General Assembly 2016

The 2016 General Assembly was intense.

LoraKim and I arrived in the evening, Tue Jun 21 and checked into the Ohio State dormitory, 2 miles from the Convention Center. This gave us a nice stroll in each morning of the assembly, and a nice stroll back each evening, with a stop at one of the restaurants for dinner. That was the relaxing part of an otherwise challenging and invigorating GA.

The intensity began with the first event we attended: On Wed afternoon, the concluding and open-to-the-public portion of "Ministry Days" is the annual Berry St. Essay. This year -- the 194th consecutive year of the essay series that once-upon-a-time was delivered at a conference on Berry Street in Boston and now is delivered wherever the UUA General Assembly is -- Rev. Gail Seavy of Nashville, TN gave a searing account of how many of our congregations have been damaged by clergy sexual misconduct, abuses of power, and secrecy. The full text will be online eventually, and I look forward to reading it again. It was that powerful. In the meantime, see the UU World's article about it HERE.

Wed evening was the opening celebration kicking off General Assembly proper. The banner parade is always a joyful and moving sight!

The 2016 GA brought a special focus on interfaith cooperation and attention to racial justice -- as described HERE.

Please also peruse these articles, which describe various aspects and events at this year's GA (click on titles):

With Angel Wings, UUs Respond to Westboro Protestors at General Assembly
Krista Tippett Presents Ware Lecture
'No More Fake Fights': Sunday Morning Worship at GA Inspires
In a Time of Growing Isolation, Spiritual Innovation Is the Future
Palestinian Rights Resolution Fails at General Assembly
Candidates for UUA President Present Their Visions for Leading Unitarian Universalism
Movement for Black Lives, Young UUs of Color Take Main Stage on General Assembly's Final Day

Much of what happened at GA was covered by outside news organizations. See the "media round-up" of that coverage HERE.

Choosing a CSAI for 2016-2020

CSAI: Congregational Study & Action Issue. Every two years -- at General Assembly in even-numbered years -- we select one issue for special focus for the next four years. Thus we are always in the first two years of one CSAI, and in the last two years of another CSAI. The multi-year exploration by congregations throughout the UU universe may (and usually does) culminate in a Statement of Conscience (SOC). Here are the recent past issues that UUs have taken up in this manner:

2006-2010 CSAI, now 2010 SOC: Creating Peace
2008-2012 CSAI, now 2011 SOC: Ethical Eating
2010-2014 CSAI, now 2013 SOC: Immigration as a Moral Issue
2012-2016 CSAI, now 2015 SOC: Reproductive Justice

We are currently half-way through 2014-2018 CSAI: Escalating Inequality

So what issue would we choose as the CSAI for 2016-20? The proposal process that started last year had, by last February, produced these four possibilities:

A National Conversation On Race
Climate Change and Environmental Justice
The Corruption of Our Democracy
Ending Gun Violence in America

You can read about each of these four by clicking on the titles. The delegates voted on Thu Jun 23. I voted for "Ending Gun Violence," and LoraKim voted for "A National Conversation On Race," but "The Corruption of Our Democracy" won. As I listened to the floor debate, my guess is that the argument that swayed many delegates to focus on democracy was the point that we'll never get anywhere on the other issues until we clean up the money and corruption that stymies popular will.

You might decide not to take the time to read the also-rans, but please do take a moment to click on "The Corruption of Democracy" above for a brief account of what this issue is all about.

After GA, Rev. Peggy Clarke (Hastings) and I got together and made plans to offer a first discussion of this CSAI in September. The session will be largely "book group" format -- and the book we chose for starters is Parker Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy. See the Amazon description and order your copy HERE.

Choosing the 2016 AIWs

AIW: Action of Immediate Witness. From uua.org:
"Delegates at each annual General Assembly have the opportunity to take positions on issues that require immediate witness through the Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) process. An AIW expresses the conscience and carries the authority of the delegates at the GA aat which it is passed. AIWs are initiated by individual delegates and move through their entire creation and adoption process during a single GA."
Every year, the delegates may approve a maximum of three AIWs, which are statements of the delegates. By Sat Jun 25, a slate of six proposed AIWs had been assembled, from which the delegates chose three.
A: Build Solidarity with Muslims
B: Some Guns, All Guns: Legislating Appropriate Restrictions
C: Oppose Military Use of Drones
D: Stop the Transpacific Partnership
E: Support HR 40: "The Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act"
F: Protect and Support our Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Family

The winners were A, B, and F. You can see the text of them HERE.

