CUUC

CUUC

2017-04-26

Music: Sun Apr 30


On the outskirts of Barcelona at the summit of Tibidabo, a peak of the Collserola mountain chain, is a playful amusement park known as “Parc d’attraccions”. The site and some of its divertissements are evoked in a charming suite for solo piano by Catalan composer Manuel Blancafort performed this morning. Tibidabo, based on the Latin “tibi dabo”—“I shall give you”---is taken from the Vulgate from the Gospel of St. Matthew. The Devil tempts Jesus, showing him a view of the world from on high—as if from a mountain peak—and suggests, “All these things I shall give you, if though wilt fall down and worship me.” As a tourist destination, Tibidabo features not only the quaint children’s rides and spectacular views of the city and the Mediterranean, but also the peculiar image of a huge statue of Christ overlooking the tiny Sagrat Cor church, His arms outstretched over the park’s gigantic Ferriswheel.

The CUUC Choir is also on hand with selections inspired by April’s monthly theme of Mercy, including references to divine compassion as well as poetry by Emily Dickinson.

Finally, song writer and satirist extraordinaire Roy Zimmerman—widely admired in UU circles—returns to CUUC with selections for the morning’s Offertory and Postlude.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude Adam Kent, piano
From Parc d’attraccions
   I.   L’Orgue dels cavallets (The Carousel Organ)
   II.  El tumult desvetlla recorts (The Tumult Awakens Memories)
   III.  Polka de l’equilibrista (The Polka of the Tight-Rope Walker)
Manuel Blancafort

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
"His Eye Is On The Sparrow" Music by Charles Gabriel, Words by Civilla D. Marin, arr. by Ruth Elaine Schram

Offertory: Roy Zimmerman
"Citizens United"

Anthem: CUUC Choir
"I Shall Not Live In Vain"   Music by Ruth Morris Gray, Words by Emily Dickinson

Postlude: Roy Zimmerman
"My Vote, My Voice, My Right"

2017-04-25

Discern

Practice of the Week
Discern

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." --Yogi Berra
Discerning is different from deciding. Deciding can be a very rational process (carefully assessing pros and cons), or not rational (whimsical, impulsive). Either way, deciding doesn't put "who am I?" and "what is my highest purpose?" at the center of the process. Discernment draws upon intuition, but in a very careful and intentional way -- so it is neither primarily cognitive/rational nor whimsical or impulsive.


There is no foolproof way to definitely say that one thought is a trustworthy intuition and another is a delusion. There is, however, a process that can help separate true discernment from mental garbage.

First, before you present the question to your inner self, determine if you are willing to hear whatever answer you get. If you've already made up your mind about what's best for you to do in a particular situation, then you cannot enter a discernment process. Discernment requires openness to self-discovery, finding in self-awareness what you are called to do. Before venturing into such a process, I ask myself, "Is there any answer I might receive that I wouldn't be willing to listen to?" If there is, then I defer the process until I am open to hear any answer that might arise. I have made a "deal" with my higher self that just because I hear a particular answer doesn't mean I have to act on it. Knowing that I have this "safety valve" has helped me to be receptive to whatever answer arises.

Once I have surrendered to the possibility of any answer to my question, I take time to quiet my mind. I meditate or sit still listening some favorite music. Then I ask a specific question about a current concern for me. Generally, my question takes the form of, "What do I need to know or do to serve my highest purpose in relationship to _____ ?" Then I wait as receptively as possible. Whenever I notice my mind trying to "figure out" the answer, I take a deep breath and simply try to relax and let go. Discernment does not emerge from a rational thinking process.

People receive the voice of their deepest self in different ways. Some people actually hear a voice that sounds somehow unlike their normal inner dialog. Other people see images or symbols that indicate what they need to know. Most people simply get a strong sense of what "feels right." Often, this feeling of what is right seems to spontaneously arise from nowhere, yet there is a strong sense of certainty about it. It's like an "Ah-hah" experience. It's as if you knew the answer all along -- because you did, though you didn't know you knew it, and know you've discovered it within you.

Since people experience connecting with their intuition in different ways, it's helpful to remember how you've received intuitive information in the past. Think back to a specific time you felt like you received a trustworthy intuitive answer. What made you think that this was a true intuition? (Our intuitions are often wrong, after all.) Once you can identify how you were able to discern an answer in the past, you will know what to look for in the future. A trustworthy intuition usually comes not only with a strong feeling of "rightness," but often also with a feeling of openness or relaxation in the body and peacefulness in the mind. Like all skills, the more you practice, the more likely you'll notice subtle distinctions that differentiate discernment from normal thinking and feeling.

If you practice the discernment process and receive no answer -- or one that is unclear, there are a couple things you can do. First, you can ask that an answer become clear to you sometime during the next week. I've often had the experience of not getting an answer immediately, but spontaneously receiving an answer days later why walking my dog. When we are persistent in asking a question, the answer eventually comes. It may even come from an unexpected source, such as a friends conversation or a TV show. However the guidance arrives, there will likely be a familiar feeling of "rightness" -- a conviction that you now know what to do.

The second thing you can do when discernment is slow in coming, or you're not sure if what you've received is best for you, is to seek more information. You can pursue addition information in a linear, rational way by simply asking yourself, "Is there any person or resource that might know information relevant to my situation?" Once the rational mind is satisfied it has collected all the information it can, it is often easier to tune into your best intuition.

