CUUC

CUUC

2016-12-22

The Year to Live List

Practice of the Week
The Year to Live List

How to Know What's Most Important to You
“Live like you only have a year left to live. If you live like you only have a day, you might do things that you will regret. But if you live for only a year in mind, you will make each day a treasure while still planning for the next.”

We need to know what's most important to us. Only by focusing and staying true to one's deepest values can a person live an authentic, fulfilling life. When I say this in my seminars, I am asked, "With so many competing priorities, how can I know what is most important to me?" Luckily, there is a simple way: the Year Left to Live List.

When people find out they have a limited length of time to live, as if by magic their priorities become strikingly clear. I had a client, Sarah, who found out she had an inoperable brain tumor. Her doctors told her she had about four to five relatively healthy months to live, followed by a couple more months of increasing dementia. Sarah had been a hard-driving career woman who had worked about sixty hours a week. Her dream, or so she thought, was to become a partner in her law firm. Yet, once she found out her time was limited, she dramatically changed what she spent her time on. She immediately quit her job, took a trip to Israel for a month, and then spend her few remaining months surrounded by family and friends.

Unless you really know you only have a year to live, you're not going to be able to do what Sarah did. Nor is it what's called for. Yet, by writing down what you would do with a limited time, you can gain clarity regarding your true priorities. Once you're clear about what's important, you can more easily structure your time and your life in a way that leads to fulfillment. If, with a year to live, you would want to travel around the world, spend time with your friends and family, and go on a whitewater river adventure, then these things are what really call to you. Although you may not be able to travel the world while holding a job, you can go on little trips and have mini-adventures. Only by doing at least some of the activities you'd do with a year to live will you feel truly satisfied with your life.

Most people make the mistake of continually putting off their dreams -- hoping to get to them when they're all caught up. Unfortunately, new things are always being added to our to-do list, and our dreams get crowded out of our schedule. Usually, there is a way to spend time doing meaningful activities without having to drastically alter our life. Spending quality time with friends and family, taking little trips, spending more time in spiritual pursuits can be integrated into even the busiest of lifestyles. It's all a matter of prioritizing what you really value, and then scheduling these important activities into your weekly life.

You've read enough. Now is the time to make out your list. Get a piece of paper and write out at the top "What would I do with a year left to live?" Assume that you'd have the same amount of income you currently have, and that you wouldn't want to go into debt. Then, take only four minutes to write down all the things you would want to do. (Feel free to abbreviate so you can write more quickly.) Be specific: for example, instead of writing, "I'd travel," specify where you'd like to travel to. Try to consider different areas of life, such as:
  1. With whom would you like to spend time?
  2. Where would you want to spend your time?
  3. What adventures would you like to experience?
  4. How would you be different in how you approached your life?
  5. What, if any, legacy or contribution would you like to leave, and to whom?
  6. To what, if any, spiritual pursuit would you want to give time?
This exercise only takes four minutes, yet it can provide you with a treasure of valuable information. Once you have your list in front of you, ask yourself, "How many of these activities am I currently pursuing in my life on a regular basis?" If you're doing a lot of them, congratulations! That means you are integrating what's important to you into your daily life. If, however, you notice that many of the items on your list have been neglected for weeks, months, or even years, then your need is to give more time to these activities.

Perhaps you can take out your calendar right now and schedule a short trip you'd like to take, or call up an old friend you'd like to visit. It's critical that you do it now -- before all the other competing priorites of life manage to drown out your dreams. Who knows -- you may only have a year left to live. Or a month. Or less. However long you have, this list will help make this next year a time of depth and quality.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2016-12-15

Patience

Practice of the Week
Patience

See also the earlier Practice of the Week: "Be Patient." This week's practice offers an additional perspective -- and a reminder.
"Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting." --Joyce Meyer

"It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience." --Julius Caesar

Life is dangerous and fraught. Facing misfortune squarely works better than trying to escape it -- and facing it squarely requires cultivating patience.

Once upon a time during China's Song dynasty (960-1279 BCE) there was a Zen master called Bird's Nest Roshi because he meditated in an eagle's nest at the top of a tree. This was quite a dangerous thing to do: one gust of wind, one sleepy moment, and he was done for. He became quite famous for this precarious practice. One day the poet Su Shih came to visit him and, standing on the ground far below the meditating master, asked what possessed him to live in such a dangerous manner. The roshi answered, "You call this dangerous? What you are doing is far more dangerous!" Living normally in the world, ignoring death, impermanence, and loss and suffering, as we all routinely do, as if this were a normal and a safe way to live, is actually much more dangerous than going out on a limb to meditate.

Trying to avoid difficulty may be natural and understandable. It is also ineffective. Our efforts to protect ourselves from pain end up causing us deeper pain. Our attempts to hold on to what we have causes us to lose what we have. We can't keep the attractive object, and we can't avoid the unwanted object. Counterintuitive though it may be, trying to avoiding life's difficulties is actually a more dangerous way to live than facing misfortune squarely.

