Minister's Post, Sun Aug 2

Dear Ones:

The future of Unitarian Universalism, if there is a future for our faith, will look different from our present. To develop multicultural competency will make us and our congregation different. To be a place truly welcoming of people of whom we haven't previously been all that welcoming will make us and our congregation different.

The UUA Commission on Institutional Change collected hundreds of testimonials. One of them said:
“I wish more of my people looked like me. For that reason, I fear that I may always feel a little bit like an outsider. I will explain it to you in the following way. It is quite obvious to me that the UU setting is a sanctuary for gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people. It is not as obvious that it is for people of color.”
To change that – to de-center the cultural assumptions of whiteness – will change us. Some of the things that made this place comfortable for some of us will be lost. Change is hard because it involves loss. It’s appropriate to grieve.

If we can pull it off, change will also involve gains – exciting and invigorating multicultural community – different voices, different music, different ways of thinking and doing. A healing and a new wholeness scarcely heretofore imagined will be ours.

May it be so. Amen.

Yours in faith,

Practice of the Week: Have Faith

Moment of Zen: How to Die


Minister's Post, Sun Jul 26

Dear Ones:

The data available are that worldwide, the 7-day average of deaths per day from coronavirus peaked in mid-April. By the end of May it was down to almost half the peak rate. Since then, for eight weeks now, the 7-day-average of deaths-per-day has been climbing. It’s now at 5,500 deaths a day -- about 80 percent of the mid-April peak.

Here in the US, the 7-day-average of US deaths per day at the mid-April peak was over 2,200 -- a day. While new cases started to climb again in mid-June, the deaths per day continued to decline for three more weeks. Since July 5, though, the seven-day-average of deaths per day has been growing, and is now at about 40 percent of what it was at the mid-April peak -- and climbing.

As of this morning, over 640,000 people worldwide are known to have died from Covid-19. That puts the number of deaths worldwide in the last five months at 2.5 percent greater than the estimated number of deaths in an average five-month period had there been no coronavirus. The US will surpass 150,000 total deaths from coronavirus in the next day or so – 150,000 deaths in five months. That’s 12 percent of the estimated number who would have died in an average five-month period had there been no coronavirus.

It’s important to keep in mind that the numbers for the US here are probably much closer to accurate than the worldwide coronavirus death numbers. We have only very sketchy reporting from a lot of countries. Actual deaths from Covid-19 have probably raised the world death rate by a lot more than 2.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the pandemic is bringing unemployment and significant financial and emotional stress to many of us. Out of that frustration and despair, crime is now increasing in some cities, after an initial lull from the lockdown.

The congresswoman representing our neighboring congressional district, the New York 14th, pointed out this logical and empirically verified connection between unemployment, poverty, and increasing crime. For this, she was accosted on the capital steps by a colleague who called her disgusting, out of her freaking mind – and probably called her much worse – for which he later non-apologized. In addressing the matter this week, in what became the most-watched C-SPAN House clip ever, Representative Ocasio-Cortez called out “a culture of impunity, of acceptance of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”

These are times of transition – maybe even transformation. Some among us are finding decency to be a challenge. Some of us always have. The Gentlewoman from New York helpfully reminded us:
“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. . . . Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best, and does, apologize, . . . genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done.”
In these times, and in all times, even in the midst of greatest stress, may we be mindful of treating others with respect and dignity – and mindful of when we fail to, and willing always to acknowledge and repair harm done.

Yours in faith,

Practice of the Week: Appreciate

Moment of Zen: How to Die


Don't Make Gods Into Demons

Practice of the Week
Don't Make Gods Into Demons

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.

There’s more to life than pleasure, but don’t overlook the pleasure. There are pleasant things in your life. There are nice aspects of yourself. Appreciate them!

"Don't make gods into demons." Sometimes we may be prone to make the pleasant things in our lives into burning hells because of dissatisfaction and complaining. Sometimes we demand so much of ourselves and our circumstances, or so much of others, that we lose sight of the positive circumstances and aspects. When you try to be perfect, or even to be good, you usually come up short. Grousing about this, you may fail to notice how well you have been doing and how fortunate your circumstances are. Sometimes all we can see are our problems.

At the Zen Hospice Project, one of the clients was a man in a really miserable situation. He was all alone, had no family, was in pain, was bedridden, had accomplished very little in his life, and now he was dying. If he had wanted to construct a hell for himself, he certainly had plenty of materials to work with. And yet he didn’t do this. Far from turning the heavenly into the hellish, he turned demons into gods. He found things to appreciate, even in the middle of his dire situation. He had plenty to complain about, yet seldom complained. Instead, he praised: he praised the view outside his window on sunny days, when flowers were in bloom; he praised the sponge baths the attendants gave him; and above all, he praised the cool, clean sheets that he got into after the sponge baths. I always remember this because since then I have made it a practice to notice how pleasant clean sheets are when you first get into them, especially after a shower or a bath.

