President’s Column (Sept 2012)
By Peter Jarrett
Summer meeting of the Coordinating Council in Germany It is hard for me to write something that I think will be useful or inspiring to you fellow EUU members when we have not yet had any real summer weather, but it will be back to school already by the time you read this.
I have now had the pleasure of serving as your President for a year and was happy to be reelected for another term at Rolduc. In a blink of an eye the Nominating Committee will have to busy itself again with finding my replacement and successors to any others who might choose to give up their officer positions. I can assure anyone considering such service that it is relatively painless; indeed, there is an element of fun to it.
In early July the Coordinating Council (or CC as we call ourselves) got together at Beate’s home in Germany for our usual summer meeting (the winter one is traditionally held at our home in the suburbs of Paris). We had the biggest turnout for eons: there were nearly 20 of us! So if you like seeing old friends between retreats here’s your chance.
As an officer, a fellowship representative or a committee chair you have a role to play, and you can make a real difference to the rules by which we operate. This is democracy in action. This time we had in-depth discussions on topics such as: themes we could use for future retreats (food, social action, music); our relations with ICUU (are their procedures sufficiently transparent?); retreat payment methods (should we allow payment in cash at the retreat, since it effectively allows last-minute penalty-free cancellation?); and rules on the use ofthe grant fund.
Everybody voiced their opinion on at least some of these issues, and I honestly believe that nobody left feeling they had not been a part of the decision-making process. A bonus is to have been able to enjoy a meal together at lunch and a walk alongside the nearby corn fields (in January it is through the often snowbound woods near our home).
This time we also celebrated Scott Gassler’s birthday (last year it was Tina Huesing’s, and in January we always have Martin Luther King’s too). So if you should one day get a cold call from Elizabeth (Malone) or Laura (Stahnke) asking you if you would like to serve, give it some thought. It really makes you feel a part of a thriving and worthwhile organization: ours.
Overview of EUU Spring Retreat 2012
By Linda Gheysen
Arrival at the Rolduc EUU retreat was very exciting after my GPS led me to two other entrances that were actually walking paths. It seems that many people had problems getting their GPS to locate this site. This was my first retreat at the Rolduc Convention Center. Surrounded by budding treecovered grounds, the ancient stone Abbey, with its chapel going back to the 900s, was lovely and impressive. This was my first retreat at a historically consecrated site, making it all the more special.
After I checked in, I found that my room overlooked an inner courtyard and the chapel. The courtyard had statues, water fountains and pleasant places to rest and contemplate.
I went down to eat dinner, catch up with old friends and meet new ones. The quality of the food and presentation was good throughout the retreat.
As I am from Oregon and hope to live in Portland after my retirement, I was quite excited about coming to this retreat in order to meet Reverend William Sinkford, Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. Others were especially eager to hear him speak as a former President of the UUA.
The Master of Ceremonies for the weekend was Derek Suchard. Poetry lover Dallis Radamaker led the Friday evening “ice breaker”, which involved forming groups to interpret selections of poetry by William Blake. The evening’s formal activities ended with the lighting of the Chalice and the sharing of joys and concerns. People share joys of children doing well in life and concerns about parents getting older or friends passing away. After attending several retreats one learns more about people’s individual lives through the candle lighting and this offers the opportunity to talk with them about some of the real events that matter to them. It allows us all to share at a very personal level because we are all grounded in a similar faith.
The informal part of the evening started when everyone headed downstairs to the brick cave-like bar which was probably a wine cellar at one time. It was warm and cozy with people touching base with old friends and getting to meet new people from many different places and backgrounds. It was great to observe quite a few new faces and more families. These are very valuable to us in order to perpetuate our wonderful retreats for new generations.
It wasn’t long before the familiar sound of John Keating’s guitar started for everyone to join in a singalong. For the morning session Rev. Sinkford started talking about his experience of growing up with a single parent mother as an African American youth. He started his religious education in Cincinnati, OH, first in a black Episcopalian and then a Baptist church. He didn’t feel comfortable in a church until his mother took him to a Unitarian Church. He said it was, “The experience of finding home.”