Of course, when we can prevent difficulty, we do that. So, yes, we do reasonably try to protect our investments, get regular checkups, exercise, take care of our diet, get homeowner's insurance, and so on. It's the unnecessary and unhelpful underlying attitude of anxiety, fear, and narrow-mindedness that makes our lives unhappy, fearful, and small. Patience is the antidote.

Patience is the capacity to welcome difficulty when it comes, with a spirit of strength, endurance, forbearance, and dignity rather than fear, anxiety, and avoidance. None of us like to be oppressed or defeated, yet if we can endure oppression and defeat with strength, without whining, we are ennobled by it. Patience makes this possible.

Our culture encourages thinking of patience as passive and unglamorous. Qualities such as love or compassion or insight are much more popular. But when tough times cause our love to fray into annoyance, our compassion to be overwhelmed by our fear, and our insight to evaporate, then patience begins to make sense. Without patience, all other qualities are shaky.

How

The practice of patience is simple enough. When difficulty arises, notice the obvious and not so obvious ways we try to avoid it: the things we say and do, the subtle ways in which our very bodies recoil and clench when someone says or does something to us that we don't like.

To practice patience is to simply notice these things and be fiercely present with them. Taking a breath helps. Returning to mindfulness of the body helps. Be fiercely present rather than than flailing around in reactivity to things we don't like. Pay attention to body. Pay attention to mind. When possible, give ourselves good teachings about the virtue of being with, rather than trying to run away from, the anguish we are feeling in this moment.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

Music: Sun Dec 18


A wide range of Christmas-themed music is featured as part of Sunday morning’s worship service. The Prelude opens with a solo piano arrangement of the Catalonian Christmas carol “The Song of the Birds”, popularized by cellist Pau Casals. A charming waltz in honor of the holiday by Tchaikovsky is also included, as is a clutch of fun arrangements of popular Christmas tunes by Donald Waxman, a well-known composer of early-level methods for piano students. Franz Liszt, better known as a composer of virtuoso show-stoppers, is responsible for the delightful version of “O Come All Ye Faithful”, from a collection of Christmas pieces written for his granddaughter. Finally, our own Kim Force shares her talents in Xavier Montsalvatge’s sultry “Lullaby for a Little Black Baby”, taken from his cycle of songs on texts by Cuban poets, and in a pastoral excerpt from Handel’s Messiah. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
The Song of the Birds            
Traditional Catalonian Christmas Carol arr. by Joaquin Nin-Culmell
Christmas, Op. 37, No. 12
                                                Pyotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky
A Christmas Pageant
Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabelle
Deck the Halls
Good King Wenceslas
We Three Kings
Ding Dong Merrily on High
Bohemian Bell Carol
Yule’s Come and Yule’s Gane
O Let Us Sing, I Pray You
The Boar’s Head Carol
                                                Donald Waxman

Opening Music: Kim Force, soprano
“He Shall Lead His Flock” from Messiah
                                    George Frederick Handel

Cuban Lullaby for Pageant:
Canción para dormir a un negrito
                                                Xavier Montsalvatge

Offertory: Adeste Fideles from The Christmas Tree
                                                Franz Liszt

2016-12-07

Praise

Practice of the Week
Praise

Step 1. Praise. Let “God” represent whatever most evokes a sense of reverence for you. Now try a practice of praising this God. Sing songs of praise every day. (See Hymns 20-37 in Singing the Living Tradition – or browse around on youtube for “praise songs). Or just spend some time every day whispering praises. It’s not that “God” has any need for your praise – but does the act of praising re-orient you in some way?

Step 2. “Person”-alize It. Expand your imagination! Take some time each day to imagine that various inanimate things were person-like: they had feelings, beliefs, desires, intentions, moods. Imagine this of the sky, of your environs, of various appliances (“the microwave is particularly cheerful this morning, but what is the refrigerator angry about?”), etc. Intuit what they might be wanting. Try this for a week, and be ready to report on what the experience was like.

Step 3. Reflect and Journal. Write responses to the poems and articles in the December issue of On the Journey (CLICK HERE). What do they say to you? What messages hit home? Which points need some expanding upon, and how would you expand upon them? Which parts do you disagree with, and why? Which parts just make no sense?

Step 4. Return to praise -- which an expanded sense of the divinity you are praising!

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2016-12-06

Music: Sun Dec 11


Whether he was writing for the Church, royal patrons, or musical amateurs, J. S. Bach frequently appended the initials S.D.G. to his manuscripts. “Soli Deo Gloria”—To the Glory of God Alone—summarized Bach’s conviction of the divine inspiration underlying all creative activity. And no other composer’s music better reflects the Infinite, in its simultaneous linear and harmonic unfolding. Accordingly, December’s theme of God is mirrored in the solo keyboard works of Bach programmed at Sunday morning’s worship service.

The CUUC Choir is also on hand with a traditional African celebration of the divine and Alicia Ann Scott’s soulfully expressive “Think On Me”. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Partita No. 1 in Bb Major, BWV 825
            Sarabande and Gigue
                                                J. S. Bach
I Call on Thee, O Lord
                                    J. S. Bach, arr. by Ferruccio Busoni

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
   
Bonse Aba*  
Victor C. Johnson
*Translation: All who sing with the spirit have a right to be called the
children of God.