Some people make the mistake of asking for intuitive information merely because they're too lazy or afraid to research the relevant facts about their situation. For example, I had a client who kept asking his inner guide if he should buy a certain house. He secretly wanted to buy the house, and his desire was interfering with his ability to discern. I suggested he get the house inspected and appraised to see if it was a good deal. He initially resisted, but finally relented. The results from the inspection indicated that the house was on the verge of falling apart. You don't need discernment when rational decision-making yields a clear answer.

If, after trying these ideas and methods you're still not sure that the answer that arises is trustworthy, then set the question aside and focus on you primary spiritual practice for a few weeks. When you're better "aligned with your higher self" or "in touch with your true self," your discernment will be more clear.

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

2017-04-20

Be Grateful to Everyone

Practice of the Week
Be Grateful to Everyone

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)


Be grateful to everyone. Very simple but very profound.

I went to visit my grandson when he was six weeks old. He couldn't do anything, not even hold up his head, much less feed himself. If he was in trouble, he couldn't ask for help. If suddenly he found his hand in his mouth and began chewing, he didn't know what that was or who it belonged to. And if he liked the hand in his mouth and it fell out of his mouth, he couldn't figure out how to get it back in. He had no idea of anything in the world. He had his likes and dislikes, certainly, but he was powerless to do anything but experience them as the world changed every moment. He was completely dependent on his parents' care.

We were all at one time precisely in this situation, and someone or other must have cared for us in this same comprehensive way. Without 100 percent total care from someone else, or maybe several others, we would not be here. This is certainly grounds for gratitude to others.

But our dependence on others did not end there. We didn't grow up and become independent. Now we can hold up our heads, fix our dinner, wipe our butt, and we seem not to need our parents to take care of us -- so we think we are autonomous. We think there is no longer a need to be grateful to others for our lives.

But consider this for a moment. Did you grow the food that sustains you every day? Did you till the soil, milk the cow, gather the eggs, kill the chicken? Did you make the car or train that takes you to work? Did you make the road? Extract the fuel? Sew your clothing? Build your house with lumber you milled? How do you live?

You need others every single day, every single moment of your life. It's thanks to others and their presence and effort that you have the things you need to continue, and that you have friendship and love and meaning in your life. Without others you have nothing. You may think, "Well, yes, but I work and I make money, and I pay for everything. So they are not taking care of me; it's my money that takes care of me. Even the highways and commuter trains: I pay my taxes." But suppose you have a lot of money and there is no one else in the world but you, you and your gigantic pile of money. How would you survive? Could you eat the money? Could you make a house for yourself inside the money? The money is only valuable because others exist. Money makes no sense without others. Its value exists because others exist.

Our dependence on others runs deeper. Where does the person we take ourselves to be come from in the first place? Apart from our parents' genes and their support and car, and society and all it produces for us, there's the whole network of conditions and circumstances that intimately makes us what we are. How about our thought and feeling? Where does it come from? Without words to think in, we don't think, we don't have anything like a sense of self as we understand it, and we don't have the emotions and feelings that are shaped and defined by our words. Did we invent this language that constitutes ourselves? No, it is the product of untold numbers of speakers over untold numbers of generations. Without the myriad circumstances that provided us the opportunities for education, for speech, for knowledge, for work, we wouldn't be here as we are. And without all the people in our lives whom we know and who know us and love us and create complications for us and infuriate us, we would have nothing to think about. We would be beyond bored: our consciousness would be shattered by loneliness.

There could not be what we call a person without other people. We can say "person" as if there could be such an autonomous thing, but in fact there is no such thing. There is no such thing as a person. There are only persons who have cocreated one another over the long history of our species. The idea of an independent, isolated, atomized person is impossible. And here we are not only speaking of our needing others practically. We are talking about our inmost sense of identity. Our consciousness of ourselves is never independent of others.

Buddhist teachings speak of "nonself" and "emptiness." What these terms mean is that there is no such thing as an isolated individual. Though we can say there is, and though we might think there is, and though many of our thoughts and motivations seem to be based on this idea, in fact it is an erroneous idea. Every thought in our minds every emotion that we feel, every word that comes out of our mouth, every material sustenance we need to get through the day, comes through the kindness of and the interaction with others. And not only other humans. Our nonhuman companions, the wildlife that sustain ecosystems that sustain us, and the animals whose pain and flesh provides food for some humans all contribute to making us who we are. Indeed, the whole of the earth, the soil, the sky, the trees, the air we breathe and water we drink constitute us. We not only depend on all of this, we are all of it and it is us.

To practice gratitude to everyone, to train is this profound understanding, is to cultivate gratitude every day. Gratitude is the happiest of attitudes: you simply cannot be grateful and unhappy at the same time. If you feel grateful, you are a happy person. If you feel grateful for what is possible for you in this moment, no matter what your challenges are -- grateful that you are alive, that you can think, that you can feel, that you can stand, sit, walk, talk -- then you are happy and you maximize your chances for well-being and for sharing happiness with others.

For Journaling

Listing gratitudes, at least once a week, is an important part of journaling. Take some time to particularly reflect on your gratitude to (a) people you never met, (b) people who cared for and helped you and are now dead, (c) nonhuman animals, all beings, and all things.