I sometimes wonder how people in really bad situations, wars or famines or severe natural disasters, manage to survive. But I then reflect that no matter what is going on, there are always small moments in which we can find some joy or relief, if we are open to them. When there’s a lot of pain in your body, you really do have something to complain about. But if you look closely, you will notice that pain isn’t ever constant: it gets worse, it gets better, and sometimes it is even almost gone. I know this because I have experienced it personally, and more than once. If I can take in the moment of relief, when the pain subsides, I have a lot more patience for the pain when it comes back.

If in the aftermath of an earthquake – even when your house has been knocked down – you can appreciate the warm bed relief workers have provided for you in the shelter and the beauty of the sky or a child’s face, then you will have been victimized once, but not twice, by what has happened.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Don’t Make Gods into Demons."

It is possible to take the very best and turn it into the very worst. When we first encounter the dharma and the mind training teachings, we are so open and excited. It is so refreshing to encounter practical guidelines for developing wisdom and compassion and to find teachings we can actually apply in our everyday activities. But the more we practice and the more we become familiar with the teachings, the more tempted we are to close down and check out. Instead of appreciating the power of the practice, we begin to insert the heavy hand of ego.

At first meditation and compassion practices seem so beautiful and gentle. We feel enriched and nurtured. But as we continue, we begin to encounter a more threatening and provocative side to mind training practice. It makes us feel unmasked and exposed, embarrassed by our own mindlessness and the puny nature of our compassion for others.

As the practice begins to bite or to be more challenging, when it is no longer simply an add-on to our regular way of going about things, but a call for personal transformation, we feel threatened.

We reach a crossroads where we can either continue to open or we begin to shut down. At this point, we may simply stop practicing or we may co-opt the practice so that, rather than challenging our ego, it nourishes it. We keep the feel-good part and reject the rest. In doing so we are beginning to turn dharma into anti-dharma.

It is quite simple. In one approach, we are trying to consume the dharma. We are trying to fit the dharma into our small-mindedness, and in the other, we are dissolving our small self into the vastness of the dharma. When we try to feed on the dharma, instead of becoming more open and gentle, we become more closed-minded and arrogant. We have succeeded in turning the dharma, a path that is designed to make us more humble, flexible, compassionate, and awake into a kind of demon, feeding our worst qualities. Making the teachings into a credential for our ego is a perversion of the dharma. We are using our attachment to our superficial version of the dharma to destroy what true dharma is all about. It is turning a god into a demon.

Practice. In your encounter with the teachings, how have you changed? In what ways have you become more appreciative and open and in what ways have you become more opinionated and closed? How can you identify with the dharma without making it into just another credential?

* * *


UU Minute 1-5

UU Minute #1: Heirs of Alternative Voices

To start at the beginning: the roots of what we now call Unitarian Universalism lie in early Christianity, which itself emerged from pre-Rabbinic Judaism in various urban centers around the Roman empire. Early Christianity had no central authority, no commonly accepted scripture, no commonly practiced liturgy, no orthodox theology. Early Christians were a scattered and diverse mosaic of different practices and beliefs. And they squabbled about that. In particular, was Jesus of Nazareth the latest in a long line of prophets calling the human community to righteousness and piety? Or was he something more? And, if more, what, exactly? There was tremendous pressure to determine what was the true faith, so orthodoxy was eventually established. But alternative voices were never entirely snuffed out. We today are the heirs of those alternative voices.

UU Minute #2: Trinitarianism is NOT Biblical

We are called "Unitarian," as opposed to "Trinitarian," even though that particular theological dispute was never central to what we have been all about. The orthodox called us "Unitarian," and -- this may come as a surprise -- we couldn't come to consensus about some other name to call ourselves, so the name "Unitarian" stuck. Which raises the question: How did Trinitarianism become orthodox in the first place? It's not in the Bible. The closest thing in the Bible is that passage where Jesus tells his followers to go forth "and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit."* But that doesn't say anything about father, son, and holy spirit being, in fact, one, rather than three, which is what Trinitarianism claims. How did Trinitarianism become orthodoxy? That's the question for the next episode of the Unitarian Universalist minute.

*Matthew 28:19.

UU Minute #3: How Trinitarianism Became Orthodox

Roman Emperor Constantine's reign began in they year 306 when he was 34 years old. His reign would last 31 years, and his administrative and financial reforms strengthened the empire. Six years into his reign [at age 40], Constantine converted to Christianity, becoming the first Christian Roman Emperor after centuries of Christian persecution at the hands of the Romans. The Christianity of the time was scattered and diverse: no central authority, no commonly accepted scripture, no commonly practiced liturgy, no orthodox theology. For Constantine, devoted to bringing administrative order to his empire, this had to be fixed. So, in 325, Constantine convoked the Council of Nicaea, calling all the bishops together to hash out just what Christianity was. Jesus of Nazareth was the religion's central figure, but was he the latest in a long line of prophets calling people to righteousness and piety, or was he something more? And, if more, what? Constantine didn't care how these questions were answered just so long as there was a uniform answer. He invited all 1,800 Christian Bishops, and more than 250 of them actually went to Nicaea that summer*, representing every region of the Roman empire. Constantine himself was there for some of it. For three months they discussed and debated,* drafted and revised statements, and in the end the adopted a statement that established Trinitarianism as orthodoxy, and the more unitarian form of Christianity advocated by a priest named Arius was declared heresy. We've been the heretics ever since.

