Daily CommUUion

Rev. Barnaby shares inspirational thoughts, music and readings in a regular email. Look for an email titled Daily CommUUion from revbarnaby@cvuus.org email. Not getting these? Email office@cvuus.org to be added.

Tweek #10 July 27, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: A couple of weeks ago, I mused about the differences between change and transformation in advance of our worship service on the spirituality of magic (you can see the service here if you missed it: https://www.cvuus.org/services/magic-and-spirituality/ ). I ended with a prayer. Today I am going to change that prayer to reflect my response to Esther’s sermon yesterday, especially the connection I felt to Esther’s joy in the lesson of Ysaye Barnwell’s hymn We Are (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTblERFg1vM&t=97s ).

I think revising past prayers, or other deep reflections on how we see ourselves and our world at a given moment, might be a way to embody our ancestors’ dreams. I recognize there is potential controversy in publicly revising past prayers we have received from others, like the Lord’s Prayer, although I favor it when done thoughtfully. But I see it as a simple, highly productive spiritual practice when they are our own past prayers to begin with. What we preserve from the past is not the same as what we bring with us. Bringing something with us into our present includes an openness to changing it. Intentionally changing a prayer can be as gentle as putting a new window into it, and allowing different light to illuminate your soul path. It can also be a step in a much bigger transformation, but that’s a subject for another day. I offer this to invite you to the practice of writing down, and regularly revisiting, some of your own prayers.

CommUUnion Prayer Version Two (for Esther Thomas)

Spirit of Love-Giving Life and Life-Giving Love,

We live in fearsome times:

We stagger through the disasters we have created

The woes we have inherited and

The usual bad luck of wrong time, wrong place;

We comfort ourselves and our offspring as best we can,

Knowing we bear the seeds of many possible futures.

May we become the ancestors remembered

As growers of Earth’s better angels.

We pray this in the name of the blessings to which you have called us:

Justice, Compassion, and Beauty.

Food for Thought – One of the most oft-quoted passages of the poetry of lapsed Unitarian T.S. Eliot reads:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

When we read this, we usually think of actually going somewhere and then returning home after a long time away in a place exotic enough to allow us to see home with fresh eyes, We could be talking literally but not necessarily. The exploration could be a spiritual journey through various understandings of the sacred. But now we are living through a time where we travel almost exclusively in our imaginations. We rarely leave home physically for more than a few hours at most. Are we exploring in any sense that encourages us to know home “for the first time”?

Tweek #3 July 3, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Every July 4th is a good time to reread What to the Slave is the 4th of July? This eloquent and brutally honest holiday speech by the former slave Frederick Douglass was delivered in 1852 at Rochester, NY. But it has never become irrelevant and this year it packs renewed wallop. The speech began with words that comforted his overwhelmingly white audience, including some that speak to the controversies today over monuments to Washington, Jefferson and other leaders of the American Revolution:

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

But Douglass went on to say that the past of is of interest only insofar as it informs our intent to do the right thing in the present (“The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now”). And so, his subject would be the need to abolish “American slavery.” I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…. I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them….. To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

Douglass proceeded with unflinching darkness and anger, but he found his way back to hope at the end for what he described as a still young nation. And he spoke about forces in play he felt made the eventual end of slavery inevitable. Some of them may even still be at play giving us hope for the work of dismantling the lingering vitality of the racist legacy of his era.

You can read the whole speech here: https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july

Food for Thought – One fascinating bit in What to the Slave is the 4th of July? is a quote Douglass attributes to Sydney Smith, an English writer and cleric: “men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own.” Upon rereading it this week, I immediately (alas) thought that this is what Pres. Trump will be using Mr. Rushmore for this weekend.

But do you think it is generally true? I’m interpreting “fathers” here to mean not just actual ancestors but also famous figures in some identity we embrace, like a nationality, religion, or profession. Is that the root of the statue clashes? Are the promoters and defenders of problematic statues doing it to excuse some behavior of their own. Or is that a simplistic and unhelpfully judgmental way of looking at it?

Tweek #2 June 29, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: In Friday’s Tweek, I wrote about Rev. Galen Guengerich views about spiritual practices that get us started on making the day we are about to live count. He mentioned that reading poetry is an important daily step for him. Diane Ackerman’s School Prayer, published in 1998, is one of his favorites:

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

 

A Bit of Music – General Assembly had many music highlights. I found the videotaped virtual choir to be a better listening experience than the typical live GA choir. which always performs with minimal rehearsal in a vast convention center hall not designed for music. I’m sure this year is disappointing for the choir itself because joining well over 100 UU singers from all over the country for the live experience must be a total blast. Still, listen to this from the Sunday Morning Worship by going to: https://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2020/sunday-worship and then clicking on the video titled We Are in the small box to the right of the full service video. Expand it to full screen for full effect!

Food for Thought – I’m going to be working on my annual self-evaluation for the Board this week as part of its review of my work for CVUUS. Before we even become adults, we lose track of the number of times and variety of ways our “performance” is evaluated. I have to laugh at the number of times I finished a standardized test or ‘final” exam and mistakenly told myself “Well, this is the last time I have to do something like that.”
As we get older, performance reviews sometimes come to involve appraisals of our success attaining goals we helped set. If we are lucky, an evaluation is often heavily weighted toward clarifying our next set of goals and how we aspire to grow rather than picking apart what happened. It can even be an occasion for celebrating shared commitments to meaningful work. I know from personal experience that the review may not count for much in the face of external events – as Covid 19 reminds us, there are countless ways a job can disappear no matter how well you are doing it. That said, I wonder if you can you recall an evaluation of your work you found especially rewarding? What made it so?

 

Say It Fast Three Times (Tweek #1) June 26, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: This incident has been fairly viral and NPR featured it yesterday so it may be old news for many of you. I was surprised by how moved I was. I don’t like our National Anthem. I never have. It’s too hard to sing and too militaristic. I suffer from O Canada envy when it comes to the tune. It’s hard to find a substitute though. My favorite is the Ray Charles version of America I sent a link for in the June 9 Daily CommUUnion, but I recognize the language is sexist. Sometimes it seems like Paul Simon’s forlorn America is the better National Anthem for our times. Sometimes, it’s one of our protest songs.

All that said, let’s revisit this recent scene. Madisen Hallberg, a college student who had just completed her voice studies program at Portland State Univ. in Oregon, was invited to make a recording of the National Anthem in a park on the empty campus. The school wanted to use it for its virtual graduation ceremony. A Black man who lives in the neighborhood happened during the recording by and asked if he could join in. She readily agreed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2V0rG_4Ax4

And here’s a local news story with some interviews of both reflecting on their experience: https://www.kgw.com/video/features/chance-encounter-leads-to-beautiful-duet/283-574e471c-1006-4974-8d45-8bb39b061ff4

      As Madisen says in the interview, maybe there is a power worth embracing in the National Anthem if there are occasions when it feels more right for a White person to sing it with a Black person than on their own.

A(nother) Bit of Music – I received a few interesting responses to what I could call the Daily CommUUnion this summer when it isn’t daily. The “Twice a week CommUUnion” seemed a little too straightforward, although it abbreviated nicely to Tweek. Tweeking seems more humble and thoughtful than tweeting. Then, while walking Pan, my mind wandered to tongue twisters. I thought they were hilarious when I was a first grader. “Say ‘toy boat’ fast three times” was a favorite. Hence today’s CommUUnion title, which feels right as we all struggle with finding a healthy pace to our disrupted lives. Just for fun, here’s a song that ends with a true feat of twisted tongue avoidance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtKeWGASqzk

Food for Thought – I was planning to attend a workshop at the UU General Assembly this morning on “Truth Commissions: Inspiration from Wabenaki-Maine, Charlottesville and Greensboro.” The leaders were going to discuss local initiatives to identify harm done to marginalized people and develop restorative responses. It was canceled because the leaders were unable to appear for some reason.

I had to jump to another meeting, so I chose one on gratitude as a spiritual practice led by Rev. Galen Guengerich, a minister at All Souls New York for the past 27 years. I’m so grateful the first meeting was canceled. What an inspirational 90 minutes!

Galen stated provocatively that all matter in the Universe could be compressed into something that could fit in a hand – everything is really a question of relationships between that matter as it’s distributed in the Universe we see, not the matter itself. This is, of course, one theory among many about the nature of the Universe, but the point is that if we look at our lives this way, each day is a new opportunity to curate our relationships so that we seek to transform the unjust, damaging ones and amplify the healthy ones. He advocated starting each day with an intentional time to think about what kind of person you want to be in the hours to come, beginning with gratitude for being alive. He quoted a subversive comment on traditional Christianity by Emily Dickenson that poetically redirects spirituality to the world we actually live in:

In the name of the Bee –
And of the Butterfly –
And of the Breeze – Amen!

     Toward the end of his talk, Galen spoke directly as a white male to the politics of this time in which we are meeting. “This may be a time when hope and history begin to rhyme,” he said. It’s our calling as UU’s to seize the moment to fully commit to dismantling white supremacy – the needs have been spotlighted as never before not just by the highly visible acts of police killings of unarmed Black people but also by the economic and social injustices highlighted by the pandemic and inept, dishonest political leadership.

      We spend a lot of time talking about how hard this moment is. How do you find sincere and deep gratitude each day for being alive in this moment? How do you train yourself to instinctively see the importance of how you act and who you align yourself in a moment so obviously pregnant with possibilities to bend Life as embodied in us toward justice, sustainability, and Love?

 

Daily CommUUnion June 22, 2020

A Homily of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: We are so direly in need of rain that I searched for what the poets have had to say on the subject. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, child of one of the most prominent Portland, Me., Unitarian families, was the most popular poet of the 19th century, although critics have long looked down on him. Here are some excerpts from his Rain in Summer:

…After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!…
In the country, on every side,
Where far and wide,
Like a leopard’s tawny and spotted hide,
Stretches the plain,
To the dry grass and the drier grain
How welcome is the rain!
In the furrowed land
The toilsome and patient oxen stand;
Lifting the yoke encumbered head,
With their dilated nostrils spread,
They silently inhale
The clover-scented gale,
And the vapors that arise
From the well-watered and smoking soil.
For this rest in the furrow after toil
Their large and lustrous eyes
Seem to thank the Lord,
More than man’s spoken word…..

Longfellow was never known for brevity (think “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” “Evangeline”and “Hiawatha”) so there is quite a bit more to this one too (https://www.hwlongfellow.org/poems_poem.php?pid=84 ).

A Bit of Music – The amazing Rhiannon Giddens wrote At the Purchaser’s Option after reading a newspaper advertisement from the 1830’s offering a 22 year-old enslaved Black woman for sale – the buyer had the option of taking her 9 month-old baby with her or letting the seller dispose of it. Lest your mind automatically turns to Southern slave plantations, we can’t rule out locations in New England, Rhiannon has said in concert that she came across the ad in New England. It is not clear where the ad was printed but keep in mind it was still legal to own slaves in Rhode Island and Connecticut well into the 1840’s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vy9xTS0QxM

Food for Thought – A friend recently shared a bit of memoir written by her great grandmother many years ago, recalling her childhood in a family that struggled to make a go of it farming near Hastings, Nebraska, in the years immediately after the Civil War. Her young parents had moved there not long after the author had been born on a farm in upstate New York. Her descriptions of the fertility of the soil when the land was first settled by White farmers, the mixing of Native Americans and various immigrants, and the endless onslaught of natural disasters from including locusts, hail, a tornado, and prairie fires, not to mention horse thieves and other lawless humans, made both her sense of being blessed and her very survival seem a miracle. They ended up relocating to upstate Michigan in 1881, itself a punishing trek that required, among other things, shooting what she identified as panthers that sought to attack their livestock. In her memoir, she also offered this reflection:

Animals in the woods aren’t out looking for trouble. They don’t have to look for it. Their lives are nothing but one trouble after another….So many things can, and do, happen to them. They can starve or freeze in winter. Men and larger animals constantly harass them. Their young may be taken from them by any number of means, all violent…. I always wonder as I walk through the woods, how many pairs of eyes have me under surveillance, how many hearts beat with suffocating rapidity until it is certain that I am going on my way about my own harmless business.”

It feels to me that we need a heightened sense of what should frighten us – and who we frighten– to thrive in the world we’ve created. Do we know too little about how fear works in and among us, both individually and collectively. What say you?

Daily CommUUion: Fri June 19, 2020

A Homily of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Characteristically, Pres. Trump declared recently that “no one” had heard of Juneteenth until he made it famous. As usual, it’s hard to determine what is most offensive: his breathtaking vanity and self-centeredness or the size of the gap between what he said and the truth. Like every Black person I have ever met and many of you who are white, I first heard about Juneteenth so long ago I can’t recall the occasion.

It is fair to say, though, that I knew little about Juneteenth beyond the events that led to its creation. I never felt it was one of my holidays. It would never have occurred to me to seek out a Juneteenth celebration to be a part of, much less to organize a ritual or celebration to which I would invite the few Black folks whose paths through daily life intersected with mine and some white “allies.” It would have felt intrusive on a day that felt to me like something that belonged to Black folk.

       This year, it feels like I not only have permission but also a mandate to find a place in Juneteenth’s celebratory spirit. This year, it feels like White folk and BIPoC folk (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) are reaching for consensus that the entire nation needs a celebration of freedom that reaches deeper into our true history than the 4th of July. A holiday that respects both our different experiences and our shared need to rebuild our nation on a foundation truly grounded in our common humanity and interdependent destiny. And, alas, it comes at a time when I can’t invite you to a gathering in our Sanctuary.