Rev. Sinkford pointed out that most people are not born UU’s but become one after practicing another faith. He mentioned the UU’s in the Khasi Hills of Northern India and UU’s in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya. He pointed out that none of these groups worshipped exactly the same way. They were all founded by people who were not happy with the idea of the trinity, or missionary groups that believed in devaluing women.
As a side comment, Mr. Sinkford mentioned that he once had to give a sermon on the night before Halloween and was told to dress up in a scary costume. He went as the Pope. He went on to talk about the development of the Unitarian church in Europe and the United States. Most of this development revolved around the idea of a single God and a God who was loving. Many of the thoughts were based on the actual Bible and not what people had interpreted. William Channing was the father of U.S. Unitarianism. He did not believe in the trinity, and he believed Jesus was human and not divine. Thomas Jefferson was a Unitarian. He selected verses in the Bible he agreed with and together, these became known as the Jefferson Bible. The Jefferson Bible was given every year to members of Congress for over a hundred years. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a Unitarian Minister that brought deep respect for nature. The earlier Unitarians were more protestant in their beliefs.
Someone in the audience asked about how many Muslims were brought into the UU Church. Rev. Sinkford said we need to understand Islam better. During 9-11 UU’s showed solidarity with Muslims by doing such things as walking Muslim children to school when they were threatened.“We don’t retain visitors. Some check us out online and some come to the churches. We need to find ways to make people feel more welcome,” was a point that Rev.
Sinkford made that hit home for me. We need to do more such as having welcome packets and welcoming committees. “Retaining people, especially young people is an area
that we need to work on.”
Rev. Sinkford went on to tell a little bit about history of the Universalist Movement in the United States. The early Universalists believed in a loving God and that all would go to the hereafter. The Unitarians were generally wealthy, well-educated Bostonians, while the Universalists were socially different and from lower economic levels. In the 1870’s the groups talked about getting together. What kept them apart was that the Unitarians were more Christ centered and the Universalists were more God centered. The two groups merged in 1961 after the youth from the two groups had gotten together seven years before. All in all, Reverend Sinkford enlightened us about our UU roots.
Noon lunch included the EUU Annual General Meeting. Peter Jarrett covered business items. Tina Husing reported on social actions. The EUU is supporting two high school girls in Transylvania and will soon be supporting a boy as well. We will also be supporting a women’s group program and unaccompanied refugee minors in an European program.
Saturday night brought us the presentations by the youth groups on Islam. It was amazing to see how much the children were learning about Islam and that they could explain Islam to others.
The adult talent show followed with wonderful talent from children, young adults and the mature side of the crowd including a poem by Dallas Radamaker and Derek Suchard which left everyone laughing.
Bringing everyone together one last time, the Sunday morning service opened with the Largo from the New World Symphony by Dvorak, played on English horn and piano.
A ceremony welcoming new members followed, led by Vice President Logan Diemler. Janie Spencer enchanted us with an Islamic children’s story illustrating how it is more blessed to give than to receive.
From Reverend Sinkford’s sermon, the quotes that stayed with me were “UU’s believe in a God that gets things in motion, but allow us to go forward.” and “We should carry forth the spirit of life for compassion for ourselves and others.”
The choir, led by Marcie McGaughey and accompanied by Galen Gisler (piano) and Miriam Cottin-Rack (violin), graced the interval during the collection for the Food Bank in Amsterdam. Three flutes and a violin played a baroque piece as a postlude to conclude the service. As Reverend Sinkford observed, EUU is certainly blessed with musical talent. Before lunch, appreciation for those contributing to the weekend was given. I am glad to see this time that the workshop leaders were also included. We were also treated to a comical Quiz skit giving us all the details for the planned fall retreat taking place at a new site in Cologne, Germany.
Once again I felt regret at not having the time and/or opportunity to meet and get to know more people, but a feeling of happiness and gratitude for the many people with whom I did get to share ideas and feelings.
I commend all of the members of the retreat team for the hard work, planning and executing of this wonderful experience for us. Special thanks to Bill Britt, Rosemary
Horn, Dallis Radamaker and Derek Suchard, Well Done! I look forward, with pleasure, to the next retreat.