*add in each bishop's retinue of priests, deacons, subdeacons and readers, and the number approached 2,000 -- filling the inns of Nicaea to bursting with over a dozen men per room.

**The picture showing two clerics shoving each other is a 2016 painting by Giovanni Gasparro depicting Bishop (later, Saint) Nicholas slapping Arius at the Council of Nicaea. Yes, THAT Saint Nicholas. So we came out of Nicaea not only heretics, but on Santa Claus' naughty list.

UU Minute #4: Universalism IS Biblical

The Council of Nicaea in 325 was bad news for unitarian Christians. Arius argued that the divinity of the father was greater than that of the son. Jesus was divine -- was more than human -- but was not God. This Arian Christianity lost out to the Trinitarian view that father and son were of the same substance: co-eternal, co-equal. But no matter which side had won in Nicaea, the effect of the Council was to emphasize the importance of having the right doctrine, and de-emphasize the ethics and values of living a Christian life. And that was bad news for the other side of our heritage: the universalist Christians.
Virtually from the beginning, some Christians had understood that everyone was going to heaven: universal salvation. They had Biblical support:
2 Peter 3: "The Lord [does] not [want] any to perish, but all to come to repentance."
1 Corinthians 15: "For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ."
Romans 14: "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God."
Sure sounds like salvation was to be universal. But as Christianity pivoted to a doctrinal emphasis, universalism had to be squelched -- because: if we're all going to heaven anyway, it's hard to make the case that you only get in if you have the right doctrines.

UU Minute #5: Pandemics, and Printing Presses, and Protestants. Oh, My.

Pandemics are nothing new. They have been a periodic part of human life ever since we’ve had cities. The Bubonic plague in the middle-1300s killed one third of Europe’s population, creating labor shortages, which created pressure for innovation. For instance, as long as there were plenty of people to copy things by hand, it didn’t occur to anybody that a printing press sure would be handy. Even so, it was a century after the worst plague year before Gutenberg’s printing press with movable type came on line. Some sixty years after Gutenberg’s press, in 1517, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation. Coincidence? Hardly.
  • For one thing, the Catholic Church jumped on the printing press to crank out the certificates for indulgences – confirmation of going to heaven for those willing to pay enough to the church. Increased traffic in indulgences highlighted the corruption in the Church that motivated Luther’s reforms.
  • Second, the printing press produced Bibles in the vulgar tongues. Suddenly more or less ordinary people – if they were literate – no longer had to rely on what Priests reported the Bible said.
  • Third, Luther’s complaints about the church echoed complaints that others had been making for centuries – but those others didn’t have this new printing press contraption. The 95 theses that Luther famously nailed to the church door in Wittenberg were also taken to the Wittenberg printer, where they became a pamphlet that spread through Europe* – so Luther’s theses had an influence far greater than previous church critics had. 
Unitarians emerged from the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation. Pandemic led to printing press, which led to Protestant Reformation, which led to us. I wonder: to what will our current pandemic lead?

*The 95 Theses were nailed to the church door on Oct 31, 1517. By Nov 17, broadsheet copies of Luther's document were being printed in London, over 1,000 land-kilometers, plus an English Channel, away. Luther followed-up that document with Europe's first media blitz: from 1518 to 1525, Luther’s writings accounted for a third of all books sold in Germany. His mastery of the new technology allowed him to succeed where Jan Hus (1369-1415) a century before had met with execution.


Don't Go So Fast

Practice of the Week
Don't Go So Fast

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.

See also: Slow Down

Mind training is not a race to a finish line. It is not a task we are performing and the faster we perform it the faster we can go on to other things. As we have already established, mind training is the practice of a lifetime – our lifetime will end soon enough, there is certainly no rush to bring that eventuality about. Nor are we doing mind training in competition with someone else, so that we are motivated to speed up the process to accomplish more in less time than the other person does. Don’t go so fast is in invitation to notice our impatience, our silly fixation on perfection and accomplishment, and when we do, to have a good laugh with ourselves and drop it. Literally to stop, take a breath, and let go.

Becoming a grown-up, fully developed, wise, and kind human being is a long, slow process. Collectively, we began this process a long time ago; it continues throughout our lifetime and goes on after that, as others continue the journey. It is a large and noble undertaking. There is no point in hurrying it, and there is no way to hurry it anyway. It really makes no difference how far you get in your lifetime, because no matter how far you get, there will always be further to go. And the very act of measurement or evaluation is a misunderstanding of the nature of the process.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Don’t Try to be the Fastest."

So much of our life is based on speed. We want to be the first to do this and the first to get that. We are always in a big rush. We want to beat everyone else, to get to the front of the line. Being fast and busy makes us feel important. We have lots to do and not much time to do it. Fast is smart; slow is stupid. Fast is youth; slow is old age. We race along faster and faster. Where are we going?

That quicker, faster, better approach creates enormous pressure. There is no relief, and it is hard to enjoy ourselves. We have no time to step back and reflect on what we are doing or what life is all about. Superficially this approach seems to make sense for a while, we have lots to do after all. But we become addicted to speed, and we are afraid to stop or even to slow down.

