Music: Sun Dec 23

Christmas music from a variety of traditions and a range of perspectives is featured this Sunday morning at CUUC. The French composer Olivier Messiaen composed his Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus for solo piano in 1944. These “Twenty Views of the Child Jesus” are highly evocative, sonorously enchanting meditations on the Christ child. “Regard de l'étoile" or the View of the Star, is the second work in the cycle. Full of bell chiming and distant twinkling, the piece also presents the “Theme of the Star and of the Cross,” a musical idea developed throughout the suite. The following program is suggested in the subtitles in the printed score: the shock of grace….the star shines naively, topped by a cross….

Other works performed include selections from Franz Liszt’s “The Christmas Tree,” a set of piano pieces written for the composer’s granddaughter, an arrangement of a popular Catalonian Christmas carol, and more settings of celebrated holiday tunes by Donald Waxman, a renowned author of teaching materials for young piano students. Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
Regard de l’étoile from Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus
                                         Olivier Messiaen

From “The Christmas Tree”
            “The Shepherds at the Manger” (In dulci jubilo)
            Scherzoso: Lighting Up the Tree”
            “Old Provençal Christmas Song”
                                    Franz Liszt

Opening Music:
El cant dels ocells (The Song of the Birds)               
                                    Traditional Catalan Christmas Carol, arr. by Joaquin Nin-Culmell

From A Christmas Pageant
“Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabelle”
“Good King Wenceslas”
“We Three Kings”
“Ding Dong Merrily On High”
“Yule’s Come and Yule’s Gone”
           Donald Waxman

From “The Christmas Tree”
                        Adeste Fideles


From the Minister, Thu Dec 13

Let's talk about the Common Read! This week, chapter 1: Jennifer Nordstrom, "Intersectionality, Faith, and Environmental Justice," in Mishra-Marzetti and Nordstrom, eds., Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersections of Race, Class and the Environment.

The word "intersectional" is big these days among people thinking about social justice. The word calls attention to how interrelated the various justice issues are. Nordstrom opens with mention of a 10-day "direct action and permaculture training camp" she attended in New Mexico to simultaneously learn sustainability and "build resistance to white supremacy and militarism." Growing food and growing cross-cultural relationships of equality and respect at the same time is one manifestation of "intersectionality."

The overlap of issues calls attention to the commonalities, but also the differences: "For example, women will experience sexism differently depending on their race, class, gender identity, and sexuality. People of color will experience racism differently based on their class, gender, gender identity, and sexuality."

In particular, Justice on Earth looks at Environmental Justice through the lens of intersectionality -- this is, in light of interconnecting systems. Nordstrom shares her experience learning that "communities of color were exploited and poisoned through the entire nuclear fuel cycle: from uranium mining on Indigenous lands to nuclear weapons production on Indigenous land and the contamination of surrounding Indigenous, Chicano, and Latinx communities to nuclear waste storage in communities of color" (4). Thus, militarism, colonialism, racism, and the environment interrelate.

We are thus lead to see that "the environment" "is not simply natural wilderness in need of saving" -- as UUs are prone to view it. It is also roads, industries, urban trees, other people -- everything around us, and all of it shaped by patterns of power. "There is not a single experience of the environment divorced from other relationships, or a single experience of humanity divorced from the environment" (5).

For too long UUs have done "justice work in silos" -- an approach that "is not true to our whole lives, or to the wholeness of other people." When we ignore intersectionality, our work "usually caters to the dominant identities within the issue" (6).

Yet, Nordstrom argues, as important as intersectionality is, equally powerful for us is faith. Our faith as UUs "can ground and nurture our work for environmental justice." Our situatedness in the interdependent web is our "call of the deep to the well of" our souls.

Related and Recommended: Kimberle Crenshaw's Keynote address to the Women of the World Festival 2016.(30 mins) HERE.

Questions: What overlapping patterns of power and oppression have you experienced in your own life? How have they manifested in the institutions in which you live and work? How have they affected your experience of you own identity?

What do you know of environmental justice organizations active in Westchester?

This week, read chapter 1. Consider and talk about the questions, and any other questions that come up for you. Feel free to click "Comment" below and share your thoughts here. Thank you!

