The beautiful handmade pulpit that graces our sanctuary is made of seven panels of walnut wood, one for each of the seven principles our faith has drawn out of our history as sure guides for healthy human relationships and communities. It is, for anyone who stands behind that pulpit to speak, looking out over a crowd of expectant and often beloved faces, both a distinct privilege and an honor, given and accepted in reciprocal respect. The pulpit is a symbol of freedom, power, inspiration, and integrity. History eddies there, cranks up the gravity, electrifies the air, demands of you, whoever you are, more than you believe you can be or offer. Our pulpit is the center around which our collective search for truth and meaning orbits. What is said there really matters, the truth, as the speaker understands it. Not the big “T” Truth, the only Truth, the Truth everyone has to swallow hook, line and sinker, but the little “t” truth, yours and mine, delivered honestly, humbly and as clearly as possible with the goal of shared understanding. The speaker at our pulpit is not there to convince or persuade, to rally or disabuse, to shame or flatter, but to describe something important about being human in a way that makes their personal point of view clear and respects that others may see things differently.
We gather on Sundays to hear our companions-on-the-journey speak about matters that move them, to listen carefully and enter into their perspective, and then to find the courage to use what we hear to re-explore, again and again, our own convictions, as malleable or calcified as they may be, with the understanding that openness to new revelation is the foundation of spiritual growth. We’re here to grow, and sometimes the process of growing can be as uncomfortable as it is exhilarating.
Our Promises to One Another When We Gather
- We promise to speak honestly and humbly out of genuine familiarity with our topic and deep respect for our listeners.
- We promise to be inclusive of human difference in the language we choose to use, that there may be as few barriers as possible to full engagement.
- We promise to avoid demonizing individuals or groups, labeling or name-calling, reducing complicated issues to either/or polarities, assuming “like-mindedness” on any topic when we are speaking with others in a congregational setting.
- We promise to focus on the moral dimensions of public policy in our common life as citizens and not on particular political parties or politicians, except to invite interested others to join in specific actions (such as lobbying, letter-writing, demonstrations or marches) designed to protect the rights and meet the needs of human beings, our many relations and the Earth.
- We promise, during election seasons, to be familiar with and adhere to “The Real Rules” in order to protect our tax-free status with the IRS.
- We promise to make verbal allowance for differing opinions when we take strong stands in our presentations, remembering our forebear Ferenc Dávid’s words “We need not think alike to love alike.”
- We promise to listen to opinions that oppose our own with the openness we hope others will offer us.
Love alike, friends.
Recently I have had some very thoughtful conversations about social justice with various Fellowship leaders, conversations thoroughly grounded in sensitivity to the variety of ways our members interpret the intersection of current events with their UU values and personal convictions. For years folks here thought of “social justice” activity as mostly about supporting “direct services” to people in need. This work was carried out by individuals and small groups as charitable actions: stocking food pantries, providing school supplies, collecting aluminum can tabs, making sandwiches for the homeless on NYC streets. These actions felt voluntary, non-urgent, and non-political because they addressed intractable and perennial issues.
Of course, there were points when UUFSBers protested at the nuclear plant, wrote letters after services, decided to intentionally welcome LGBTQ people, made environmental integrity a Fellowship priority. More recently, we celebrated the passage of marriage equality with a newsworthy Sunday service/wedding; a hundred of you took part in the 2014 Climate March; you decided as a congregation in 2016 to publicly display a Black Lives Matter banner; eighty or so of us participated in the 2017 Women’s Marches. In the seven years since I have been watching, you have continued your charitable work, but you have also begun to work en masse, in various ways, with the intention of transforming mindsets and structures in our society that have actually created the problems that charitable work addresses. The fact is, we need both: direct services to people in need and strategic action to change the laws, policies, practices and prejudices that cause suffering among vulnerable populations.
Right now, under largely unprecedented political circumstances, the well-being and rights of many groups in our county and country are being threatened. These are not normal times. Under these circumstances, it is particularly impossible to separate political action (working with politicians, legislation and governance structures) and moral action (in our case, upholding priorities, values and moral principles that have been historic concerns for generations of UUs). There is no way we can act to protect vulnerable populations right now without strategies that include heavy active lobbying—not just in offices, but on the street in demonstrations, civil disobedience, in letters and emails, using our voice as The People to stop abuses and hold governance actors accountable to democratic and humane standards.
I consider it part of my duty and call as a Unitarian Universalist minister to encourage our Fellowship community to act in a variety of ways to counter the unraveling of our country’s moral integrity, whenever and however it happens. I consider such work to be an extension of actions we UUs have taken, as a faith movement and as a congregation, for centuries. And I believe that to sit back right now, in fear of honest dialogue and purposeful action, at that “line” between politics and social justice (which has been and always will be very, very blurry) is to choose dispassionate “comfort” over LOVE. This is your congregation and your choice. You should know though, how your minister understands her call in these turbulent times, and how much she loves and honors you as you face your options as a force for good.
