Thoughts from Rev. Jim Burklo Simi As I Am.

May 18th, 2023

This past Sunday, I reflected on the spirituality of
non-religious people – a fast-growing
demographic of people who should be included in our
pluralistic approach to religion. Being
non-religious can be as good for the non-religious as being Christian is for us.
My relationships with many non-religious folks have led me to ask a question:
how can I share my faith with them, in non-religious language? How can I translate progressive Christianity into
purely secular terms? It’s a worthy challenge that awakens me to something important about my own faith.
Evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity can’t
be translated into secular terms because its
starting point is distinctively religious. For its followers,
it begins with the circular assumption
that the Bible is the Word of a supernatural God, because the Bible says so.
No wonder, then, that in an increasingly secularized culture, people have a hard time understanding what
Christianity is all about when it is introduced to them in specifically
Christian lingo. But progressive Christianity starts and ends with unconditional love, which can be expressed both in secular and in religious language.
We don’t have to use the G-word in order to share
the core message of our faith.

What is most essential in Christianity is not confined to Christianity.
Our tradition mirrors the
nature of nature itself. The richly profound narratives and rituals
of the faith reflect the
universal structure of the human psyche.
What is true in Christianity is not true only because of
Christianity. Christianity is one of many possible
expressions of an underlying essence. When
we engage in contemplative prayer, when we
participate in the sacraments, we are communing with a reality that supersedes Christianity itself.

We can talk about it in language that pretty
much anyone can comprehend, and then, if they care to go further, we can translate that description into Christian terms.

So here is my paragraph, briefly describing the underlying essence
of Christianity in purely secular language:

Out of billions of years of the universe churning with creation and destruction, a breathtaking reality has emerged: love. On earth, love has evolved from the bond between family members into a deeper love that is unconditional and universal.
The emergence of this love marks a
profound turning point in natural history. This love flows through deeply attentive, open, all- embracing consciousness. This love lifts people out of selfishness and shallowness and into lives of selfless compassion, creativity, service, and activism for justice. This love manifests in humble
awe and wonder. This love is more extraordinary and beautiful than everyday prose can describe. It inspires poetry, music, ritual, and mythic narrative, and it brings people together in community to celebrate and practice it more fully.

The Christian church is one such community. Welcome to it, here at UCC Simi!

May 11th, 2023


On Sunday, May 14, our after-worship Souljourning event will be a time to make mandalas in the sand together.

It is a contemplative practice in religions and spiritual traditions globally.

The word “mandala” is Sanskrit for “circle”.   It is a tool for meditation and prayer in many different world religious traditions.  Generally, mandalas are visual portals into contemplative spirituality, facilitating the integration of inner experience into a harmonic whole.  In the Vedic religious traditions originating in India, it takes many forms, including Tibetan Buddhist
“thangkas” and sand mandalas.  In Christianity, the rose window of a cathedral is a form of mandala.  Christian mystics like Hildegard of Bingen created mandalas to constellate visually the spiritual states to which they aspired.  Navajo Native Americans use sand to create mandala-like
images to invoke healing and inner harmony.  A similar practice is found among the Aboriginal people of Australia. 

 The Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung studied mandalas and painted them as
part of his own spiritual practice, and Jungian transpersonal psychology continues this tradition.
At USC, my office hosted a group of Tibetan monks, who made a mandala in the sand in our building. I watched them create it over the course of a week, and then watched as they ritually destroyed it in an elaborate ceremony.  I wrote this poem to mark the moment: Rasping a brass stick across grooves on a narrow brass funnel full of colored sand, A monk, leaning over a table, listening to a recording of deep, throaty Tibetan chants, Deposits a few grains at a time onto an emerging symmetrical pattern,
Ordering the souls cosmos into an intricate mandala.
Across from him, another monk in a robe of cardinal and gold
Rasps out a tiny line of a different colored sand, reflecting a
pattern etched in memory.

It takes a week, or an eternity, depending on how and if one counts,
Moving from the inside out in four directions bounded by a circle. 
Students arrive on their beach-bikes, lock them up outside,
And give themselves a minute to observe the monks,
But end up staying longer – half an hour?  an hour? – lost in the sand,
Vibrated away from assignments, test anxieties, computer screens,  
Smart-phones, schedules, and expectations.
The mandala focuses them on the universal here and the eternal now, 
On a constant indefinable center surrounded by change.
Reaching the outermost circle, the monks lay down their brass funnels,
Don their golden crescent head-dresses, Lift ornate brass horns to their lips, 
Close their eyes to chant from the bottom of their voiceboxes,
And wave their whisks through the ordered sand in spirals of release: 
A creation including its dissolution, 
A creativity embracing its impermanence.

May 4th, 2023

About 20 years ago, I started an annual event called Pluralism Sunday,
on the first Sunday of May – for progressive Christians worldwide to celebrate the idea that other religions can be as
good for others as Christianity is for us. And to discover more about our own faith by comparing and contrasting it with other faiths.
At an interfaith gathering I attended, the subject turned to the question of what people of different religions do when they lose things.  A Muslim spoke up right away.  “When I lose my keys, or something else, I do what other Muslims do.  I repeat the phrase “yaseen” forty times. 
And then very often I find what I lost!”  I couldn’t help asking:  “What does ‘yaseen’ mean?” The young woman answered “We don’t know.  In the Koran there are three words for which there is no known meaning.  Yaseen is one of them.”  “You mean even Arabic speakers don’t
know what it means?”  “Yes,” she answered.  There’s a passage in the Koran called the Surah Yaseen.  I’ve read it, at least in English, and for the life of me I cannot see what it has to do with losing keys.  So I speculated.  “So you use a word that has lost its meaning to find things that you
have lost?”  I asked.  “Hmmm,” she said.  “Maybe that’s it!”  