No Man is an Island
By Martha Hicks
"God is not God's name, but our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each." - Forrest Church from A Chosen Faith
I’d like to share with you an epiphany or moment of enlightenment I experienced as a young woman that caused me to start the journey on which I am still traveling.
It was early spring, snow still on the ground. I found myself devastated from losing the first man I had ever really loved, (yes, for those of you who know him, it was John). I had not slept for three nights and though I lived in one of the most populated cities in the world, I had no one with whom I could talk over my troubles. I felt utterly alone. As I lay crushed with grief at 3 A.M. on the fourth night, I no longer remember if it was silent or out loud, but a subliminal cry of "HELP!" filled my throat.
Immediately I felt a release from my anguish and fell into either a dream or something else that I wouldn’t know what to call it. In this "dream" I was floating in something similar to outer space. Though it was black, it was warm and comfortable. I remember every detail as if it were yesterday. In this black space, as I floated, little blinking pinpricks of light were appearing and as I observed them, my eyes watered and the rays of light seemed to connect to one another in the most heartening way imaginable. Though my troubles and pain did not cease to exist from this day forward, ....over time, no matter what my situation was, I would contemplate this experience and find solace and peace in it. It formed a net of support and reassurance that was so profound that, for all these years, I have sought the meaning of it.
It is easy, then, to see why I was so interested in a certain passage from the book, A Chosen Faith by Forrest Church and John Buehrens (full quote page 18), where Rev. Church metaphorically explains how the light of God not only shines down upon us, but also from within us. He talks of the Universe as a cathedral. Together with the windows, the darkness and the light, we are part of a cathedral, not apart from it. Together we comprise an interdependent web of being; if the cathedral is built out of star stuff, so are we.
Furthermore, Rev. Church writes that since the whole — both holographically or organically is contained in each of the parts, as we ponder and act upon the insight from our ruminations, we may discover meanings that give coherence and meaning both to it and to us.
I was once deep in conversation on a train with Henning, a favorite oboe student of mine. As a teenager, he was struggling with the beliefs he had been brought up with. Particularly, he was distraught that there was so much suffering in the world and wondered why God was not doing more about it. I asked him what he thought God was. He replied that God is the maker of the universe and all that is in it. He said that he had been taught that Jesus (also God) is our shepherd and that if we believe in him, we will have eternal lives and be saved, but more than this, he didn’t know. I told him that I, too, had begun struggling with the same questions in my youth, but had come to find it less important to believe in a God that was outside of myself, doing and making. I said I believed that the salvation of humans was dependent on each of us recognizing that God is within us as well as around us and that if we do and make, give, lift up and support one another and not wait for God to do it, the results will be much more gratifying.
Psychologist Robert Sardello writes (in Facing the World with Soul), "Being in community implies doing things out of full individuality, and it means having the ability to see others as if they belonged to the mysteriousness of my own soul and as if they belonged to the mysteriousness of the soul of the world.
Community and individuality are intimately linked. The two are deeply dependent upon one another. To experience and live our full autonomy as individual souls we must also experience and live a deep connection with others. Our own experience is more complete the more we recognize and join in community with the individuality of others."
And what about that sometimes unpopular word "spirituality"? A dictionary offers this –Spirit –the divine influence as an agency working in man. Spirituality is about being concerned with the well being of the universe and all that lives within; that cathedral that Rev. Church referred to. Perhaps the genuine foundation for spirituality is love.
As we come together in our fellowships and at our EUU retreats, I maintain that the reason we attend is to bring to one another something of our own spirituality, our own religious pilgrimage. This applies to the communities where we live, as well. As members of EUU, we need jointly to stretch out a hand to the world, in order to address some of the misery we find and do what we are able.
Most recently, after an event that shook the very foundations of our family, I found myself floating in outer space again. In this cold blackness, one experiences denial, causing a type of numbness. The situation seems to require this to get through the initial shock. But as Ann Morrow Lindbergh so succinctly put it, "It isn't for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security."
This time, besides sending a subliminal call for help to the universe, I felt compelled to explain our plight to the world wide web of internet contacts. Almost immediately the little blinking lights of concern began streaming in, connecting us with one another, forming again that essential network of support and reassurance that continues to sustain us in times of need. For this, I send you all, as well as the light of the universe, my heartfelt thanks.