Here's how CUC's delegates voted (bold capitals for the three issues that won):
Me: B, e, F
LoraKim and Denise Tomlinson: B, c, e
Jennifer Stevens: A, B, F


Create a Pain and Pleasure List

Practice of the Week
Create a Pain and Pleasure List

What do you absolutely love to do? It need not be a big thing. Perhaps you really love to watch baseball, or maybe you really enjoy baking your own bread. Often, we get so caught up in living our life that we forget to take time for life's simple pleasures. Many people find that their life is so full of responsibilities that they rarely take time for fun and adventure. If that sounds like you, then you'll benefit by making and using a Pain and Pleasure (P&P) list.

The P&P list is a list of at least ten things you enjoy doing and a list of ten things you don't particularly care for. It helps you clarify what really turns you on in life and what you do only because you have to -- or think you should. While we all need to do things we don't like from time to time, life is not meant to be a series of burdens and responsibilities. Your P&P list will say a lot about you, and by having your P&P list handy, you'll be able to make important changes in your life with a lot more ease.

Step One: Create your list. The singular act of writing down ten things you love to do and ten you don't care for can reveal a lot about your life. Recently, a client named James made his list while in my office. He had originally come to see me because of depression, stress at work, and problems with his spouse. James created this list:

Ten Things I Don't Like to Do:
  1. Go to work
  2. Market myself or my products
  3. Clean the house
  4. Cook
  5. Be around disagreeable people
  6. Spend time with my parents
  7. Taxes and paying the bills
  8. Give my spouse a massage
  9. Go shopping for clothes or gifts
  10. Argue with spouse
Ten Things I Love to Do:
  1. Ride my bike
  2. Be by myself, reading a good book
  3. Play with the dog
  4. Eat good food
  5. Travel
  6. Get a massage
  7. Spend time in nature
  8. Make love with my spouse
  9. Drive and listen to music
  10. Watch a good baseball game
Step Two: Estimate the number of hours every month spent doing each activity. I asked James to do this after he had made his list. When he finished this part of the exercise, it was brutally clear why he was depressed, stressed, and having problems with his spouse. The total number of hours on the "pain" side of the list was 215 hours a month. The total number of hours on the "pleasure" side of the list was 32 hours a month. That's almost a 7-to-1 ratio of pain to pleasure.

I've found that when the pain-to-pleasure ratio rises above 5-to-1, people dislike their life. In order to feel good again, time spent on the "pain" list must drop and time spent on "pleasure" list must rise.

The first key to changing your life and behavior is to be aware of what's currently not working. If you see discover your pain-to-pleasure ratio is similar to James' then you'll know you've been denying yourself too much. It's time to put pleasurable activities at a greater level of importance in your life.

Sometimes people think if they make pleasure a bigger priority, the rest of their life will fall apart. Not true. When we don't have enough good times in our life, we become less capable and effective in our career and relationships. We pay a price. As we feel good more regularly the "rising sea" of our emotions tends to lift the various "boats" of our life.

On the other hand, some people who complete the P&P list see a pattern of having too much pleasure in their life. They tend to be undisciplined and avoid responsibilities. Long term, the under-responsible route is as problematic as the over-responsible route. By avoiding difficult things now, people with this predilection often create problems in their finances and relationships later on. The key to having a successful life is to find the right balance of pain to pleasure -- in both current life and long term.

Your P&P list is a convenient reminder of what you really like to do. Sometimes we get so caught up in the various "chores of life" that we forget to enjoy ourselves. Putting your P&P list in a place where you'll see it often will softly help you remember the direction you want to go. Seeing what causes you "pain" can remind you about areas of life you might like to change. If your list shows that you spend 160 hours a month at a job you don't like, then it might help motivate you to look for another job.

Step Three: Change your behavior. If there's a lot of pain and little pleasure in your life, ask yourself two questions:
  1. Are there any activities on the "pain" side of the list that I can easily change, do less of, or have someone else do instead?
  2. and
  3. Are there any activities on the "pleasure" side of the list that I can easily do more of, beginning with scheduling time for it in my life right now?
Search your P&P list for answers to these questions you can immediately act upon. Then take action. Schedule a fun activity into your busy week, or see if you can get someone else to do what you always hate doing. Even a small change can yield a major shift in your attitude and disposition. Let the P&P list be your caring companion -- gently reminding you of the road to greater fulfillment.

