2019-09-14

From the Minister, Fri Sep 13

Dear Ones,

Prayer for the climate won't lower the CO2 or other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere -- except, perhaps, indirectly. Prayer is the activity by which we orient our intentions. Prayer for the climate is an exercise by which we remind ourselves that our planet matters to us, that the humans and other animals threatened and immiserated by climatic shifts matter to us, that the well-being of future generations matters to us. If we begin with, and return often to, re-orienting our intentions toward mitigating climate change, we become more likely to participate in actions to realize our hopes.

Therefore, let us pray.

These words of prayer are from Interfaith Power and Light:
We Hold the Earth.
We hold brothers and sisters who suffer from storms and droughts intensified by climate change.
We hold all species that suffer.
We hold world leaders delegated to make decisions for life.
We pray that the web of life may be mended through courageous actions to limit carbon emissions.
We pray for right actions for adaptation and mitigation to help our already suffering earth community.
We pray that love and wisdom might inspire my actions and our actions as communities so that we may, with integrity, look into the eyes of brothers and sisters and all beings and truthfully say, we are doing our part to care for them and the future of the children.
May love transform us and our world with new steps toward life.
Amen.

Yours in faith,
Meredith

The Liberal Pulpit

Find videos of many past services at our Youtube channel: HERE

This week, new videos went up from the Sep 8 service:
  • Installation of DLREFD Tracy Breneman (5:16)
  • The Welcome, Invocation, Prayer, and Reflection of our Walter Celebration Ingathering Service (16:02)
These videos are below. You can also find them at our Youtube channel, along with many others.

Installation of DLREFD Tracy Breneman. (Don't know what DLREFD stands for? The video explains).


Welcome, Invocation, Prayer, and Reflection of our Walter Celebration Ingathering Service, Sep 8:


Practice of the Week: Work with Your Biggest Problem First /You don't need to overcome your biggest problems overnight, nor should you defer them to another time. Pay attention right now to what bothers you the most about yourself in your relationships to others and trust that simply by paying attention, little by little you will see what you need to do. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Hide Yourself
"Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, order your disciples to stop.'
He answered, 'I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.'" (Luke 19:39-40)
The stones are shouting in any case. You pour out from everything in the universe, as the whole universe pours out from you. Nothing can be hidden.

Case
One evening Wolverine appeared and said, "I've been thinking about hiding myself and fasting."
Raven kicked a twig at Wolverine and said, "Hide yourself in that."
Wolverine stepped behind Black Bear and said, "I'm hidden."
Raven said, "Piffle. You don't even dream of my meaning."
Wolverine was silent.
Woodpecker spoke up and said, "What is your meaning?"
Raven said, "Good question, Wolverine."
Verse
We named our car Blue,
and pronouned her
as one does to recognize a personality,
part intrinsic, part projection,
as personalities are.

We wondered at the borders.
When the CD player stopped working,
Was that Blue? Or just Blue's?
"Where does a personality stop?"
I asked my spouse,
after I'd slid in a CD to no effect.
She turned on the left blinker, slowed for a turn,
and said to the oncoming traffic,
"Nowhere to hide."
Case by Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon
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Zen at CUUC News

2019-09-13

Work with Your Biggest Problem First

Practice of the Week
Work with Your Biggest Problem First

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion, "Work with Your Biggest Problem First."

What is your biggest problem -- that is, the thing that bothers you the most about yourself in your relationships to others? Just pay attention to it. The light of attention will gradually guide you to the corrective.

Decompensation -- originally a medical term for "the inability of a diseased heart to compensate for its defect;" more broadly, "a loss of ability to maintain normal or appropriate psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions" -- affects us all. We all have our own preferred tendency for decompensation -- which is to say, each one of us is given our own personal gift of craziness. Some get angry, some depressed, some anxious. Some are meddlesome, some lazy, some hyperactive, some distractible.

One of the insights of mind training (and it comes as a great relief) is that there is no normal. We are all abnormal, each in our own delightful way. The trick is, first, to accept this, and next, to have some idea of the most important ways in which you are abnormal.

Let's say it's anger. You anger easily, and when you are angry you are miserable, and you inevitably say and do stupid things for which you later feel remorse and shame -- and you've been this way all of your life. Very well, now you are aware of your personal gift, your treasure. Shunryu Suzuki had a saying:
"For a Zen student, a weed is a treasure."
Rather than seeing your problem with anger as a personal defect to be hidden or overcome, you see this weed as a treasure. You don't resolve to work on other things and save this most difficult one for later. You resolve to pay attention to it now and keep on paying attention until, through your continued attention over time, things begin to change.

