Friday, January 18, 2013

What Social Action do you want to support?

We will partner with a local organization to create awareness and raise funds in our Faith Development program in Spring 2013.  Members and friends of the congregation were encouraged to put forth proposals, but as part of our democratic process, we are putting this to a vote.  All votes must be received by Wednesday, January 23.

Learn more about the proposals:

Dismas House
Proposed by Carrie West 
From their web site:  “Dismas House is a supportive community that provides transitional housing and services to former prisoners and real-life educational opportunities to students from area colleges, and from throughout the US and the world. The men and women of Dismas House live and work as a family, helping each other grow towards the goal of reintegration into society. Dismas provides a consensus-based, sober alternative to a return to the streets, and a return to incarceration. Our cooks, donors, board members and other volunteers help make reconciliation a reality.”
What does this cause mean to you personally?
I think the work of Dismas House is a wonderful example of social justice in action and an embodiment of our UU principles.   In a world where individuals can easily find themselves on the wrong side of the law, programs like this give people the support they need to learn new skills, make better choices, take responsibility for their lives and make a fresh start rather than end up in the revolving door of the criminal justice system.  I especially like that they have created a family farm where residents can work and live at a slower pace and be part of the local agricultural movement.

Proposed by Paul and Marjorie Ropp

We started CNVS three years ago with a mission to provide education and resources to help people in the Worcester Area to understand nonviolence and peacemaking as a way of life and to reject the use of violence in resolving conflict.
Our Community Mediation Service provides trained mediators at no charge to help people resolve conflicts through respectful, open and honest discussion of their differences.  We teach classes in several Worcester schools that help students develop skills in anger management, nonviolent communication, bullying prevention, conflict mediation, and healthy relationships.  Students also study nonviolent movements in modern history, and explore volunteer opportunities to work for peace. We have a peer mediation program in one school where we train peer mediators who assist fellow students solve their disputes.  We have held a teachers training institute in the history of nonviolent movements in the modern world. We have also worked with Dr. Michael Hirsh, the Acting Commissioner of Public Health in Worcester in supporting his Injury Free Coalition for Kids and Goods for Guns, a successful gun buyback program that has removed over 2000 guns from the streets of Worcester in the past decade.

What does this cause mean to you personally? 

PAUL:     Martin Luther King, Jr. was the greatest moral leader in the world during my youth, and he demonstrated the power of love and nonviolence to address injustice and promote social well-being.  Through carefully planned nonviolent protests and civil disobedience (he was arrested 30 times), King and his colleagues turned a spotlight on racial injustice in the United States, shamed the Ku Klux Klan into a marginalized position in American society, and successfully pressured the president and the congress to pass effective laws guaranteeing equal rights to all Americans.  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, Corazon Aquino, and Aung San Suu Kyi among many others have all demonstrated the power of nonviolence to address injustice and oppression far more effectively than war and violence.  The Dalai Lama has suffered more injustice than most of us will ever know and yet the Dalai Lama is one of the happiest people in the world today.  His emphasis on love, compassion and nonviolence has freed him from the self-destructive quest for blood vengeance.  He exemplifies Gandhi’s admonition to “be the change you want to see in the world.”  That is what we are trying to do at the Center for Nonviolent Solutions. 

MARJORIE:      I believe that if we don’t teach peace someone is teaching violence.  We need to help our children, early on, to learn the skills to identify and transform conflict, to identify emotions and communicate in ways that are positive and promote harmony.   We need to demonstrate for our children nonviolence as a viable way of life.   It works!   If we cultivate a climate of identifying conflict and nonviolent ways of solving conflict, then our neighborhoods will be safer, our city will be safer and our country will be safer.   These are the first steps to global harmony and world peace. 
Proposed by Vivian Shortreed
The REC staff:
    - coordinates the Earth Day clean-ups each spring (Seth and Sue Popinchalk organize one of these in Main South each spring)
    - facilitates more than 40 community gardens (Did you see the beautiful vegetable garden outside the public library this summer?)
    - hires and trains about 50 inner city youths to work in their organic gardens each summer.  These gardens provide multiple thousands of pounds of fresh organically grown produce for the food bank each summer
    - coordinates the Saturday Farmers' Market in Main South
    - sponsors and staffs the mobile Farmer's Market
    - sponsors the lead abatement program in Worcester
    - has a cooking class that teaches how to prepare healthy meals for a minmum of expense
    - others
All these projects are community oriented.  The Earth Day Clean-ups (and the festival which is a part of the Earth Day celebration) and the community gardens all get people out of their houses and working together. 

