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Being the Change by Living our Truth

Meet Rev. Vicky Elder

Vicky has served as Minister of Unity of Monterey Bay (UMB)  since she was ordained in 1998 by Unity Worldwide Ministries (UWM), after completing the Ministerial Education Program. She and her late husband, Rory, established UMB as a free-standing, independent church in 2000; it had previously been an “out-reach church” of Christ Unity Church in Sacramento for more than a decade.

Vicky's ministerial passions include teaching SEE classes, and UMB's involvement in COPA (Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action) – which is a tri-county non-profit organization focused on developing the leadership skills of ordinary people to engage effectively in public life with power to negotiate with public and private sector leaders to change the economic, social, political and cultural pressures on their families (e.g. around immigraton. low-cost housing, health care, education, policing and justice).

Vicky also serves as the Regional Representative for the West Central Region of Unity Churches; as well as on Unity Worldwide Ministries' Standards Team, Ethics Review Team, Credentialing Team, and Licensing & Ordination Team.

In addition to ministry, Vicky's other passions include her family – she has two sons, Travis & Kyle, a daughter & son-in-law, Brianna & Salvador Leavitt-Alcantara, and two grandsons, Mateo and Joaquin; and the San Francisco Giants.

Prior to ministerial school, Vicky and Rory, along with Rev./Dr. Harold and Dr. Jeanne Johnson, founded the Life Enrichment Center, a community-outreach psycho-spiritual counseling center affiliated with Christ Unity Church of Sacramento. Vicky also served as a Program Manager for the State of California Attorney General’s Crime and Violence Prevention Center. In addition to her seminary certificate, she has a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling from the University of San Francisco; a Master’s Degree in Urban Policy & Administration from San Francisco State University; and a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from San Francisco State University.


Minister’s Message

Our theme for 2017 is Being the Change by Living Our Truth.  And our Fall Quarter AFFIRMATION is:

Embodying Spirit’s Love, Light, Wisdom, and Joy –

I walk in faith and confidence, trusting my life is blessed with Grace.

JOY – Compassion & Generosity

We are in the last week of our 7-part JOY Series… Based on my own experience – and the feedback from many of you – this has been an amazing, healing, and fruitful journey with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu through their best-selling, The Book of Joy…

A journey that has reminded us how to stay grounded in our True Essence – through spiritual disciplines – so that we can LIVE FROM JOY regardless of outer circumstances and/or conditions. Which means that we not only experience JOY in our älives – but that we ACT from this Spiritual Power – bringing our compassion, cooperation, and generosity to the world as our foundational purpose for being.

If you recall, these two spiritual leaders (who both have first-hand experience of what they teach) offer us a 5-step spiritual practice that helps us develop and support our capacity for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being – i.e., for deep and lasting JOY… Practices that, not surprisingly, have now been demonstrated to align with our physical make-up; making us what the DL calls “factory-equipped,” with hard-wired neural circuitry that supports our highest & äbest well-being. We’re called to practice/develop:

1. Our capacity to accept life/world as it is…with its inevitable ups and downs, challenges and bless-ings, losses and gains, pain and healing – while stay-ing ever-focused on the inherent opportunities for love, growth, fulfillment, joy, overcoming, transformation, and bliss – through it all…and

2. Our capacity to create our own experiencei.e., remembering that life is an INSIDE>OUT job, happening THRU us, not TO us – based on our beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts. (Both these capacities align with the brain circuitries that empower us to maintain positive states and recover from negative states of mind.)   

3. Our capacity to choose where we focus our attentionthrough the practice of wakefulness and mindfulness which allow us to be AT CHOICE, and facilitate our ability to consciously create our life-experience from the INSIDE>OUT…and  

4. Our capacity for lasting well-being…i.e., the ability to commit ourselves to spiritual practices like meditation, mindfulness, and spiritual reflection. (The capacity to FOCUS, and to COMMIT ourselves to spiritual disciplines, align with the brain circuitries that empower us maintain positive states, and to focus and minimize mind-wandering.)  

