From the Minister, Fri Aug 31

The Liberal Pulpit / New this week:
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: Relax Anxiety about Imperfection / We get uneasy, nervous, troubled, stressed about imperfection itself, rather than recognizing it as normal. Instead of dealing with conditions as they are and just handling them, we get caught up in worrying about what they mean, grumbling, feeling deflated, becoming opinionated and judgmental, blaming ourselves and others. The alternative: let the broken cup be a broken cup without adding judgment, resistance, blaming, or worry to it. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: The Fun Way / Next evening, Porcupine said, "I think I speak for everyone in suggesting that we invite Grandma to our meetings. She's quite wise, it seems." Raven saw many heads nodding. The next day she flew over to Vinecot and found Grandma weeding her garden. "We'd like to invite you to come to our meetings," she said. Grandma said, "It's much more fun this way." Raven said, "Might have known." READ MORE
Zen at CUUC: Sat Sep 1


From Music Director Adam Kent: What I did on my summer vacation.

I write this summary full of excitement about the new church year, happy to be reunited with many long-time friends, and looking forward to making music in this nurturing community. Rev. Meredith suggested that some of you would be interested in reading about my musical activities over the past summer.

Fast on the heels of our final service last June, I recorded the complete piano works of Tania Leon at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in NYC. Some of you may recall that Tania was a guest at a Music at CUUC event in 2016, when she was interviewed and I performed several of her piano works. This project has been a labor of love, but I have also never felt more challenged pianistically or musically. I hope to be able to share this project with you in the not-too-distant future. Also on the recording front, I completed filming a documentary on the Catalan composer Federico Mompou, whose music I program frequently at CUUC.

In July, I performed and taught at two music festivals in Spain, one in Burgos, the other in Oviedo. For a number of years, these small cities have captivated me and my partner Joel every summer. While in Spain, I gave a recital in Madrid for the American Fulbright Organization, which was entitled “Spain Abroad/Espana en el extranjero”—music by Spanish composers living abroad, or Spanish-style music by non-Hispanic composers.

For the first half of August, I was in the Philippines for the 2018 Manila International Piano Masterclasses Festival, 11 days of performing, masterclasses, and public lessons. This was my first trip to the Philippines, and I was touched by the kindness and generosity of everyone I met. My valise was half empty when I left; I had to pay a fee for excess baggage weight (good thing they don’t weigh passengers!) on departing, because of all the gifts students had shared with me.

If anyone’s interested in hearing some of my performances from the summer, I have provided a few Youtube videos above.


From the Minister, Thu Aug 23

This what CUUC exsts for: to carry out its mission -- to nurture each other in our spiritual journeys; foster compassion and understanding within and beyond our community, and engage in service to transform ourselves and our world. Spirituality, compassion, and service.

These aren't three things, but just one thing. To foster compassion and understanding requires both nurturing our spirituality and serving others. To nurture each other in our spiritual journeys requires both fostering compassion and understanding and engaging together in service to the wider world. To truly serve others requires spiritual maturity, compassion, and understanding.

The work of our SJTs -- Social Justice Teams -- both flows from our spiritual depth, and flows back to strengthen and support our spiritual development. Social justice work is spiritual practice. And spiritual practice increases our interest in social justice work.

We are starting our 4th year of Social Justice Teams, and we have more of them than ever: Animal Advocacy, Economic Justice, Environmental Practices, Hunger and Homelessness, LGBTQIA Justice, Racial Justice, Refugee Resettlement, Women's Issues. Those eight are described on our webpage HERE. In addition, we have two more new ones that, as of this writing, aren't mentioned on our webpage yet: Gun control (contact Emily Economou) and Children's Issues (contact Terry Kung). That's a total of ten!

Each SJT has:
  • one chair, or two co-chairs;
  • five core leaders (the chair plus four others, or the two co-chairs plus three others)
  • active members
  • "on-call" members (no commitment to come to any meetings, but willing to be called upon when there's a big project that needs as many people as possible)
Some of our SJTs are looking for another core leader or two. Can you step up?

All of our SJTs welcome more active members. Which issue most calls to you as how you'd like to serve?

And if you just aren't able to be an active member, I hope you'll put yourself on the "on call" list for one or two of our SJTs.

Nurture your spirit . . . by helping to heal our world.

Help heal our world . . . by nurturing your spirit.