Instead, I will celebrate by offering two observations about why I feel some of all of the “holies” named above – faith, hope, gratitude, and wonder – in reflecting on Juneteenth this year. First, there is a perfection to the timing of this holiday that is spiritually brilliant. It doesn’t fall on Jan. 1, the day in 1863 the legal wheels were set in motion by Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Nor does it fall on Dec. 6, the day in 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery was ratified. It falls on the date in 1865 that enslaved people in Texas – the last state of the Confederacy to be occupied by Union troops after the end of the Civil War — were finally notified that they were free. The celebration is not one of law, but of the actual arrival in people’s homes after so much bloodshed of the good news that it had not been in vain: abolition of slavery had become the law of the land.

       Of course, liberation from legal slavery was not liberation from racism. My second observation for you today is really a prayer. May this Juneteenth be remembered as the year White folk realized that it has to become our holiday too, even more so than the 4th of July. Sometimes and in some ways it might be celebrated in the company of BIPoC friends, acquaintances, and allies. But for Whites, the celebration has to center around this as a day of re-dedication to actual anti-racist work every day of our lives. I saw an image this morning of a white man at a protest with a sign saying, “I’m sorry I’m late. I had a lot to learn.” Perfect. Now we have to show we are indeed sorry by doing the work to dismantle racism, and not giving up when the going gets tougher, mistakes are made, and the way forward is murky.

A Bit of Music – Juneteenth is always a bittersweet mixture of joy and realism. Two pieces of music are often associated with it: Lift Every Voice and Sing (aka “the Black National Anthem”) and No More Auction Block for Me. Both are in our hymnal. They were included with good intentions but both are rarely sung in our overwhelmingly white and humanist congregations. Neither reflects the experience of most UU’s and Lift Every Voice speaks reverently and intimately to a form of God most UU’s do not believe in. Our awareness that we can’t authentically sing these songs regularly in worship speaks to how deeply Whiteness is centered in nearly all of our congregations. When we have gotten a lot further in anti-racist work, maybe we will be able to sing them without embarrassment. I invite you today to listen to both: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyS3HPInHtI ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfbpsmbxE2c .

Food for Thought – The city of Tulsa is on our minds and in our hearts this weekend. It happens to be home of one the biggest UU congregations in our movement (over 2,000 members). It’s called, like many of our other large congregations, All Souls. Rev. Marlin Lavanhar delivered a homily on masks recently in which he began talking about all the behavioral masks we routinely put on to keep others, and sometimes ourselves, from seeing what’s really going on with us. He wondered whether our eventual conquest of the pandemic and release from physical mask wearing might encourage us to also strip away some of our behavioral masks. Perhaps the pandemic might even encourage some of us to get a jump start on that. Have you ever thought about what you routinely wear or how you act as a mask? Is there an art to your masking that is not just protective but part of your creativity? What behavioral masks have you worn that you loved and which ones were burdens?

Daily CommUUnion: Thur June 18, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: The Berry Street Lecture was delivered last night. Initiated 200 years ago in Boston by Rev. William Ellery Channing, it’s our nation’s oldest continuous public lecture and a regular feature of Ministry Days, the annual gathering of UU Ministers before General Assembly. This year, for the first time, the lecture was exclusively online and shared by two BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) ministers. The two other participants – an introducer and a moderator/respondent – were also selected from our growing BIPoC ministry group. The second speaker, Rev. Kimberly Johnson, was a fellow congregant in Montclair when I first met her. Her text, which many of you have heard me use, was a reading called On the Brink by the Rev. Leslie Takahashi:

All that we have ever loved
And all that we have ever been
Stands with us on the brink
Of all that we aspire to create:
A deeper peace,
A larger love,
A more embracing hope,
A deeper joy in this life we share.

         Kimberly’s essay tied that reading to the bell hooks saying that “the practice of love offers no place of safety.” She explored the necessity of making real room for differences despite our dedication to confirming “shared humanity.” For example, Blacks preserving their own psychic peace of mind should never be blamed for declining to offer Whites approved ways to be anti-racist. If the result is pain or confusion for well-intentioned Whites, that is for them to deal with. What is necessary in the long run, Kimberly preached, is that we find ways to build sustainable communities of care that require action from all of us. The goal is “relationship that is supple enough to withstand all the ways that we fall short.” The other speaker, Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons, was equally inspiring. And, in responding, Rev. Theresa Soto, advised us to “refuse to stay with guilt” but instead to move on to curiosity. “Guilt cramps you into sorrow over substance,” she observed. The proceedings, complete with an endearing initial technology glitch, are available on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/uuministers/videos/1920843138051975 . The essay introductions actually start 45 minutes into the video….

Food for Thought – Today’s news from the Supreme Court barring the Trump Administration from killing the DACA program came right on the heels of the decision saying a key Federal job anti-discrimination law covered various forms of queerness. Both of these decisions contained qualifying clauses buried in the majority opinions that signaled to conservatives there might be plenty of room in future cases to narrow the potential progressive impact of these two rulings. They may yet become legal foundations for further chipping away of civil rights. The feeling that worthwhile battles are never fully won is especially hard for me as the pandemic drags on. Hot weather doesn’t help either. What kinds of things make it hard for you to really celebrate good news? More importantly, what do you do to give yourself a break and milk the moment for all the joy it allows?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Fri. June 12, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: In 1933, the British writer W. Somerset Maugham included a retelling of what he identified as an ancient story from Mesopotamia (the region around modern day Iraq), in an otherwise forgettable play. He called the ancient story “The Appointment in Samarra” and the character telling it is Death:

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

      There are somewhat similar ironic stories about death featuring other characters and destinations in old Jewish and Islamic texts. It’s unclear where Maugham got his tale. But his claim of origin could be true. The oldest recorded story, written down well over 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus, is the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. This ancient Mesopotamian civilization had hundreds of gods and long lines of famous kings – plenty of fodder for stories. I love it that no one will ever know how far back in history people became really good story tellers. How we came by one of our most wonderful and distinctive attributes will be an eternal mystery, as will the question of whether we were the first among living beings to do it.

Food for Thought – Another story, which I’ve shared from the pulpit more than once, is found in the Preface to “The Gates of the Forest,” a novel by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

    Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished.

    Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

    God made man because he loves stories.

     When was the last time you made up a good story? What can I do to encourage you to do it again?

Daily CommUUnion: Thurs. June 11, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: The memorable opening lines to M. H. Clark’s children’s book You Belong Here go:

The stars belong in the deep night sky

and the moon belongs there too.

And the winds belong in each place they blow by

and I belong here with you.

The book was published in 2016, the same year our youngest child graduated from college. I never got to take our children on its magical tour affirming that everything in the natural world belongs where we find it. (Please, send your quibbles about zebra mussels, ash borers, and other invasive species to Ms. Clark, not me). I like that it reminds me of the sillier and cleverer favorite of our kids, Mary Ann Hoberman’s A House Is a House for Me.

Hoberman’s book was published in 1978, the year before our oldest was born. After a long and winding tour of the world of animals and plants, it ends:

A book is a house for a story.

A rose is a house for a smell.

My head is a house for a secret,

A secret I never will tell.

A flower’s at home in a garden.

A donkey’s at home in a stall.

Each creature that’s known has a house of its own

And the earth is a house for us all.

I’m grateful amidst all the craziness of 2020 that I feel more strongly than ever I belong here with you, even if “here” is a little harder to define at the moment. And although Hoberman never says it, a congregation’s true home is a shared Sanctuary, not a a shared Zoom link. I look forward in faith to the day we are back together at CVUUS!

Food for Thought – It’s a big world and Black folk aren’t monolithic, so somewhere out there I’m guessing there are Black people arguing that “Defund the Police” is a poor campaign slogan. So far, though, all the voices I see making that argument are those of white people. I think this reflects a deep discomfort among whites with the argument “Go with it because Black activists are telling you to — one big step you have to take in fighting racism is to accept their leadership in situations where you question their tactics.”

      Full disclosure. I’m not a fan of the “Defund the Police” slogan. But I will never oppose its use. Part of the problem here is that having seen ways the slogan might be counter-productive, white people get preoccupied with defending their logic (and the value of their personal experience). What they really should be doing instead is working hard to understand in depth why Black Lives Matter leaders chose that slogan and are sticking to it. I don’t want to be one of those reflexive defenders of the value of my experience, but I know it’s not always possible to control my reflexes. This is a great case study for the spiritual admonition “listen twice as much as you talk” – people in positions of authority and privilege frequently fail at this.

More importantly, “Defund the Police” is only a slogan. It is not a substitute for actual anti-racist work. All of us can easily find ways to work on reducing points of conflict and abuse that will in turn move money out of police budgets without fighting over the name the work goes under. What are some of the ones that appeal to you the most? If you can’t think of any, why haven’t you yet looked into this issue deeply enough to have identified some of the promising reform opportunities?

      A final thought. If this work goes anywhere near far enough, some of it is going to backfire. There are too many unknowns and dynamic elements at play for us to get it right in every circumstance. One thing I worry about is the role of police unions. They have used their bargaining power to create many policies that protect entrenched racism. But they have also used it to win decent wages and good benefits compared to other social work professions. The defunding movement is likely to shift responsibility for some services to other workers who are much more easily short-changed by the towns and states that employ them. If taxpayers won’t step up to higher pay and better benefits for the workers inheriting assignments from today’s police, there will be some negative long-term effects from the Defund movement its proponents aren’t factoring in to their advocacy. That’s especially true if defunding is sold to white folk as a way to save money while doing justice.

      It’s important that we name rational fears raised by changes to which we aspire without letting them derail our commitment to making the change happen. What fears are on your mind in this regard?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Wed. June 10, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Two years ago, Rev. Karen Johnston published this simple poem in Quest, the monthly magazine of the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship. We have used it as a Chalice Lighting, but I can’t remember when.

Food for Thought – A great deal of confusion is developing around the language of defunding police. President Trump and the Republican Party have adopted their own definition and begun pinning it on Democrats in the belief it can be a winning issue in November. Many Democratic candidates are rushing to repudiate that definition in ways that are certain to split the conservative and progressive wings of the Democratic Party. The very fact that policing is largely a local issue makes it extremely poorly suited for one size fits all policy solutions. There are obviously some policing practices that deserve to be universally condemned and banned for both moral and practical reasons. I don’t expect them to be the subject of much debate. But one thing overwhelmingly white areas like ours need to do before dismissing broader defunding calls or deciding how far to go with them is to learn more about the history of policing Black people. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee recommends this 9 minute video as a good starting point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qtz5WPd86o.

      I’ve been studying these issues for some time now so I didn’t expect to be surprised by anything when I clicked on it. But the angle about the psychological terrorism involved in using dogs because of their role in runaway slave tracking was one I hadn’t thought about. And Vermont has an active program placing canines with local and state police units, including one here in Middlebury. Dogs can be a valuable tool in humane police work, such has helping to find a lost child. But I wonder whether Vermont has rules barring their use in crowd control situations where their might be traumatic impacts on Black people that few whites could anticipate or understand. Or is the presence of canines in Vermont police work another example of systemic racism to which whites are blind?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Tues. June 9, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: The UUA’s Braver/Wiser weekly email last week had a message from Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel, a Black colleague I’ve never met who serves a small fellowship in Pennsylvania. I would very much like to meet this woman who says she loves preaching, exuberant worship, travel and small-batch bourbon, and collects Native American art, contemporary art glass, and kisses from her “delicious grandson Andrew.” Her message began by informing readers she decided to run for Junior class secretary at the end of her Sophomore year of high school, talked to her guidance counselor about it, picked up the form she needed to fill out, and took it home for her parents to sign. She continued:

My Dad was sitting at the kitchen table polishing his shoes. A retired Green Beret, he always made sure his shoes were spit shined. I hugged him, gave him the form and said, “I’m running for class secretary. I need you to sign this.” He scanned it and handed it back.

“Carol, don’t set the bar at Secretary. Run for class President. Bring me that form and I’ll sign it.” That was it. No speech on how smart or valuable I was. No Dad Talk about girls can be leaders, too. Just a level gaze, a slight “I Know You” smile, and a lifted eyebrow.

Day after day, my folks reminded me and my brothers that we were capable, intelligent, equal, beautiful, and free. We were not worthless; we were worth more. That’s how the Thomas parents prepped their black daughter and black sons—gently, but relentlessly—for the Real World…..My parents knew that much of America—chiefly White America—was waiting to tell us we were useless, vile, paltry, stupid, dirty, unwanted, disposable, or pathetic. They respected authority, but also told all of us that the world lacked Justice, Equity and Compassion for Black Folx so we better be careful. My mother and father armed us with this truth: The world is awful, magnificent, and belongs to you as much as it belongs to anyone else….

When I lost the election for President, I demanded a recount. I lost by six votes, but my tenacity was noted. I became the president’s top advisor.

All parenting is hard. But it’s harder for the parents of Black children for all the reasons we are currently protesting, not just racist police violence. That makes me all the more inspired and appreciative every time I hear the story of a Black child who had parents like Rev. Cissel’s and somehow lived a life that brought her into the UU circle. May we be worthy of such blessings.

