Weaving the Web – Rev. Amy Zucker-Morgenstern

  • Weaving the Web — Rev Amy Zucker Morgenstern October 6, 2018

    Further reflections inspired by the most recent Town Hall meeting I was able to attend (“Shall We Change Our Name?” on September 2). Last month I wrote about the challenges of being a Christian at UUCPA. Something else I realized as I listened to the open-hearted sharing is that something I take for granted, something I’ve known since before I could put it into words, is not obvious to everyone who did not grow up immersed in Judaism: Christian terms are particularly hard for many Jews to adopt as their own. Let me see if I can explain why.

    Anti-Semitism is subtle, and largely a non-issue for U.S. American Jews of my generation, but its scars are not so easily forgotten. Survivors of the Holocaust populated my synagogue and their stories were told firsthand – an education for which I am grateful. Members of my own family fled Eastern Europe in part because of its hostility to Jews, and most Jewish U.S. Americans have such a story in their backgrounds. Growing up Jewish, one learns about pogroms, conversions under torture, and other persecutions that Christians never even hear of. And most of the time, this anti-Semitism has come wrapped in Christian clothes, committed for the sake of “the church.”

    It’s not that I grew up with a particular suspicion of Christianity. My parents taught me by example that the only measure of the worth of someone’s religion is what kind of person it makes them, and Christians abounded among their moral exemplars. My mother joyously sang Bach’s Passions in the New Haven Chorale, and I accompanied her and other Jewish members of the chorale in Christmas Day carol-singing at the hospital, smiling at each other at lines like “Christ the Savior is born”– we didn’t need to believe it, to sing it, for those who did. I helped my best friend decorate her Christmas tree and learned to make pysanky Easter eggs from a Ukrainian friend. We knew that people who truly followed Jesus’ teaching would never turn on us, both because Jesus himself was Jewish, and because he taught love and acceptance. But none of that erased the knowledge that a long enmity existed between our faiths.

    That enmity can weigh on people who consider joining a religious community like ours, even though we are explicitly welcoming of Jewish practices and don’t require Christian ones. Awareness of the lives cut short in the name of “the church” can make it hard even for the most passionate new Jewish-UU to say the words, “I’m a member of a church.” I am religiously multilingual and don’t mind going to “church” (where I’m a “minister” who’s hailed as “Reverend”), but I get it. I hope that our congregational conversation has helped people who grew up without this awareness to begin to get it as well. If so, whatever we call ourselves, we’ll have advanced in our understand- ing and acceptance of each other. —Blessings, Amy

  • Weaving the Web — Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern September 9, 2018

    The Town Hall meeting on Sunday, September 2 (“Shall We Change Our Name?”), was a high point of my 15 years at UUCPA. I have witnessed some deep conversations here, but never such tender sharing in such a large group. I hope everyone felt that their vulnerability was welcomed and supported. If not, please do speak to me or Dan. We can help.

    Several points of interest arose for me as I listened, but I’ll write about just one in this edition’s column: the challenges of being a Christian at UUCPA.

    As we say every week, and as the Principles and Purposes of the UUA affirm, we draw on many sources for guidance and wisdom. Many are the religions of the world, and we don’t require them to be perfect in order for them to give inspiration. Each, being a human product, has flaws aplenty. Buddhism is prone to a troubling amorality, with some (far from all) Buddhists preaching passivity to those suffering oppression. Islam has a history of conquest of “heathens,” with some (far from all) Muslims regarding it as superior to other, especially non-monotheistic, faiths. Judaism is intertwined with patriarchy, with some (far from all) Jews invoking a double standard for men and women, and dismissing those of other genders. We know we have to separate the wheat from the chaff with all traditions.

    Christianity is no different. It’s imperfect. It’s filled with wise words and beautiful rituals, all tangled up with its negative aspects. More of us have experienced its down side than the down sides of other faith traditions, since more of us grew up Christian than anything else, so it’s not surprising that the wounds people bring from previous religions are often cross-shaped. (If you struggle to integrate your earlier experiences, from Christian churches or any other faiths or lack thereof, I hope you’ll join my two-part class, “Owning Your Religious Past,” starting this afternoon. See page 7.)

