November’s Theme of Hospitality is illustrated by music
written with a domestic purpose in mind. Johanna Sebastian Bach wrote his
monumental “Goldberg Variations” to entertain the Russian ambassador to the
Saxony court during his many bouts of insomnia. Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was
the ambassador’s private harpsichordist, who would have played these pieces to
relieve the ambassador’s tedium. CUUC’s Choir is also hand with two contrasting
selections, ranging from introspective intimacy to celebratory joy. Read on for
Prelude: Georgianna Pappas, piano
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
1 and 29
Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by
Which of your “Keep Out!” signs need to come down?
What is currently on the “outside” of your life but needs to be welcomed in? What have you been avoiding or holding at bay that now needs attention? Or care? Or confrontation?
Maybe your “Keep Out” sign isn’t about avoidance, but difference. Maybe your task is to invite “otherness” or “the stranger” into your life. Maybe it’s not a big thing; maybe what you need to welcome in is not some deep existential quest, but something simpler, some small thing of beauty or rest or fun — a small thing that is not really small at all.
“Letting in” is a grace – it brings a gift we didn’t expect, earn, or deserve. This week's practice is to witness to the gift that comes when we dare to live “hospitable lives.”
Identify a gift you received from letting in, and select an object symbolic of that gift. OR: If you have identified the “Keep Out” sign that needs to come down, but have not yet made your way to actually taking it down, select a symbol of the grace/gift you hope to encounter once you’ve welcomed in what you need to.
With the object sitting next to you, write in your journal:
1. Describe what was let in.
2. Describe the gift that came to you as a result.
3. Describe the symbolic item you selected and explain why you chose it as a symbol of the gift you received.
In your mind or out loud, complete this sentence a few times: "I have faith in __________."
Then complete another sentence a few times: "I have no faith in __________."
What do faith -- and no faith -- feel like?
In your experience of faith, there's probably a sense of trusting in something -- which makes sense since the word comes from the Latin root, "to trust." ("Faith" can also mean a religion, but my meaning here is more general.) Faith feels good. To have confidence is to have faith; "con+fide" means "with+faith."
Faith comes from direct experience, reason, trusted sources, and sometimes from something that just feels deeply right and that's all you can say about it. You could have faith in both biological evolution and heaven. Sometimes faith seems obvious, like expecting water to yield each time you prepare to dive in; other times, faith is more of a conscious choice -- an act of faith -- such as choosing to believe that your child will be all right as he or she leaves home for college.
What do you have faith in -- out there in the world or inside yourself?
For example, I have faith in the sun coming up tomorrow, my partner while rock climbing, science and scholarship, the kindness of strangers, the deliciousness of peaches, the love of my wife, God, and the desire of most people to live in peace. And faith in my determination, coffee-making skills, and generally good intentions.
In your brain, faith (broadly defined to include assumptions and expectations) is an efficient way to conserve neural resources by not figuring things out each time from scratch. The visceral sense of conviction in faith integrates prefrontal logic, limbic emotion, and brainstem arousal.
Without faith in the world and in yourself, life feels shaky and scary. Faith grounds you in what's reliable and supportive; it's the antidote to doubt and fear. It strengthens you and supports you in weathering hard times. It helps you stay on your chosen paths, with confidence they will lead to good places. Faith fuels the hope and optimism that encourage the actions that lead to the results that confirm your faith, in a lovely positive cycle. Faith lifts your eyes to the far horizons, toward what's sacred, even Divine.
Sure, some skepticism is good. But going overboard with it leads to an endless loop of mistrusting the world and doubting yourself. You need to have faith that you'll make good choices about where to have faith! Which means avoiding two pitfalls:
Putting too much trust in the wrong places, such as in people who won't come through for you, in a business or job that's unlikely to turn out well, in dogmas and prejudices, or in a habit of mind that harms you -- like a guardedness with others that may have worked okay when you were young but is now like walking around in a suit of armor that's three sizes too small.
