And How Are The Children?

“Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai.  It is perhaps surprising then to learn the traditional greeting that passed between Masai warriors. ‘Kasserian ingera’ one would always say to another. It means ‘And how are the children?’ ‘All the children are well’ is the response.  Meaning that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young, the powerless, are in place, that society has not forgotten its reasons for being. ‘All the children are well’ means that life is good.” – Pat Hoertdoerfer

Children are the focus of so much of our attention at this time of year.  They are featured in our media, our holiday advertisements, our Globe Santa stories.  But can we say they are society’s reason for being?  How would you answer that today?  And are you happy with the answer?  I must confess, in today’s society, I do not see the well-being of the least powerful and most vulnerable among us as a priority.  What would it be like if we, and our leaders in government and finance, chose to put the most vulnerable first?

 I invite you to try this as a spiritual practice:  Starting today, imagine if, whatever decisions you make and actions you take in your daily life, you asked yourself ‘how will this affect the children?’  Think not only of your own children, but the children of your community, your society, your heart.   Think not only of little children, but of whomever is the least powerful and most at risk from the decisions we make.  Today and for all of our tomorrows.

May you have a season of blessed joy and peace.

Rev Sarah Person

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?

New Year Resolutions

Contributed by the Rev. Edward M. Cardoza

Ah yes, the New Year is upon us. Many people will do a year in review. Others will set resolutions. I always like to set an intentional practice around New Year’s Day. I usually like to find some quiet time during the day itself. It may be near my fireplace, or in my favorite comfortable chair or—if the outdoors beckons—along my favorite wooded path. I settle in with some breathing, focus and silence—and I ask myself: what were the things I really enjoyed in 2016. Sometimes these come easily. I suspect this year—it may take a little more focus. As each of those moments comes up—just take a moment to savor them and be thankful for them. You can also write them down on a piece of paper or place them in your journal.

Can you make a resolution to commit to doing some of these things again in 2017?

Next, I like to ask what were the issues or situations that caused the most stress, anxiety or disappointment over the year? Again, it might be good to list them down. As you review the list—allow them to be taken in by you. What was out of your control? What could you have taken more responsibility for within yourself? What remains unresolved? What needs healing?

For those situations out of control—can you let them go and cast them away? For those needing you to take responsibility—can you make a commitment to do that in 2017? For those needing resolution or healing—are you able to commit to that in 2017? Write down an action plan—of things you want to let go of and things you want to do in the New Year.

Breath! Delight! Take a look at your lists—New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t just be wish list of things you know your probably won’t do—they ought to be about repeating places of joy, fulfillment and happiness. And, they ought to also be about letting go of what we can’t control and taking responsibility for things we can do something about.

I find when I do this practice—it leaves me with a commitment to live life more abundantly by committing to do those things that went well and to repair those areas that are disconnected or in need of healing.

Best wishes to you in the New Year!

The Importance of Gratitude

pitcher

Contributed by board member, The Rev. Phil Hardwick

I can remember the first time that I realized the importance of gratitude. I was five or six years old. I had the great good fortune of having a Sunday school teacher who knew how to communicate to children in ways that they could understand. She liked to use object lessons. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving that year, we came to class and she had a pitcher on a table in the corner of the room that was partially filled with a red liquid. She invited us to engage that container with all of our senses. She invited us to look at it, to taste it, to feel how heavy it was. And then after we had done that for a while, she asked a simple question: “Tell me, is this pitcher half empty or half full?”

Well, a little boy in the class who was always given to negativism, quickly said, “It’s half empty!”

Another one of my classmates said, “No, it’s half full!”

So back and forth the debate went and then the teacher said, “You know, you’re both technically correct. Either of those descriptions is right. But it makes all the difference in the world whether or not you focus on what is there and are grateful for it or whether you focus on what is not there and therefore are depressed by it.

That happened well over fifty years ago and here I am reminding myself and reminding you that the choice to be grateful is incredibly significant. That was when I was five or six years old. I have lived a long time since then, but everywhere I look this basic truth about gratitude is always confirmed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Language of Oneness

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Contributed by Board Member, The Rev. Sarah Person

O Birther! Father- Mother of the Cosmos
Focus your light within us – make it useful.
Create your reign of unity now-
through our fiery hearts and willing hands.
Help us love beyond our ideals
and sprout acts of compassion for all creatures.
Animate the earth within us: we then
feel the Wisdom underneath supporting all.
Untangle the knots within
so that we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to each other.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back from our true purpose.
Out of you, the astonishing fire,
Returning light and sound to the cosmos.

Amen.