Proposed by Alicia Lenahan

NEADS is a nonprofit that is near and dear to my heart. I serve on their Advisory Board. Their mission is to provide independence to people who are deaf or have a disability through the use of canine assistance.
They are located in Princeton and provide dogs to people of all ages throughout Massachusetts, New England and across the country.  Below is a list of a few of the reasons NEADS is an important part of our community.
·NEADS trains assistance dogs for people who are deaf or have hearing loss; people with balance and stability issues; people with a variety of physical disabilities; wounded combat veterans; teachers, ministers and therapists; children on the autism spectrum; and children with physical disabilities.  Inmates at more than a dozen New England prisons help by training 90-95% of our assistance dogs and (anecdotally) benefit immeasurably from the experience. 

NEADS was the first assistance dog organization to develop a program specifically geared to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, Canines for Combat Veterans (2006).  NEADS was the first assistance dog organization invited to Walter Reed Hospital to give an in-service about how assistance dogs can help wounded veterans (2005).  They also provide an array of volunteer opportunities on campus including helping out at the “Puppy House”.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Waiting Is

Sermon by Jessica Gray
Delivered at First U Winter Celebration
January 6, 2012
Waiting is. 

Winter is a time of waiting. 

Waiting for school to get out.  Waiting for Christmas.  Waiting for family to arrive.  Waiting for Santa Claus.  Waiting to open the presents.  Waiting for a special dinner.  Waiting to celebrate.  Waiting for the New Year’s countdown.  Waiting for a fresh start.

Winter is a time of waiting.

Waiting for the snowplows.  Waiting for the car to warm up.  Waiting for news about whether or not school is cancelled for the day.

Winter is a time of waiting.

Waiting for longer days.  Waiting for springtime.  Waiting for the sun.  

The Winter Solstice brought with it a rebirth of the sun, a beginning toward the lighter half of the year.  Each day gets a little bit longer, a little bit brighter.  But sometimes it feels like waiting – like winter – lasts forever.

In a book called Little Big by John Crowley, Grandfather Trout said “In winter, Summer is a myth.  A report, a rumor, not to be believed in.” Whatever season we are in, the rest of the seasons seem so far away.  But this is especially true of winter, a time when there is little more to do than to wait.

Waiting is.

Waiting is…
-       long lines and short rides at Disney World.
-       Birthdays that only come once a year.
-       Eleven year olds expecting their letter from Hogwarts to arrive at any moment.

Waiting is…
-       Looking for Mr. or Miss Right.
-       I love you for the first time.
-       Wondering when he or she will pop the question.

Waiting is…
-       Expecting to eventually feel like a grown-up after the wedding, the house, the car, the job, the children.

Waiting is…
-       9 months of anticipation
-       Wondering when labor will start
-       Hoping to get a full night’s sleep
-       Potty training – anything having to do with potty training
-       Schoolbuses and report cards
-       Your teenager who is out too late

Waiting is…
-       A small room where the nurse eventually calls your name.
-       Test results that can change your life.
-       Watching as those we love struggle – whether that struggle is life and death or a struggle for mental health, a struggle for sobriety, or even just a struggle of everyday life.

Waiting is…
-       Difficult
-       Frustrating
-       Irritating
-       Challenging
-       Excruciating
-       Exciting
-       Thrilling
-       Hopeful

Waiting is absurd. 