Putting too little trust in the right places, such as in the willingness of most people to hear what you really have to say, in the results that will come if you keep plugging away, or in the goodness inside your own heart.
First, in your journal, make a list of what you do have faith in -- both in the world and in yourself.
Next, ask yourself where your faith might be misplaced -- in dry wells or in dogs that won't hunt. Be sure to consider too much faith in certain aspects of your own mind, such as in beliefs that you are weak or tainted, that others don't care about you, or that somehow you're going to get different results by doing pretty much the same old things.
Then pick one instance of misguided faith, and write about it. How did you develop that faith? What has it cost you? What would be the benefits of a life without it? With what resource can you replace it? How are you going to consciously step away from it?
Repeat this for other cases of misplaced faith.
Second, make another list in your journal. This time, list what you could reasonably have faith in -- in the world and in yourself. These are missed opportunities for confidence -- such as in people who could be trusted more (including children), in the basic safety of most days for most people, and in your own strengths and virtues.
Then pick one and see if you can have more faith in it. Write down some good reasons for relying upon it. Imagine how more trust in it will help you and others. Consciously choose to believe in it.
Third, consider some of the good qualities and aspirations in your innermost heart. Give yourself over to them for a moment -- or longer. What's that like?
Try to have more faith in the best parts of yourself. They've always been faithful to you.
Join us this week for solo
piano music by Unitarian composers. Several of Norwegian composer Edvard
Grieg’s Lyric Pieces are featured, including the festive “Wedding Day at
Troldhaugen.” Béla Bartók’s fascination with Eastern European folk idioms is
represented by his “Rumanian Folk Dances”, and a charming, nostalgic “Romance”
by Boston-based Arthur Foote, one of the original editors of the Unitarian Hymns of the Church Universal, opens the
If you’d like to hear more of this repertory performed by Adam Kent, and celebrate
further the Unitarian musical heritage, consider attending the opening concert
of this year’s Music at CUUC series on Sunday, November 8 at 1pm. More
information is available at https://www.facebook.com/events/446400292229826/.
Read on for programming details.
Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Romance, Op. 15, No. 3
Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6
Bell Ringing, Op. 54, No. 6
Rumanian Dances: Dance with Sticks-Waistband Dance-Stamping Dance-Hornpipe-Rumanian Polka-Quick Dance
Category: WORTH A TRY, or OCCASIONAL, or MIGHT BE YOUR THING. These practices are "worth a try" at least once, or, say, for one week. Beyond that, different people will relate in different ways to the practices in this category. Some of these practices you will find great for "every once in a while" -- either because they are responses to a particular need that may arise or because they are simply enriching occasional enhancements to the spiritual life. Among these practices you may find the one particular practice that becomes your main and central spiritual practice -- or a Key Supporting Practice.
In an Animal Blessing service at at Community UU, Rev. LoraKim Joyner recommended a practice of empathizing, and explicitly including nonhuman species within our empathy.
It's not all bad news out there for all the critters in earth's choir. For instance, there is decreasing violence in the world, so says Steven Pinker in the book, The Better Angels of Our Nature (MORE INFO). One of the main reasons, he says, is empathy. Empathy functions to help humans see each other's inherent worth and dignity, and then to enact social practices, expectations, and laws that curb our more violent propensities. Just because we can, doesn't mean we do.
Is it possible that we can grow empathy for other species? Yes! A study a few years ago asked students to pretend they were a bird in trouble for 15 minutes. The control group was given no directions. Those who pretended they were the bird showed increased levels of empathy and greater desire to help the environment than the control group.
Putting yourself into the shoes, fins, wings, hoofs, paws, or talons of another is a powerful meditation. It helps us see the inherent worth and dignity of others, and as such, is a Unitarian Universalist First Principle Practice.
You can do this as a longer journal exercise that incorporates science, or by simply going to the imagination step (#5). You can do this as an individual or with others.