Offertory:
Prelude and Fugue in E Major, W. T. C. I
                                                J. S. Bach

Anthem:
Think On Me
Alicia Ann Scott, arr. by Greg Gilpin  




2016-12-01

Cooking As Spiritual Practice

Practice of the Week
Cooking As Spiritual Practice

Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
"When the activities of one's life become spiritual practice,...the activities of life itself become a prayer." (Lynn Brodie)
Adapted from Lynn M. Brodie, "Cooking," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

I like to start my spiritual practice -- cooking -- with a recipe. One of my favorites goes like this: Grab a large pot, pour in:
two tablespoons of oil
heat it on the stove.
Chop up 1 c. onion and
1 tbsp fresh garlic.
Throw them in the pot.
Add:

a pile of fresh chopped basil,
1 heaping tsp dry oregano,
2 bay leaves, and
1.5 tsp salt.
Saute them all together.
Add:

1 lb, 13 oz tomatoes
1 lb, 13 oz tomato puree
a heaping 1/4 tsp black pepper,
a pinch of red pepper,
1/2 c. fresh chopped parsley, and
1/2 c. wine or beer
Cook it over very low heat all day on stove or in the crock pot. Stir it, taste it, and adjust the seasonings regularly.

When I make this recipe for tomato sauce, I'm not just getting a meal on the table. There is much more going on. To start with, I am paying close attention to all the sights, sounds, smells, and textures. I am smelling the sharp odor of garlic as I hold the cloves between my fingers and chop. I am listening to the sizzle of onions sauteing on the stove. I am watching bright red tomato puree pour from a metal can onto the sizzling spices and enjoying the contrast of color as I drop fresh green parsley on top. I am feeling myself present in the moment. Throughout the day as I go about my other work, my nostrils are filled with the warm, spicy aroma of a sauce made just the way I like it, and I am connecting with my mother, my father, my grandmothers, and all the cooks in my family going back to generations I've never met.

Like most children, I learned to cook by helping my mother in the kitchen. The transformations of ingredients into finished product seemed magical. Some special recipes she made the way her mother had made them. With those recipes came her stories of watching her mother cook and sharing meals with her own family as she grew up.

When I began cooking on my own, I had a great time chopping and stirring, mashing and frying, plunging my hands into bowls full of dough and squeezing it between my fingers. I never thought of it as spiritual, but I certainly enjoyed by cooking nights.

When I went away to college and had an apartment to myself, I cooked up something simple each night. I never thought about why I did it -- I just liked to cook. Now I know why. Those were times of connection and creation. Alone in my apartment, I felt connected to my family by a tradition of cooking.

After marriage and the arrival of children, my cooking had a new focus. Cooking connects me to the people I am cooking for. I focus on creating food that will nourish the bodies and souls of my family and any company we might have. Even when they aren't helping me cook, my family is connected to the process through invisible waves of fragrant steam emerging from the kitchen. When we sit down together in the evening and spook a fresh-cooked meal onto our plates, we all participate in that connection to our senses, our present moment, our selves.

Sometimes I more-or-less follow a recipe, other times I invent something new. But whatever process I use emerges from my life. Recipes I choose to follow or invent are based on my past experience, on my dietary values at the time, on the ingredients available in my house or those I can afford at the store, on the way I feel, and the way I wish to connect with others around me. Recipes I choose to cook always come out of the depths of who I am and where I am in life at a particular moment. All that is in my participates in the act of cooking.

But cooking is not merely an expression of myself. The process of creation shapes who I am in many ways. For example, cooking strengthens my awareness of my dependence on the earth. I like to start with basic ingredients and cook from scratch because it puts me in closer contact with the source of the food. I don't grind my flour myself, but it is easier to see the connection to wheat in a bag of whole grain flour than in a package of processed baking mix. When I use fresh herbs and vegetables from the store or from my garden, I feel the same connection.

Cooking has also been a way to connect with the mysterious process of creation. In cooking, one combines separate, individual ingredients and transforms them into something new. Each of the ingredients form making a muffin has a unique taste and texture that is nothing like a muffin. Combining those ingredients and baking them is as clear an illustration of transformation as one could hope for. A muffin is a new entity -- different from its ingredients separately and different from the unbaked batter of all the ingredients mixed. This happens in a more or less dramatic fashion in all cooking.

I began to realize that cooking was my spiritual practice when my life got too busy to cook -- yet I did it anyway. I was a wife, mother of two, homeowner, dog owner -- and then I started graduate school. Week after week I kept telling myself, "This is crazy, I don't have time for all this cooking." But somehow I found myself making the time to cook and being happy that I had.

Slowly, I realized why I couldn't give up cooking. Cooking was much more than a way to feed the physical bodies of my family and myself. It was much more than an enjoyable hobby. Cooking nourished my soul, too. Like all good spiritual experience, the time spent in practice enhances the rest of life rather than taking something valuable away.

