Right now I am going to ask you to think about taking a major leap of faith and put some money and time into it. My hope is that you will be leaping in good company and that the outcome with astound and inspire you! The 2014 General Assembly of our Association of Congregations will be landing in Providence, Rhode Island this June 25-29 (Wednesday through Sunday). Your Denominational Affairs Rep, Laura Lesch, and I are bent on getting as many of us up there for one or more days of the five as we possibly can.
We’re talking a multi-generational pilgrimage—adults, youth and children—to an annual UU community as hallowed and galvanizing as it is transient. Youth and young adults can join their own caucuses. There is child care for kids 6-months to nine years and a Children’s Camp for those who have completed grades 4 - 8. Throughout the week there are buckets of cool things to see, hear and do: speakers and workshops and friend-making conversations and singing and justice actions and worship experiences and UU shopping and dances and concerts and nights on the town and coffee-laced conclaves at the strangely entertaining business plenary.
I would especially like a horde of you to attend the Service of the Living Tradition on Friday evening (7:30-9:00PM). This is a service attended by thousands that honors fellowshipped and credentialed religious leaders; remembering those who have died, recognizing those who have retired, and welcoming those who have received fellowship or credentialed status in the past year. I will be participating in the service as a minister receiving Final Fellowship (I deferred my “walk” to this year from last, just so you could join me for this important passage). Early in the service I will be called out from among you as we sit together as a congregation in the huge hall, a dramatic moment in a moving service. This service is one of several events that will be open to the public and free of charge. The Sunday Morning Worship and the Exhibit Hall (on Sunday only) are the others, neither to be missed!
The Ware Lecturer on Saturday evening is Sister Simone Campbell. During the 2010 congressional debate about healthcare reform, she wrote the famous “nuns’ letter” supporting the reform bill. This action was cited by many as critically important in passing the Affordable Care Act. In 2012, she was instrumental in organizing the “Nuns on the Bus” tour to oppose the “Ryan Budget” that would decimate programs meant to help people in need. The action received an avalanche of attention across the nation. Last spring Sister Simone led a new cross-country bus tour focused on comprehensive immigration reform.
Pre-registration for General Assembly (GA) 2014 will open on March 3. Registration ranges from $130-$335 depending on your length of stay. Financial aid is available at the Metro NY District (http://uumetrony.org/phoenix_witness_project.htm) and national level (http://www.uua.org/ga/registration/financialaid/index.shtml). Please take a look at these pages and the general GA information (http://www.uua.org/ga/) to see if you can make a family vacation of the week. It’s a SHORT TRIP to Providence, one we can easily make en masse. We can take the ferry to Bridgeport and up (a 2-hour post-ferry drive) or to New London (a 70-minute drive), perhaps renting a bus of some sort, or we can occupy a train car or two. There are lots of possibilities. Laura and I have some tricks up our sleeves to get us hotel rooms to share so that the cost isn’t crazy.
Come witness the biggest UU you are. Take the leap with me! We’ll all come home changed.
My November “Letter from Nearby” has always included recipes that I love and think might be relatively easy and interesting additions to your holiday table offerings. My belief in the power of food to unite us, both to one another and to the earth that sustains us, was definitely highlighted by speakers at our Service of Installation last month. In a recent service call “Reflections on the Body at Halloween,” I suggested that it is no accident that our children collect candy door to door on the cusp of winter. “We concentrate sweetness in the fall,” I said, “We make grain and root vegetable soups, thick with a season’s stored sweetness. We boil apples into applesauce or, simmering and stirring longer yet, into apple butter.” During the winter holidays, we come together to sweeten our lives in good company. Here is wishing for you such sweet winter holiday magic!