    So it’s not news, but it’s sobering just the same, to hear how difficult it can still be for someone who draws on the source of Christianity to feel that they can be open about their faith here. I have seen good changes in my time. It’s been ages since anyone suggested that I preached too often from Christian sources. Maybe, like Nixon going to China, a raised-Jewish minister can cite Jesus without making anyone feel that Pat Robertson is taking over. Maybe our participation in multifaith organizations like Faith in Action (formerly PIA) and Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice has built some bridges. And maybe we’ve just gotten more trusting of one another, a little more able to let down our defenses and hear each others’ experiences.

    I hope so. And I’m going to keep pushing us in that direction. Whether we call ourselves a church or something different, in order to live up to our ideals of openness and acceptance, we need to be as welcoming of those for whom Christianity is a major source as we are to UU Hindus, humanists, Buddhists, Jews, and “just plain Unitarian Universalists,” because UU Christians, too, are searching, and they, too, give so much to our beloved community. As a Unitarian Christian of long ago, Ferenc David, is rumored to have said, “We need not think alike to love alike.” — Blessings, Amy

  • Weaving the Web June 16, 2018
    This spring has brought many losses to our congregation. In fact, going back to last summer, there have been ten deaths of members or others closely associated with UUCPA. It’s a lot. One of our leaders, showing wisdom as well as kindness, asked how I deal with it. It’s a really good question because ministers and other people in the helping professions can stop being helpful and even do unintended harm if they don’t take care of their own emotional needs.
    We grow to love the people of this congregation; oftentimes we work with them as closely as with a professional co-worker, and we miss them very much when they are gone. It’s good to know whether the caregivers are themselves getting care. We each have our own ways of doing so. Here are mine:
    I have a spiritual director I meet with every other week. She’s kind of like a therapist, except that the questions are explicitly spiritual, and she’s kind of like my own minister. I specifically sought her out because I wanted help dealing with grief and loss, and she has a lot of experience in training ministers in pastoral care (the field community ministers Melissa Thomson and Jen Dillinger are in), which entails helping people deal well with these issues. She also really understands that art is one of my practices and often suggests ways I can use it to help myself.
    I make art that expresses and explores loss, love, my worries, etc.–it’s very grounding. I’m always amazed at how much lighter an emotional burden is once I give it form. I write in a journal frequently for the same reason.
    I’m in a group of female-identified UU clergy, like a Chalice Circle; we meet monthly and have check-ins and conversations that go very deep. Over time, we have established so much trust that I can bring anything I am struggling with to the group and know their presence and love will not falter.
    I have good friends, the kind that mean it when they say “Call me even at 2 a.m.”
    I am careful to protect my rest time. On my days off, I do a lot of puzzles, cook, read, garden, and make art. I have two e-mail addresses, one for friends and family and one for church, so that I can check for e-mails from my mom without getting sucked into work worries. Sunday afternoon, once I get home from services / meetings / classes at UUCPA, the shoes come off, the pajamas go on, and I spend the rest of the day reading something light (which for me can mean a murder mystery or dystopian sci fi–hey, I like them!), watching Doctor Who with Indigo, or napping. (So powerful is the Sunday Nap in ministerial circadian rhythms that even when I have a Sunday off, I start to feel sleepy around 3 p.m. . . . )
    And last but most important, I am blessed with a family that’s strong and supportive. Joy and Indi and I have fun together, we relax, we play games. We enjoy each other’s company, which also means we can be there for each other in times of sorrow or stress. When you support my one-Sunday-a-month off and my uninterrupted vacation time, you’re keeping that strong–keeping me strong. Thank you.
  • Midweek meditation: Helping each other to be better May 31, 2018

    As some of you heard me say at Fred Buelow’s memorial service two weeks ago, one of the many memorable things Fred said to me in our 15 years working together was “I see my job”–he was president or treasurer at the time–“as helping you be the best minister you can be.” Or maybe he said, “helping you be a better minister,” which in writing looks like a slight, but it was clear from his tone that it wasn’t. He was simply declaring his sincere wish to support me in my work. And he did: through help, challenge, encouragement, inspiration, teaching, and example.

