Wednesday, June 17, 2015

the pianist played concerto music

An interesting anecdote concerning this guest blog from George Maris:

Each Sunday as part of our welcome we encourage people to turn their cell phones and other electronic devices to "silent," yet invite them to leave such things powered on in case they want to use them during the service.  In the past several weeks this invitation has been even more explicit, noting that for a generation of people the phone, iPod/Pad, etc. are like a natural extension of their bodies and minds.  Just as some people need to knit to really focus, or sit with eyes closed, or take notes with pencil on their Order of Service, there are folks who need to tweet and text as a way of truly and fully participating.  We now explicitly name these differences -- part of the cost of being a diverse community -- and ask people to respect one another and trust that each is doing what she or he needs to do.

During the service on June 14, 2015 a parishioner, George Maris, was tying on his device.  The woman next to him made a point of telling him how distracting this was for her -- apparently thinking that he was doing something unrelated to the sacred time and space.  George informed her that he had actually been writing a poem that had come to him in response to what he was hearing, seeing, and feeling.  Her assumptions about what he was doing interpreted his deeply heartfelt and soulful engagement.

We need to do a better job at being the welcoming and inclusive community we claim to be.  It's difficult. It means recognizing that there will be people who are as committed to doing things we find distracting as we are to not doing them.  It means finding a balance between being accepting (embracing?) of others' ways of doing things while not sacrificing our own needs.  This is really, really hard,  yet I truly believe it is part of the ongoing work to which we are called.

What follows is the poem that George Maris wrote:
The pianist played, concerto music.
The rows of pews are filed with different faces. 
The minister preaches, 
"the fire dances, tilling, planting,
"life is like the circus performer" 
People clothed in a spectrum of colors, 
blended together, 
The minister preaches,
"we sit around the fire".
The halls are filled with hymns,
The minister preaches, 
"take a moment of silence" 
It's quiet. You can hear people breathing, sounds of paper, 
shuffling feet.
The pianist  plays, 
then there is the lighting of the


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

we treat elders as objects when they are our greatest untapped resource

In preparation for the service on Sunday, June 14th, Arthur Rashap (co-weaver that morning) wrote a sermon, as the topic of wisdom and elders are close to his heart.  Because of the decision that RevWik would be the single preacher, Arthur's sermon was not delivered, but it certainly deserves a reading.  The text is below:

Over the history of this country, there were a number of places where someone who had something to say - or at least that someone thought they had something others wanted to hear – places where they would stand. The soap box was one such place. Pulpits were and are another. Today those places for ‘saying something’ have proliferated – think of the talk shows and targeted ‘news’ all over the media, the proliferation of outlets on the internet, the blogosphere and on and on.

For many years now, I have been looking for a soap box, a place to share what I believe is a message that needs to be heard. That message, that realization, has first come from working with elders and then becoming one. What I want, then, what I want to be heard about is this: We treat elders as objects when they are our greatest untapped resource

Would all of you out there who are over 65 please stand up. Now would those sitting down please take a good look at those who are standing. What do you see? Who do you see?

 Now consider that in the near future the number of people in our country -our elders - will reach 75 million, approaching one-third of our population.

Now those of you who are standing, look around at those sitting. How do you think you are perceived?

Let me here and now acknowledge that we in this UU Community probably have views that are different from those that prevail in the general population. Many of us value the elders who are part of our family here and respect the contributions they can and do make.

I am approaching my 79th year and over the last 15 years I have been looking at and been involved with the problems, potentials, projects, and possibilities relating to us geezers. The general concern of those who at least are thinking about the ‘tsunami’ of elders washing over our country (and others in the ‘developed’ world) relates in large part to the economics of this phenomenon: one forecast is that we will need 75 trillion dollars over the next several decades to cover the current levels of social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. There are solutions to this projection and concern. Focusing on well-being/quality of life is one solution. Others relate to taxation policies and reform of the healthcare system.

