Monday, March 25, 2013

The Little Big Church:  Stewardship and Vision
© Rev. Susan Karlson
March 10, 2013
Unitarian Church of Staten Island

          When I take the Myers-Briggs Personality test I score just one data point over the line that says I am an extrovert.  Yesterday when I arrived at Midland Beach for the Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Rally and March for solidarity in continuing the the Sandy Recovery efforts my introverted side thought, “Oh no, I am going to be here all alone. This is going to be really awkward”.  Then someone said “Have you signed in yet?  We want to know everyone who is here.”   Organizers offered me a hazmat suit if I wanted to put it on, a shovel and a construction hat.  I met people I know from the Long Term Recovery Group.  Our  El Centro friends got in the spirit, donning black plastic bags and spray paint to play the part of black mold monsters.  We began to laugh, talk and take photos of each other. And then I saw Eric and Lucas, new members of this church. 
          My fears were unfounded.  I belonged there.  I had a part to play.  Though we come from different cultures with vastly different experiences and yearnings we are one.  We chanted the Chilean motto—“El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido.”  “The people united will never be defeated.”
          Fear can destroy your spirit.  It can weaken your commitment; leave you feeling purposeless and aimless.  Fear enters when we are disconnected from that which feeds our spirit, when we feel set apart, lonely, fatigued, and hopeless.  You don’t need to be an immigrant to feel that.  You don’t need to be in prison or hungry or homeless.  The antidote is expressed in the chant—“The people united will never be defeated.”  I believe it is useful here at church as well.  It’s part of our theme for this stewardship campaign—“Growing stronger—together!”
          Not that we all think alike, believe alike or feel alike but that we come together for something larger; some vision that captures our imagination, our focus and arrests our hearts.  Kahlil Gibran, expresses our common purpose this way,:  “and he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream”. 
           A nifty little bit of theology in that one sentence fragment—it is a reflection of the first and seventh principles of Unitarian Universalism –the ones about our interconnectedness and our worthiness.  In a world that seems to cry out to us, “you are so unworthy!”, Gibran shouts another message—“no, don’t you see—if you are born out of the “ocean of life” then you are connected to that cup of life that flows from your next door neighbor’s stream.  You are all in this together. You are not alone.”
          This is stewardship Sunday and so we’re considering how to support the church.  How does the Unitarian Church of Staten Island call to you?  The Psalmist in Psalm 42 inspires me, saying “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.  Why are you cast down, O my Soul?  Hope in God.”  I recall times in my life when I have felt case down, paralyzed by fear, almost sunk beneath the waves of despair, unable to see a clear path, a wider vision.  But then something comes—it can be God coming in the thundering waves but more often it’s a community spirit, something that lifts me up, someone that reminds me about the “ocean of life” we are all born into.
          I understand “deep calls to deep” in the broadest possible terms—that something holds me and loves me even when I feel I am the most unlovable.  Something deep inside recognizes my worth and my being-ness.   And in feeling that unconditional love for myself, I also know that it extends to those around me and those I may never know.  That message of “deep calling to deep” is in the Unitarian Church of Staten Island and it’s in each of us in all our diversity, in all the places we come from and all the places we grow towards.
          We are at a spell of hard times in this church.  The good news is that we recognize it and will be talking about it. It is not time to hit the panic button, as if this church is dying.  With all respect, I don’t believe that.  We are engaged in a process of change and revision. We are diagnosing where we have come to and where we are heading.  Our future trajectory may be uncertain but we are certainly not facing the final curtain.
          The Unitarian Church of Staten Island  will not be the same as it’s always been. Change is scary.  The Taurus in me likes to know the lay of the land, to plant my feet, to know what I face just ahead because  change can be scary.  But without change, comes stagnation.  Nothing new can grow.  If we impose what we know from the past on the present, we resist the future.  As was expressed in the webinar on “Part Time Minister, Full time church” that some of the Board members attended the other night, opportunities abound and hope and energy along with them.  The possibility of change itself creates opportunities and new growth.
          I read an article in the spring issue of the UU World, the Unitarian Universalist  national magazine (which by the way, mentions us in several paragraphs and our work post Sandy) about the Unitarian Church of Sharon, Massachusetts that struggled as a lay led church for most of the nineteenth and twentieth century, dipping from its norm of 70 members down to 40 members, its 1842 building in disrepair and its funds almost non-existent.  Then they had a consultant come in who listened to them and said, “Maybe you should call yourselves the First Masochist Church.  You’re beating yourselves up for the things you’re not, instead of appreciating the wonderful community you are.”  Well that got them going.  They began to climb their way up and now they are a breakthrough thriving congregation.  It’s taken them about 30 years and a great deal of intentionality. 
          I think we sometimes beat ourselves up like that.  We dwell on what we don’t do or can’t do. We talk about all that challenges us and keeps us stuck.  We seldom celebrate all that we are—which is an exceptional, beautiful church with so many good spirited and committed souls, doing incredible, creative, compassionate and just work—living, loving and growing together.
          Now I do believe deep down that we need to be taking a very deep look at our financial situation.  We need to address our dwindling reserves.  I’ve been saying that for the past four years and I’ll say it again.  We need to assess very carefully and plan and budget and increase our giving if people can.  That’s why the pledge cards will appear in your order of service every week and we encourage you to fill them out and welcome the steward who will talk to you about giving to this church that needs each one of us and all of us together. 
We need your support but we also need to set priorities and create a vision out of what matters most to us, how we see ourselves—what unites us as a people.  And we need to work and communicate together, respectfully, lovingly, with our whole hearts.  We have an opportunity to do that next month at the All Church Retreat on April 13th when the Rev. Peggy Clarke will be our facilitator.  I would hope that every person who is not ill or has to work or sit beside an ailing friend or relative will be here for that Retreat.  It is that important.  We need everyone to show up so that we can begin planning the future that will affect all for whom this church is a spiritual home or plays some important part in their lives. 
The minister in Sharon, Massachusetts, the Rev. Jim Robinson, asked everyone when he arrived at the church, “What would you be passionate about creating?” (Sharon’s Breakthrough by Donald E. Skinner, p. 33-35 (spring 2013).  I will share with you my passions and my vision in April;  what I think will help reinforce our relevance and our future now that we are very much in the public eye with our efforts around Sandy Recovery.  I want to know what you are passionate about here at the church. Imagine what we can create together, what we can sustain together, what inspires us individually and collectively.  Deciding who we are and what we want to prioritize in the years ahead will help us build a sustainable budget and a strong church.
          Imagine that we are the church that welcomes people; that makes people feel that we’ve been waiting all of our lives for them; that we are a more joyful community when we are all here together.  We will build a place of welcome for children even if we don’t have any young ones at home because they are all our children.  We will build a place of welcome for those who have accessibility challenges and those concerned about the future of the earth.
          We are the Little Big Church because we do so much even though we are so small in numbers.  We have a grand history and a bright future.   No matter what the future brings, the Unitarian Church of Staten Island will be a beacon of religious liberalism in Staten Island.  We are not alone. We have a place here among one another as the deepest part of ourselves calls to others.  If we change just one little word in that Chilean motto, we get a motto that can help us grow stronger together—“The people united can never be defeated.”
Benediction by Rev. Susan Karlson