Yours in faith,

The Liberal Pulpit /New:
Index of past sermons: HERE.
Index of other reflections: HERE.
Videos of sermons are on the Liberal Pulpit Youtube Channel: HERE

The Dec 9 sermon, "Justice on Earth":

Practice of the Week: Get a Teacher /Key Supporting Practice. A critical reason to seek out a teacher is to make your practice accountable. We live busy, complex, and changeable lives. There are dozens of reasons why it is difficult to sustain daily practice over time. We are masters at rationalizing why we can't meditate. Being accountable to a teacher, a community, and a tradition outside yourself can help. READ MORE.

Your Moment of Zen: Still Lonesome /Someone told you once to be open to the other. They forgot to mention that there is no other.

Mole spoke up after Raven had his exchange with Owl and said, "I have a different kind of question. Is there a way to practice in ordinary times?"
Raven said, "The robin! The dove! The linnet!"
"Is it just a matter of being open to the other?" asked Mole.
"Still lonesome," said Raven.
On the path,
First comes everything.
Second, everything again.
Third, return to first things.
Ordinal numbers
Mark ordinary time.
Case by Robert Aitken, adapted; introduction and Verse by Meredith Garmon
Zen at CUUC, Sat Dec 15: HERE

Get a Teacher

Practice of the Week
Get a Teacher

Category: Key Supporting Practice

Have a group. Whatever your spiritual practice, you need others that you get together with to practice it -- in addition to the ways you practice on your own. If, say, cooking or gardening is your spiritual practice, then find -- or form -- a group of people that gather weekly, fortnightly, or monthly to practice together. This doesn't mean merely cooking or gardening together -- it means being together in the activity in a way that focuses on the spirituality of what you are doing. As you cook together, share your experiences of what's spiritual about this activity; as you garden together, talk about the spiritual lessons of gardening.

In addition to a group, consider a teacher for guiding you on your path and holding you and your practice in a relationship of accountability.

Waiting in the line of students sitting on cushions outside the abbot's dokusan (interview) room, my heart beat rapidly and the sweat on my palms did not match the unusually cool summer day outside. I was about to have my first personal interview with a Zen teacher. The senior monks running this "Introduction to Zen Practice” retreat had prepared us for this interview by encouraging us to think of one question to ask. The encounter would be short. There would be a little bit of personal exchange after the question was posed, but not a lot. For Zen students doing formal koan practice, an interview can consist merely of a recitation of the teaching story under consideration, an opportunity for the student to respond to a question or image in the story, and a response from the teacher. The teacher's response can be quite minimal, perhaps as simple as ringing a bell to indicate that the interview is over. The response can also be more expansive, with further questions or reflections about the koan before the student leaves.

The senior monks had encouraged me to treat this interview as an opportunity to ask the Buddha a question – which both made sense and was extremely daunting. Finally, it was my turn. I stumbled through my recollection of the appropriate bowing rituals that begin the interview. I sat down on my knees and raised my head to look into the eyes of John Daido Loori, the man who would become my teacher. I spoke my name and my practice and then asked my question: "What do I have to give up to follow this path?”

Twenty years have passed since I asked that question. Because I am still answering it, I am no longer sure what Daido Roshi said to me that day. The best summary would probably be that I had to give up my expectations about what the path would be like and just walk on it.

Like thousands of other North Americans, I had grown up with a church affiliation and involvement but with an eclectic commitment to spiritual practice. My Unitarian Universalist church community provided me with many opportunities to explore different disciplines, and I did. I did not feel the need to seek out or commit to a personal relationship with a meditation teacher until mid-life. I was struggling with a stuck feeling, a combination of boredom and frustration with the meditation that had previously brought me joy and contentment. I decided that I needed to find a teacher. After a year of research and visits, I turned to a monastic community and teacher five hundred miles from where I lived for guidance and support in how to deepen my spiritual practice.

Why this extreme step? During much of my twenty-five years of sporadic meditation practice, I was missing a teacher and a sangha. The sangha includes both the teacher and the community of fellow practitioners. Coming to terms with the fact that I needed a teacher was not easy for me. I had to confront many old images and expectations of who I was. I am a grown-up. (Kids have teachers; grown-ups don't.) I was raised and continue to be a member of a liberal church tradition. (We build our own theologies.) Ultimately, what was hardest was admitting to myself that I didn't know what I was doing. In spite of all the sitting, the retreats, and the books, I really didn't have a clue what living and acting from within my true nature meant. I needed a teacher.

