Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Many Leaves, One Tree

Our Community Worship service on 9/25 was both meaningful and a lot of fun. If you missed it, I hope to see you next time! The following is my sermonette, followed by the script acted out by Solomon Bellows and myself:

Many of you are probably familiar with the story of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. It is a well-loved story of a tree and a little boy, though many parents have expressed concern about how codependent the tree seems to be. As the boy grows, the tree gives and gives and gives until she has nothing left. This makes her happy. When he asks for money, she offers her apples. When he asks for wood to build a house, she gives him all of her branches. When he asks for a boat, she gives him her trunk. And when he returns to find only a stump, she offers him a place to sit.

Have you ever done that? Given more and more and more until you had nothing left to give? I know I can get so involved in a project that I forget to eat. Or I can work until the wee hours of the morning. I take care of my family, but I don’t take care of myself. I become the giving tree, but in the process I lose myself. I know this happens to many in church leadership. They enjoy giving to the church community, but it’s easy to get so involved that you lose sight of your own boundaries. That sort of selflessness causes so much more harm than good.

As you can tell, the story we told today was a bit different. This version was re-written by a retired UU minister named Jerry Wright. In this alternate version, the tree says “no.” She sets limits. Instead of basing her happiness on the happiness of the boy, she takes care of herself. And, in the end, he is grateful that she set limits. He learns to show appreciation for all he has been given. And we even get a hint that new life can grow from the passing of the old. It shows the cycle of life for both the tree and the boy.

Do you want to be the giving tree or the nurturing tree? It feels good to give to others. Giving is a very healthy thing to do. But know your limits. Know which gifts nurture your spirit and which cost you too much. Listen to your own boundaries. And learn to let go of the things that sap your energy.

Think about the autumn leaves. In your order of service, there is a printed leaf. Get it out now and look at it. Leaves are absolutely necessary to the life of a tree, for they gather the nutrients the tree needs to live. They are kind of like the tree’s food factories. But in the autumn, the tree has to be willing to let those leaves go. A tree's roots, branches and twigs can endure freezing temperatures, but most leaves are not so tough. If they freeze and die while they are still connected to the tree, the tree could die. The best way for the tree to nurture itself is to release them.

What do you need to leave behind? Do you need to let go of fear? Or anger? Do you want to let go of specific habits that no longer help you grow? Specific obligations? I want you to take a few moments to write on the leaf the things you want to release. (pause) Now, crumple it up, and let it go. (throw the ball). Seriously, let it go. (leaves start falling).

We have let go of many leaves. The leaves return to the soil as mulch, and the soil sustains the tree. And now that we’ve let some things go, now that we have set some boundaries, this community is one strong tree. As we enter into this harvest season, may we sustain each other. May we respect one another’s limits. May we take opportunities to nurture each other, to grow a strong community, but may we also nurture ourselves.

The Nurturing Tree
Adapted by Jerry Wright from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree
Dramatized by Jessica Gray


Once there was a boy who really enjoyed a tree. I am that tree.

The boy enjoyed the roughness of my bark when he climbed on it.
(BOY mimes climbing)

He enjoyed the springiness of my branches when he swung on them.
(BOY mimes swinging)

He enjoyed the crackle, the smell and the pillowy feeling of my leaves when he gathered them into a big pile and jumped into them, in the fall of the year.
(Leaves fall, and BOY mimes catching them)

He enjoyed the crunch and tart taste of my apples when he bit into their ripe fruit.
(BOY mimes eating an apple)

And when the sun was hot, he enjoyed sitting in my shade, leaning against my sturdy trunk, thinking about all the things he hoped to do and have and be as he grew older.
(BOY leans against the tree, dreaming)

As the tree, I enjoyed knowing the boy, too. I enjoyed watching him grow stronger, able to do more things. I enjoyed his company. I enjoyed being useful.

(BOY exits skipping)
But there came a long time when the boy stayed away.