Food for Thought – I haven’t decided to do it yet, but if I am going to splurge on a t-shirt at some point, it might well be one I saw recently depicting a San Francisco Giants outfielder named Kevin Mitchell making an amazing one-handed catch in 1989 of a line drive with his bare right hand. What every Giants fan familiar with the catch loves most about it is that it resulted from Mitchell running a really terrible route toward the ball after it was hit. By the time he reached the vicinity of the ball after running the wrong direction initially, there was no chance of getting his mitt to it. So he stuck out his other hand and the result was astounding.

What events in your life became memorable because mistakes you made set things up so that only something spectacularly wonderful and against all the odds could have resulted in the happy outcome you experienced?

PS – if your are interested, here’s the catch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u0MzrYPm4w.

 

Daily CommUUnion: Mon. June 8, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: We are in an historical moment where a lot of very confident advice is floating around about exactly what we need to do to address the pandemic, racism, and other vital facets of our lives. I recently reread a poem published in 2013 by Margaret Hasse  (in Earth’s Appetite, Nodin Press). I know there is a sermon in there somewhere, but I have no idea what it is. I am grateful for the simultaneous feeling of knowing and unknowing.

Truant

Our high school principal wagged his finger

over two manila folders

lying on his desk, labeled with our names—

my boyfriend and me—

called to his office for skipping school.

The day before, we ditched Latin and world history

to chase shadows of clouds on a motorcycle.

We roared down rolling asphalt roads

through the Missouri River bottoms

beyond town, our heads emptied

of review tests and future plans.

We stopped on a dirt lane to hear

a meadowlark’s liquid song, smell

heart-break blossom of wild plum.

Food for Thought – I’ve known Charles Blow as an acquaintance ever since the mid-1990’s when he arrived at the New York Times as a graphics editor and came by to look at our Brooklyn apartment as a possible tenant while Michele and I were in living in Chicago for a few years. He is a very talented man who became an op-ed columnist in 2008, the year my Times career ended. Today’s column is, in my view, one of the most important he has written. He asks all white people to be honest with themselves about whether they are marching and otherwise reacting now because of horror at the police brutality they witnessed in Minneapolis and a number of other highly publicized incidents in recent years, or because they are truly committed to anti-racism work. He notes that many northern whites who supported the civil rights movement in the South disappeared as black allies when the struggle turned to issues at home like desegregating their neighborhoods and schools – steps that these whites perceived would directly impact their wealth and personal sense of safety.

         Charles wrote: “We must make sure, make a statement, that this is a true change in the American ideology and not an activist-chic, summer street festival for people who have been cooped up for months, not able to go to school or graduate, not able to go to concerts or bars…. This has to be a forever commitment, even after protest eventually subsides.”

As hard as it currently is for white people to fully grasp what activists have been talking about when they focus on white privilege, it’s going to be even harder for whites to stick with anti-racism work when major steps are proposed to dismantle the sources of that privilege. It will be just as hard and perhaps even harder for whites to embrace substantial compensation to Black people (and Native Americans) for the wealth whites extracted from exploiting their ancestors, a theft that leaves most Black people at an economic disadvantage today even when, on paper, there is more equal opportunity in education and employment.

            Whites need to be honest — everyone of us proclaiming a commitment to anti-racism work will at times face demands to go further than we feel is necessary, feasible, or just for one reason or another. And we will face confusing advice at times from Black people, who, it should go without saying, are not a monolithic group and don’t owe us unanimously agreed upon guidance. Whether we reject demands made in the name of dismantling racism, ignore them, or work on finding ways to say more “yes” than we initially thought we could will be our work for the rest of our lives. What it means to be an ally will be our work for the rest of our lives. Black folk like Charles have every reason to be skeptical that white support will prove durable and deep, until we show them otherwise.

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: We are in an historical moment where a lot of very confident advice is floating around about exactly what we need to do to address the pandemic, racism, and other vital facets of our lives. I recently reread a poem published in 2013 by Margaret Hasse (in Earth’s Appetite, Nodin Press). I know there is a sermon in there somewhere, but I have no idea what it is. I am grateful for the simultaneous feeling of knowing and unknowing.

Daily CommUUnion: Thur June 4, 2020

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: I was all set to go another direction until I heard this rebroadcast of an interview I missed the first time around on NPR’s StoryCorps. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Cy9OP2zeWgHlXe0LTUvobG2n6QuVsDSM/view?usp=sharing

Food for Thought – Lucy didn’t send along much context for Sam Cooke’s song but it’s worth noting. It was released early in 1964, a tumultuous time when the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were heating up. President Kennedy had been assassinated only months earlier. Cooke had been inspired to write it in part by the release in 1963 of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In the Wind, a song he often performed. Cooke had also been upset by an experience of being refused a room at a whites-only Holiday Inn in Louisiana. He got so angry that his wife said they should leave before somebody killed him. He said that no one would do that because of his fame. She warned him that in Louisiana, he was just another black man. He ended up arrested for disturbing the peace along with several companions. (for more details: https://www.npr.org/transcripts/268995033).

But while Cooke was recognized as a great artist, he was not an easy man to cast as a civil rights icon. He was well known for infidelity, mistreatment of women, drinking and drug use. He died at the age of 33 in December of 1964 in murky circumstances. He was shot by a female black motel manager who claimed he attacked her in the belief she was sheltering a young woman he had picked up that night. According to the young woman’s testimony, he attempted to rape her. A jury ruled it justifiable homicide but the story told by the two women was never accepted by Cooke’s family and questioned by many others.

This sad history serves as a reminder that great things are often bestowed on us by people whose personal lives are a mess, and whom we would never feel comfortable with as friends or organizing allies in struggles for justice. Can you think of folks like this who have made a big difference to you personally?

Daily CommUUnion: Friday, May 29

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: It’s hard to reconcile the annual beauty of the flower communion worship we are planning for Sunday with the human ugliness on display in many of our nation’s cities this week. The clash of institutionalized racism with human rights is relentlessly violent, but only sporadically visible to most people not directly affected. That’s especially true, of course, here in Vermont. The small scale of our communities and overwhelming whiteness conspire to create “not our problem” and “there’s nothing we can do about it” responses to events like those in the headlines in recent weeks.

But, of course, there is plenty we can and should do to oppose the more subtle forms of racism everywhere around us. There is plenty we can and should do to extend our support to fellow humans whose lives are more directly endangered by where they live. It starts with not looking away in times of crisis, even when many of us face our own daunting challenges dealing with the pandemic right here at home.

I can’t yet announce plans but I am currently reaching out to our local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and, with SURJ, to the local chapter of the NAACP and others to fashion some sort of chance to bear witness to our pain and our solidarity with those whose rights are being so constantly, variously, and, all too often, fatally abridged. Something outdoors will happen here tomorrow (Saturday) evening around 6 pm to give people the option of visible solidarity in our community, in part to provide a safer option than driving to Burlington and mingling with whatever crowd forms there for their planned demonstration. Please watch you in-boxes for details.

We don’t know details of what exactly happened in any of the incidents that have ignited the protests in various cities that, sadly, are accompanied by more violence. The killing in Minneapolis of an unarmed man, for instance, is clearly some form of murder, but the exact role of the three partners is not evident from what’s on the widely distributed video. I feel I have to remind myself that it’s possible that one or more of them was appalled but felt powerless to draw a gun on his partner or do whatever else might have been necessary to save George Floyd’s life. This does not and should not exonerate that cop from being charged with participating in murder, but it reminds me we can only hope that we would do the right thing in a moment of such crisis. It is a foolish white person, in my view, who is absolutely certain that they would heroically interfere in the moment of crisis, even if it’s their job to do so. This should redouble our anger at the racism baked into our society that constantly puts directly victimized people of color, bystanders and the police themselves in such dangerous, combustible situations.

No justice, no peace. An everlasting truth.

Food for Thought – The Universe never promises us a break in the pain, only the constant opportunity to open our eyes and hearts to the reality that pain isn’t the whole story. How do you go where you need to serving justice without losing the faith that makes it possible for you to do so out of love as well as anger and rebellion?

Daily Communion: Thurs., May 28

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: I shared a fable about a rabbi’s handling of a dispute yesterday, which I had found in a book called Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Let’s reverse the flow today (by the way, “today” and even “now” are just an illusion related to the probability that whatever is hot will get colder, according to modern physics). In Martin Buber’s massive Tales of the Hasidim, there is this little gem about a reunion of the disciples of 18th century leader of the Hasidic movement in Poland known as Dov Baer of Mezritch. As the disciples shared stories, Rabbit Zalman said, “Do you know why our master went to the pond every day at dawn and stayed there for a while before coming home again?” No one had an answer so Rabbi Zalman continued: “He was learning the song with which the frogs praise God. It takes a long time to learn that song.”
I find it heartening to encounter this overlapping practice of close, humble observation of Nature in such diverse disciplines as mystical Judaism arising out of poverty and persecution on the one hand and modern science on the other.

Food for Thought – Gov. Scott’s recently said church’s could reopen their facilities at 25 percent of capacity, which would suggest we could have around 50 people in our Sanctuary and a few less in the Fellowship Hall. But the new guidance also requires observance of the other restrictions, presumably including at least 6 feet of separation. That suggests somewhat less than 50 people would be allowed in our Sanctuary, although I suspect it’s actually quite a sophisticated math problem to figure out what that would be. Age alone puts me in the current “at risk” category, so I read the current rules as still telling me to avoid being at CVUUS indefinitely, except in cases of necessity.

      What struck me this week is that the issues surrounding how we move toward reoccupying our campus are finally becoming real. Our umbrella policy is that we won’t be planning on regular services in the Sanctuary anytime before next Jan. 1. But Poppy is already working to bring parents and teachers into a discussion about what our religious exploration program for kids is going to look like this summer and fall. And we will be experimenting with allowing the Sanctuary to be used to generate more elements of the services being sent out online to our members when the worship team feels that will add to the quality of the service.

So far, the folks in the congregation who present to me privately as having a relatively higher acceptance of risk for themselves and confidence in their ability to protect others have been quieter on the whole than our more risk averse members about what our policies should be. The day is coming though when I expect a more robust discussion within our congregation and open disagreements. It’s scary for the part of me that wants everyone to feel safe in our company. But I am also looking forward to our airing of disagreements as a true test of our work to create a Beloved Community. Will we respect and honor diversity, democratic decision making, and compassion? Will we take care to apply environmental and social justice lenses to our decisions so that we take this epidemic as a time to work harder than ever on building the world we want to see?

    I wonder how many of you are also seeing the near future as an opportunity for CVUUS to model healthy communal conflict on issues that everyone cares deeply about.

 

Daily CommUUnion: Wed. May 27

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Michele’s book group just finished readingSeven Brief Lessons on Physics, which deals in fairly accessible language with the great advances in thinking wrought by 20th century physics. The book flap blurb says, accurately, the real subject is the “joy of discovery.”

I was particularly taken by a vignette about an elderly rabbi who is asked to referee a dispute. Having listened to the first man presenting the case, the rabbi says, “You are in the right.” The second man gets his chance to speak though, whereupon the rabbi says “You’re also right.” The rabbi’s wife, who has been listening in from the new room, calls out “But they can’t both be right!” The rabbi considers this for a moment and then says, “And you’re right too.”(Carlo Rovelli, Riverhead Books, 2016, p40).

The great contradictions currently existing side-by-side in physics seem to call for a humility about what we know, and can know, that might serve as well in dealing with the pandemic. And, despite the jarring note given how the Covid-19 virus attacks our lungs, I am moved by Rovelli’s conclusion that “Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.”

I pray that all that takes your breath away in the days and weeks to come is in the service of Life-sustaining Love and Love-sustaining Life.

Food for Thought – Back to the rabbis. One of the greatest Talmudic stories in Judaism tells of a debate among an assembly of rabbis about whether a new form of oven can reliably keep food baked in it kosher (not tainted in any of the ways forbidden by the Torah and the laws and Jewish customs based on that Jewish scripture). Rabbi Eliezer finds himself alone arguing that the oven is ritually pure. Finally, he says that he is so sure he is right that a nearby carob tree will agree with him, whereupon the tree moves away from the rabbis. The other rabbis say the tree’s action is not a legal proof. Eliezer then says the nearby stream will reverse its course and flow uphill in support of his point, which it does. The other rabbis are no more impressed with this argument than the tree’s testimony. The stand-off then moves to the walls of the hall in which they are standing. They begin to crumble when Eliezer calls on them to comment on his opponents’ argument, but they stabilize when scolded by Rabbi Joshua for interfering in the debate. Finally, Eliezer claims God himself will side with him and a voice from the Heavens says, “Why do you disagree with Rabbi Eliezer, as the law is in accordance with his opinion everywhere he expresses it?” Whereupon Rabbi Joshua responds, “The Torah is not in Heaven.”

This story goes on to a gripping set of ripple effects in various re-tellings. I invite you to guess the outcome and then check out what Wikipedia has to offer here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oven_of_Akhnai

 

Daily CommUUnion: Friday, May 22

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: On Feb. 2, 1941, Rev. A. Powell Davies preached a sermon called We Must Know the Answer at All Soul’s Unitarian Church in Washington DC. It begins, “An ever-increasing number of thoughtful people are coming to the candid conclusion that what we are witnessing in a world of catastrophe is nothing less than the end of an entire human epoch. Less and less is it possible to underestimate or disguise the drastic transformations now taking place….Whatever the future may hold that is better than the present, it cannot restore the world that is perishing, or find, for a wandering generation, a way back…..We may prefer things as they used to be to things as they are, or even things as they are to things as they will be: but if we spend our energy clinging vainly to what will dissolve in our wearying and weakening grasp, we shall be the slaves of a future we could not find the courage to master or the skill to mould.”