I will close with a quote from Teilhard de Chardin:
"Someday after mastering the winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. And then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire."
May I Have a Word with You?
By Martha Hicks
David L. Brown tells us that language is the constant companion of human existence. Its presence helps us make sense out of the infinite details we encounter in every moment. It astounds me that the act of repeating sounds so frequently that they come to signify objects could develop into a system of languages that is able to impart most concepts that the human brain can imagine. As I sit here, thinking about what I want to convey, words form in my head, float around and then leave again. Words are pretty amazing tools for thinking.
With words, we are able to remember a staggering amount of information for a very long time, pass on observations and consider abstract ideas. Solving problems and finding solutions
would take infinitely longer if we had no words to give form to our thoughts. Words can be powerful when used to inform, unify, encourage, support, enlighten and clarify. But we also
know that words can discourage, isolate, misinform, shame, embarrass, and even destroy.
Do you remember that verse our parents taught us to counteract the hurtful teases from brothers, sisters or detractors on the playground?: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but
words will never hurt me.” Most would agree that words are as effective as any stick or stone for inflicting pain. The scars from verbal attacks can sometimes last a lifetime. Luckily, words can also be like the above adage; a psychological shield against such verbal attacks.
Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs. !! ! ! ! --Pearl Strachan
So if we know how important words are, why does communication go wrong so often? Henry B. Adams tells us “No man means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for
words are slippery and thought is viscous. I guess our spontaneous natures are hard to discipline. And there is another problem: in spite of good intentions to convey warmth and affection, how is it that so many other words manage to come out of our mouths? And then there is that not so rare phenomenon where we thought we were using the right words and it was taken for the opposite.
The difference between the right word and the almost right
word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. "
After pondering this, I have come to the conclusion that when someone else speaks, we form an image of what they mean in our brain. It might not be exactly what they intended
because we alter what we hear to the words we think we heard and what we interpret those words to mean.
As a result, humans become divided by words as interpretations of ideas.!We each prefer to stick with our own version of the meanings, often missing vital information the other is
trying to offer. I think that this is where prejudice and misunderstandings occur. Once we get into the battle of who said what, (which no one really remembers anymore), and what
those words we thought we heard meant to us, communication breaks down altogether.
Language has a selective quality because vocabulary, usage and sentence structure (not to mention volume and tone quality) provide us with unlimited ways of expressing thoughts and feelings. In our family, an argument often starts when the words you never and you always begin a statement. We also tend to get loud and fierce when trying to convey something about which we feel strongly. When this occurs, it takes much longer to get to the real point.
With feelings hurt, the true topic is lost in the word shuffle.
I have long been aware of how the words other people use affect me (and vice versa). I am now finding that the words I use and the conversations I have with myself greatly influence my mood and well being. We mentally search for words to describe correctly what is happening to
us. The words we choose to describe these experiences establishes what we will remember and how we will feel about that memory. I have been especially aware of how my level of optimism is determined by my inner dialogue. I read somewhere, Words are like seeds; what we plant is what grows.
Beyond the shaping of memories, words also shape our knowledge. When I think and speak in a judgmental or negative way, it produces negative results. The opposite is also true. When I am listless and depressed, I have had success by reviewing what my actual goals are, expressing
them in uplifting words which, in turn, can motivate me to take positive action.
Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. " -- Buddha
I would also like to add to this that each of us also hears the words we speak and we are affected by them ourselves. We need to select each word as if it mattered, learning to harness our word power to work for, not against us, especially the words we repeat over and over again.
One favorite meditation that I have been using to get to sleep at night is simply listing all of the positive words I know: joy, harmony, health, satisfaction, happiness, comfort, kindness, delight, peace, friendship, balance, fellowship, understanding, success, cooperation, warmth, fairness,
...and to quote from what is considered by many to be THE WORD:
There are three things that will endure--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love.
-- 1 Corinthians 13:I3
So, if I can only have one word with you, that word will be love, for I know of no better word to sums up all that is good and worthy for humanity.