“The Lord’s Prayer”, translated from the Aramaic by Neil Douglas-Klotz in Prayers of the Cosmos

In Jesus’s time and place, Hebrew was the language of the temple and Aramaic was the language of the people, the language of commerce between strangers and of everyday life.  The Aramaic language is layered in meaning.  It was a language of the desert, of crowded metropolises and vast expanses that offered the only real privacy, the only real silence to hear the still and quiet voice within.  There were few walls to keep us from the sky and the sand and the mountain and the sea.  The Aramaic tongue is a language rich with poetry and subtlety.  The divine presence was everywhere, and in everything, and our boundaries and nations and rulers were secondary.  God’s tent of meeting was all around us.  Aramaic is moveable, permeable; the line between inner qualities and outer actions is blurred.  There is a tension between them.  That which is outside of us seeks to be reconciled with what is inside of us.  And through it all is the perception of a vital essence vibrating through all creation.  In this language, Jesus strove to reconcile the inner life with the outward behavior:  Love the self and the neighbor.   Our heart’s intentions mean as much or more to God than our actions.   This permeability between our inner and outer selves is the place of prayer.  Hope is how we begin to align our outward actions with our inward qualities.  Prayer is being in relationship.  They become one.

The Unitarian and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson conceived of something like this essential oneness of all creation in his essay “The Over-soul.”  Among his themes, he explored the nature of the soul, and the relationship of the soul to God. For some of us, the notion of a divine spark within us is profane.  For others, it opens up a sense of true and eternal belonging.  If that which is immortal and of ultimate worth in each of us is that which connects us to all creation – then we owe it to ourselves and each other to expand our sense of responsibility and beauty and witness beyond our egos and toward  our world.  To raise God’s tent of meeting all around us

On the Table: Fear and Electoral Policy

 

onthetable

The reaction of the residents to Boca Raton to learning that their new polling place would be a mosque will form the basis of our discussion.  Come and join us on Wednesday, October 12, 7:00 at The McKinstrey House, 115 High St., Taunton, MA for a night of open, respectful discussion on topics that concern all of us.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/10/01/florida-fear-and-resentment-directed-muslims/Djx0RaMF6NsJOKThLPJIOK/story.html

Blessing Animals

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

In early fall, you may see announcements in Christian Churches for a service called, “Blessing of the Animals.”  It can be done within the normal Sunday morning service or at some time, but it is generally in close proximity to October 4.

Many branches of the Christian Church have special days to remember exemplary practitioners of the faith, who are often called saints.  The word saint comes from the word which means holy or dedicated to God.  While different traditions have different criteria for naming someone a saint and recognize different people, most will have at least some people who they hold up as examples of how to live a Christian life.  Many of these saints are also associated with particular geographical locations or ethnic groups.  Most people are familiar with Irish St. Patrick’s day celebrations or Italian St. Joseph’s Day celebrations.  On these days, there may be special food or activities that call to mind the story of the saint.

Francis of Assisi was born in Italy in 1182 to a rich garment merchant.  He lived a carefree life of luxury until he was badly wounded in a battle.  The long convalescence changed him, and afterwards, he rejected the rich life he had been living to live a life in poverty.  Others began to follow him, and eventually he founded the Franciscans, and with Clare, the poor Clares.

As with many saints, the provable and factual stories are the most important, but it is the tales that grow up around the saint that are the most interesting.  It is true that Francis believed that we are brothers and sisters with all creation, as attested to in his poem “Canticle of the Sun.”  What is less sure are the stories of his remarkable kinship with animals, such as asking birds to cease their nightly chatter until he had finished preaching or making peace between a wolf and a village.  These stories, however, have captured people’s imaginations for centuries, and many depictions of Francis show him with either a bird or a wolf.  Because of this St. Francis is a much beloved saint, and statues of him will adorn many gardens

So in honor of St. Francis, some churches acknowledge that we are brothers and sisters with all creatures by honoring those animals that share our lives.  You don’t have to be a Christian to join in the celebration of the ways that animals, particularly our pets, demonstrate something about the love of God for all creation, who is praised through all creatures.

 

Religion and Politics- Background for Open Table, Sept. 14

On the Table September 2016

Religion and Politics

SUMMARY

The Johnson Amendment is a part of Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, which establishes that charitable organizations are exempt from taxation. The amendment is a condition of that benefit if your organization does not want to pay taxes.

From Politifact :  by C. Eugene Emery Jr. on Friday, July 22nd, 2016.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jul/22/donald-trump/donald-trump-correct-lyndon-johnson-passed-legisla/

In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, presidential candidate Donald Trump singled out “the evangelical and religious community” for their assistance in getting him nominated.

“They have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits,” he said.

“An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. Their voice has been taken away,” Trump said. “I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and to protect free speech for all Americans.”

We were curious about the issue and whether an amendment — constitutional or otherwise — prevents the practice for religious institutions.

For this fact-check, we’re relying largely scholarly articles in the Denver University Law Review, the Case Western Reserve Law Review, Boston College Law Review.

The restriction is actually a law, not an amendment, and it isn’t exclusive to religious institutions.

Lyndon Johnson is best known as America’s 36th president, the Texan who assumed the office when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Texas politics can be rough, and Johnson knew how to play that game. Therein lies the origin of the “Johnson amendment.”

The restriction was championed by LBJ in 1954 when Johnson was a U.S. senator running for re-election. A conservative nonprofit group that wanted to limit the treaty-making ability of the president produced material that called for electing his primary opponent, millionaire rancher-oilman Dudley Dougherty, and defeating Johnson. There was no church involved.