Davies goes on to say “…it is the contradictions in the lives we live that keep us without a religion. That may not be the whole truth but it is the most most important part of it. The difficulty we encounter in serving God is not so much the difficulty of finding a God to serve as the unwillingness to serve the God we find.” Many pages later, this searing look into the eyes of the oncoming World War II, concludes, “There is light! There is love! There is a true religion. There is a God who is a spirit. There is a future; there is a better world before us than behind us. This is our reasonable belief, our adventurous faith, our ever-deepening conviction; and in the strength of it, we shall conquer.”

Food for Thought – These are trying times by any standard. But I also often hear people say that the a major element of our experience is that we are spoiled to a degree unique in human history. The heart of such arguments is that we have become deluded about how much control we exert over our environment, culture, and emotions and that we can’t accept our vulnerabilities, or the extent of our need for each other. How much truth do you see in such claims?

Daily CommUUnion: Thursday, May 21

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: The Flower Coop hasn’t been able to pursue its wonderful ministry since we were exiled from the Sanctuary. After some discussion, the group is now looking to take its gifts online (and perhaps encourage some of you to join them?) Attached is a special offering from Dinah Smith. Watch for more in weeks to come:

To make a prairie

it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover and a bee.

And revery.

The revery alone will do

If bees are few.

– Emily Dickinson

Food for Thought – As we move into an opening up environment, it becomes harder and harder at times to interpret rules and guidance that have not been officially rescinded. Instructions from officials like Gov. Scott and health authorities telling us to only do things “as needed” or to limit them “to the extent possible” impose restrictions that almost no one I know is following literally at all times. What things are you consciously doing that you believe reasonable people might not see are truly necessary? When are doing them without restricting your behavior “to the extent possible?” How much anxiety is this causing you? What are you learning from managing these directives about yourself?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Tuesday, May 19

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: This Langston Hughes poem is rendered as a responsive reading in Lifting Our Voice, the booklet of readings, prayers, and affirmations published by the Unitarian Universalist Assn. in 2015. Here it is in that version, with the congregational responses in italics.

Wandering in the dusk,
Sometimes
You get lost in the dusk—
And sometimes not.

Beating your fists
Against the wall,
You break your bones
Against the wall—
But sometimes not.

Walls have been known
To fall,
Dusk turn to dawn,
And chains be gone!

Food for Thought – Good scientists will tell you that good science requires bending over backwards to consider weaknesses in your hypotheses. Ideally, scientists are also smart and upfront about the limitations of their data. They have to be because the natural public tendency is to look past the unknown or poorly supported parts toward high hopes for the possible new medical treatment, the possibly much more efficient solar energy panel, the possibly cleaner technique for making or using a dangerous but useful chemical and so on. And good science is a crucial if leaky defense against politicians looking to justify actions – or inaction – with any evidence that has the ring of plausibility to their supporters.

      So let’s try to be good scientists for a moment on a timely issue. If you are generally opposed to reopening economic activity as fast as people typically identified in media reports as Trump supporters want, what do you see as the weakest parts of your position? If you are generally in favor of reopening more quickly, what do you see as the weakest parts of your position?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Tuesday, May 26

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: The late Rev. Forrest Church at one point invited everyone in the large All Souls Unitarian congregation in New York City to drop by his office “preferably one at a time” to talk about their spiritual quest in life. He noticed that several people who came to visit framed their concern as a question: “What does God want me to do with the rest of my life?” He confessed in a 1995 sermon called “Does Prayer Work?” that it crossed his mind to say “I don’t have the faintest idea…and I suspect God doesn’t either.” But he came round to the idea that God’s wish must be for gratitude for the gift of life, “however mysterious its wrapping.”

Rev. Church went on to describe how this played out in a conversation with a young woman who was contending for a job that she wasn’t sure she wanted. She needed the money and she feared being rejected, but she was agonizing about calling the employer to affirm her continuing interest and ascertain her status. It was all leaving her sleepless and depressed. Rev. Church fiddled with his pipe – his main tool in those days for buying time in conversations – and finally said, “There are four possibilities. You can get turned down for the job and be saddened. You can get turned down for the job and be grateful. You can get the job and be saddened. Or you can get the job and be grateful.”

“So what should I do,” she asked.

“Be grateful,” he answered.

I once heard someone say that when you face a tough choice, you should make one option “heads,” another “tails,” flip a coin and ask yourself before it lands which face you are hoping to see. I think Rev. Church might have said it better. When you face a choice, a good place to start might be asking what answer will make you more grateful. It won’t always be that simple. But I can’t think of a better starting point.

Food for Thought – Yesterday was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s birthday. Is there any other contender for “most famous Unitarian”? It’s good to remember he was often at odds with the mainstream Unitarianism of his day while somehow exemplifying the independence of mind, progressive social values, love of Nature, and expansive vision of soul we have so long identified as core values. I have a book of quotes from his journals, including this one from February, 1833, when he was 29. Here’s a little context: he wrote this just two years after the death of his wife, for whom he was still mourning, less than a year after he had resigned from his position as a minister at a conservative Unitarian church in Boston and only two months into the long trip he took through Europe seeking a new direction in his life: “How beautiful to have the church always open, so that every tired wayfaring man may come in and be soothed by all that art can suggest of a better world when he is weary with this.”

Emerson is obviously talking primarily about the old churches of Europe at this point, but it makes me wonder about our Sanctuary and others I have known. Substituting “person” for “man,” is this one of the functions of a Sanctuary we need to keep in mind as we look toward reopening some day? If so, how should our Sanctuary change to better serve this function as well as its role as our home for communal worship and other social functions?

Daily CommUUnion: Tuesday, May 19

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: This Langston Hughes poem is rendered as a responsive reading in Lifting Our Voice, the booklet of readings, prayers, and affirmations published by the Unitarian Universalist Assn. in 2015. Here it is in that version, with the congregational responses in italics.

Wandering in the dusk,
Sometimes
You get lost in the dusk—
And sometimes not.

Beating your fists
Against the wall,
You break your bones
Against the wall—
But sometimes not.

Walls have been known
To fall,
Dusk turn to dawn,
And chains be gone!

Food for Thought – Good scientists will tell you that good science requires bending over backwards to consider weaknesses in your hypotheses. Ideally, scientists are also smart and upfront about the limitations of their data. They have to be because the natural public tendency is to look past the unknown or poorly supported parts toward high hopes for the possible new medical treatment, the possibly much more efficient solar energy panel, the possibly cleaner technique for making or using a dangerous but useful chemical and so on. And good science is a crucial if leaky defense against politicians looking to justify actions – or inaction – with any evidence that has the ring of plausibility to their supporters.

      So let’s try to be good scientists for a moment on a timely issue. If you are generally opposed to reopening economic activity as fast as people typically identified in media reports as Trump supporters want, what do you see as the weakest parts of your position? If you are generally in favor of reopening more quickly, what do you see as the weakest parts of your position?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Monday, May 18

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Theodicy – the question of why bad things happen to good people – bedevils every religion. Every would-be spiritual leader wrestles with it during their formal education and often for the rest of their ministry. One of the oldest known wisdom stories on the subject comes from China. I’ve used it in sermons before but never in a Daily CommUUnion. One can’t live through a pandemic without recalling this story if you have already heard some version of it. And my advice is that no one should try to live through this pandemic without learning and holding close their own version. So, here is my rendition:

There was an aging peasant who lived long ago in China.

He was a poor widower, but he had a young, hard-working son whom he loved with all his heart. He only valuable possession was a widely admired white stallion. One day his horse ran away from the farm and disappeared. The villagers came to him and said, each in their own way: “You are such an unlucky man. What a misfortune that your horse is gone!” The peasant responded: “ Who knows? Maybe it’s bad, maybe it’s good.” The next day the stallion returned followed by 12 wild horses. The villagers visited him again and congratulated him on his good luck. To their surprise, the old man said again, “Who knows? Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad.”

The very next day, his son began training the strongest of the wild horses, which soon through him off and broke his leg. Now the villagers came by again with condolences: “How crushing this is for the boy and you! We are so sorry.” The peasant thanked them for their sympathy but added: “Who knows? Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad.” A few days passed. His son was out of bed but hobbling everywhere and unable to walk more than a short distance. The Emperor’s army entered the village announcing that a war had begun and that able-bodied young men would be drafted into its ranks. The peasant’s son was the only young man left behind when the army left.. Now everyone was extremely jealous of the peasant. Who among them had ever enjoyed such good fortune? But the old man just said to anyone who spoke with him about it, “Who knows? Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad.”

Food for Thought – Every religion and secular culture has its parables (short wisdom stories about the nature of the world, people, or morality). I can’t think of another from Asia I have heard more often than the Good Luck, Bad Luck Farmer story. Off the top of my head, I would say the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan is the most widely told parable in the West, where Christianity played such a huge role in shaping culture. I’d guess our favorite traceable to India is the Blind Men and the Elephant. This leaves me wondering: which other parables would you nominate for your Top Ten and where do they originate?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Friday, May 15

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Melissa Harris-Perry, a lifelong UU born to a white mother and black father, is a former MSNBC television host now working as a writer on race, gender, and family issues and professor at Wake Forest University. We opened our New UU History class yesterday with these words of hers:

The journey is the joy.

The companions are the comfort.

The work is the faith.

I tend to share poetry and other longer sources of sustenance in this space. Every now and then, it’s good to throw in something brief enough to serve as a mantra.

Bit of Music: We won’t be having our choir singing to us in our Sanctuary for a long, long time. Our choir director, Lucy Tenenbaum, is working hard to maintain our choir as a small group ministry that meets online Wednesday evenings to sing for what passes as together these days. She will continue to look for ways to contribute vocal music to the congregation and wider community. In support of that, I have invited Lucy to recommend music for this CommUUnion on Fridays for the next few weeks at least. Her first suggestion is this delightful peak into life for the contemporary hymn composer Elizabeth Alexander:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftamEn-QeU4&feature=youtu.be. Lucy has enjoyed meeting Elizabeth at UU Musicians Network conferences. Elizabeth responded early on to the epidemic by making many recordings of her music freely available to our churches to use in any way we saw fit. My first two CommUUnion emails in March shared two of those pieces with you.

Food for Thought – In a Zoom meeting with a large group of my New England UU colleagues this week, one new minister shared the sadness and frustration of trying to get to know her congregation in these circumstances. I’ve heard a lot about a blessing of this time being catching up with old friends, but have we stopped making new ones? I’m assuming that meeting new co-workers if you are switching jobs is generally a very different experience than in the past. How is the life enhancing human activity of cultivating new friendships changing for you?

Daily CommUUnion: Thursday, May 14

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: With spring accelerating, it seems like a good morning to share Tony Hoagland’s poem, Field Guide.

Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,

up to my neck in that most precious element of all,

I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather

floating on the tension of the water

at the very instant when a dragonfly,

like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,

hovered over it, then lit, and rested.

That’s all.

I mention this in the same way

that I fold the corner of a page

in certain library books,

so that the next reader will know

where to look for the good parts.

Food for Thought – I have a printout in my home office of page two of an email I received many years ago from a friend with whom I played in the Williams College Meandering, Marching, Military and Moo-Cow Band. It’s the latter half of a satirical list of maxims for band players. I have no memory of what the top recommendations were but here are some of the page two tips:

“If the passage is difficult, slow down. If it’s easy, speed it up. Everything will work itself out in the end.”

“A wrong note played timidly is a wrong note. A wrong note played with authority is an interpretation.”

“A true interpretation is realized when there remains not one note of the original.”

“When everyone else has finished playing, you should not play any notes you have left. If you have notes left over, please play them on the way home.”

Now we are living in a time when a good – or hilariously slapdash – marching band is nowhere to be found. Some memories feel like “notes left over” these days, with no chance to play them, even on the way home, because we are moving on to a somewhat new world. I wonder if there will be marching bands there. At any rate, I feel for those of you longing for a CVUUS Meditative Mystical Memorial Marching Band that could entertain in Middlebury parade days and scramble to form a Flaming Chalice or a Question Mark while playing Woyaya or Down the Ages We Have Trod. Hang on to those dreams.

 

Daily CommUUnion: Wednesday, May 13

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: As I devote time each day to gaining control over the variety of books and paper in my home office in order to make the space workable for me on a steady, day-in, day-out basis, I am reading and rereading vast numbers of reflections by various ministers. Somewhere in the piles is a story by one colleague whom I can’t properly credit because I can’t relocate the article. It includes a recollection of starting out her chaplaincy training in a hospital where, to her dismay, she discovered she was supposed to lead worship every morning. Feeling totally unequipped for the task, her first impulse was to ask all of the patients she was seeing what they were most grateful for. She was surprised to find that many of them said, in one form or another, “I woke up this morning.”

      Most of us take the process of waking up for granted. Well, to be honest, a lot of us are still half asleep while we do most of it. But there is a spiritual tradition in many cultures of paying very close attention to the start of each day. Here’s a poem in that tradition from John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space Between Us (Doubleday, 2008).

