Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Thanksgiving Message: Gratitude List!

This is from my column in the November church newsletter, the Unigram.   You can read the whole issue at this link.

Gratitude List!

 

Medical studies reveal that cultivating a practice of generosity is good for your health. And one thing that generates generosity is the practice of saying thanks.

Our days can be long and full, and our challenges can be distracting, so it’s good to remember: it takes practice to be grateful. As I prepare to celebrate my eighth Thanksgiving season with UUSS, here is part of my gratitude list. I give thanks:

  • … for those who disagree with me with authenticity and love. It’s a gift to know that people trust me enough to challenge a recent sermon, or say they don’t see eye to eye with me on a point of theology or social witness. It means we not only are living out our diversity, but trusting one another. It means love!
  • … for the big, beautiful sanctuary building and the good things that happen inside: theater, music, book sales, large crowds on Sunday, coffee, soup, all-ages events like Thanksgiving dinner and the Holiday Party, fun fundraising activities, committee work, warm hospitality to newcomers, and care for others.
  • … for my dedicated staff colleagues, our committed lay leaders, and the many volunteers who make this congregation so vital and exciting.
  • … for the clear sky early in the morning, inviting me to read a poem or prayer and sit in reflection before I rush off. I would LIKE to be grateful also for a rainy morning—a whole bunch of them, soon!
  • … for the generous members, friends, and families who make and pay a monthly pledge to UUSS. Your gifts make so much possible in and beyond UUSS.
  • … for a home and a fun job, the relative safety which I am privileged to enjoy, the strength and vitality of the region and country in which I live, and the meals that sustain me every day.

Sometimes I forget to appreciate these ordinary blessings when they happen. That’s why I made this list. Thank you for reading!

Yours in service,

 



Time of Darkness and Light– UUSS Sermon from Sunday, December 15, 2013

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Music:  Hymns:  #226 “People, Look East,” #118 “This Little Light of mine,” #1008 “When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place.”  Solo:  “The Dark” by Mary Grigolia, sung a capella by Rev. Lucy.

Litany of Darkness and Light    (see at end)

Sermon

I sat looking out the kitchen window well before 7 in the morning, just last week.  I felt the chilly air seeping in, and a mug of warm tea in my cold hands.  I was ready to watch the morning light emerge, was waiting for the sunlight to change the look of everything.  But I felt sadness.  The tea had caffeine—how long would it take to change my mood, if it could?  This mood was not of deep grief, and not a heavy burden of depression on my shoulders, yet it was a decidedly not-fun feeling of sadness.   I said my morning prayer anyway.

I gave thanks for the gift of life and the new day, for a night’s rest in a warm, safe place.  I lifted up the names of parishioners who need good wishes or prayers, brought their faces to mind, plus those of colleagues, friends, and relatives.  I stated my intentions for living the day with gratitude, generosity, curiosity and kindness.  The light was now making the street visible, and showing the colors of the cars parked on it.

Then it occurred to me:  that pre-dawn darkness was just the right place for my sadness.  The shadows could receive it.  The shadows could let the sadness move, in its own gentle way.  Had it been 7 AM in June or July, the sun would have claimed the whole scene by now.  It would be urging me into the many tasks of the day:  Get going, look alive!  But the morning darkness of December seems to say, “Take it easy and slowly–I am taking it easy and slowly, after all.  Let it be.  Feel what you feel in this moment.  You will notice how it changes.”

Soon it was bright and clear, and my day was on its way.  And it went fast.  The night came in the middle of the day—5 o’clock.  Wait!  I’m not finished with my day yet!

For years I have resisted and resented the early evening.  I’ve dreaded the shrinking hours of daylight, starting in early November, when we set our clocks back an hour.

But as this December Solstice approaches, I try to appreciate what can happen in the dark.  I would like to mention a few of the gifts of the time of darkness, but first I want to say:  it’s not a gift for everyone, no matter what a preacher or a poet might say.

Like many people, a friend of mine has a clinical, biological reaction in the winter darkness, called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It does not help that she lives at a latitude even farther north than we do, and it’s cold there, for a long time.  You know what they would call the chilly weather we’ve had this past week?  Springtime (without the mud).

