Friday, August 31, 2012

The Power of Facebook

Sermon given by Jessica Gray
August 26, 2012

My husband Rhye signed up for a Facebook account long before I did.  I remember asking him what he was spending so much time looking at, and he told me “It’s like reading a newspaper, except the newspaper is all about people you know and the things that matter to them.”  This was kind of interesting, but I had a full-time job, was a full-time student, and had a full-time baby.  I had no room in my life for something that was extraneous.

About a year later it became inevitable.  The teenagers in the church where I served would not respond to E-mails or phone calls.  They told me Facebook was the only good way to get in touch with them.  Fine, I signed up for Facebook.  I had no idea what I was getting into.

Facebook can be a huge time suck, and honestly it can be more than a little silly.  Imagine if our real life interactions worked like Facebook interactions do.  Watch this video.  Many people experience a great loss of productivity because of the amount of time spent on Facebook.  Some learn things about their “friends” that they really do not want to know.  Others are embarrassed by things that their friends reveal, and some have even lost their jobs or custody cases.  According to Kate Dailey in Newsweek, Facebook comes up in 1 out of 5 divorce cases and 20% of employers say they check employee applicants on Facebook before hiring them. Social media has been criticized as being selfish and egotistical.  It’s all about what “I” am doing, what “I” am thinking, what “I” like.  Me, me, me.  Some people fear that social media encourages us to focus on all the wrong things and limits real social interaction.

But there are so many positive possibilities.  Both of the readings I shared earlier (The Tao of I-pod and The Spirituality of Social Media) pointed out some excellent benefits we gain from social media - connection, community, and social change.  In addition to being a place where people talk about their own lives, it is a platform for many to champion their various causes.  Some attempts are completely ineffective – no one is going to cure breast cancer because a bunch of women posted about their bra color.  But several social action movements have galvanized through Facebook.  According to Nancy Scola,Facebook is revolutionizing the way collective political and social actions are organized today, blowing the doors off old models of how volunteer lists are amassed, funds raised, and messages honed and delivered.”  From supporting orphans in China to revolutions in Colombia, some groups are using Facebook to make a real difference in the world.

This is my Facebook page.  I have 405 Facebook “friends.”  Of course, “Friend” on Facebook may mean “a person I met once in some place I can hardly remember.”  Or it could mean the people who I love dearly but now live far away. Or people I interact with every day.  Or even, people I have never met IRL (in real life) but with whom I connect on a deep and personal level.  My Facebook friends include my family, my close friends in many states, congregants from both of the congregations where I have served, people I knew in high school and haven’t seen since, and acquaintances from my many other affiliations. 

My Facebook friends include UUs, Pagans, Buddhists, Protestants and Catholics, atheists and agnostics, Jews, Mormons, and a few Hindus.  It includes mostly people from the United States, but also some from Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Brazil, Russia, and Israel.  It includes liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between.  Straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, polyamorous.  Teenagers and elders.  Those I look up to as mentors, and those who look up to me. 

I try to think carefully about my audience when I decide what to “share” on Facebook.  Yes, I post personal status updates about my family – especially silly things Ariana says or does.  My favorite status update in the past two weeks was when she said “I don’t know when I am going to fly again.  I used to fly.”  And I post family photos.  It’s exciting to share good news, and I also know I will get outreach and support when I am faced with challenges.  I’m glad to be able to share my life with so many people who love me.  My dad says the primary reason he is on Facebook is to keep up with his adult children.  When I post something personal, he almost always brings it up in a text or phone call. 

But I have also found Facebook to be an incredibly valuable part of my ministry.  I want to use this platform to share inspiration and make a difference in the world.  I may not be curing cancer or organizing revolutions.  But for the person who needs a lift on any given day, maybe I can give that.  I know that I receive so many inspirational messages, and this is a small way I can have an impact on others.  When I was asked for my sermon topic for this final summer service, the most inspirational thing that came to my mind was something I saw and shared on Facebook earlier that day:

 “Weird is just a side effect of being awesome.” Fifty-three of my friends liked this post enough that they shared it on their pages.  Talk about a pay-it-forward.  The message of this simple picture says it’s okay to be different and unique.  It reinforces the first UU principle of inherent worth and dignity.  It shows there is freedom and joy, wonder and awe, in just being ourselves.  It does not matter if others think we are “weird.”  Who needs to be normal anyway?  But as I began working on the sermon, I realized that I wanted to share so much more than this message.  These are just a few of the messages I’ve shared on Facebook just this summer.

