Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You Cant Always Get What You Want

The video we saw was replication of a famous study done at Stanford University called the Marshmallow Experiment, which offered a child one marshmallow and told them they could eat it, but if they waited (which was approximately 15 minutes) and didn’t eat it, they would get two marshmallows.  The researchers followed up with the participants over the years and found that those that could delay their gratification ended up with higher SAT Scores, more successful careers and had more active pre-frontal cortex and those that had low delayed gratification had more struggles with addiction.  So there is some indication that some of this may be genetic.  
          Yet as with every question that surrounds the nature/nurture question there is always something else to consider.  Just a few years ago the University of Rochester did a similar study to see what the impact would be based on whether the child had an expectation as to whether the reward would actually be forthcoming.  They did this by initially breaking promises to the children about the forthcoming reward for waiting, and yes you can guess the answer, the children who had the experience of not receiving the reward, would later go on to eat the first marshmallow and not wait. 
This certainly showed that their environment certainly impacted their decision making.  Now we don’t know if that in and of itself affects the brain, but it certainly affects their behavior.  So I ask all of us to think about the pledges we make to the children and youth of this congregation, our families.  And I ask you to think about what you can do to add for the lives and the religious education of the children in our Congregation.  Then I would also ask you to think about the children in our community.  Those who don’t always have the expectation that there is a meal waiting for them when they come home from school. 
Imagine what impact that has on their future, and thus the future of our community.  It is for this reason that we are supporting the Backpack program at our local Elementary School Garfield Elementary,  which supplies at risk children with food to bring home for themselves and their siblings over the weekend.  As we take our collection, I ask you think about those children and be as generous as you can be as 50% of the non pledge collections will go to the Backpack program. 

Part II
In the Christian Tradition it is the season of Lent.  Traditionally Lent lasts 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter although to be fair, different Christian traditions celebrate between 40 and 46 days. For most, the holiday recognizes the time prior to Jesus Ministry when Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and fasted and was tempted by materialistic and sensual pleasures. First I have to admit I am always fascinated by numerology.  The number 40 appears 178 times in The Bible. From the number of days of rain in the flood story, to the time it took to embalm a dead body, to the time that Moses spent up in the Mountain with God, to the number of the years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, , to the number of days that Jonah gave Ninaveh before God’s wrath would descend upon them,  to the number of years Solomon ruled.
Really why forty?   Some Mathematicians have tried to be very creative with utilizing Fibonacci sequences to explain it.   Some Astrologers believe it has to do with what ancients believed to be the cycle of years (40) it takes Venus and the Earth to cycle the Sun before they return to their same original positions.  From the writers of the Christian Scriptures though, I believe the number 40 is used to mimic Moses so as to show it as a foreshadowing of Jesus wilderness temptation. In todays world we are not just tempted, but we are bombarded with materialistic and sensual messages streaming out of our television all day every day. And so Lent can be a time for us to take time away from that and look inward.   
In our modern culture I mostly I hear “what are you giving up for Lent.”  It is supposed to be something that you desire, so that we will reflect on what really has meaning to us.   Twitter has actually summarized the top 100 items that people have posted they are giving up for Lent. The top ten are. 

10  Coffee (this only applies to non fair trade coffee)

9                9     Fast foods

8                  8    Sweets

7                 7       Soda

6                  6         Swearing

5                  5          Social networking (that would be impossible for me)

4                  4              Alcohol

3                   3          Twitter (people on twitter saying they are going to give us twitter, as opposed to just                              giving it up)

              2       Chocolate (again you only have to give up non fair 
                     trade chocolate)

1    (probably a sign they are spending too much time on twitter) School. That was pretty shocking to me.

