On the Table: Disasters – Who’s Got It the Worst?

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People think that natural disasters are “equal opportunity” catastrophes.  But, in reality, disasters have a disproportionate impact on some groups such as women, the poor, children, people who are elderly, disabled, or even undocumented immigrants.  Faith-based responses to disaster are essential to recovery.  Some denominations excel at getting feet on the ground, supplies on site and experienced assistance to victims.  Is there more we can do?  Is there a way to help our faith communities respond to these other issues as well?  Is that asking too much?  Give us your thoughts, or simply share your relief work experiences.

–The Rev Sarah Person

Gratitude: Changing Our Lives as Seasons Change

The Autumnal Equinox, which marked the movement from the long days of summer to the shorter days of the coming winter, has passed.  Now is the time to be thankful for the bounty that Mother Earth has provided and to rejoice in our freedom to practice our spirituality without fear. However, Mother Earth is responding to our neglect and the shirking of our responsibility to care for Her.  

We were made caretakers of the earth and have not lived up to that duty with disastrous results.  Climate change/global warming are producing rebellious actions by the planet…the elements of Air, Fire, Water, Earth are showing us that if we do not stop our destructive habits, Mother will stop providing the bounty that sustains us and all life. 

We need to do several things.  Look at our own lives and see what we can change to make things better.  Meditate to look deeply into our spiritual lives and discover how we can grow our beliefs to let the dimming light of the changing seasons not diminish the light within us.  Help others see that there is hope for our planet if we change our lives just as the seasons change. Remember that we need to respect one another and most of all respect our Mother.

—The Rev Tanya Trzeciak

WHAT’S YOUR PERSONAL THEOLOGY?

 

Contributed by Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

An Invitation for Summer:  Going to the beach?  The mountains?  A get-away trip for relaxation, refreshment and rejuvenation?  Why not take some time to express your own personal theology.  Wrestle with it by yourself or with others.  Regardless of your religious tradition and heritage, I think we all incorporate our life experiences and learning into a theology that is “operational,” that allows us to live in the world day-by-day, making decisions and direction our actions. What might yours be?

Here’s a reflection with some of my own ideas.

Revelation:  Torah—in its broadest sense—is the dynamically evolving product of the Jewish people’s ongoing encounters with God. For all of the Torah that has been written, printed, bound, cataloged, distributed and studied, there exists still more Torah struggling to be born within the Jewish people. Our encounters with God never cease and only need to be recognized as such for God to permeate our lives. We construct rituals, symbols, words and worlds wherein we seek to let God in, to come face to face with the wholly Other.

Religious Authority/Commandedness:  We are 100% commanded. We are 0% willing to be commanded. The intervening increasing/decreasing percentages represent our dialogue with God, our effort to discover how actions unfold God for us, and our eternal hope for meaning in this life. We confront how our unwillingness to live other than just for ourselves leads to death and destruction for others and ourselves. We confront how our being commanded requires action before comprehension. We confront how our turning back (repentance) and our circumcising our hearts bring us more health of body, mind and spirit—how they bring us closer to God and how they provide direction for us.

The Nature of God:  We cannot know the nature of God. We can be in relationship with God, through which we discover God. Harold Schulweiss’s critical question for what he terms “predicate theology” is “not ‘Do you believe that God is merciful, caring, peace-making’ but ‘Do you believe that mercy, caring making peace are godly?’ (Evil and the Morality of God, p. 122 as quoted in Sonsino/Syme, Finding God, p. 156).  Revelation within the Jewish community over long centuries continually speaks to the point of discovering what is godly—resting on the cornerstone of the prophet Micah’s dictum that God requires us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”  We are observing God’s commandments when we are doing godly things. We can know what godly things are through God’s past, present, and future—God’s ongoing revelation to the Jewish people – individually and communally. The nature of God beyond this is speculation which deters us from the task at hand—bringing more people to an understanding that doing godly things brings peace and wholeness—sh’leimut.

Evil:  We and others who live close to the 0% bring about evil. When we answer to the voice of self-interest and no other, we endanger everyone around us. The larger the voice of self-interest, the larger the danger. We concentrate often on preventing great evils and we ignore the small evils which change lives more directly, resulting in a culture of pain and despair, leading to more evil ꟷ Free moral choice skewered and impaired by the actions of others.

Suffering:  It exists. Why me? Why any of us? Why not me? Why not any of us? Responding to being commanded means doing godly things to ameliorate suffering on an individual, communal and world-wide level while at the same time discovering and repairing the underlying evil which is responsible for human-engendered suffering. Does God cause suffering? No. Has God created a world in which suffering is possible? Yes. Will God abandon us? No. Can God stop all suffering? No. Who/What can? In partnership with God, much suffering can be alleviated. Beyond that, we do not—maybe can not—know. We live, hope and pray that with God, doing godly things, we repair the world and bring about the messianic age. God—think global—act local!!

