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From the Sabbatical Minister - November 14, 2019

Stories of the Compassionate Life

In her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong writes
"All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule: DO not treat others as you would not like them to treat you, or in its positive form, ‘always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.’ Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody – even your enemies."

As we saw in Sunday’s responsive reading, compassion and the Golden Rule shows up across the world in a variety of ways. Armstrong highlights this connection, reminding us that compassion isn’t an anomaly, it’s a hallmark of being human. Armstrong may start with the world’s religions, but she then sets us on a journey that begins – and ultimately ends – with us. You see, this stuff is personal. It’s about you, and it’s about me. It’s about how I see myself and how I can be compassionate to myself, and how my understanding of myself as having inherent worth and dignity helps me see your inherent worth and dignity. It’s how my understanding of how little I actually know about other cultures, other situations, other ideas can be an opportunity to create space, connection, and lovingly take on a responsible search for truth and meaning.
And we see it reflected in our own Unitarian Universalist principles, which are a call to live a compassionate life – if we take them seriously. A compassionate life calls us to affirm and promote inherent worth, peace and justice, spiritual exploration, the search for truth and meaning, connection, interconnection, civic responsibility, and a sense of the interconnected world community – that includes the very earth itself.
Over and over again, we are reminded in these twelve steps how central compassion is – not just to us, but to everyone. We see it reflected in stories from around the world – passages from sacred text, from historical, from folktales, tall tales, fables, art, theatre, and literature. Each of them confirming – over and over again, with one clarion voice of humanity – that compassion must be at the center if we are to survive as a person, as group, as a community, as a world. 
Below are three stories I particularly like, and I hope you find meaning in them as well. Please read them one at a time – and let the truths in those stories write compassion on the tablet of your heart.
A pupil asked a great teacher, “How do I find wisdom?” The teacher answered, “By good choices.” “And how do I make good choices?”, asked the pupil. “From experience”, said the teacher. “And how do I get experience?”, asked the student, “From bad choices”, said the teacher.
Four pilgrims gathered together to peregrinate to India: a Persian, a Turk, a Greek and an Arab. The four pilgrims were resting by the shore of a river when there passed by a religious man, who, seeing that they were pilgrims, offered them some rupees so that they could get breakfast.
When the man had departed, the Persian said: “With this money I am going to buy angur so that we all can eat”. The Turk protested: “No way, we will buy unzum”, but the Greek replied bluntly: “Nothing of that; we’ll buy stafyllia”, while the Arab intervened to affirm: “We’re going to buy inab”.
At that moment all started to argue and even exasperated they turned to hit each other. But other peaceful pilgrim passed by there and tried to appease and reconcile them. “What is going on among you, good friends?” When they explained to him what’s happening, the man said: “Give me your money. I will go to the marketplace and will satisfy all of you.” He departed and, a little later, came back bringing a package with great amount of grapes. When the Persian saw them he exclaimed: “My angur!”, and the Turk: “My unzum!”, and the Greek: “My stafyllia!”, and the Arab: “My inab!”
The holy Buddha was sitting on the side of the road when a handsome young soldier walked by and seeing him said “you look like a pig”. The Buddha replied “and you look like a god”.
The soldier taken aback asked him what he meant be that. The Buddha replied that he sits all day contemplating god and so that is who he sees. “You, my friend, must be contemplating other things.”


Music: Sun Nov 17

Music by LGBTQ composers is featured this morning, although none of the composers enjoyed a sense of belonging to such a defined community. Each of them suffered from some sense of alienation or depression, in spite of their abundant creative gifts.

As a young man, Poulenc fell in love with the painter Richard Chanlaire, although he remained conflicted about his sexuality, and endured familial disapproval and estrangement from his Roman Catholic faith. In his 31 years, Franz Schubert created a veritable avalanche of great music. His almost exclusively male circle of close friends—some of whom were known to have been gay—and his penchant for setting poetry with homoerotic overtones, have led many musicologists to conjecture about the composer’s own sexual identity. The great Russian composer Tchaikovsky, represented this morning by one of this charming series of pieces for each month of the year, was purported to have been driven to suicide over the threatened exposure of his sexuality. While his official biography alludes to his death in a cholera epidemic, the deeply homophobic culture in which he operated makes the aforementioned rumors credible.  

ON A MORE POSITIVE NOTE: We are thrilled to welcome back to CUUC the composer Kara Allen, who will offer a special musical interlude as part of our worship service!

Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
Suite franรงaise
            Bransle de Bourgogne
            Petite marche militaire
            Bransle de Champagne
                                                Francis Poulenc

Opening Music:
Moment Musical in F Minor, Op. 94, No. 3
                                                Franz Schubert

Troika Ride (November), Op. 37, No. 11
                                    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Musical Interlude:
Music of Remembrance
                                                                        Kara Allen

Postlude: Bennett Rink, piano
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
                                                Harold Arlen


From the Sabbatical Minister - November 7, 2019


I first learned the word “transmogrified” from Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip by Bill Waterston that ran from 1985-1995.

One day, seven-year old Calvin built a transmogrifier. To us, it was just an upside-down cardboard box with a dial drawn on the side. But to Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes, it was a machine that could turn them into whatever they wished to become—eel, baboon, bug, dinosaur, tiger, toad. While everyone else still saw a little boy and his stuffed tiger, Calvin and Hobbes saw themselves transmogrified—transformed in a surprising manner

I think sometimes we forget that we can transmogrify things—especially in religious communities. Which is why I was struck when my colleague Ian Riddell wrote, “I’m in a bad mood that our principles are in a list. So I transmogrified them.”

Huh. It’s true that our UU principles appear in a numbered list. We even tend to quote them by number: Our fifth principle calls me to fight for responsible gun control legislation. I’m doing third principle work in learning about Hinduism. I’m a seventh principle guy so I invest in renewable energy.

A handy, step-by-step list. Nice. Neat. Ordered. Isolated. Each principle an individual.

But that was bugging Ian, so he devised something new. Instead of an ordered list, a wheel. No numbered principles, but rather a different pattern of organization. A surprising way to approach them.

The center—the axle—is the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It’s where we start, where everything else moves from. Then, encompassing it all, is the interdependent web of which we are all a part. The spokes are the other principles, the ways we understand ourselves in the world, the ways we act in the world because of who we are and where we are.

What does this mean? How would we approach our faith, our work, our connection to other human beings, our sense of the divine, if we were willing to transmogrify how we think of them?

Let’s start with the spoke calling for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Alone, it sounds pretty good; it’s the cornerstone of every social justice action we take, both within and outside Unitarian Universalism.

There’s something missing, however.

Unitarian Universalists are good at questioning things, but we can forget to examine what’s underneath our own principles. Often we might ask What?—What do they mean? or How?—How do we affirm and promote them? But rarely do we ask Why?—Why are they important for us to affirm and promote?

But when we change how we see them, we suddenly have a way to question the why of our principles, to interrogate the deeper meanings, to see the connection between the individual and the world.

Why is justice, equity, and compassion so important? Because if I as an individual am inherently worthy of dignity, then every other individual must be as well. And if we are all connected, how can I be like the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm and say some animals are more equal than others? How can I fail to notice that the compassion I hope you’ll show me might be worth showing to everyone else?

This principle calls us to be in that state of becoming just, equitable, and compassionate. We are never JUST just. But if we remember who we are and where we come from, we are becoming just. The justice, equity, and compassion we see in the world helps us become more just—to others, yes, but also to ourselves.

It reminds me of what my colleague David Bumbaugh wrote: “In this interconnected existence the well-being of one cannot be separated from the well-being of the whole…. We all spring from the same source and all journey to the same ultimate destiny.” In other words, y’all can’t grow into harmony with the Divine without me, nor I without you, nor all of us without each other.

It is this connection—from the individual to the collective and back again—that helps answer questions of why. Why do we affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations? Because it’s about me and it’s about you, neither of which can stand alone, so it becomes about us. As theologian Frederick Buechner famously said, “It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you, too.”

The question of why can apply to any of our principles. Why do we affirm and promote this? Why, of course, being the question this wheel seems to ask of us over and over. And over and over we see the need both for affirmation of the individual and for commitment to all of our complicated relationships—including those that reach beyond the human realm.

Each principle connects the self to the interdependent web and back again, in areas of truth, justice, community, connection, process, growth, and compassion—leading us from the familiar form that asks what, to the transmogrified form, which inquires why.

Once you see it, it can’t be unseen. Now we can’t think of the principles without thinking about the wheel and the spokes and the interconnectedness. We have transformed our way of thinking about it. We’ve transmogrified our principles, our ethics, and our faith.

And maybe that’s the real message. Not that we become something new overnight, but that we—and our world and how we act in it—are always in process, always rolling forward on this wheel which carries us to new lands, but always brings the essentials with us as we go: You matter. You are not alone.