Later, something else will be your biggest problem. It's always something. Attend to whatever is biggest right now.

You don't need to overcome your biggest problems overnight, nor should you defer them to another time. Pay attention right now to what bothers you the most about yourself in your relationships to others and trust that simply by paying attention, little by little you will see what you need to do.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Work with the Greatest Defilement First."

This is a great slogan for procrastinators. It is all about looking into those things we avoid, that we put off, that we somehow never end up dealing with. In particular it is about defilements. But what are defilements?

Defilements refer to patterns of thought, habits, and emotions that sap our energy and keep us from thriving. Defilements prevent us from awakening our wisdom or compassion. They pollute what is by nature pure, and block our instinct to grow and develop. They are powerful inner obstacles. Of course we may have outer obstacles, as well, but the idea is to start with what is close at hand, something we could actually have some influence over.

On a mundane level, you may notice that some things always seem to end up at the bottom of your to-do list, and just stay there. Sometimes they migrate to a new improved to-do list, but once again they end up on the bottom. With this slogan, you remind yourself to shake this pattern up and to go straight to the most difficult task. Although we may have a variety of things to do, it is pretty easy to figure out what that particular task might be. We can feel the quality of avoidance in our bodies.

At a deeper level, this slogan challenges us to analyze what really sets us back. Persistent self-analysis is necessary to expose our core obstacles and get to the root of what holds us down. It challenges to dig deeply enough to uncover our greatest defilements. And having done so, we need to stick with that defilement and keep working on it until we are free of it.

This slogan also points to an on-the-spot way of working with our situation in which we do not put anything off, but we deal with whatever defilement arises simply and directly. That is, in cooking up compassion, nothing is moved to the back burner.

Practice

What patterns of thought or habit do you have that block your development of wisdom and insight? What is your most consistent and frequent roadblock? Take some time to reflect on this and on how you might begin to work with it.

* * *

2019-09-12

Music: Sun Sep 15


New York City native Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) became the first professor of music in the history of Columbia University. He celebrated the natural world in much of his piano music, and several works from his Sea Pieces and Fireside Tales are included this morning in recognition of our growing consciousness of climate-change issues. MacDowell was fond of providing short original verses to preface his piano music, which are reprinted below. The CUUC Choir is also on hand with two beloved classics. Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
From Sea Pieces, Op. 55
            “To the Sea”
Ocean thou mighty monster
            “From a Wandering Iceberg”
An errant princess of the north,
A virgin, snowy white,
Sails adown the summer seas
To realms of burning light.
            "Starlight”
The stars are but the cherubs
That sing about the throne
Of gray old Ocean’s spouse,
Fair Moon’s pale majesty.
            “Song”
A merry song, a chorus brave,
And yet a sigh regret
For roses sweet, in woodland lanes---
Ah, love can ne’er forget!
                                                Edward MacDowell

Anthem: The CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
“Shenandoah”
           American Folk Song/arr. by Brad Printz

Offertory
From Fireside Tales, Op. 61
        “From a German Forest”

Anthem:
“Turn, Turn, Turn”
        adapted by Pete Seeger/arr. by Roger Emerson

2019-09-10

Religious Exploration: Sun Sep 15

Religious Exploration (RE) Classes and Youth Group Begin this Sunday!

The Religious Education Council worked hard this summer to lay the groundwork for RE this year.  My thanks to Christine Haran and Laura Goodspeed (Co-Chairs), Laura Sehdeva, David Bowen, Janice Silverberg, and Joe Gonzalez! Teachers and youth group advisors have been meeting to review curricula and set schedules.  We are ready to begin a new year of RE this Sunday, September 15th and look forward to seeing you!

I ask all families with children and youth through 12th grade to please complete a RE registration form to help me get to know you.  I want to make sure I have current contact information as well as notes about allergies, dietary restrictions, neurodiversity and any other information that will help us serve your family.  Registration forms are on our website here, to print, complete, and return to my mailbox at CUUC.  Forms will also be available at parent-teacher meetings this Sunday. 