See also, Practice of the Week: Be Grateful (Rick Hanson, with TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast)

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

2017-04-19

Music: Sun Apr 23


Mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna treats us to a program of songs connected to the natural world in honor of Earth Day. Ms. Tonna also reprises several of the colorful, moving settings of texts connected to Cuba by the Spanish-American composer Joaquin Nin-Culmell performed at our Friends of CUUC concert last January. Read on for Ms. Tonna’s biography, Sunday morning’s complete musical programming, and translations of foreign-language texts.

ANNA TONNA, MEZZO-SOPRANO

Mezzo Soprano Anna Tonna has been described as mezzo heroine who "knows how to sing Rossini" by the Rossini Gessellschaft and as "showing off her warm, secure mezzo-soprano to maximum advantage" by the New York Magazine; accolades such as these explain her constant demand as a recitalist and opera singer in both Europe and the Americas. The combination of a highly developed coloratura with a full, balanced, flexible lower register have guaranteed her acclaim as a lyric mezzo, both in familiar roles Rosina, Carmen, Dorabella, as well as in more rare repertoire by Paisiello, Vivaldi, Mascagni, Zandonai and Giordano.

She has been heard in such roles as Adalgisa in Norma at the Teatro Metropolitano in Medellin (Colombia), Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Opera Illinois, New Jersey State Opera and the Rountop Music Festival, Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana with New York Grand Opera, New Rochelle Opera and New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera, as Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro and Musetta in Leoncavallo's La Boheme with New York Grand Opera, Romeo in Capuletti ed i Montecchi with the Roundtop Music Festival, Maddalena in Rigoletto with the New Rochelle Opera, Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with the Teatro Nacional de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, as well as Dorabella in Cosí fan tutte and Angelina in La Cenerentola in Madrid.  She has sung North American premiere's of numerous works, including Paissiello's La Molinara in New York's Town Hall, Vivaldi's La Griselda, Rossini's l'Equivoco Stravagante at the Danny Kaye Theatre with the Bronx Opera in NYC, as well as Zandonai's La farsa amorosa  and Mascagni's Guglielmo Ratcliff both with Teatro Grattacielo in Avery Fischer Hall in Lincoln Center under the baton of Maestro Alfredo Silipigni and Maestro David Roe respectively.

Ms. Tonna’s artistry has been recognized by the Liederkranz Foundation, The Gerda Lissner Foundation, National Opera Association, BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) from the Bronx Council of the Arts, and a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research in and perform Spanish Art Song in Spain, where she has established a thriving career. Recordings that have preserved some of these efforts include Las canciones de Julio Gómez with label VERSO and her new disc release España alla Rossini with iTinerant Classics.

Additionally, Ms. Tonna’s passion for and excellence in the recital genre have garnered her increasing acclaim in both the U.S. and Europe, particularly her path breaking explorations of the repertoire of composers from Spain and Latin America. Ms. Tonna’s recitals are a source of constant expectation and excitement in New York City, where she has performed at both the Alice Tully Hall and Rose Center of Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Bargemusic, Merkin Hall, New York's Town Hall, Weil Recital Hall as well as at the Hispanic Society of America, Museo del Barrio of NY, Museum of the History of New York, Italian Cultural Institute and Goethe Haus. The same excitement greets her appearances in Spain, with performances at the Auditorio Nacional de España, Museo del Romanticismo, and Festival de Segovia. She has collaborated with Casals Festival of Puerto Rico, Festival Iberoamericano de las Artes in Puerto Rico, Música de Cámara, North South Consonance, Joy in Singing, Elysium Between Two Continents among others.

Her recital of “Songs of post civil war Spain” at the Fundación Juan March of Madrid was broadcast on Radio Television Española and hailed as “a tour de force” by the Spanish newspaper ABC. It is to be noted her appearance in June of 2012 at the St. Anton palace in Valletta, the presidential palace of the country of Malta, for a command performance for his Excellency George Abela.

A native and resident of New York City, Ms. Tonna holds a B.A in Music from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and a Masters in Performing Arts from the Mannes College of Music in New York City.

Prelude: Anna Tonna, mezzo-soprano; Adam Kent, piano
Two Afto-Cuban Songs
            Canción de Cuna Afro-Cubana

            La Niña de Guatemala

Si ves un monte de espumas

                                                Joaquín Nin-Culmell

Opening Music:
The Rose
                                                            Theodore Chanler

Offertory:
Ombra mai fu
                                                            George Frederick Handel

Interlude:
Del cabello más sutil

                                    Fernando Obradors
The Epitaph of a Butterfly
                                    Marion Bauer

Joaquín Nin-Culmell (1908-2004)

Canción de cuna (text by José Martí)
Afro-Cuban Cradle Song
Ogguere, Oggué [1]
The six o'clock bell
can be heard in the batey[2]
and the blacks of the dotasión[3]
will go to pray the prayer

Ogguere, sleep, that I have
to work, and after that sweep up
the hut.

La niña de Guatemala (Text by José Martí)
The Girl from Guatemala
I want to, on the shadow of a wing
tell this flowering tale:
of the girl from Guatemala
the one that died of love

There were flowering lilies,
and waves of silk
and of jazmin; we burried her
in a silken box

...She gave the one that had no memory
a small scented pillow:
he returned married;
she died of love

The pall bearers that carried her
were bishops and ambassadors;
the whole town followed,
all carrying flowers

She, in order to see him
went to the lookout point
he returned with his wife,
she died of love

Like the flaming bronze
the goodbye kiss was coined upon
her forehead - that forehead
which I have most loved in my life!

