and of hope; to champion justice, freedom, and compassion?

Theresa Novak: Yes, I do.

Dan Mansergh: Theresa, in your ministry, do you pledge to preach, teach, and live the principles of our faith; to honor those of all ages and of all sorts and conditions; to serve in your ministry freely, among all those who are in need?

Theresa Novak: Yes, I do

Dan Mansergh:  Will the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin please rise?

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin:  We, the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin do hereby ordain you, Theresa Jane Novak, to the Unitarian Universalist ministry.

We charge you to minister faithfully and courageously. May you always lead in the ways of justice, liberty and compassion; minister to all alike in human joy and sorrow; celebrate and share our liberal faith; and nourish the Spirit of Life within yourself and others.

Theresa Novak:  With deep humility, I accept ordination to the Unitarian Universalist ministry.  I pledge that I shall always endeavor to speak, to write and to live guided by the principles of our faith, with love, with courage, and in hope, for as long as I shall live.


Dan Mansergh:  Will Theresa’s family, friends and colleagues, please stand and join in the affirmation of this act of ordination.


All:  Theresa, we have each walked with you and shared with you on your life’s journey that has led you to professional ministry.  We rejoice with you on this occasion, and offer you our continuing friendship and support.  With pride and love, we offer you our blessings on your ministry.

Dan Mansergh:  Will the representatives of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden please come forward.

Bill Hackett and Dan Arnow:  Theresa, you have been ministering to us and to our church since September.  It is a pleasure and an honor to be here with you for this sacred ceremony. We are grateful for those in this room and elsewhere who have helped you become the minister you are.

Theresa Novak: It is with gratitude, joy, and serious commitment that I accept ordination and I promise to dedicate myself to living the ministry which you have entrusted to me.  With my mind, body, soul, and most of all with my heart, and sustained by all that is holy and all that is human, I pledge to fulfill the offices of priest, pastor, prophet and teacher, according to the needs of our tradition, and to commit myself to the ministry to which you have ordained me.

All: Theresa, with this act of ordination we send you forth as a minister.  May your ministry be one filled with love, faith, and the joy of worthwhile work.  May you make a difference in the lives of those you serve, and may you help to heal some of our hurting world.  Blessings on you and upon your ministry.

Below are some pictures from that day.






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Ring of Keys


I saw Fun Home last night at the Curran in SF.  This song was the best.

I pulled out my old key ring this morning that I wore back when I looked like this (I am on the left – my wife looks pretty much the same 40+ years later.)

anne and t 1975

It made me think of the need we all have for more keys, especially when there are so many doors slamming in so many people’s faces.  I am going to keep mine handy.  Keys are great and also can be used in self defense in case of attack.  Keep your keys in your hand, lace them through your fingers so you are ready if a new executive order comes down. Pray for the lights to come on.

Remembering #Janet Reno

Janet Reno died yesterday, the day before an election in which (I hope) this country elects another fierce and courageous woman as our President.

Janet Reno was hated by right wing extremists, just as Hillary Clinton is.  I love them both.

As the first female Attorney General, Reno had to be tough in order to survive.  I don’t know her sexual orientation, but she walked like a dyke.  It was just how she moved in the world, like a woman who refused to be dependent on men to protect her.  She was fierce and courageous in her fight for justice,

She was vilified by the right for Waco and the disaster with the Branch Davidians on 4/19/93.  Two years afterward, on April 19, 1995, right wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 people including 19 children at the Oklahoma City Federal Building.  It was a planned act of revenge for Waco.

One thing people tend to forget about Waco, is that the FBI waited almost 2 months before trying to gain enter by using teargas.  There were reports of children being abused by cult members.  How the fires started has never been clear.

I wasn’t in Janet Reno’s head, but she must have been thinking of Jonestown and the People’s Temple, when over 900 people died in 1978.  Another cult leader, Jim Jones, convinced most of the adults to commit suicide and to kill their children by giving them poisoned KoolAid to drink.  That was the fear during the siege at Waco, that David Koresh would do what Jim Jones had done.  And perhaps that is what he did, if the fires were set by the cult members and not ignited by tear gas canisters.

Reno had a tough decisions to make, but she was tough.  She may have miscalculated as times, but she always took responsibility for her decisions and she always tried to do what was right.  Her moral core was as solid as steel.

We lost a good one yesterday.  I hope we elect another good one today.














Falling into Grace


I fell down a lot when I was a kid, so many times that I can’t count them.  I always had skinned and scabby knees.  All kids fall a fair amount I suppose, my own children certainly took some tumbles.  I may have fallen more than is usual, however, as I had polio when I was just a year old, and my legs are a bit uneven which can throw my coordination off.  It was hard to learn to skip, and I never learned to skate.  I am just not physically graceful.