Music: Sun Nov 10

Outward projections of compassionate love are embodied in this morning’s musical selections. Whether in the form of an African-American Spiritual or a Lutheran hymn, music holds forth the potential for spiritual healing and inner strengthening on every level, from the most intimate to the universal. The work of the “3 B’s” is highlighted first in two movements from Beethoven’s twelfth Piano Sonata. The third movement is a funeral march, a sort of public expression of grief for some unnamed fallen hero, The fourth movement seems to represent regeneration, in its flowing optimism and high spirits. Johann Sebastian Bach, who worked for so many years as Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, is represented in Ferruccio Busoni’s transcription of his reworking of “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (I Call on Thee, Lord Jesus Christ) from the composer’s Cantata for the fourth Sunday after Trinity. The original text beseeches God to “not let me despair” and “to live for You, to be of use to my neighbor, and to keep Your word faithfully.” Finally, Johannes Brahms makes an appearance in one of his final compositions, a tender Intermezzo prefaced by the words of the old Scottish ballad, Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament:  “Balow, my babe, lie still and sleep! It grieves me sore to see thee weep.”
Across the Atlantic, the traditional Spiritual “Deep River” gave comfort and hope to many an oppressed people. It is heard today in the piano arrangement by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Read on for programming details.
Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
Piano Sonata No. 12 in Ab Major, Op. 26
                        III. Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe
                        IV. Allegro
                                                Ludwig van Beethoven

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
                                    J. S. Bach, transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni

Intermezzo in Eb Major, Op. 117, No. 1
                                                Johannes Brahms

“Deep River”
                                                Traditional African-American, arr. by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

This Week in Religious Education: November 8-14, 2019

Hello Families and CUUC Community!

I will be in Baltimore November 6-10 for the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) Fall Conference. Given my background in conflict transformation, I serve as a Good Officer for Continental LREDA and will attend annual training.  I am co-convener of the LREDA Small program which will offer resources for grounding our programs in affirmation and inclusion. In addition, I will be a small group facilitator for white caucus work as we continue advancing our own learning and skills around dismantling white supremacy culture and systems, and I will attend related conference programming. As described on the LREDA website, "we will explore a Unitarian Universalist Theology of Suffering and learn to better understand and embrace our Universalist Theology of Wholeness. The conference will balance going deep into these theologies while also providing concrete tools and skills for religious professionals to use when we encounter suffering and work for collective liberation." I look forward to sharing learning and resources with you. 

Each class receives their own weekly newsletter. You can read each of the newsletters here:
We begin every Sunday in the sanctuary. This Sunday, we will sing children and youth out for Special Sunday activities.  RE classes and Youth Group do not meet. Special Sundays for children this year will have the theme of music as spiritual practice. This Sunday, PreK-7th grade children are exploring how music makes us feel and how we can use music to lift us up when we need a boost, to relax us when we are feeling anxious, and to remember special times in our lives. We will play musical instruments and act out parts to a story. Lyra Harada is leading. Christine Haran and Janice Silverberg are assisting. 

Youth will work in two of the triangle gardens between class hallways to prepare them for planting. Kids should wear seasonally appropriate work clothes (jeans and work shirts). Tools from home are not needed, though, garden snippers that might come in handy. Youth will be working with Steve Miller and Tim Lynch. 

The 6th-7th grade World Religions and Neighboring Faiths class visited the Hindu Temple in Queens last Sunday. We enjoyed a tour from one of their staff and learned more about Hinduism, attended a worship service and received a special blessing from one of the priests, then had lunch in the canteen. It was a wonderful way to end the Hinduism module. 

Rev. Kimberley is planning a beautiful Christmas Eve service that will include many voices. We invite children and youth to participate by reading short passages during the service. Contact Tracy to volunteer.

Due to scheduling considerations heading into the end of the calendar year, the previously scheduled November 15th programs will instead be Friday, November 22nd.  The December 20th programs are moved to Friday, December 13th.

The November On The Journey packet includes a page for families and conversations across the generations. The theme this month is Compassion. Click here

  • Sat Nov 16 - CUUC Service Auction. RSVP for childcare by November 10th. Contact Chris Kortlandt.
  • Sun Nov 17 – Begin in worship then PreK-8th graders leave for RE classes. K-1st Our Whole Lives (OWL) begins. 10th-12th Youth Group is attending the Transgender Day of Remembrance worship service. 
  • *Fri Nov 22 (changed from Nov 15) - Faith Friday: Rev. Kimberley's class, Habits of the Heart; Journey Groups for adults and children; 8th-12th Youth Group. Click here for the November packet.
  • Sun Nov 24 – Whole Congregation Worship Sunday: Thanksgiving. No RE classes or Youth Group. Stone Soup community meal offered by the 8th-9th grade Coming of Age families and lunchtime discussion groups led by Rev. Kimberley and Tracy. 
  • Sun Dec 1 - Begin in worship then leave for Deck the Halls festivities. No RE classes or Youth Group. 
  • Save the Date: Sat Dec 15 - Gingerbread House Decorating at the Rockland UU congregation in Pomona, NY (click here for the flyer)
I look forward to seeing you!
in fellowship, Tracy