No matter where your spiritual home lies, whether within Jewish, Christian, Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, or philosophical traditions, teachers are available, once you accept your need for one. Undertaking spiritual direction has become a vehicle for finding a teacher that requires no theological or participatory commitment to a religious tradition or institution. Developed within Roman Catholic spirituality, the skills of spiritual direction have become more widely available through teachers trained by respected nondenominational institutions.

Choosing a teacher well starts with knowing yourself, as well as learning as much as you can about the teachers available. Personalities, teaching styles, and teaching traditions vary. There are frauds.

A critical reason to seek out a teacher is to make your practice accountable. We live busy, complex, and changeable lives. There are dozens of reasons why it is difficult to sustain daily practice over time. We are masters at rationalizing why we can't meditate. Being accountable to a teacher, a community, and a tradition outside yourself can help.

The path I chose and followed for sixteen years was to become a formal student of the first monastery I went to in search of a teacher. As students, we committed ourselves to a Zen practice in our lives at home. We were expected to complete five “barrier gates” (five steps to help prospective students clarify their intent), sustain a relationship with a training director, attend two week-long sesshin retreats each year, and pursue our practice in each of eight different areas of training. The monastery also supported home practice through books and other resources as well as relationships with the teacher and training director.

When my teacher died, I searched again for a new teacher. That relationship became primary, and the residential experience became more difficult to sustain and less important to me. So I resigned my student status at the monastery. I may return to a residential sangha again, since it was such a valuable experience. I cannot imagine, however, being without a teacher.

For Journaling

Journaling question: What steps you would need to take to integrate the practice of working with a teacher into your own life?

* * *


Religious Education News: Sun Dec 16

Last Sunday's Children’s Worship for grades K–5 was a multi-purpose event. Lyra Harada, our children's music director, was at the forefront “up close and personal,” engaging the children. The students all gathered around as Lyra described the beauty and function of the piano and led them in song. The children then worked together on a joint project writing holiday cards to our home-bound congregants. Each class group was responsible for a specific part of the creation so that they “all” contributed to the cards, which this week will be placed in gift baskets to be delivered. The activity was expertly facilitated by RE Council members and the enthusiasm and fun was clearly visible. Back in the classrooms, grade 2–3 had a very thoughtful and interesting hour with Doreen Rossi and Norm Handelman. The kids explored the importance of thinking about choices before voting, and learned that decisions sometimes have to be made beforehand about what is right or wrong. The teachers segued into an imaginative story Hey, Little Ant, where a little boy is determined to squish an ant, who in turn gives him reasons not to. The children thought about how insects help us and how they should be treated. As an added bonus, the students created their very own insects from construction paper and pipe cleaners! Regardless of season or events, the quality of Religious Education for our children and youth remains constant, and enables our wonderful teachers to utilize resourcefulness, creativity, and dedication to inspire and motivate their students. The holidays are fast upon us and as we reflect on peace and joy, let us not overlook the tremendous gift we are given year ‘round, and that is our children and volunteer teachers!

Michele Rinaldi
Religious Education Coordinator

Looking ahead...

This Sun Dec 16
All ages are in the sanctuary for our No-Rehearsal Christmas Pageant. As the story unfolds, you become Mary, Joseph, goats, sheep, cows, horses, angels, shepherds, and wise folk. Join us for Christmas music, the story, and a reflection. Costumes provided; just bring a joyful spirit.

After the service, come enjoy our Holiday Community Meal in Fellowship Hall, and then the annual Holiday Concert with the CUUC Choir in the sanctuary at 12:30 pm.

Help us Decorate the Mitten Tree
Please bring mittens, hats, gloves, and scarves of all sizes and place them on the Mitten Tree in the sanctuary. These items are for men, women, and children of local shelters: The Coachman Family Center, Open Arms, and Samaritan House. Help us bring both physical and emotional warmth to their holiday season.


Music: Sun Dec 16

Christmas-themed music from many lands is featured this Sunday morning. The Catalan composer Federico Mompou provides a jazz-inflected treatment of a popular regional Christmas carol, “El noi de la mare” (The Mother’s Son), in the “song” portion of his third Canción y danza, coupling the tender melody to a lively sardana, or traditional circle dance, in the “dance” portion. His Pessebres (Crèches) are similarly delicate and folkloric in tone, although one smiles at the allusion to the Catalonian tradition of including animal dung in Nativity scenes. The Opening Music includes one of Johannes Brahms’s settings of a 16th-century Lutheran chorale, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (“Lo, how a rose e'er blooming”), originally scored for organ, but played this morning in a transcription for piano by Ferruccio Busoni. The Offertory features “December” from Tchaikovsky’s cycle of monthly piano works, commissioned by a St. Petersburg music journal. The piece is widely known by its subtitle, “Christmas.” Finally, Donald Waxman, the composer of numerous collections of effective teaching pieces for piano students, furnishes lively arrangements of two traditional Christmas melodies, one French, the other English. Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
            I. Pessebres
            II. L’Ermita
            III. El Pastor
Canción y danza No. 3
                                                Federico Mompou