As adult I have only had three falls that were at all serious, which is really quite miraculous.

Once was just this last Sunday, thankfully just after and not just before I lead my first worship service at a new church.  There is a step in the back of the chancel that was not yet embedded in my memory.  While I was putting my things together before heading to the social hour, I tripped on that step, and down I went.  No major damage, but my shoulder is still sore from where I landed.  The first service at a new church is a big deal.

The time before was in my driveway in Ogden, Utah.  I was on my way to the church where I was to lead worship for the congregation and for the attendees of our district assembly.  There were Unitarian Universalists from all over the western states, and the sanctuary was packed.  It was very big deal to be leading worship for that gathering.  I preached that day with a black eye and a scab on my chin.  I also damaged one of my knees in that fall, a knee that still gives me some trouble.

The first time I took a big fall as an adult was after going out to Thai food with an old and very dear friend.  We left the restaurant and crossed the street on our way to the car. The pavement was uneven, and I tripped and my face landed on the curb.  I broke my glasses that time.  The next day I got on a plane to DC for my very first meeting with the then Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Kenneth Apfel. The meeting was an extremely big deal, something the organization I worked with had put a lot of effort into setting up.  I met him with a black eye, taped-up glasses, and a few scabs on my face.

I don’t fall often, obviously, partly as I tend to be fairly careful knowing how clumsy I can be.  I do trip a lot. But it seems my serious falls have all been at times where something significant is happening.  It is likely just a random coincidence.  I don’t always fall down at momentous occasions.  I might have stumbled a bit at my wedding, but I definitely did not fall to the ground.

We can draw some meaning even from random events, if we want to do so.

These three falls of mine all happened around events that were highlights of my professional careers, moments that I felt both lucky and honored to have experienced.  Moments of grace, if you will.

We can’t all be graceful, but our lives really can be full of grace.

How’s that for finding an accidental blessing?




Fired or Fired Up?

Joe Biden got it exactly right last night during his speech (Click) at the DNC when he said Trump is most famous for telling people they are fired and looking like he is enjoying it.

That comment really spoke to me.

I have fired people.  I don’t remember exactly how many, not a lot, maybe 5 or 6 when I was a manager in the federal service, and a couple of times as a minister.  It is never easy and it certainly isn’t fun.  Sometimes it has to be done, however.  With only two exceptions, the people I fired had problems getting to work on time on a reasonably consistent basis.  After repeated warnings, it became clear that the very basic job requirement of showing up, was not going to be met.  The mission was suffering because their job was not being done.  So I fired them, but I also felt bad for them.  I hoped they would learn a lesson from the experience and do better in their next job.  The other two were individuals that just weren’t suited for the jobs they were in.  They weren’t able to meet the minimum job requirements at a satisfactory level.  I could only hope they went on to find something else they could do well.

Each and every time, however, firing someone has been hard and has made me sad.  Those individuals had inherent worth and dignity and being fired was a very painful experience for them.  I felt of them, but needed to temper my sadness for them with my concern for the health of the organization to which I was responsible.  Poorly performing employees can bring the whole team down. If the work is important, then it needs to be done well.  Sometimes people need to be fired.

But sometimes, it is possible to fire someone up instead of firing them.  I have done that too and it is highly satisfying to help turn someone’s poor performance around with clear expectations and encouragement when they make an effort to improve.

Someone who enjoys firing people is just not suited to leading our nation.  Empathy, compassion, encouragement, inspiration are what I want to see in a leader.  I don’t want to follow someone who will exclude large groups of people from the process, in essence firing everyone who might disagree.  Instead, I want to follow someone who will fire us all up and inspire us to do our best.  That is the message I am getting from the Democrats this week, one that resonates with me as a person of faith.  I do wish the other party had fired their candidate, who is just not suited for the job.





Traumatic Stress #Orlando



People understand post-traumatic stress syndrome a little better these days, primarily I think because so many of our combat veterans suffer from it.

It is one thing, however, to fall to the ground when you hear a car backfire, your body reacting as if it is still in a war zone, and it is quite another to have those feelings while you really are still trying to survive a war.

Many women and some men were triggered by the Stanford rapist story.  1 in 3 women have suffered a sexual assault.  They know it can happen to them again.  They know the perpetrator will likely go free.  They are living in a war zone.

People of color are triggered when the police shoot yet another unarmed youth.  They live with that violence everyday of their lives, knowing it can happen at any time to them or to their children.  They know the perpetrator will likely go free.  They live in a war zone.

There are so many terrorists who are out to do harm to some group or culture they have decided is not worthy of life, of freedom, of love.

