Saturday, May 31, 2014

Emptying the Cup

There is a classic Zen story about Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912).
“Nan-in received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. ‘It is overfull. No more will go in!’ ‘Like this cup,’ Nan-in said. You are full of ideas!! How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” 
Many of us are busy with so many responsibilities that we often get overwhelmed. With every new request, our cup overflows, often until the point of frustration and we say no more!!  It is important to know what our limitations and boundaries are. If we take on too much and fail, we feel we have failed not only ourselves but others.  So we need to learn to say no gently. To do this we need to determine what our priorities are.  We cannot all be on every team and make every decision about everything that happens in the Congregation.  We have to understand what our gifts are, and where those gifts intersect with a need in the Congregation. We also might want to consider what committees or teams in which we would like to participate, that might challenge us a bit and help us personally grow.  When we take on a project, we have to be willing to see it through, and when we let go of a project, we have to let go and trust others who take over.
            Our Congregation has come again to the point in time where many are stretched very thin.   In the past, when we get to this size, something happens that causes us to pull back into ourselves.  Anticipating this, last year the Board created the Growth Task Force and Strategic Planning Team to find a new way to allow us to overcome the challenges we have faced in the past. The Strategic Planning Team proposed hiring additional administrative staff to free up Volunteers and Staff from administrative tasks, so we can all focus more on programing. In May, at our Annual Meeting, the Congregation approved a budget that affirmed this vision.   This means we have to be willing to let go of some of the tasks we currently perform and delegate them to others.  Delegation is a difficult thing.  It does not mean we abdicate responsibility of everything. It means we don’t have to do everything ourselves. It means we allow others to help us do the work that needs to be done to achieve the Vision and Mission of the Congregation
            The hardest part about delegating work is that we are not always directly involved in making decisions about everything.  This past year, I have felt the burden of not being able to do everything I wanted to do. In truth, there is always more to do. I also need to prioritize where to share my energy.  I am hopeful, with the additional administrative help, that I will be able to have more time to take on a leadership role in Community Social Justice issues and to ensure quality programs continue to grow within the Congregation.   My focus will be on newer programs, programs that need more direct leadership, and programs that stir my own personal passion for ministry.  Yet, even for myself, as we add programs, I will not be able to attend every meeting. 
I know that my changing priorities may cause concern for some of you.  This is one of the challenges of a growing Congregation, and I want to identify that challenge.  The only way to deal with this challenge is to recognize what it is we are hoping to create. We want to create a vibrant, welcoming, diverse Congregation. We need to create this, not just for us, but for and with others in the community and for generations to come.  As always, I look forward to meeting with members to hear about your hopes, dreams, challenges and anxieties as they arise.   
Additional programs, delegation of authority,  and the empowerment of teams, also comes with a need for policies and procedures, so that members can know what is expected of them, what are the boundaries to work within, and how to find guidance regarding how things work.  This is an ongoing process, and we are all working together to help build a quality organization that helps us reach our vision and mission in a collaborative way.  Let us empty our cups and make room for something new and beautiful in our lives. Let us be willing to let go of old ways and help each other and those who have not found us yet.  Let us build a new way, a better way, to be together in religious community. 
with a grateful heart