Fifteen years ago I went to work with JABA with my first assignment to help avoid the closing of the Assisted Living Facility in Crozet, now known as Mountainside. Counties from all over VA were sending people who they felt needed this kind of institutional care to this building that was a former storage facility for apples and peaches. The residents were threatened with being turned out into the street. Through a variety of imaginative and innovative solutions the facility was kept open, improved, and exists today for people mostly from this general area.

The involvement I had truly hurt my heart and opened my eyes to the inadequacy and often penal result of institutionalizing  elders who have problems with activities of daily living and with a variety of healthcare needs.  Those ‘sentenced’ to these facilities then become objects – they are known as and for what is their problem – not for who they are and what they can contribute.

I learned and saw that the prevailing attitude in America today is to objectify our elders – to focus on what they may need to continue to exist, and to provide in some way for those perceived needs through medical procedures once something goes wrong, or to institutionalize them when an elder can no longer take care of their activities of daily living. I note that providing help and support for preventing illness and decline was not and still is not a part of this package. Our sight, our hearing, our dental care - things that make life full and worth living - are not generally covered by the current system of Medicare and other insurances.

I was fortunate enough to work with Gordon Walker at JABA and with Dr. William Thomas, a noted geriatrician who was the founder of The Eden Alternative and Greenhouses - which are programs designed to improve long-term care. I helped obtain and worked for several years with a grant from the Federal Agency – the Center for Medicare and Medicaid - looking at alternatives to this type of incarceration. I helped develop a concept and took to almost completion a model community under a program we called Eldershire. See  Returning to Charlottesville, I promoted the creation of a Council of Elders. Councils of Elders were once prevalent across many societies. Today they are extremely rare. There is a special international Council, called simply “The Elders.” The Rev. Wik, in his sermon, of June 14 spoke in detail of this organization. May it spawn such councils at all levels. I would suggest that supporting the creation of such a council within this Church and in the larger Charlottesville community might be a valuable pursuit.

I am currently involved with several programs that are being developed in this larger community to enable people to age in place – advocating consideration of both the provision of services and the utilization of the great resources that elders have and can contribute. Among these programs are Villages, the volunteer efforts at JABA, some of what the Senior Center does, TimeBanks, and a variety of efforts at churches and other volunteer organizations.

In the context of looking at what would be at least some of the attributes to consider and promote for and with our elders as well as those who wilI be elders some day, I would like to share with you what a diverse, experienced, and involved group I worked with over several years came up considering the question:

What makes life worth living and how do we measure it?

The answer developed was Well-Being: The components involve ways to measure one’s state of well-being as the ultimate goal of a life worth living. The task force defined the outcome, looking at a model of well-being for each individual, for their families and friends, for other members of the immediate community, and for the greater community.

What then is well-being? It is the path to a life worth living. It is what we all desire. It is the ultimate outcome of human life. There are eight primary domains of well-being: contribution; identity; growth; autonomy; security; connectedness; meaning; and joy.

Contribution: is the need to feel that one makes a difference, that one has a contribution that will be valued. Everyone has the ability to contribute, what they can contribute may vary greatly.

Identity:  is being well-known; having personhood; individuality; wholeness; having a history. One’s own history, life and feelings of self are essential components of well-being. Without this, one ceases to exist.

Growth: involves development; enrichment; unfolding; expanding; evolving. Each individual has every opportunity to learn and grow.

Autonomy: encompasses liberty; self-governance; self-determination; immunity from the arbitrary exercise of authority; choice; freedom. Simply put, to be autonomous is to be one’s own person, to be respected for one’s ability to decide for one’s self, to be in control of one’s life, absorbing the costs and benefits of one’s own choices.

Security: relates to freedom from doubt, anxiety, or fear. To be safe, certain, assured, have privacy, dignity, and respect. The security of home and family, freedom from fear and anxiety must be satisfied before we can grow toward self-actualization.