* * *
For list of all weekly practices: "Practice of the Week Index"


Rest in the Openness of Mind

Practice of the Week
Rest in the Openness of Mind

Category: SLOGANS TO LIVE BY: These are for everyone. 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.

Resting in the openness of mind. Sometimes it's called not knowing. Why would we have to know everything all the time? Why do we have to be so knowledgeable, so smart, so in control? We don't!

There's no need to figure everything out. We can just be alive. We can breathe in and breathe out and let go and just trust our life, trust our body. Our body and our life know what to do. The problem is to let them do it, to relax and let them guide us.

Of course life is complicated and we have many things to work out in our material and psychological lives. But also we can find a place of refuge sometimes -- in our own life, in our own breath, in our own presence. This seems like a very good idea, to have the confidence that that place of refuge exists and that it exists in us. We don't have to search for a powerful guru or a major meditation center or find the best book or method. We can just return right now to ourselves. To our actual concrete presence, in the body, in the breath, in the mind and heart. If we had the confidence that this were possible at any moment, then we would feel much more at ease with our lives and it would be easier and happier to take care of all our complicated problems. We could do it with far less anxiety and stress. We would trust our life.

The practice of resting in the openness of mind at any time during the day can be quite powerful. Rest in the openness of mind. Getting used to this phrase and its meaning so that it can be an inspiration for you, so that you can bring it up at any time during the day, is a powerful advantage.


Maybe the easiest way to to rest in the openness of mind is also the simplest way: just stop and take a breath. One breath, maybe two or three. You could do this now. Take a breath and return to the openness of mind. Breathing in, breathing out, and in the feeling of the breath noticing whatever is there and letting go of it, easily, gently. Even if you are bored with yourself, even if you have some disturbing things going on in your life that produce disturbing thoughts and feelings in you, it still possible in this precise moment (even now, as you are reading) to notice breathing, notice the body, notice the feeling of being present in this moment of time. This will relax you. This is what it feels like to rest in the openness of mind.


Describe in your Journal moments during the day when you intentionally rested in the openness of mind.

* * *


Music: Sun Jun 12

In recognition of the theme of evolving moral standards, Sunday morning’s solo piano selections feature works which were widely misunderstood by their composers’ contemporaries. Frederic Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie perplexed nineteenth-century musicians because of its unconsciously evolving form and shattering of simple genre classifications. The music of Claude Debussy included in the Offertory also met with initial resistance from more reactionary factions in the French conservatory culture, who failed to grasped the composer’s revolutionary use of dissonance to evoke sensation and impression.

The CUUC Choir is also on hand with two contrasting selections; the first, a celebration of the art of music, the second a farewell gesture at the choir’s last appearance of the 2015-16 church year.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61
                                                            Frederic Chopin
Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Celebrate Music
Joseph M. Martin

La puerta del vino
                                                            Claude Debussy

 Ashokan Farewell 
                          Jay Ungar and Grian McGregor, arr. by Carole Stephens 



Practice of the Week
“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed at such desperate enterprises?” (Henry David Thoreau)

“Millions of Americans have lost control over the basic rhythm of their daily lives. They work too much, eat too quickly, socialize too little, drive and sit in traffic for too many hours, don’t get enough sleep, and feel harried too much of the time. The details of time scarcity are different across socioeconomic groups, but as a culture we have a shared experience of temporal impoverishment.” (Juliet Schor)

“Evidence that longer hours of work are associated with lower happiness is accumulating, as is the more general point that how people spend their time is strongly related to well-being. In a series of studies, the psychologists Tim Kasser and Kennon Sheldon found that being time-affluent is positively associated with well-being, even controlling for income. In some of their studies, time trumped material goods in importance. Kasser and Kirk Brown found that working hours are negatively correlated with life satisfaction.” (Juliet Schor)

“To live voluntarily means encountering life more consciously. To live more simply is to encounter life more directly.” (Duane Elgin)

“In a trend that shows no sign of reversing, American workers are reporting higher levels of stress.” (Risk & Insurance, 2015 Jan.)