She sits under a special kind of lamp every day, to give her body and spirit some extra rays of light.  In retirement she has the time to travel, so she spends a few weeks in the winter visiting friends in warm, sunny places.  When she can save up enough money and find a cheap deal, she takes a trip to a warm country.  Not speaking Vietnamese, she made her way around villages in Vietnam by pointing and smiling.  In the sunshine of Egypt a few years ago, she heard people speak with hope right after the overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.  She enjoyed the January summer of Argentina, taking in the spray of Iguazu falls, the marvel of a glacier, and some penguins in their stiff cuteness.  Rather than cursing the dark and cold, she follows the sun.  Of course, this is not an option for most people, and she gives thanks for the privilege to do so.

It’s important to note that seasons of darkness and cold can be very hard on the spirit, hard on the emotional health of many people around us.  It may not only bring up grief or painful memories of past experiences, it may bring depression that weighs on our minds and even on our physical bodies.  This can happen to people young or old, in any occupation or stage of life.  When other ways of dealing with the shadow side of this dark time don’t seem to help us, it may be worth seeing if anti-depressant medicines, psychotherapy, or a 12-Step recovery group can make a difference for us.  Whether as individuals or as families, we can look for professional resources and community support as we pursue emotional healing, personal growth, and the ability to accept the gift of life with joy.

Personal growth can happen in the dark times and places.  Seeds will sprout in the cool dark of the earth, and begin their journey toward the light.  As a tree stretches toward the sun, it also grows downward, inward, into the dark earth.  We can be like the trees.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “In winter we lead a more inward life.”

Another friend of mine lives not so far north, so the weather’s not as cold and the nights not as long.  Yet the winter darkness does mean a change of her pattern of living, toward a more inward life.   She spends more time under the covers, reading a book propped on the pillow next to her.   In the living room she brings out candles and a string of holiday lights.  They remind her of our inner light, of an eternal spark.  Believing that winter is the best time for exercise, she puts on layers and goes out for a brisk walk.  The leaves crunch underfoot, the air chills the skin of the face, the nose runs.

In winter, she says, we need exercise to stimulate our endorphins.  Of course, we can be tempted to medicate our mood by drinking more alcohol and eating more, especially sweets and other carbohydrates.  But the boost we might feel by consuming alcohol and sweets can have a down side.  It can make us feel worse—edgy–after the boost wears off.   This December I am taking some of her advice.  Of course, I may never stop my holiday consumption of cookies, cake, fudge and anything else any of you might wish to make for me.  But I’m eating more almonds and pecans and not forgetting my veggies.  And I am having less alcohol, and drinking less often.   I’m not crazy about green tea, but I’ve been drinking so much of it lately that soon I may turn the color of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

One Unitarian Universalist family I know has created their own Solstice tradition.  With candles and cloths they make an altar of their table.  They bake a light brown, round ginger cake—dense and only an inch thick.  They serve it on a large round plate with a rim glazed with dark blue like the sky, and specked with stars.  They pass the cake around, each one cutting a piece for the next person, who indicates by nods and silent gestures how large of a piece to cut.

As the cake is served, what is revealed underneath it in the center of the plate is a round red sun.  The sun returns!  For Solstice dinner, they eat only foods with round shapes, evoking the sun.  They read prayers to the divine light and sing chants to the source of returning warmth.  The parents hide little suns around the house and the kids go searching for them.  By finding a likeness of sun, they are bringing the sun back, helping it return.  This family does not rely on the dominant culture to tell them what they need to do or to buy for making spirits bright—they create their own traditions.  Any of us can be creative.  We can join with nature and with other people to create our own light, and share the light, now in the dark of winter.

For many people, winter is a time for making soup and other warm foods, and eating more of the fresh foods that our season brings out.  In California we have so many winter crops.  Those in cold climates now can benefit from quick transport of fresh foods, but in the old days they kept food in the root cellar, and dried meat and beans from the summer crop.