As the tree, I missed the boy, until one day, he returned. But he was different. Older, but not necessarily wiser.

(BOY enters, a teenager)

Hello Boy. Would you like to play in my leaves?

I’m too old for that. I need some money.

"Well, money doesn't grow on trees, but apples do, and you're welcome to gather my apples and sell them for money."

I guess that’ll work.

I was delighted to have the boy climbing about, gathering the apples I had grown. I enjoyed his company and I enjoyed feeling useful.

(Exit BOY)

But then the boy stayed away for a long time, again.

(Enter BOY as a young MAN)

As the tree, I missed the boy. One bright, sunny day I saw him coming toward me-older now-a man-and I was very happy. I really enjoyed his company. He was bigger and looked stronger than when I had seen him last.

Hello Boy. Would you like to eat my apples?

I’m too busy for that. I want a house. A house to live in and raise a family. Would you give me your branches?

I'll give you a few of my branches, and you may ask my neighbors for some of theirs. If I gave you all of my branches, I'd have nothing to support my leaves. Without leaves to turn sunlight and water into food, I would die. But as long as you take only a few of my limbs, I can grow others; so, you're welcome to a few.

BOY: (gathering branches) Thank you, Tree. I will also ask your neighbors.
(he exits)

TREE: I am glad to see he has enough to build his house. But now he stays away for several years.


TREE: As the tree, I missed the boy. One day I saw him coming toward me-a man in his middle years now.
(BOY enters, a middle-aged MAN)

Hello boy. Would you like to swing in my branches?

I’m too tired for that. I've been thinking that I'd like to have a boat to sail on the lake, and I'd like to have your trunk to use for a hull.

Hmm. I like you very much- I have liked you since when you were a small boy, climbing my trunk and diving into piles of my leaves-but I like
myself, too. I must say 'No' to your request. If I gave you my trunk, I would die, and while I like to give of myself and feel useful, I
know better than to give myself away.

You’re saying no? You’ve always given me at least some of what I asked for.

I've noticed that you only come around when you want something for yourself. Other than that, I never see you. I would really like for you to come visit me from time to time.

I guess you’re right. I do only come see you when I want something. When I came here as a young boy, we both were giving each other something. But now you have been doing almost all of the giving and I have been doing almost all of the taking.

Would you like to have children play in your branches again?

Oh yes!

I’ll call my grandchildren! Come up here! (calls to any children from congregation to play). This is a great tree. You can play in it, climb it, swing from its branches. You can eat the apples.

Oh, and look, we can also plant some seedlings to make more trees. When they grow up, they can keep the tree company.

Part 5:

Like all living things, I grew older and older and finally died, and the keepers of the forest cut me down, leaving only a stump of a tree.

(Enter BOY, an old man)
The man grew older, too, and returned to me one day, only to discover that nothing
was left of me, but my stump.

I could offer no shade to sit in-no sturdy trunk to lean against-only my stump to sit upon, so the old man sat.
(BOY thinks for a time)

Thank you, tree. Thank you for being there when I was a boy.

Thank you for the shade you provided, and for being there to lean upon when I just wanted a place to think thoughts and dream dreams.

And thank you, most of all, for setting limits and saying "No." Thanks for liking yourself as well as you liked me. I think that liking yourself enough to tell me "No" was the best gift you ever gave me."

(The tree raises new branches behind the boy)

The end. And the beginning.

C 2006
Jerry D. Wright
Adapted for stage by Jessica Gray, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Welcome autumn!

In the past few weeks, I have closed the windows in my apartment and gone searching for my long-sleeved shirts and jackets. I have seen the first tinges of autumn in the leaves. I enjoy autumn immensely (especially my pumpkin-spice lattes), and, but this season also brings with it some challenges for many families. One of the greatest enemies of the modern family is the incredibly full calendar. So many families rush from school and work to other sports and activities and barely even take a moment to pass in the halls. My own child, Ariana, just started preschool, and my husband and I are both working new jobs. Some days I don’t get home until she is already in bed, and often we’re so exhausted that our family meals are in front of the TV.