Yours in the faith we share,

The Liberal Pulpit / New this week:
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: It Comes Down To: Don't Be Stuck on Yourself / Let go of that and open up. Think of others. Try to do something to make them happy. Anything! Something like, “Hello, how are you?” And mean it. This is a way to assess your practice as you go along, a question to ask yourself on a regular basis: Am I less stuck on myself, more available to others than I used to be? Am I thinking positively and generously...READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Not Playing Favorites / Woodpecker flew over to Vinecot, and there was the stick leaning against the corner of the porch. She called out, "Hello! Hello!" Grandma came to the door. Woodpecker said, "Is that your stick?" Grandma said, "You can take it away with you if you like." Woodpecker said, "I heard that you wouldn't give it to Raven." Grandma said, "I still wouldn't." Woodpecker then flew back to Raven...READ MORE
Zen at CUUC: Sat Aug 25


From the Minister, Thu Aug 16

In last Sunday's sermon, "Truth, Who Needs It?" I said the question of truth is the question of trust. Tell me who you trust, and I've got a pretty good idea of what you think is true. If our era seems to be "post-truth," it's because the power of trust, which can sometimes mitigate confirmation bias, has diminished. Without trust in any source that might challenge our prejudices, we dismiss any evidence that doesn't confirm them. Thus, I concluded: "If you want more truth, build more trust."

But how? I didn't say how. I just urged that we "keep looking for ways to build connection, build bridges, build trust everywhere. Keep looking." Thanks and kudos to Audra Russell for doing just that -- and finding something. There's a program called "Common Ground" here in White Plains to which Audra's post on Facebook called my attention:

Every third Thursday of the month, 2018 Sep - 2019 May
18:00 - 20:00 (i.e. 6p - 8p)
Community Room
White Plains Public Library
100 Martine Ave. White Plains, NY 10601

See the Common Ground flyer HERE. Discussion will follow the World Cafe model: "Participants will be split up into small groups and paired with a table captain, who will help keep the discussion on track. We will mix the groups up a few times during each event, to maximize the number of people who interact with each other. There will be time for both dialogue and reflection."

Topics to be addressed:
   Thu Sep 20: Immigration & American Identity
   Thu Oct 18: Civic Engagement & Voting
   Thu Nov 15: Transgender Rights
   Thu Dec 20: Insiders & Outsiders in Our Society
   Thu Jan 17: Race & American Society
   Thu Feb 21: Economic Inequality
   Thu Mar 21: Sexual Misconduct
   Thu Apr 18: Food Justice & the Environment
   Thu May 16: Healthcare

Another program that brings people together for structured conversations is Better Angels. See their website HERE, and the David Brooks column about the program HERE.

"Screen" is a contranym -- a word that means its own opposite. To "screen" a movie is present it to view. But screen also means to block from view. Screens -- TVs, computers, smartphones -- have tremendous power, shaping thought by both presenting and concealing information. When too much of our information comes to us through screens, the screens become the walls of the echo chambers that reinforce our prejudices and exacerbate polarization and distrust of anyone outside the chamber. This, then, is how we change the world and build trust and democracy: one unscreened conversation at a time.

Yours in the faith we share,

The Liberal Pulpit
New this week:
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: Instagram as Spiritual Practice / Instagram practice involves looking carefully at everything I pass, seeing within it the light of the holy, noticing beauty even in the broken, old, and careworn, and stopping my day to celebrate as I decide upon an angle from which to snap a photo. These aspects of my day have become equivalent to stopping and praying or to pausing and breathing. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Too Clever by Half / Owl then spoke up. "Are you saying that her stick represents her Buddha-nature?" Raven launched herself from her perch without a word and flew out of sight. Porcupine said, "Don't you see? It's a plain old stick. It doesn't even have a rubber tip." Owl said, "Sometimes I think I'm just too clever by half." READ MORE
Zen at CUUC: Sat Aug 18


Instagram as Spiritual Practice

Practice of the Week
Instagram as Spiritual Practice

Category: Might Be Your Thing. The practices here are not for everyone -- but one of them may be just the thing for you! Any of these might also be, for you, in the "Occasional" category, but are listed here because they are good candidates for regular, central practices.

from Cynthia Cain, "Instagram as Spiritual Practice," in E. W. Wikstrom, editor, Faithful Practices: Everyday Ways to Feed Your Spirit, abridged and adapted.

Wendell Berry cautions about the overuse of the camera:
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
With his video camera to his eye, making
A moving picture of the moving river . . .
[At the end of his vacation]
With a flick of a switch, there it would be,
But he would not be in it. He would never be in it. (“The Vacation”)
We’re regularly reminded of the hazards of social media. It’ an addiction. It deadens the imagination. I have read that it can even be bad for your career.