Some terrorists allege they are Muslim, but terrorists, people whose acts terrorize whole communities, come in many forms.

The Santa Barbara shooter wanted to kill women.  He, like every single rapist, was a convert of radical patriarchy.

And what of the white Christian terrorist who murdered people at prayer in a black church in Charleston?  What of the white Christian terrorist who killed the people at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, or the one who murdered George Tiller while he attended church services?

What of Dan White who assassinated Harvey Milk and George Moscone in their city hall offices in 1978?  (The memory of that day came to my mind this week, as did the fact that White only served 5 years for the crime.  Clean-cut white Christian men, almost always get a pass no matter what they do.)

What of the white racist terrorist who killed his Muslim neighbors?

And now Orlando, yet another trauma, yet another massacre committed in a sanctuary.

Terrorists strike a lot of places these days: movie theaters, schools, shopping malls, marathons, and even army bases.  These traumatize almost everyone.  But those of us who live on the margins, who are not straight white cis-gender Christian men, suffer a deeper trauma.  We are specific targets and we know it.  And we know that some will cheer when we die.

There are ways to survive in war zones.  The answer is not more guns.  The answer is more love.  I am going to keep reaching for love.

And I am going to remember Harvey’s words and keep fighting to burst down the doors of racism, sexism, ableism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and any attitude or philosophy that defines any human being as somehow less worthy of life, of freedom, of love.  Blessings on all of us, who know, deep down in our gut, as Audre Lorde said so well, “We were never meant to survive.”

Just Wondering



I am wondering why there is so much outrage about the long lines to vote in Arizona from Sanders supporters while there is virtual silence about the long lines for the Democratic caucuses in Utah.  Voter suppression is a terrible thing and we have seen it for a long time in many parts of the country and it almost always targeted at people of color.  Working class people of any race can’t usually give up a half a day to stand in line to cast a ballot, so when lines are long only the more privileged among us can afford to vote.  People with disabilities and the elderly also are more likely to just give up and go home than are the young, especially if they are both enthusiastic and  able-bodied.

Sanders won Utah and lost Arizona.

I think he would have lost Arizona had there been no lines, and I also suspect he would not have won Utah with as high a margin if the process there was less arduous.

Clinton has routinely tended to do much better with both older and minority voters whereas Sanders strength is primarily with young white voters , quite arguably a population relatively able to wait out a long line to vote.

If we look at the demographics of the two states, the election results make a lot of sense.  Utah has a very young population, because of their much higher than average birthrate, and it is a very white state.  Arizona is much more diverse and is a well know retirement destination.   These facts are reflected in their census data. *

Only 10% of Utah’s population is age 65+, while 16% of Arizona’s population is in that age group.  The median age in 2010 was 34.2 for Arizona and 29.2 for Utah.

Utah is also one of the whitest states, with 80% of its population listed as non-Hispanic white.  In Arizona that percentage is only 60%.

Given all of this, I am wondering why anyone thinks the results were somehow rigged.  They are exactly what was expected.  Please chill out.  Vote for the candidate you like the best, but it is time to lose the conspiracy theories.  They are frankly just silly. And, friends, please remember that they are both pretty red states anyway.


*census data



A Pastor for Hillary

Sometimes you get to say just what you think….

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In New Hampshire

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Partisan politics was something I stayed far away from when I was serving a parish.  Aside from the need to retain the congregation’s tax exempt status, it also just felt wrong to be telling people that looked up to me as their pastor how to vote.  Ministers’s voices and opinions can carry a lot of weight with their congregants.  I may be on the heavy side, but I don’t like throwing my weight around that way.

I am not serving a congregation currently, however.

If I serve as a parish minister again, I will again stay away from obviously partisan positions while still advocating for compassion and justice.  Being anti-racist, for instance,  should be something we all are working on; it is something our faith demands of us.  Caring for the poor, the homeless, providing a healthy environment for our children and ourselves (which includes clean water and air) , welcoming the refugee, providing jobs that pay a living wage, should not be considered controversial among people of faith.  Individuals and groups can disagree about methods and strategies, but the goal of all political parties should be to insure a decent, peaceful, free, and prosperous life for all of our citizens and ultimately, for all the people in the world.

I have said most of the above from the pulpit and will do so again when I get opportunities to preach.

Now, however, not having parish ties, I can say publicly that I think Hilary Clinton is the candidate that is most likely to move us forward at this particular time in history. 

I like Clinton for some of the same reasons that other people heap criticisms on her head.