    It was a succinct description of how I see my own job. People (including Fred) some to church to be better people. It’s my role to help them do it.

    It’s also the role we each embrace by being here. One of the UUA’s principles is “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth”; at UUCPA, as you can see by reading the heading on this page, we commit to “transforming ourselves, each other, and the world.” So we’re intent on helping each other, while at the same time, the words “acceptance of one another” and the phrase “transform ourselves” steer us away from the temptation to fix other people in ways that other people don’t want to be fixed, and keep us humble. That’s important; I don’t know better than you do what would make you better. But when you identify how you want to be, I’m here to help you get there. And I need your help to get where I’m going.
    I’m wondering: How does that affect our interactions with people outside UUCPA? How do we behave towards others if our intention is to help them to be better–even to help them be their best? If we think, especially at times we’re annoyed with someone, not “How is this person affecting me?” but “What can I do or say right now that will help them to be the person they want to be?”
    I’ve been trying it on with strangers and casual acquaintances, and it changes me. I think it even makes me just a bit better than I was before. I’d love to hear how it works for you.
  • Weaving the Web – Crowdfunding our Dreams April 23, 2018
    The squares that Kathy Swartz is stitching into a quilt are painted with people holding hands, trees that bend gently to shelter us, words like “loving community” and “peace.” We put the words and pictures there in February as we envisioned the future we hope to create together. A quilt is like a crowd fund: many small contributions add up to something grand, just as the contributions of people past and present have made UUCPA and all that we do here.

    Long before there were GoFundMe or Kickstarter or Unitarian Universalism’s own Faithify, there was a crowdfunding program called Chalice Lighters. A few times a year, a call would go out for small donations to make a grant to one of the area congregations. They could raise several thousand dollars for a project this way, and every Chalice Lighter had a stake in helping Unitarian Universalism thrive beyond the congregation they attended. And when the time came to raise a little capital for their own congregation, these folks knew they could count on that web of interconnection to support them too.

    We at UUCPA are responsible financial stewards in many ways. We give our fair share to the Unitarian Universalist Association and region, we support the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and we give part of our offering to a justice partner each month. It’s exciting to see the things that we make possible through these steady contributions. But we are less generous close to home.

    Here in Palo Alto, we struggle each year to raise the funds for our operating budget. This year, we aimed for $550,000, and will likely fall $50,000 short of that goal. The reason we are able to fund our bare-bones budget is only because we have lost half a staff position to attrition. We had hopes to use the money saved for a Membership & Engagement Coordinator whose 15 hours a week would boost the work of our Membership and Growth Committee, but instead we will have less staff support than before. We don’t need millions to fund our dreams, just a bit more than we have dug down to give so far.

    And within the span of our district (northern California, northern Nevada and Hawaii), several Chalice Lighter requests go out each year. A few years ago, we looked into applying for a Chalice Lighter grant, but we have so few members who are Chalice Lighters that we were advised that we would be at a serious disadvantage. The program relies not on a quid pro quo but on mutual generosity and goodwill: I show up for your barn raising and I know you’ll show up for mine. If we demonstrate that we of UUCPA will come through, $20 at a time, to give a boost to projects like an outdoor patio cover and lights for UUs in Sacramento (home to our former intern, Lucy Bunch), or a new sound system for the congregation in Reno, then when we put an application in, Unitarian Universalists all over the district will be here for us. And when we visit these places, we will see what we have built . . .

    I hope you will experience the thrill of being a Chalice Lighter–it’s easy as pie to sign up at www.pcduua.org/programs/chalice-lighters/ . And I hope you will reflect once more on the dreams you have for this community and make them come true by giving to this congregation in equal measure to the dreams of inspiration, friendship, challenge, beauty, and support you have for this beloved community. You can change your commitment, or make one for the first time, by sending an email to pledge@uucpa.org stating the amount you intend to give.