You come out of the “ocean of life”.
You are always connected to it.
You are never alone.
Feel its power pulsing inside you—
Connect your tiny stream to your neighbor’s
And give whatever you can
For the good of us all.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Walk A Mile In Our Shoes, March 9, 2013

Margarito, Alfredo, Susan, Gonzalo, Nallely, Ixta, Eric, and Lucas from El Centro
del Inmigrante and partners from the Unitarian Church on Staten Island get ready
to Walk a Mile In Our Shoes (dressed as Black Mold Monsters and Hazmatted and
Construction hatted Standing on the Side of Love sweatshirt Recovery volunteers
Yellow Team member and Aiman speak about damage to Midland Beach and
working together for recovery alongside the Occupy Band

Mold Monsters listen to Aiman about next steps in  Sandy Recovery

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

El Centro del Inmigrante--partners in service and love

A Sunday day laborer brigade serving the survivors of Sandy

The Unitarian Church of Staten Island has had a partnership with El Centro del Inmigrante for the past three years now.  Our Board voted to become friends of El Centro back then and we have been fine tuning what it means to be community friends and partners ever since.  When El Centro's Executive Director, Gonzalo Mercado, and I first spoke about developing a partnership and a friendship, he made it clear that this would be a mutually beneficial relationship--a two way relationship that would benefit and empower us all.  El Centro and the Unitarian Church of Staten Island have worked together during Community Days to clean up a neighborhood  on the North Shore; they have helped clean up the church grounds and sung with us on Christmas Eve one year when we celebrated Las Posadas.  El Centro provided classes and space for a number of us to learn Spanish (and we hope they can continue offering these classes again in the future).Gonzalo Mercado participated in our workshops on Immigration as a Moral Issue.