1. Think of an individual with whom you have a relationship. Write what you know of the being. What is the species? Individual name? Gender? Age? Life stage (growing, juvenile, parent, etc). Health status? If you can't think of an individual, choose a species you would like to get to know better or understand.
2. Observe them over a period of time and write what you see them do. Explain what you see as if you were a reporter with as little judgment or human projection as possible. In other words, don’t try to interpret the behavior at this point. It may be easier to choose just a short period of time or one behavior for this exercise, although you might find it useful for your relationship to journal at some point about all behaviors you encounter.
3. Now guess what you imagine they are thinking and feeling. List your guesses here.
4. To help you understand what you observed, do some research on the species regarding behavior, communication, feelings, and thoughts. You may find it difficult to find information about emotions and thinking in nonhuman species. Did you discover any new feelings or thoughts that occurred in the individual?
5. Now imagine that you are the animal. Get into their paws, scales, fur, or feathers for about 15 minutes. Pick an animal that is in your yard or along a walk or a hike. You can also watch a video or nature documentary. You become them and now are doing what you have observed them doing. As this animal, what are you thinking and feeling? For these 15 minutes, just be them without analyzing too much why they do what they do. After you are done, ask yourself if you discovered anything new by pretending to be the animal? Share what you learned with another person and also invite them into this journal or imagination exercise.
6. Now looking over the list of feelings and thoughts, make a list of this individual’s needs. Try to be as complete as possible as you go through the behaviors observed or if you have the time, a normal day as this individual. How might these needs be different from another individual of the same species, or from the average needs of this species?
7. What feelings and needs arise in you when you consider the feelings and needs of this individual?
8. What have you discovered about this individual, this species, yourself, or life through this exercise? If you have discovered anything, what needs of yours or the individual does what you have learned meet, or not meet.
9. Go back and spend time connecting to the energy of the other being by reviewing their feelings and needs, and then do the same with yourself. Allow this to be a time of being and connecting to life, without thought of requests or demands.
10. Then consider possible actions or steps you might do, or ask of others, based on this multispecies empathy exercise.
11. Share what you have learned or experienced with others and invite them into the exercise.
* * *
Here's LoraKim engaged in an empathy reflection with a gopher tortoise in Florida.
Music by music’s ultimate Wunderkind, Wolfgang Amadeus, is featured this Sunday morning at
CUUC. The epitaph alludes to Mozart’s incomparable status as a child prodigy,
but it might apply as well to his ability to draw forth a seemingly endless
stream of invention from the simplest ideas. The CUUC Choir will also perform
Andy Beck’s “Jazz Cantate” and “What Is Life?” by Greg Gilpin and Pamela
Stewart. Read on for programming details.
Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Variations on a Theme by Gluck, K. 455
Anthem: CUUC Choir
directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas Jazz
Join us this Sunday morning for our annual Blessing of the
Animals service with Rev. LoraKim Joyner. Songs about the animal kingdom
include “The Unicorn”, sung by Joann Prinzivalli, and CUUC’s own house band’s
renditions of “All God’s Critters” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.
Congregational participation is encouraged! Plan on arriving by 10am for a
special Music for All Ages with Adam Kent, including animal-themed piano
compositions by Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg and others. Read on for more
Prelude: Music for All Ages with Adam Kent
Little Bird, Op. 43, No. 4
Butterfly, Op. 43, No. 1
La pulga from El arca de Noe
The Little White Donkey from Histoires
Opening Music: Joann Prinzivalli, vocals and guitar
Special Hymn: The CUUC
Critters (Joann Prinzivalli, vocals and guitar; Christian Force, vocals and
piano; Kim Force, vocals; Sunny Holcombe, vocals; Irene Cox, violin)
All God’s Critters
Special Story Music:
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Royal March of the Liion from Carnival of the Animals
Be a part of our congregation's social justice efforts.
Which Social Justice Team would you like to be a part of? They all address important issues, so choose the one that resonates most powerfully with you.