Rev. Jay

Thursday, May 29, 2014


When I came of draft age the Vietnam War was over, and this country has not had a drafted armed services since then.  Growing up though I knew many from my neighborhood, who were forced into the service by the draft, or by the alternative threat of going to prison. Today although we have a volunteer armed services, many were inspired by patriotism after 9-11 and also many are forced into service as their only way out of poverty due to a lack of job opportunities elsewhere. And it seems for better or worse, there have been many opportunities for people in the armed services. 
And although there are many many people who have had good long careers in the armed services, and for whom the armed services offered training and discipline that has helped many, we also know there is a high price to pay for far too many others. The price of human lives and the price of human souls, and the lost potentials of what could have been. That price is just too high for me. We have to ask ourselves, after millennium upon millennium of warfare, why do I believe things can change?  The question is what price are we willing to pay to end war. Only when we are willing to change can the world change.
           We are all going to die someday. The question is how are we going to live, and in what manner will we face our death. Many years ago when I was taking a class on death, I was asked to write my own obituary. It is a very powerful exercise to do.  I encourage you to do that someday.  I started mine, Jay Wolin, at the age of 120 passed away peacefully.  I went on to write Jay who was a notable philanthropist, left his vast wealth to his local Unitarian Universalist Congregation. What can I say,  I was younger, I wanted to be aspirational. But then I had to stop and think, all joking aside, is that really how I wanted to be remembered, and that is what makes it such a powerful exercise, because then the next question is, how do I want to live my life so that my obituary will read the way I want it to read. I had to ask myself, do I want to spend my life making money and how would I do it,  or do I want to spend my life doing something else that would leave a different legacy.  And it was just such an instance that led to a light shining on heroes for peace through the vehicle known as the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Nobel Peace Prize was started from a trust created at the death of Alfred Nobel.  Nobel is best known for the creation of dynamite. He created dynamite as a way to improve the stability of explosives he was developing after Nobel’s younger brother was killed by an explosion at Nobel’s munition factory. Nobel held over 30 patents which were mostly related to explosive materials and related products.  These patents and his munitions companies made him a very wealthy man.  Therein lies one of challenges, which is our desire for profits over people.  What is the price we are willing to pay for peace?  When another brother of Alfred Nobel died, a French newspaper erroneously published an obituary for Alfred.  The paper condemned him for his invention of dynamite The obituary stated, “The merchant of death is dead.  Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday”  There are many who believe that this obituary had an affect on his decision to create the Nobel Peace Prize. When we look in the mirror, and look back on our lives, and are forced to look deep within ourselves, we have to face ourselves and the consequences of our acts.  And although Nobel throughout his life gave money to peace organizations, and even wrote that he thought having such a destructive weapon could end war once and for all, I have to say that rings hollow for me. I believe he used the wealth he accumulated as way to balance the scale in his soul for all the destruction that was on his conscience. There was a heavy price to pay for the weight of his conscience.
Nobel’s criteria for the Peace Prize is that it go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”   Now we know there have been some famous and even infamous Nobel prize winners. Famous winners included Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, the Dali Lama, Elie Weisel,  (although surprisingly not Mahatma Ghandi).  Some infamous winners also included  Heads of State, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Menachem Begin of Israel,  and South African apartheid leader  Willem de Clerk.  Although there are others I might question, what these heads of state showed was a willingness to risk, risk to their lives, risk to their prestige, risk their power, all with the hope of avoiding ongoing and excessive bloodshed. To pay the price for peace.
Of course I had to see just how many of the Nobel Peace Prize winners were Unitarian.  We had two confirmed Unitarians, one connected Unitarian, (Jane Addams) and the only organization that received the Nobel Peace Prize three times, the Red Cross was founded by Unitarian Clara Barton. One of the two confirmed Unitarians was Scientist Linus Pauling who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against nuclear weapons. Unitarian Albert Schweitzer won the Nobel Prize for his life work helping others, but in its presentation to him they noted his concept of “Reverence for life” and quoted the following passage from his autobiography about a revelation he had while in Africa: “At sunset of the third day, near the village,  we moved along an island set in the middle of the wide river. On a sandback to our left, four hippopotamuses and their young plodded along in our same direction. Just then, in my great tiredness and discouragement, the phrase "Reverence for Life" struck me like a flash. As far as I knew, it was a phrase I had never heard nor ever read. I realized at once that it carried within itself the solution to the problem that had been torturing me.. Only by means of reverence for all life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living creatures within our reach. Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits of our capacity, go to their aid whenever they need us.” All life, not just human life, but all life. What a high bar to hold ourselves to. If we say we revere life, how can we wantonly destroy innocent life?
When I think about the heroes spoken of above, I realize they could not have persevered, they could not have had the chance to transform, they could not have had the chance pursue peace and initiate change without many many other people, all of them heroes, maybe not by giving speeches, but by having hope that such a way of living could be.  Everyday people who overcame fear, and accepted the risk and consequences of doing what is right.  Everyday people willing to sacrifice, willing to put themselves out on the front lines and marching, and protesting and going to local council meetings, and doing all the things necessary to shift attention and attitudes of the larger general public. Often unheralded, like the character Rose Valland in the Book Monuments Men. This tells the story about the allies trying to recover stolen art by the Nazis in WWI (There was recently a movie about the book, which was in my personal opinion a little slow), any way Rose did what she could to help record and track the artwork the Nazi’s were stealing which eventually led to the recovery of thousands of pieces of art. Rose said,  “Destiny is not one push,  but a thousand small moments that through insight and hard work you line up in the right direction, like the magnet does the metal shavings.”  And so it must be for us.  It is not just enough to say we want world peace. We have to do the hard work that will lead to it.  Every act we take can be an act of peace or an act of War. How we treat each person we meet on the street, even how we treat ourselves.  It starts with ourselves. Thousands of small moments, when in the crux of a disagreement we can choose to act with peace or with war.  For peace must be in our heart no matter what else may be happening around us. As philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote “peace is not a mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from force of character: a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” 
And this attitude of peace has been and continues to be at the heart of our religion. In 1798, Universalist Benjamin Rush, Signor of the Declaration of Independence, Secretary of the Treasury under President Adams, Jefferson and Madison,  advocate of improved medical care and education for all, advocate for prison reform, issued a call for a Government Department of Peace stating :
“It is much lamented that no person has taken notice of the total silence upon the subject of an office of the utmost importance to the welfare of the United States, that is an office for promoting and preserving perpetual peace in our country…The War-Office of the United States was established in the time of peace, it is equally reasonable that a Peace-Office should be established in the time of war.”
Much of Rush’s though process was based on a Christian virtue of loving one enemies, and his Universalist views of God’s love for all people led him to believe in hope for all of humanity being able to live together in peace here on earth. He talks of the hope to inspire the veneration of human life and a horror of shedding blood.  He felt that “to subdue that passion for war,  a familiarity with the instruments of death, as well as all military shows, should be avoided”  He was definitely one of this country’s founding parents who was for gun control.
            And our religion still calls us to work for peace as our sixth principle calls us to affirm the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; In 2010 at General Assembly Unitarian Universalist Congregations approved a Statement of Conscience called “Creating Peace” which in part states:
“We advocate a culture of peace through a transformation of public policies, religious consciousness, and individual lifestyles. At the heart of this transformation is the readiness to honor the truths of multiple voices from a theology of covenant grounded in love.”  How do we change a culture that has a passion for war into a culture of peace. It starts with each one of us in all our actions. It comes with the realization that it is in our Country’s best interests to pursue peace.  How many people have to die before we our thirst for blood is done. How many of our children have to die, how many others children have to die, before we realize a better way to resolve conflicts. 