The group thought about it some more and we made another guess.  Repeating a mysterious couple of syllables over and over and
over may have the effect of distracting one’s mind from obsessing about where the lost item was left.  You know how it goes:  you think about something else for a while, and then, unbidden, out
of nowhere, the answer bubbles up on its own,
and you remember where you left your keys.
And then a Catholic Christian spoke up to inform us that in his tradition, one prays to St. Anthony for divine intervention in finding things that are lost.  I asked why Catholics don’t pray
to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, to find lost things.  He shrugged.  Another religious mystery.
It’s mystery all the way down, folks!  Because if I’ve learned anything about world religions, it is this: the more you know about the religions of the world, the more keenly aware you are of
your ignorance about them.  You start praying to St. Jude in earnest, because really understanding all the world’s religions in any depth is a lost cause.  I’m a Christian pastor, not a real scholar but with a scholarly bent.  I’ve steeped myself in the history and spirituality of Christianity, but I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of my own tradition.
So many lost keys to religion, so little time!  
“Yaseen, yaseen, yaseen, yaseen, yaseen….”
So it’s all the more bewildering to a person in my position when I hear Christians claim that Christianity is the only true faith, that nobody can get right with God except by accepting Jesus
as their personal Lord and Savior.  To such folks I want to say: “Woah, dude, you know all there is to know about all the world’s religions?  You’ve read all the uncountable pages of even the most obscure scriptures of the most obscure sects of all the faiths of the world?  You’ve
prostrated in submission to Allah, not just with Sunni Muslims but also with Shias and Alawites and Ismailis and Sufis?  You know what is in the heart of a Sikh woman as she closes her eyes in the gurdwara and listens to the soulful kirtan music of praise to God, to the beat of tablas and the
reedy sound of the harmonium?  You know enough about the spiritual status of a Hindu bowing reverently as waves the smoke of the aarthi flame over his head with his hands, enough to know that God will condemn him to eternal hellfire for following the wrong religion?  You’re really
quite sure that the devout Jewish nurse who sings sweetly to her elderly patient while very carefully changing the dressings on her decubitus sores is a lost soul until she believes Jesus is the only begotten Son of God?”

I surely do not know anything close to all there is to know about my own religion, much less that of others. But I want to know. And I invite you into that desire to know, as well. So for the next
month ‘o Sundays, let’s explore the world’s religions together in worship…. because by doing so, we’ll go deeper into our own! Our series will close on Sun May 28 with a sermon delivered by local Muslim leader Ryan Kompanik, who is active in our Simi Valley Interfaith Council.
See you Sunday!

April 27th, 2023

Dignity and Respect
It seems to me that a large percentage of the interpersonal,
political, and international conflicts
that rage around us are the consequences of disrespect –
whether real or conjured.
Why do people vote for candidates who work against
their own practical interests? Because
these candidates rant in anger on their behalf against the
actual or imagined ways they’ve been disrespected.

Why did Putin order the invasion of Ukraine?
Based on all I’ve read, it appears that he feels like
Russia has been disrespected. It lost its dignity as a great
power with the collapse of the Soviet
Union. And to restore respect and dignity, it needs to reassert
its primacy over its former vassal
states like Ukraine. And a lot of Russians seem to share
this sentiment – enough to give
support for the horrifying war they have started.

Why do poor teenagers in America’s inner cities
slaughter each other at a horrific rate?
Because they believe they’ve been “dissed” by each other.
They want respect, and feel like
they’ve lost it. So they lash out at the nearest people
whom they perceive to have shown them
disrespect. Even if the worst disrespect against them is
the consequence of a much larger
systemic problem. Could their loss of a sense of being
respectable have anything to do with the
long and deep legacy of racism?

For those of us who don’t suffer from a sense of being
disrespected, it can be hard to relate to
folks who walk around with the proverbial chip on the shoulder.
But if that chip is there – no
matter how it got there – we all do well to do our best
to show respect to those who feel
they’ve been “dissed”. It’s a disregarded but critical
element of peacemaking at every level,
from our neighborhoods to our global community.

That’s what I’ll be talking about on Sunday.
I look forward to a conversation with you about it!
Respectfully yours,


April 20th, 2023

Joshua Tree

Every so often, I write a psalm – based on one from the Bible. 

I thought I’d share this one with you – as a way of wishing you a happy Earth Day!


Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to Diablo
looming over San Francisco Bay, a diadem of gold and green
spreading its dun folds down to its urban skirts

I lift up my eyes to Tamalpais
a sharp jut of rock wrapped in chapparal
and wreathed in fog that burns away in summer sun

I lift up my eyes to Pedernal
black mesa lifted high above pinon forest
and red rock desert
holding up the grand sky of New Mexico
underlining ever-changing moods of color and shadow

I lift up my eyes to Whitney
a dark wall on the east side of the Sierra
the granite teeth of its peak catching the setting sun
that casts a faint effulgence over their shadows

I lift up my eyes to the Minarets
The cathedral ridge of Mount Ritter and Mount Banner
Spires and organ pipes in silhouette
Against a sky thick with stars.

I lift up my eyes to the hills
And see that there is something — Someone —
infinitely more powerful and mysterious than I am
forcing them up from the plains
And I remember that this same Someone
creates and keeps me
and thrills me with this urge
to lift up my eyes to the hills.


April 13th, 2023

The Swedes and the Hawaiians have something in common, besides enjoying fish. They both have a deep understanding of the idea of “enough”.

The Swedish word that roughly translates as “enough” is lagom. Lagom means exactly in balance,“just right”, and the Swedes say it all the time, much more than we say the word “enough”. Their culture ennobles the search for lagom. There’s a minimalist quality, after all, to Swedish design. And while it’s a very prosperous country, with a lively capitalist economy, there is much less imbalance in it between the rich and the non-so-rich. A young Swedish couple at Stanford, with whom my wife Roberta and I became close, explained this to us. I asked Jenny and Peter to teach us one word in Swedish that was most important to know, and lagom was the one they didn’t want us to forget.