 Sometimes it’s a quote from a movie.  I post a lot of things about movies and other stories that I love.  There’s a high percentage of posts about Harry Potter on my Facebook – I’m sure that’s a big surprise.  But I am careful in what messages I send.  Will this message uplift my audience?  Or will it harm?

Sometimes I do cross into controversial territory, at least a little bit.  I love to share messages that encourage equality and uphold my values as a Unitarian Universalist, especially when they are expressed in a creative way.  I avoid messages that tear others down or denigrate those with different opinions from my own.  And sometimes I am surprised at controversy.  When I shared this picture of a rainbow Oreo cookie in support of GLBTQ pride, I was surprised to get negative responses from some of my more conservative friends and family.  Apparently the Oreo company got a flood of protests.  But they stood behind their message. 

When another user adapted the ad after the controversy, I had to share it, too.

But mostly I choose to use my social media to build bridges rather than create divisions.  We are each part of the interconnected web of all existence.  Things are not really black and white.  The lines between groups are not true divisions.

Our religious tradition teaches us to accept all people.  To love unconditionally, without exceptions.  Whoever you are, wherever you are on your life journey.  Love is so much bigger than any one group.

And sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.  The sacred can be found anywhere that we are.  We find the sacred in the cosmos.  We find the sacred in nature.  We find the sacred in each other.  In the song we heard earlier “Holy Now,” UU Peter Mayer sings:  “I remember feeling sad that miracles don’t happen still, but now I can’t keep track ‘cause everything’s a miracle.”  Everything’s a miracle.  Each moment.  Each breath.  Each child.  Each person in this room.  Each person in the great, wide world.  Even if you have never logged onto Facebook, I hope that you will take some encouragement from today.  You are valued.  You are a  miracle.  And you are part of something so much more. 

And everything is so much bigger than we are – this interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part.  I see a small mirror of this in the World Wide Web – in the web of connections that is social media.  Facebook won’t last forever.  It’s probably already on its way out of fashion.  There will always be some new thing, some new way of communicating. 

What you say, what you do - these things have a great impact on other people.  So I offer you a challenge.  Will you take the time to THINK when you say something – whether you say it on Facebook, twitter, text, skype, or any other method?  Will you use your opportunities to make the world a better place, one person at a time?  I surely hope you will.  Together, we can build a better world, starting here.  Starting now.

Close your eyes.  Visualize yourself as a single point of light on a vast interconnected web.  The world wide web is a small part of this great web of light.  Your light affects all those you touch.  Open your eyes and leave this place lifted up, knowing your power.  Amen and Blessed Be.

Getting connected

As we all settle into our new routines, I would like for you to think about how you will fit Faith Development at First Unitarian into your busy lives.  How often do you come to church?  How often should you?  And while I know that getting to church Sunday morning can sometimes be a challenge, and sometimes circumstances make it impossible, there are very good reasons to make attendance a priority. 

Mary Marsh of the UU Fellowship in Bellingham, WA came up with the following reasons:
· Children need time to make friends. Regular attendance will help them start to find friends here - and once they have friends here, they will want to be here more often.
· It's hard to have fun when there aren't enough children present.
· Our teachers are putting in a lot of work to develop great sessions.
· The more often your children come to church, the more likely they will be to see this as a part of their support and community.
· Learning environments are richer when a lot of diverse ideas are brought together - it makes our discussions more lively!
· It will help our adult volunteers know your children better.  It's hard to remember children you don't see more than once a month.
· More consistent class sizes will help us plan better - to ensure we don't over-stock or under-stock the supplies.
· The curriculum will make a lot more sense and feel more relevant when they get the chance to try all the different ways we explore our topics.
· The building itself just feels happier and more full of life when young people are present.