...she took herself that afternoon into the river.
a doctor took her out, dead
they say she died of cold,
I know that she died of love

There, in the cold vaulted ceilings,
they put her upon two  pillars
I kissed her small hand
I  kissed her white shoes

Silently and at while it became dark
the grave digger called me,
I have never seen again
the one that died of love!

Si ves un monte de espumas (text by José Martí)
If You Discern a Mount of Sea Foam
If you discern a mount of sea foam,
i
t is my verse that you see:
m
y verse is a mount and,
a fan of feathers.

My verse is like a dagger
at the hilt of
which a flower grows:
m
y verse is a fount from which flows
sparkling coral water.

My verse is light green
a
nd also a flaming red:
m
y verse is a wounded deer
s
eeking protection in the forest.

m
y verse is brief and sincere,
it will
appeal to the brave:
it is the
 strength of the steel
that forges the sword
.

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)
Ombra mai fu
Never was a shade….

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

Fernando Obradors (1897-1945)
Del cabello mas sutil
From That Finest Hair

From that finest hair
Which thou dost braid
I would craft a chain
To draw thee by my side.

A cup within thy house,
Dear maid, I'd pray become,
Wherein I'd kiss thy mouth
As oft as thou drink from ...
Ah!
 

[1]   Afro Cuban deity
[2]   Communal living quarters of slaves
[3]   Group of slaves belonging to one owner

2017-04-13

Marital Arts

Practice of the Week
Marital Arts

Category: If you're in a committed relationship, this practice would be in the "Worth a Try" category -- with some elements of the "Keep in Mind" category.
“Marriages, like careers, need constant nurturing. The secret of having it all is loving it all." --Joyce Brothers
Adapted from Maureen Killoran, "Marriage," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

The alarm rings, and so begins the spiritual discipline that has changed our lives. Neither my husband nor I are morning people, and at our age we tend to sleep poorly so most days we bring a less than enthusiastic response to the dawn. But still it begins. The alarm rings, and one or the other of us rolls over, switches on the light, and fumbles for a book which is hiding somewhere near the edge of the bed.

Let's say it's my turn to begin. I silently read the page we marked for today and pass the book to my husband who does the same. Then his voice is sleepy, quiet, as he reads aloud. Funny how different the text sounds when I listen. Peter returns the book to me, so that I, in turn may read aloud to him. For a few minutes, we share our reactions to what we have read, seeking to open our hearts a little wider as we begin the day. Each of us offers a prayer (sometimes we call it a wish) for the coming hours, and then, we close with a simple meditation:
Grace to us and peace.
We are given this day,
and awareness of its colors and sounds;
these and other gifts, too numerous to name
and infinitely rare, are given.
For these gifts,
we are thankful.
Grace to us, indeed. And peace. I credit this simple morning ritual, coupled with an equally simple one at bedtime, with saving our marriage and changing our lives. To understand this, you need to know where we have been.

Being married did not come easily to Peter and me, although we jumped into it quickly enough some ten years back. Each of us brought middle-aged stubbornness to our union, and neither of us had much experience with compromise or trust. Our relationship did not come easily, and yet we brought to the union a commitment to the marriage itself, a willed commitment to what we called the "third thing." Transcending our individual egos and self-interest, this commitment held us together even as anger and frustration pushed us apart. And yet there was loneliness and longing for some means of bridging the gulf that was our daily experience of relationship.

I had a mentor. I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Vera Mace, who, with her late husband David, pioneered the field of marriage enrichment. We spent many afternoons sharing good British tea—and our souls. Vera often spoke of David's and her lifetime commitment to making "better marriages, beginning with our own." In the empowering warmth of her example, I began for the first time seriously to entertain the possibility that a better marriage might be possible for Peter and me.

And then my friend Linda Bair made me a gift of a modern interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict was a monk in sixth-century Italy who revolutionized the monastic system of living into a daily rhythm of prayer, work, study, and fellowship. The keys to the Benedictine Rule are intentionality, companionate support, and respect for the irreplaceable details of the mundane. I was reminded of the Zen axiom, "When you are working, work. When you are sitting, sit. Above all, don't wobble."

Although as a couple, my husband and I were skeptical about conventional methods of prayer, the gentle pragmatism of Benedict's ancient Rule appealed to us. Together, we made a commitment to read a brief passage from the Rule every morning. As time went on, we tinkered with this and added that, until our brief reading developed into a ritual, a discipline of the head and the heart that we observe every day. We prayed—or at least we call it prayer—and out of that prayer has blossomed an astonishing bond of love.

Over time we have drawn on many sources: Benedict, Meister Eckhardt, the Dao De Jing, compilations of poetry, some of the Psalms. Our reflections are usually concrete, focusing on what the passage might mean in the immediate context of our lives. One of us might say:
"I've been thinking about all the odds and ends of time I've let go over the years -- all those hours when I believed life was forever. Now I can see the end, feel it coming towards me. No matter what comes along, whether it's good or bad, I don't want to miss a minute of what I have left to live."
Not infrequently we indulge in quiet conversation, sharing ideas or trading intimacies as we let the passage nudge us into a contemplative frame of mind. "I know what you mean. I don't think I've seen more than a couple of dozen sunrises. But I don't want to look backwards. You're right. At our age we can feel the end coming, and I want to be deliberate about looking ahead, appreciating the gifts we have today."