 

On Waking

I give thanks for arriving
Safely in a new dawn,
For the gift of eyes
To see the world,
The gift of mind
To feel at home
In my life.
The waves of possibility
Breaking on the shore of dawn,
The harvest of the past
That awaits my hunger,
And all the furtherings
This new day will bring.

Food for Thought – John O’Donohue’s morning prayer got me thinking about what waking up is like in our house. It’s an animal-driven event in which the resident humans are only in the running for best supporting actor and actress. The most important piece on the stage is not our bed, but the bedroom door. On the outside is Kester, the uber-affectionate cat who must be exiled to keep him from spending long stretches of the night kneading Michele’s head. In our room, and occasionally even in his designated bed, is Pan, the 50+ pound English shepherd.

These days, Pan wakes up earlier and earlier. Somewhere between 5:30 and 6 am, he will stroll over to my side of the bed and seek some confirmation that I am alive and love him enough to briefly pet him. Only then will he wander away. But he is now trained to know he isn’t getting sustained human attention until my cell phone alarm goes off at 7 am. Sometimes, one or another of us would actually like to get up early, if only to go to the bathroom. Nevertheless, we often stay put, striving not to do anything to break his hard-won acceptance of the 7 am alarm as time to get up. It’s a form of social distancing, I guess.

      When the alarm goes off. Pan is instantly in full-scale let’s-go mode. He runs around, sticks his nose on any human body part he can reach, barks (politely, not loudly), and sometimes executes full-circle let’s-play spins in a space between the bed and the dresser where it seems unlikely there is room to pull off such a move. Within a minute he is on the bed, slathering us indiscriminately in kisses, and demands for petting and tummy rubs. Before long, whichever one of us is on morning walk duty gets up and begins the process of trying to get dressed with Pan underfoot. Finally, the human walker opens the bedroom door to go downstairs, Pan bursts out, now barking more loudly in his excitement, and Kester dashes in. Kester reaches the bed at full-speed despite the short distance to the door, leaps up, and begins laying his claims for overdue affection on whichever human is still there.

The long and the short of it is that if you are the kind of human who wakes up to a scene like this, you have a lot to be grateful for but it sure isn’t going to result in a contemplative prayer that greets the morning like John O’Donohue’s.

      It makes me wonder about how many of our prayers require a space we can only obtain by stepping out of the flow of our lives. Is the very act of getting into a separate mental and emotional space where we can offer such prayers their greatest benefit?

Daily CommUUnion: Tuesday, May 12

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: At the first New UU meeting, I talk about the range of things folks might encounter as UU beliefs, I start by outlining the main categories of questions all religions wrestle with – the nature of God (if there is any); the nature of humans, so on. One category is the nature of truth. At our Zoom class yesterday, I included this poem by Janet Hutchinson that touches on truth and God.

Of Course

Of course I want the truth,
but here’s the rub:

Truth doesn’t sit around
still as a rock,

it breathes and flows
and turns inside out.

Ever seen a lion in a cage?
He paces and glowers.

That must be how God feels
locked in our little religions.

Look how big the sky is,
the deep distances between stars.

Little speck, that’s you;
laughable speck, that’s me.

How could we contain The Truth,
all that overwhelming light?

Our truth is just a pinprick
in mystery’s velvet curtain.

Even so, see how we struggle
to fix an eyeball to that peepshow’s tiny window.

Food for Thought – Here’s a very different McCutcheon song telling a story about the way we wish the world could always be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJpUVdlJf7E . It may sound familiar. I preached a sermon based on it a few years ago. In case you want a refreshed about the incident at the heart of all of this, here is some of the news coverage:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaXVk5GBx-s. A lot of people are saying organized sports will never fully recover from Covid-19. For some UU’s I know, that outlook elicits satisfaction or indifference. For others, it would be a tragedy. What has the role of competitive sports been in your life? If you miss it, what is it that you miss most?

Daily CommUUnion: Monday, May 11

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Rev. Gretchen Haley is the minister of the Ft. Collins UU congregation that gave us the hilarious Zoom From Home video I sent out to you recently. Coincidentally, Becky chose this reading by her as our Call to Worship Sunday. It’s called Surrender to This Life.

Give up the fight
For some other moment
Some other life
Than here, and now
Give up the longing
for some other world
The wishing
for other choices to make
other songs to sing
other bodies, other ages,
other countries, other stakes
Purge the past; forgive the future—
for each come too soon.
Surrender only to this life,
this day, this hour,
not because it does not
constantly break your heart
but because it also beckons
with beauty
startles with delight
if only we keep
waking up
This is the gift
we have been given:
these “body-clothes,”
this heart-break, this pulse
this breath,
this light,
these friends,

this hope.
Here we re-member ourselves
All a part of it all—
Giving thanks, Together.
Come, let us worship.

Two weeks ago, Gretchen posted this reading as part of a song created about breathing by a congregant of hers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ0kLp3LGSY

Food for Thought – Back to Rev. Haley for a minute. The UU Church of the Larger Fellowship published a sermon of hers four year ago in an issue of its monthly magazine. The subject was liberation. Gretchen began with a long story about setting off on her own on a driving trip around the West at age 22 to nurse a broken heart at a time when she was “lonely, and trying to grow up…” Six hours into the trip, she found herself in the Utah desert, so overwhelmed by the beauty that she pulled over. She recounts coming to a point of surrender to the beauty of the moment and that space where she felt grateful and liberated. Later in the sermon, she comes back to that moment and suggests that the power in that moment was not the sense of personal freedom she gained, but the sense that she was free of what was holding her back from openly receiving what the future would bring her. She said, “Liberation is not just about individual choice, but about creative capacity, about resilience, and about depth of resources. Which is to say that liberation is less about any one of us individually than about who we are together.” Shared vulnerability, she said, is among those things that can be liberating if it leads us into greater intimacy and “deeper love for this world in all its challenge and possibility.” Words to live by in this time of pandemic?

Daily CommUUnion: Friday, May 8

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: I think it is important for people like me, whom God religions would call an atheist, to have a personal relationship with God. By that I mean a relationship sufficient to love a poem like Cynthia Rylant’s God Went to India (available in God got a dog, Beach Lane Books, 2003):

God went to India

To see the elephants.

God adores elephants.

He thinks they are

the best thing

He ever made.

They do everything

He hoped for:

They love their children,

they don’t kill,

they mourn their dead.

This last thing is

especially important

to God.
Elephants visit the graves

of those they loved.

They spend hours there.

They fondle the dry bones.

They mourn.

God understands mourning

better than any other emotion,

better even than love.

Because He has lost

everything He has

ever made.

You make life,

you make death.

The things God makes

always turn into

something else and

He does find this good.

But He can’t help missing all the originals.

Food for Thought – A relative sent me a humor column titled “Sure, the velociraptors are still on the loose, but that’s no reason not to reopen Jurassic Park. “ It was a very clever skewering of profit-driven Trump-think on first read. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the joke as a stupid analogy to our current situation. Among other things, because of the global economic consequences of the Corona virus, we are nothing like the workers and potential patrons in this single imaginary animal park who are only victimized if they choose to go there. Nor is anyone at risk for being an invisible spreader of velociraptors.

   I ended up embarrassed by my initial laughter. What was really going on, I wondered? I had gotten sucked into dehumanization of Trump and his supporters, of course. And I had been deflected, temporarily at least, from the real challenge of how to sensibly ease restrictions.

    How much satire do you seek out, and share, these days? What positive role does it play in your life? What are the downsides in terms of your ongoing ability to engage the reality in which we live in a positive way?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Wednesday, May 6

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours, which the team of Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy sub-titled Love Poems to God in their translation first published in 1996 is, in my mind, the most important book of poetry a minister can own. Here is one I return to repeatedly.

Only in our doing can we grasp you.
Only with our hands can we illumine you.
The mind is but a visitor;
it thinks us out of our world.

Each mind fabricates itself.
We sense it limits, for we have made them.
And just when we would flee them, you come
and make of yourself an offering.

I don’t want to think a place for you.
Speak to me from everywhere.
Your Gospel can be comprehended
without looking for its source.

When I go toward you
it is with my whole life.

Food for Thought – I woke last night with a great thought for today. It’s lost for now. Meanwhile, Is anyone having pandemic dreams yet? I have to confess I don’t remember anything vivid that is clearly about the pandemic. I wonder if that means it’s still hard for me to believe what has happened….

 

Daily CommUUnion: Tuesday, May 5

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder:

BROKEN SHELL by Kitty Schooley

I remember climbing to see
A robin’s egg in a nest
So perfect and beautiful and blue.
Young friends had showed me it was there
And warned me to beware
Only to look but do not touch
I was enticed; it looked to be a jewel.
Surely one touch could do no harm?
But the shell fractured and the yolk and white leaked out.
Embarrassed, I hid the shell and told no one.

I am sorry for the children
Who returned to view the special egg and found none.
I am sorry for the mother bird
Whose offspring was never seen.
I am sorry for the life of the bird
Who never even got to be in the shell.

And it seems to me that most of our sins
Are not out of maliciousness nor meanness
But rather simply not heeding a warning
And handling something fragile in a clumsy way.

(from How We Are Called: A Meditation Anthology, Skinner Books, 2003)

Food for Thought – This is the title poem from a book by a young poet called Maya C. Popa. I love the first two lines, although I suspect she is rushing right past what a lot of Buddhists might feel is the complexity of the word “gift.” Then again, she immediately makes amends by naming her glibness and hardheartedness as a farce. I also love the appeal she hears at the end from the days that are “impatient, fresh beasts…” They certainly seem that way at times during this epidemic. I interpret the last lines as a call not to take a “wake me when it’s over” stance. It echoes Emerson’s assertion that we all believe something and it will come out in how we live. Instead of my giving you a question out of this introduction and poem, what questions can you find in it?

AMERICAN FAITH

In Buddhism, difficult people are thought to be a gift.
This explains why I’m not a Buddhist.
I love the glib, slick farce of hardheartedness,
though I’ve held my human head
in my human hands so it would not
succumb to language. It was earth that taught me
names for all the planets, how to look
at an angle for the hummingbird,
dark satellite of sugar in the blossom’s mouth.
I could picture that vast absence of us,
moons spinning coolly in unscripted pasts.
But when I try to imagine our president,
understanding imagination is the basis
of all faith, I suffocate on hatred’s loneliness.
I can’t stand the unity of my own hands,
how no part leads the writing of a word.
But this, too, is no faith that can be held, scalds
without tributary purpose. Like something
held to the light by its edges, I see the long years
ahead of me, full of voices of friends’
children’s children. I want a kind of betterness.
Want it desperately. Is that faith? While the days,
impatient, fresh beasts, appeal to me—
You are here now. You must believe in something.

Daily CommUUnion: Monday, May 4

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Rev. Victoria Safford is among the most widely admired UU ministers by her colleagues. This is from her meditation manual title Walking Toward Morning (Skinner House Books, 2003). It’s the first three statements from a longer piece called “Credo for Now”:

I believe that whatever else the human purpose may be, that part of it is to notice and to love this universe, to notice and respond with heart and mind and soul and all our sense to the beauty and order of all these living and inanimate things.

I believe that those same traits that enable us to love and to notice, those great gifts that distinguish us from other animals, namely reason, will, and passion, might also lead to our destruction.

I believe, therefore, that compassion, reverence, and humility are necessary disciplines, survival strategies we have to learn.

Food for Thought – Rev. Saffords “Credo for Now” doesn’t refer to a credo for a particularly tough time – the midst of a pandemic for example. That, I am guessing, is because she knows full well that every time is a tough time for vast numbers of us, and that those of us who lack the vision to see it in others are a big part of what makes it a tough time. Her title instead refers to the fact that a credo – a statement of what one believes – is itself a human artifact and therefore inconstant. She ends her piece this way: “That is all, for now, today, this afternoon, so far.”

Can you recall times in your life when you were aware that your credo – what you believe about the big questions in life – had changed? What was the process for you of entertaining a new thought that became a new conviction?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Friday, May 1

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Here’s a preview of the beautiful Call to Worship by Rev. Richard Fewkes that Wren will be reading Sunday morning.

For the sun and the dawn
Which we did not create;
For the moon and the evening
Which we did not make;

For food which we plant
But cannot grow;
For friends and loved ones
We have not earned and cannot buy;

For this sprawled community
Which welcomes us as we are,
From wherever we shelter;
For all our free churches
That keep us human
And encourage us in our quest;

For beauty, truth, and love

For all things which come to us
As gifts of being from sources
Beyond ourselves;
Gifts of life and love and friendship
We lift up our hearts in thanks this day.

Food for Thought – May 1 is Beltane, or the peak of Spring in the Celtic tradition. But for Michele, who was raised in the Zionist Youth Movement, it begins as International Labor Day. And so, as she often does, she serenaded me on waking up by singing the The Internationale in both English and Hebrew. The version of the lyrics she sings is slightly different than the original composed by a French communist in 1870 and set to music by a Belgian socialist in 1888. Lenin, in choosing it as the National Anthem of the Soviet Union in 1927, said the second version was clearer and made its political points better.

Arise ye prisoners of starvation. Arise ye wretched of the earth.
For justice thunders condemnation. A better world’s in birth
No more tradition’s chains shall bind us, Arise ye slaves no more in thrall.
The earth shall rise on new foundations, We have been naught, we shall be all.