Not only has war harmed us in economic terms, which many could rationalize, War harms the soul of this country and its citizens. It leaves us in constant fear. And when we start from a place of fear, we lose our perspective of what is right. How could we as a country, as a people not take care of our veterans, making them wait 100s of days to get care, and lieing about it. That is unconscionable. But when we live in fear, we fear for our jobs, we fear for our homes, we fear for our health.  Let us instead live with love. Let us create a world we care for each other, where we do what’s right, even if it costs us something. Because it is the right thing to do. We know humanity is capable of moral depth. It is not easy, but we have seen in it in action in our lifetimes. And my hope is that with the ever bourgeoning worldwide communications systems, more people will see heroes for peace, Nobel heroes and every day heroes, and the idea of peace as a way of being will be seen as possible. Let us be willing to pay the price. Let us heal our brokenness, Let us live with love in our hearts and in our actions. What will be our legacy?

X-Men Days of Future Past (or is it days of past future) – a 6 out of 10 on the JWO Movie Rating Scale

I admit, I am sentimental about the X Men because I grew up reading their comics. I was particularly fond of Wolverine because in the comic he was short (nothing against Hugh Jackman – I think he is a fine, but tall Wolverine) and at times Wolverine focused on a  Japanese Bushido theme.  But really, how many X Men movies has it been now? I lose count. I think with the Wolverine movies it is up to 7. I don’t know. At some point they all seem to blend together.  I think time travel is poor plot contrivance for a movie. Yes, I know, how is it I can easily accept the concept of mutants but not time travel.    There was a nice unexpected twist at the end, and I think it points out how even one action we take for better or worse can affect the/our future, but otherwise, saving everyone by changing the past is too simple a solution to a complex world. This seems to be a common plot theme in transition movies – Star Trek with Kirk and Picard, and then later with both old and young Spock. And now once again with younger and older X Men (and on that note, why do they call them X Men when the team includes women.) I don’t know, but I found myself bored after over two hours. And for God’s sake, do not make me sit through the entire credits to see a 20 second coming attraction for the next X Men Movie, which is now an annoying common practice for Marvel Movies.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Never Forget (Yom HaShoah)

