Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


The Religious Humanist’s 23rd Psalm

by the Rev. Charles Donald Saleska
(April 10, 1935 – February 7, 1991).  This translation of the 23rd Psalm of the Hebrew Scriptures (famously known from the King James Version) was written when Rev. Saleska was suffering from cancer, which took him two decades ago–he died at an early age, after he retired early from his ministry in Iowa.  His widow, the Rev. Charlotte Justice Saleska, became a minister and I met her when I was at Meadville Lombard Theological School.  She passed away not long ago with dementia.  Their son, the Rev. Kent Hemmen Saleska, is a friend of mine and serves the Minnetonka UU congregation outside Minneapolis.  He passed this along to colleagues recently.

The Religious Humanist’s 23rd Psalm
Life itself is my guide
I shall not be denied its sustaining power.
The green earth provides me with lavish nourishment;
Cool still pools of water refresh my spirit.
A deep intuition leads me along a path that is true
for the sake of existence itself.

Even though I walk through a valley where dark shadows
prevent me from knowing where life
finally leads in death,
ultimately I will not fear,
For the energy of the universe is within me.

The tools by which I am kept from wandering
off into despair,
They are a comfort to me.

Even in the face of threats to my well-being
and my very life,
The spirit of life nourishes me,
honors me with its presence,
and reminds me that I really
have more than I need.

Surely goodness and kindness
radiate upon me constantly,
and I shall dwell within this universe
with its transforming processes, forever.

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sermon: Putting Your Whole Weight Down

 

February 13, 2011

UU Society of Sacramento

Rev. David Takahashi Morris, guest preacher

He is Co-Minister, Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, Walnut Creek

One of the members of the church my spouse Leslie and I served before we came to California two and a half years ago was a retired clergy colleague familiar to many here in the West.  The Rev. Gordon McKeeman has a long and distinguished history as a Universalist and then Unitarian Universalist minister, including a few years as the President of Starr King School for the Ministry.

Gordon told us a story once about his mother.  She was born just before the end of the 19th century, and she regarded many of the new inventions of the early 20th century with considerable skepticism.  In particular, he said, she was not interested in flying.  It made no sense to her that airplanes stayed up in the air, and she had no intention of trusting her life to one of those implausible contraptions.

She was well into her 80’s before the desire to visit grandchildren finally overcame her resistance, and she found herself getting into an airplane for the first time in her life.  “I am quite sure,” Gordon said, “that she never put her whole weight down.”

I saw a wonderful image when I heard this story, of a dignified and adamant New England matriarch, dressed in her Sunday best and hovering about a half an inch over the airplane seat.  I can’t imagine that she got much joy from her first experience of flying free of the earth.

I know that feeling.  Do you?  It’s the feeling when you’ve decided to take a chance, but

 

 

 

 

 

some part of your being still isn’t convinced that this isn’t a crazy thing to do.  Maybe if you’re a skateboarder or a  snowboarder you feel it the first time you decide to flip.  Maybe you’ve felt it on a hike in the mountains, when the only path to the place you’re trying to reach feels awfully close to the edge of that gorge.  Maybe you feel it when you’re about to negotiate an intersection with a walker or a wheelchair, where there’s no curb cuts and a lot of traffic.

A few weeks ago when Leslie, our 11-year-old son Liam and I were on a short trip to Chicago, Liam and I made a trip on a snowy evening out to Harold Washington Park, a huge park on the South Side with a small lake surrounded on two sides by woods.  The park was deserted, and the lake was frozen solid, or at least it looked solid, so of course Liam wanted to walk on it.  So we went to the edge, and set a foot out tentatively, then walked along the shore where the water wouldn’t have washed over our shoes if the ice had broken.  After a while, though, it was clear we needed to get right out there on the ice.  You’ve never seen two people trying so hard to be weightless as we worked our way out there, before we finally realized the ice was more than six inches thick.  We walked on out to the middle of the lake and looked across at huge old trees surrounding us, with the lights and towers of the city in the background glittering as the snow fell thick and fast. . . .