“Blettes (Swiss Chard) Grand-mere” (Serves 2-4)
1 bunch Swiss chard
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 cup raisins or golden raisins
2 tablespoons pine nuts
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Remove the chard stems and the thick central vein from each leaf. Chop the leaves very coarsely. Using a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium high heat, melt the butter with the oil until sizzling. Add the chard and the rosemary, stirring well to coat the chard with the butter mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, for another minute until the chard has wilted to about half its original volume. Add raisins and pine nuts, stirring to combine evenly, and continue cooking until any moisture has evaporated. The entire cooking process should take no more than about 3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Sweet Potato/Squash Rolls (Beard on Bread)
2 pkgs. active yeast
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar, for proof
½ cup warm water
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, for dough
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup mashed, cooked sweet potato or winter squash
3 – 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Combine yeast, sugar and warm water in large bowl to proof. Add 3 T sugar, melted butter, salt, eggs and mashed sweet potatoes. (Butter can be melted simply by stirring it into the hot potato/squash mash.) Stir vigorously to blend. Add all-purpose flour one cup at a time. The dough will be very soft. Knead about 5 minutes or so, until dough is very smooth and elastic. Form into a round. Place in greased bowl. Turn to grease top. Cover with a towel and let rise in warm until doubled, about an hour. Punch down and shape into a ball. Let rest 2 minutes. Divide ball of dough in half and each half into 12 equal-sized pieces. Shape these pieces into golf ball-sized rounds and place in round, greased pans (cake or pie). 12 to a pan, 2 pans. ¼ inch apart. Balls 1 – 9 around the rim, 10-12 in the middle. Cover and let rise until doubled. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven, about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
I hope you will be able to make and enjoy this year’s favorite recipes. Happy Holidays All!
One Saturday morning after Linda had recovered enough from her double mastectomy surgery to try some outings, she and Matt and I happened on the Nesconset farmer’s market. We ended up in line for the cashier—Matt, me and Linda behind me—all of us holding an armful of the stuff we bought: green beans, golden cherry tomatoes, cantaloupes, a watermelon, six ears of corn, some yellow zucchini.
I turned to say something to Linda, and…well, I couldn’t help but laugh. There she was, the one with the cantaloupes, holding one in each hand right up against her chest where her breasts used to be. She saw me laughing, and then she started laughing. Then Matt turned, wondered for a moment if it was really OK to laugh (??), and he too doubled over. I got out my cell phone and Linda stepped out of line for a photo, her orange hoodie and pink Keens looking great against the background of orange winter squashes. And then all the women in the line and the folks behind the counter started laughing with us and making little comments.
It was a strange and wonderful moment in which the anxiety and pain and grief of surgery and recovery got trumped by the pure joy of being alive in the company of a small community of laughing people on a beautiful late summer day amid the fruits and vegetables. It didn’t matter that all those women were laughing about being “well-endowed.” There was something ancient and lovely about the sense of solidarity: family, women, food, bodies, laughter, loss, abundance. We laughed some more on the ride home. The whole thing felt sweet, a healing thing for all of us. Later, Linda asked me to send her the photo. I said “Really? You want to keep it?” She said, “Yes, that was an important moment.”
The changes that follow great loss are always tough to bear. The memories of how things used to be haunt us. Meanwhile, the people around you are also adjusting, feeling their way around what to say, where to look, how to help. We all have to figure out how to negotiate the taboos connected to certain losses. When your son is incarcerated, when you lose our job or file for divorce or declare bankruptcy, it is so hard to know how to address the unasked questions of people who see the loss in your face. And it’s not easy to bring up medical problems that involve parts of the human body that we don’t normally talk about openly and are so closely tied to our core identities: prostate, testicles, breast, uterus. The fact is, though, it is often a huge relief to break through the taboo into a conversation about what is really going on. This photo is a taboo-breaker. We, and you, can talk about it. It is OK.
Thank you all for supporting us through the surgery and early recovery period. Every card you wrote, every email, every vase of flowers, every meal that came ready-to-eat to our door eased our way through the upheaval. We got just enough of just the right things. It makes such a difference to be held in loving community through a hard time. This is yet another thing you know how to do, from the heart, just right. We give you thanks, from our hearts, hoping that somehow, over the years, we are able to give at least as much as we have received.
With deep gratitude from the three of us,
Each September I write a letter similar to this one. After the newsletter goes out, a small crowd of people make appointments. And when we met, each often remarks how much they appreciated the list below. They’d had no idea how useful a minister could be! Yes, folks, I do more than preach, teach, sit with you in meetings and show up at the hospital! Getting to know you is a deep delight, and if talking to me helps, the process is a treasure we open together and share forever. Getting to know who you are, what you wonder about, what you struggle with is the surest way for me to keep my ministry TO the Fellowship real, relevant, engaging and useful. At the same time, helping you get at who you are and what you love, what you need to learn or give or do next is the surest way to keep the ministry OF the Fellowship powered by leaders and do-bees who are clear about how their faith calls them to act in the world.