When we bring this approach into our spiritual journey and into mind training practice, it simply does not work. We may try to force feed knowledge into ourselves, but wisdom and compassion cannot be forced. Nor can creativity. Imagine if you judged something like a symphony in this way. One conductor could brag that their orchestra played Beethoven’s 9th in half the time!

Some people approach spiritual practice like gymnastics and think the more practices they do, and the quicker they progress through the various programs, levels, or what have you, the better. But the very term practice implies going at a steady speed. You keep doing the same thing repeatedly, over and over, no matter how advanced you may be. If you are a singer, you do scales; if you are a meditator, you sit; if you are a hatha yogin, you do downward dogs.

Slogan practice is about cultivating both awareness and compassion, both in formal practice and in daily life. Ideally this is one complete package. You don’t try to get somewhere, but you just keep going. The less striving mind you have, the more inherent wakefulness shines through. The less you force it, the more the heart can relax and open. Instead of beating yourself up with the slogans, you use them as sharp but gentle reminders that awakening is immediate and available. Basically, you lighten up and give yourself a break from the relentless speed and pressure of modern life.

Practice. Notice how the quality of speediness affects your practice and your daily life. Do you feel superior or special because you are faster than others and have passed them by? On the contrary, do you feel of inadequate that others are passing you by and leaving you in the dust? What would it be like to drop that success-failure paradigm altogether?

* * *


Take Responsibility for Your Suffering

Practice of the Week
Take Responsiblity for Your Suffering

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.

Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow. For people in ancient societies, oxen were sturdy animals made for pulling heavy burdens. Cows gave milk and were not built for heavy burdens. So don't put an ox's burden on a cow. The idea is: you are the ox; other people are the cow. The burden of your suffering is your own, not theirs. So don't try to give your burden to them.

This is not saying that we should keep our suffering to ourselves. Sharing our stories of suffering with one another is one of the most important ways we have of connecting to one another. We have to do that, and we have to learn how and when to do it. This slogan is simply about being responsible for our own deeds and for our own feelings.

Suppose someone treats you very badly and unfairly. One way or the other the person is going to have to bear the burden of what ze has done. Yet the suffering that you are feeling as a result of zir deeds is not zir burden, it is yours. After all, if someone were to abuse you, and somehow or other you were able to gobble up the abuse and deal with it cheerfully and make your practice stronger, so that by the time ze was finished abusing you, you were happier and stronger than you had ever been before, then zir abuse wouldn't have hurt you or been a cause of your suffering. The abuse is so painful because of the way you have reacted to it.

Ultimately the burden of your suffering is you own. You yourself are the immediate cause of it, even though the occasion may have been someone else's misdeed. Even when other people's misdeeds are a necessary condition of your particular form of suffering, they are not sufficient. Your reaction is also a necessary condition. It takes both their actions and your reaction to be sufficient for your suffering. Blaming others for our suffering – i.e., putting the burden of our suffering on them -- doesn't do a thing to them, but it increases our own burden, because now we have become the victim of others. We have now made ourselves dependent on them to relieve our suffering. They must be punished or they must make amends or apologize, and if none of this happens, we are going to continue to suffer.

The truth is that only we can bear the burden of our own suffering. If we take responsibility for the suffering, then we have the power to lift that burden off even if the other person continues to abuse us and is never punished and never makes amends. When you give your responsibility for your suffering to others, you are giving up your power to overcome the suffering.

Racism and xenophobia result from privileged people blaming “others” – blacks, people of color, immigrants, indigenous people – for whatever frustration or dissatisfaction they have. The blame takes the form of endorsing negative stereotypes which make things “all their fault.” For the privileged, taking responsibility for their own suffering would entail cheerfully embracing the challenges of a pluralistic, egalitarian society.

It’s important that this spiritual teaching not be used as a device for dodging social justice. Wrongdoers have to be tried and punished and victims compensated. None of that is in contradiction to this slogan. The job of the law and of society is to promote and secure justice and to write and uphold laws that will have that effect. Spiritually, it is for each of us our own responsibility to shoulder the burden of our own suffering, whatever its cause, and to turn the burden into wisdom and love. Sometimes exercising that responsibility involves marching, demonstrating, advocating for policy changes, and bringing suit in court. It is possible, however, to press the point of legal, political, or social culpability without becoming emotionally or spiritually ensnared in blame.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Don’t Transfer the Ox’s Load to the Cow."

This slogan is about weaseling out of our own duties and responsibilities. It is about passing the buck. In the first place, we avoid committing ourselves, and when we do make a commitment, instead of following through, we prefer to hand it off. We are so concerned with our rights and what we feel we are owed, and we think very little about what we owe to others and to the society at large. When we are asked to do something we may feign modesty, but not because we are really modest. We just want a way out of taking on a load we know we could carry if we wanted to.

Don’t put the heaviest burden on the one who has the least strength to deal with it. It may feel unfair or that you are carrying more than your weight, but realistically, not everyone has the same capabilities.

Sometimes we are in situations when there is a need for someone to take on a leadership position. After the question, “Is anybody willing to step up?” there is nothing but silence. In those occasions, if what is being asked for is worthwhile and you have the background or ability to take it on, you should just do so.