Refrain:
T’is the final conflict. Let each stand in their place.
The Internationale shall be the human race.”

Stalin replaced Lenin’s chosen anthem in 1944 with a purely Russian song. The turn toward nationalism in music and lyrics reflected the near total destruction in the first half of the 20th century of faith that humans would soon think globally, reject oppressive institutions rooted in tradition, and unite across borders to finally gain control of the wealth created by their labor and suffering.

Our Seven Principles are less militant but no less universalist than The Internationale. Is a better world in birth? Are we ahead of or way behind the times with the values we promise to affirm and promote?

Daily CommUUnion: Thursday, April 30

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Little Gidding is the final poem of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” It contains a familiar reading in our hymnal in its last stanza:

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning….”

Eliot was raised in one of the leading families of American Unitarianism – his relatives include pioneering ministers, influential women, and presidents of the Unitarian denomination – but he fled that liberal religious legacy. He ended up moving to England and eventually becoming a follower of Anglo-Catholicism. The opening verse of Little Gidding seems to fit April (back in 1942, when it was colder) and my unscientific happiness on hearing yesterday’s report of our first day since the epidemic began of no new cases in Vermont.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic….
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?

Food for Thought – I read recently in an old issue of Brain Pickings, a weekly online newsletter, that in 1934, a Christian minister named Rev. James. G. Gilkey published a book called You Can Master Life in which he classified things he worried about into five categories:

1) Worries about disasters which, as later events proved, never happened. About 40% of my anxieties.

2) Worries about decisions I had made in the past, decisions about which I could now of course do nothing. About 30% of my anxieties.

3) Worries about possible sickness and a possible nervous breakdown, neither of which materialized. About 12% of my worries.

4) Worries about my children and my friends, worries arising from the fact I forgot these people have an ordinary amount of common sense. About 10% of my worries.

5) Worries that have a real foundation. Possibly 8% of the total.”

The secret to a happy life, Rev. Gilkey concluded, was to only worry about the 8 percent of things that have “a real foundation.” If only it were that simple, religion would not expend so much effort on seeking paths to serenity and connection with what is “real.” Could you make a worry pie chart? Would there be any worthwhile lesson you could draw from it?

Daily CommUUnion: Wednesday, April 29

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: A prayer I wrote in seminary that was included in the 2015 publication of a Unitarian Universalist Assn. collection of readings called Lifting Our Voice:

Spirit of Life,

May our fumbling tongues be blessed so that chatter becomes prayer,

and prayer becomes concerted action;

May our restless minds be blessed so that insight becomes will,

and will becomes effective action;

May our anxious hearts be blessed so that longing becomes love,

and love guides our every action.

Food for Thought – Here is a delightful sample of the work of the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. I’ll give you the set up lines and then a link to the rest of the poem so you can read the full thing. There will be dessert at the bottom of the full poem in the form of the opportunity to read notes provided in 2006 by the translator, Claire Cavanaugh.

Daily CommUUnion: Tuesday, April 28

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Rev. Leslie Takahashi’s beautiful affirmation is a longtime favorite of mine, so those of you who attend CVUUS regularly may remember hearing it more than once!

All that we have ever loved
And all that we have ever been
Stands with us on the brink
Of all that we aspire to create:
A deeper peace,
A larger love,
A more embracing hope,
A deeper joy in this life we share.

Food for Thought – Here’s an excerpt from a 1957 Sermon called “Loving Your Enemies” by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it…. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”

How seriously do you take this teaching? Think about how it would look to apply it to certain people in power now whose electoral defeat you see as crucial to our future as a nation and sustaining UU values….

Consolation

Darwin.

They say he read novels to relax,

But only certain kinds:

nothing that ended unhappily.

If anything like that turned up,

enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

(continued at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/48271/consolation-56d2295fb70bb ).

What fictions do recognize as such but nonetheless cherish to the point that they have a major impact on the life you live?

Daily CommUUnion: Monday, April 27

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: This is an excerpt from a poem by the 13th century Sufi poet known as Rumi as translated by Coleman Barks.

…Here is how a man once talked with his house,
“Please, if you are ever about to collapse, let me know.”

One night without a word the house fell.

“What happened to our agreement?”

The house answered, “Day and night I have been telling you

with cracks and broken boards and holes appearing

like mouths opening. But you kept patching

and filling those with mud, so proud

of your stopgap masonry you did not listen.

 

This house is your body, which is always saying,

I am leaving. I’m going soon.

 

Do not hide from one who knows the secret.

Drink the wine of turning toward God.

 

Do not examine your urine.

Examine instead how you praise, what you wish for,

this longing we have been given.

 

Fall turns pale yellow light wanting
spring and spring arrives! Trees blossom.

Come to the orchard, and see what comes to you,

a silent conversation with your soul.

Food for Thought (Play Version) – A few years ago, someone gave me a book called The Pun Also Arises. It’s a semi-scholarly but fun look at the history of puns back to the dawn of recorded human history. It defines puns very broadly, including this section on British graffiti making fun of the the Government’s “BE ALERT!” signs posted in the London Underground tube stations. The first scrawled response says “Your country needs LERTS.” It’s followed by writing saying “No, Britain has got enough LERTS now. Be ALOOF.” To which the retort is, “No, be a LERT. There’s safety in numbers.”
Off you go now to the “A” section of your dictionaries. I’m looking forward to your suggestions of how this conversation should continue. If you don’t want public credit for your answers, send them to me via a NONYMOUS.

Daily CommUUnion: Monday, April 20

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: These daily messages are tiny points of light in the vast universe of communications unleashed by the pandemic. Poetry, prayers, a thousand variants of prose. And then there’s music, dance, visual arts, and forms that cross boundaries — I was reminded of that the other day watching a video of a choir performance complete with a separate image of a woman signing the words of the song for anyone watching who was deaf. I don’t know if there is a word for something you get joy from watching without comprehension, but signing is an example for me.

Our amazing capacity to communicate is dwarfed by our impulses to do so. No wonder communication is recognized as a sacred if often hazardous element of our nature in every religion. In Western religion, that is reflected in the presence of two separate Bible passages in Genesis accounting for the variety of languages we speak. The most famous of these, the Tower of Babel story, suggests that this variety is a punishment for the selfish, prideful, and misguided focus of our ambitions. But UU’s affirm diversity in all things as divine. Thus, I treasure a slim book I own called Lost in Translation: an Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World. Here are two examples: meraki is described as a Greek word for “pouring yourself wholeheartedly into something, such as cooking, and doing so with soul, creativity and love.” And iktsuarpok, which is an Inuit noun for the act of repeatedly going outside (your igloo) to keep checking if someone (anyone) is coming.

May this week of the pandemic be a time of meraki rather than iktsuarpok for you!

Food for Thought – Here is another song but don’t click on it if you are not in a space today to cope with sorrow and remembrance. Yom HaShoah, a Jewish holiday beginning at sundown tonight, marks the World War II Holocaust in which Nazi Germany and its allies murdered approximately six million Jews. It also celebrates the heroism of those who resisted. Zog Nit Keynmol is one of the most common YomHaShoah songs, having been written in 1943 by a young Jewish poet trapped in what is today Lithuania. He composed in Yiddish, using a Soviet tune, after he heard reports of the fierce if largely futile 1942 uprising of Jews trapped in Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto. The poet, Hirsch Glick, is believed to have been executed by the Germans in 1944.

This version in English and Yiddish is sung by Paul Robeson, arguably the most famous African American entertainer of his day. Robeson’s decision to record this song represents the strong alliances between radical African-Americans and Jews in fighting racism and oppression during much of the 20th century. In one of his many great acts of courage, Robeson sang it in Yiddish during a 1949 concert in Moscow attended by Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator, knowing full well its message of resistance would infuriate him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s52vSRsVM4.

I offer this in the spirit of cherishing our alliances for justice work that cross the boundaries of race, ethnicity and other differences. As the pandemic unfolds, each of us will be challenged with the ancient spiritual questions about loving neighbors as ourselves. Beyond that, there are the questions about how we treat strangers and marginalized people like those who are imprisoned, hungry, or shelter-less. And, toughest of all, there are the questions of how we treat those who we believe, or are told to believe, are threats to our well-being and that of our loved ones.

None of us can take on all of this. None of us can take on just a part of it all the time. So how do you find the part you can do with the spirit of meraki? And how can CVUUS support you through what Rev. A. Powell Davies would call this “opportunity to grow your soul.”?

Daily CommUUnion: Friday, April 17

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: I was fortunate enough to be a part of a weekly check-in for Northern New England UU Ministers this morning. Today, we were joined for the first time by Bob Senghas, the 91 year-old former minister of our church in Burlington. Bob was a leader in the UU Buddhist movement. Like a lot of Americans living in retirement communities, Bob is in a lock-down environment isolating him from any outside visitors. Here is a prayer from his 2001 collection of meditations called Cycles of Reflection.

There are seasons in our souls: times of withering, times of coldness, times of renewal, times of sun and light.

May the force which drives nature to its fulfillment be brought forth in us, too.

Within each of us is the power to love and care awaiting our wills and our acts to bring it forth.

Let us be instruments of the power of love which comes through us but not from us, the power which waits for us to bring it forth.

Food for Thought – The polite greeting “How are you?” and its many linguistic relatives (“How’s it going? How’s life treating you? Whaddup?…..”) are often treated as synonyms for “hello” in “normal” times. The most natural response for me, if I remember clearly, used to be some report on what was keeping me busy. In the pandemic, such greetings often carry implicit health status questions – both physical and mental. Do you find yourself greeting people differently or responding to people differently when invited to converse with an open-ended question? I wonder if the pandemic is redefining our feelings about personal space in conversation…

Daily CommUUnion: Thurs., April 16

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: It feels as if this time of pandemic could be a coming of age moment for many of us as individuals and citizens, no matter what our age. This is a coming of age blessing from the 1990’s by Mary MacKintosh found in Life Prayers From Around the World (HarperCollins, 1996). The term Fianna refers to mythic bands of Irish warriors:

Power of the raven be yours,

Power of the eagle be yours,

Power of the Fianna.

Power of the storm be yours,

Power of the moon be yours,

Power of the sun.

Power of the sea be yours,

Power of the land be yours,

Power of heaven.

Goodness of sea be yours,

Goodness of earth be yours,

Goodness of heaven.

Each day be a joy to you.

No day be sad to you,

Honour and tenderness.

 

Food for Thought – I was able to catch part of the Zoom meeting this morning of the Addison County Interfaith Climate Action Network. One question for a lot of us was: What we can capture from our communal and personal response to the pandemic that can help us in the much more immense and, in the long-term, more consequential struggle to deal with human-driven climate change? As the talk turns to getting back to “normal” as soon as possible, what parts of “normal” should we be treating as undesirable? And – this is particularly important in my mind – what should we do to protect vulnerable people who have an immediate stake in getting back to a “normal” that is not environmentally sustainable?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Wed., April 15

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: One of the lengthier affirmations in our hymnal is a responsive reading about what religion ought to mean to us. It was written by the Rev. Vincent B. Silliman, who spent much of of his career serving UU congregations in Maine. Which elements resonate most with you?

Let religion be to us life and joy.
Let it be a voice of renewing challenge to the best we have and may be; let it be a call to generous action.

Let religion be to us a dissatisfaction with things that are, which bids us serve more eagerly the true and the right.
Let it be the sorrow that opens for us the way of sympathy, understanding, and service to suffering humanity.

Let religion be to us the wonder and lure of that which is only partly known and understood:
An eye that glories in nature’s majesty and beauty, and a heart that rejoices in deeds of kindness and of courage.

Let religion be to us security and serenity because of its truth and beauty, and because of the enduring worth and power of the loyalties which it engenders;
Let it be to us hope and purpose, and a discovering of opportunities to express our best through daily tasks:

Religion, uniting us with all that is admirable in human beings everywhere;
Holding before our eyes a prospect of the better life for humankind, which each may help to make actual.

Food for Thought – Ministers I admire for their creative meditations all seem to possess a poetic bent for encountering emotionally powerful insights in seemingly small or mundane experiences. They are serious but not necessarily somber. If fact, some of these meditations are hilarious. The enforced slowing down most of us are experiencing because of the epidemic – and the change of priorities for those who are busier than ever – invite us to notice “little” things we might otherwise have overlooked. What’s been surprising you with its invitation to look more closely?

Daily CommUUnion: Monday, April 13

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: A year ago, we celebrated our fourth or fifth (I’ve lost count) annual Mud CommUUnion. It’s going to be a great challenge to our creativity to continue the tradition this year while still adhering to our social distancing obligations. Our worship team is meeting tonight via Zoom to brainstorm, and I welcome ideas from all of you!

Here are the words I used to introduce the ritual last year, followed by the blessing I and the other officiants offered to you after you came forward to receive your mud and then moved to the sides of the Sanctuary for us to wash it away:

It’s Mud CommUUnion Sunday again. It’s our secret. No congregation except CVUUS seems to realize mud is a beacon as well as a burden. “Follow me to spring it says. But I’m not going to make it easy.”

Mud is honest. It warns you that the cold weather is going, but not necessarily the deep depression or addiction gripping you or a loved one. The trees will leaf out but aging bodies won’t suddenly dance like the leaves. Spring doesn’t give you financial security or restore fractured relationships with loved ones. Spring can’t make you less upset about the political scene, less worried about the welfare of your children, or less despairing at our continued destructive abuse of the only planet we can ever call home.