The time of lent asks us to focus particularly on fasting.  So I find it interesting that almost all the worlds major religions have some form of fasting and dietary restrictions as part of their religion.  In Islam during the holiday Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown every day.  During the Jewish High Holy Days a day of fasting is required. If you were at our Adult RE class you would have heard about how Hindus do not eat Beef. Jainism and Buddhism promote Vegetarian diets to preserve animal life. Both Islam and Judaism forbid eating pork. 
Although I will tell you it is important to recognize and even for myself, these are the orthodox rules of the religion, and many people do not practice the food restrictions within those religions. Having grown up Jewish, I was always fascinated by the food rules.  My grandparents kept a Kosher Jewish Household, and thus had separate plates for meat and dairy.  But even they bent the rules.  If they went out to eat they would eat non kosher foods. So as a youngster it was all very confusing to me. Of course in my household, we didn’t keep kosher, and we considered ourselves Jewish. 
So it is important to note that although there may be different rules in every religion, how they are implemented may be different. When I started seminary I really studied the Jewish Dietary Laws and there are really two strands of academic thought about it. One is that it was a situational necessity in that people were getting sick from eating certain foods.  Or secondly that it was a way to differentiate themselves from others as a way to create a cohesive community.  Growing up though, I really didn’t understand what purpose it could serve in today’s world.  All Religions are able to maintain a cohesive community without food laws. 
I received my first inkling of how and why it can be important after going to a meditation retreat that included mindful eating. This became a revelatory experience for me.  We sat in silence and chewed each bite of our food until it was mush.  Normally we tend to shovel our food down our throats and barely get a chance to taste it.  What this taught me was to be intentional about what I was eating and to appreciate the food I was eating.  It was a reminder to me that my body is sacred.  And I should be careful as to what I put into it. 
This practice of mindful eating started me thinking that this was the point of food restrictions.  To give us a discipline so that we will focus on what we put into our bodies.  Dr. Adele Diamond professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the University of British Columbia writes about
“the need for inhibitory control to stay on task when you're bored or when you meet initial failure. You need inhibitory control to focus in on something in the environment so that you're not overwhelmed by all the other things around…and being able to exercise discipline, and keep at it, and practice, is much more important than IQ in determining our cognitive development throughout our lives.” 
And I think historically religious Communities have found that just the act of being disciplined in certain areas of our lives help our development in other areas of our lives.  Discipline about food is just one example of how we can do that.  
So I am left pondering what might an orthodox Unitarian Universalist Food restrictions look like. Just that phrase Orthodox Unitarian Universalist sounds strange on the tongue. I think what I mean is, if we lived out our values to the nth extent, what would it look like.  As an Association, we put forth an Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience a few years ago that I believe speaks to this issue. The statement starts
“Aware of our interdependence, we acknowledge that eating ethically requires us to be mindful of the miracle of life we share with all beings. With gratitude for the food we have received, we strive to choose foods that minimize harm and are protective of the environment, consumers, farmers, and all those involved in food production and distribution.”  
It asks us specifically to consume a more plant based diet, one that is organic and locally grown, to purchase fair trade certified products when possible, call for labelling of Genetically modified foods, to advocate for fair wages for workers and humane treatment of animals. It goes on to list about 20 other things we can do individually and as a Congregation, many of which our Green Sanctuary Social Justice project is working on.  Of course each person has unique health needs and should consider that.   I encourage you to read the statement at It ends with the statement “With gratitude and reverence for all life, we savor food, mindful of all that has contributed to it. We commit ourselves to a more equitable sharing of the earth's bounty.”  So I ask you to think about what are you willing to commit yourself to in regard to food justice. Perhaps giving up a favorite ford for forty days will help us focus on food justice
I think some of our challenge with Lent is that we like to be more positive about what we do versus giving something up.  Although it is merely a semantical issue, I think our society does not like the concept of giving up things.  I remember reading a diet book  and it insisted that we shouldn’t go on a diet because we don’t want to “lose” weight. So for me,  instead of giving up certain foods, I will accept new eating habits to live a healthier life style. I have even shared with the Board my current weight and I will be tracking it monthly with them so that I can be held accountable to what I say I will do.  
I think much the same thing can impact our attitude toward Lent.  People do not want to give up something.  And it of course doesn’t have to be about food, that is just the most common one that people focus on.  We need to focus on what will allow us to live fully in the world. As Thoueau said in Walden “ I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”  And so I to I invite you to take time this season of the year specifically to contemplate how you would like to live  your life differently so as to live it to your highest standards.  How would that change your life. What would have to be added and what would you have to shed to make that happen. And by doing so for forty days, perhaps it is a way to change a behavior to one that is more in line with your values.  May it be so.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Love Reaches Out