The skill of working with others requires development. It is an art to know how much responsibility to take on yourself and how much to direct to each of the people you are working with so that each person feels challenged but not overwhelmed.

Practice. Pay attention to the temptation to shift your burdens to those who are weaker than you. When you find yourself hiding your own strengths and abilities, look into what is behind that. In what ways do you avoid taking on your fair share of responsibilities?

* * *


Gone fishin'

from the Music Director
Dear Friends:

It’s been so long since we’ve been together in person, but I still feel connected with you through our sense of community and the miracle of modern technology. I am thankful that music continues to be a part of spiritual life at CUUC, especially at this time of incertitude and loss.

For the past 15 years, the start of summer has meant packing my bags and heading off to Spain to play, teach and lecture at several musical festivals. In particular, Joel and I look forward to returning every year to the magnificent town of Burgos; we feel we have a personal relationship with its splendid Gothic cathedral! (see below) This year, though, the unthinkable has happened; all of these activities have been cancelled, and, in an ironic twist, the European Union recently granted the current occupant of the White House his longed-for travel ban.

Still, there are compensations, and remaining in closer contact with the CUUC community and with our denomination is one of them. Last weekend, I was able to participate in the first Virtual GA. The numerous services, talks, and workshops I attended have given me much to ponder in terms of relating the past to current struggles for racial equality, and the challenges involved in situating artistic creation in moral contexts. I hope to share my evolving understanding of these issues through my programming and through my contextualizing at worship services and on our blog in the coming church year.

For now, I look forward to making music for those of you who take solace in it twice each week throughout the summer, through my ongoing series of “A Tempo with Adam” concerts. I will be suspending these concerts the week of July 6, when Joel and I head up to Oneonta for a much-needed mental health break. I look forward to resuming on July 13, and every Monday and Friday afternoon thereafter at 3 pm EST until Labor Day. You can access these concerts through Zoom at: https://zoom.us/j/93960775149 (*Phone (audio only), call: 929-436-2866 and enter Meeting ID: 939 6077 5149)

Although I do not normally participate in live worship services between the 3rd Sunday in June and the 1st Sunday after Labor Day, I am looking forward to providing music for former CUUC ministerial intern Jef Gamblee on August 9. It will be a pleasure to collaborate again with Jef, and reconnect with many of you then.

I leave you with a few links to highlights from my last “A Tempo with Adam” broadcast, which included repertoire connected to our unfolding understanding of the July 4th holiday:

George Gershwin: 3 Preludes https://www.facebook.com/adamkentmusic/videos/pcb.10157232010701752/10157232002486752/?type=3&theater

Claude Debussy: Golliwogg’s Cakewalk https://www.facebook.com/adamkentmusic/videos/pcb.10157232010701752/10157232009141752/?type=3&theater

Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Souvenir de Porto Rico https://www.facebook.com/adamkentmusic/videos/10157231994451752/

Anonymous Colonial: Variations on “Yankee Doodle” https://www.facebook.com/adamkentmusic/videos/pcb.10157231987506752/10157231983971752/?type=3&theater

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: “Deep River” arranged for solo piano https://www.facebook.com/adamkentmusic/videos/pcb.10157231987506752/10157231985131752/?type=3&theater

Wishing everyone health, peace and fellowship this summer,


Minister's Post, Sun Jul 5

Dear Ones:

When the Unitarian Universalist Association's Commission on Institutional Change (COIC) began its work three years ago, it began by articulating it's commitments -- to:
  • ground its work in theological reflection and seek the articulation a liberating Unitarian Universalism that is anti-oppressive, multicultural, and accountable to the richness of our diverse heritage
  • oversee an audit of racism within UUA and policies and set priorities and make recommendations for anti-oppression strategies that will advance our progress toward Beloved Community while holding the UUA accountable
  • collect stories of those who have been targets of harm or aggression because of racism within existing UUA culture and identify the aspects of that culture that must be dismantled to transform us into a faith for our times
  • examine and document critical events and practices at all levels of the UUA, congregations, and related ministries as special areas for redress and restorative justice
  • illuminate the expectations placed on religious professionals who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the transformation of our fath
  • identify promising practices for recruitment, retention, and formation of religious leadership that spans the spectrum of race, class, and age and reflects an inclusive ecclesiology
Three years later, the COIC has kept its commitments in assembling its report, issued last month.

The full report is available as a PDF HERE. Or you can order it in book form HERE.

Please read it. Let's talk about this.