The philosopher, George Santayana once warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Each year for over the past thirty years the Quad Cities community has had an interfaith Yom HaShoah service which remembers the story of the Jewish Holocaust. Until recently this service included personal testimony from survivors of the Holocaust who lived within our Community.  But as time marches on, there are no survivors left in our community.  Especially since the distance in time from the actual events of the Holocaust are lengthening, it is ever more important to keep those memories alive.  
            That is what Yom Hashoah means, Remember the Shoah, Shoah being the Hebrew word for Holocaust. But I don’t think remembering goes far enough.  Just because one remembers the past does not lead to the conclusion that we will avoid the same outcome.  Now remembering is important, that is why we gather each year, but remembering is not enough.  Having the knowledge of the effects of the pain and suffering caused by the Shoah, it is incumbent upon us to act to prevent future Genocide. 
            We meet each year not just to remember,  but to light a fire within us to act in the world, and have that fire burn bright so that others can see the light and so they can share in the wisdom we have gained through our trials and the trials of our ancestors.  Last Sunday Night over a dozen of our members attended the Yom HaShoah service in which I and fellow member Bill Roba participated in as well  both of us were on the planning committee.  This has always been a meaningful and powerful service in my life.   Having grown up Jewish, post World War II the Holocaust was an ever present specter that hung over my life.  There was still a fear that it could still happen again even here in America, remembering America was very strict not allowing many Jewish refugees to enter the United States during WWII and here had been quotas against Jewish students and rampant job discrimination. And yet because our family was alive when so many others weren’t,  I was taught a responsibility for,  which led to a yearning for justice for all the oppressed, for all who are at risk. We were taught the phrase Never Again, which meant never again, not just for us but for anyone. Our family was very fortunate. Ironically, due to fervent Anti-Semitism where my ancestors lived in Lithuania, my great grandfather who was an architect in Lithuania.
            He  gave up everything  he had,  moved to America and  over time through working unskilled jobs brought his entire family over to America in the early 20th Century. If he had not done that, I would not exist today as most of my family would have certainly perished in the Holocaust.   Its hard to imagine walking away from a career, moving half way across the world, and starting over from scratch (well maybe not that hard for me to imagine)  Recently there was a meme on Facebook where people were listing the number of places they lived. I was surprised to see how often people have moved. I myself have lived in 18 locations in three states.  Please play along
            Perhaps the willingness to move comes from the rootlessness that is derivative from millennium of being forced by violence to go from one place to another.  I think that is what was most shocking for German Jews. For they had been settled in that part of the world longer than they had ever been settled in any part of the world since the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70.  They had been integrated into every part of German society. After a long history always being strangers in a strange land, they had finally felt accepted.  And then the Shoah.  I talked with numerous survivors in my lifetime, and the question that I always asked was why they didn’t fight back. 
            Most of them responded that they believed this was just another in a long line of successions of countries they were to be exiled from.  They just could not envision the inhumanity that awaited them.  Imagine accepting being exiled, imagine the ingrained rootlessness that makes you accept that.  Prior to the destruction of the first temple when the Jews were first exiled from Jerusalem  they believed that God actualy lived in the Temple, they believed that God was part of the land. So what happens when you lose that land and the Temple that God resides in is destroyed. You have to create a new vision for God and God has to reside in your heart.  Not out there or up there, but in here (point to heart).
            And when you are forced from location to location, and you don’t have roots in a land,  you learn to grow your roots internally. Your roots are strengthened by the integrity of your actions, your roots are nurtured by the truth of your speech, your roots grow from living a life full of doing good deeds, your roots spread through the putting forth a full and ethical effort in all your actions.  And by a life of effort, good deeds, truths spoken and actions to bring justice to the world, those roots grow deep and define who you are. And although Unitarian Universalism may have deep roots in the history of the world and this country, and this Congregation has long roots in this community, most of our members do not have deep roots in the religion, there is probably only a handful of us that are more than one generation Unitarian,  Most of us coming here more recently coming from other religions or having no religious background.  But just like the Giant Redwoods in California, some of which grow to be 350 feet tall, the Redwoods roots do not go deep into the ground, maybe only 5 or 6 feet.  But what holds the giant trees up is that the roots extend up to 100 feet wide from the trunk and intertwine with the roots of other Redwood trees and sometimes the roots of different Redwood trees actually fuse together.  On their own, they could never withstand the high winds and raging floods that befall them.