And if you ever go to Hawaii, you’ll quickly learn the word pau. If you’ve had enough to eat, you say, “I’m pau.” When you’ve worked enough, or partied enough, you say, “Pau hana” which roughly means, “I’ve had enough of this activity and now I’m going home.” Native Hawaiians and white haoles alike use the word “pau” constantly. Maybe it gets used so much because there is so much to be satisfied with in Hawaii. It’s a reflection of that culture, too – one that focuses on simple pleasures, one that accepts all shapes, sizes, cultures, and styles of people. A friend of ours in Hawaii used to snitch a few avocados from his neighbor’s tree now and again. She was an old Japanese-Hawaiian lady. One day he came home and there was a big sack of fresh avocados on his doorstep. On it was a note from the neighbor lady that said, “No need steal!” There’s pau for everybody.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” The Sermon on the Mount might be all the Christianity that anybody needs. We make it complicated with beliefs and theologies, when Matthew chapters 5 through 7 might be lagom, might be pau, might be enough to occupy our faithful attention for our whole lives.

God within us can look at human beings living harmoniously, in simple sufficiency, with themselves, with each other, and with the earth. And then God within us happily can say, “Pau hana” and roll over and sleep sweetly on Cloud 9.

Enough for now —


April 6th, 2023

 Dear Easter People at UCC Simi:
See you Sunday for our resurrection celebration!
In worship, we’ll process, chanting the ancient Greek words of joy
from the early Christian church: Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! –
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
We’ll pray and sing and remember the meanings of the sacred myth of Easter,
for ourselves and for our time.

And then after worship, we’ll have a look at our responses to
the 14 Questions of Jesus we pondered during Lent –which we’ll have posted on the inside sanctuary wall.
And we’ll go out in the back patio to enjoy coffee hour and make dorodangos – magic mud balls. It is our monthly “Souljourning” event for all, with a special invitation to families with kids. We’ll be Godlike – and make little “worlds” out of nothing but dirt, water, and the work of our own hands. It’s a Japanese art form that is meditative and entrancing…. It’s amazing to see
beautiful smooth orbs form out of nothing but mud.
And we’ll have an Easter egg hunt!
See you then!

Read what Rev. Jim said to National Scripps News last week HERE

             If you’d like to subscribe to my weekly blog, “musings”, email me at                           and I’ll put you on the list!

  In addition to being your pastor, I’m also the (volunteer) Executive Director of .  I’m leading its main project, a new global network of progressive Christian ministries at colleges and universities called ZOE… 

I look forward to seeing many of you at Sunday worship! 

March 30th, 2023

Dear Ones at UCC Simi:

I was much moved by the outpouring of kind words you offered this past Sunday.  But again, you ought to expect your pastor to do what you’re glad I’m doing!  And we ought to expect our church to do what it is doing – modeling the radical inclusion and welcome and compassion inspired in us by the Christ.
  We’re in it together!

I’m bummed that I’ll miss the amazing Passover Seder that Joan Thompson is organizing for this coming Fri 3/31, 7:30 pm at the church.  Party on, people!  On Friday night, I must attend the memorial service for a dear friend of mine and fellow member of Mount Hollywood UCC in LA, Ron Taylor.  For years, Ron worked to bring equity and inclusion into the film industry – gracefully and respectfully, breaking down resistance with kindness and wisdom.  And he was a talented Hollywood figure in his own right, writing screenplays.  He grew up at Mt Hollywood Church, going to Sunday School with Bonnie Raitt.  Mt Hollywood was one of the very first churches in the country to be racially integrated.  It defended Japanese Americans during the 2nd World War.  It stood for peace and justice through the Civil Rights era and the Vietnam War.  And it modeled progressive theology in its embrace of the spirituality of the mystical traditions of the world’s religions.  I grieve Ron’s sudden passing and lift up his memory to celebrate everything good about progressive Christianity.

This coming Palm Sunday, we’ll be waving palm branches and “ringing in” the love who is God into our lives.  We’ll have a short congregational meeting after worship, and we’ll also have time to respond to the 14 Questions of Jesus that we’ve been pondering through Lent. 

On Easter Sunday, 4/9, after our worship celebration, we’ll be Godlike and make “worlds”!  We’ll make beautiful orbs called “dorodangos”, for our monthly Souljourning event (offering special welcome to families with kids).  This is a Japanese art form that “resurrects” mud into beautiful, shining balls using nothing but dirt, water, and our bare hands.  Bring aprons or wear grubbies and join the fun!

Yours in the Light,

Jim Burklo

March 23rd, 2023

Dear UCC Simi family:

I would like to introduce you to a cherished friend of mine: Father Ricardo Elford.

Since 1967, Ricardo, a Redemptorist priest, has been serving migrants and native Americans on both sides of the border between Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.  He is now 85 years old, living at the Redemptorist Renewal Center outside of Tucson, and still at work, managing Clinica Amistad, a medical clinic in the barrio staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, and practitioners serving people without insurance – most of them undocumented migrants. 

I met Ricardo in 2001, when I went to Tucson for a visit with Jim Corbett, the co-founder of the Sanctuary Movement, which smuggled Central American refugees into the US and housed them in churches and temples to protect them from death and abuse during the civil wars in those countries in the 1980’s.  Corbett was a Quaker, a cowboy, and a self-taught Hebrew scholar with a master’s degree in philosophy from Harvard.  Ricardo was deeply involved in the Sanctuary movement from its beginning, and was a close associate of Corbett’s.  Based on that work, together they wrote “The Servant Church” (Pendle Hill, 1996), which has haunted my practice of ministry ever since I first read it. “The crucial, turn-around choices posed by the gospel are about service, not rewards – service that isn’t coerced and for which there’s no pay-off.  Having discovered that communion is universal and unearned, one is free to choose.  Having chosen, however, the members of a covenant community must be able to count on one another to walk the hallowing way they profess, to act as a covenant community.”  (p 34) 