Rev. Kimberley Debus, our sabbatical minister, is offering to lead a RE class for adults and youth. Let her know which topics interest you by visiting a short survey here to read and rank your choices. Or you can post your preference on the board available in the sanctuary. (Please participate only once, online or on the board.)

NEW: To bridge the sanctuary and RE sides of the building, and to promote safety, CUUC will have a single point of entry.  Every Sunday, we will all enter through the main doors near the sanctuary.  The doors at the RE lobby will be locked.

NEW:
 We are experimenting with a new schedule that has us starting in the worship service together every Sunday.  Some Sundays we will remain for the hour of Whole Congregation Worship.  Other Sundays, children, youth, and volunteers will leave during the first hymn for RE.

The 2019 fall RE calendar is on our website here.  I will post updates in this blog each week, along with information about what each class and group is doing.  On your way home from worship, RE classes, journey groups and committee meetings, I encourage you to share thoughts around these three questions:
1.     What did I learn about Unitarian Universalism?
2.     What did I learn about the way Unitarian Universalists think and see the world?
3.     What did I learn about the way we act and behave as Unitarian Universalists, as we are in relationship with each other?

This Sunday, September 15th, we all begin in the sanctuary.  During the first hymn, our children, youth, and volunteers will leave for classes and youth group.  Parents, we invite you to the classrooms at 11:30am to meet the adults who will spend this year with your child, and for an introduction to the curriculum and schedule. While parents are meeting with teachers, Diane is extending childcare, and older children and youth will play Social Justice Bingo in the Fellowship Hall.  We offer the following for children and youth Sunday mornings: 

  • Childcare, ABC UU Values: room 32 with Diane Keller and Hans Elsevier
  • PreK-1st Grade, A World of New Friends: room 33 with Laura Goodspeed, Laura Sehdeva and Donna Vought 
  • 2nd-3rd Grade, Passport to Spirituality: room 24 with Karen Leahy, Deb Margoluis, Norm Handelman, Cindy Kramer and Aaron Norris
  • 4th-5th Grade, Bibleodeon: room 21 with Janice Silverberg, Suzanne Cacchione, Christine Major, Alex Zisson and Ted Kuczinski
  • 6th-7th Grade, Neighboring Faiths: room 41 with Gail Johnston, Nicole Turygin, Muhammad Loutfy, Sophie Mitra, Chris Breault
  • 8th-9th Grade, Coming of Age: room 11 with Denice Tomlinson, Alex Sehdeva, and Kate Colson (additional COA mentors joining the team later this fall include Christine Haran, Tori Weisel, Erin Foster, Charles McNally and Barry Litcofsky)
  • 10th-12th Grade, Youth Group: room 14 with Cyndi Tillman, Dan Tillman, Jason Stoff and Imelda Cruz Aveelan.  This Sunday, I will also be with the youth group. 

Stay tuned for information about classes and groups meeting at other times.  And for information about the December to February K-1st Grade Our Whole Lives class with David Bowen, Janet Wafer-White and Joni Ehrlich.

I am grateful to the RE Council and all of these RE volunteers for launching the new year in Religious Exploration at CUUC.  I look forward to seeing you this Sunday!

in fellowship, Tracy

2019-09-06

From the Minister, Fri Sep 6

Dear Ones,

How has your summer been, so far? What sort of “waters” represented your experiences of July and August? Were they:
  • still waters of rest and renewal?
  • shining waters of joy and happiness?
  • storm waters of grief and loss?
  • rushing waters of transition and change?
Like the sun needing a place to shine, and the world needing to be so warmed, we need one another. Like the wind needing a place to blow, and the earth needing to feel the air’s breath, we need one another. Like the rain needing a place to fall, and the land needing to be quenched by moisture, we need one another. Like the ocean needing a shoreline, and the coast needing to be touched by the rhythm of the water, we need one another.

We gather each week for this reason: to give and receive what we have and what we need.
We gather each week for this reason: to say to each other that like all that is living, we need one another. We give thanks for the blessings of this community of faith; we give thanks that once again we have come together.