5. and finally, our capacity to recognize/know our Oneness…which begins with our ability to heal any sense of separation we find within ourselves…and then expands to realizing our Oneness with God & creation. (Knowing our Oneness aligns with the neural circuitry that wires us for generosity and compassion…supporting the realization of our inherent interdependence and connection.)

Over the past few weeks – we’ve been exploring what the Dalai Lama and Archbishop have named “the eight Pillars of Joy” – seeking one more way to instill these ideas and practices into our daily living. These include four qualities of the MIND (perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance); & four qualities of the heart (forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity).

We concluding the series today exploring the final two Pillars of Joy – COMPASSION & GENEROSITY… These final two Pillars, which are largely inter-twingled and mutually reinforcing, represent having achieved “a generosity of spirit” – the culmination of integrating ALL 8 Pillars of JOY.

In Generosity, there is:

1. A wider perspective in which we see our inherent connection to others, and…

2. A humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that in another time, we could be the one in need, be it emotional, spiritual, or material.

3. In Generosity, there is also a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which allows us to better practice…and

4. An acceptance of life that helps us refrain from the futile attempt to make life be different than what it is (i.e., get caught up in the illusion of control)

5. There is also forgiveness of others, ourselves, and life; a release of what might have been (i.e., giving up all hope for a different past) to BE HERE NOW;

6. A gratitude for all that we’ve been given;

7. And, finally, seeing others with a deep compasssion and a desire to help those who are in need…

From all of this comes a generosity that the Dalai Lama calls wise-selfish… recognizing that helping others IS helping ourselves.

So let’s take a closer look at Compassion. In his book, A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassion-ate Can Transform Our Lives, the Dalai Lama’s long-time translator, Jinpa – defines it as:

“…a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.”  AND…

“…what connects the feeling of empathy to acts of kindness, generosity, and other expressions of altruistic

IOW – compassion involves ACTION, not just feelings

The Dalai Lama explains that compassion is the äexpansion of the maternal instinct that has been so pivotal to the survival of our species… He describes observing an exhausted mother, caring for two children (a cranky 3yr-old boy and a baby) on a long flight (her husband asleep next to her), and says, “Seriously, I thought about it, and I don’t think I would have had that kind of patience…”

Which echoes discussions between parents and religious seekers on the topic, who’ve concluded:

“It probably takes many years of monastic practice to equal the spiritual growth generated by one sleepless night with a sick child.”

The DL notes that, “we all carry the SEED of compassion” … and it’s a skill that can be cultivated – learning to develop and then extend our circle of concern beyond our immediate family to others.  It also helps when one recognizes our shared humanity.

I’m reminded of an interview with one of the many people who got their loved ones out of the Las Vegas concert area to safety – and then returned to help others. When asked why he went back into danger, he explained, “I would’ve wanted someone to help my wife, my children – I just had to go back and help.”

There are, again, multiple studies revealing how being compassionate is good for us. As we relieve another’s suffering, our own suffering is diminished. In fact, simply thinking compassionately has been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase endorphins, and reward us like chocolate!

The Arch Bishop laughed at the need for scientific justifications for what he considers “obviously at the core of our humanity” … The very fact that we admire compassionate people, he argues, is evidence that it is something we all aspire to.  Who admires a vengeful person?

Yet still, many consider “holy ones” like the Dalai Lama and Arch Bishop, or Mother Teresa – to be “excep-tions” beyond our normal capacity.  And, many still buy into a “survival of the fittest” world view that mandates competition – i.e., it’s me OR you” … which makes compassion seem to be a luxury…or worse – a “self-defeating folly of the weak.”  

Yet evolutionary science has come to see cooperation and its core of emotions (empathy, compassion and generosity) as fundamental to our species’ survival.  IOW – compassion IS our SELF-INTEREST… “the fittest” (re: survival) are those who practice “reciprocal altruism” – “paying it forward” – to help heal the planet.