From there, we move into spoken prayer, an expression of intentionality about the day.
"Today I will make time for a walk in the middle of the day."
"Today I will pay attention to and celebrate the little things around me." "Please, God, help me find the strength for the difficult challenge I have to face this day."
"Help me hold in my heart the prob-lems and the suffering of ______ whose life is so very challenging right now."

Then, the ritual prayer, always the same, always said by one of us first and then the other. Although we have drawn on many sources in choosing our daily reading, this prayer of Benedict's we have committed to memory and it is the same for us each day: "Grace to us and peace. ..."
The day proceeds. We work and celebrate, make mistakes and achieve, laugh and squabble, worry and play. Whether we are better people for having prayed, I cannot tell, but I do know that I at least enter the world more centered, more connected to a relationship that provides an anchor for my values and my life. Prayer has not only saved my marriage; it also has deepened and enriched my life.

We work crazy hours, my husband and I. I'm a minister with lots of night meetings to attend, and he's a maintenance worker on the evening shift. By the time we get home, we are both tired and usually far from our best. For years we fell readily into arguments or, on a good night, into bed, pretty well wrapped up in a book or in ourselves. These days, we're still tired. We still read in bed. But something fundamental has changed. We spend some time, each night, in what, for us, is prayer.

We begin by taking turns re-reading aloud the passage with which we began our day. Peter reads, or I do, and then the book is passed and we listen to the other, hearing not so much the words as the voice of the beloved. Then—and this is crucial—no matter what kind of mood we are in, we take hands, and give to one another "an appreciation," a gift of words to share something large or little that our partner did that endeared him or her to us today.
"When we walked the dog, it made me feel good when you stopped and gave me a kiss. I appreciate that."
"I appreciate you for giving me support when I had a hard time giving blood today."
And frequently, the words come without bidding: "I love you."

We've discovered that a funny thing happens when you make a habit of ending your day by exchanging appreciations. As we go about our lives, we find ourselves noticing the little things that would otherwise have been ignored. Details become dear—the touch of a hand, a smile in the midst of a tough moment, the lilt of a voice during an otherwise routine exchange. He may not pick up his socks, but we laugh together, sometimes until we cry. I still slide too easily into impatience, but for the first time in my life, "I love you" is an ongoing feeling, not just words I ought to say.

I've come to the conclusion that a daily prayer discipline does not have to be complicated. It does not have to follow a ritual set down by people in a new or an old book. What matters is that you come to the whole business with an attitude of intentionality and with respect for the little things, the gifts of the ordinary that populate your days. What matters is that you find a pattern that fits, and then you stick to it.

And so we do, every day: "Grace to us and peace. ..." And with these words, with our intentionality, and our hope, has come that for which we hardly dared to pray. My husband and I love each other.

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For list of all Practices: "Practice of the Week Index"

2017-04-12

CUUC Music: Sun Apr 16


Beyond its overtly Christian associations, Easter has long been a celebration of spring’s arrival, in which the regeneration of life after the winter’s dormancy echoes Christ’s rise from the tomb. The morning’s musical selections reflect both the sanctity of the occasion as well as its joyfulness in two choir selections, Rene Clausen’s “Set Me As  A Seal “ and  Joseph A. Martin’s festive ”Come to the Music”. Solo piano works include verdant delights from Edward MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches and a tribute to spring by Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg. The Offertory features a little-known rag by Chas Thompson, the composer’s homage to the seasonal lily blossom. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
From Woodland Sketches, Op. 51
            To a Wild Rose
            To a Water-Lily
            From Uncle Remus
To Spring, Op. 43, No. 6
                                                Edvard Grieg


Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Set Me As A Seal 
 René Clausen  


Offertory:
The Lily Rag
                                                                        Chas Thompson

Anthem:
Come To The Music 
Joseph M. Martin 

2017-04-05

Martial Arts

Practice of the Week
Martial Arts

Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
“To me, the extraordinary aspect of martial arts lies in its simplicity. The easy way is also the right way, and martial arts is nothing at all special; the closer to the true way of martial arts, the less wastage of expression there is.” ― Bruce Lee
Adapted from Sarah Lammert, "Martial Arts," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

There are small lava rocks in the grass from an earlier wind-storm, in which these rocks were strewn from the roof tops all over the campus walkways and greens. My bare feet do not appreciate them, and as we proceed through our warm-up kicks and sets I occasionally yelp and throw a rock out of the way. Still, by the time we have run through some more complex movements, I am no longer aware of the rocks. I am inside my body, the muscles, tendons, and bones. And I am inside my soul.

I have been practicing martial arts for about six years – three different styles of karate and kung fu for the three different cities I have lived in during this time. I was introduced to the idea while living in Brooklyn, New York, and feeling a bit vulnerable in the big city. I read a book, Women in the Martial Arts, and was amazed to discover that one of the teachers highlighted had a studio not three blocks from my apartment. I arrived the first day expecting to learn a thing or two about self-defense. Little did I know how much I would come to love this art form.