One of my favorite plays is Waiting for Godot by SamuelBeckett.  It is possibly the most well-known absurdist play, during which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for an unseen character, Godot, to come and solve their problems. So Vladimir and Estragon fill their days sleeping, eating, arguing, singing, and doing many other absurd things, including contemplating suicide.  This play was written in the early 1950s, when many people wondered about the absurdity of a world where people kill each other as brutally as they did in World War II.  This wondering was the cause of absurdist theatre. In analysis of this play, Godot has often been compared to God.  In this absurd world, is it any wonder that God never arrives? The characters wait for answers, but the answers never come.  Ian Mckellen, the actor recently known for his role of Gandalf in “The Hobbit” played the character of Estragon in Waiting for Godot for many years.  He once said, Godot is whatever it is in life that you are waiting for: 'I'm waiting to win the lottery. I'm waiting to fall in love'. For me, as a child, it was Christmas. At least that eventually came.”

The scripture we read today came from the book of Job, which tells the story of a man who suffers greatly - a loss of wealth, family, and health.  Job waits for God’s mercy.  He pleads with God for answers.  Why me?  I’m a good guy.  God never explains why Job suffers.  But Job continues waiting, holding fast to his belief that God will see him through.  In Job 2:9-10, his wife asks “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replies, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  Job waits, even when his wife and his friends reject him.  He waits for God’s timing.  Elisabeth Elliot, an author of Christian devotionals, writes “Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one's thoughts.” Waiting for God requires a patience that many people struggle to find.

In the story we just saw, the Goddess Brigid teaches the children the power of patience, even in the face of adversity.  Brigid is a Celtic Goddess, known as a Lady of Healing, Poetry, Smithcraft and Midwifery.  All of these skills require patience and waiting.  Some of her symbols are the unique cross made out of reeds, thresholds and doorways, wells and water, but also fire.  The Goddess Brigid is often associated with St. Brigid of Ireland, a saint who is honored at “Brigid’s Well” in Kildare. A perpetual flame has been tended at the well of Kildare since the oldest of days. Nineteen nuns take turns holding a vigil to keep the flame lit at all times.  They wait through the darkness, patiently keeping her flame.

Most young people are waiting to find out who they will be.  Clara Barton, the Universalist woman who founded the Red Cross, said of the Civil War, “This conflict is one thing I've been waiting for. I'm well and strong and young - young enough to go to the front. If I can't be a soldier, I'll help soldiers.”  She was waiting to find her mission, and she made a huge difference in the world.  So I ask the young people in the congregation today, what are you waiting for?

As we get older, our perception of time changes.  As a child, the years seem to stretch on and on.  Waiting for Christmas, or even for tomorrow, can seem like an eternity. But as we get older time moves faster and faster.  We blink and a year has gone by. It is as if we know the clock is ticking.  And yet, most adults I know find it easier to wait than most children I know.  Elizabeth Taylor once said, “It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”  Perhaps it is all the years of practice.  Perhaps in time we learn that time is fluid and that everything happening, whether good or bad, will only happen for a season. Waiting is the threshold, the liminal space.  Waiting is the time when transformation happens.  And so we wait.

Waiting is.  The phrase “Waiting is” originates with a science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein called Stranger in a Strange Land.  In this book, the phrase is “Waiting is, until fullness.”  We wait until the time to wait has ended.
We wait until we realize that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

We wait through the long, cold winter.  We wait to find the light.  Winter Holidays are all about the light.  The lights of Divali in India, the lights of the Advent candles.  The lights of the Yule log at Winter Solstice, and the candles of Kwanzaa.  Today, January 6, is a Christian holiday called “Epiphany,” the twelfth day of Christmas.  This day commemorates the visit of the Magi and the baptism and “illumination” of the child Jesus and is sometimes called the “Feast of Lights.”  

Waiting is the time for us to find stillness and listen to God.  Waiting is the time for us to tend our inner flame and let our light be a beacon to the world.