Put your whole weight down.  Sometimes it takes an act of trust if you want to experience all the richness a situation has to offer.

Maybe you’ve had that kind of experience in another setting.  It’s especially common at the beginning of friendships and romantic relationships, when you know that for things to progress you have to trust this person with your most tender, fragile feelings. . . and you want to be sure but you can’t ever be sure. . . until you trust enough to try.  It comes in other places, too:  When we wonder whether to dedicate our life’s energy to an issue of social justice even though the outcome is uncertain, for example, or when we’re on the verge of committing ourselves to our work, not just as a job but as a calling central to our lives.

Over and over again—if we want to experience everything life has to offer, we have to decide to put our whole weight down.  The higher the stakes, the greater the risk and the commitment that is asked of us.

We have to decide whether it’s worth it.

Last Wednesday I had to opportunity to witness a Naturalization Ceremony for 1000 new American citizens in Oakland.  Our church’s Maintenance Coordinator, who emigrated from El Salvador, had invited us to come.  I’ve never seen this ceremony before, and it was a powerful experience.  It’s simple enough; a very personable official from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency offered greetings and congratulations in 5 or 6 languages, the national anthem is sung and one of the new citizens leads the Pledge of Allegiance, and the applicants swear an oath renouncing their former citizenship and promising to uphold the Constitution and institutions of their new country.  Before the oath, the names of the countries represented by the applicants was read—99 different nations.  Listening to the list and watching people stand as the name of their former country was called, I was suddenly struck by everything these new Americans were willing to leave behind.  This was no casual choice for them; it was not simply a matter of looking for some personal gain.  These thousand people—and thousands more like them every month—had made a deliberate choice to become part of something new, and it was clear that they took their new commitment very seriously.

They were putting their whole weight down—to become part of a new nation.  It’s worth it for them.

This week, as Doug so beautifully reminded us, we saw the culmination of a month-long drama in Egypt , as people who have lived 30 years and more under a repressive regime suddenly became willing in huge numbers to risk their safety, their security, their very lives to stand in the streets and call for change.  They wanted freedom—not only personal liberty for themselves, but the freedom of a nation, of a people.

They were putting their whole weight down—to bring change for themselves, for all Egyptians, and for all the generations to come.  It’s worth it for them.

In recent times, an increasing number of undocumented immigrants to this country have been willing to speak up and identify themselves, claiming their undocumented status.  I saw this happen especially a number of times during the campaign to pass the Dream Act.   These would-be Americans have been willing to accept great peril to themselves, not just so they can continue their own education or their employment at some arduous, poorly-paid job, but to call this nation to create a more just and equitable immigration policy, so that others like them will not be victimized by a machinery of deportation that has become increasingly inhumane in recent times.

They are putting their whole weight down—to call to the conscience of the country that is home for them.  It’s worth it for them.

The most important risks, the ones with the greatest power, are the ones we’re willing to take for something larger than our own satisfaction or our personal needs.

So what about us, here in this religious community?  What does all this have to do with us?

It’s no secret that I’m here this morning sharing the start of your spring financial campaign, and I know you’re hearing this sermon in that context.  It’s common at canvass time for us to talk in terms of what you’ve received from the church community, and I don’t want to downplay the importance of that.  I’ve looked at your website, I’ve talked with Doug and Roger; I know there a lot of good and important things happening here.

Maybe you’ve had a powerful, inspiring moment here in the sanctuary, or in one of the Ministry Circles or the Servetus Club.   Maybe you have discovered here that you are a leader.  Maybe you’ve been able here to put your hand to the healing of our world.  Maybe you can look around this room and see someone who came to your doorstep with a casserole when you had been sick, or someone who helped you through a crisis, or someone you’ve shared an important conversation with when one of you was facing a difficult decision.

When you think about things like that as you decide to make your pledge, it isn’t so much a matter of wanting to pay back for what you’ve received.  A religious community doesn’t have that kind of economy.  We’re not paying for our experiences here; we are creating the possibility that experiences like ours will continue to be available not just for us, but for others—people we know well and people we haven’t even met yet, people who may not come here for years.  We’re doing it for the good of the whole.