Early in Ricardo’s ministry in southern Arizona, he served as a priest to the Yaqui tribe, which has communities on both sides of the US/Mexico border.  He performed the mass in rural churches in Sonora, as well as in the Yaqui reservation near Tucson.  As enforcement of the border on the US side became more intense, he became focused on assisting migrants caught in the consequences.  Every time I visited him in Tucson, his cell phone was constantly ringing.  Ricardo was the “fixer” for migrants in various kinds of trouble:  facing deportation orders, trying to get asylum, trying to communicate with relatives across the border.  It seems as if everyone in the Tucson barrio knows him.  I walked down 4th Avenue in Tucson with him one afternoon, and a couple of Spanish-speaking people accosted him adoringly along the way.  He has relationships with the Border Patrol, with doctors, lawyers, non-profits, and a network of trusted church members and other volunteers he can mobilize on the spot.  A woman broke her leg while crossing the desert and was apprehended by Border Patrol agents who knew they could not deport her in that condition.  They knew to call Ricardo, and in minutes, he found a family to house the woman until her leg was healed.  The Border Patrol delivered her straight from the desert to their door.

While Ricardo will be the first to rail against the inhumanity of US border policy that has generated so much of the misery his work addresses, he doesn’t let it get him down.  He is a joyous soul with an outsized smile and a ready laugh.  A progressive Christian down to his bones, he makes the Catholic church look better than perhaps it deserves! 

In America, a lot of folks think that being a Christian is a personal preference, and that to join a church is to show up on Sunday and contribute time and money to its organization.  Ricardo demonstrates, with his life, that it means something much more.  The church is a body of people with a vocation, a calling, to serve the world beyond itself: to stand with the most vulnerable, to struggle for systemic justice, to heal and to feed and to clothe and to house those left behind by social, economic, and political structures.

Roberta and I visited Ricardo last week, and we savored every minute with him.  His health is rather frail but his spirit is strong.  We shared and reflected together as we walked past the saguaros and chollas on the grounds of the retreat center.  What a gift to be in the presence of a person who embodies the call of the gospel, in word and deed!

 — Jim

March 16th, 2023

Dear Ones:
There’s a new movie out – The Jesus Revolution –
and I am proposing that we watch it, whether
in clusters of us or separately – and then have a conversation about it.

It’s about the “Jesus
People” of the late 60’s and early 70’s,
when glassy-eyed young hippies wandered the California
coast, gathering on the sand to sing praise songs.
For a short while, in Santa Cruz, CA, I was
part of this scene, which we called “God at the Beach”.

The entertainment in the film derives
from the unlikely encounter between the wild-haired leader
of that movement, Lonnie Frisbee,
and a buttoned-up pastor in Orange County, Chuck Smith.
The movie illustrates the process by
which an earnest “Jesus Revolution” of young folks
at the beach transformed into right-wing
fundamentalism in the suburbs.

The film lies by omission: it was produced by
evangelical Christians who conveniently left out
the fact that Lonnie Frisbee was a self-loathing gay man who died of AIDS. He was a victim of the form of religion that this film propagandizes.

So why do I recommend that we watch it?
Because in Simi Valley, not far from the beach,
we’re surrounded by the toxic consequences of the events
that the movie illustrates. I believe
our church offers an antidote: a form of Christianity that keeps alive the
real Jesus Revolution of peace and love in our valley and in our world.
Let me know if you watch the film!

And in the next month or so I’ll convene us for a
conversation about it after worship – more to follow.
Our faith leads us to make a real, positive difference in this world,
for the sake of compassion and justice.

But I believe that the Christ inspires us not only to act, but to act effectively.
So on Sunday 3/19, I’ll be preaching on the topic of “Doing Good Better”.
To get a head start on it, have a look at the EA movement: Effective Altruism. It is a really popular thing these days among young folks who want to maximize their positive effectiveness in making the world a better place. For some years, I taught a unit about it at the USC medical school, and it always
initiated some really rich conversations among students.
Let’s get the discussion started at
UCC Simi!

Love to all,

March 9th, 2023

Dear Ones:
It was a joy to sing chants with you this past Sunday!
Let’s keep chanting our way to divine compassion!

This coming Sunday, look forward to a sermon by our
very own Moderator at UCC Simi, Greg
Elliot. I’ll be on Catalina Island speaking at a USC student retreat,
and then Roberta and I are
going to Tucson until 3/18. We’ll be meeting up with some of
my long-time border justice
activist colleagues there. One of them is the artist Valarie James –
see her powerful work here.
(Someday I hope we can display some of her work in our church!)

On Sunday 3/19, I’ll be
preaching on the topic of “Doing Good Better” –
to get a head start on it, have a look at the EA
movement: Effective Altruism. It is a really popular thing these
days among young folks who
want to maximize their positive effectiveness in making the world
a better place. For some
years, I taught a unit about it at the USC medical school,
and it always initiated some really rich
conversations among students. Our faith leads us to make a real,
positive difference in this
world, for the sake of compassion and justice. But I believe that
the Christ inspires us not only
to act, but to act effectively. Let’s get the conversation started at UCC Simi!
Love to all,

March 2nd, 2023

Dear Ones at UCC Simi:

This coming Sunday, March 5, the focus will be on the global tradition of chanting as a spiritual practice.  After worship, we’ll do a SOULJOURNING time together, learning and practicing chants – many of which we’ll be using in worship in the future.  

In Christianity, chants became a way to practice St Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing”.  We all know how short bits of music get stuck in our heads – which is why advertising uses “jingles” that go into our brains and keep playing there, over and over.  The early mystics of the church understood this, and came up with chants that would become inner prayer repetitions, on auto-loop in their minds, enabling them to pray subconsciously all the time.  The most famous was the Prayer of Jesus:  “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me”.  In Greek, the language of early Christianity, it is “Kyrie eleison”. 