We all know how important it is to spend time with our families. Those important moments of connection, whether they are the bedtime rituals or family dinners, are the moments that bond us together with the people we love the most. I think my favorite moments are the times we can never plan: a sleepy-eyed Ariana stumbling out of bed in her pajamas wanting to snuggle, evenings when she falls asleep without a struggle and Rhye and I have just a few minutes to talk, or even times when we’re navigating through traffic, discovering something new. These are moments worth treasuring.

And, as Ariana grows older, I also treasure sharing with her the religious rituals of my faith. We light a family chalice together and sing the chalice song she knows from Sunday School. We say bedtime prayers together. And, when she is ready, I look forward to sharing larger, communal worship experiences together. When I was a child, family devotions were an important part of our family life. My dad often said, “The family that prays together stays together.” While my prayers now may look or sound different from the prayers I said with my parents as a child, they instilled in me a love for worship. My spiritual connection was intimately connected to my family.

The etymology of the word “worship" derives from “worth” or “value.” What are the things we value? How will we shape the moments in our lives to recognize their worth? In addition to the beautiful spontaneous moments (which I encourage you to savor), this year we hope to bring many opportunities for you to share worshipful moments with your family at First Unitarian. The new format for Time for Community is intended to allow families to light candles together, to share their joys and sorrows, and to connect with others in the community. Many of the “Monday Night at the Church” programs are being designed for families to engage together in a spiritual way. And this Sunday I look forward to celebrating autumn with our first Community Worship Service, a time for all ages to join together in the sanctuary for the entire worship hour. For families with young children (early elementary and toddlers), we will offer “Extended Care” beyond our normal nursery services with activities connected to the theme, but older children and youth are strongly encouraged to join with the in this time of worship. Together, we will find new ways to express worth and honor in our community.

I hope each of us will find the time in our busy schedules to connect to our families and to our spiritual community. These are truly the moments of worth. Bright Autumn Blessings!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Upcoming Faith Development Events

The church year officially starts September 11 with Homecoming Sunday. On this Sunday we will recognize and honor our volunteer teachers - our Partners in Ministry for Children and Youth. All classes PreK-8th grade will have their first meeting. At 11:30, all parents are invited to a "Meet & Greet" downstairs in the Landers Room. This is your opportunity to meet me, the new Director of Faith Development Ministries, see your child's classroom, meet some of their new teachers, and hear more about the Faith Development plans for 2011-2012. Snacks will be provided.

There are also a few more upcoming events you may be interested in:

On Monday nights, the church has a fellowship supper at 6:30 then a program at 7:30 pm. They ask a $5 donation for supper (if you can afford it). Then the programs vary. I am responsible for the program the second Monday of each month. My first program is September 12:

Family-friendly Water Communion
The Water Communion is a specific Unitarian Universalist tradition practiced in many churches throughout the nation. We will join together as a community in this alternative, participatory worship with story and song. You are encouraged to bring a small bottle of water from your home or some other place, but this is not required. All are welcome.

On THURSDAY nights from 6:30-7:30, I will be leading the Mandala Dance Group, a spiritual practice of movement meditations from earth-centered, Tibetan Buddhist, and other sources. The practice is similar to Dances of Universal Peace. Our group will begin meeting on September 22 with an honoring of the autumn equinox. Each week we will explore the cycles of the seasons, the moons, and our lives through movement, music, and meditation.

Sunday September 25 I am leading the main Sunday service. The title is "Many Leaves, One Tree: A Community Fall Celebration." It's the first of four seasonal services I will be leading through the course of the year.

I look forward to meeting you as we come together this fall. May it be a fruitful and abundant time for us all.

Bright Blessings!
Jessica Gray