  • She has changed her mind over time about a lot of things.  All politicians do this.  All people do this, at least they do if they aren’t fossilized. Changing opinions and positions doesn’t mean Clinton is dishonest, quite the opposite is true in fact.  It means she is capable of listening and learning.
  • She has strong convictions, but doesn’t seem to particularly self-righteous about them.  Contrast this with Bernie Sanders or (shudder) Ted Cruz.  Cruz is clearly a zealot, a true believer,  and he is even scarier than Trump for that reason.  I am not as sure that Sanders is a true zealot, but he sounds like one when he talks. Clinton doesn’t. There is some humility in evidence.  Obama has some humility too, which has been refreshing and real.  Only Clinton of the current candidates exhibits any humility at all.  No one knows everything.  It would be best to have a leader that understands that.
  • She’s practical and willing to make some compromises.  I think that is a good thing.  Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.  Obama compromised on health care and we have something much better than we would have had otherwise – which was nothing.  It is not perfect, single payer, medicare for all,  would have been better, but it just wasn’t possible.  Sanders now wants to throw it out and just start over.  That is exactly what the Republicans want too. We could easily end up with nothing.
  • She has the experience.  She is in fact more qualified to be president than any other candidate in my memory.  She has been part of the system and knows it well.  I think that is a huge advantage and not an indictment as some seem to believe.
  • She supports Obama and pledges to continue his policies.  I love having Obama as our president.  I love all that he has been able to accomplish despite the huge and racist opposition he has faced. I also love what Clinton has been able to accomplish despite the huge and sexist opposition she has faced. I think she will do even more as president.
  • Obama, as our first African American president, just by being who he is, has done so much to enlarge the vision of what is possible for our young people, especially our young people of color.  I’d like to see what a female president, just by being who she is, can do to enlarge the vision of what is possible for our young women, including our young women of color.


One last comment:  the recent debates between Sanders and Clinton were what helped push me more firmly toward Clinton.  Sanders repeatedly used his white male privilege during those debates, reacting grumpily every time Clinton interrupted him while arrogantly speaking over her many times.  I do not remember any of that going on when Clinton debated Obama, perhaps because both were aware of and sensitive to the racial and gender dynamics of the situation.  Sanders seems simply clueless of any such dynamic at all.  We don’t need any more clueless leaders.  We have plenty of Republicans to provide that perspective.  The two photos above and below demonstrate what I am talking about.  Clinton mainly uses open-handed gestures directed to the audience.  Sanders mainly points and he directs many of his gestures toward Clinton.  Body language speaks volumes.  Someone should tell Sanders to clean up his act.  Maybe he can learn and grow.

Dem 2016 Debate

(AP Photo/Mic Smith)


Getting my Kicks at 66

Route 66 sign

Life is a Trip

I turned 66 this week.  Another birthday, and kind of a weird age to be in some ways.  Most big birthday celebrations tend to be ones that end in either zero or 5.  18 and 21 are also milestones.  But I like kind of like the double digits.  11, 22, 33, 44, 55, and 66.  Like on the old SAT’s, it’s a numerical progression, one that just keeps going up.  What comes next is 77, then 88, then 99. The odds of 1010 are worse than slim, so the max in this series for birthdays is 99.  (111, although theoretically possible, would be the wrong answer mathematically. 110 is also possible -simply adding 11 – but it isn’t as much fun.)

I am still kicking, and still getting a kick out of life.



Still Breathing



It has been awhile since I posted.  In the space of just a few months, beginning in May of last year, I ended a difficult ministry and decided to retire.  Then in the fall, we sold the tri-level home we had owned for 30+ years, and we bought a smaller one-level house a few miles away.  All good things, really.  The ministry wasn’t working and leaving it was a good decision, especially for me and perhaps for most of the congregation as well.  I do miss being an active minister, but I also know now that I only want to do the kind of ministry that will make a real difference.  That was the joy I experienced serving our Ogden, Utah congregation.  Life is too short to spend it doing things that are not only personally frustrating, but also unlikely to make much of a real difference.

Winter is here now, even in California, and the rain finally has begun to fall.  I am trying to just breathe and figure out what might come next for me.

Breathing is suddenly a bigger issue for me as I have been diagnosed with COPD.  The condition is chronic, but with care can be managed.   I was a smoker for years, which is what did most of the damage to my lungs, although the air pollution I have been exposed to certainly didn’t help.   A one level house is a particularly good thing to live in now.

Breathing is such a metaphor.  The following chant is one that is done often in UU congregations:

Meditation on Breathing

“When I breathe in, I’ll breathe in peace, when I breathe out, I’ll breathe out love.”

Now, when I sing those words, I know that breathing is not an easy or a simple thing.  It can be hard work.  Just like peace.  Just like Love.  Namaste