Back home in Indiana, my mother’s fridge held many frozen foods for our winter meals, and this was fine.  But around the corner from our house, my uncle and aunt had shelves of clear glass jars with green beans, tomatoes, corn and other produce they had canned in the summer.   My uncle Roger had been a cook on a ship in the Navy during the Second World War.  As a boy I helped him in the kitchen, including his major undertaking of putting up all that food, with Mason jars boiling in big pots of water and other steps for cleanliness and safety.  That was a summer activity, but the memory of it warms me in the winter.

Now I can see that we were storing sunshine in shiny glass jars.

The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time the eye begins to see.”

The darkness can help us to see the truth… that we are not in control of everything.  We can be so busy in our lives, have so many expectations.  So many technologies at our fingertips and conveniences in our daily experience can lull us into thinking that there is an online menu tab for peace of mind or an iPad application for wisdom, courage, and grace.

The world does not revolve around any of us, including me; nor does earth rotate at my command.   Its creation is a miracle and a blessing. The operation of the heavens is a wonder.  And it all goes on without my permission or involvement. It will go on without me.  The darkness comes and goes—my cursing it or my blessing it affects only the condition of my own spirit.  The season’s advice to me:  you need not be in control, and in fact you are not in control.  Let the darkness hold the future.  Let go!

We can be intentional about living in the darker season. This is why candles appeal to us:  the darker it gets around them, the more they show their beauty.   Looking at a candle flame, or a string of lights on the tree or around the window, we can think about the meaning of light, and the bringers of light—like our nearby star, the human mind and heart, the source of love and light eternal, the creative spark, the divine fire of courage and compassion.

Solstice rituals use fire and food and song—to bless the darkness with beauty, while praising the cycles of the seasons of the earth.   People hang lights at Christmas to praise the source of life, celebrate the story of the star of Bethlehem, and remember that sun and warmth will return.

On Christmas Eve at UUSS, our sanctuary fills with members and their friends, and with guests we see only once a year.  In the weeks leading up to it, folks ask me the time:  seven o’clock, same as always.  They ask me if we will light candles and sing “Silent Night,” at the end.  Of course!  We will make a circle around the walls of the sanctuary, and exchange the light with one another, and then enjoy the darkness, filled with song and silence, and with faces illuminated by the flames.

Folks never ask:  will we sing the carols and hear a homily, will we have some instrumental music, prayer and silence and an offering?  All those things are like the setup to the “Silent Night” candle light finale!  Yet without those elements, the finale would be weak.

Without the darkness, our candles would be weak.  Likewise, without the embrace of the darkness, we might not have the reminder to plan ahead, create meaning in the season, and reach out for fellowship and support.  The darkness holds an invitation to let go of all that we cannot control, and accept with serenity all that we can’t change.

At my kitchen window, in my early morning watch for the light, the dark of winter seems to say:  “Take it easy, and go slowly–I am taking it easy, and going slowly, after all.  Let it be.  Feel what you feel in this moment.  You will notice how it changes.”

The dark of winter is a time to consider the sources of light we can count on, and give thanks for them.  It’s the season for tasting the warmth of nourishing food, made by human hands from the gifts of the earth for our sustenance and our joy. It’s a season for creativity, planning ahead, self-care and care for others.  It’s a time for digging deep and for reaching out toward others with compassion, openness, and kindness.

It’s a time for patience and letting go of control, for releasing the past and opening to the mystery of the future.  May we all be so blessed.

In the days to come, may you welcome the gifts of light and warmth you can bring into the darkness.  May the days and nights ahead bless us with light, learning, warmth, patience and peace.               Blessed be.


 

Litany of Darkness and Light

 

Part A (Before silent meditation/prayer)

 

Voice 1:  We wait in the darkness expectantly, longingly, anxiously, thoughtfully.

Voice 2:  In the darkness of the womb, we have all been nurtured and protected.

All Voices:  May we feel comfort in the darkness.

 

It is only in the darkness that we can see the splendor of the universe– blankets of stars, the solitary glowing of distant planets.

In the darkness of the night sky we feel beyond time – in the presence of the past, and with the promise of the future.

May we feel hope in the darkness.

 

In the solitude of the darkness we may remember those who need our love and support in special ways–

 the sick, the unemployed, the bereaved, the persecuted, the homeless, those who are demoralized or discouraged, those whose fear has turned to cynicism, those whose vulnerability has become bitterness.