Only human love – love shared in the pursuit of joy and beauty and goodness – can remove the emotional and spiritual mud binding us as we strive to discern the path to which Love (with a capital L) calls us. The path the ancient Chinese called the Way (with a capital W). And that is what we proclaim and celebrate in our CommUUnion this morning…

Blessing: When the Way turns to Mud, it remains the Way. When you are there, we are with you. As I wash your hands today. I am grateful that we find ourselves walking together on the journey toward Spring’s promise of renewal.

Food for Thought – Lise Anderson sent me a link to this moving 7 minute video about a prison counseling program. https://vimeo.com/398088783?fbclid=IwAR3RIF-oIMCTtVkHk7UOWjoMYQRKpwgaTGG0f7A9poFEOFnEQcugI8lLEnQ As many of you know, the disastrous handling of criminal justice in the United States has been a major source of spiritual pain and shame for me ever since I took courses inside Northern State Prison in Newark, NJ, during seminary.

Each of us has different marginalized groups of people whose circumstances compel our attention. Their vulnerability and our share in prolonging it can feel overwhelming to many of us in the best of times. Now we have added limits on what we can do from the Covid-19 safety restrictions and economic stresses mounting rapidly around us.

Poppy’s Time for All Ages story yesterday spoke to the children yesterday about how talking about and sharing worries can make them shrink. Is that happening for you in the case of worries about marginalized people, or does talking about it only add to feelings that drag you down? How can CVUUS help us through this aspect of the Covid-19 onslaught?

Daily CommUUnion: Fri., April 10

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Our call to worship Sunday is a text by the Rev. Kathleen McTigue that I adapted to our current situation of not being able to meet in our Sanctuary. I present it here with the hope that many of you are taking the creative and comforting liberty of adapting writings you love to what you are encountering:

We come together this morning to remind one another

To rest for a moment on forming edge of our lives,

To resist the headlong tumble into the next moment,

Until we claim for ourselves

Awareness and gratitude,

We recall each other’s faces

And welcoming gazes reflected back to us.

We revisit the sacred ways

Of laughter and silence, memory and hope,

Nurtured by our presence together in time if not place,

And by our faith in the healing power of Beloved Community.

 

Food for Thought – Cindi Gillen sent me a link to a guided meditation video she found helpful, not just for the exercise but for the discussion about it with the guest leader. At one point the host was talking about our need to take breaks from our struggles to stay productive in isolation. He shared advice he’d come across likening what we should do to hitting the Control-Alt-Delete buttons on our keyboards. Just shut down and walk away for bit. The beauty of the metaphor is that these keys are programmed to work in synch to close a frozen application or reboot your computer because they are difficult to hit together by accident. You need to be intentional about shutting down.

Then Pan and I went for a walk and I had second thoughts about the metaphor. I am spending so much time online, the last thing I need is advice that implies I have become a form of my electronics. And the truth is, it often takes something tinged with love to lead me into a break – something like Pan bumping me and doing a let’s go circle dance. Or Michele announcing she’s just taken a treat out of the oven. What gets you to take care of yourself?

 

Daily CommUUnion: Thurs., April 9

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Rev. Karen Haring first encountered the phrase “oriented times three” as a hospital chaplain. Initially she presumed it was a code word for a super with-it patient, but she soon learned that it referred to three mental status questions every patient gets asked frequently: do you know your name, where you are, and what day it is? It got her wondering about being “spiritually oriented times three.” She eventually boiled that down to three different questions: what do I believe, where do I belong, and what does it all mean? And then, in a meditation published in 2009, she wrote, “Certainly, I know the questions better than the answers. But I also know this: We all have spiritual compasses inside us that help us to arrive at our own answers. Sometimes we can read our compasses more easily than others, but we all have…an inner tug toward the holy. And in those times when our compass is impossible to find or read, or when it points in a direction we don’t want to go, we can turn to one another, or to maps to get oriented, or to constellations that guide us to where we’re headed. Perhaps that is what it means to be spiritually oriented x 3: oriented to self, oriented to others, and oriented to the holy. Perhaps this is what we’re doing here together – reading our compasses, finding our way in a universe of shining stars, and making new maps to help one another.” (from With or Without Candlelight –Skinner House Books)

Food for Thought – I read today that residents of Wuhan, China, have taken off to travel at very high rates now that their Covid-19 lock-down is over. Where is the first place you hope to travel for work or pleasure once the restrictions we are observing are lifted? (Many of us may not have the leisure or financial means to go much of anywhere when the stay at home orders are lifted, but I invite you to give some breathing space to your dreams in this case).

Daily CommUUnion: Wed., April 8

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: It has more verses than The 12 Days of Christmas, a simpler and eventually more boring tune, and verses sung rapidly enough in Hebrew to tie the tongues of all but the most fluent Passover Seder participants. It’s a liberation song that, like the Bible passages on which it is based, borders on revenge pornography in the early verses. Singers at the Seder table routinely drop out for long stretches. Nevertheless, this song that first appears in 9th century Passover texts is a Seder fixture all over the world. Dayenu survives not just because Jews cherish tradition but because it embodies a timeless message in a form that could be passed on even when few people could read or write. It calls us to be aware that any liberation we attain is built upon diverse, incomplete blessings we should gratefully remember, even when they come with pain for ourselves and others. Here is an English translation:

Verse 1:

If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them

– Dayenu, it would have sufficed! (repeats as end of every verse)

Chorus: Di Da-yenu, Di Da-yenu, Di Da-yenu, Da-yenu, Da-yenu (repeats after every verse)

Verse 2:

If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols

Verse 3:

If He had destroyed their idols, and had not smitten their first-born

Verse 4:

If He had smitten their first-born, and had not given us their wealth

Verse 5:

If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us

Verse 6:

If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land

Verse 7:

If He had taken us through the sea on dry land, and had not drowned our oppressors in it

Verse 8:

If He had drowned our oppressors in it, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years

Verse 9:

If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and had not fed us the manna

Verse 10:

If He had fed us the manna, and had not given us the Shabbat (Sabbath)

Verse 11:

If He had given us the Shabbat, and had not brought us before Mount Sinai

Verse 12:

If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah

Verse 13:

If He had given us the Torah, and had not brought us into the land of Israel

Verse 14:

If He had brought us into the land of Israel, and not built for us the Holy Temple

Verse 15: If he had not built for us the Holy Temple, – Dayenu, it would have sufficed!

Food for Thought – Many Jews have written new verses to Dayenu to reflect modern perspectives. Some narrowly focus on Judaism, such as those that replace the miracles of the Exodus story with the many steps to the founding of modern Israel in the wake of the Holocaust of World War II. Others explicitly broaden the sense of where God is at work. A good example is HIAS, the Jewish American group founded to aid Jewish refugees that now serves refugees from conflict everywhere regardless of religion. HIAS proclaims that Jews should say “Dayenu” – “it is enough” – for the twists in life that save individual people but that the true “dayenu” can only come when “all people fleeing violence and persecution (are) warmly welcomed into the lands in which they seek safety, their strength honored and their vulnerability protected.” What incomplete blessings might merit a bit more gratitude in your life because of the path they keep you on? Blessed be, Rev. Barnaby

Daily CommUUnion: Tues. April 7

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: This poem by Aracelis Girmay caught my eye because of two towns it names in Nicaragua. I passed through both two years ago on my trip arranged by the UU College of Social Justice for a group of us to see first hand what the fair trade coffee business does – and doesn’t do – for struggling farmers in Central America. I can’t begin to imagine what an epidemic and global recession on top of the civil unrest engulfing Nicaragua on top of their “normal” struggles adds up to. But this poem contains a message for us too.

Consider the Hands that Write This Letter

Consider the hands

that write this letter.

The left palm pressed flat against the paper,

as it has done before, over my heart,

in peace or reverence

to the sea or some beautiful thing

I saw once, felt once: snow falling

like rice flung from the giants’ wedding,

or the strangest birds. & consider, then,

the right hand, & how it is a fist,

within which a sharpened utensil,

similar to the way I’ve held a spade,

match to the wick, the horse’s reins,

loping, the very fists

I’ve seen from the roads to Limay & Estelí.

For years, I have come to sit this way:

one hand open, one hand closed,

like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up

the food that comes from that farming.

Or, yes, it is like the way I’ve danced

with my left hand opened around a shoulder

& my right hand closed inside

of another hand. & how

I pray, I pray for this

to be my way: sweet

work alluded to in the body’s position

to its paper:

left hand, right hand

like an open eye, an eye closed:

one hand flat against the trapdoor,

the other hand knocking, knocking.

Food for Thought – I’ve used part of my time isolated at home to randomly pull books I haven’t look at in years off the shelves and peek down memory lane from the strange lookout point of the present. One of these is Shada, a sci-fi novel created by Gareth Roberts out of a script the late Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) wrote for the British television series Doctor Who.

     The novel begins by introducing the arch-villain, Skagra, this way: “At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. This revelation tends to make most people in the universe who have it react in one of two ways – with relief or despair. Only Skagra responded to it by thinking, Wait a second. That means there’s a situation vacant.

      For a lot of UU’s, the God of our upbringing has been replaced by some, or a lot of, “job vacant.” What aspects of the God you were exposed to as a child have been replaced by something you definitely believe but can’t prove, and what aspects remain vacant? (Fair warning – some of my thinking about this is going to show up in our Easter Sunday worship service).

Daily CommUUnion: Mon. April 6

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: Francois recently forwarded to me and a bunch of other folks an amazing French video he received that stitches together videos of human body paintings. The artist is named Johannes Stötter. The video is a stunning testimonial to the beauty of the natural world, human inventiveness, human imagination, and the power of art to pull us out of sadness into wonder and gratitude. I was troubled though that the video gave scant credit to the artist and showed no signs of being authorized. So, here is a link to the videos the artist himself has posted on his website. It might not be as dazzling as the collection I received from Francois, but in these times especially, we should directly honor and support those whose work inspires us. (Warning – there is some nudity in each video). https://www.johannesstoetterart.com/videos/

Food for Thought –  The most famous artwork of the past year is undoubtedly this image of the Covid-19 Coronavirus produced by two medical illustrators at the Federal Government’s Centers for Disease Control :

Last week, the New York Times told the fascinating back-story of its creation here: www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/health/coronavirus-illustration-cdc.html.

It got me thinking of the role of the visual arts in helping us understand and respond to the pandemic. One sign of the times, perhaps, is that in a collapsing art market, a series of artworks by the British graffiti artist known as Banksy recently sold at auction for record prices. Banksy is known for his invisibility, his pranks, and his provocative views about every aspect of society, including the art world (one Banksy painting self-destructed by design in 2018 immediately after it had been sold at auction – he had hidden a shredder in the frame).

My favorite Banksy saying at the moment is: “If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” I’ve seen it most often as part of an image on which he depicted a seated young girl drawn entirely in black and white looking pensively down at a small bluebird. The intense dash of blue in the bird seems sadly vulnerable to me and, yet, because of the child and the quote, immensely hopeful. What visual art is catching your eye in this epidemic?

Daily CommUUnion: Fri., April 3

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder: This morning I came across this posting from a week ago by St. Michael’s College anthropology professor Adrie Kusserow (do any of you know her personally?). It’s both a loving parody and serious reflection on that unofficially sacred UU text, Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese. Prof. Kusserow titled it Mary Oliver for Corona Times.

You do not have to become totally zen,
You do not have to use this isolation to make your marriage better,
your body slimmer, your children more creative.
You do not have to “maximize its benefits”
By using this time to work even more,
write the bestselling Corona Diaries,
Or preach the gospel of ZOOM.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body unlearn
everything capitalism has taught you,
(That you are nothing if not productive,
That consumption equals happiness,
That the most important unit is the single self.
That you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine).

Tell me about your fictions, the ones you’ve been sold,
the ones you sheepishly sell others,
and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world as we know it is crumbling.
Meanwhile the virus is moving over the hills,
suburbs, cities, farms and trailer parks.
Meanwhile The News barks at you, harsh and addicting,
Until the push of the remote leaves a dead quiet behind,
a loneliness that hums as the heart anchors.
Meanwhile a new paradigm is composing itself in our minds,
Could birth at any moment if we clear some space
From the same tired hegemonies.
Remember, you are allowed to be still as the white birch,
Stunned by what you see,
Uselessly shedding your coils of paper skins
Because it gives you something to do.
Meanwhile, on top of everything else you are facing,
Do not let capitalism coopt this moment,
laying its whistles and train tracks across your weary heart.
Even if your life looks nothing like the Sabbath,
Your stress boa-constricting your chest.
Know that your ancy kids, your terror, your shifting moods,
Your need for a drink have every right to be here,
And are no less sacred than a yoga class.
Whoever you are, no matter how broken,
the world still has a place for you, calls to you over and over
announcing your place as legit, as forgiven,
even if you fail and fail and fail again.
remind yourself over and over,
all the swells and storms that run through your long tired body
all have their place here, now in this world.
It is your birthright to be held
deeply, warmly in the family of things,
not one cell left in the cold.