Day laborers providing relief cleaning debris
Workers Distribute Donations
Weekly Day laborer volunteer brigade--preparing supplies
Thanksgiving Meal organized for the Sandy Survivors
One of three Sandy help days organized for victims with the Mexican Consulate, FEMA, Red Cross and other agencies
When I look at these photos and watch the video below, I become aware of the connections we build together; each giving what we can, each opening wide the door for greater compassion, to alleviate suffering, and to empower one another to service, growth and the healing power of love.

This Storm is a tragedy that I can not even come close to describing and I am among the most privileged to live and work on the North Shore which was not as keenly impacted. This church itself also suffered very little damage, a few downed limbs and losing power for a few days--that's all.  Yet it is when I consider how one person took  in their neighbor who lost everything but their life and their pet, how another person saw that the seniors were suffering and they helped rebuild a house for them, how people came out by the hundreds though they had no gas, heat or electricity to do what they could--it is these stories and dozens of others we hear on Staten Island and that real people experience--that reminds me how connected we are. In spite of geographical distance, language, religion, culture, race--all of these differences that are often used to build wedges between us, we are building something beautiful out of the rubble and the desecration of Sandy.  Our long term recovery group is growing and answering more of the needs of people. People from organizations and congregations are referring to one another when they discern a need that someone else can fill.

El Centro del Inmigrante found many undocumented immigrants who were suffering, some who did not qualify for services or financial assistance because of their status.  El Centro is its people-- strong, resilient people who help each other and the wider community. I remember the violence of the summer of 2010 when many immigrants were being beaten (as well as Russians, a gay couple, and Muslims targeted and demeaned as they tried to purchase property for a mosque and open a community center)--members of El Centro, some of the very men who had been beaten--were always there at vigils with their families, praying to end the violence and to work together to make Staten Island a place that is welcoming and safe for all.  It is these memories that make me proud that the Unitarian Church of Staten Island that I serve has chosen to be partners with El Centro del Inmigrante--not just the organization but the people. May our relationships sustain us and transform our lives and cultures to make Staten Island the beloved community we seek.


Sandy Relief

US Secretary of Labor Visiting EL Centro

Friday, January 11, 2013

After the Storm, we come together

Photo: Unitarian Universalists reach out to Staten Island:  I just want to share this lovely photo sent to me by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Susquehanna Valley. Each week they have been sending gift cards from Grocery stores, Home Depot and now expanding into other areas. They also tell me they light a chalice for the Unitarian Church of Staten Island and for Staten Island hit so hard by Sandy. Just an example of faith, love and charity in action!

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Susquehanna Valley (UUCSV) in Northumberland, Pennsylvania lights a chalice every week as do so many other Unitarian Universalist congregations.  They light a second chalice for the Unitarian Church of Staten Island and Staten Island, hit so hard by Hurricane Sandy.

In the early weeks after the storm unleashed her fury on much of the Northeast, the Rev. Ann Keeler Evans and Scott Rubin (UUCSV) reached out to the Unitarian Church of Staten Island (UCSI), offering to leverage their grocery card purchases to help out Staten Island.  Realizing that they are a small congregation (just like the Unitarian Church of Staten Island), they wanted to concentrate their resources most effectively to help in the aftermath of the storm.  They also experienced serious flooding in a storm so they knew what it was like.  Over the past six weeks, they have been sending grocery cards at first; then as the needs changed, they got Home Depot cards and as the requests come in for Sears cards, they will supply us those as well.  They get the cards at a reduced rate and then are able to purchase more dollars worth of gift cards which they pass on to Staten Island.  Recently, I told them about a need for one of the Catholic Churches that provides hot meals for Sandy families who ran out of funding to buy food and they immediately sent grocery cards to help out.  When they send a batch of cards, I am in touch with various groups on Staten Island and disperse them where they are needed.  They have provided thousands and thousands of dollars of help here on Staten Island through their generosity and love and they tell me they plan to keep an ongoing relationship with our church and with Staten Island.  They have indeed been a source of compassion and strength as the Unitarian Church of Staten Island struggles to provide some relief from the  storm.  We plan to visit one another's churches sometime in the spring--an incredible example of our congregational polity!