Connectedness:  deals with being alive; belonging; engaged; involved; not detached; connected to the past, present, and future; connected to personal possessions; connected to the place; connected to nature.

Meaning: deals with one’s significance; heart; hope; import; value; purpose; reflection; sacredness. The search for meaning is a primary human motivation. An ideal environment infuses meaning into every corner, every act, and every relationship. In that meaning, all find life worth living.

Joy: encompasses happiness; pleasure; delight; contentment; enjoyment. Joy is a short, simple word describing the highest possibility of human life. Joy is a condition of human spirit that so fills a being that no amount of unhappiness can cast it out. 

So, by creating the attributes of well-being for, from, and through our elders - (these attributes once again are: Joy, Meaning, Connectedness, Security, Autonomy, Growth, Identity, and Contribution) – we harvest a life worth living for all.

I hope that this soap box sharing will encourage you to look at elders differently from now on, and that a cooperative effort for and with our elders will be energized to model lives of well-being.

As Opening Words for the service Arthur shared a poem he had written titled, "Seasoned."  Afterward many asked him for a copy of the text.  Here is is:

We sit in a circle,
Breathing in the smoke of elderhood
As we watch fire's dancing.
At first, there was the time
For springing forth -
Full of energy, dreams, desires,
Tilling, planting, cultivating.

As we now see it
In the rear-view mirror
We were wide-eyed and impressionable,

Spring’s greening turned to
The full colors and active buzzing
Of our summers.
Life was like the circus performer,
Running back and forth,
While spinning overhead
So many plates on sticks.
Did it matter that some fell and shattered?
There were always more.

All that which was growing then,
Was so important,
Bursting forth,
Bearing all kinds of fruit -

The glory of Autumn’s colors
Then changed how we viewed things.
The harvest was mellowed with
Celebrations of contributions from the past,
With the working being done
Informed by our seasoning.
We gloried in sharing the harvest.
And then the cleared fields
Created fresh space
To make new tracks.

Let us luxuriate in opportunities still ahead
And in what we have learned
And what we can share.

The sap still flows,
New buds burst forth.
The sweetest wine
Comes from the latest harvest.

Our seeds now drop,
Some to take root, awaiting their time,
Even as Winter
Stills the cycle,
Covering the fields
Once plowed and yielding.

Time is stretched,
Memories bring smiles
And often an "Ah Ha!"

We sit in a circle,
Around the fire,
Fashioning solutions
From the smoke of memory
And from the joyous living
That was and is our lives.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Questions & Responses

This past Sunday -- June 7th -- the congregation was invited to write a questions on index cards during the service.  These cards were then gathered up, and the sermon consisted of a "question and response" -- my attempting to respond to the questions that were asked.  (I noted that someone I admire had stopped having "question and answer" sessions after his lectures because, he said, the idea that he had answers had come to seem to him a bit presumptuous.  He could, however, guarantee that he'd have a response.  Sounds about right to me.)

There was not time to respond to all of the questions people had, so I promised that I would publish them all on our blog.  While my responses may be of interest, what strikes me as important is the seriousness of these questions.  These are the kinds of things that are on your minds -- the people sitting around you in the sanctuary, the people in your small group and on that committee on which you serve. 

