From the Minister, Fri Aug 10

Greetings from Boston! As I write this, it is Thursday evening and I'm nearing the end of five days of denominational service as a member of the UUA's Commission on Social Witness (CSW)

At the General Assembly 2016 in Columbus, OH, the delegates selected, "The Corruption of Our Democracy" as the CSAI (Congregational Study/Action Issue) for 2016-20. (For the text of CSAI, SEE HERE; for the Study Guide created to go with the CSAI, SEE HERE). Now that two of those four years have gone by, it is the duty of the CSW to amalgate the experiences and learnings congregations have submitted and make a first draft of a prospective Statement of Conscience (SOC) that could be voted on and adopted at the General Assembly 2019.

By the time we adjourn on Fri Aug 10, after spending this week deliberating and wordsmithing together, your CSW will have created a first draft. Congregations will then be invited to suggest revisions, changes, additions, deletions. We will take all these into account in creating a second draft before the beginning of GA 2019. Then, at GA 2019, there will be a "mini-assembly" for further revisions to be proposed and deliberated. Using this input, the CSW will then bring to the floor a third draft for debate among the delegates and possible adoption.

In two years, I'm due to be again spending five intensive days with my fellow members of the CSW as we create the first draft of a potential SOC on "Undoing Intersectional White Supremacy." That was the CSAI selected at GA 2018. (SEE HERE). Stay tuned for news on the ways CUUC will be studying and acting on this issue.

Yours in the faith we share,

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

Practice of the Week: Images of Earth. The Earth is us, and we are the Earth. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. By letting go of the Earth as Other paradigm, we make space for the possibility of Earth as Self. By un-learning the mindset of the Earth as an endless provider, we begin to form a healthy sense of our own boundaries and limits and learn to function within them. This mindset has been embraced by many indigenous cultures the world over for millennia. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: How Do You Account for This? At that same assembly, Mole said to Raven, "Turkey tells me that Grandma doesn't lock her place and that folks are free to wander in and out. They eat her food and mess up her carpet. She doesn't seem to be protective or possessive at all. Yet she snatched away her stick when you went after it. How do you account for this?" Raven said, "It guides her along to Vinecot on a moonless night. It helps her cross the creek when the bridge...READ MORE
Zen at CUUC: Sat Aug 11


Images of Earth

Practice of the Week
Images of Earth

Category: Ecospiritual. These practices are oriented toward developing our spirituality through our connection with our planet home and our responsibility to care for it.

One of the most famous images of all time is the photo of the Earth taken by the Apollo astronauts. Hanging in the black void of space, the Earth looks fragile, precious. All human history has taken place on the delicate blue jewel suspended in nothingness. This realization strikes a chord in our collective consciousness and has been especially influential on the modern environmental movement.

While this view of Earth from a distance is a powerful image, it hasn’t changed how we think of our home planet. Instead, it is like a piece of art hanging in our mental gallery and mostly ignored. The dominant worldview is of Earth as an economic resource, divided by boundaries and borders. We may also understand Earth as provider, or even as mother, but the habit of regarding Earth as economic resource is never far from the surface. If we treated our human mothers the way we treat Mother Earth, we would be arrested for assault.

Even mainstream environmentalists argue that we must protect a certain habitat because someday we might find a cure for cancer there. Or that we should develop eco-tourism to help the local economy. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong about curing cancer or providing a livelihood for people who would otherwise be destitute, it reflects an underlying view that Earth’s value comes from its economic potential.

Conceptualizing the Earth in this way places Earth in the category of the Other -- something outside ourselves that exists for us. It is separate from us, and thus can be exploited for our purposes.

We not only see Earth as provider, but as limitless. We like to see ourselves as having limitless potential, able to achieve anything. It’s an unhealthy fantasy. Growth without limit is cancer. Everything has limits and recognizing them is desirable and necessary. In the 1970s, the idea of consciously choosing to limit economic growth for the sake of preserving the environment was briefly considered. Those who recall that era may remember President Carter installing solar panels on the White House roof and telling Americans to conserve energy, while setting an example by putting on sweaters and turning down the thermostat. Unfortunately, America subsequently embraced the idea of endless economic growth.

In a very literal sense, we are the Earth. Our bodies are made of the stuff of the Earth. The atoms and molecules that make up every part of us have been circulating around the biosphere since life began.

The Earth is us, and we are the Earth. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. By letting go of the Earth as Other paradigm, we make space for the possibility of Earth as Self. By un-learning the mindset of the Earth as an endless provider, we begin to form a healthy sense of our own boundaries and limits and learn to function within them. This mindset has been embraced by many indigenous cultures the world over for millennia. Rediscovering it may be the key to our survival.


1. Melting into the Earth. On a warm day, go outdoors to a quiet place where you can be undisturbed. Lie down directly on the Earth, flat on your back or on your stomach. Spread your arms wide. Breathe slowly and deeply, and spend a minute or two just relaxing. When you feel relaxed, imagine yourself as water soaking into the Earth. There is no separation between you and the ground beneath you. The cells of your body flow into and between the cells of the soil, merging into oneness. Allow yourself to experience this completely. After fifteen to twenty minutes, slowly come back to normal awareness.