“Maybe we could give up saving the world and start to live savingly on it.” (Wendell Berry)

Slow down. Simplify. De-clutter. Let drop some of those balls you’re juggling.

Modern society affords us more and more devices and "conveniences." Robotics and automation do more and more of our manufacturing for us – and, indeed, more and more of our farming. Restaurants and prepared packaged food items do more and more of our cooking for us. And somehow we are busier than ever. Freed from what we used to do, the labor force shifted away from industry and agriculture and into the service sector. We work frenetically in order to pay for our conveniences and each other’s services.

Our lives are complicated. E-mails, phone calls, working long hours. Carrying the kids to music lessons, soccer practice, play dates or scouts – church. It’s a fast culture and just trying to match the velocity of others makes life hectic.

Do you sometimes feel like a short-order cook at the lunch rush? It’s fine to rev up every once in a while, but constant rushing is stressful. Stress weakens the immune system. It wears down your mood. When you’re living in a rush, you worry more, find more things to get irritated about. You don’t think so clearly, and make worse decisions. Americans are the most stressed people in history, and since stress can trigger depression, it’s no coincidence that we’re the most depressed people in history.

Economist Richard Layard found that across the globe, the average happiness score of a country stops rising when its per capita income reaches $26,000 in today’s dollars.

Longer hours also increase your environmental impact “both because of more production and because time-stressed households have higher-impact lifestyles.” (Schor) Time-stressed households don’t cook as often. On average, they rely more on pre-prepared packaged food, and eat at restaurants. Ready-made packaged foods involve a lot more CO2 production than foods you prepare yourself. And restaurants? One study found that an hour of restaurant eating uses 11 kilowatt-hours of energy, while an hour of eating at home (including all travel for food purchasing, gas or electricity for cooking, and so forth) uses only 7.4.That means, eating out uses just shy of 50 percent more energy than eating at home.

People report that do-it-yourself activity is highly satisfying: they learn new skills, and it’s an outlet for creativity. Sometimes these newfound skills and passions lead to start-up businesses that are small, local, and green. Or they lead to trading and sharing through local networks that strengthen community ties and social capital – which enhances well-being and security. Less paid work, less stress, and less consumption means more time for family, friends, community, and rewarding labor of crafts or garden or do-it-yourself activity – and a more satisfying life.

"Simplicity" has a number of overlapping aspects:
(a) Reducing the hectic pace of life. Slowing down. Working less and reducing the demands on our time. Taking time for family, friends, sunsets, etc.
(b) Reducing consumption and the reliance on exploited labor, resource depletion, and environmental harm to support our lifestyle.
(c) Reducing the clutter of stuff. Making our home and workplace surroundings neat and spare.
(d) Paring away things that are merely distractions from the kind of life that we want to live. Avoiding technological "conveniences" that mostly make convenient activities that disconnect us from family, community, or the Earth.
(e) Enhancing self-reliance and reduced consumption through self-provisioning activities. Examples of self-provisioning include doing our own cooking, gardening, canning, sewing or knitting clothes, taking the time to hang clothes on the line instead of using the dryer.

This week: Reflect on the five overlapping aspects of simplicity. Select two of the five, and make a plan to implement them in your life.

* * *
For Journaling

Reflect on: what could you do to slow down the pace of your life? How could you reduce consumption? What de-cluttering would be possible for you? What devices do you have that you could do without? (What things do they allow you to do that you'd be better off not doing?) What self-provisioning activities could you take up?

* * *


Ask Yourself About Successes, Gratitudes, Love, Self-Appreciation

Practice of the Week
Ask Yourself About Successes, Gratitudes, Love, Self-Appreciation

adapted from Jonathan Robinson, Find Happiness Now

By asking yourself specific questions on a regular basis, you can dramatically change your life.

Questions are a quick and powerful way to change your focus -- and what you focus on grows. Our emotional state is largely determined by what we think about. If we subconsciously think throughout the day, "What else is wrong in my life?" then we'll likely feel anxious a lot of the time. However, if we focus on the question, "What can I feel grateful for?" then it's easy to feel a whole lot better.