Sometimes in the darkness we remember those who are near to our hearts – colleagues, partners, parents, children, neighbors, friends, congregation members.   We pray for their safety and happiness.  We offer our support.

May we know healing in the darkness.


 

 

Part B (After musical interlude following sermon)

 

In the quiet darkness of the night, we may hear that still, small voice within.

In the blessed darkness we may be transformed, changed by what we face in the dark.

May we feel the challenge of the darkness.

 

In the darkness of sleep, we are soothed and restored, healed and renewed.

In the darkness of sleep dreams rise up, calling us to possibilities, calling us to know our connection to the world.

May we feel joy in the darkness.               

Sometimes in the solitude of darkness our fears and concerns, our hopes and our visions rise to the surface. We come face to face with ourselves.   We find the road that lies ahead of us.

Sometimes in the darkness we wonder about the important things, the deep things, and inexpressible things.  We watch for glimmers of hope and glimpses of grace.

May we feel renewed in the darkness.  May we be guided by the light of our hearts.  Reflecting the divine love that shines at the heart of life,  let us reach out to this troubled world with compassion.

New Century Hymnal, adapted



Thanks for the Memories: Gratitude and Farewell to Doug and Erika

Reflections on the occasion of the retirement of our Lead Minister, the Rev. Douglas Kraft.  His farewell service with us will be Sunday, June 30, at 10:00 AM.  We expect a very large crowd. Religious Education ArtWorks!  will take place at 10:00 but the kids and youth start in the sanctuary; if you are coming with kids, please arrive at 9:45 so they can be signed in and can make a name tag before the service begins.  

 

It’s an amazing achievement in these times for a congregational ministry not only to last 13 full years but also to deepen and thrive every year, as is the case here at UUSS.  This is one of the longest ministerial tenures in this congregation’s 140-year history!

Congratulations to Doug and this congregation on all the institutional and physical accomplishments of this era.  I trust that you are remembering the campus improvements, spiritual insights, poignant moments, challenges overcome, and other special times that have marked the relationship between UUSS and Doug.

Though I’ve known Doug since his arrival in our UU Pacific Central District in 2000 (when I was the minister in Sunnyvale), the past five years have been for me the richest part of our connection.  Serving this congregation with such a wise, playful, deep-hearted, multi-talented and compassionate colleague has been the most enriching and unforgettable part my ministerial career.  So I am wistful that our working relationship is coming to an end.  I feel deeply sad, but also I feel greatly blessed.

This is a big transition for us at UUSS, but it’s a bigger one for Doug and his family, especially his wonderful wife, editor, partner and co-parent, Erika.  They moved to Sacramento from New England in order for Doug to accept the call to this congregation, so Sacramento and this church have been linked in their experience and their minds ever since the year 2000.   Furthermore, this is their last settled ministry in a congregation after a long career of gifted and gracious commitment and service.

We send them our deepest thanks and blessings to them.  Namaste!



Minister’s Newsletter Column: Gratitude, Generosity, and Tipping the Scales of Equity

As I sat in my favorite pub, I contemplated whether to leave a generous tip or just an adequate one.  “Would that extra dollar make more of a difference to the server, or to me?”

Summertime for many of us is a time of travel, dining out, recreation and entertainment.  For many others, it’s a time for landing a seasonal job, or finding a few extra hours of work in a restaurant, motel, bar, or valet parking lot.  Such extra work may help to feed the family, pay rent, cover medical costs, save up for school, or enjoy some recreation time.

Most of those venues do not pay much to their workers.   Restaurant servers rely primarily on tips.  A café of empty tables yields very small wages!  Hotel maids clean and turn around rooms in 30 minutes, risking injury with heavy mattresses.

I admire the energy and hard work of people who give their time and talents in service to me and to others.  I try to say “thank you” and show patience when it might help.  I also try to leave a generous tip.  In a motel I leave a couple of dollars on the bed every morning, unless I really have made a mess.  I tip if someone carries my bags, but in the motels I use, that’s not likely.