Hence, it may seem counterintuitive to suggest a social media app as a spiritual discipline. Instagram is easily and often used in ways that are the opposite of spiritual discipline. The proliferation of selfies and the excessive documentation of people’s travels, material acquisitions, and superior home decorating can become weapons of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement that ultimately wound the poster and the viewer. They can also reduce our public identity to a litany of things, impoverishing our relationship with our world.

Nonetheless, it is possible to use Instagram in a way that is a spiritual discipline.

As I prepared a presentation for the final project in my spiritual direction studies, I wanted to highlight the many ways that my studies had benefited my own life and to do so visually. I used my phone to photograph ordinary things that intimated dimensions of Jungian dream work: shadows, light, clouds, water, and dream-like scenes that called to me. I stopped my car to stalk birds, stare at trees, fences, fields, and doors – whatever underscored something I’d learned in my two years’ study. The world around me offered concrete images of God’s inscrutability, boundaries, walls that we build, family systems, and archaic and ancient symbols of what Jung called the collective unconscious connecting humanity.

Instagram practice involves looking carefully at everything I pass, seeing within it the light of the holy, noticing beauty even in the broken, old, and careworn, and stopping my day to celebrate as I decide upon an angle from which to snap a photo. These aspects of my day have become equivalent to stopping and praying or to pausing and breathing.

Certainly, I’m aware that the incessant snapping of pictures on our smartphones can be an annoyance. A spiritual practice would be undermining itself if it weren’t practiced with consideration for others, so I try to keep my Instagram practice to the times when I’m alone (and as an itinerant, oft-traveled, semi-active minister, there is a lot of alone time).

I would also recommend supporting an Instagramming practice with other spiritual disciplines, especially those that span many faith traditions and are timeless and proven successful: gratitude, stopping/pausing, and deep love.

Gratitude practice. Many have found gratitude practice to be of inestimable value. People in Twelve Step programs, for instance, will tell you without hesitation that only by daily thanking God-as-they-understand-God for all that is good do they stay sober. It is absolutely clear to them that focusing on the negative will lead them back to drinking or drugs. Another place to find gratitude is in the traditional Black church. Prayers there often begin with a litany of thanks to God for the simplest gifts, starting with “I woke up today, God. Thank you.”

Stopping/pausing. Doing this throughout the day to pray or reflect evokes Muslim and Buddhist traditions. When in Turkey several years ago, I thrilled to the sound of the muezzin calling folks to prayer throughout the day. Likewise, while on Buddhist retreat, the sound of the gong reminds us of our call to stop, breathe, and move slowly to the meditation hall, or zendo. These interludes that bring us back to our connection with being itself, with creation, are the ways we carry our spiritual lives with us rather than leave them on the cushion, the church pew, or the yoga mat.

Deep love. The kind of love that the Greeks called agape goes beyond human affection or even filial adoration and includes the holy. It is an attitude of mystery, wonder, awe, and curiosity. It takes a stance of joy and delight at the vast array of textures, colors, patterns, life forms, and mutations that we encounter daily. This beauty is not only observable in nature or in the country, but in the city as well, and in human faces, smiles, bodies, art, architecture, and even in food. Celebrating magnificence and splendor or just symmetry and simplicity provides a cushion of joy that helps me to absorb and balance the lashes of pain and despair that too often come from the world, and sometimes from my immediate surroundings, from people and things I can’t control.

Practices of gratitude, stopping/pausing, and deep love influence my approach to Instagramming. Because of them, the scanning, the observing, and the framing of that perfect shot continues even when I don’t stop to take a photo.

My spiritual practices also include yoga, Buddhist meditation, meeting with a spiritual director, and attending retreats. Additionally, I tend to my spirit through cooking and listening to music. But my Instagram practice is one I can take with me when I travel or practice at home.

I share my visual insights and reverence on Instagram without regard for who will see them, but with awareness that they are meant for others. Art is created for the other, and ultimately for the world and for God. Knowing that my photos become available to the world brings a level of sanctity to what I do. My pictures are more than a hobby; they, like sermons, are a creation and an offering, whether for an audience of one or one thousand. In sharing these images, these moments, my wish is that others find a moment of respite, of wonder, and of gratitude in the midst of a chaotic and sometimes disheartening world.

Instagram postings: first three by Meredith Garmon, next three by Cynthia Cain


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


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