James Luther Adams, one of our movement’s great modern prophets, says that a church is free when it enters into covenant with the ultimate source of existence, that sustaining and transforming power not made with human hands.  He reminds us that above all a religious community is a source of connection:  It links individuals to each other; it joins us in hope, in courage, and in faith with the struggles and suffering of the world’s people who seek justice and freedom; it unites us all in the knowledge that we live in a seamless and interwoven fabric with all of humankind, with the physical universe, and with the ultimate sources of life, of love, of worth.

When we come together to build such a community, we are seeking more than the opportunity to bring some interesting ideas and experiences into our own life.  We are coming together because all our lives are better when there is a community where such powerful experiences can happen.  We are building religious community because the world is better when communities like this one are here to work for justice, to heal wounded spirits, to transform lives with inspiration, compassion, and hope.

That’s what we can accomplish for the good of the whole . . . if together we put our whole weight down.

Put your whole weight down. . . put your hearts in this holy place.  Let the flight of this community take you deeper into your own life, further out into the world, higher toward the ultimate reality that grounds our existence.

We are travelling together, all of us; may ours be a journey of compassion, of justice, of hope, of joy, and of beauty.  So may it be.

 



18-year-old UUSS Member’s Pledge Drive Testimonial

[MY NOTE:  Alice and her brother and parents have been active members of this congregation for 12 years.  Somewhere if you scroll down in the Church Finances & Stewardship section of this blog, you can read what her parents said last year in their stewardship testimonial.]

The theme for this years pledge drive is “For the Good of the Whole,” and it begins next week. It will only last for a month, because the board needs to give us a budget to consider in April before we vote on it in May. We are also still signing up volunteers to be stewards for this pledge drive, if you’re interested. I do hope you’ll all agree to meet with a steward because we’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about UUSS.

As of last year I officially reached the age of adulthood and I have chosen to remain a member of this congregation that has been my home for 12 years! I love all the experiences I’ve gained from coming here, all the people I’ve met and become friends with, the discussions I’ve been a part of in SHYG [Senior High Youth Group] and all the times I’ve gotten up to speak in front of all you, lovely, welcoming people.

What I like best about UUSS is the sense of community, that sense that I belong somewhere, that I’m accepted just the way I am. I don’t get that feeling from a lot of places and I don’t want that connection to go away, for me or anybody else.

 

Supporting this community is truly For the Good of the Whole, this connection we have is a beautiful thing and a lot of people are searching for that place, where your accepted for who you are, where your opinions matter and where there is lots of coffee. So please help keep this congregation here “For the Good of the Whole”. Please know that whatever you decide to pledge is appreciated and that we thank you!

 



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No Small Reasons! (An explanation of pledging financial support.)

“Over the years in ministry, I’ve learned that no one comes to church for a petty reason.”

So writes Dr. Rebecca Parker, a UU minister and president of Starr King School for the Ministry.

I’ve learned this too.  People don’t call to make an appointment with a minister for trivial reasons. No person or family shows up here on Sunday mornings just to kill time.  Most of our visitors don’t seek us out unless something has set them on a search for belonging, for celebration, and for meaning.

Nobody joins this congregation—and nobody supports it, either—for trivial reasons.  I think of the volunteers:  trustees, committee members, Religious Education teachers, worship leaders, musicians, ushers, Ministry Circle leaders, Lay Ministry listeners, cooks, landscape caretakers, fix-up volunteers and others.

I think of the devoted members and friends who stretch themselves to support the congregation with generous financial pledges every year.  We are in the middle of our month-long pledge drive.  This year’s theme is “For the Good of the Whole.”

Many people think of their pledge in terms of a percentage of their income.  At UUSS the designation of Fair Share pledging is a pledge of 2% or more of adjusted grow income.  If you do this, please note it on your pledge card.

I encourage all Unitarian Universalists to aim toward giving, in the aggregate, at least 10% of their annual income to organizations that serve the greater good.   One of these organizations, of course, would be their church.  This is a suggestion for personal goal-setting.  It’s not a demand, but an invitation

I pledge 5% of my salary to UUSS and usually give another 5% to 7% to other institutions, causes, and charities.