This letter brings you a message that bears repeating at least once a year: Reach out when you need something. We are a resourceful community and a community full of resources. Consider putting my contact information under “Minister” in your cell phone. The information below puts useful names and numbers within easy reach. Here are some reasons you might get in touch with your minister specifically:
- you need a sympathetic ear for problems or decisions you are facing regarding your job, children, marriage, relationship, or anything else;
- you are feeling confused, depressed, isolated or hopeless or have a joy to share;
- you notice that someone you know in the congregation needs support;
- you are trying to figure out how to respond to the needs of a friend or loved one who is ill or in trouble or you yourself are dealing with an illness, disability or facing surgery;
- 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 feel the need to ritually recognize, privately or publicly, 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’re considering membership in the congregation or have already joined and are wondering how you can participate more fully in congregational life;
- you would 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 have ideas about sermons or programs or have a project you would like to initiate;
- you want to affirm something good going on in the congregation or would like to discuss a congregational issue that is troubling you;
- you’re mad at me or someone else and want to air your feelings and work it out;
- you’d just like to come sit with me and see what may open to us.
Don’t ever hesitate to contact me.
Yours, in this faith,
A month ago, my wife, Linda, received disturbing news regarding her recent mammogram. Nearly fourteen years ago Linda was treated for a kind of precancerous breast condition called "ductile carcinoma in situ," or DCIS. She had a lumpectomy and radiation to the affected right breast and has had negative mammograms until now.
The recent mammogram showed a number of new calcifications, three of which were biopsied in July in two separate procedures. Two of the three turned out to be DCIS lesions. These new lesions, according to her doctors, are not related to her earlier cancer even though they are the same type in nearly the same location. Because Linda has a family history of breast cancer, a tissue sample was sent for genetic testing. In early July I let the Board, the Pastoral Assistants and my Minister's Advisory Committee members know what was happening so that Linda could have extra support while I was away. Now that we have more information, we want everyone in the Fellowship to know what we know.
Yesterday Linda had a decision-making visit with her breast surgery specialist, Dr. June J. Lee. Even though the genetic test was negative and the left breast shown by MRI to be disease-free, Linda, for various reasons and at the recommendation of Dr. Lee, has decided to undergo a double mastectomy with minimal breast reconstruction. That two and a half hour outpatient surgery is scheduled for September 5th. The surgeon is reserving the option to remove local lymph nodes during surgery for biopsy, but at this time we do not expect that Linda will need any follow-up radiation or chemotherapy since the cancerous cells seem to be completely contained in the milk ducts of the breast. We expect a three-week acute recovery time but, as we all know, complete return to normal functioning always takes months longer.
Linda is surprised and sad that she has to deal with this again, something she never expected after fourteen breast healthy years. The diagnosis and treatment prospects have thrown us all for a loop emotionally and have infused our summer with worry made more unbearable by the waiting. I feel terrible for Linda, of course, and will obviously need to devote plenty of time to her support this late summer into the fall. Fall is a busy time for UUFSB as well, so I will need your attentive help on the Fellowship front as we get rolling into our first year of called and settled ministry together. If you are able, please pitch in wherever you see the need for UU hands, hearts and heads in the months to come.
You have had plenty of practice, especially recently, in supporting women going through breast cancer diagnostics (positive and negative) and the chosen treatment. Here are some suggestions for how you can most helpfully show your support for Linda now and in the weeks and months to come.
Cards, emails and appropriately gentle hugs (!) are certainly welcome. Meals to warm in the days after surgery and short visits during the recovery period could help as well. We will let the PAs know what our current needs are and they will be able to coordinate the response. Please know that Linda and I are both resourceful spiritual leaders. We are, by nature and vocation, equipped to face adversity with others and in our own lives. Linda, Matt and I will get through this and back to the normal busyness of our lives in time.
In the meantime, as you minister in practical ways to us, I will still be able to be your big "M" Minister. If you need me, please do not refrain from reaching out because you worry that my plate is too full. Support is here for you no matter what else is going on.