2. Compost Blessing. Small-scale composting of your kitchen scraps into a vegetable garden is easy, and the ultimate in recycling. When you bring the compost out to the bin, bless it. Say a simple phrase, like “Blessings on your journey around the cycle of life,” or offer a prayer of your choosing. Visualize the compost breaking down into rich soil and nourishing next year’s tomatoes. Imagine yourself eating those tomatoes, realizing that the compost, the tomatoes, and you are all part of a greater whole.

3. Journaling: Earth as Mother. Write for at least 30 mins on the concept of Earth as mother. Some possible prompts:
  • Consider yourself as a child of the Earth. What sort of child are you? Where are you in your development? What is your personal relationship to Earth, your mother?
  • Broaden the focus. Answer the questions above with all of humanity as the child.
  • If the Earth is our mother, what sort of mother is she? What stage of motherhood works for the image nowadays? Is she a young mother? Elderly? Pregnant?
  • The mother-child relationship can also have a shadow side, dysfunctional and unhealthy. Is there a shadow side to the human-Earth relationship? What is it?
Group Activities

Culture Quest. Gather books or articles of indigenous creation myths from many cultures. Break into smaller groups of three to four, and have each group read a myth. Discuss in the small groups how the Earth is envisioned in the myth, and how this differs, or doesn’t, from the way we envision the Earth today. Consider the role of the human in each story. Come together again as a larger group and discuss the various images of Earth. Which story most resonated?

Questions for Group Conversation:
  • How do indigenous concepts of the Earth as mother compare to modern or Western understandings of this idea?
  • How does classifying something as Other affect how we think about it?
  • The mainstream environmental movement often frames its arguments based on the idea of preserving the Earth as a resource for human use (for example, the possibility of discovering new medicines in the e4ndangered rainforest). Do you find this approach helpful or problematic? Why?
  • Is it possible to assign economic value to all the Earth provides us? Would this be helpful or harmful?
* * *

Previous Ecospiritual Practice: The Problems of Progress


From the Minister, Fri Aug 3

In Baltimore, "Thread" has organized about 1,000 volunteers into "extended families" for 415 academically underperforming youth. "Thread" creates elaborate systems of relationships -- social networks instead of social media -- that benefit the volunteers as much as the kids. All parties understand they are entering a 10-year relationship -- until the kids are in their 20s. Founder Sarah Hemminger explains, “Unconditional love is so rare in life that it is identity-changing when somebody keeps showing up even when you reject them. It is also identity-changing to be the one rejected.” The volunteers understand they aren't there to change society or the world, but to be changed. An app keeps track of every contact between a volunteer and a student, and Thread also "cultivates an ethos of utter vulnerability," "an atmosphere of intense intimacy and outspoken love," and encouragement to “show all the way up.”

In Somerset, England, in the village of Frome, the Compassionate Frome project was launched in 2013 with a new approach to improving healthcare outcomes in the town. The project investigated where there were gaps in the services of agencies and community groups, and, to fill those gaps, created new groups for people with particular conditions. "Health connectors" helped people plan their care and -- here's the key -- trained volunteers to help people find the support they need.

Whether the issue is education or healthcare, isolation is deadly and connection is the cure. By combating isolation, Frome now has a "buzz of sociability" and common purpose that helps everyone feel better. The provisional data from Frome suggests "that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and volunteers, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls spectacularly. While across the whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome they fell by 17%."

A healthcare system that treats patients "as if they were a cluster of symptoms rather than a human being who happened to have health problems" makes for staff who are stressed and sad by their silo working and patients who are "defeated by the medicalization of their lives." Illness tends to reduce ability to socialize, which leads to loneliness, which worsens the illness.

I learned about Thread from the op-ed column HERE, and about the Compassionate Frome project from the Guardian article HERE. Please click through and give these articles a read.

A few UUs are skilled at lobbying legislators or organizing protests. What all of us know how to do -- by virtue of being UUs who gather week after to week to do it -- is make community. It turns out that the thing we have been practicing and getting good at is the very thing that the world most desperately needs.

White Plains needs its own version of Thread for struggling students, our own Compassionate Westchester Project for our sick. Can CUUC make it happen? We'll need to team up with other groups, but through our Refugee Resettlement team, we've lately been getting practice at that, too.

What do you say?

Yours in the faith we share,

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

Practice of the Week: Don't Throw the Second Dart. Some physical and mental pain is inevitable. To survive physically, you need a body that tells you it hurts when it's ill or injured. To flourish psychologically and in your relationships, you need a mind that sends different signals of distress—such as loneliness, anger, or fear—if you're rejected, mistreated, or threatened. But then we add insult to injury with our reactions to these darts. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Can't Have That. That evening Raven took her perch and said to the assembly, "Grandma came to see me today. She held out her stick and asked me what it was. I went to take it in my talons, but she pulled it away and said, 'It's mine. You can't have it.' How would you respond if she asked you what it is?" The assembly was silent. Porcupine...READ MORE
Zen at CUUC: Sat Aug 4