My pot of tomato sauce is a prayer that has developed and evolved over the years. At first, I followed Mom's recipe exactly, creating a smooth, mild, flavorful sauce. Later, my father showed me a way to make spaghetti sauce that drew on his Italian heritage: it was a spicy, chunky, and potent sauce. In college, I began to cook a sauce that combined my mother's and father's recipes. I stopped measuring ingredients and just added them and tasted regularly. When my husband and I stopped eating red meat, I came up with a recipe for ground turkey meatballs. When we stopped eating meat altogether, I devised a vegetarian meatball. When my son was refusing to eat any vegetables, I added grated carrot to the sauce. I'm sure the sauce, like all my cooking will continue to evolve with the ever-changing inner and outer lives of myself and the members of my family.

When I cook I am part of the interconnecting past, present, and future of humanity. I have opened a window to my own inner soul and to the world around me. I am completely involved in the activities of life and paying close attention to all that surrounds me. By being fully present in the moment, I experience a peace, a connection, and a rootedness. Through this awareness I am connected with the ultimate forces of the universe within and without. That is my definition of spirituality. When the activities of one's life become spiritual practice in these ways, the activities of life itself become a prayer.

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See also: Anne-Marie Fryer Wiboltt, Cooking for the Love of the World: Awakening Our Spirituality through Cooking. "An internationally acclaimed biodynamic farmer, natural health counselor, and nutritional cooking teacher infuses cooking and eating with deeply reverent and spiritual consciousness. Food is placed within an understanding of the earthly and cosmic forces of plant life and exquisite recipes transform nature into the art of cooking."

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2016-11-29

Music: Sun Dec 4


CUUC’s Choir is on hand this Sunday with joyous, life-affirming selections to herald the holiday season. Choir Pianist Georgianna Pappas also offers seasonal favorites by Tchaikovsky as well as beloved Peanuts music by Vince Guaraldi. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Georgianna Pappas, piano
Nutcracker Suite
          Overture
           March of the Wooden Soldiers
          Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies
           Russian Dance

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Light, You Will Have  
Amy F. Bernon

Offertory:
Linus and Lucy.     
Vince Guaraldi

Anthem:
Exultate!* 
 Mary Lynn Lightfoot 
*Translation: Rejoice in God, our helper.  Be joyful unto God.
                         Let us give thanks, give thanks to God.  Rejoice!



2016-11-23

Aspire Without Attachment

Practice of the Week
Aspire Without Attachment
'I once heard Thich Nhat Hanh described as “a cloud, a butterfly, and a bulldozer.” Hearing him speak I couldn’t agree more. He is so soft, gentle, and egoless, yet surprisingly powerful.' (Kozo Hattori)
Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:

To live is to pursue goals. Out of healthy self-interest and kindness to yourself, it's natural and fine to seek security, success, comfort, enjoyment, creative expression, physical and mental health, connection, respect, love, self-actualization, and spiritual development.

But is your pursuit of your goals driven and stressed? Or do you pursue goals with outer effort and inner peacefulness? If your pursuit is driven and stressed, then you are attached to an outcome. If, however, you are rewarded by the journey itself no matter the destination, then your pursuit is one of aspiration without attachment.

The difference between attachment and aspiration got really clear for me one time in Boulder, Colorado, where I'd gone with my old friend Bob for a week of rock climbing. Our guide, Dave, asked us what our goals were, and I said I wanted to climb 5.11 (a stiff grade) by the end of the week; at that point I could barely climb 5.8. Bob stared at me and then said this was crazy, that I'd only get frustrated and disappointed (Bob's pretty driven, and doesn't like falling short). I said no, that it would be a win for me either way: my goal was so ambitious that if I failed to reach it there'd be no shame, and if I did manage to fulfill it, wow, that would be a ton of fun. So I kept banging away, getting steadily better: 5.8, 5.9, easy 5.10, hard 5.10 ... and then on the last day, I followed Dave without a fall on solid 5.11. Yay!

At the heart of attachment is craving -- broadly defined -- which contains and leads to many kinds of suffering (from subtle to intense). And while it may be an effective goad for a while -- the stick that whips the horse into a lather -- in the long run it is counterproductive, when that horse keels over. On the other hand, aspiration -- working hard toward your goals without getting hung up on the results -- feels good, plus it helps you stretch and grow without worrying about looking bad.

Paradoxically, holding your goals lightly increases the chance of attaining them, while being attached -- and thus fearing failure -- gets in the way of peak performance.

If you sit on the couch your whole life and never take care of or go after anything important, you can avoid the pitfalls of attachment. But if you have a job, intimate relationship, family, service, art, or spiritual calling, the challenge is to stay firm in your course, with dedication and discipline, centered in aspiration.