My favorite version of it is the one – in all places – in the movie “Easy Rider”.  Listen HERE….  The Kyrie is the great-grandma and grandpa of all Christian chants, still sung today in the Catholic mass.  There are a lot of ways to interpret the prayer.  I make sense of it this way:  the mercy we ask God to give us is God…. a present awareness of divine love.   It’s not groveling before a scary supernatural God.  It is welcoming God – who is healing, affirming, embracing compassion – fully into our hearts.


Have a look here at a list of wonderful chants from the world’s spiritual traditions.  We’ll be singing a bunch of them on Sunday.  Till then – chant on!


Love (is God),





February 23rd, 2023

Beloved ones:

In front of our church, I’ve taken the liberty of putting up a sign that says “He Gets Us – To End Systemic Racism”. It reflects my effort at a national level to respond creatively to the enormously expensive “He Gets Us” ad campaign that is attempting to rehabilitate the image of Jesus in America – a campaign paid for by the same folks who wrecked his reputation. (This morning, I was interviewed by Scripps Media for an upcoming national TV report on the campaign.) The phrase on our sign is one that the “He Gets Us” folks would never use – but surely it reflects the trajectory that Jesus set for us to follow.

What would it mean for you and me to “end systemic racism” in America? This Sunday, I’ll get a conversation going about this question. I’ve been pondering deeply the fact that the five police officers accused of the recent pointless, needless killing of a Black man, Tyre Nichols, were Black themselves. This fact ought to lead our country into some profound self-examination of the nature of racism, so that we can work more effectively toward eradicating it.

Our country is going through a fresh and very messy reckoning with racism from the past that pervades our present moment. Racism is what St Paul called a “power and a principality” – a force that infects individuals, but is at the same time pervades whole societies and social structures. It is personal because it is systemic, and it is systemic because it is personal. It can exist within us, and shape our behavior, without any conscious malicious intention by us as individuals. Few of us intend to be racist. Few of us have any overt desire to think or act in a racist manner. So there is no utility in wallowing in guilt and self-blame about it.

Instead, we need to carefully diagnose the problem, understand its perniciously subtle nature, and then work at both personal and systematic levels to heal from it. We need to think of it as a depth-psychological, spiritual public health problem. Those words might seem strange to string together in one sentence. But I think they point us in the right direction. (More on that on Sunday!)

Right-wing propagandists in America are pushing the narrative that making a big deal about racism is un-patriotic. They’re trying to un-write the history of this country, to downplay the devastating effects of racism from 1619, when slavery began in America, through the present day. Conservative “snowflakes” are afraid of making white people today feel guilty about an old problem that they didn’t create. But anti-racism isn’t about making anybody feel bad or embarrassed. It is a movement aimed at healing a wound, inflicted long ago, that festers to this day – among us all, and within us all. Let’s be brave Americans and deal with it, as we’ve dealt with so many other huge challenges in our history!

What makes America great is patriotic Americans putting 2023’s rights to 1619’s wrongs. To love our country is to address actively its present reality of racism. And Christianity has much to contribute to this cause. Our work is to see, pray, and act! I look forward to rich conversation among us about this profoundly important challenge.

Love (is God),


February 16th, 2023

Dear UCC Simi Valley beloveds:
See you at Game Night this Fri, 7 pm – bring your board games and anything to share by way of
dessert, and join the fun here at the church!
And mark your calendars for another party –
PUB NIGHT on Sat Mar 25, hosted by Diane and David Birchman.

And to carry on the party mood, be here Sunday 2/19 for 10 am worship – with the theme of MARDI GRAS – swinging beads and rocking the rafters as we mark the moment before Lent.
Let all the saints come marching in!

Years ago, I began an annual practice of writing what I call “Word Jazz” for Fat Tuesday and Lent. Here’s one of my early ones, from the grim days of recession in 2009. An excerpt, riffing off the gospel myth of Jesus making water out of wine at a wedding in Cana:

The bride and the groom
Came out of their room
Emerged from their gloom
And shared a glass…
And told the guests:
“This isn’t normal!
It isn’t formal!
This big faux pas
On Mardi Gras
Has changed the rules
And made us fools…
How did this come to pass?
Give us another glass!
The wine that’s best
Was saved for last!”
It was the Merlot of mindfulness
It was the Syrah of sincerity
It was the Cabernet of kindness
It was the Chardonnay of social change
It was the Zinfandel of fidelity
It was the Rose’ of righteousness
It was the Pinot of patience
It was Jesus’ Juice of Justice….

So get ready for this year’s version of Fat Tuesday Word Jazz – which I’ll share as the sermon on Sunday!

In the playground by the patio in front of the church, come in and walk the 14 Questions of Jesus through Lent until Easter Sunday. You can take cards and write your responses to the 14
questions and put them in the slots on each station. 

See you Friday – and Sunday – and…..

14 Questions of Jesus:  Meditations for Lent

For Lent 2023 at UCC Simi Valley, all are invited to engage with 14 of the questions that Jesus asked his followers during his ministry.  From this Sunday through Easter, they will be on display in 14 “stations” on the front patio of the church.   Participants can take slips of paper and write responses to the questions, and put them in the boxes at each station, as they choose.  In 10 am Easter Sunday worship, 4/9/23, we will display these responses on the wall inside the sanctuary. 

This selection of questions of Jesus is intended for open-ended, contemplative, prayerful personal meditation and group conversation.  Here, the questions are presented out of their contexts in the gospel narratives.  Those contexts are well-worthy of study and consideration.  But here, you can fit Jesus’ questions into your own contexts, imagining how they address or challenge your own life-experience.  The questions are presented here as “koans” – spiritual “monkey-wrenches” –  tossed into our minds to break us loose from habits that get in the way of Divine Love. There are no right answers.  It may be enough to mindfully contemplate the questions rather than trying to answer them!  How can these questions bring us closer to the true Divine Nature within, and draw us closer in loving community?  After each question, I offer some prompts for reflection and response.