I first heard this song last June at General Assembly and it has always stayed with me. Love reaches out “In the rain blinded, I’ll show you the way back home.”  We are often blinded by events of life, and sometimes we need help being guided on the way back home, reminded of the wholeness that is within each of us.  The wholeness of all humanity. Its hard to see sometimes because there is so much that is broken with the world. And often that is what we are confronted with day in and day out in. This reminds me of the statement by Thomas Merton “No matter how broken our world my be, there is a hidden wholeness just beneath the surface of all visible things.”
Its one reason why we come together in religious community, to be reminded of this wholeness, this love that is within every single one of us.  The song goes on “I’m a soldier for this love, its guaranteed to be my mission”  Now I have to admit I am torn by this language, the language of a soldier makes me take pause. I don’t want to equate love with war. But then I think that is just a word. I can translate that in my head. And then I think, well yes, we are fighting a war, a war against hate. Our means are different, but we should not doubt that there are people who hate. And we know it is hate because their actions and their outcomes are harmful. And often they hit the trifecta when their intentions are harmful as well. 
           A soldier for love has the intention of non violence,  and uses the means of non violence. Mahatma Gandhi the leader of Indian independence movement against British-ruled India. called this Satyagraha. The original sankskrit translates it as truth force, but Gandhi himself called it Love-force.  So I invite you all to use your love force in all your interactions in your lives. Let love be how we implement our mission in this Congregation. A love force is not passive though, it is active. It requires us to act. The song continues “Love can change you let it grow, the seeds you reap the love you sow”
Our Unitarian Universalist Principles encourages us to seek spiritual growth and have the goal of peace liberty and justice for all.   We live this out through the many programs of this Congregation.  I of course combined two of our seven principles here but that is because I think they are connected. Sometimes finding love within leads us to seek justice for others.  But sometimes it is in the seeking justice others that we find the love within us.  Finally “Love opens doors without a key, evolves through patience and honesty”  Love is a long game, not just a one night stand. Love requires going through changes and accepting each other through those changes. 
That’s easier to think about on an interpersonal level.  But try to imagine that on a Congregational Level or a world level. Can we love the world. Can we love people who think and believe diametrically opposite of what we believe. We must if we are to maintain the wholeness.  It does not mean capitulating.  But it means engaging with patience and honesty, and with a loving heart.  Love Reaches Out .  Three words. A simple message, but if we don’t reach out, if we don’t help others, if we only look to our own personal needs, if we see ourselves as separate from others, we will remain broken as a world.
Shakespeare wrote “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”  Love by its very nature requires us to reach out. It requires us to get into the weeds and work to build a just society. And that is why we as a a Congregation have as part of our vision, to be recognized as a thriving Church that  Supports social justice and social action initiatives in our congregation and the greater community. I encourage you to look at and engage with the social justice programs in our Congregation.  One of those programs helps at riks youth in our community through tutoring and mentoring at Garfield Elementary just one mile from here. 
Many of the children in this school live under the poverty level and receive free lunches.  For some it is the only food they eat that day.  And so one has to wonder what food they have on the weekend.  Becoming aware of this, the school is promoting the Backpack program to provide children and their siblings with nutritious food to eat over the weekend.  One of the ways we can support this program is through sharing our collection with the BackPack Program.  50% of non pledge donations you share with us today will go to support the BackPack Program at Garfield Elementary.  Let us be as generous as we can.  Let us show our love. 