Each team has a chair, a core leadership of about 5, and broader membership of people ready to be called on to assist in the effort.
As part of this congregation’s mission – “engage in service to transform ourselves and our world” – all members are urged to be on one of our Social Justice Teams. Friends and visitors are welcome, too!
Here are the eight teams. To join, contact the member of the Social Justice Coordinating Committee that is named in parenthese.
Hungry and Homeless (Meredith Garmon - minister at cucwp dot org )
Anti-Racism (Jeff Tomlinson - jefftomlison8 at gmail dot com)
Women's Issues (Jeff Tomlinson - jefftomlison8 at gmail dot com)
LGBT Issues (Mary Cavallero - marycava4 at gmail dot com)
Climate and Environmental Issues (Barry Litcofsky - barry.litcofsky at gmail dot com)
Education (Mary Cavallero - marycava4 at gmail dot com)
Economic Issues: Poverty and Income Inequality (Barry Litcofsky - barry.litcofsky at gmail dot com)
Interfaith Collaboration (Meredith Garmon - minister at cucwp dot org )
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 slogans, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.
In order to keep our ancestors alive in harsh and often lethal settings, neural networks evolved that continually look for, react to, store, and recall bad news -- both "out there in your environment, and "in here," inside your own head.
As a consequence, we pay a lot of attention to threats, losses, and mistreatment in our environment -- and to our emotional reactions, such as worry, sadness, resentment, disappointment, and anger. We also focus on our own mistakes and flaws -- and on the feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, and even self-hatred that get stirred up.
There's a place for noticing and dealing with things that could harm you or others. And a place for improving your own mind and character.
But because of the negativity bias of the brain, most of us go way overboard.
Which is really unfair. It's not fair to zero in on a bit of bad news and ignore or downplay all the good news around it. The results of that unfairness include uncalled-for anxiety, pessimism, blue moods, and self-doubt. Emphasizing the bad news also primes us to be untrusting or cranky with others.
But if you compensate for the brain's bias by actively looking for good news -- especially the little things you are glad about -- then you will feel happier, more at peace with the world, more open to others, and more willing to stretch for your dreams. And as your growing gladness naturally lowers your stress, you'll likely get physical health benefits as well, such as a stronger immune system.
Now, that's good news . . . about good news!
Look for things to be glad about, like:
Bad things that never happened, or were not as bad as you feared
Relief that hard or stressful times are over
Good things that have happened to you in the past
Good things in your life today, such as: friends, loved ones, children, pets, the health you have, stores stocked with food, public libraries, electricity, positive aspects of your work and finances, activities you enjoy, sunsets, sunrises . . . ice cream!
Good things about yourself, such as positive character traits and intentions
Sink into feelings of gladness:
"Glad" means "pleased with" or "happy about." So notice what it feels like -- in your emotions, body, and thoughts -- to be pleased with something or happy about it. When you create a clear sense-memory of a positive mental state, you can find your way back to it again.
Be aware of small, subtle, mild, or brief feelings of gladness.
Stay with the good news. Don't change the channel so fast!
Notice if your feelings of gladness get hijacked by doubt or worry. Also be honest with yourself, and consider if you are kind of attached to your resentments, grievances, or "case" about other people. It's okay if it's hard for you to stay with gladness; it's really common. Just try to name to yourself what has happened in your mind -- such as "hijacking" . . . "brooding" . . . "grumbling" -- and then freely decide if you want to spiral down into the bad news, or if you want to focus on good news instead. Make a conscious decision, acknowledge it to yourself, and then act upon it.
Sometime every day, before going to bed, name to yourself at least three things you are glad about.
Share your feelings of gladness:
Make a point of mentioning to others something that you are pleased or happy about (often the little stuff of everyday life).
Look for opportunities to tell another person what you appreciate about him or her.
Above, under "look for things to be glad about," are five bullet points. Write in your journal a few examples in your life of each of the five.