Archive for category Reflection
This reflection was part of a multigenerational holiday service at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, NY on 12/20/15. It talks about finding hope in times of hardship.
For three years now, I’ve celebrated the Winter Solstice at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. This past Friday night, we went to see the Paul Winter Consort. Think classical music with a gospel singer, but with a global twist. Each year, guest musicians join them from around the globe. This year we heard from two Brazilian singers – in the style of basso nova and world-beat, along with an African-style dance troop with a whole lot of drumming.
The concert lives out the longest night of the year. The cathedral darkens as the moon rises and sets. Stars lighten the gothic ceiling. The classical instruments make you think whales are singing, and wolves are howling in the night. They even recreate a thunder storm with a combination of classical instruments and lighting. And the festive performance ends with the audience being invited into singing our own “Howl-alleiuh” chorus – with folks making wolf sounds of our own. But in the middle of the show, there’s an immense golden gong that gets lifted up the height of the cathedral – resounding and resounding – showing the lightening of days and the shrinking back of the night – as the sun rises once again from the darkest hour. It gives me hope and chills. And celebrating the Winter Solstice in such a multi-cultural way, honoring the music and art of people all across the world, feels especially healing, in these days of confusion and hatred for folks who are different. Joy in the face of fear is healing. Joy in the face of hatred, is saving.
This reminds me of a traditional folk tale: (tell story of “The Golden Ball.”)
Sometimes, when life gets routine, or boring, or maybe even rough, we see the amazing things in other people’s lives and wish we could have that. We can pine for brighter times and forget what gifts are right in our lives. The folk tale I just shared about the Golden Ball, reminds us that even as we look on into other people’s lives and see the shine and joy, other people may also be looking back into our lives and see something that shines all the same.
I look at our own community in these days of hardship in this season of joy. Our youth shared stories of hardship they have witnessed for people who are seen as different from others. Our own faith community teaches that every person matters, and that diversity is a spiritual value. I have felt worn down by many of the stories we hear in the world; but I am deeply heartened to know that we are part of a community that teaches these values of love, of justice, of compassion. I am deeply heartened by being part of a religious community that empowers our youth to speak love in the face of fear. We have a big shining golden ball hanging from our Fellowship windows, and there are people who look to us in wonder and gratitude. When you are feeling low or down and out before all the hardship of the world, take heart in that truth.
Intro to Water Communion:
following Water Bearer story (http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/windows/session5/sessionplan/stories/143528.shtml)
(“We all have our own unique flaws. We are all cracked pots. In God’s great web of life, nothing goes to waste. Don’t be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty. Know that in our weakness we find our strength.)
At different times in our lives we are each the well crafted vase, or the leaky bucket, and sometimes we may even bear the water for the fields in our lives. Today’s service honors this human truth. At times we feel broken, at times we feel whole, and at times we do the heavy lifting so that others may be cared for; knowing that every garden that is nurtured is one that will fill with beauty and substance for the days ahead. We are not alone, and we are not an island.
In a few moments, all will be invited to bring water to any of our stations. In this act of pouring water, we symbolize the places in our lives that nourish our spirits, that we find holy, or those places that have transformed us in meaningful ways. As you come forward we’ll pour water in each station simultaneously. I invite you to speak aloud the water’s source as you pour. Many voices will speak at once. As others wait to come forward, our choir will lead us in a chant. This is not a time where we each become the focus of our actions, but rather a time where the community acts as one, in movement and in song.
Following the service we will take some of the water out to our Memorial Garden and bless the ground with the places that have nourished our spirits. We’ll save some of the water, boil and purify it, and use it throughout the year for the child dedications that happen. In that way, we are blessing our newest members to the congregation with the places that have fed us over the years! [If the water you have in mind is obviously not clean, I invite you to use water that is symbolic of that place so that we don’t make our intrepid volunteers’ jobs of cleansing the water all the more hard.)
As we begin our ritual of water communion, our choir will lead us in chant. Once Richard and the choir teach and lead the song, we’ll invite folks to come forward to our stations, pour the water symbolic of the places that have nourished them over the year, and quietly speak their names as one pours.
We gather this hour to celebrate the most extraordinary story birthed in the most ordinary of moments.
Where we find the promise of life within the face of a baby.
Where our heroes, a mother, a son, and an adoptive father are travelers, homeless, and resting for but a night.
We can imagine all too well a time, where the powerful fear a message of compassion, of peace, of simplicity –
when it is wrapped in dirty swaddling clothes, sleeping in a food trough among the animals and the mess of poverty.
A child born of a yet unwed mother, a father whose ties are solely love, and a lifestyle that can only be called migrant.
From the midst of vulnerability we learn a new way.
A love that moves our hearts,
a vision of peace in an age of violence,
and hope where one would never expect to find it –
begins in the quiet solitude of family,
with the meek of the earth,
with the people that must find another path,
knowing the principalities and the powers
can never satisfy the least among us.
May the Christmas story birth in all of us a sense of possibility,
a renewal of faith in the breadth of the human spirit,
despite all the failings of our world.
That with every child that’s born,
this wonder is made known:
We are given a gift that is our own.
Telling our stories is a powerful form of ministry with one another. It is in this spirit that Coco, Cooper, Michele and I share our stories this morning. This week has been both emotionally exhausting and incredibly fortunate for my home. Being in zone B, we were not asked to evacuate ahead of time, so we hunkered down, stored up supplies, froze extra water in zip lock bags just in case, and prepared for a night of computer games and a good book.