Other Unitarian Universalist congregations, individuals and community members have sent along checks, brought donations and even delivered 40 bunk beds to Staten Island.  All Souls Church in Manhattan donated their  annual toy collection to Staten Island and they will go to one of our partner organizations and friends, El Centro del Inmigrante, who have identified 150 immigrant families on Staten Island in serious need after Sandy hit our shores (my next blog will be totally about the great work and wonderful service that El Centro del Inmigrante, a day labor organization, is doing on Staten Island). The Central East Regional Group (CERG) fund has helped out two families on Staten Island that we requested aid for.  And the Unitarian Church of Staten Island, a church of only 100 members or so, has raised funds for CERG and for helping out our members, friends and community members who lost their homes and apartments during the storm. We also connected medical doctors and nurses from Mt. Sinai to Staten Island to help provide medical care for families in need.Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in Racine, Wisconsin sent gift cards of various kinds for two families in Staten Island related to one of our members.

As I said in the opening weeks after Sandy, our members have helped muck out and pack up houses devastated by Sandy. In fact, I find out more all the time about people who are part of the wider community on Staten Island who only recently tell us what happened to them.  Members have opened their houses to people in the community, been willing to provide hospitality and have worked with a number of grassroots organizations like Occupy Sandy Staten Island, Staten Island Strong and so many others.  We have sorted clothes and organized them at the Castleton Hills Moravian Church in preparation for a gigantic clothes distribution in February.  Some friends of the church lost their jobs because of their volunteer work. We held a fundraiser for Sandy efforts through our monthly Soulful Sundown and heard from bands and speakers about the impact of Grassroots Volunteer Organizations on Recovery Efforts.  This church houses weekly meetings of what we hope will soon be a Long Term Recovery Group on Staten Island initiated by the Staten Island  Clergy Leadership.  Today we had 50 or more people at our meeting which ended with a viewing of Governor Cuomo's State of the State Address--hoping to hear what he had to say about Sandy recovery and assistance from the state. Regardless of his State of the State message, we will remind our elected officials to keep recovery efforts and remediation among the top priorities in the State of New York.

                                                                           The Unitarian Church of Staten Island's Parish Hall full of clergy, community service organizations and organizers working on coordinating long term recovery efforts on Staten Island

This outpouring of love, generosity and good will from people across the country and from fellow Unitarian Universalists is an affirmation of how we can serve to build the Beloved Community--by being there for one another in our individual communities and then spreading that love and care out as widely as possible.  One act of love grows and grows when it is linked to that of our sister churches and when we serve our neighbors, those we do not know and can only imagine in our hearts and souls.

May all be blessed with a sense of unity and common cause during this beautiful season, with all the suffering and tragedy near and far and around the world.  If ever we needed to see how we are all interconnected, it is now as we reel from the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and the devastation wrought by Sandy.

Faithfully yours,
Susan Karlson, Minister
Unitarian Church of Staten Island

A big thanks to all of these people, congregations and organizations who gave of their time, talent and treasure (in no particular order). For privacy, I am leaving out the last names of individuals but I hope you know who you are. In the chaotic early days after the storm, many people volunteered or donated and we did not get your names.  We also thank all of you anonymous donors and volunteers who came in touch with us but we failed to get your name.  We are grateful to you all :

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Susquehanna Valley (UUCSV), Northumberland, PA, where past storms devastated their counties continue to send thousands and thousands of dollars worth of gift cards for Stop and Shop, Home Depot and Sears to UCSI and establishing an ongoing relationship and commitment between Staten Island and Northumberland, PA

All Souls Church, Manhattan via the Rev. Lissa Gundlach—truckload of donations and volunteers on many dates
All Souls Church, Manhattan, via Taryn Strauss—new toys donated and given to El Centro del Inmigrante
4th Universalist—via Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, truckload of donations
The Rev. Craig Hirshberg—vol. for 3 days and took phone calls, coordinated and gave donation
The Rev. Jef Gamblee—vol. for 3 days and took phone calls and worked with donations
Gift cards for family of one of our members from Olympia Brown UU Church, Racine, WI
The Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons and Jeff Levy-Lyons and others from  First Unitarian Brooklyn