How

Aspiration is about liking, while attachment is about wanting -- and these involve separate systems in your brain (Berridge and Robinson 1998; Pecina, Smith, and Berridge 2006). Liking what is pleasant and disliking what is unpleasant are normal and not a problem. Trouble comes when we tip into the craving and strain inherent in wanting, wanting, wanting what's pleasant to continue and what's unpleasant to end. So learn to recognize the differences between liking and wanting in your body, emotions, attitudes, and thoughts. I think you'll find that liking feels open, relaxed, and flexible while wanting feels tight, pressed, contracted, and fixated.

Then, see if you can stay with liking without slipping into wanting:
  • Help little alarm bells to go off in your mind -- Alert! Caution! -- when you get that familiar feeling of wanting/craving, especially when it's subtle and floating around in the back of your mind.
  • Relax any sense of "gotta have it." Feel into the ways your life is and will be basically all right even if you don't attain a particular goal. Seek results from a place of fullness, not scarcity or lack.
  • Try to remain relatively peaceful -- even in the midst of passionate activity -- since intensity, tension, fear, and anger all fuel strong wanting.
  • Release any fixation on a certain outcome. Recognize that all you can do is tend to the causes, but you can't force the results.
  • Keep the sense of "me" to a minimum. Success or failure will come from dozens of factors, only a few of which are under your control. Win or lose, don't take it personally.
Along the way, watch out for the widespread belief that if you're not fiercely driven toward your goals, you're kind of a wimp. Remember that you can have strong effort toward your aims without falling into attachment to the results. Consider the description I once heard of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who has accomplished many things as a peace advocate and teacher:
A cloud, a butterfly, and a bulldozer.
For Journaling

How do you understand aspiration without attachment? Write out how you would explain it to someone else.

The distinction between aspiration and attachment parallels the distinction between request and demand: If the answer is "no," then the degree to which you are bothered or upset is the degree to which you were demanding/attached rather than requesting/aspiring. In your journal one morning make a list of all the things that you would like to achieve or have happen in the day ahead. List 10-20 things. Then put a rating beside each item on your list, from 0 (you won't be upset at all if that doesn't happen) to 10 (you'll be very upset/bothered/disappointed/despondent if that doesn't happen). Reflect on your list and the ratings you gave. Using the tips above in the "How" section, can you lower your "upsetness" ratings?

Rick Hanson on Aspiring Without Attachment:



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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

Music: Sun Nov 27


Seasonal favorites by Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg, Edward MacDowell, and Tchaikovsky mark the end of a festive holiday weekend at CUUC. The Prelude also includes atmospheric works by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz and the Russian Dmitry Shostakovich. Read on for programming details, and check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARDh-G45d_8 -- or see video below -- for Adam Kent’s rendition of Albéniz’s brooding Evocación.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Thanks, Op. 62, No. 2
                        Edvard Grieg
Prelude in Ab Major, Op. 34, No. 17
Prelude in c# minor, Op. 34, No. 19
Dmitri Shostakovich
Evocación from Iberia, Book I
            Isaac Albéniz
Opening Music:
In Autumn, Op. 51, No. 4
                                    Edward MacDowell
Offertory:
November, Op. 37, No. 11
                        Pyotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

Interlude:
Autumn Song, Op. 37, No. 10
                                    Tchaikovsky



2016-11-17

Church and Politics

ON THE POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT OF FAITH CONGREGATIONS
Meredith Garmon

The Supreme Court recognized in Walz v. Tax Commission, back in 1970:
“Adherents of particular faiths and individual churches frequently take strong positions on public issues including vigorous advocacy of legal or constitutional positions. Of course, churches as much as secular bodies and private citizens have that right.”
What the congregation can’t do, under IRS regulations for nonprofits, is advocate for or against any specific candidate for elective office, or any political party. But churches, temples, synagogues, mosques – congregations of any faith – may certainly engage on issues of public policy -- including elected and appointed political leaders.

So I will not, from the pulpit, or in CUUC newsletters or emails, or in CUUC-connected blogs, speak for or against any specific candidate or party. When communicating through those channels, I have avoided even saying the name of either of the major party nominees for president. When communicating through certain other channels, such as social media, I haven't been shy about naming names and expressing my opinions of candidates, but I do so as an individual citizen, not as the CUUC minister.

Since Nov 8, however, Mr. Trump and Sec. Clinton are no longer candidates. We, as a nonprofit, may express our support or our opposition for any elected or appointed leader, as well as any policy issue or legislative proposal. Until such time as Mr. Trump announces that he is running for re-election in 2020, he is not a candidate. We, as a nonprofit faith community, may vociferously and explicitly denounce or support his actions or his words.

Indeed, I believe that it is our obligation -- as a people of faith who covenant to affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion, and the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all -- to do so.

For more info, see: "The Real Rules: Congregations and the IRS Guidelines on Advocacy, Lobbying, and Elections" (21 page PDF)

2016-11-16

The Magical Playlist

Practice of the Week
The Magical Playlist

How to Quickly Quiet Your Mind
“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” (William Congreve)

While we all want to experience a deeper peace in our lives, many of us are unwilling to commit to practice a spiritual discipline. Meditation is powerful, yet there are quicker ways to get some of the benefit. The Magical Playlist helps people let go of their worries, and melt into the serenity of their heart and soul.