            Only by connecting with others can they stay standing and continue to grow strong and tall.  I would say that is apt metaphor for many things including our Congregation.  Either we connect with each other and fuse ourselves and grow as human beings together or we will fall, individually and collectively. Let us remember what it is we are hoping to do with our lives and with this Congregation.  Let us remember that it is not just about any one of us. It is about all of us. and it is not just about all of us here, but it is also about those who have not even had a chance to connect with us. 
            Let us remember it is also about how with every connection that we make, with every action we take, with every word we say, we can extend our reach exponentially for better or worse.  Let there be a fire of love in our hearts just as hot as the fires of hate that came from the Nazi Crematoriums at Auschwitz.  And out of our flames of love let a phoenix rise that lifts up our values and our spirit.   After the Holocaust there was  a modern midrash (which is Jewish commentary on the Bible) where a rabbi imagines himself at the gates of Auschwitz with God, and he harangues God asking how God could allow this to happen. How could God allow such destruction.  
And God turns to the rabbi and says how could you allow this to happen?  We often wonder, how could people, how could countries stand by and let the Holocaust happen.  But we know how. For we have stood by as it has happened to others since then.  In Cambodia, In Bosnia, In Rwanda, In Sudan, in Burma, In the Congo.  In some cases the world responded, often with  too little, too late. But often such as in the Sudan, the response was initiated due to grass roots activism by students and religious organizations.
            We as individuals coming together to act can make a difference in the world.   I think intervention to prevent genocide is necessary.   But again I don’t think goes far enough. 
Let us take actions prior to the start of violence, At the first sound of hate speech let us reach out as communities united.  But even that is not far enough.  Let us start building relationships with those that are other than us, so that they can know what is in our hearts, and we can know what is in their hearts,  before the start of hate speech, before the demonization of each other.  I know that is hard.  But anything worth doing requires going the extra mile, requires stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zone.   Now I am certainly not a na├»ve person. I know there are people with hardened positions due to years of negative experiences.
            Yes, for the Jewish people, there is still anti-Semitism, even in this country, and in the wider world.   We see it in denial literature, we hear it in whispers at country clubs and at potlucks and we hear it shouted on the internet, and we know there are individuals, individuals with power who would like to see destruction and chaos reign in this world. So we must always be vigilant. We must always stand for what we believe is right even if like Hanah Szenes it costs us our lives.  Events such as the Interfaith Yom HaShoah service and related events raises awareness about genocide, anti-Semitism and injustice.  But we cannot rest on the laurels.  Let us remember how far we have come, but let us remember how far we still have to go. On the journey to personal growth and justice, even those with the best of intentions will as they inevitably do  stumble along the away. Let us remember to pick them up,  and remember where we are and where we are headed.  
            Let our memories not be used just to create fear in our hearts for our own future. For if we lead from a place of fear, we will always look at everyone else and every situation as dangerous. Let us instead lead from a place of hope.  Let us not lead from a place of critique but rather let us lead from a place of curiosity as to what we can learn and what may be possible. Let us not lead from a place of judgment but rather let us lead from a place of appreciation for the gifts we and others have,
Let us not lead from a place of skepticism but rather let us lead from a place of trust.  Let us remember that we are part of something larger than just ourselves, and we can and must impact the world with our values.   
            To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel  “If we are not for ourselves who will be?  But If we are only for ourselves what are we?” So I ask you when you leave from here today, to not just go back to your normal routine patterns and say oh what a nice service this was (or whatever else you may say about it).  I encourage you to get involved, to take action, actions that will lead to a more loving community and world. A world that is safe for all people to live without the fear of annihilation. 
Let us replace fear with love. so that one day just as in the words of the prophet Amos,  justice shall roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.  This is the life we are given.  Let us go far enough and do good with it. May it be so.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Heart of the Minister – May 2014 – Looking Back and Looking Forward.