Future Time

Contributed by board member, The Rev. Sarah Persons

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”  L.R. Knost

It is June and the end of the school year.  Many teens are moving on – to work, to college, to service – out of adolescence and into adulthood.  Some are held back by circumstances, or their own choices.    Most are somewhere on that threshold of one stage of life to the next.  For all of them we worry and grieve and hope. It’s a dangerous time; full of challenges and opportunities that are worlds apart from those their parents faced.  And yet the same hard-won truths apply generation to generation, truths like:

  • we will never be totally prepared for what tomorrow may bring, but we can do our best;
  • the right thing to do will not always make us feel better;
  • the world doesn’t love us, but we find a way to love anyway.

Unitarian Universalists have the tradition of the “Bridging Ceremony”, a ritual intended to honor all our youth have been, all they are now, and all they dream to be.  It is a blessing for coming and going, for endings and beginnings, for those who go forth and those who stay.  It is a promise that we will make room for their possibilities and lend our support through the pitfalls.

“Today I cross this bridge and join in fellowship,” our youths say, “Let me grow but don’t let me go.”

As one who was kicked out of the nest or jumped out – I’m never sure which happened first – I find this tradition especially meaningful.  Our future is in the hands of the next generation and the generation after that.  What do we do to strengthen those hands, to nourish them and lend them the integrity and fortitude and resilience to take up responsibility not just for themselves but for all our lives?

We may never make the world entirely safe for our kids, but we can do all we can to raise kids who will make the world a better place.

Liturgical Seasons and the Seasons of Our Lives

                                                   View from the Hospital

Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara K. Soughers, PhD

My faith community is a form of Christianity in which the seasons of the year are very important.  Like many faiths, we recognize the gathering darkness of winter, and the coming of new life in the spring.  However, our recognition of the seasons goes further than that of many others: every part of the year has its own liturgical season, and the themes, readings, and even the emotional color of our worship changes in response to the liturgical season.

There are certain disadvantages to this system.  There have been times when the somber and penitential mood of Lent is at odds with the mood in other areas of life.  There have also been times, when the exhortation to experience Easter joy for 50 days can seem almost impossible.  In those times, seasonal liturgical worship is a discipline.  Like many other spiritual disciplines, the difficulty of following a practice varies.  At times, I can find myself wishing that the season reflected my moods more closely.  It would be easier to rejoice when all was going really well in my life: rejoicing in times of grief is indeed difficult, and sometimes impossible to do.  Yet, I am immersed in a communal celebration  in those times, reminded me that worship is not primarily what  I do for my personal edification, but what we as a community do together.

But if there are those times when my emotions are out-of-synch with the liturgical season, there are also those times when the meaning and discipline of the liturgical season adds a layer of meaning to the events of my life that infuses those events with a depth that can hardly be overestimated.  This year, Easter and Holy Week were just such a time in my own life.

The events of Easter and Holy Week are centered on our affirmation, as a faith community, that God can bring life out of death.  On Good Friday, my brother had a lung transplant.  It is a dangerous procedure, and there are no guarantees that one will even survive the surgery.  In addition, this gift is given at the cost of another’s life.  The parallels could hardly be closer.  On Good Friday, we remember of the death of Jesus, who gave his life that others might live and live more abundantly.  As I flew across the country to be with my family, I was keenly aware of the connections between the liturgical season and my own personal season.  Having previously accepted the discipline of living out the liturgical seasons allowed my faith to inform my life, granting me the assurance that God can indeed bring life out of death.

My brother made it through surgery, and actually he has been doing remarkably well.  He was blessed with a healthy set of lungs, and with these lungs, he is not only off oxygen, but he is already breathing 300% better than he had before the surgery.  In fact, the surgeons said that his lungs were some of the worst that they had ever seen, and the lungs he got very beautiful.  It was a reminder that God often gives gifts extravagantly.

So this year, when I got to Easter, I was indeed already celebrating that gift of life that came through the sacrifice of another, so that my brother might have life, and have it more abundantly.  I was filled not only with Easter joy, but also with a profound thankfulness for the gift of life that God gives us in so many ways and for the ways that God can transform even death into life.  As a Christian, it was not a new understanding, but my understanding of what my family and I experienced was deepened by the discipline of following the liturgical seasons, and my understanding of Holy Week and Easter will be forever deepened by what happened in this year, when I personally experienced the passage from death into life in my own family.

Coming Alive and Fostering Hope

 

Submitted by Board Member, the Rev. Tanya Trzeciak

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs;
ask yourself what makes you come alive.
And then go and do that.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

~Harold Whitman

I came across this saying while searching for something entirely different.  Coincidence?  Like my favorite television character always tells his team, I don’t believe in coincidences.

I don’t think we have to ask ourselves what the world, our country, or our neighborhood needs.  We already have a good idea.  The question should be ”what are we going to do about it?” We just celebrated the official beginning of spring and along with that occasion our thoughts turned to warmer days, trees bursting into flower and leaf, flowers pushing up through the brown earth and more birds singing outside our windows.  With spring always comes the promise of beauty and peace…hope of better things to come.