The Magical Playlist is simply an assortment of your favorite, most heart-oriented and meaningful songs conveniently placed on one playlist on your digital music player or smartphone. By having a playlist (or two) of all your favorite songs, you can easily have access to deep feelings of love and peace. Your personal favorite songs have the ability to move you into your heart, uplift your spirit, and help you feel a depth of peace.

In my own case, I originally created two magical playlists. On one are all my favorite instrumental songs. I use this playlist whenever I don't want to have to engage my mind in listening to lyrics. It's amazing how, after hearing just one of these songs, I enter into a totally different mood. On my second playlist, I have all my favorite heart-oriented songs with lyrics I particularly like. Often, I'll listen to one of these songs whenever I desire to to feel peaceful inside, or as a way to get me in the mood for meditation.

A man named Frank came to see me complaining of marital difficulties. As he entered my office, it was clear that he was very tense. He told me that his spouse was fed up with him because of how stressed he was from his job as an air traffic controller. When he went home each evening, he'd spend the first three hours in front of the tube -- just trying to unwind from his job. By the time he started to feel a bit relaxed and sociable, his wife was ready to go to bed. After asking him some questions, I learned that he enjoyed classical music. I suggested he make a playlist of his favorite classical works, and listen to a couple of songs in his car before entering his house each evening. When he returned to my office the following week, he told me that his wife reported, "You've become a new man." Apparently, ten minutes of classical music helped Frank unwind more effectively than hours of TV. By the time he walked into his house each night, Frank was relaxed, refreshed, and emotionally available for his wife.

For many people, music is an easy and amazingly effective way to become centered. I have coached many of my clients to carefully choose the type of music to play before key events in their life. Before an important presentation, they might choose a favorite rock 'n' roll song. Before a romantic night on the town with their mate, they may choose a favorite love song. Before a time of meditation or prayer, they may choose some New Age or quiet piano music. By knowing what mood you'd like to get into, and choosing an appropriate piece of music to assist in that process, many people find they can successfully manage their moods much more effectively than every before.

Of all the possessions I own, the music I carry in my iPhone is most treasured. By listening to these songs, I have almost immediate access to any feeling I want -- with no additional cost and no known side effects. In making the playlists, I looked through all the songs I own, and carefully selected the ones that have always had the most impact on me. Recently, I even created a couple of playlists of my favorite rock 'n' roll songs. It was a fun process.

Over the years, my two original playlists have blossomed into seven: two rock 'n' roll, three heart-oriented, and two musical compositions that help me feel peaceful. At east one time each day, I take a break from my activities and turn to my iPhone, tune into the music, and drop out of my mind's constant concerns. Whenever I meditate, I always listen to at least one song beforehand to help me get quiet inside. Try it -- you'll love it! After your five to ten-minute vacation, your mind will be clearer and your soul more soothed. With hardly any effort at all, you'll find that you're more centered in your heart and better able to handle whatever life throws your way.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2016-11-15

Music: Sun Nov 20


Solo piano music by American composers is highlighted at this year’s Thanksgiving Service. In addition, the general call to U.U. congregations to make reference to Native American people at these services is reflected in excerpts from Arthur Farwell’s Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas and Harvey Worthington Loomis’s Lyrics of the Native American.
Edward MacDowell’s seasonal favorite A.D. 1620 and a nifty set of variations on Yankee Doodle round out the Prelude music. Two arrangements of popular songs by George Gershwin are included in the Offertory. The CUUC Choir is on hand with the Spiritual “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” and John Rutter’s embodiment of thankfulness in “For the Beauty of the Earth”. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
A.D. MDCXX from Sea Pieces, Op. 55*
                                                Edward MacDowell
Song of Approach from Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas, Op. 21
                                                Arthur Farwell
Around the Wigwam from Lyrics of the Native American, Book I
                                                Harvey Worthington Loomis
Variations on “Yankee Doodle”         
                                                Anonymous American Colonial

*Prefaced by the following text in the score:
The yellow setting sun
Melts the lazy sea to gold,
And gilds the swaying galleon
That towards a land of promise
Lunges hugely on.

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
For the Beauty of the Earth
                                                John Rutter

Offertory:
Clap Yo’ Hands*
Who Cares?
                                                George Gershwin
*Ira Gershwin’s Lyrics:
Come on, you children, gather around.
Gather around, you children,
And we will lose that evil spirit
Called the Voodoo, Voodoo!

Nothing but trouble if he has found,
If he has found you, children!
But you can chase the hoodoo
With the dance that you do, you do.

Let me lead the way,
There's a new belief today,
But he'll never hound you;
Stamp on the ground, you children, come on!

Clap your hands! Slap your thigh!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Everybody come along and join the jubilee!

Clap your hands! Slap your thigh!
Don't you lose time! Don't you lose time!
Come along, it's "Shake your shoes" time
Now for you and me!

On the sands of time
You are only a pebble.
Remember, trouble must be treated
Just like a rebel;
Send him to the Devil!