Opening Music:
Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
                                                            Johannes Brahms, arr. by Ferruccio Busoni

Christmas, Op. 37, No. 12
                                                Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Special Music:
Chantons tous, je vous prie
“The Boar’s Head Carol“
                                    Traditional Carols arr. by Donald Waxman


Religious Education News: Sun Dec 9

“Tis the season” for joy and celebration! To all a Happy Hanukkah, which began Sunday evening. What a wonderful image of the warmth of the celebration of lights that is exhibited by our decorative lights and our inner glow. Sunday’s service soared with the joined singing of children, families, and choir. The RE children had the opportunity to be mesmerized by the Wonder Box Story, told with great humor by Rev. Garmon. Curiosity was the theme and how that can help us or get us in trouble. In the case of the curiosity of cats, these creatures certainly have a penchant for searching out new territories, investigating unknown objects and people, and looking for fun. Seems to me there is a striking resemblance to our students, who are always learning, exploring, and having a good time in RE. Curiosity at CUUC has certainly not killed any cats. Instead it has promoted growth and kindness in our RE “cool cats”! RE classes resumed in full force and it appears that everyone was very involved and engaged being back. The sanctuary now has its Mitten Tree! Also, with the help of Christine Haran and Janice Silverberg, all of the decorations made by the classes are now on display. When I finished up the decorating on Tuesday morning, I stood alone in the quiet of the sanctuary admiring the beauty created by the children and young adults. In one singular moment, I realized I was seeing so much more than paper decorations of red and green and blue and white. What I witnessed was the tangible expression of who we are at CUUC. There were the paper chains in colors that showed diversity. I saw links and strength. All the decorations had continuity and oneness. How profound to recognize the principles we share among ourselves and others through a simple paper decoration at this time of year, but more importantly all year ‘round. The inner peace and love of humanity is not only the core of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, but a reflection of who we all are.

Michele Rinaldi,
Religious Education Coordinator

A look at what's coming up...

RE This Sun Dec 9
Grades K-5 start in the Fellowship Hall for Children's Worship and music with children's music director Lyra Harada. Grades 6-12 start in classrooms. Parent Orientation for Grade 8-9 Our Whole Lives (OWL) starts at 11:40am in room 11.

Faith Development Friday, Fri Dec 7, Fireside Area & Classrooms
Our evening of learning, spiritual growth, and community. 6:15pm Pizza & Salad Community Dinner; 7:00pm Programs; 8:30pm Coffee. Programs include Adult RE and Family Journey Group. Adults may also just come for a slice and unstructured social time together. All are welcome to stay after the programs to share coffee and a chat. RSVP to CUUCevents@gmail.com by 12:00 noon on Friday.

Holiday Giving Opportunities

Gently Used Children's Books and Toys Drive for the Ecumenical Food Pantry, through this Sun Dec 9
Bring in gently used kids' books and toys for our collection to benefit clients of the Ecumenical Food Pantry. We are also collecting stuffed animals (must be new or like new). Contact: Mary Cavallero (marycava4@gmail.com) for information or to volunteer to distribute.

Gift Cards for Coachman Family Center, Sign Up Sun Dec 9; Bring In Wrapped and Tagged Gift Cards Sun Dec 16
Help a family at the Coachman shelter by signing up to purchase a $25 gift card for their school-age children. This Sunday we will have lists available with the age and gender of the children, and the type of card they prefer. Please box and wrap the gift cards, tag with the child's name and room number, and bring to CUUC by Sun Dec 16. Contact: Ray Messing (raymessing@gmail.com).

Personal Items for Shelter Residents, through Sun Dec 30
New socks, men's underwear (L & XL), women’s underwear, and toiletries will be collected throughout December for residents of local shelters. Posters from our Religious Education students help spread the word! Contact: Ray Messing (raymessing@gmail.com).