Please feel invited to provide your own responses in the comments, and don't hesitate to bring these kinds of questions up at your next Covenant Group meeting or the next time you're in the Social Hall after a service.  Talk about them with your children, your partners, your friends at the next barbecue.  Questions such as these can be guideposts on our "free and responsible search for truth and meaning."
  • How do we stay open and willing in a time of trouble?
  • How can we connect the brain more to the heart?
  • Have religious people always felt entitled to judge and coerce or is it worse now?  Why?
  • Why do we die and leave those we love behind?
  • Why is it so hard to be the way I feel on Sunday every day of the week?
  • Why is self control so difficult to learn?
  • Why does crime/evil happen?
  • How should I explain to Christians, without offending them, that I don't believe in their god and their hope of life in heaven?
  • Where did your wisdom come from for your peace sermon?
  • Why is there war?
  • Why do we still have the death penalty?
  • Why do we fear death?
  • Must my body be my identity?
  • Does lighting candles take place in all UU churches?
  • Why are ISIS supporters so intolerant of people who have other beliefs?  It seems they lack human compassion.
  • Enlightenment is bandied about ... what is Enlightenment?
  • How can people continue to deny climate change in the face of evidence?
  • Based on what you hold to be true in your heart: do we have destinies ...
    • as individuals?
    • as groups?
    • as communities?
    • as a species?
  • How do I forgive in my soul ... so the anger doesn't come back?
  • Meister Eckhardt writes about "detachment" as a prime virtue -- how do I balance that with the passionate commitment I feel for people and things, books, music in my life?
  • Why does fear so govern the world?
  • Why do tragic things happen to good (or to any) people?
  • Why is it that people are so scared to open their minds and think outside the box?  (Especially thinking about people's reactions to transgender folk.)
  • If the possibility of intelligent life other than ours in the universes is so probable, and there is so much "evidence" to support that possibility, why haven't these "aliens" contacted us yet?
  • How, in the short time we have been at church, do we better connect with other people here?
  • How can I make more of a difference in the world, according to my UU values?
  • What makes me important in this world?  Especially in a time where many loved ones are not showing I'm important to them?
  • What next?  What is your dream for TJMC?
  • Why can I not let go of a part of my past?
  • What is the origin or origins of practices like racism?
  • What can you say to an elderly lady with several chronic health problems which are oh so slowly killing her?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Is discipline the key to life?  Stewardship
  • What does it mean "to love"?  [My apologies, but I couldn't clearly make out the rest ...]
  • Does prayer (supplication) work for UUs?
  • Have you ever known someone who is "enlightened" and never feels stress or unhappiness?  Do you think this state is permanently possible, or just an idea to aspire to?
  • How does one put the idea of "not worrying" into practice?
  • After all these years I still never feel good enough.  In the context of Unitarian Universalism, why is this and what can I do?
  • Why is self care so difficult?  Is there theological support for self care? (As opposed to self-help wisdom ...)
  • Will I ever find a home.  A place my spirit can rest?
  • Why do we like to wonder why?
  • Why can't we convince our leaders of the wisdom of global warming science, taking the lead globally of slowing the process, which will affect every living creature?
  • What does the UU faith have to say about why bad things happen to good people?
  • Why is violence rather than peace the first response to conflict?
  • What is the secret to reconnect a divided family?
  • How can we discuss our issues and not be held or feel a victim?
As you can see, some pretty weighty things.  And, as I said, my responses are only that ... my responses.  There were a few questions, though, that were directed specifically to me and/or just have simple factual answers:
  • How many tennis balls can you juggle simultaneously?  [Four ... and I can "flash" five.]
  • What faith(s) or tradition(s) do Ashé and Assalamualaikum come from?  [The first one is Swahili, and the second is from Islam]
  • What walks on 4 legs in the morning, 2 legs at noon, and 3 legs in the evening?  [A human being.  We crawl on four legs as a baby; walk on two legs in our adulthood; and make use of a cane in our old age.  (This was from one of our children).]
  • Who did the wonderful illustration on the front of the Order of Service and how long did it take for it to be completed?  [Randall Munroe, creator of the webcomic XKCD.  This is the image in question.] 
  • Do you have regular office hours at church?  [Yes!  For the past several years they have been Tuesdays through Thursdays 9:15-2:00.  I have regularly scheduled meetings every Wednesday night, and the other nights of the weeks are reserved for additional meetings, AFD offerings, and appointments with folks who can't come in during my regular office hours.  On Mondays I meet individually with ministry staff members, as well as a weekly meeting with the President(s) of the Board.  Fridays and Saturdays are my family and Sabbath time.  And while we're on such a topic ... the best email address to use is]
Pax tecum,