February 9th, 2023

Dear UCC Simi community

This week I’ve started a national effort to respond creatively to the ad campaign, which will be prominently featured in the Super Bowl next Sunday.  This campaign will continue all over the country for months to come.  

It is an effort to make Jesus look good – funded by the same fundamentalists who have trashed his reputation. 

It aims to be a billion-dollar campaign paid for by a shadowy entity called “Signatry” and its front organization, the Servant Foundation, which is funded by the likes of the Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby – major right-wing political and “culture warrior” donors.  The campaign website funnels readers into the fundamentalist media universe.  (See a piece about HeGetsUs on NPR here.)  

So, through and, I’ve mounted an effort to flip the right-wing agenda behind HeGetsUs – by shifting it to
“He Gets Us To…”:

HE GETS US – to stand up for women’s right to choose
HE GETS US – to celebrate same-sex marriages
HE GETS US – to welcome immigrants
HE GETS US – to save the earth from human-caused climate change
HE GETS US – to embrace other religions
HE GETS US – to end systemic racism
HE GETS US – to resist the right-wing agenda of the funders of


Ironically, a bunch of fundamentalist Christians are very unhappy with HeGetsUs, because it portrays Jesus solely as a relatable human being.  The marketing wonks who put this campaign together rightly determined that the way to attract people to Jesus is through his human approachability.  So they portray him pretty much the way we progressive Christians portray him!  Which disturbs fundamentalists, because what matters much more to them is their belief that Jesus is supernatural, almighty God.  To portray Jesus as just a human is indeed a “slippery slope”, leading right into the viewpoint of us – progressive Christians – whom they warn their followers to avoid!


So as you watch the HeGetsUs ads, take it as an opportunity to reflect on who Jesus was, who he wasn’t, and what he inspires us to be and to do.  I look forward to engaging conversations with you about it!


Jim Burklo

February 2nd, 2023
This coming Sunday, we’ll hold our first “Souljourning” event – welcoming the whole church, and especially kids and their parents, to join in an activity that nurtures natural spiritual development.  Learn more about our new initiative here!  On 2/5, after 10 am worship, we’ll make necklaces and bracelets of beads – for use in meditation and prayer.  We’ll also enjoy a potluck meal.

The word “bede” in Anglo-Saxon means “prayer”.  Beads have been used in contemplative practice for millennia, all over the world, in many religious traditions.

The Hindu “mala” is a necklace of 108 beads.  Each bead is fingered while repeating a mantra.  The Buddhists use mala beads in a similar fashion.

The Muslims may have copied the use of beads from the Hindus and Buddhists.  They have a rosary of 99 beads, each one marking one of the names/attributes of Allah – with a head bead for Allah.  An alternative form is 33 beads, used 3 times to complete the 99 names.  The Bahá’í faith uses a similar rosary.

The Catholic Christians may have copied the Muslims in creating rosary beads.  “Praying the rosary” involves a series of prayers marked by five “decades” of ten beads each, with a cross at the head of the necklace.

Make your own necklace or bracelet, and use it as you wish!  Here’s a suggested practice, based in mindfulness meditation.

Make your necklace or bracelet with any number of beads, with a “head” or larger bead on it.  Hold the necklace in your hand.  Hold a bead next to the head bead in your fingers.  Get into a comfortable position where you’ll stay alert.  Practice mindful contemplation: observe, one at a time, each thought, sensation, emotion, or urge that arises – with compassion and releasing judgment about it.  As a new experience bubbles up into awareness, roll a bead in your fingers until that experience naturally dissipates.  As the next experience arises into your loving, curious, open-hearted and open-minded attention, move to the next bead and roll it with your fingers.  When you get to the head bead, hold it in your fingers and savor the experience of compassionate attention itself.  In Christian terms, this is the experience of Christ-consciousness – or what the mystics and contemplatives of the church called “union with the divine”.  Because prayer = attention = love = God! 

See you Sunday!  – and invite friends – in particular, young ones.



January 26th, 2023

This past Sunday in worship, we gathered ’round a fake, a virtual, and a real campfire – recalling the wonderful mythical story from the scripture about Jesus meeting his disciples at Lake Galilee after his resurrection. Waiting for them was a fire on which he had prepared a breakfast of fish and bread. We get to speculate about the kind of conversation that followed as they sat with him on the shore, gazing at the embers. Something about a campfire, eh? – to inspire deep sharing and connection.

So let’s have “campfires” together! — using this campfire video on our smartphones or computers or TV screens, to set the mood for contemplative conversations. By putting our phones in the middle of a circle of family or friends, and letting them run the campfire video, we turn our screens into tools for conviviality instead of their usual function of isolating us from face-to-face contact.

A great source of inspiration for campfire conversation comes to us in the form of the questions Jesus asked his followers. Here, his questions are presented out of their contexts in the gospel narratives. Those contexts are well-worthy of study and consideration. But here, you can fit Jesus’ questions into your own contexts, imagining how they address or challenge your own life-experience. The questions are presented here as “koans” – spiritual “monkey-wrenches” tossed into our minds to break us loose from habits that get in the way of Divine Love. There are no right answers. It may be enough to mindfully contemplate the questions rather than trying to answer them! How can these questions bring us closer to the true Divine Nature within, and draw us closer in loving community? After each question, I offer some prompts for reflection. Light a real or virtual fire, and see where Jesus’ questions take you!

1. And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? (Matt 6:27-28) (What are your worries? When and how do they arise? How do they manifest physically?)

2. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? (Matt 7:2) (What are the logs in your own eyes? What prejudices and assumptions and judgments get in the way of your ability to see things as they are, on their own terms? How clearly can you see these “logs”?)

3. Why are you afraid, you of little faith? (Matt 8:26) (What are you afraid of? What is the root of your fear? When/how do these fears arise? How do these fears affect your life and the lives of others? How do your fears manifest in your body?)

4. Do you believe that I am able to do this? (Matt 9:28) (What do you need to do? Do you believe you can do it? Examine your beliefs about what you can and cannot accomplish.)