Yours in faith,
Meredith



The Liberal Pulpit


If you missed the Aug 18 service, here's the video:



And here's video of the Aug 25 service:



Find many other videos of past services at our Youtube Channel: HERE

Practice of the Week: Abandon Hope /While hopefulness is preferable to despair or apathy, there's a downside to hope. Hope turns easily to discouragement when the anticipated results don’t seem to arrive. In this sense, hope is limiting and unhelpful. It really is impossible to say for certain whether or not we have improved, so it is better not to frustrate ourselves with such useless questions. Instead, abandon hope and keep going with the training in the faith that it is worthwhile for its own sake. Neither look for improvement nor imagine there is no improvement. Neither celebrate improvement if you think you detect it nor suppose you are getting worse. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Mara the Founder /In Buddhism, Mara is the demon who appeared to Siddhartha Gautama after his awakening and tried to tempt him to keep his enlightenment entirely to himself. Mara is "the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment" (Nyanaponika Thera). As Raven recognizes, the forces antagonistic to enlightenment -- and thus also antagonistic to practice -- are also necessary for practice/enlightenment.

Our guides on the great way include the passions and delusions, blowing smoke from their ears, as well as our calm insight.

Case
Black Bear appeared one evening and said, "Tell me about Mara. I understand that he is the Great Destroyer."
Raven said, "The Great Founder."
Black Bear said, "That's what the Buddha Macaw is called."
Raven said, "Yes, but she never learned to blow smoke from her ears."
Verse
Psychotropic drugs
Utilize brain receptors
there for a reason.

Like that,
We are made to receive
our companions:
   ruby anger,
   ochre shame,
   blue-black fear,
   chartreuse envy,
   and all the rest.

Good medicine
In the right dose.
Case adapted from Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon
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Zen at CUUC News

Abandon Hope

Practice of the Week
Abandon Hope

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion, "Abandon Hope."

Abandon hope? This slogan seems shocking. You probably have some hope that mind training will help you be wiser, kinder, and more connected to others. Doesn't hope lie at the center of the whole proposition of mind training?

While hopefulness is preferable to despair or apathy, there's a downside to hope. Hope turns easily to discouragement when the anticipated results don’t seem to arrive. In this sense, hope is limiting and unhelpful.

Our character does change over time, we all know that. What we want to know is: are we improving or getting worse? But how would you know? If you are a mixed-up, unhappy person who wants to improve, whatever vision of improvement you have is the projection of a confused and unhappy person. Such a seriously distorted vision might be inherently unattainable. Worse, it might sabotage you. Your hope for improvement would therefore be entirely counterproductive.

Yes, we often imagine future possibilities, but never accurately. My thought of what it is going to be like when I arrive in Mexico is never the same as what it is actually like when I arrive in Mexico, even though I have been to Mexico many times.

I've been doing Zen practice for a long time, so when people are considering taking up the practice, they are likely to ask me what I've gained from it. How has my life changed? I always say, yes of course I am much different now from who I was forty years ago. But then again, when forty years goes by, anyone is different, Zen practice or no. How can I tell how much the differences of forty years have to do with my Zen practice? Who knows whether the changes that have occurred in my life are the consequences simply of forty years of life on earth among others?

Have the various changes been an improvement? Well, yes. I think I am more stable, more ethical, more empathic; maybe I am a little wiser, calmer; maybe I have a better sense of what my life is about than I did before. But also, no: in forty years' time many things have gotten worse. Forty years ago, I was younger; I had more physical endurance, more strength, a better memory, I was smarter, I could meditate better; I had more buoyancy. Improvement? Hard to say.

It really is impossible to say for certain whether or not we have improved, so it is better not to frustrate ourselves with such useless questions. Instead, abandon hope and keep going with the training in the faith that it is worthwhile for its own sake. Neither look for improvement nor imagine there is no improvement. Neither celebrate improvement if you think you detect it nor suppose you are getting worse.

This faith isn't religious faith in the usual sense. It is faith we find through our own experience over the time of our training. Somehow, as we continue, we come to the definite feeling that this training is simply the right thing to do. We know it. We don't have to convince ourselves or anyone else. We don't need evidence. We simply feel the rightness of the training in the middle of our lives. We are quite happy to do our best to maintain a joyful mind as we go on practicing right now. That becomes enough.

It’s true that many people who do the practice see all kinds of wonderful improvements in their lives. I have noticed that the sense of big improvement comes mostly at the beginning, in the first years (or decades). As you keep on going, you hardly notice improvements anymore. Improvements may be there, and others might appreciate them, but you yourself simply stop noticing particularly. For you, practice disappears as a vehicle for self-improvement, and the only thing important for you now is to live your life, which means to continue your mind training. Shunryu Suzuki called this “practice without a gaining idea.”