At the Interfaith Yom HaShoah service that I participated in recently, I said “The philosopher, George Santayana once warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But I don’t think that goes far enough.  Just because one remembers the past does not lead to the conclusion that we will avoid the same outcome.”  We not only need to remember, but we need to change the way we act in the future to avoid the same outcome.
In that light, at this time of year, our leadership group starts to look back upon the past year and evaluate what has worked,  what has not worked,  how we can improve, and what are the ongoing needs of the community.  This past year we have launched two major new teams, The Spiritual Practices and Programs Team and the Lay Pastoral Care Team. Outside the building we now see the beginnings of our Giving Garden led by our Green Sanctuary program, and Children’s Religious Education expects to break ground on a new Playground this spring. Our BGLQTIA social justice program has been very active this year and they have requested that the Congregation vote at our Annual Congregational meeting to reaffirm our “Welcoming Congregation” status. The Green Sanctuary social justice program has also been very active in all areas of Congregational life and will be submitting their final paperwork to have us recognized by the UUA as a Green Sanctuary Congregation.  I also want to point out that after trying a couple of methods over the past three years that did not work as well as hoped, our Welcome Team continued to be innovative and has implemented “Hospitality Teams” that seeks to include the entire Congregation in the process of Hospitality. This has improved the Sunday morning experience tremendously.  I thank the team for their perseverance and reminding us of the need to reinvent ourselves if our methods are not working.  I could go on and on with the additional programming of other Social Justice programs, Connection Circles, Music,  Nominating,  Welcome, Forum, Children’s and Adult Religious Education, (and others who I cannot think of off the top of my head as we reach the newsletter deadline) but space does not allow.
For next year, I am already in discussions with various members about their desire to start an Earth Centered Tradition and Christian “Source” programs. My vision is to create an environment where congregants through teams can find or create programs that allow them to delve deeper into a particular theological source of inspiration.  I want to give a special thanks to the Growth and Strategic Planning task forces which have given us a roadmap for the future and the generosity of the Congregation which has given us the opportunity to implement the Strategic Plan. 
With everything listed (and unlisted) above, there are still areas we need to improve upon.  After increasing for two years, overall attendance at our Sunday Services decreased. Some of this is due to committed members who have moved out of town, or are spending more time in Arizona during the cold winter.  Some of it I believe has to do with the new schedule we implemented this year.  Over the next few months we will be discerning what is the best way to move forward next year with the Worship Schedule.  I have started discussing this with the Sunday Morning Program Teams (Religious Services, Music, Forum, Children’s Religious Education and Welcome) . Throughout the discernment process we will be asking for feedback from you as to the best way for the Congregation to move forward to achieve our mission and vision in regard to worship.  Once I have a had a chance to meet with all the Teams that are responsible for creating Sunday programming,  I will hold a town hall meeting with the Congregation to hear your feedback before making a final decision on how to move forward.  As always, if you wish to discuss this or anything with me personally, please make an appointment to meet with me. I look forward to these conversations.
When I was called by the Congregation to be your minister, you shared with me your hopes and dreams for the Congregation’s future. Every action I take is guided by what I believe is necessary to fulfill the vision and mission of our Congregation.  I understand that not everyone is going to agree with every decision that is made. Even if you do not agree, I ask for your support in our common endeavor.  In governance parlance, there are multiple styles of congregations.  The first style is a family congregation, which is small, and where all decisions are made by a few people and is often lay led. The next style is a pastoral congregation, where the Minister sees and knows everyone personally, and makes all the crucial decisions about all aspects of community life.  The third style is a program congregation, where the program teams are delegated authority to make decisions for their teams.  We have for 50 years or so have been a  pastoral size Congregation.  The past 5 years, the Congregation has taken intentional steps to put in organizational structures so we can become a program style congregation.  The purpose of this is to be able to offer more quality programs and to reach more individuals in the community with our message of religious freedom.  Moving from a pastoral congregation to a program style congregation does create change. And change creates anxiety. Change can require hard work and hard conversations.  Let us engage in those conversations with an open heart and an open mind.  Let us not shirk from change.  Let us remember what has happened every other time we have faced this precipice and stepped back.  This time, let us go far enough to change in order to achieve our Vision and Mission.