The standard gratuity these days for restaurant meals is 15% of the total bill for adequate service, and 20-25% for very good service.  (The total bill includes the tax.)  For terrible service… talk to the manager.

My nephew Scott has worked in food service at various levels for over 10 years.  I was amazed when he told me that dining patrons often leave without paying the tab!  He also confirmed a newspaper article that said we should leave a tip in cash, as restaurants may not pass on the full amount of the tip to the server if it’s on a credit card.

Showing gratitude and generosity is a way to affirm and promote our sense of inter-dependence.  It’s a good personal practice at any time, whether away on vacation or visiting local eateries.  It’s good for our own spirits, and it makes the world a better place.  Blessed be!

With gratitude,

Roger  



Personal Passions– 1 of 3– from UUSS Worship– Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013
April 7, 2013, 8:31 pm
Filed under: Inspiration, Reflections, Sermon Archives and Excerpts

This is one of three member testimonies about personal passion from a recent service where I was the preacher.   

I’m 15 years old and spending my lunch period in my history teacher’s classroom. His name was Greg Parker, and this is where all the kids went who didn’t think it was a good idea to have their lunches devoured by hungry, ravenous gulls. I’m playing chess, I had since made a habit of playing chess for money. I slide my queen to H8 and that’s checkmate. My opponent has nowhere else to go, and I have a free lunch coming my way, free french fries always taste better. But today, I received an important lesson about the importance of a subject that I would’ve otherwise thought worthless, and by extension the whole of my education. Mr. Parker comes up to me, and says “Mr. Brady, I know you don’t have a very high opinion of history, most kids your age don’t. But you’re bright kid, so I’m going to to tell you something, the reason we study things like math and history, even though we may not use them directly, is so that we can look at the patterns of the past and the present and have a better idea of what we should do about them.
It’s been roughly 14 years since that day, and I’d like to think that that day played a significant role in me becoming the best under credentialed tutor in the humanities you can find. I work with kids and people going through lower division undergrad work in college, I tutor in Spanish, English, American government, and when I’m feeling adventurous maybe even some mathematics. My work on the fringes of education has taught me that patience is more than a virtue, it is a necessity, and one that I admittedly find myself in short supply of at times.
But being a tutor means you are in a constant state of learning, you can never allow your knowledge to become stale and it forces you to always see things from someone’s perspective other than your own. That’s what it’s done for me, it’s helped me realize that I can’t unknow what I’ve learned, and when I’m able to see things from  perspectives other than my own, as I so often tell my students is necessary, I’ve come to understand that compassion is the most fruitful byproduct of education. And it’s the greatest gift I can give any student; the ability to see in themselves the interlocking of each of these subjects that he or she may be studying, and how it leads to a broader sense of empathy for both them and me. And it’s through this work that I’ve come to realize that education is the gateway to compassion, the building of a global spiritual community, and as someone else much smarter than I once said, the highest form of human wisdom. Thank you.



New UUSS Family Pledge Drive Testimonial from February 24 service–Sustaining Our Vision From Year to Year, From Generation to Generation

Every Sunday during the pledge drive we have been hearing what this UU community means to people, and why they support it with their financial pledge.  Our pledge drive ends soon.  So far we have received 98 pledge forms for the 2013-14 fiscal year.  Only 300 to go!!

This is from Amanda, a mother of two little ones who is new here and already on the Religious Education Committee.  Her husband, Darrel, has been here on Saturdays working on the grounds of our church campus.  Their kids are quite charming too.  You can tell that the words she quotes are from a few decades back, as now our baby dedication ceremonies use gender-inclusive language, but clearly the sentiment and heart were there in 1979.

Testimonial
It was a cold morning in March in the year 1979. The place, My Grandfather‘s “old” Unitarian Church on North Broadway, New York. The minister spoke, “When one baby is born it is the symbol of all birth and all life, and therefore all men must rejoice and smile, and all men, must lose there hearts to a child.” The words spoken and heard there were the words that have traveled with me in the depth of my heart wherever I have gone. This was my dedication ceremony at two months old, as a Unitarian.