5. What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? (Matt 11:8) (When you go out into nature, what are you seeking, if anything? What do you find in the wilderness?)

6. Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? (Matt 12:48) (Who matters to you? For whom would you lay down your life, and vice-versa? What kind of relationship do you have with the people most important to you? Does change need to come to these relationships?)

7. How many loaves have you? (Matt 15:34) (What do you have to work with – what are your resources to deal with the challenges before you? Are they sufficient? Can you “make do”?)

8. But who do you say that I am? (Matt 16:15) – What is your name? (Luke 8:30) (Who are you, in your essence? If you lovingly observe yourself in prayerful, mindful contemplation, who/what is it that is doing the observing?)

9. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink? (Matt 20:22) (Are you ready/willing to suffer, or serve others who are suffering? How can you make yourself ready to do so?)

10. What do you want me to do for you? (Matt 20:32) (What kind of help do you need? Are you willing to ask for it?)

11. So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? (Matt 26:40) – Simon, are you asleep? (Mark 14:37) – Why are you sleeping? (Luke 22:46) (In what ways are you “asleep”, spiritually/emotionally/mentally? What would help you come “awake”?)

12. My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46) (Is there any part of you in despair? What is the root of that despair?)

13. Who touched my clothes? (Mark 5:30) (Do you feel drained of energy, spiritually or physically? What drained you? How can you be revived with energy?)

14. Can you see anything? (Mark 8:23) (In what ways are you blind – unable to “see” important aspects of life within and around you?)

15. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? (Luke 22:27) (In what ways are you a servant, and in what ways are you a master? What is it like to be in each of those roles? Are there situations in which those roles should be reversed for you?)

16. What are you discussing as you walk along? (Luke 24:17) (What chatter is going on in your mind right now? What are you thinking right now? What kind of inner dialogue is going on in you right now?)

17. What are you looking for? (John 1:38) (What do you want? Is anything missing in your life? What do you want to do about it? What are you willing to do about it?)

18. Do you want to be made well? (John 5:6) (In what ways are you not well? What is your level of desire to become well? What difference might it make if your desire was stronger?)

19. Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me? (John 18:34) (In what ways do you just “go with the flow” of other people’s expectations for you? How much should you resist that flow? What are ways in which you need to be more authentic about your own choices and views?)

20. Do you love me? (John 21:16) (Is there love in your life? Whom do you love? Do you love yourself? Do you experience divine love, and what is it like?)

Campfire Video Link
Jim Burklo

January 19th, 2023

 This week we celebrate a man by the name of Martin Luther King. As well we should, since he is a true American hero. But even more than the man, we do well to lift up our voices in celebration of his vision for America, one informed and mirrored by the Christian gospel that he preached.

A lot of folks in this country would much prefer just to remember the man as an iconic figure representing the end of overt legal segregation and racism. The anti-woke crowd would have us believe that with Martin Luther King, that problem was and remains behind us. But of course the man himself knew perfectly well that his life was going to be cut short in the middle, not at the end, of the struggle for civil rights for Black people – and in the middle, not the end, of his larger struggle for civil rights, economic justice, and peace – for everybody in America and the world.

His was a vision for the well-being of what he called “the beloved community” – a term that sprang forth from his commitment to the Christian church as a beloved community – but extended in meaning to include a protected and nurtured and peaceful and just beloved community of poor, rich, middle-class, Black, white, Christian, non-Christian, and every other kind of people.

Martin Luther King started out with a focus on a specific problem in America – the enduring scandal of racism. But the deeper he went in leading the movement to end segregation, the more clearly he saw that racism was connected to all the other scourges that afflict not just America but the other nations and peoples of the world. He saw that all Americans are connected, interdependent – and that the world is interconnected – and that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. So a vision of the beloved community of peace and justice and compassion began to form in his heart and in his mind. He did not live long enough to express it fully, much less complete his part of the task of making it real in the world.

It’s up to us to express that vision, and turn it into reality. For those of us who identify as Christians, this is what we’re called to do: to lift every voice and sing that vision, and lift our hands to work to bring it to fulfillment. Our faith lifts each of us up to speak truth to power: remember the Magnificat of Mary that we read at Christmas!

For the anti-woke crowd, for the folks who wish things were like they used to be, in what they think were the good old days, MLK Day ought to be a wake-up call. Because we’re celebrating much more than a man. We’re celebrating a vision, and we’re committing to fulfill it. And it’s not about making America great again – as if how it used to be was as great as it ever ought to be. What makes America great is the vision and the tireless effort of Americans like you and me, making things much better than they are or ever were. More just, more peaceful, more in harmony with the earth, more compassionate. More beautiful!

So may the voices of each and every one of us be lifted up, to share with those around us a vision of the beloved community. I challenge you to come up with one – write it down, even – and repeat it to yourself so you will be able to repeat it to others. A positive vision – not a put down of the perspectives of others. A vision that rises above any kind of partisanship. Not that partisanship is a bad thing – it’s necessary, actually – but we need a vision that invites and inspires others, regardless of their preconceived notions and opinions. MLK’s emerging vision was bigger than those of either political party at the time. And challenging to them both, as a consequence!

Those of us who are Christian ought to follow his example, in terms for our time. Jesus had a vision of the beloved community, which he expressed succinctly in his Sermon on the Mount. Every generation must come up with its own.

Here’s my short version of such a vision:

Let us make America a city on a hill and a light to the nations. We protect the poor and the middle-class with a strong public “safety net” guaranteeing health and basic income, paid for by progressive taxation; we take effective action to fight climate change; we curb the power of moneyed special interests; we celebrate and protect our diversity in its many forms, assuring equality and dignity for all; we protect the right to reproductive choice; we protect democracy from its current threats in order to make it better reflect the will of the majority of people while assuring representation for differing perspectives; we regulate private enterprise so it can thrive on a level playing field while protecting consumers and the environment; and we avoid the use of military force unless it is absolutely necessary and only in concert with other democratic nations… so that we may form a more perfect union!