Some people enjoy prayer, meditation, yoga, tai chi – the quiet and calming ways to get centered and touch the holy within and without. While I do enjoy a small dose of such practices, what I have discovered about myself is that I much prefer kicking, screaming, and punching as a spiritual path! The martial arts for me embody the unity of heart, mind, and body. There are slow, spiral movements that look like leaves floating down into a pond; there are sharp, stinging movements that mimic fierce animals; there are powerful, sly balancing acts that require lightness and strength in the same moment. To practice the martial arts, you must use your mind to memorize and to plot strategic movements. You must engage your body, which you come to rely on to be both quick and slow, balanced and strong. And you must touch a place beyond mind and body, what in Chinese is called chi and in Japanese is called ki – the center of your energy, the soul.

Before I walked into the Brooklyn Women's Martial Arts studio, I was really quite disengaged from my own body. Many women who have experienced abuse, rape, or other kinds of physical trauma report that they find it difficult to reconnect to their bodies, in some cases even feeling a sensa-tion of floating around somewhere outside of themselves as they go through the motions of living their daily lives. While my case was not this extreme, owing to a date-rape experience in my teens I had definitely lost the ability to soak in the sunshine, to accept caresses without guard, to walk barefoot on the beach and give myself to the ocean. It was as if a part of myself had decided the best defense was to detach from my own sensuality. If I couldn't really feel my body, no one else could take it from me.

What I found in the rigorous exercise of karate was a doorway back to wholeness. Almost imperceptibly, in the company only of women, I began to heal in a deep, cellular way. As I learned to set my foot just so, bending my knees and pulling in through my abdomen to hold a pose on one leg, or practiced moving through a series of animal- or insect-like movements, I came back inside of myself again. Sometimes, class could be painful, as my muscles protested, the summer heat battered us, or I simply could not get a movement right, even after one hundred repetitions. At other times, class was pure joy, as everything came together in a harmonious flow. As I was learning the basics of punching, standing, breathing, blocking, kicking, and yelling my fierce warrior cry, I was learning the basics of being a human in a body again. I was letting go of baggage that was keeping me from my own growth as a spiritual and physical person.

The Asian martial arts were influenced by the moving meditation practices in medieval Chinese Buddhist monasteries. They were not originally intended to be a martial practice, but were purely to help the monks become more mentally and physically fit. According to legend, the Shaolin monastery suffered a series of raids by brigands. During one of the attacks one of the monks fought off several of the outlaws with an array of hand and foot techniques adapted from the monks' moving meditation. The other monks were so impressed that they asked him to teach them his method. The practice of martial arts grew at the Shaolin temple and eventually made its way across Asia.

What remains a spiritual struggle for me in practicing this art is the fact that it is a fighting method. During my most recent class I learned movements intended to blind, choke, break knees, break ribs, and generally incapacitate my op¬ponent. Some of the movements are intended to flat out kill the opponent. So where does this leave one spiritually? At peace? In the arms of the loving One, embracing the web of life, experiencing the wonder and oneness of all being? Paradoxically, while at times I do feel unsettled by the inherent violence of such techniques, most often I am left with a greater sense of harmony and peace.

I intend no harm with my skills in fighting, but I am will¬ing to use them if necessary for my own defense, and for those who would be harmed unjustly around me. When Jesus said to "love your enemies," I do not believe he meant to teach that love means allowing one person to destroy, dehu¬manize, or hurt another. Perhaps what he was really saying is that the enemy is ourselves, and that we need to embrace and love the wholeness of who we are, both good and bad, in order to be fully human. What I fear most is not the channeling of aggression in responsible ways, but its repression. No one is exempt from anger, and when stifled it too easily becomes expressed as violence, whether self-destructive, or harmful of another.

At this stage in my life, with a full-time career as a minister and a small child to take care of at home, I am not as interested in the sparring aspect of the martial arts as I once was. I'm just not up for broken ribs and noses the way I used to be! My current teacher prefers to focus solely on kata, which are choreographed movements against an imaginary opponent. Many of them appear to be elaborate, flowing dances to the untrained eye. In fact, when the peasants were prohibited from studying the martial arts in China for fear they would empower an uprising, the kata were used to disguise their continued practice. Although we do work with partners, there are virtually no injuries in my current school, which is just fine with me. I am happy that there are choices within the martial arts about the level of intensity with which to engage the practice.

When I remove my street clothes and don my black gi, removing my shoes and tying on my belt, I enter a different time and space. I walk barefoot on holy ground. It is a special time to reconnect with body, mind, and spirit. The connection and energy run from the sky and from the earth, infusing me with vibrancy and life. When I bow out at the end of class, I re-enter the world, calmer, more grounded, and at peace.

* * *
For list of all Practices: "Practice of the Week Index"

Gini Von Courter On UUA and White Supremacy

Gini Von Courter posted the open letter below on Facebook on Wed Mar 29. On Thu Mar 30, UUA President Peter Morales resigned with 3 months left in his term.
Here are the background documents Gini references:
Dear Unitarian Universalist leader,

If you’re thinking “I’m a Unitarian Universalist, but I’m not sure I am a leader”, please read on because this time requires leaders and you can be one if you choose.