with a grateful heart

Rev. Jay

Friday, May 02, 2014

Rhymns of Nature

        I read a story recently about a parent who was looking after their children and was trying to keep them entertained, but they weren’t  having too much success. It was a wet Saturday, and the children were getting bored. They were starting to get on the parents nerves, with their restlessness and their constant chattering. But the parent was inventive, and suddenly they had an idea. They took down a magazine from the shelf and opened it up, looking through it until they found a map of the world printed on one page. They tore this page out of the magazine, and proceeded to cut it up with scissors into small pieces.  Then they  jumbled up all the pieces and placed them in a pile on the floor, like the pieces of a jigsaw. Then they set his two young sons the task of putting the map together again, thinking that this would keep them quiet for a good long time. They left them with it and went off to make them self a cup of coffee. Imagine their amazement, therefore, when five minutes later the children called to the parent and they went to them and found the map neatly and accurately put back together again. ‘How did you manage to put it back together again so quickly? taken aback by their skill. ‘Oh, it was easy,’ the younger boy replied. ‘You told us it was a map of the world, and when we looked at the pieces, at first we didn’t know where to begin to sort it all out. It seemed impossible. But then we realized that there was a picture of a person on the other side, so we just put the person back together again. When we turned it over, the world had come back together again as well!’ ‘Yes,  chimed in the other brother. ‘It’s ever so easy. If you put the person right, the world is OK.” 
The moral of the story is of course sometimes things seem so big that we don’t seem to be able to affect them. But if each of us works on ourselves and can find wholeness within ourselves, we cannot help but influence others and generations to come as a way to start to heal the world.  It starts with individuals taking responsibility by learning and leading by example and sharing with others. I think about when  I was young boy, my aunt was an ardent feminist and active in the National Organization for Women.  Our whole family would gather every week with my Aunt and Uncle and their family and some of my earliest memories were of her correcting my language. Now my parents would always correct my grammatical language.   But my aunt would always correct me if I used incorrect words for gender stereotypes. When I would say something like policeman she would jump up,  come all the way across the room and say (calmly) no Jay, not policeman, police person, (which later evolved into police officer, or if I would say fireman she would correct me and say no Jay, fire person (which has now evolved into firefighter.)  Now I think this story shows two critical points. That even by the age of five or six, I was enculturated by our society to think and talk in a certain way. Merely by watching television and hearing the people around me, certain words at a young age seep into our consciousness.  And although to a 5 year old my aunts repetitious corrections seemed annoying, through those actions, I was able to unlearn both the subliminal and conscious messages that our society was trying to instil.  Now some people call this political correctness, and they use that phrase as a negative.  But I have to tell you, I am ok with political correctness.  I want to be correct.  I want to be made conscious of the fact when I am saying or doing something that is minimizing or hurtful to another person. Fix the person, and you fix the world.
I was reminded of these incidents with my aunt recently when we were preparing for some event at the Congregation and someone said, we cant use plastic silverware because the environmental people wouldn’t like it.   And I imagined someone saying, we cant use the word fireman anymore because women wouldn’t like it.  That’s right. This is how change happens.  Our goal to live in harmony together,  requires us to recognize how we impact others by what we say and what we do. and it requires us to be willing to be open to change for the greater good of all.  And I want to say we are all environmental people, to different degrees for better or worse.
Our Congregation has for a long time now been shifting into environmental consciousness highlighted by our including in our vision “to encourage respect for the earth and its creatures.”   From our geo-thermal heating and cooling system, to the prairie grass, to our giving garden, the expansive education and efforts of our Green Sanctuary Team, even in our thought process for how we are going to create our new playground, we consider the environmental impact of our actions.  And although there are some who like to joke about the number hybrid cars we have in our parking lot, I like to think that is a sign of the values we have as a community. 
I’ll be honest, I enjoy the extra miles per gallon I get in my Prius C, but of course I miss my V-6 engine specifically when I am entering on a highway, and I miss having room to fit my golf clubs in the trunk of my car.  But I made a conscious choice, that I wanted to make a statement that I am willing to sacrifice certain things to shift my consciousness of how to live out my values in the world  and as we shift our consciousness we are the start of and a part of a shifting the consciousness in others. 
Our religion has a long history of being at the forefront in the willingness to change the way things always have been.  That is the core of who we are, what it means to be a liberal religion.
To look at our existence in the world as it is today not 2,000 years ago and to use new information to inform our values and our actions.  If you look at our Grey Hymnal. But at another time if you look at the grey hymnal if you open up to the beginning it lists our Unitarian Universalists Principles and sources.  But when you look, you will see that most of them will only have 5 sources not our sixth source which is “Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”  This source was added by a vote of Congregations at a General Assembly in 1995 which was after most of these hymnals were purchased.  Change happens slowly over time, but we may be at a point in our human history where we may need to accelerate change to save our species.   In the history of this world, humans have shown that if we have the courage and are willing to sacrifice, we can make tremendous changes for the greater good.  Our religious values call us to have hope for the future and to work for a more just present and future. 
And the truth is we don’t know what the future holds.  But we can have a voice and through our work on this issue we can influence others and literally save our planet. So what are the rhythms of nature.   Our Unitarian Transcendentalist Forbearers, particularly Channing, Emerson and Thoreau felt a reverence for nature and  saw nature as a revelation of God.   They would go to nature to find spiritual solace and peace.   Even then in the mid 19th Century, at the dawn of the industrial age and increasing urbanization, they felt much of humanity had become spectators to nature with just a nostalgic longing for it. They felt being in nature has lessons that was imperative for humanity to learn.  I have to agree.  Even in my limited experience of being in nature, I know it taught me courage, integrity  and perseverance, Its not like you can just hail a cab in the middle of the forest.   I did experience pure freedom in the wilderness and as well the limits of freedom.  I learned nature can be a harsh teacher about the limits of humanity.  All good lessons to learn. Anyone who has been through a tornado or earthquake or in my case several hurricanes can tell you, there is little we can do in the face of nature.   And yet when we connect with nature it is something that is awe inspiring to us. 
When I was a young child  my parents would take us on a picnic once a year to the Bronx Botanical Gardens when in the evening the Metropolitan Opera would give a free performance.  Although at a young age I had no idea what or why the performers were singing in Italian,  I remember that feeling just like it was yesterday, just laying down on the blanket staring up into space for hours on end until I fell asleep, it was majestic, peaceful, and awe inspiring.  Now the bugs, well I could do without them. But that is another lesson to be learned from nature.  Sometimes, we have to put up with inconveniences to experience wonder and inspiration. 
 Unitarian Henry David Thoreau in imaging humanity’s connection to nature states:
“I trust that we shall be more imaginative and that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher, and more ethereal, as our sky,
our understanding more comprehensive, and broader, like our plains,
our intellect generally on  a grander scale, like our thunder and lightning, our rivers and mountains and forests
and our hearts shall even correspond in breadth and depth and grandeur to our inland seas.”