Clap your hands! Slap your thigh!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Everybody come along and join the jubilee!

Anthem:
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?
                        American Spiritual arr. by Greg Gilpin

2016-11-10

Turn Things Around

Practice of the Week
Turn Things Around


Where there's confusion or pain in your life, make use of it instead of trying to get rid of it. Trying to get rid of it usually doesn't work anyway. It only makes things worse. (Of course, if your painful situation can be resolved somehow, resolve it. Spiritual growth and depth is not about acquiescence to bad situations that can be improved; it is about addressing the pesky facts and emotional states that are not so simply removed: grief, fear, and so on.)

There is a slogan from the Buddhist tradition:
"Three objects, three poisons, three seeds of virtue."
"Turn things around" means turning the three objects and poisons into seeds of virtue.

Three objects refers to three categories of objects, and object isn't exclusively a physical object (thoughts and feelings are "objects" of consciousness, as physical objects are objects of perception.) The "three objects," then, are: attractive, repellent, and neutral. Objects themselves do not have these qualities, but our reactions to the objects do. Whatever comes into our consciousness will spur a reaction in us, and this reaction will be one of these three: we will either like, dislike, or be neutral to the object.

Three poisons refers to greed, hate, and delusion. These are the emotional activities we indulge in response to the three objects. We are greedy for attractive objectives; we hate repellent objects; we are confused or indifferent about neutral objects.

The three objects and three poisons describe basic ordinary daily life. "Objects" constantly arise, and we are constantly trying to grab them and make them stay or push them away as soon as possible, depending on the style of our reactivity and emotion. The flow of these objects and emotions goes on constantly, usually below the level of conscious awareness. We wake up in the morning and feel too cold or too hot or just right. This makes us feel pleasant or irritated or neutral. Our coffee is tasty or not so tasty, and we're slightly pleased or annoyed. Our thoughts are pleasant or not so pleasant. All day long objects appear to our perception, feeling, and thought, and all day long we are reacting in simple, basic ways to each and every object: wonderful, let's keep this one; terrible, let's get rid of this one; neutral, I don't care about this one.

All day long this flows on, usually without much discernible problem. But occasionally our likes or dislikes become strongly activated by objects, and then we become powerfully happy or miserable, overcome with lust or desire or anger or fear.

Quite often we cannot avoid losing what we find attractive and having to put up with what we find repellent. And in the biggest picture of our lives, we always end up losing what we want (our loved ones, our health) and having to put up with what we don't want (our aging, our illness, our death, and the loss of our loved ones). If we insist on trying desperately to control things we can't control, we eventually become very desperate and unhappy -- the world begins to seem like a very hostile and unjust place, and we can become quite paranoid and upset about almost everything. Once you decide that the world is a hostile and inhospitable place and the people in it untrustworthy and venal, things begin to get worse and worse and worse. So the three objects and three poisons are lamentable realities. If we don't pay attention to them, if we don't figure out a way to cooperate with rather than resist their pressure, they can ruin our lives.

Three seeds of virtue appear when the three poisons are turned around. We don't have control of much, but we do have control of whether to turn around the greed, hate, and delusion that appears in our lives.

Contrary to what we might think, the three objects and three poisons are not problems and traps. They are seeds of virtue. The basic human mess of likes and dislikes, in which we seem to be trapped and which seems to be so dangerous and troublesome, is actually wonderful, a real treasure. Our messes and our problems are our treasures! Our suffering, our troubles, our problems, the things that we really don't like and want to get rid of but can't, or the losses we feel, the things we wanted to keep and sadly cannot -- all of this is a treasure to us if only we can understand it in the right way. Everything painful and difficult has the potential to bring us great joy and deep spiritual riches.

We can turn toward and appreciate our suffering, our problems, and the suffering and problems of others. Given the power of our likes and dislikes and the intractability of the world (which doesn't organize itself according to our needs), it won't do not to deal with our likes and dislikes in some way other than simply trying constantly to fulfill them. So naturally we imagine somehow trying to modify or eliminate them. But this is not what "turn things around" means. It means something radically different. It means recognizing that our very likes and dislikes and the suffering they bring us, can be the source of spiritual growth.

How

Write down "turn things around." Contemplate it carefully. Bring it up when you find yourself annoyed or upset by instances of liking and disliking that are causing you suffering. This practice might help you to let go a little in that moment. Even if you don't believe it and are only a little intrigued by it, it can be helpful to practice this slogan. It will have the effect of causing you to stop your lamentation for a moment and recall that it might just be possible that there is something potentially good and positive in this agony in which you are right now enmeshed.

The earlier Practice, "Real Compassion" (SEE HERE), trains us to see and feel that our pain and difficulty in this life, and the pain and the difficulty of others, is the gateway that will lead us down the path of love. We don't need to avoid or protect ourselves from pain. Quite the contrary. When pain and suffering are present, we need to turn toward them, breathe them in. And through this practice of suffering, we can transform it, and transform ourselves. Turning things around -- turning the three objects and poisons into seeds of virtue -- fits with the sending and receiving of Real Compassion.