Johnson, then Democratic minority leader, responded by introducing an amendment to Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code dealing with tax-exempt charitable organizations, including groups organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literacy and educational purposes, or to prevent cruelty to children or animals. It said, in effect, that if you want to be absolved from paying taxes, you couldn’t be involved in partisan politics.

There was no record of any debate around the amendment.

“The logical argument favoring such an amendment is that those corporations qualifying for the section 501(c)(3) tax subsidy should not be permitted to directly or indirectly use that subsidy to support candidates for office,” said Michael Hone in the Case Western article.

However it was likely, he said, that “Johnson was motivated by a desire to exact revenge on the foundation he believed supported his opponent and to prevent it and other nonprofit corporations from acting similarly in the future.”

Nonetheless, “Subsequently it proved to have a profound effect on how thousands of tax-exempt organizations — including churches — dealt with issues relating to political campaigns,” according to Patrick O’Daniel of the University of Texas School of Law in the Boston College article.

The law says all such organizations “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” That includes contributions to political campaigns and any form of public statement for or against a candidate or group of candidates.

Violating the restriction could result in the revocation of the organization’s tax exempt status and the imposition of taxes.

Nonpartisan, unbiased voter education or similar activities such as church-organized voter registration drives are allowed.

Historically, that hasn’t stopped some religious organizations from issuing endorsements anyway.

O’Daniel has a list of examples. To cite two from 2000:

Rev. Jerry Falwell told worshippers at the Genoa Baptist Church in Ohio to “vote for the Bush of your choice” and “We simply have to beat (Al) Gore.”

That same year, a pastor at a Bronx church who supported Hillary Clinton’s run for the U.S. Senate at the time, substituted her opponent’s name for Satan during a hymn.

“In the face of lackluster opposition by the Internal Revenue Service, the Democrats and Republicans . . . continue to use the literal bully pulpits of the churches to preach to the party faithful,” O’Daniel wrote.

Nonetheless, the threat of losing tax-exempt status persists as long as the law is in place, and politically-minded religious groups, particularly evangelicals, have regarded it as a suppression of free speech and an entanglement of the IRS in the operation of their religion.

In 2008, for example, pastors in 20 states organized to give politically-oriented sermons to protest the law, according to the Pew Research Center.

The GOP platform has picked up that cudgel, calling for the repeal of that portion of the tax law.

The Johnson amendment survived court challenges in 1983, 1990 and 2000, according to Pew.

It’s important to note that the prohibition is not just restricted to religious institutions. It’s nonprofit charitable organizations in general.

From The Real Rules

http://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/documents/washingtonoffice/real_rules.pdf

 

SUMMARY: THE THREE-POINT SYSTEM

The IRS regulations on the activities of congregations can be summarized as follows:

  1. ISSUE ADVOCACY: Without limits on time, effort and expense, congregations and theirrepresentatives may engage in issue advocacy through activities such as educating and mobilizing congregants and the general public. Example: encouraging the public to show concern for global warming by reducing carbon emissions. Please note that issue advocacy is only acceptable if it does not involve political campaign intervention (see below).
  1. LOBBYING: Within narrow limits on time, effort and expense, congregations and their representatives may engage in lobbying—defined by the IRS as advocating for or against specific pieces of legislation—as an unsubstantialportion of an organization’s activities. The IRS has not provided a strict rule for what constitutes “unsubstantial,” and evaluates on a case-by-case basis. However, courts and the IRS have ruled in the past that lobbying activity constituting 5% or less of total activities is acceptable. “Total activities” includes the total amount of money, staff, and volunteer time that goes into running the organization. While the 5% amount is not a strict rule, it can be used as a guidepost for an organization’s lobbying activities. Example: encouraging a city council, state legislature, and/or Congress to pass a particular law to reduce carbon emissions.
  1. POLITICAL CAMPAIGN INTERVENTION: There is a total limit on partisan activity, which the IRS calls political campaign intervention. Congregations and their representatives can do nothing that advocates for or against candidates for public office or political parties. This includes fundraising on behalf of candidates and donating meeting space, among other things. Example: supporting a particular candidate or party because of their stance on carbon emissions. Election-related activities such as candidate questionnaires and forums may be acceptable if certain guidelines are followed; consult section C., “Political (Electoral) Activities” of this guide for details.

Please Note:

The restrictions on lobbying and political campaign intervention described here apply only to a congregation as a legal entity, or to a person or group speaking in the name of the congregation. A minister or congregation member may freely engage in these activities as an individual. However, if the person(s) are identified by or likely to be associated with the congregation, it may be helpful to clearly state that they are speaking as individuals.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. Is it appropriate for places of worship to advocate for one candidate or another? What would be a positive outcome of this?  What would be a negative outcome of this?
  2. Do you think it would make a difference in an election if clergy could preach for or against a candidate from the pulpit? In the past, has it made a difference, since some have anyway?