So I encourage you to bring your children each week and to come to church yourself.  It truly is the best way to get connected in our community of faith.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Welcome Back to First U (and Registration links)

Dear Families,

Welcome back!  I know many of you in Worcester Public Schools are starting school today, and others may have started already or will start after Labor Day.  It’s such an exciting time of change – new teachers, new classmates, new experiences. I am so excited for our new Faith Development year to begin.  Our church “Homecoming” will be Sunday, September 9 at 10:30.  All families and teachers are encouraged to attend.  We will begin in the sanctuary with a unique “blessing of the teachers,” and then all children and teachers will go to Unity Hall for a “Homecoming Party.”  We will play games and get to know each other before settling into our new classes.  The following Sunday, September 16, will also be a combined workshop (led by Kris Johnson) as many of our families will be at Ferry Beach.   September 23 will be a multigenerational worship in celebration of Fall. We will begin classes on September 30.

This year all of our classes will focus on our Unitarian*Universalist Sources – the six sources of our living tradition.  You can find out more about our curriculum here.

It is very important that we get update information about your children to begin the new year.  You may have noticed that we did not send out paper registration forms in the spring.  In an effort to streamline our process (and save some trees), we will no longer have paper registration.  Instead, we are asking you fill out a quick online form:

(If the above link does not work, try the full link: 

Please fill out a separate form for each child (as each child has different needs).  This information will be shared with teachers as necessary, and any new contact information will be updated in the church databases.

Thank you!  I look forward to this journey of exploration with you and your children.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Bright Blessings,

Jessica S. Gray
Director of Faith Development Ministries
First Unitarian Church of Worcester

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Faith Development Family Summer Outings

Many of our families are still scattered on their summer travels, but as the season winds down and we begin looking toward the fall, the Faith Development team is offering some fun family excursions.

Most are informal, and you can just show up at the designated time and place. There are a few where it would be best if you could RSVP to the person listed with the event for ease in finding each other.

Feel free to spread the word - the more the merrier!  We hope you can join us!

(Please note: a couple of these have changed from the original flier that circulated)

Date and Time: Thursday, August 16, at dusk 
Event: The Princess Bride
Specifics: A classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing (as read by a kindly grandfather).  For free on the big screen!
Location: Movies on Worcester Common                                     
Look for: Jessica Gray

Date and Time: Saturday, August 18, 10 am - 6 pm
Event: Eastern Mass Rhythm Festival
Location: River Bend Farm, Oak Street, Uxbridge, Massachusetts 01569
Specifics: You're invited to take part in this all-day outdoor celebration of drumming and dancing that is open to all ages and all skill levels of drummers and dancers.  The main circle will have an ongoing freestyle drum & dance jam throughout the day, while the side circles will offer a series of free workshops on various topics, including drum technique, learning culturally specific rhythms and dances along with other fun stuff. This family-friendly event is open to the public, free, and will happen rain or shine.  Bring rhythm and other instruments, something to sit on, and a picnic lunch.  What to bring:
~ Drums and percussion instruments
~ Melodic instruments like flutes or didgeridoos
~ Folding chairs and free-standing sun shelters
~ Sun lotion and bug dope
~ A picnic lunch and plenty to drink (non-alcoholic)!/events/372612509455171/
public so anyone can come spend the day with this welcoming community as we share our joy of rhythm and movement. There's no need to preregister, and the event is free, although we do suggest that your generous donations help to make this all-volunteer festival possiblLook for: Jessica Gray

Date and Time: Sunday, August 19, Noon – 3 PM  (Meet at the playground at noon)
Event: Purgatory Chasm, Sutton
Specifics: Picnic, climbing (great for older kids), hiking, and playground (great for younger kids).  
Location: 198 Purgatory Rd., Sutton MA 01590    
Look for: Jessica Gray

Date and Time: Saturday, August 25, 2:00-4:00 PM 
Event and Location: Green Hill Park Farm & Playground
Location: Green Hill Pkwy. Worcester (Meet at the farm entrance at 2 PM)
Look for: Amy Borg and Kattia Yauckoes

Date and Time: Saturday, September 29, 2012, 11:00 AM - 4 PM
Event and Location: Harvest Festival
Location: Overlook/Heifer Farm.  Overlook Farm is located in Rutland, Massachusetts 62 miles West of Boston.
Specifics: Explore the homes in the Global Village and learn about traditional harvest celebrations in Peru, Poland, Kenya and more. There will be many kid-friendly activities including a hayride. Visitors can purchase local pumpkins and browse Shop@Heifer, featuring fair trade and unique hand-crafted items from around the world. Guests can also enjoy a lunch prepared from farm products or bring their own picnic.  Admission: $5 for adults, children 12 and under free.
Look for: Jessica Gray and Kattia Yauckoes