Unitarian Church of Staten Island-- donations to CERG Unitarian Universalist Disaster Fund and Minister's Discretionary Fund for Sandy survivors
Unitarian Church of Staten Island--space for donations, meetings of SI Clergy Leadership, coordination and referral of donations and volunteers, work with Occupy Sandy SI and El Centro, mittens, socks, hats and scarves to El Centro, church volunteers muck out on numerous dates, help members and friends clean out and pack up, and provide shelter for displaced people and for volunteers, work on Long term recovery groups and with other organizations to advocate and move forward with recovery efforts

Castleton Moravian via Pastor Lynnette Delbridge, took many loads of clothes, sorted and boxed them and will give away in January, fixed hot food for volunteers at the Unitarian Church of SI
Vanderbilt Ave. Moravian Church, cooked food
Mario B, hot cooked food

Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville, MD—cards and letters  of support, Rockville, MD
Majid Ma’Saalam Mosque, Coney Island, NY
Jerry, Silver Lake Temple 

 Win Transport, Inc., Eastern Shore, MD-53 foot tractor trailer  of needed supplies, 3 county wide sale of soybeans and bought needed supplies and donated them
Downtown Market, Amit Patel, Brooklyn, NY

Jennifer B, Food Allergy Kids of Atlanta
Kirsten Hess for RJ Julia Booksellers 
Karen H from Atlanta, GA, food, non allergy, amino acid formula
Al and Kim F, Oxford Fire and Ambulance, Oxford, CT donations and took vols with them
Philly Cheesesteak (part of Time Warner Hot food to SI) provided food and took 6-8 vols. With them

Linda P—500 lunches and other services from affiliated law office
A donor of about 100 bound and beautifully wrapped Bibles mailed to us and we didn't get your name or information --they were much appreciated and gratefully received    
Rebecca F, Manhattan Law Firm
Hiroko O from Creative Community
Robert Kee of College of Staten Island contacted us about faculty, staff and students volunteering
PS 39-food collections
Scent sations Candle company donations

Carol DM company collection
Sue S, North Royalton Unitarian Universalist

Eric with Americaworks
Robin—All Souls
Chuck M, All Souls
David A, All Souls
Natasha K All Souls
Musa K, All Souls
Maryah, All Souls
Griffin W

Garnett L, First Unitarian Brooklyn
Lara and Jay
Richard G
Rene S
Terri L
Chad H
Susan A
Donna C
Luanne T
Faye of SI Realtors
donor from Grosse Ile, MI         
Karen Meyer and Jessica C
Amy And James B
Jill and Nathan J
Jeff S
Jennifer P
Brigid O’H.
Mary H, Ana and Luis
Linda L
Sally J
Maureen C
Mike S
Kathy S and Tom S
John A and Rafael MP
Eric P
Winsome J and Diane M