If you do not know me, I served our congregations as Moderator for a decade ending with General Assembly (GA) in June 2013. With one notable exception, I haven’t had much to say publicly about the UUA or Unitarian Universalism since that summer. Our system exacts a high price, sometimes a personal price, from those who are tasked with holding other leaders accountable. I write today because my continued silence would be a disservice. For eighteen years -- 10 as Moderator and another 8 as a UUA trustee including service as chair of the UUA Finance Committee -- I had an insider view of the UUA. I served with three different UUA Presidents, a whole lot of committee and board members, and countless members of the UUA staff. I recommended, voted on, and was tasked with monitoring the proper expenditure of roughly approximately a half a billion dollars on behalf of our white supremacist, Unitarian Universalist faith.

Like so many other UUs who have posted on social media, I was dismayed by President Morales’ letter to staff about the hiring of yet another white male regional lead. I was dismayed, but I was not surprised. During his two terms as President, Morales has eliminated many programs and services designed to identify and address white supremacy, build anti-racist capacity, and support people of color in the faith. Some highlight of Morales’ leadership include:
  • Dismantling the Identity Based Ministries staff group established by Bill Sinkford to provide direct support to people of color and members of other marginalized groups
  • Removing funding and staff support for DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries) and other organizations serving UUs from historically marginalized groups
  • Eliminating the two-day anti-racism/anti-oppression training for newly elected UUA leaders provided at the end of General Assembly, which was the only anti-racism training required for UUA volunteer leaders
  • Terminating the JUUST Change consultancy which helped congregations increase effectiveness in anti-oppression and social justice work, including helping congregations identify leaders, develop mission and vision statements about their social justice work, set goals, and build partnerships in the larger community.
Morales’ letter and comments quoted in the UU World are consistent with his leadership. But Morales is not the first UUA President to preferentially hire white people. He’s only the most recent. There were two notable people of color hired as senior staff during the Sinkford presidency: Taquiena Boston and Peter Morales. The most notable hire during the Buehrens administration was Bill Sinkford. Please suppress the urge to notice a trend here, because I promise that for every Sinkford or Morales, there were more than a dozen white folks – usually male, usually ministers – who were the informal inside candidates hired for positions at the UUA. Some of these folks were given positions created expressly for them because they needed a job. UUA Presidents have always provided jobs for (mostly white) people they like. I do not know if Rev. Burnett was an informal inside candidate for the Regional Lead position. I am suspicious when members of the UUA Board are hired to staff positions; recruiting trustees is a violation of the Board’s policies. [EDIT: I had originally written that trustees applying for staff positions is also a violation of policy. The two trustees who applied for the Regional Lead position both applied for and were granted waivers to do so per current Board policy.]

However, I believe that we should not focus on this specific position or the hire done at this particular time, but rather on a pattern that encompasses every position and every time. For at least two decades, and despite staff group leadership from Bill Sinkford and Peter Morales, the UUA has hired only one person of color to serve as the senior staff member in a district, and has hired none to lead a region. The "right answer", the person with the “best fit” to lead the teams that serve our congregations directly isn’t rarely a person of color, it is with only one exception never a person of color. I believe this is critical: district staff are the “customer facing” staff in the UUA – the staff that live and work directly with congregations. What difference could it have made to our Association if, when your congregation asked for help, the UUA expertise had come from a minister of Asian descent? An African American lay person? A person who is directly supervised by a Latinx religious educator? How might years of rich interactions have changed the patterns of racism in your congregation, or helped equip your congregation to better serve your community? What lessons might our Association have learned from leaders who viewed our congregations and their work through a more diverse set of lenses?

If you didn’t notice that the team leader for the services your congregation receives is white, that’s normal. The UUA is drowning in a sea of whiteness, and we don’t even notice. This is an attribute of white supremacy culture.

HOW CAN WE CHANGE THIS?

There have been good proposals – open letters to the UUA Board posted on Facebook, including Jake Morrill's detailed post of a few days ago and today’s letter from The Reverends Patrice K. Curtis, Danielle Di Bona, Kristen L. Harper, Abhi Janamanchi, Manish Mishra-Marzetti, William G. Sinkford, and Leslie Takahashi which closed with this request to the Board:
"Our ask of you is simple, but requires vision, courage, and leadership. The Board has the ability to determine and define the Association’s ends and policies, in as much specificity as is needed. It is imperative that the Board utilize the tools at its disposal and adopt specific policies and ends that can push us towards a better and healthier embodiment of the institutional and cultural transformation that you are clearly hearing many UUs articulate that it is time for." #BuildingNewWay #25percentIncreaseBy2019 #UUA #wokenotwoke
Unitarian Universalists are rising to join Aisha Hauser’s request that the UUA board
“review the latest hiring process for antiracist, antioppressive, and multicultural values; to create a plan to increase religious professionals of color by 20 percent by 2019; to commit to leaving positions open unless qualified candidates of color are part of the applicant pool; and to create a plan for evolving Finding Our Way Home to a Religious Professionals of Color Collective who can be considered for all levels of hiring.”
These appeals to the Board are a good and appropriate start, but they are not enough. The UUA Bylaws give the Board the authority to set ends and policies for the UUA, but if the President chooses to willfully disregard direction from the Board, the Board has two alternatives: ignore the problem or fire the President. For more than five decades, when critical problems have arisen between the Board and President, the ultimate result has been an increase in Presidential authority and a systemic decrease in accountability. Unitarian Universalists need to do more than simply ask the UUA Board of Trustees to do their job. We must also do ours, faithfully and forcefully.