Pledges to UUSS range from $10 a month to about $20,000 a year.  This is an economically diverse congregation.  This diversity is what it means to be part of a community.  Contributions of all sizes are valued and appreciated.

Some can afford to give more than others, and some less.  Indeed, some pledge and give more because we know others cannot.

Please know that if your financial situation should change (for better or for worse), it is quite appropriate to revise your pledge (either down or up!) by notifying the Office or one of the ministers.

If you would like to discuss your pledge or any aspect of church life, please give Doug or me a call.  We strive to earn your trust and to keep it.

Your pledge is your decision, so please choose an amount that feels right.  Give till it feels good.  Thank you for making a difference … for the good of the whole community.

Yours in service,



Putting Your Whole Weight Down!

Sermon title for Feb. 13 worship services at 9:30 and 11:15: Putting Your Whole Weight Down

with guest speaker, Rev. David Takahashi Morris
with Rev. Roger  & Rev. Doug hanging around looking pretty

Today we celebrate our congregation’s people, programs and mission as we launch our Pledge Drive for the coming budget year.  We won’t ask for pledges at this service–its purpose is purely inspirational.  (And we’ll have soup provided by our Coming of Age youth and their mentors.)

Our great guest preacher serves the Mt. Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek and chairs the Growth Committee of the UUA’s Pacific Central District.

Raised Roman Catholic, he spent 15 years militantly away from religion until he discovered Unitarian Universalism in 1991, and was ordained to UU ministry 10 years later by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.He is especially interested in nurturing healthy congregations and in growing our faith communities toward reflecting the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity of the world around us.  David is an avid singer and former music educator, David would love to sing in the choir if he weren’t afraid of getting caught preaching to it.  He and his spouse and Co-Minister Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris and their son Liam, 11 and daughter Garner, 21, are enjoying California’s beauty and their new West Coast life.



Pledge Drive Testimonial “For the Good of the Whole”– by Ginger E.


A Testimonial by Ginger, Stewardship Chair, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2011

Good morning.   As we begin our Stewardship Drive next month, we will hear from a number of members about what this congregation means to them.  Also, a team of our volunteers will be serving as “stewards”– or pledge visitors in this year’s drive.  When your steward calls you, please invite them to your house or arrange to meet them for coffee.

Why?  We do this for the connection–and for the feedback. We want to hear your thoughts and feelings about UUSS.  We ask for your pledge cards back by Sunday, March 13.  This will enable the Board of Trustees to make the budget proposal  for the May congregational meeting.

The theme of the pledge drive is “For The Good of the Whole.”  For the good of the whole, our district – the Pacific Central District – put on a church finance teleconference.  So, last Tuesday after dinner, Meg Burnett, Cathy Whitney and I compared notes with other Unitarian Universalist lay leaders about our church finances.

We were proud to say that in the last few years our pledge income here at UUSS has increased.  As some of us  in the congregation have had to cut back, others of us have been able to step up and increase our contributions.   This increase in pledges, even through this “Great Recession,” is happening in many churches.

I was quite surprised, though, to hear that other churches in our district, of similar size, have significantly higher pledge income than we do.  For instance, the UU Church of Fresno is similar in size and last year had about $60,000 more in pledge income than we did UUSS.  Hmm. $60,000 – do you know what that is?    It is just about what we need – $60,000 more than we pledged last year – to fund things the minimum way we’d all like to –  minimum maintenance of buildings, some emergency reserve, staff salaries in the middle range for our area, programs supported as they are now, and to pay our fair share of district and national dues.

My husband Roy and I increased our pledge last year, and followed our board president’s lead in a midterm increase in October.  And we are going to increase our pledge for this drive – For the Good of the Whole.

We understand that you may not be able increase your pledge this year.  But if you can, please consider doing so – for the Good of the Whole.

And whatever you decide to pledge—whatever you are able to give to UUSS, please know that we thank you.