Given that I was dedicated as a baby in the church, one might assume I have been in a Unitarian congregation throughout my life. But the truth is the furthest thing from that. I cant say for sure, but I am pretty sure I hadn’t stepped foot into another Unitarian Church until I arrived here at UUSS. This isn’t to say I wasn’t involved in any religious movement at all throughout my life. We regularly visited the Self Realization Fellowship, the church of Science of Mind, and whatever other alternative form of seeking my family interested themselves in.

But here I am back where I began. It was about a year ago, after a major move here to Sacramento, I found myself wondering about reconnecting to these roots. I was a transplant. My roots were in major need of some good wholesomely rich natural nutrients to grab a hold of. So, I returned.

In my dedication ceremony the minister said, “In the church the child will be introduced to his world, there he will learn meanings men has found in the skies, the fields, the hills, the valleys, and the cities of men. There he will be able to count the number of his days and weigh their meaning, to gather into his mind the wisdom of his ancestors, to know why men call one thing right and another wrong, to treasure beauty, mercy and justice in the deep places of his being.”

I am a mother now. I have been given two amazing children to guide and help grow. But I believe children are guided not only by their parents but by the people surrounding them; their friends, their family, their neighbors, and their elders. What the Unitarian Universalists are and are not, what they stand for or against, what they consider, what they notice, what they act on or not at all, is what I want my children to grow up around.

And I don’t want to stop there. What I want for my children, is what I want for all children. I want all children to grow up learning how to stand up tall. I want all children to grow up learning how to use their minds. I want all children to grow up knowing they can make a difference. This is why I think it is important for this congregation to stay strong, keep growing, and be the force for healing in the world it already is for many generations to come.



Associate Minister’s January Newsletter Column: From Year to Year— Did We Make It to 2013?

I’m writing this on December 15, before the end of the world, if you believe what some people believe about an ancient Mayan calendar.

Planet X is on its way to collide with us.  Can we stop it?

I don’t know why these “galactic alignment” rumors are so preoccupying—a laugh line for comics, and a real source of worry for many people.

NASA’s popular “Ask an Astro-biologist” web page received thousands of queries.  Many people are losing sleep over this.  “Are you guys covering this up?” one asks.

The saddest thing — many of the writers are 12 to 16 years old.  Some of these kids say they have contemplated suicide.   A mom asked NASA to talk to her young son by phone because he is having nightmares.

Which is worse?  The lack of good scientific instruction in their schools, or the fact that our youth are so distressed, anxious, inconsolable to the point of hopelessness?  This is heartbreaking, not funny.

There is plenty to worry about on this precious planet–in our global community, our country and region.  There is enough loss, disaster, deprivation and cruelty to make us lament out loud like the psalmists and prophets of old.   The December 14 Connecticut school shootings only add to our bewilderment and grief.   It makes grown-ups weep and wail; what does it do to kids?  Surely our violent culture is pressing down on the souls of our young people.

Perhaps the Mayan doomsday worries are a way to focus our free-floating fears and our sources of despair into one specific thing.  I’m not sure.

My heart aches for all who suffer grief and fear that seem too much to bear.  My prayers go out to all the ends of the earth that we might find our way to peace—on our planet, around our nation, in our neighborhoods, and in every single heart.

Yet my heart sings also.

It sings with joy at the winter light in the bare tree branches, and at every breath I draw when standing at the window to greet the new day.  It sings when I give thanks.

My heart is warmed also.  It warms up when I see the faces of our people on Sunday—our elders, our active retirees, our young parents, our youth and kids, our staff.

I gain hope at UUSS when I see a curious baby turning its head to take in all there is to observe.  I am nurtured by the embrace of so many of you:  kind souls and good huggers.

Whoever you are–whatever your own hopes or heartbreaks, your joys or doubts–please know that this congregation welcomes you in your full humanity.

It is good to be with one another in this place.

New Year’s Blessings,

Roger  

P.S.—Don’t forget this is the time to submit your donations for the February 9 Service Auction and to buy tickets for this great dinner event, A Rose in the Winter Time.

To read the rest of our excellent January Newsletter–the Unigram–click this link:  http://uuss.org/Unigram/Unigram2013-01.pdf