Yours in faith,

The Liberal Pulpit
Recent past services:
Apr 5: "Taking Care, Giving Care." TEXT. VIDEO.
Apr 12: "Traditions of Liberation." TEXT. VIDEO.
Apr 19: "What's Your Great Vow?" TEXT. VIDEO.
Apr 26. "Attending to the Indigenous Voice" TEXT. VIDEO.
May 3. "Transforming Your Inner Critic" TEXT. VIDEO.
May 10. "There Is No Try" TEXT. VIDEO.
May 31. "Presence in the Midst of Crisis" TEXT. VIDEO.
Jun 7. "Vision" TEXT. VIDEO.
Jun 14. "Just Love." TEXT. VIDEO.
Also find these videos, as well as videos of many other past services, at our Youtube channel: HERE

* * *
Practice of the Week: Cooking As a Spiritual Practice

Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
"When the activities of one's life become spiritual practice,...the activities of life itself become a prayer." (Lynn Brodie)
Adapted from Lynn M. Brodie, "Cooking," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

I like to start my spiritual practice -- cooking -- with a recipe. One of my favorites goes like this: Grab a large pot, pour in:
two tablespoons of oil
heat it on the stove.
Chop up 1 c. onion and
1 tbsp fresh garlic.
Throw them in the pot.

a pile of fresh chopped basil,
1 heaping tsp dry oregano,
2 bay leaves, and
1.5 tsp salt.
Saute them all together.

1 lb, 13 oz tomatoes
1 lb, 13 oz tomato puree
a heaping 1/4 tsp black pepper,
a pinch of red pepper,
1/2 c. fresh chopped parsley, and
1/2 c. wine or beer
Cook it over very low heat all day on stove or in the crock pot. Stir it, taste it, and adjust the seasonings regularly.

When I make this recipe for tomato sauce, I'm not just getting a meal on the table. There is much more going on. To start with, I am paying close attention to all the sights, sounds, smells, and textures. I am smelling the sharp odor of garlic as I hold the cloves between my fingers and chop. I am listening to the sizzle of onions sauteing on the stove. I am watching bright red tomato puree pour from a metal can onto the sizzling spices and enjoying the contrast of color as I drop fresh green parsley on top. I am feeling myself present in the moment. Throughout the day as I go about my other work, my nostrils are filled with the warm, spicy aroma of a sauce made just the way I like it, and I am connecting with my mother, my father, my grandmothers, and all the cooks in my family going back to generations I've never met.

Like most children, I learned to cook by helping my mother in the kitchen. The transformations of ingredients into finished product seemed magical. Some special recipes she made the way her mother had made them. With those recipes came her stories of watching her mother cook and sharing meals with her own family as she grew up.

When I began cooking on my own, I had a great time chopping and stirring, mashing and frying, plunging my hands into bowls full of dough and squeezing it between my fingers. I never thought of it as spiritual, but I certainly enjoyed by cooking nights.

When I went away to college and had an apartment to myself, I cooked up something simple each night. I never thought about why I did it -- I just liked to cook. Now I know why. Those were times of connection and creation. Alone in my apartment, I felt connected to my family by a tradition of cooking.

After marriage and the arrival of children, my cooking had a new focus. Cooking connects me to the people I am cooking for. I focus on creating food that will nourish the bodies and souls of my family and any company we might have. Even when they aren't helping me cook, my family is connected to the process through invisible waves of fragrant steam emerging from the kitchen. When we sit down together in the evening and spook a fresh-cooked meal onto our plates, we all participate in that connection to our senses, our present moment, our selves.

Sometimes I more-or-less follow a recipe, other times I invent something new. But whatever process I use emerges from my life. Recipes I choose to follow or invent are based on my past experience, on my dietary values at the time, on the ingredients available in my house or those I can afford at the store, on the way I feel, and the way I wish to connect with others around me. Recipes I choose to cook always come out of the depths of who I am and where I am in life at a particular moment. All that is in my participates in the act of cooking.

But cooking is not merely an expression of myself. The process of creation shapes who I am in many ways. For example, cooking strengthens my awareness of my dependence on the earth. I like to start with basic ingredients and cook from scratch because it puts me in closer contact with the source of the food. I don't grind my flour myself, but it is easier to see the connection to wheat in a bag of whole grain flour than in a package of processed baking mix. When I use fresh herbs and vegetables from the store or from my garden, I feel the same connection.

Cooking has also been a way to connect with the mysterious process of creation. In cooking, one combines separate, individual ingredients and transforms them into something new. Each of the ingredients form making a muffin has a unique taste and texture that is nothing like a muffin. Combining those ingredients and baking them is as clear an illustration of transformation as one could hope for. A muffin is a new entity -- different from its ingredients separately and different from the unbaked batter of all the ingredients mixed. This happens in a more or less dramatic fashion in all cooking.

I began to realize that cooking was my spiritual practice when my life got too busy to cook -- yet I did it anyway. I was a wife, mother of two, homeowner, dog owner -- and then I started graduate school. Week after week I kept telling myself, "This is crazy, I don't have time for all this cooking." But somehow I found myself making the time to cook and being happy that I had.

Slowly, I realized why I couldn't give up cooking. Cooking was much more than a way to feed the physical bodies of my family and myself. It was much more than an enjoyable hobby. Cooking nourished my soul, too. Like all good spiritual experience, the time spent in practice enhances the rest of life rather than taking something valuable away.

My pot of tomato sauce is a prayer that has developed and evolved over the years. At first, I followed Mom's recipe exactly, creating a smooth, mild, flavorful sauce. Later, my father showed me a way to make spaghetti sauce that drew on his Italian heritage: it was a spicy, chunky, and potent sauce. In college, I began to cook a sauce that combined my mother's and father's recipes. I stopped measuring ingredients and just added them and tasted regularly. When my husband and I stopped eating red meat, I came up with a recipe for ground turkey meatballs. When we stopped eating meat altogether, I devised a vegetarian meatball. When my son was refusing to eat any vegetables, I added grated carrot to the sauce. I'm sure the sauce, like all my cooking will continue to evolve with the ever-changing inner and outer lives of myself and the members of my family.