What’s your vision for the beloved community?

Jim Burklo

January 12, 2023

It was a delight to get to know you 14 years ago when I began preaching at UCC Simi Valley on occasion. To serve you now as your pastor feels like the natural consequence of a long friendship! One Sunday at a time, one conversation at a time, I feel our relationships deepening. So many more conversations I want to have with you! 

My main focus in the last couple of months has been on getting to know you better, learning the ways of our church, and making the church look as alive as it actually is. I enjoy doing physical work, so it’s been fun to do fix-up, clean-up tasks on the building and grounds, and put new and improved signage in front so that folks will know who we are – and that we are! Much more work to do… more to follow on that subject!

There are many folks in our community to thank for making me feel welcome, and for working alongside me as I begin my ministry here. I’ll lift up two folks in particular. Joan Thompson’s leadership – not just in her brilliant, eclectic music, but in general, has been invaluable to me. And Wendy Sengpiehl has been a delight to work with, proactively and creatively putting together our newsletters and worship slides, and educating me about the wider community. The list of folks to thank is a lot longer. So many of you have reached out to me about the folks I need to meet and serve, giving me gentle guidance and direction. Keep it coming, please!

Shortly we’ll embark on a new program for families with kids: Souljourning. The plan is to serve the big and growing universe of parents who are not religiously affiliated, or are only loosely affiliated, but realize that the nurture of their kids’ spirituality is very important. As a progressive church, we are ideally situated to offer resources and events that serve this need. So on Feb 5, after worship, we’ll get it going! We’ll have a celebratory potluck and a bead necklace making party – all are invited, but especially families with kids. For thousands of years, around the world, people have been making necklaces or wrist-bands of beads for use in prayer and meditation. We’ll make our own, and learn ways that folks of all ages can use them for spiritual centering. Bring your spare beads of any kind to church in coming weeks to prepare for this event! The plan is to offer monthly events that all of us can attend, but are especially aimed at families with kids 0-18. And to offer web pages and an e-news/blog for Simi Valley area parents to engage with ways they can support the spiritual growth of their kids. More to follow!

It is great that a bunch of our UCC Simi community members have returned to active participation in the church. There’s a good “buzz” here as a result! Let’s celebrate that, and also open our hearts to welcome folks who are new to our circle – and who haven’t found us yet, but should. Let’s go out of our way to welcome visitors (without overwhelming them, of course!), and to make our church a yet-more inviting community. I’ll be slowly but surely introducing new elements aimed at making our Sunday morning experience more accessible to “newbies” who don’t have any emotional connection to our current style of worship. In particular, I hope we become more attractive to “exvangelicals” – a big demographic, especially here in Simi Valley, of people who love Jesus but are undone by the regressive theology and politics of fundamentalism.

I have a special concern about burnout among the leaders and most active volunteers in our congregation. We’ve been through a tough couple of years, and the exhaustion of some of our folks is apparent. I am on a mission to help us simplify our routines as much as possible, so that we can avoid wearing out our precious, committed members who work so hard to keep our community together. Please join me in devising ways to reduce the burden on them. Let’s let go of stuff that’s not so important, so that we can all fully enjoy what is truly life-giving in our church.

I work half-time for the church, and the way I interpret this commission is to stay loose, for the sake of both you and me! I aim to preach roughly three times a month, because Sunday morning is the at the heart of our community. I usually show up in person at the church at least on Tuesdays, and more often as needed. Otherwise I’m talking and visiting with folks by appointment, and preparing for worship from home and taking care of church business as it arises. I don’t have a fixed “day off”… it works better for me, and I think for the church, for me to have a flexible schedule.

I’m stoked for a 2023 of deepening relationships among us, of creative new programming, and of stronger work and witness by UCC Simi in our community!

Yours always in the love who is God,

Jim Burklo

January 5th, 2023

This Sunday, I’ll be preaching on the topic of “Epiphanomics” – a word I just invented. Epiphany falls this Friday, January 6, marking the day that the three wise men showed up (late) at the manger to worship the newborn Jesus and present him with gifts. “Epiphanomics” is my word for a “gift economy” – which is how our church, at its best, functions. We freely give, we freely receive. Some years back, I got friendly with (the late) Larry Harvey, founder of the Burning Man festival that happens every September in the Nevada desert. We did a couple of speaking gigs together. While I’ve never been to Burning Man (it always happens when school starts at USC), I came to admire greatly the principles that Larry set forth to guide the festival experience.

So to get ready for Sunday, I invite you to read Larry’s ten principles – and ponder how they correspond to our values as a church community. See you in worship January 8!

The 10 Principles of the Burning Man festival:
Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on their inner resources.

Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.


Guided Meditations

Thursday Evenings at 8 p.m. on ZOOM I think of God as a Presence that I can be in relationship with, one that I can draw wisdom from, who guides me, and fills me with peace and love. The spiritual practice of meditation helps bring me into that presence. Meditation reduces stress, cultivates a sense of

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Fun projects you can do at home for the entire Family!

Forming and Nurturing Our FaithContinuing to Learn and Grow – For All Ages Faith Formation Resources for the beginning weeks of the new year.Fun projects you can do at home for the entire Family!Click the buttons below to print yours. Remember: The little ones feel “Quarantine Fatigue” too! It’s important to keep them engaged and provide

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Serving Those in Need During Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused us to look at our various ministries and adapt them to the realities of the time. We have had a longstanding relationship with The Samaritan Center in Simi Valley and have been active participants in their Community Dinner program. Gathering for meals at our church property posed a health risk, but

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Know Justice Know Peace

“We cannot be silent as one more black person is murdered unjustly, and the nation erupts with both anger and deep sorrow. We are called to recognize once again systemic racism, especially in law enforcement, by evoking the names of murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.; Ahmaud Arbery in Glenn County, Ga; Breionna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.; Eric

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