We live two blocks from the Con Edison station that had a transformer blow. I personally missed the great flash of white light that lit the sky – I was busy staring at my computer shutting down.
The East River, typically 2.5 avenues away (or the one half mile from our front door) in Stuyvesant Town where we live, became our neighbor for a night and part of a morning. Although it receded by the next day, the streets were wet through Thursday. The power was out, hot water was gone, and running water came and went for up to twelve hours at a time. Some of our neighbors were out of gas, but we were fortunate. Our building did not suffer that level of damage.
Over the next few days, we would climb down the ten flights of stairs with our flashlights to grab some bread from bodegas that were getting rid of the last of their supplies – grateful that no one was price gouging their goods.
Many eight story stall trees were dead on the grown. Twelve foot lengths of pier, giant rivets and all, were as far in as Ave C – leaving wreckage to the cars they rested upon, amidst other cars literally tossed about by the East River.
Traffic in Manhattan, usually a bitter affair, was pedestrian friendly, almost devoid of any honking horns, and civil in a way I could never imagine.
In our community, neighbors and resident staff were taking turns visiting each of the 30,000+ homes without power to make sure folks were alright. Letters were circulated asking us to check on our neighbors who were elders – who had no hope of climbing down, let along up, ten flights of stairs.
One café brought out a generator to the street, and set up a power strip so that strangers could recharge their cell phones and laptops. This may seem small, but when you have no ability to tell anyone that you’re fine – this was a great act of charity and relief. When we finally had cell coverage again on Wednesday, I was heartened to hear of the stories of outreach and support organized by our members and Rev. Ana. I felt cared for by their leadership.
We finally did evacuate on Thursday to the magical land of “Park Slope” which was high, dry and heavily caffeinated. We felt very blessed. We are returning home later today.
Check out my blog on the Huffington Post!
Recently I attended an excellent youth ministry intensive at the Liberal Religious Educators’ Fall Conference in Portland, Oregon. In it we reflected on the old model of youth leadership development often getting confused with youth abandonment. We (adults) sought to foster our youth’s development by waiting for them to come to us when they had troubles; or to allow them to plan events and programs without adult inclusion or guidance. This sometimes resulted in incredibly powerful youth groups. This often resulted in youth leaving our denomination as adults. And sometimes, there was great pain or harm present without the guidance of adult mentoring.
I’m reminded of the old adage, “the youth shall lead the way.” It was certainly true with our merger of Unitarians and Universalists 50 years ago. What if this cultural system around youth abandonment is true for our adult leadership circles as well? What if our system of congregational polity reflects all to well the failures of the old youth development model? I think the similarities are striking.
Do our District Executives, Program Consultants, and the UUA Headquarters (or Ministers, Educators for the old youth model) lack authority to intervene in our congregations when there are real crises without first being invited in? Check.
Do most of our congregations invite in district, regional and continental leadership on an infrequent basis to help steer the future? Check.
When congregational leadership begins to “age out” (in youth terms) or die/move away/become home bound (in adult terms) do they fail to change their systems of governance/conversation/process to adjust to the new generation (Freshman Class)? Check.
Personally, I’m all for congregational polity. I wouldn’t want to throw it out. But we have to find a middle ground to integrate the expertise of our regional and continental leadership into at least the quarterly-to-quarterly leadership of our fellowships, churches and congregations. Otherwise, we’re closing our youth group doors to experience and wisdom we desperately need as our denomination shrinks.
Ten years ago today, most of us woke up to a Sunny clear sky. I remember not a cloud in sight. It was a shade of blue that many of us can recall vividly still. It was a Tuesday morning, and kids were just starting school for the year. Not all of us were born yet though, and some of us might be too young to remember. I was working at a University in Northern Jersey then, and remember meeting new college freshmen who were away from home for the very first time.
At 8:46am, when kids were in school, and some folks were at work, a group of terrorists – who also identified as Muslims – crashed the first of two planes into the Twin towers of the World Trade Center. About every 20 to 30 minutes we would learn of another such tragedy. The second tower and then the pentagon and finally Flight 93 which crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The news was all confused for some time, with conflicting stories. I remember not believing it when I first heard about it from a co-worker a few minutes before 9.
Some stories would remain confused to this day. People would say that all Muslims (or followers of Islam) hate America. The truth is that although some people are filled with hate, the core of the Islamic faith that I have come to know in the United States calls for peace. Some would say this was the beginning of a religious war; but the truth is that victims on that day came from all religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Paganism to name a few…. Sometimes people hide behind their lies about religion to further their political goals.
We mourn for the loss of those almost 3000 lives, and we gain strength from the stories of hope and renewal. I am inspired by the tales of all those firefighters, police and EMT’s who ran toward the towers to help when everyone else was trying to get as far away as possible. Or the passengers of Flight 93 who wrestled with their hijackers, not knowing what might come, so that even more harm did not happen to innocent lives on the ground. Or the story of our own congregation. Led by our minister at the time, Fred; we crafted an interfaith service on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade overlooking the World Trade Center. That Tuesday evening, members of the churches and synagogues and mosques all around here gathered for a candlelight vigil together. At a time when fear was the easy answer, First UU reached out with love and compassion. It is these stories of hope that we honor those who are lost to us. Not by the clutching or grabbing of anger and fear, but by the reaching out of loving hands do we rebuild and strengthen community.