So abandon hope. When you are excited about your progress or discouraged about your lack of progress, let go of that silly thought. Abandon hope and go happily on.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Abandon Any Hope of Fruition."

Don’t be attached to success or to failure. This doesn’t mean abandoning your projects and ambitions. Just go about things with a present focus rather than a fixation on results.

When we do anything, we usually do it for a purpose. We have some aim in mind and we hope to accomplish that aim. We hope to succeed rather than fail. That is fine. But what then happens is that our thoughts of success or failure begin to overpower the task at hand. Clinging to hopes of fruition can make us tight and impatient – and the fear of failure (corollary of hoping for success) can make us timid and unwilling to take risks.

Conventional thinking about how to motivate people is based on hope and fear. We learn to expect some kind of reward or confirmation any time we succeed and to expect some form of punishment when we do not. Better to abandon that whole approach. That way, when you act, there are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives.

Even the practice of developing loving-kindness through slogan practice could be tainted by this desire to be recognized and confirmed. To prove to ourselves that our efforts have been successful, we may try to force a reaction of appreciation or gratitude on those we are supposedly selflessly helping. There is more room for real kindness and compassion if let go of, or at least loosen, our attachment to results.

Practice

How is it possible to maintain your focus, to “keep your eyes on the prize,” without getting fixated on results? As you go about your activities, pay attention to the difference between having a goal and being taken over by your hopes, fears, and speculations.

* * *

2019-09-05

Journey Group Sign-Up Time!


Journey Groups for 2019-20

Everybody sign up! Click HERE and select the Journey Group you'd like to be in.

Three Journey Groups are available on 3rd Sundays, after service (or after community meal, if there is one):
  • Room 43: Facilitated by Rev. Deb Morra
  • Room 31: Facilitated by Gary Freiberger
  • Room 22: Facilitated by Rhonda and Steve Miller
Other Journey Groups include:
  • 2nd Thursdays, 7:30pm, Parsonage, Facilitated by Debbie Manetta and Kevin McGahren-Clemens
  • 2nd Fridays, 11:00am, Parsonage, Facilitated by Rev. Meredith Garmon or Rev. Kimberly Debus
  • 3rd Thursdays, 7:30pm, Tarrytown, Facilitated by Mary Van Hoomissen
  • 3rd Fridays, 7:00pm, CUUC, room 24, Facilitated by Alex Sehdeva
  • 4th Thursdays, 10:00am, Scarsdale, Facilitated by Terri Kung
  • 3rd Sundays, 5:00pm, White Plains, Facilitated by Karen Leahy


FAQ

Q: What's a Journey Group?
A: In a nutshell, these are groups of 5-15 people meeting monthly to explore the CUUC theme of the month, using the related issue of our magazine, "On the Journey." Find the current and all past issues HERE. For details on how our Journey Groups work, see HERE. To grasp the value and importance of Journey Groups, take a look HERE. For an explanation of Theme-Based ministry, of which our Journey Groups are a part, see HERE.

Q: I'm already in a group. Do I sign up again?
A: Yes, please. Every September, it's time to sign up again. Click HERE and select the group you're in, just to confirm for us that you're staying in the same group.

Q: Can I switch groups?
A: Sure. Just click HERE and select a different group.

Q: Is the September issue of "On the Journey" out?
A: Yes. It addresses the theme, "Covenant." The Sep "On the Journey" is HERE.

Q: What if my schedule won't allow me to attend very many of the monthly gatherings of any one group?
A: Please go ahead and register for that group which you expect to attend most often. If you have a variable monthly schedule, you may need to attend one group on some months, but another group on other months. That's perfectly OK! All groups allow for drop-ins -- just let the facilitator know that you're coming.

Q: Most months I probably won't attend any group at all.
A: Sorry to hear that! If you would, though, please register yourself for the group you're most likely to attend -- even if you'll only be going once or twice during the year.

Q: The group I was in last year isn't listed.
A: Please select another one.

Q: Is it too late to start a new journey group?
A: Nope. New groups should form before the end of September, though, for the 2019-20 year. Each group will need to have a facilitator. Contact Rev. Meredith Garmon if you're interested.

Q: What are the themes for 2019-20?
A: Here's the line-up:
Sep: Covenant
Oct: Awe
Nov: Compassion
Dec: Grace
Jan: Authority
Feb: God
Mar: Redemption
Apr: Eco-Spirituality
May: Joy
Jun: Vision