Food for Thought – We didn’t need this epidemic to teach us that our economy is an unruly beast that none of us fully comprehend.  As a former business reporter, I’d like to think I understood it better than most, but I’m struck on a daily basis by wrinkles I had never considered before. What previously invisible links between things have surprised you in these still early days of the pandemic? This is an invitation to think small and almost amusing– I heard today about a tidal wave of cheap chicken wings headed our way because of the cancellation of so many spring sporting events farmers had geared up to supply. You could also think big and worried: how will the pandemic-driven crash in oil prices undo climate change progress even as the shutdowns in economic activity reduce greenhouse gas emissions? If you can imagine big and hopeful, please share it with me.

Daily CommUUnion: Thur., April 2

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder:  Lifting Our Voices: Readings in the Living Tradition (UUA, 2015) is a book of readings we give all new members of the Worship Team. Rev. Amy Carol Webb’s short responsive reading seems especially meaningful in the context of this unique moment in our lives:

We meet in the space between us:

stillness;

music;

heard or unheard,

the apparent void teeming

with the you and the I that overlap,

in this one sacred living moment.

We meet in the spaces between us.

Food for Thought – Rev. Meg Riley, lead minister of the online UU Church of the Larger Fellowship, noted in her email today, “I’ve now been around the cycle of emotions—denial, joy, fear, anger, sadness—enough times to recognize that the cycle will keep going around, sometimes unpredictably…. I have begun to believe this roller coaster is part of the new normal. Days are long and intense.

          And there’s still a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to know something, waiting for some clarity to emerge. I’m beginning to realize that this is part of what’s called ‘anticipatory grief.’ A feeling I have known when beloveds were on their way towards death but there were still weeks or months to live.”

I’m wondering whether many of my recent encounters with people include elements of anticipatory grief that I’m not yet smart enough to recognize in myself or others. How about you? Rev. Riley passed on a light-hearted attempt to give ourselves some emotional breathing space called Self-Care Bingo. Take a look and let me know if there are others things you would put in some of the squares….Blessed be, Rev. B

https://files.constantcontact.com/67752cf9201/4f578715-aa22-4d62-b39c-50a22ce9a28c.pdf

Daily CommUUnion: Wed., April 1

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder:  Today’s Braver/Wiser email from the featured the reflection of Aram Mitchell, executive director of Renewal in the Wilderness and occasional guest speaker at the Midcoast UU Fellowship in Maine. Mitchell, who leads trips into the Maine woods aimed at fostering compassion and spiritual growth, spoke about the wonder of muscle memory and its relationship to how we will come to cope with Covid-19 through lived experience with it. He concluded with an affirmation and a prayer:

   “I don’t know how each of us ought to reorient to our new, shifting realities. But I’m confident in our human ability—our propensity, even—to gradually, day-by-day, together muscle our way into knowing… and being in… and renewing our world.
Confidence means “to be with faith.” That’s what I’ve got right now: faith in the muscle of our collective spirit, and a sturdy hope that we’ll keep on figuring out how to put it to use.

     Prayer: As we cross the threshold of each new day, may we find strength in the confidence that we’re moving together. May we rest assured that yesterday’s unknown will be a little more familiar tomorrow. And may we remember that right now we just have to live today.”

Food for Thought –  Kate Gridley sent me a link to an article by Prof. Aisha Ahmad, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, titled, “Why You Should Ignore All that Coronavirus-inspired Productivity Pressure.” (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-You-Should-Ignore-All-That/248366?fbclid=IwAR39R3RtQy0Tw22TXVO_VPUy4SdSkDF8xO8-VF5c37NVQEMXFTL36CtS86E ) Not surprisingly, since she wrote it for  “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” it focused on the demands on academics when her points were being illustrated, but the general points might well be true for all of us. Here is what my editors at The New York Times used to call “the nut graf”:

“The answer to the question everyone is asking — “When will this be over?” — is simple and obvious, yet terribly hard to accept. The answer is never. Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a major war. Even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened. And so, while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your scholarly productivity right now. That is denial and delusion. The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.”

Prof. Ahmad is saying that although a lot of people are telling each other this is a marathon, not a sprint, most of us aren’t acting as if we have really embraced that reality.

This strikes me as a very different perspective on how we should be living than Aram Mitchell’s. What parts do you take from each? How might they come together?

Daily CommUUnion: Tues., March 31

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder:  I receive a poem in my in-box every day from the Academy of American Poets. Today’s poem, Part of Eve’s Discussion, by Marie Howe, was described by fellow poet Molly Fisk as “a reminder of the truth of uncertainty” leavened by “a reference to survival.” I assume the title refers to the Biblical Eve’s discussion with the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, including her inner thoughts and premonitions. It alludes to the instant before she eats the fruit that gave humankind the knowledge of good and evil, introduced us to mortality, and set us on our course to make our way in a real world, not an imaginary Garden of Eden. But it speaks more directly to where we are in the sacred story of this early spring morning in Vermont when I am writing to you, my beloved community, with reference to survival.

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,

and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when

a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,

very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you

your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like

the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,

it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time.

Food for Thought –  One of our members recently emailed about the bagged lunch for the homeless program and made, in passing, a comment that, sadly, going to the supermarket these days felt like entering a “war zone.” After thinking about this, I wrote back, “I know it feels a little risky and I admire you for being one of our angels shopping not just for home but for the homeless. But I hope you won’t mind my adding that I keep reminding myself our stores are not a war zone. That was why I asked Morris Earle to talk about recently returning from the Syrian border with Lebanon a couple of weeks ago. Places like that have the virus on top of unimaginable horrors to deal with.”

I went on to tell our generous member, “One of the things I am trying to do as our minister is to keep reminding myself and the congregation that words matter a lot here. I believe that using language that helps us and others keep things in perspective is part of effective resistance to the pandemic.” And then I thanked her again for making me think more deeply about this issue.

So what about it? I’m not sure I did the right thing in responding as I did. I know, of course, that she did not literally mean that the stores are a war zone in the way that image struck me. Should we let all off-the-cuff exaggerations that reflect a speaker’s feelings go, or do we need to help each other toward calmer, more literally accurate language to stay healthy and hopeful? If so, how and when do we offer different perspectives in the spirit of life-giving love?”

Daily CommUUnion: Mon., March 30

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder:  Chris Murphy is our neighbor as well as a CVUUS member, so she was able to drop off the Irish poet John O’Donohue’s book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us, while getting her exercise walking outdoors, as directed by Gov. Scott. Good thing, because my copy is at CVUUS! I think it says something about how much attention we are devoting to caring for each other that the blessing which currently speaks the most to me is a long one he wrote for nurses. This is excerpted from the last three stanzas:

   In this fragile frontier place, your kindness

Becomes the light that consoles the broken-hearted…,

 

May you embrace the beauty in what you do

And how you stand like a secret angel

Between the bleak despair of illness

And the unquenchable fire of spirit

That can turn the darkest destiny towards dawn.

 

May you never doubt the gifts you bring,

Rather, learn from these frontiers

Wisdom for your own heart.

May you come to inherit

The blessings of your kindness

And never be without care and love….

Food for Thought –  Our new communications challenges may bring into question our views on best practices. I recently reread the articles on Non-Violent Communications (NVC) that Anne Christie from our Right Relations Team wrote for our newsletter two years ago. Here’s an excerpt from one of them responding to what she described as our  mission to open people of all ages “to deeper connections” and “right relationship with another and the wider community.” Looking to summarize NVC, she continued:

“Picture 4 chairs: Chair #1: Blaming the other (There is a problem and it’s YOUR fault); Chair #2: Blaming myself (There is a problem and it’s MY fault); Chair #3: Empathy for MY feelings and needs (There is a problem and I check inside for feelings – including noting physical reactions – to find what is really important to me);  Chair #4: Empathy for the OTHER’S feelings and needs (There is a problem and I’m curious about the other’s feelings and values or needs).

We spend much of our time thinking about who is at fault…If our thinking is from chairs #1 or #2, our blaming blocks presence, and any action we take is likely to lead to disconnection or a continuation of the conflict. With honest awareness of our way of thinking right now, we can choose to shift to chairs #3 and #4. The empathetic way of thinking nourishes presence and turns me or us toward connection, and our actions can be beneficial to everyone.”

How is empathy harder or easier in our pandemic times of self-isolation, quarantines, rapidly evolving headlines, and uncertainty? What new ways, if any, are you exploring to know your feelings and attend to them in your encounters with others?

Daily CommUUnion: Fri., March 27

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:

So much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age,

perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.

Natural Resources by Adrienne Rich (Affirmation #463 in our gray hymnal)

Food for Thought – An over-60 congregant emailed me to comment on his heightened awareness that “We really do need to learn how to work our phones and computers. In this era of isolation and social distancing, they have become our eyes and ears – and even our hands.”

This is true, I believe. But is there an equally important contradictory truth that denies they are fundamentally our new bodies? In evolutionary terms, the era when anyone could routinely see, hear and even physically manipulate people and things that weren’t right in front of them has just begun. We can be simultaneously astounded, empowered, distracted, and blinded by these vast extensions of our senses. But I’m not convinced the pandemic can shake our deepest instincts to find comfort and hope and meaning in proximity where we rely on the senses we were born with rather than our inventions.  Everywhere,  I see people longing to hug and be hugged. How about you? –

Daily CommUUnion: Thurs., March 26

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder:  This poem by Rev. Lynn Ungar, called Accounting, was written yesterday and posted on Facebook today.

How easy it is to get pulled under

by the riptide of numbers, the grip

of statistics dragging us out

in their litany of loss. Some numbers

are too large to reckon, knowing that

each number is a life.

We don’t yet know how to mourn the

particulars of these sums.

 

For now, count smaller things.

Raindrops on the roof: Thousands –

comfort in a time of drought.

Trees visible from my window: six –

one decked in the fluffy pom poms of spring.

Eggs in the refrigerator: eight –

enough for breakfast, and possibly cake.

Birds in the bush: two –

nattily attired in black and russet and

spots.

Dogs at my feet: also two –

both happy that we’re together.

 

I don’t know if there is some

grand accounting at the end,

a god who’ll weigh your soul

against a feather. It seems unlikely.

But one way or another,

it’s probably worth

considering what counts.

Food for Thought –  Friends know I am an awed fan boy of the multi-talented Rev. Lynn Ungar, a San Francisco Bay Area colleague who first came to my attention as the Minister for Lifespan Learning for the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship. CLF is the online congregation for UU’s who don’t have a physical congregation like ours within reach. Last year, I taught a class for a scattered small group drawn from the hundreds of incarcerated men and women who belong to the CLF. Rev. Ungar’s monthly column in Quest, the CLF newsletter, is must reading for me. Lynn has sometimes gone long stretches without sharing poetry online but she has been writing one moving piece after another about the pandemic. In response to Accounting, one Facebook friend of hers called the surge of Lynn Ungar poetry the best thing about Covid-19.  What’s the best thing about Covid-19 in your life.

Daily CommUUnion: Tues., March 24

A Bit of Faith, Hope, Gratitude, and Wonder:

Our true home is in the present moment.

To live in the present moment is a miracle.

The miracle is not to walk on water.

The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment,

to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.

Peace is all around us –

in the world and in nature –

and within us –

in our bodies and our spirits.

Once we learn to touch this peace,

we will be healed and transformed.

It is not a matter of faith;

it is a matter of practice.

  • Thich Nhat Hanh

A Bit of Music: UU hymn writer and composer Elizabeth Alexander has made her music available for worship without royalties during this pandemic. To hear this sung, go to this website and click on the music file where you see the arrow: https://www.seafarerpress.com/works/grace

Here are the words:

Grace

Elizabeth Alexander

It’s how I hold my head up after I have missed the mark,
It’s how I know I’m loved when things are dark,
It’s how I stand when I am feeling small,
How I stand again after a fall –
It’s how I’m even standing here at all:
Some people call it Grace.

Falling down like rain on everyone,
So warm, like greetings from the sun,
Like a gentle snow it’s making every surface glow.
And I know I didn’t earn it:
That’s how I know it’s Grace.

It’s how two people keep their love alive through thick and thin,
It’s how a broken people sing again,
It’s the wounded set aside their blame,
How the down-and-out cast off their shame,
It’s how I know that holy is my name –
We’re all the same to Grace.

Falling down like rain on everyone,
So warm, like greetings from the sun,
Like a gentle snow it’s making every surface glow.
And I didn’t have to earn it.
No, I didn’t have to earn it:

I didn’t have to earn it through a word or through a deed,
Or through a trial or through a creed,
Or by denying what I need.
I only had to reach out my hand, and it was there.
But still it cannot take away the truths I have to face.
Oh no, that’s not how it works with Grace.

Falling down like rain on everyone,
So warm, like greetings from the sun,
Like a gentle snow it’s making every surface glow.
And I know I didn’t earn it.
No, I didn’t have to earn it.
I didn’t have to earn it:
That’s how I know it’s Grace.

Lyric © 2014 by Elizabeth Alexander

 Food for Thought –  The solar industry is lobbying hard to have its work considered “essential” so that it can continue to work, with certain safety restrictions, through lock-downs imposed during the pandemic. Some aspects of the industry, like door to door sales for new residential projects, strike me as clearly not fitting that definition. But with the move to renewable energy every bit as crucial to our long-run future as flattening the curve of the pandemic – perhaps even more so – should we very intentionally be signaling that climate change is not an issue to be put on the back burner at this time. If so, how do we do that? As things stand now, the powerful oil and gas industry is far better positioned to grab substantial government compensation payments, some of its plastics are getting a big bump in demand, and it is using the crisis to emphasize how “essential” it currently is.