When I cook I am part of the interconnecting past, present, and future of humanity. I have opened a window to my own inner soul and to the world around me. I am completely involved in the activities of life and paying close attention to all that surrounds me. By being fully present in the moment, I experience a peace, a connection, and a rootedness. Through this awareness I am connected with the ultimate forces of the universe within and without. That is my definition of spirituality. When the activities of one's life become spiritual practice in these ways, the activities of life itself become a prayer.

* * *
See also: Anne-Marie Fryer Wiboltt, Cooking for the Love of the World: Awakening Our Spirituality through Cooking. "An internationally acclaimed biodynamic farmer, natural health counselor, and nutritional cooking teacher infuses cooking and eating with deeply reverent and spiritual consciousness. Food is placed within an understanding of the earthly and cosmic forces of plant life and exquisite recipes transform nature into the art of cooking."

* * *

* * *
Moment of Zen: The Dualistic Idea

We think and talk in dualisms: good and bad, is and is not, home and away.

These dualisms are necessary. They are also false. The challenge is to use them while also seeing through them.

Owl came to Raven for a private meeting and asked, "Is there something pure and clear underneath everything?"
Raven said, "You can say that."
Owl said, "Isn't it a dualistic idea? I thought Buddhism is a religion of oneness.":
Raven croaked and then said, "Show me your essential purity and clarity."
Owl said, "I was just asking a question about Buddhism."
Raven said, "Don't neglect your religion of oneness."
First comes inferring what must be underneath.
Or believing what somebody else inferred.
And maybe that's enough,
And maybe not. Maybe you want to see it more directly --
Though what "directly" is, or "see," you don't know.

Legends say that once you see it
You'll see it's not underneath,
but immediately presents.
You never were looking at anything else,
Legends say.
Case adapted from Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon

Zen at CUUC News

E-Shrine of Vows

Check out our electronic CUUC Shrine of Vows: CLICK HERE. Eventually, these will be printed out and incorporated into a physical display. For now, draw inspiration from your fellow Community UUs by seeing what they have vowed. If you're vow isn't included, please email it Rev. Meredith at minister@cucwp.org


Summer 2020 Religious Education Newsletter

Religious Education & Faith Development
Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains
July 2, 2020

Summer 2020 Edition
Our Religious Educator, Tracy Breneman,
will be on vacation July 5th-27th.

She will be back at her desk Tuesday, July 28th.
During this time, please contact RE Council Co-Chairs:
Laura Goodspeed, lkgoodspeed@gmail.com and
Christine Haran, christineharan@yahoo.com.


Friday, July 3rd
Peekskill Waterfront

YOUTH LED Rally Against Racial Injustice
Westchester Interfaith Youth Alliance 

JR (Tracy's partner) will be sharing original
spoken-word poetry early in the program

Friday, July 10th
Westchester County Courthouse

Honoring Black lives lost
and supporting families

The CUUC Hunger and Homelessness team and the Brunch Committee continue partnering with HOPE Kitchen to provide support for local families experiencing food insecurity. Contact Nicole Turygin (nturygin@gmail.com) and Steve Miller (obitsman@gmail.com) to find out how you can participate in this important work over the summer! 

The 1619 Project at CUUC
To understand current demands for racial justice, we need to truly understand our country's history. CUUC discussions about The 1619 Project will resume in the fall. Read about CUUC's approach HERE.  Summer is a great time to read the materials! Links to the individual essays on The New York Times website can be found at the bottom of their article "Why We Published the 1619 Project." Find a link to The New York Times Magazine: The 1619 Project HERE


UU Kids Connect
Welcome! UU Kids Connect is an 8 week summer program initiated by The Community Church of New York and developed in collaboration with six other UU congregations to offer a new experience in faith community for incoming grades K - 8. Using stories, games and activity-based learning, children in incoming grades K-5 will explore the eight principles of our UU faith in new and different ways. Middle schoolers, incoming grades 6-8 will enjoy theme-based socials that allow them to forge new friendships, share their voices on matters that matter to them, and have fun growing their identities in a supportive and grounded space! 
UU Kids Connect is about building new UU community, and lifting up and celebrating all of the awesome ways there are of being and believing in the world. 
Rising K-5th Graders 
  • Summer Power Hour Mondays - incoming grades K-2 (Mondays, July 6 – Aug.24, 11:00am-12:00pm ET)
  • Summer Power Hour Wednesdays - incoming grades 3-5 (Wednesdays, July 8 – Aug.26, 11:-00am – 12:00pm ET)
Each week we’ll explore one of the 8 Unitarian Universalist Principles. On Monday July 6th, we’ll begin by lifting up the belief that each and every person is important. Any child through 5th grade is welcome to attend on any Mondays and/or Wednesdays. Wednesday hours will be more of an enhanced deeper dive into the principle that is explored on the previous Monday.