The Mitten Tree is Here!
Help us decorate the tree with your donations of mittens, gloves, hats, and scarves for all ages and sizes. Share the gift of warmth! We are collecting throughout December. Items will be given to the men, women, and children of local shelters: The Coachman Family Center, Open Arms, and Samaritan House. Contact: Ray Messing (raymessing@gmail.com).

From the Minister, Thu Dec 6

"Peace on Earth," as I wrote last week, is a key phrase of the Christmas season. I urged that we also think about Justice on Earth. The second phrase of what the heavenly host proclaimed to the shepherds is, as you may recall: "...good will to all."

(Note: That's not the more authoritative version of what they said. The NRSV gives: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” That is, the peace is limited to only those toward whom God has good will. The NRSV, however, has a footnote: "Other ancient authorities read peace, goodwill among people." So, the oldest sources we have for the Gospel of Luke include two strikingly different versions of what the heavenly host said to the shepherds. Still, it's the "other ancient authorities" that are better known in popular culture, so in this case, let's go with the footnote rather than the main text: "On earth peace, goodwill among people.")

Does goodwill provide justice? Nope. Good will is better than ill will -- usually -- but good will is not enough. You can have the best intent in the world, but if you're negligent, you're still at fault.

Citing good intentions doesn't get us off the hook for harm we've done, howsoever inadvertently. I was reminded of this when I heard Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi apologize recently. She had praised a supporter by saying, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." The words evoked her state's sordid history with lynching -- and did so in the context of a campaign in which her opponent was a black man. Her apology: "For anyone who was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize. There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statements."

If you have no fence or enclosure around your backyard swimming pool, you're negligent. If the neighbor's child drowns in it, you're liable. It doesn't matter how good your intent was. That you didn't mean to cause harm is beside the point. Either Sen. Hyde-Smith wasn't paying attention enough to know what words cause harm in the context of America's past and present, or she knew but didn't care. Either way, she was negligent. Good intentions are no defense against negligence.

Over and over, we see white people excusing themselves by citing their intentions. It's infuriating how often this tactic is used, and how it's almost always white people expecting absolution on the basis of their intentions. (The dominant US culture rarely wonders what a black person's intent might be.) I used to be such a white person myself. Brit Bennett's heart-breaking essay from four years ago (HERE) helped shift my awareness.

"Goodwill among people" achieves no justice when the people are negligent.

Yours in faith,

The Liberal Pulpit /New:
Index of past sermons: HERE.
Index of other reflections: HERE.
Videos of sermons are on the Liberal Pulpit Youtube Channel: HERE

The Dec 2 sermon, "Three Curiosities":

Practice of the Week: Have a Better Holiday /Occasional. Here are four steps to a better Christmas or Hanukkah: 1. Visualize the holiday you want. 2. Seek creative ways to avoid what you don't like about the Holidays. 3. Give a present to your self. 4. Plan ahead for something that you'd truly like to do. How? READ MORE.

Your Moment of Zen: Essential /What is "explain"? What exactly are we doing when we "explain"? There is the fact -- the thing that happened -- and then there is the "explanation" of the fact. Explanations place phenomena within a context of meaning -- which is essential, right? But the phenomena themselves, always both more and less than their explanation, are "more essential."

One evening during the question period, Owl asked Raven, "How important are the words of the Buddha Macaw and her successors to our practice?"
Raven said, "Essential."
"Is there anything more essential?" asked Owl.
Raven said, "The bullfrog calls his mate."
Owl was silent but did not return to his place in the circle.
Raven continued, "You see, Owl, the Buddha Macaw explains it."
Owl asked, "What does she explain?"
Raven cawed.
Whitman's Verse (from Song of Myself, III)
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.
To elaborate is no avail, learn’d and unlearn’d feel that it is so.

I and this mystery here we stand.
Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.
Hotetsu's Verse
Urge and urge and urge . . . To elaborate is no avail.
To no avail, yet essential.
Until, one day, not.
The uselessness of explanation
Must be explained, which does not suffice,
But to us afflicted with the rash,
the placebo salve helps us not scratch.

Everything depends upon bullfrog call, raven caw,
(and a red wheel barrow, if you've got one).
The signs may be divined
-- not for meaning, for beauty --
When symbol subdues symbol,
Colonel orders Captain to retreat,
And the battlefield is clear.
Case by Robert Aitken, adapted; introduction and "Hotetsu's Verse" by Meredith Garmon

Zen at CUUC, Sat Dec 8: HERE