Christine G
Kristin Nand Michael B
Kirsten E
Matthew Z and Ray P
Laurie and partner
Drew and Laurie F
Jeff P
Christine C
Victoria A
Lisa and Sophia I
Natalie S
Noelle G
Mia T
Sue B
Linda T
Gregg and Kelli L
Christina R
Southside Nazarene, Tilton, IL
Chris C
Donna C
No name, shipped from Glendora, CA 
Celia and David E
Sarah and Rebecca K
Dan and Michelle O
Oindrila S
Johnny and Andrea M
Joanne S
Rigo and Adriana S
Lisa Y
Simao H
Ed Y
Nickie A
Valerie M
Aaron and John C
Jack L
Candice H
Elizabeth A
Dan T
Jenny K
Courtney S
Jenna G
Stacey G
David D
Lia L
Brandon M
Tiffany and Stephen O
Steven T
Nancy E and Michele L, (SIPE)
Jim S
Tracy P
Clarissa P
Family Fruit
Nick G from Fordham University
Kirsten S
SI Academy student  
Eileen F
Gary D
K. G
Dena and Zen and Melissa G
Montgomery MCC FC 
Toby A
Deborah R
Mary C
Rich F
Maria K 
Sandy T
Pooja K
Lily Z
Jacqueline and Gary
Heather C
Zohra D
Cynthia L
Gemma A
Paul D
Tim N
Susan K
Philip G
Kary B
Arnet H
Atoosa M
Marisa W
Risi C
Teresa M
Stacy W
Eddy O 30 bunk beds (break down to 60)
Ross Fed. Tech
Matt A
Juliet M
Daphne Y
Margie S
Monetary Donations sent to UCSI
 Amy and James B
Jill and Nathan J
Lisa S
Diane C
Harry H
Marge B
Margaret and Richard C
Sally J
Rona S
Randy L
Ruth L
Tom and Kathy
John A
Mark and Viv
Edward and Marilyn G
Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, Chatham, MA 02633
Sara  T and Joseph C
 Danny and Diane C
 John  O and Verdena G
 Sylvia Z
Jeanette R
Linda S
Jill H
 Diane S
Grace V
Judith D
Marge B
David and Sally J
Robert  and Sidney K
John and Patricia W
Laura and Jonathan B
Aline  L
Edward .& Jennifer A
Gregg F and Leah  B
Those attending the Soulful Sundown Sandy Fundraiser at the Unitarian Church of Staten Island
Elaine and Zhahai  
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Binghamton, NY
Jill and Nathan  J
Jennifer H
Daniel  and Susan P
The Rev. Craig H
Michael J
Jerry and Lynne A
Amy and James B
Susan  and Avril P
Stanton and Barbara W
Nancy and James P
Gulf Coast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Alison T
Mary Ellen F
Jean W-P
Linda. B
Barbara O
Dixie F

Jane O
The Bulldog Ball Club LTD,  New York, New York 
Mary and Mary  W
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, Oxford, MS 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Staten Island Turkeys take to the North Shore

Photo: Staten island turkeys disappeared after sandy. Then i saw them spread out once before. Today these three nestled close to Lilly, our dog. It is good to see them make a comeback. They used to?  out at a hospital. Today they were near a little neighborhood park on the north shore

It is difficult to describe the New Year's elation at seeing three turkeys here on the North Shore of Staten Island.  There have been many articles in the paper over the past five years I've been here about Staten Island turkeys; concern for one vulnerable turkey or another--people's good will and care to see that turkey was ok.  Staten Island turkeys are a bit of an icon if you ask me.  They used to hang out near the door to the Heart Tower of Staten Island University Hospital North (which is ironically not on the North Shore). Occasionally I would see them outside a nursing home where one of our members resides.  I knew they spread out along the South Shore. People often got out of their cars or made a path toward the turkeys with their camera in tow.  Enter Hurricane Sandy and lots of people started mumbling, "where are the turkeys?  Did they die in the storm or just move elsewhere?"

I saw a flock of turkeys (I forgot what you call a group of turkeys) near Tastebuds on Hylan Boulevard about three weeks after Sandy destroyed so much of Staten Island's South Shore.  I was so glad to see them--a sign like the rainbow, of survival, of grace, of determination and perseverance, of nature realigning itself.  I shared that I had seen them with some others and everyone expressed delight about that little population of turkeys. Today's New Year's Day turkeys are yet another sign of hope for us here.  These turkeys are clearly in my neighborhood on the North Shore near a little neighborhood park.  They approached Lilly, my dog, and I as we walked an unusual path this morning.  They kept coming nearer and nearer until she barked at them a bit.  They gobbled and pretty much stayed where they were.  Later they just walked up this ramp outside a house.  We were on the sidewalk in front of that house.  A few minutes later, the male turkey preened his feathers and lay down. The females remained standing, nibbling at choice
leaves you can see here in the photo.  These turkeys were a gift of grace, resilience and a touch of mystery--somehow these turkeys pulled through and are looking for a new home. Maybe they were always here but I never saw them. They give me hope for the future, for our ability to recover and care for one another and extend our compassion to the animals that were also displaced and traumatized by Sandy.  It is a good sign that this New Year 2013 brings the return of the turkeys.  I am so glad they are here!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chanukah: "Don't let the light go out", December 9, 2012

Call To Community

Come into this community and
feel the Maccabean spirit of freedom and determination—
Kindle that flame in your own heart for
Whatever seems impossible, improbable, daunting.
Come closer to that candle’s glow,
Find there your courage and your own sense
Of faith and dedication
In the company of all those gathered here.

