Saturday, August 1, 2020
Staying Ready and Alert for Possibilities
Learning from a new life~
how each moment is fresh and potent with possibility.
An open book, a tassel on a blanket,
a cell phone, a finger poking a soft belly.
When did we stop looking at each moment?
How do we recapture wonder, amazement
and gifts of grace
that come naturally to us?
Little one, you have your eyes wide open.
You are alert and playful,
sleepy at times with half open eyes
that come awake and bound at the slightest
May we too bring that wide eyed alertness,
that ability to awaken to new growth
and to sleep with the slumbers of
one who has found a new home,
a new place in this world.
With the advent of our new feline arrival, I am learning or perhaps relearning being awake and ready. I sense that this new kitten has much to teach us as we nurture and open our hearts to a new being in our family. And our cat who has been with us for three years is reminding us to remember the relationships that we have nurtured before; to know that some things take time to develop. Relationships don't always come naturally. Sometimes there is a little hissing and fretting how something new might replace us or affect our place in the universe. All of nature has so much to teach. I am humbly taking in the lessons that the interdependent web is teaching me. I hope you are too.
Blessings this day!
Sunday, July 19, 2020
A Few Solid Things
July 19, 2020
In these days of constant change and reimagining, I am thinking about what gifts we bring to one another. I am talking about spiritual gifts here though I wanted to also include a photo with a tangible gift. This photo is an image of me on a happy day with a beautiful anthurium that my daughter gave me for Mother's Day. I couldn't make myself smile like that unless it came from some deeper place inside. I imagine we are all reaching for that deeper place inside now. I know that my life is pretty good--I can work from home. I can see folks online. I can play virtual games. I have good health. Plenty of good food and an ability to get exercise and self care. A caring spouse. Yet as a wise person said to me recently, I go up and down everyday--on feelings like hope, fear, despair, joy, connection, love, commitment. Lots of people can't afford to have this "corona coaster" of feelings (an expression that one of my covenant group members coined). They have to "keep on keeping on" as the saying goes. They have to put one foot in front of another and "act as if" everything is ok for the sake of their children, their jobs, their families even when they are crying inside, even when the self talk on the inside fails and the image on the outside shows a different persona.
I have talked to enough of you now to know that people's responses are ranging somewhere in between total acceptance--"This is the world right now. I accept what is here now" and "I don't think I can stand another day. I am so lonely, so isolated, so fearful and concerned and everything is just backing up on me now".
It is when I am careening towards the isolated, fearful, despairing side that I remember a few solid things--that I am alive--for now, for this time, this place. I do believe, not naively, that I was born for a time like this. That there is something about this time in our lives that calls for our skills, our gifts, our energy, our righteous indignation, the spirit of justice, the breath of God, the Divine in and around us--to offer those "few solid things" to serve something greater than ourselves, to make real the dreams of Civil Rights giants like the Rev. C.T. Vivian and the Honorable John Lewis to build the beloved community with all that we have, with all that we are, with those we may never know and those we meet in the sacred places of our hearts and souls.
This is the place we come to with care, with compassion, with peace, sometimes with joy, always with at least an ounce of love that we can build on and make it real in this oasis, this small estuary amidst the fear, the pain, the solitude.
May you find a corner of this peace today and spread it outward in ever widening circles of your life.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
This is the first time I've written a blog in over seven years. Now, as I am the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah, I think it is a good time to start anew. The title of this blog is Minister's Musings and I have retained that title now. Today's blog is just to introduce this new blog to a new city in the time of this pandemic and amidst protests for Black Lives Matter. So much has changed in recent months from lockdowns to virtual live streaming services. Today, I start anew in the ever flexible, always transformative and constant change that is so familiar to us, that has the capacity to teach us new ways, fresh outlooks, deeper learning, more expanded spiritual growth. May this day bring us to a time of renewal and hope even amidst the grieving and the uncertainties and fears part of daily life. Blessings,
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
|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
|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|
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.
US Secretary of Labor Visiting EL Centro
Friday, January 11, 2013
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.
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.
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
Chuck M, All Souls
David A, All Souls
Natasha K All Souls
Musa K, All Souls
Maryah, All Souls
Garnett L, First Unitarian Brooklyn
Lara and Jay
Faye of SI Realtors
donor from Grosse Ile, MI
Karen Meyer and Jessica C
Amy And James B
Jill and Nathan J
Mary H, Ana and Luis
Kathy S and Tom S
John A and Rafael MP
Winsome J and Diane M
Kristin Nand Michael B
Matthew Z and Ray P
Laurie and partner
Drew and Laurie F
Lisa and Sophia I
Gregg and Kelli L
Southside Nazarene, Tilton, IL
No name, shipped from Glendora, CA
Celia and David E
Sarah and Rebecca K
Dan and Michelle O
Johnny and Andrea M
Rigo and Adriana S
Aaron and John C
Tiffany and Stephen O
Nancy E and Michele L, (SIPE)
Nick G from Fordham University
SI Academy student
Dena and Zen and Melissa G
Montgomery MCC FC
Jacqueline and Gary
Ryan K, PIMCO
Eddy O 30 bunk beds (break down to 60)
Ross Fed. Tech
Monetary Donations sent to UCSI
Amy and James B
Jill and Nathan J
Marge BMargaret and Richard C
Tom and Kathy
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
David and Sally J
Robert and Sidney K
John and Patricia W
Laura and Jonathan B
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
Daniel and Susan P
The Rev. Craig H
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
Mary Ellen F
The Bulldog Ball Club LTD, New York, New York
Mary and Mary W
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, Oxford, MS