Asking questions to change your focus is a time-tested technique. We already do it, and it has an immense impact on how we feel. Unfortunately, usually we use this method to make ourselves feel angry, depressed, or anxious. We think of things like, "What else do I have to do today?" or "Why is that person such a jerk?" Like a good computer, our brain attempts to answer whatever question we feed it. Out of the millions of things it could think about, our mind chooses just a few things to focus on. How does it know what to let into consciousness, and what to ignore? Our brain chooses what to perceive based on the subconscious (or conscious) questions we ask ourselves. If you ask a negative question, you'll likely feel morose. If you ask a positive one, you'll focus on different thoughts and likely end up feeling good.

Over many years of trial and error, I have found there are four specific questions that are effective in quickly changing how a person feels. They are:
  1. What small successes have I had recently?
  2. What could I feel grateful for?
  3. Who do I love and/or who loves me?
  4. What do I appreciate about myself?
Each of these questions can be like a flashlight that helps you see past your inner darkness to the "heaven within." It only takes one or two minutes of focusing on any of these questions to change what you perceive and how you feel. To tune into the magic they offer, simply begin by taking a slow, deep breath, and then repeat the chosen question a couple of times. At first you'll probably come up with intellectual answers that don't seem very connected to your feelings. Yet with practice you'll learn to feel positive emotions that result from the answers you think of.

For example, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, you may choose to ask yourself, "What small successes have I had recently?" As you think of several answers you'll notice your thoughts will begin to move in a different direction. By focusing and visualizing one or more successes, you can begin to tune into the feelings of confidence and achievement. In just a couple of minutes you can transform your experience and feel immensely better.

When you answer any of the four questions, the important thing is to think of specific instances when you felt what the question is asking you about. They need not be big, dramatic examples -- they only need to be times that were emotionally meaningful to you. For instance, when asking yourself, "What could I feel grateful for?" you could feel thankful for literally hundreds of things. You could feel gratitude for being healthy, for having food when much of the world goes hungry, for friends, or even for the use of your phone. By focusing on how fortunate you are, you cultivate gratitude as a habit.

The question, "Who do I love and who loves me?" can be a wonderful way to dive into your heart and experience the grace of love. By remembering a specific time you felt loved by someone, or a particular time you felt in love with someone, it's possible to tune into the warmth within your heart. With practice, you can take "mini love breaks" throughout the day that open your heart with love in just a minute of meditation.

The final question, "What do I appreciate about myself?" can be a good antidote to feelings of self-dislike or unworthiness. The simple fact that you have read this far shows that you're interested in bettering yourself. You probably have a lot of little things about yourself which are likable. By thinking of some of them, you'll feel better. For some people it's hard to see what is good and lovable about themselves. If you have a hard time with this question, you might try asking yourself, "What good things would my friends say about me?" As you focus on what you (or others) see as your positive traits, you'll feel more confident, lovable, and have genuine compassion for yourself.

The hardest thing about this technique is remembering to use it. Yet if you give it a really good try, you'll see that it works wonders. Being able to quickly go from feeling overwhelmed to feeling confident, or feeling anxious to being grateful is one of the most important skills a person could learn. To a large extent, your ability to act effectively in the world is based on how good you feel. As you gain more control over your thoughts and emotions by asking yourself these four questions, you'll not only feel better -- but you'll also be better able to contribute to others.

How do you quickly change how you feel? By asking yourself the right questions!

For Journaling

Each day this week, incorporate into your journal entry an answer to one of the four key questions.

* * *
For list of all weekly practices: "Practice of the Week Index"

Music: Sun Jun 5

The evolution of simplicity to complexity is embodied in the musical theme and variations. Two examples of this genre are included in the morning’s Prelude and Offertory. In addition, the CUUC Choir is on hand with a spiritually contemplative selection by the Medieval abbess Hildegard von Bingen as well as the perennially popular “What a Wonderful World”. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Variations on a Theme by Gluck, K. 455
                                                Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Caritas abundant*      
 Hildegard von Bingen (c. 1100 a.d
*Translation:  Loving tenderness abounds for all
 from the darkest to the most eminent one
                              beyond the stars,

                              Exquisitely loving all
she bequeaths the kiss of peace
upon the ultimate king.

Sonata No. 12 in Ab Major, Op. 26
I.               Andante con variazioni
Ludwig van Beethoven
What a Wonderful World 
George David Weiss and Bob Thiele, arr. by Mark