Joys and Sorrows

The Hanukkah candles are lit
By the Servant candle—
that bends over to touch the others.
Yet the Shamus candle stands as tall or taller on the Menorah
Than the other eight.

In this faith community,
We serve one another
By leaning into the joys and sorrows
That fill up our neighbor’s hearts and
Punctuate the commonplace
World we occupy most of the time.

We share with one another
A fragment of our lives—
A snapshot lost in time.
Let us hear one another now
In our time of joys and sorrows.

Sharing of Joys and sorrows
The flame of love and kinship
Is lit within this ark of a temple.
Let the stories we’ve shared and
The hopes we’ve kindled
Abide in us all
As we carry the strength
Of this community into the next week.

Offering Words
A celebration; a commitment!
Finding the light in the darkness
And strength among the powerless;
We come to this time of year,
Perhaps not ready for the holiday season.
Wondering how to mourn the losses,
How to bind the broken
And how to set free the captive birds
Who could have/would have taken flight.
Pondering how to smell the
Pungent in the moist brown earth
And turning over all that is not ours to do.

We bring who we are and what we have
To the lamp of freedom;
We bring a little bit of our selves,
Imperfect, humbled,
Needy and naked
Here to this community
That can love us back to wholeness
And accept us for who we are,
Reflections of the One Great Love that binds us all.

And so we offer what we can out of what we have to this community
That nurtures our spirits and helps us find peace.
As you pass the offering plates from person to person, feel how solid they are and know that your gifts are as tangible.

Chanukah:  “Don’t let the light go out”
© Rev. Susan Karlson
December 9, 2012
Unitarian Church of Staten Island