So, it’s clear that we can’t leave compassion to the lofty realm of saints and lamas…it’s a pillar of joy for ALL of us…so why is it so hard for us to embrace?  The Arch Bishop, once again, reminds us that “it takes time…we are growing and learning how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human.” But it IS within our ability.

To develop our compassion for others, however, we must begin with compassion for ourselves. As the AB points out, “it’s difficult to love our neighbor as ourselves, if we don’t love ourselves.” Practicing self-compassion includes accepting that we’re all works in progress; being kind to ourselves as we go through difficulties; remembering we ALL feel inadequate at times; recognizing that everyone has hard times and challenges; and seeking greater self-understanding with curiosity and acceptance, rather than rejection and/or self-judgment.

As we develop the courage and capacity to have our hearts broken open, we soon discover that “the bigger and warmer our hearts, the stronger our sense of aliveness and resilience.”

Generosity is a natural outgrowth of compassion… the line between the two is almost indistinguishable… BUT, the good news is – we don’t need to wait for compassion to be generous…Generosity is often something we learn to enjoy by doing… which is why charity is proscribed in almost every religious tradition. It expresses the central aspect of our interdependence…and is fundamental to our survival… As demonstrated by how the reward centers of our brains light up as strongly when we give as when we receive…sometimes even more so…

Wisdom tells us that It’s in giving that we receive.

Both compassion and generosity represent spiritual paradoxes that can’t be argued in theory (and appear counter-intuitive). We erroneously apply material math principles to spiritual things – believing that when we give to others, it subtracts from ourselves…

Which is why giving has to be practiced…so that the blessing of transforming spiritual receiving can be experienced firsthand. Through the practice, we discover that when we give to others, we actually expand the space in ourselves so that we can we receive & experience MORE JOY…

In the book, they tell the story of James Doty, a full-time neuro-surgeon and medical tech entrepreneur, who at the height of his success (worth 75 million) had pledged $30 million to charity… When dot-com stock market crash occurred, he lost everything except the charity pledge stock. When his lawyers explained that he could back out of the charity pledge…he responded:

“One of the persistent myths in our society, is that money will make you happy. Growing up poor, I thought that money would give me everything I did not have—control, power, love. When I finally had all the money I had ever dreamed of, I discovered that it had not made me happy. And when I lost it all, all of my false friends disappeared.”

He went ahead with his contribution, noting, “At that moment I realized that the only way money can bring happiness is to give it away.”  In 2007, Doty became the founder and director of the 4Center of Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford, and Chair of the Dalai Lama Foundation.

Of course – generosity is about more than money;  even more valuable can be the gift of our TIME…    äThe invaluable gift we receive in return is a sense of PURPOSE (being valued and needed by others) – which is central to our own well-being.  Major studies show that a high sense of purpose correlates with a 23% reduction in death from ALL causes, as well as a reduced decline in physical function, frailty, and disability; as well as a significant reduction in Alzheimers’s disease.

Compassion and generosity are not just lofty virtues – they are at the center of our humanity – what makes our lives joyful and meaningful. They are the attributes that remind us we are funda-mentally GOOD (i.e., expressions of God); that we are made for goodness; and when given the opportunity, most of us respond with a generosity of spirit…doing what we can do…

So – the key to being of service to people, nature, and causes in need…helping the world heal while still finding joy in our own lives is to remember:

> we’re not alone;

> it’s not ALL up to us;

> we WILL NOT finish; and   

> people are generally good. 

It helps no one if we sacrifice our joy because others are suffering…Rather, it’s in FINDING and CHOOSING OUR JOY in giving and caring, that will make compassion and generosity even more contagious, as it feeds us, and sources us to be God in the world…

The DL concludes with this powerful image…that we  ägive from a generosity of spirit such that…”we become an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us.”

So – as our joy song says – from me to you…and all of us to each other… let’s turn to one another and say:                                                                                      I wish you JOY!