If we do not care for our planet, we will have nothing left to be in wonder of,  
If we have nothing to inspire us, we will not be inspired. 
Out thoughts will become blurred, stale and mundane like a windowless room
Our understanding will be restricted like a dead end street
Our intellectual vision will be limited like a flickering street light
And our hearts shall  become trite and shallow like a dried up river bed

I have to tell you the truth, It does not seem to be enough for humanity to say that it is in our own self interest to save nature, in order to save ourselves. We as a species seem to be able to rationalize anything. Or deep down we imagine that somehow we will create something to stave off the dangers we face or worse we imagine that we as a country have more dominance and resources than others and so therefore will be better able survive any fallout.  But that is a fools recipe for self-destruction.  That is believing that our fate is separate from that of others or separate from the fate of the earth. We must wake up,  We must find wholeness. We must learn to love nature if we are to save nature.  We must learn to revere nature and be grateful for the excesses it provides us to sustain our lives. We must learn to accept that we are a part of nature, not separate from it, we are a part of it, in all its beauty and in all its grandeur as well as its harshness and by recognizing that we will understand that our future is tied to its future.  We must learn to be in nature to understand the lessons that nature has to teach us.   In the 2004 movie “In Good Company”  There was  an interesting juxtaposition when at the beginning of the movie the character appears to be running on the beach,
but when the camera pans back you see he is running on a treadmill and the beach is shown to be on a TV screen behind him.  and then at the end of the movie after he has gained some self awareness,  he is seen actually running on the actual beach that was on the TV screen.  My point is that not only can nature bring us awareness, but awareness can bring us to nature. We have to continue to educate and ourselves and others and we must continue to act in ways that sustain our natural environment. We have to put the person right so that we will see the beauty in nature and connect to nature and connect to our fellow human beings so that we can find wholeness and we can realize that we are truly interdependent with all that is. Let us expand our consciousness and by doing so expand others consciousness.  May it be so.