          It was a normal day, just like any other.  People woke up, got out of bed, ate breakfast, kissed their loved ones and headed out the door.  There was a tension in the air though—something just didn’t feel right.  And then it happened—it was a powerful, relentless force that tore through people’s lives and changed them forever.
They lost everything!  No lights, no home; some died under the pummeling force.  In the days that followed, nothing looked familiar.  The usual course of their days and nights altered beyond recognition.  And yet somehow they refused to yield, to be taken down.  They were unbreakable.  Unstoppable. They became a force of nature.  And though they lost so much, in the way that miracles happen, things they needed to start again, showed up.  People met on the sidewalk, offering what little they had to others that lost more.  People came from far away and found a wedding ring, a treasured photograph, the minister that married them 30 years ago—fragments and memories of their former lives had not all washed out to sea. 
This could be any catastrophe but this one’s name was Sandy-she was the most powerful force this Island has reckoned with and though she moved on, “HER” story is incomplete.  His name was Antiochus the IV.   He wanted to extend his empire and  knew the only way to do that would be to force the people to be more uniform, less diverse and accepting of one another’s differences.  He used his mighty power and yet the story of Hanukkah tells us that he did not triumph over that small band of Maccabees.
Two super powers—one, ancient; the other, recent; one, human; the other, natural.  Two forces—the Maccabees living in the country, and all the neighborhoods, faith communities, community groups springing up everywhere, organizing, caring for one another.  You could say that these two forces were uncompromising, unstoppable, unbreakable, against all odds.
After the crisis came the miracles—the oil lasting for eight nights when it should only last one, and people kindling that indomitable spirit to support one another and work together even with all the mountains of claims and inadequate, unsafe and little or no available and affordable housing. 
The light did not go out—not then, not now.  We light candles and we light chalices because they speak to us in what evolutionary spiritual leaders like Michael Dowd call, “night language”, the language of metaphor and story.  They tell us what we need to remember when we are assaulted; when we would give up or sell out.  The stories strengthen us for the struggles we encounter when mighty forces assail us, whether those forces are external like Antiochus or Sandy or internal, the lurking enemy within. 
This year our church theme is the Chalice Year and we are reflecting on what the Chalice means to us as a symbol of Unitarian Universalism, of this church.  I have not told the story of The Chalice as a symbol in some time and it seems a good time to share it with you. This story really happened but perhaps it is also the stuff of legends—telling Unitarian Universalists and those who come through our doors what is paramount to us as a people like the miracle of “there was just enough oil for burning” is to the Jewish people.
During World War II, many people in Eastern Europe feared imprisonment or killing by the Nazi soldiers.  A Unitarian minister, Charles Joy, helped organize a Unitarian Service Committee. The Service Committee worked with agents and governments to connect people with the help they needed but people spoke many different languages and so Joy felt that they needed some symbol that would look official and let people know these people could be trusted.  He commissioned cartoonist Hans Deutsch to do just that.  Deutsch had himself escaped persecution in Paris France after he made cartoons depicting Hitler and the Nazis.
Deutsch chose an age old symbol from Czechoslovakia of a chalice with a flame.  The chalice as a symbol reminded people of offering drink to a thirsty soul while the flame showed the fire of commitment and helping.  As a symbol, the flaming chalice worked well and years later, became known and used all over the world. By the 1970’s, it was in use by congregations across the country.
But one of the most inspiring stories came from a woman from Czechoslovakia imprisoned in a camp during the war.  She said that the chalice of her homeland had a motto written under it: “pravda vietei”—“truth overcomes”.  Every morning, she drew a chalice in the sand with her finger and under it, she wrote those words in her native language.  They gave her strength and helped her to endure.  She imagined that someday “the world would know that every person is important and should be free.” 
The flaming chalice is not simply a lovely image of candles aglow; it has great depth and meaning.  It can remind people what Unitarian Universalism stands for—its principles, not some dried up rules we “must” obey but living acts of courage and compassion surrounded by a sense of wonder and awe at this universe we share.
Lighting the Menorah is a ritual—enacted very deliberately, placing each candle in from right to left and lighting them with the Shamus candle from left to right.  Lighting a Chalice is so simple by comparison but it is a cherished tradition in this church and in most Unitarian Universalist congregations.  Sometime last year, I lost track of the exact date, our Chalice had a literal meltdown.  It was made out of pewter  and it burned itself up.  Great holes punctuated the metal and thankfully, it did not burn the building or our beloved Steve who noticed its high flame and carried it outside. 
The Chalice as a symbol is only powerful if we talk about what
we see in that flame or reflect on why this church endures and should continue well into the future.  Can it become a living symbol for us like it was for the woman from what is now the Czech Republic?  I chose this Chalice necklace from hundreds twenty or thirty I saw at our annual meeting called General Assembly. I spoke to the artists who created it to honor an octogenarian whose helping hands inspired them.  It has two hands cupped and reaching out.  It resonates for me with the story of the Flaming Chalice and of the essence of Unitarian Universalism’s commitment to freedom, spiritual growth and service.
          Powerful winds blow in our lives. They shake our foundations; they chill us to the core.  Surge waters rise—they force us to summon up stamina we never thought we had.  It is the community spirit that brought us together and keeps us together despite nor’easters and hurricanes.  It is the “oil of gladness” that “dissolves all mourning”.  It is the spirit of generosity and ingenuity that summons us to acts of kindness, opening up homes to people who lost their homes or seeing how someone fares after surgery and asking that we struggle with the “devastations”, whether old or new.
          The task before us in this church is herculean—it is to find enough oil to keep the Chalice lit, to make sure our doors remain open wide in welcome for generations to come.  It is to keep our treasured traditions alive if they are still potent and inspire others to create new traditions, and bright visions.  And it is for all of us to make sure we don’t let the light go out—it has lasted for so many years.  Let it shine through our love and our tears.”

Call to Worship for healing service on Laughter: "Laughing for Our Lives", Nov. 11, 2012 with Sw. Laraaji Nadabrahmananda and Arji P. Cakouros

Call To Community             Rev. Susan Karlson
We enter into this time of worship.
This time of deep healing and cleansing.
Sometimes the healing impulse calls for sobs and weeping,
Worried and fretted brows,
Anxieties too deep to speak.
Today, these feelings are very much with us—
They press in on every side
And yet we come to heal through the soothing balm of laughter
This morning;
Not laughter that is forced or strained.
If you never let out a giggle, that is just fine.
No judgment here. No right or wrong way to be here.
Yet this morning, we would reach deep inside ourselves
To find that release through laughter,
Through chuckles and endorphins rising
Summoned from that well spring of hope and strength
We each possess.
We do not minimize the suffering and sorrow that has happened to us
Or to our neighbors on the south shore.
We simply bring the joy of human connection and community to this moment present before us;
The well spring of recovery and renewal.
We let the laughter rise or fall
And we simply are in this place--together