What a difference this would make in your life if you actually knew that when things happen that you don't like, that are difficult or painful, you don't need to complain and try fruitlessly to change them (when they can't be changed), and that you don't need to find someone to blame and then do battle with that blameworthy person, as if you were a victim, but instead you can have a profound and heartfelt sense of acceptance and love. You can breathe in the difficulty and transform it into ease and healing through your body.

The practice of turning things around requires cultivation over time, persistence, diligence, and strength. It requires keeping up the effort, all of the time, in everything we do.

Suppose you understood all of your pain and suffering as raw materials for transformation and healing. Your life would be completely different.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2016-11-09

Music: Sun Nov 13


Sunday morning’s musical selections were chosen in consultation with Cathy Kortlandt, who won the chance to plan music for a worship service at last year’s Goods and Services Auction. Cathy requested works containing the life-affirming, awe-inducing expression “Alleluia”. In the midst of a month devoted to exploring the theme of Evil, in the aftermath of an election season which polarized our entire country, we hope that Cathy’s musical selections will provide a welcome, much needed antidote. Cathy provides the following comments:
Last year, I was lucky enough to win the privilege of selecting music for a service.  After much thought, I chose music with the theme of "alleluia".  I chose this theme because I find that it is somehow easy to postpone happiness and celebration, but grief and sadness always insist on being dealt with immediately.  "Alleluia" music reminds me to celebrate as fully and immediately as I grieve.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Lisa N. Meyer, soprano and CUUC Choir Director; Adam Kent, piano and CUUC Music Director;
Kim & Chris Force, vocals and piano
Battle Hymn of the Republic
                                                            Julia Ward Howe
Michael Row the Boat Ashore
                                                            Traditional Spiritual

Opening Music: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas; Kim Force, soloist
Hallelujah
                                                            Leonard Cohen (R.I.P.)

Offertory:
Halleluia from Messiah
                                                            George Frederick Handel

Interlude:
Alleluia
                                                            Randall Thompson
                                                           

2016-11-05

Days in Place Fauna List

Days in Place Fauna List



Could there have been a more beautiful day with the sun moving in an arc to paint all the colors of the trees?  In one tree, a nearly leave-less tulip tree, we spotted cardinals, house finches, robins, starlings, dark eyed-juncos, and a chickadee, many of them going to town on the seeds that rained down on our heads as we looked up.

Today marked the most species we have ever seen in one day - the place was hopping! 

So tomorrow when you come, look up, look down,  look far, for there is beauty all around you.



3 Grey squirrels (1 was black)
1 Red squirrel

5 Canada goose
2 Red-tailed hawk
1 Gull species
8 Mourning dove
2 Red-bellied woodpecker
1 Hairy woodpecker
1 Northern flicker
1 Pileated woodpecker
2 Blue Jay
3 American crow
1 Fish crow
1 Black-capped chickadee
1 Tufted titmouse
2 White-breasted nuthatch
30 America robin
4 European starling
1 Yellow-rumped warbler
5 Dark-eyed junco
1 White-throated sparrow
3 Northern cardinal
2 Red-winged blackbird
1 Common grackle
120 Blackbird species

13 House finch

2016-11-02

Face the Evil

Practice of the Week
Face the Evil
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)
The challenge, then, is to frankly acknowledge your own moral mistakes, empathize with those of others, and take appropriate action in the world.

A: Face Your Participation in the Sadness of the World

Journal each day for 10 days. At the end of the day, take inventory:
  • In what ways were you blind to that which is most life-giving?
  • Who or what did you refuse to see?
  • How or when did you neglect the magnificence of interconnected living?
Find a “spiritual buddy” and practice your confession. At least once in the middle of the 10 days and once at the end, face your own participation in the sadness of the world by speaking it aloud to someone else. (This may work better if your buddy is also doing this exercise and you can take turns confessing to each other.)

B: Answer Evil with Empathy

Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” So for this part of the exercise, empathize with people who do things that seem evil to you.

Every day for 10 days, collect or recall a story of a person doing evil. You might recall an infamous person from history who committed atrocities. Or you might leaf through the morning newspaper for accounts of people behaving in ways that strike you as evil. Or google “evil acts.” Begin by sketching in your journal each day one thing that one person did that struck you as evil.

Then: empathize. This is likely to be an exercise of your imagination. Imagine what the purported evil-doer was feeling and needing that produced the “evil” behavior? “Feeling” refers to emotions experienced -- sad, mad, glad, scared, and disgusted are the basic ones (SEE HERE for identifying emotions). “Needing” refers to any universally shared desire, keeping in mind that “universally shared” doesn’t mean “universally indulged or pursued.” Describe those feelings (which you, too, have felt) and those needs (the wants that you, too, are prone to have) that, as best you can guess, account for the behavior in question.

C: Do Something!

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” So after spending 10 days on "A" and "B," form a plan of action to reduce the evil in the world. Whether in your personal life, or in a more public sphere, do something beyond what is normal for you – something that lessens the impact of an "evil" in the world.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"