I am still recovering from the emotional and physical exertion and elation of the NYC Women’s March. Marches held in more than 500 US cities were attended by at least 3.3 million people and international marches by another quarter million. Estimates are still coming in from 200 uncounted US marches and others. At least 70 UUFSB members and their children participated in the marches in NYC or Washington D.C., and in smaller towns and cities in which people found themselves that Saturday.
Between the NYC and D.C. marches alone more than a million people took to the streets to voice their concern that our country is moving away from principles of governance that place the thriving of human bodies, minds and spirits before any other priorities. To me, this level of participation is an indisputable message from an agitated public declaring that “We the People are not asleep at our watch.” We are on alert, our eyes trained on those who are taking up the work of leading our country, and we are ready to intervene en masse, if necessary, when we see that human dignity, inclusiveness and rights are threatened.
On the packed streets of NYC I saw signs expressing concern about immigrant populations, our LatinX and Muslim neighbors, women and girls, women’s health, equality in education, health care for all, the rights and well-being of LGBTQ people, civil liberties, Black Lives, and our earth and environment. It was clear that it is the recent election that has jacked up the anxiety, doubt and mistrust in these three-million + people, but the concern is far more a moral and ethical one than a political one and far more about the health of our democracy and our calling as a nation than about any one leader’s fitness for the presidency or a cabinet post.
Participating on this day of public protest was a personal decision for each individual. I applaud those who chose to march, to speak out, and to weather the numerous physical and mental rigors of the day. I honor those who would have marched but were unable to for a variety of good reasons. And I honor also those who have a different analysis of our national situation and therefore chose not to participate. I encourage those of you in this last group to share your thoughts: write a newsletter article, take a lay-led service day, lead a workshop or a book discussion. We all stand to benefit from the perspectives of those who disagree with us, but we cannot learn from one another if we stay in our corners. If we cannot listen to one another speaking on any topic with respect, curiosity and openness to a shift in our own views, then our problem is not so much with “politics” in the congregation as it is with the capacity and strength of the “love” that binds us.
I believe in you, my friends.
It’s been a tough summer and fall in our Fellowship as in our nation. I hope you will be able to choose a path through the holidays that avoids additional stress, a tall order. Make it your goal to prioritize some rest (extra hours of sleep and idle non-productiveness), move about (little walks, active games, tumbling around with grand/kids), drink water (most of us live a dehydrated life), savor good food (savoring helps you stop when you are full), converse meaningfully (it is so easy to let keyboards and TVs and busy-ness get in the way of strengthening your connections to others), love the people around you (strangers, family and friends), and count your blessings (no matter what is going on in your life, there are some things you can name and celebrate).
Here’s an unusual and delicious recipe to enjoy this holiday season and into the new year. You may never have heard of it, but I guarantee you and the people you permit a taste from your precious supply will never forget that first taste. Dulce de Leche (dool-say day lay-chay) is the Spanish name of this confection, common in Latin America, but also found in some form in many other cultures. This recipe comes from Gourmet (April 2011) and includes a long form (classic) and a short form (short cut) version. I have been making the short form, which starts with 14 oz cans of sweetened condensed milk. I make two pie plates at once. Easy peasy. In my oven, I have found I can extend the bake-time another 30-45 minutes, which yields a darker and thicker spread, but you will want to start with 90 minutes and then experiment as you get used to the process. I’d be happy to send you the “classic” recipe if you’d like to try it.
Shortcut Dulce de Leche (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups)
Heat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Pour the contents of 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and cover tightly with foil. Set plate in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to pan to reach halfway up pie plate. Bake milk in middle of oven 45 minutes. Check water level and add additional, if necessary, then continue to bake 45 minutes more, or until milk is thick and brown. Remove pie plate from water bath. Whir contents in blender. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Transfer to a bowl or jar to cool. Keep in fridge for up to three weeks (if it lasts!)
May your holidays be joyous, delicious, and restful,
I thought you all might like to have a glimpse of what my bare bones calendar looks like month to month. Although I share this annually in one of my first Board Reports, I don’t think I’ve ever written about it here.