The political climate doesn’t look as if there is a bright, beautiful future for many of country but we have to foster hope.  Hope that we can stay alive and become more observant and involved in what is happening around us.  As pagans we believe in cycles…the Wheel of the Year, the cycles of life, death and life and the cycle of darkness and light.  We may be in the winter of despair but like the coming of spring after the darkness of winter, there is hope and light.  We must keep the light alive.  We must come alive and resist the darkness. What makes you come alive? What gives you hope?

Lent: Tilling the Ground

 

Contributed by Board Member, The Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

Lent is an old Anglo-Saxon word that means spring. While Lent overlaps spring in time, there is a deeper connection between the church season of Lent and the planting season of spring. Lent is about tilling the ground of our spiritual lives so that we can experience the new life of the Resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the time when we prepare our hearts to be sown with God’s love and Jesus’ new life.

Like the ground after winter, our hearts become hard over time and each year we need to break up that hardness so that like the ground they are prepared to receive the seeds of new life. Just as the plants thrive in tilled soil so to the seeds of God’s love thrive in a spirit that is broken and tilled.

As Americans we don’t like to have our world dug up. We like our patterns to be the same and predictable, but as Christians we are called to disciplines in Lent of preparation. Some of us give up bad habits, while others of us take on good ones.  Whether we give up or take on is not the question. They are both acts of preparation designed to till our hearts for the planting of God’s word and mighty deeds in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

How is God calling you to till your spirits? What do you need to give up or take on to prepare to receive God’s seeds of love? To till our hearts is the call of Lent.

Tree of Life – Pattern for Friendship

Contributed by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

Looking for a kinesthetic spiritual practice?  How about this . . . create a Tree of Life pillow that can find a favorite spot in your home . . . or maybe in the home of someone whose life, whose spirits, need an uplift. Art and craft as spiritual practice.

In addition to the project as shown in the photo, you might create the pillow as a memory pillow by writing the names of various family members and friends on each of the leaves using various colors of permanent fabric pen/marker.

It could become a conversation starter as in “Oh, I didn’t know you had an Uncle Harry, too” or “How did you ever meet Lois Jackson? I didn’t know you were friends!” or “Lareesa – what a beautiful name!”.

One reason I appreciate this pattern is that it’s hard to “get it wrong” – a concern that often plagues people who enjoy using their hands to make something but are afraid that the end result won’t “measure up”.

Another reason I appreciate this pattern is that it lends itself to group work.  Yes, it can be completed by one person, but with a group you can enjoy selecting the leaves, figuring out where to place them and how to annotate them.

There’ll probably be at least one person who can manage the assembly sewing. Everyone else can focus on just organizing the leaves. This project can foster conversation and also memory, along with the joy of sharing, both at the time of its creation and as it is displayed in someone’s home.

Another reason I appreciate this pattern is that it can be used to encourage the practice of gratitude.  What if you were to make this pillow, by yourself or with others, and instead of writing names on the leaves, write a quality or action (brief couple of words) that the recipient brings to mind.

For example “1974 New Baby” might be just the phrase to trigger the thanks you want to express to the recipient about the weeks she helped you out when you could barely get out of bed to care for your new baby, let alone yourself and everything else being a mom and wife entails. If done by a group, then a grateful person’s name could be included “Susan: 1974 New Baby”

Any aspect of this work might be considered the “spiritual practice” . . . arranging with a group of friends to make it with you as a gift for someone OR finding that someone special who could use some one-on-one time with you while making it together for him/her OR quietly making it for yourself while keeping in your mind and heart and prayers those included as “leaves” on this Tree of Life both at the time of its construction and in the future as you gaze on the names.

Done with intention and focus, the creative joy – quiet or infectiously rambunctious – brings the Creator into our midst as the scraps of fabric, which for many might just have been tossed into the trash, become the means for our own creating.

Where might YOU find odds and ends, scraps, or bits and pieces that don’t seem to belong anywhere and craft them into an expression of love, affection, gratitude and friendship?

And, if we can search out the scraps and bits and pieces of material things for a project such as this, might we not remember, too, that there are people in our neighborhoods who feel like their lives are just scraps and bits?  Can we not search them out as well, bringing them together and creating a stronger human community?

The Tree of Life awaits.

Click HERE for the full instructions from Cluck Cluck Sew.

On the Table- “Fake News”

This month’s discussion of current events with The Rev. Sarah Person will be Wednesday, January 11, 7:00 PM at the McKinstrey House, 115 High St., Taunton.

On the Table January 2017
“Fake News”

One of the startling tidbits of analysis after our recent election is that 62% of Americans get news from social media. It is hard to tell what’s legitimate and what’s fake. This was a particular issue during election campaign.

Do you trust the news you get on the internet?
Do you trust the news you get from the major broadcasting networks?
How does that affect your daily life? Your sense that things are and will be okay?