REGISTER NOW FOR K-5 (registration is free and does not bind you to attend). Click HERE to register for the 8/week 8/Principle program. 
Rising 6th-8th Graders
  • Summer Socials for incoming grades 6-8 (every other Friday, July 10, July 24, Aug.7 & Aug.21, 3:00pm – 4:00pm ET)
REGISTER NOW FOR 6-8 (registration is free and does not bind you to attend).  Click HERE to register for Summer Socials 6-8. 
Contact: Jil Novenski, Director of Religious Education for Children & Youth
jnovenski@ccny.org - The Community Church of New York, NY
Youth Treehouse
Your UU Central East Region (CER) staff and youth are working on a private social media space where CER youth can connect with each other this summer. 

There will be break out spaces by CON community, spaces for POC and LGBTQ youth, chances to plan drop in programs like worship, and more—whatever the community needs and can create together! This will provide opportunities for youth to develop leadership skills. 

The Treehouse will be completely free and open to rising 9th graders through 2020 HS graduates. Youth must be approved by their Religious Educator. Registration is OPEN! The week of July 6th we’ll have a meet and greet over Zoom and an online youth worship.

Faith Lab

Faith Lab is an engaging online summer program for high school aged Unitarian Universalists who’ve completed grads 9-12 (or homeschool equivalent) that happens July 10th through 31st. Faith Lab is a chance to explore spiritual leadership, learn alongside UU spiritual teachers, and experiment with mystery, faith and wonder. In Faith Lab, you will discern your unique gifts, explore spiritual practices and build community together. Cost is a sliding scale: $0, $75, $150, $255 to $300 + donation. Click HERE for more information. 

Youth can do both the CER Treehouse and the UU Faith Lab!

The CER Treehouse will be more drop in events, some planned by youth, some planned by adults. It’s a great place for lots of youth from youth who don’t know how much of a commitment they want to make to youth who want to practice leadership by making things happen. 

UU Faith Lab will focus on connection between youth and building the skill sets we all need to have more virtual youth events instead of leading a regional specific youth leadership school.

Center Lane LGBTQ+
Online Pride Camps 
Center Lane is celebrating its 25th birthday with LGBTQ+ Pride Camps! Pride Camps are FREE 5-day leadership conferences where teens in Westchester County can earn 20 hours of community service learning how to create community, connect with LGBTQ+ culture and history and contribute to the world! Westchester UU youth have attended these camps in the past and loved them - ask Tracy!

Pride Camp: Friendship & Dating & Sex, Oh My!
Monday-Friday, July 13-17, 11am-3pm
Finding and building relationships is unique for LGBTQ+ youth. Coming out, rejection, and (sometimes) unexpected crushes can be part of it. The straight world gives us much of the script for dating, so it’s hard to know how it all works - or where even to find someone! In most sex ed lessons, we’re either terrified or invisible. Here we’ll talk about all kinds of healthy, safe relationships.

Pride Camp: Isms & Intersections
Monday-Friday, August 10-14, 11am-3pm
The LGBTQ+ community is made up of people of all genders, races, religions, abilities, ages, income levels - we're everyone! This week, we'll talk 'ism' - how oppression of groups affects us personally, others in our community, and how we talk about being Queer. We'll explore how we navigate intersecting identities, deal with oppression, and show resilience.

Click HERE for links to other UU camps and activities.
Check for updates about in-person or virtual participation. 


The RE Council affirms that work to promote equity, inclusion, and diversity is not optional for our faith but a form of spiritual practice and necessary to fully live into the values of our faith. Core in Unitarian Universalism is a call to action that carries with it a responsibility to support our young people as they learn to carry our UU values into the world. The values of our faith are desperately needed, visibly and solidly. Our young people need to know our history, how to navigate their own socialization, and how to center the voices and experiences of people with historically marginalized and targeted identities.

For the 2020-2021 year in Religious Education, we are embracing the theme of Justice and Equity. We will deepen our partnership with the CUUC Social Justice teams, supporting existing initiatives and affording our young people opportunities to find their voice. 

While we do not yet know when we will return to our building, it’s exciting to imagine that when we do return some of the new practices we developed in recent months might continue in some form, opening new opportunities for faith development and community.

By mid-August, the RE Council will write to CUUC families with an initial plan for the year. Conditions permitting, we might have a carefully planned, physically distanced Fun Day the last weekend in August. We'll see how conditions evolve in the coming weeks and check with the Board before confirming any plans. 

We hope you have a wonderful, safe, and healthy summer!


  • For information about Summer 2020 UU camps, click HERE
  • Click HERE for activity resources.
  • Click HERE for our growing list of anti-racism resources for families.
  • Weekly Community Pandemic Check-In, Thursdays, 7:00pm, Room ending 8944. CUUC Community Minister Rev. Deb Morra invites CUUCers who want to connect and share during the pandemic to drop in to this weekly online check-in. All are welcome.
  • Many Journey Groups continue checking in over the summer. Visit cucwp.org/calendar for information about these and other gatherings; click on an event for login information.
  • Check the Online Programming Schedule for Zoom room information
Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains  
468 Rosedale Ave · White Plains, NY 10605-5419

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