Love Reaches Out Part II

Anais Nin wrote
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom. 
And Unitarian Universalism’s flower of loving justice is blossoming
Each year on the Sunday closest to Valentines Day I do a service about the Unitarian Universalist sponsored campaign “Standing on the Side of Love”.  Although I talk about these issues at other times of the year as well, I think it is important to ritualize the celebration of this program.  By doing so, it becomes a touchstone for us as a Congregation.  As much as Christmas Eve is a touchstone regarding our Christian Sources, Valentines Day should be a touchstone for us regarding our commitment to justice surrounding issues of sexual orientation and gender equality.   
From its website, “Standing on  the side of love is an interfaith public advocacy campaign that seeks to harness love’s power to stop oppression.” This program was started to support Marriage Equality.  It first expanded its scope after the 2008 shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, which was targeted because they were/are welcoming to BGLQT people and had/has a liberal stance on many issues.  Standing on the side of love is also currently focused on immigrant rights and promoting respectful rhetoric.  Our country has taken tremendous strides in BGLQTIA Rights since this project started.   
We have seen how active non violent protest has changed the conversation of marriage equality in this country. But we cannot rest.  Since Iowa was an early adherent to marriage equality I think we sometimes take it for granted.  Having lived in Florida for many years which was intractable in its lack of implementation of marriage equality, I have to admit, I was pleased, no shocked to see on Barack Obama’s website, a picture of my home congregation in Florida now legally performing wedding ceremonies.  And despite some judges in Alabama trying to defy Federal law, most Alabama judges are issuing marriage licenses to same gender couples.  Yet still we have to remember that high ranking state Judges, court officials have refused to follow the law.  So we know there is still resistance to equality in the land. So we cannot rest. 
And we know that there are still people in this country who still have to hide who they are for fear of retribution. So we cannot rest. I think of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl  from Ohio, who not too long ago stepped in front of a truck on the interstate and took her life. In an article about her it stated “She was exhausted. She was tired of having to defend her identity as a transgender teenager. She lacked the support system needed to flourish”  Her parents and her Church were unsupportive of her change in gender. The inherent worth and dignity of each person means the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and that is why we cannot rest.  We need to make sure that there is education about gender identity and we are supportive of the transgender community.  We who are cis-gendered people must be supportive of those who are transgendered.
For those who that word is new.  Cis-Gendered is when we identify with the gender that we were physiologically born with. Our BGLQT team has led educational programs on this, and I want to thank our long time member Joyce Wiley and the organization she leads QCAD for being such strong advocates on this issue. We as an Association were way ahead of the religious curve on the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Now more and more religious denominations are becoming welcoming.  And this is a good thing. Our goal is to have equality throughout society. 
We will be ahead of the curve on others issues in the future, because that is who we are as a religion.  We look at the world from a progressive perspective.  We educate ourselves about new ways of being in relationship with each other, ways that improve the human condition not keep the status quo.  The world is ready to break out of its bud.  I think that is why there is so much tension in the world. Because we are so close. We hold back unsure of the power of love, wondering if it can truly prevail.  But we know it can. We have seen it happen before. When good people come together in the spirit of love the world can be changed. 
But like the flower that blossoms, it must reach out beyond its own comfort zone. We must stand up for all who are oppressed, not just our own oppression. Those that hate have used the tactic of competing oppressions to divide and subjugate.  We must reach out and lift up all people who are oppressed, and we must act with a love force, and with all our force to live fully into who we are and only then will we find wholeness.
Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast said “The antidote to exhaustion is not rest.  The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.  You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do has nothing to do with your true powers, You need something to which you can give your full powers.” That is how I understand that Love can be an ultimate guiding force of the world.  When we can live fully as who we are and give ourselves fully to what our purpose is in life.  I ask you to risk opening up.  I ask you to risk blossoming, to let the light shine on your face, and in your soul and enlighten you to the possibilities in life.  Enlighten you to your true self.  This can only happen when we reach out in love and we are open to allowing others to reach out to us. May it be so. 

Saturday, February 07, 2015


As I sit on the bluff
Overlooking the oceans waves
Crashing into the beach
I find myself called 
I hear the oceans roar
Calling me to jump in
And ride the wave
Even if I end up
Tumbling at the end
And taking in salt water
It calls to me and I answer
At least for today
Even at its heavy cost
That will require
Recuperation and rest
Until I venture out again
But is enough
For today
For it makes me feel alive
And as I meander
Around the bluffs
Regaining my strength
Amidst the grandeur
I see a beautiful flower
Surrounded by metal wires
As if in a cage
And I wonder
If it feels trapped
By its circumstances
And environment
But then I realize
The cage is protecting
The flower and I wonder
Would the flower
Rather be free
And live a shorter life
Or would it rather
Be protected
From the ravages of
The harsh world
And it's creatures
To just sit and
enjoy the grandeur
Day in and day out
I would like to sit
And ponder some more
But I am called
To other places
And by other circumstances
And environments
And I wonder
If those have protected me
Day in and day out
So that I might one day
Share beauty with
Someone passing by
And pondering
Life's mysteries

Rev. Jay - 02/04/15 Asilomar