1st Mondays: “We Say Enough”—On Call for the Movement (for Black Lives)—mass Zoom call, 12:30-1:30); 2nd Mondays: Pastoral Assistants meeting (7:15-9:15 p.m.); 3rd Mondays: unscheduled; 4th Mondays: Quarterly Leadership Council meetings (7-9 p.m.); 1st Tuesdays: 3-Village Interfaith Clergy Association business meeting (8:30-10:00 a.m.), Shawl Ministry (7:00-8:30 p.m.); 2nd Tuesdays: UU Ministers Association LI Chapter Meeting (varying sites) (11:00-2:30); 3rd Tuesdays: 3-Vill Interfaith Clergy Lunch (12:30-2:00), UUMA Cluster Dinner (6:30-9:00 p.m.); 4th Tuesdays: unscheduled. Every Wednesday is my one sure Sabbath day (and every six weeks, usually the day I get a 4-hour Remicade infusion for rheumatoid arthritis—4 hours at Mather; 1st Thursdays: Meeting with DRE, Staff meeting (10:00-1:00); 2nd Thursdays: Jefferson’s Ferry lunch (12:30-1:30 p.m.), UUFSB Board Meeting (7:00-10:00 p.m.); 3rd Thursdays: supervision/planning with DRE (10:30-12:00), Staff Meeting (10:00-1:00), Shalom Interfaith Project (1:30-2:30); 4th Thursdays: unscheduled.
Every Friday: sermon prep/reading; 3rd Fridays: Minister’s Advisory Meeting (MAC) (8:30-10:30). 1st Saturdays: Sharing Circle Facilitators Meeting (irregularly, 10:45-12:45); 2nd and 4th Saturdays: personal time/sermon prep/congregational events; 3rd Saturdays: Worship Associates meeting (9:30-11:30). Sundays: Service 2-4x/month (32-35/year); RE Wing (2-3x/year); attend lay-led services (2-3x/year); post-service meetings and occasional afternoon/evening activities and events; 4-5 Sundays off/year, generally for conferences and such. A couple of Sundays a year I am home and sleeping in!
I also have a number of denominational and community leadership gigs. I am serving as Chair in second of a three-year term on Nominating Committee of Metro NY UU Ministers Association (UUMA) Chapter. I am Secretary of the Shalom Interfaith Project. I am the outgoing president of the 3-Village Interfaith Clergy Association. I am a member of the UU Trauma Response Ministry. I am Co-Convener (with Frances McGuire) of the Long Island Ministerial Leave Program.
“Unscheduled” days—any day, actually, (though I generally protect my Sabbath Wednesdays, if possible)—often include meetings, coffee, lunch or breakfast, house and hospital calls, phone and email conversations. I also post regular office hours—afternoons on Mondays and Tuesdays and Thursday morning—but if I have no scheduled appointments, many other obligations, needs and errands generally fill those days. And, of course, when you call, your needs are my priority. Frequently every day, I am answering emails, researching, reading, keeping up with current events, planning and calendaring. You are almost always on my mind, one way or another. That’s what it means to be your minister. I am available and prepared to accompany you through whatever it is that is happening or planned or being planned. It’s all what I do. It’s a calling, an honor, rewarding, and not easy. Love feeds me.
Day to day life for you, for me, for all of us, can be challenging enough. I wonder if the additional challenges to our lives issuing from public spaces are raising as much concern and anxiety for you as they are for me? The presidential election process is breathtakingly worrisome. Mass shootings continue to shock us in the headlines. People of color and their white allies in Charlotte and elsewhere are rising up to protest more deaths of black men which appear to involve irregularities in police behavior. Here, a coalition of groups, including several dozen of us here at UUFSB, is planning a march and rally in Stony Brook on Saturday, November 12th in support of the inherent worth and dignity of black lives. Board-sponsored all-congregation Town Meetings have been scheduled for October 23 after the service for the “Social Justice in Congregations” discussion and on November 6 after the service for the “Next Steps with BLM” conversation. I know this summer’s BLM events and their consequences continue to trouble many of you.
If you find yourself in a swirl of worry, angst, confusion in any degree, about any matter, please think of me as a ready source of support. I consider it an honor to be invited to sit down with you and the whatever-it-is that is causing you misery. Perhaps:
- You need a sympathetic ear for problems with your job, children, marriage, relationship, or anything else; you are feeling confused, depressed, or isolated or have a joy to share.
- You or someone you love is ill or facing surgery; perhaps you notice that someone you know in the congregation needs support.
- Someone you love is near death or has died or and you need help with end-of-life planning or a service; you’re planning to marry, struggling in a relationship or contemplating divorce; you’re pregnant but wish you weren’t or are thrilled you are; you would like to have a child dedicated; you are undergoing a major transition in your life and would like to create a ritual to recognize the threshold you are crossing.
- You or someone you know has questions about religion or Unitarian Universalism; you want to build your theology, deepen your spiritual life or are in spiritual crisis; you’d like to join the congregation or are already a member and are wondering how you can participate more fully in congregational life; you’d like to share your talents and gifts as part of one of our groups, committees, or classes, or serve as a volunteer in some other way.
- You want to affirm something good going on in the congregation or would like to discuss a congregational issue that is troubling you; you have ideas about sermons or programs or have a project you would like to initiate; you’re mad at me or someone else and want to air your feelings and work it out…
Maybe you’d just like to come sit with me and see what may open to us out of the silence. “Come, come, whoever you are. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come yet again, come.” I want to help.