* Step 1: Choose wisely
In only three months the UUA will elect a new President. All three candidates for President are white women; the bylaws do not allow additional nominations or write-in votes, so our next President will be white. Our first task is to choose a candidate who understands that a vote is not a mandate, and that their direction comes not once during an election, but on an ongoing basis from UU congregations and communities. We should be looking for a President who clearly demonstrates their knowledge that white supremacy lives in the UUA as well as in the KKK and who is looking forward to recruiting and leading a diverse staff not just at headquarters but in the Congregational Life group. But this is not enough. We also require a servant President who does not just promise to “work with” the Board – trust me that this is a meaningless statement -- but commits to implement the ends and policies set by the Board because our congregations determined that 51 weeks of every year, the power to set policy and direction for the UUA is exercised by the UUA Board.

* Step 2: Demand accountability 
The 52nd week is General Assembly, and for that week, the owners of the UUA, our congregations, are in town and in 2018 they should demand a report from their President that begins with words similar to these: “Last year your Board charged me to develop a plan to increase the number of active religious professionals of color serving our faith by 20% by next year. Here is a summary of the plan, and how we are progressing.” This should be followed by similar data on plans and progress – for example, plans on recruiting and hiring staff of color and non-ministerial religious professionals. We should demand a similar Presidential report in 2019, and 2020, and every other year because we should have been demanding them all along. For too many years the President’s Report to our congregations has been a dog and pony show, featuring executive travel and highlighting interesting staff work but lacking an analysis of administrative performance. We must demand annual reports that demonstrate accountability and progress toward goals from our President, our Moderator, and our Board of Trustees.

* Step 3: Risk faithfully 
I resonate strongly with suggestions that individuals who support the UUA send their contributions elsewhere: to other UU groups, or outside the UUA. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past four years, but I’m not yet ready to give up on the UUA. In this moment, I am ridiculously hopeful. Anything is possible. UUs, especially white UUs, might realize what is at stake and choose a President who will lead well and collaboratively. If we do, our new President will need resources to do the work we elect them to undertake. I also believe we must send a clear signal of our resolve, not just for others, but to remind ourselves. The UUA has disappointed me deeply, and yet I’m willing to pay it forward for two years – not forever, but #UUntil2019 **EDIT: I also fully support my colleagues of color and others who are making different choices about their relationships with the UUA. What would change if many congregations or every congregation clearly communicated that they would send UUA dues until 2019 not from obligation but as an act of faithful risk, trusting the President to be a servant leader? #UUntil2019 What would change if many religious professionals partnered with their lay leaders to discuss the work of the UUA at least twice a year after Sunday services or before a congregational board meeting? What if we talked about how we were being served other than in moments of crisis?

* Step 4: Pull the plug
What if we fail to choose wisely, or forget to demand accountability? What if there’s no progress because we let this crisis “pass” (we’ve done it before) and the President spends their time on new initiatives they think are sexy rather than the priorities set by the Board and GA (it’s happened before) and the Board decides that minimizing conflict is a better goal than actual performance (we’ve done this, too.) If this white supremacist, racist mess is the best faith we can create with our millions of dollars every year, we should just move on -- and it’s easier to start fresh than to break a new path through the woods dragging along the corpse of your last bad decision. I'm ridiculously hopeful, but only for two years. #BuildABetterWay

If you find these ideas worthy, please talk, listen, and preach about these things in your congregation: white supremacy in the UUA; racist hiring; choosing our next president wisely; demanding more of our leaders; providing the resources for our faith to do better; staying #woke to make sure that we are on the right road. Find out who your GA delegates are and how your votes are cast. Be a leader.

Music: Sun Apr 9

Animals—past and present, real and imaginary—are celebrated in Sunday’s musical selections and in our annual Blessing of the Animals service at CUUC.

French composer Erik Satie had a penchant for ironic titles and tongue-and-cheek musical expression, all on display in his Embryons Deseches in the morning’s prelude; See below for translations of the composer’s notes on these pieces.

Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg embraced the natural world in many compositions, especially in his two Lyric Pieces “Butterfly” and “Little Bird”, both notable for their harmonic adventurousness as well as their deft approximations of the animal world. French composers furnish the remainder of Sunday’s solo piano works, include an excerpt from Camille Saint-Saens’ beloved “Carnival of the Animals” and two short selections from Jacques Ibert’s Histoires. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Embryons Desseéchés (Dried Up Embryos)
     Of the Edriophthalma*
     Of the Podophthalma**
               Erik Satie
Butterfly, Op. 43, No. 1
Little Bird, Op. 43, No. 4
               Edvard Grieg

Opening Music:
Royal March of the Lion from Carnival of the Animals
               Camille Saint-Saens

Offertory:
The Leader of the Golden Tortoises
               Jacques Ibert

Interlude:
The Little White Donkey
               Ibert

*Crustaceans with fixed eyes, that is to say, without stalks and immobile. Very sad by nature, these crustaceans live, withdrawn from the world, in holes dug out of the cliff. They’re all together. How sad it is! A patriarch speaks out. They all begin to cry. Poor creatures! How well he spoke! Big moan.

**Crustaceans with eyes on movable stalks. They are skillful, tireless hunters. They are found in every sea. The meat of the Podophthalma is a delicacy. At the hunt. Climb up. In pursuit. An advisor. He’s right! To charm the victim. What is it? Compulsory cadence (the author’s!)