Weaving the Web – Rev. Amy Zucker-Morgenstern

  • Midweek meditation: From fear to fulfillment October 11, 2019

    Midweek meditation: from fear to fulfillment

    Thanks to the creativity and drive of UUCPA member Randy Helmonds, we will be hosting the Blood Donation Olympics on Saturday, October 26. I want to share my story with you.

    In my family, donating blood has always been one of those no-brainer acts of mercy, like giving clothes we  didn’t wear anymore to a younger relative or a clothes closet instead of throwing them in the trash. That pint of blood costs the donor nothing but the mildest of pain and a couple of hours (including the time spent getting to and from the center and eating the re-energizing snack of cookies and juice), whereas for the recipient, it makes the difference between death and life. My parents often helped run a blood drive at our synagogue, and my father donated regularly.

    To this background was added a personal reason to give. In 1995, my dad was badly injured and barely survived. In the course of his recovery, he received about 40 units of blood. I was acutely aware that blood donors were why my dad was still in my life. Ever since then, I wanted to pay it forward. I hear from blood center staff that this kind of experience is a common motivation for donors.

    There was just one problem: I was scared of needles. I managed vaccinations because they were necessary, and could endure blood tests for the same reason, but I felt pretty shaky about voluntarily offering up my arm. When I told a nurse about my ambivalence, she assured me that staff like her would really rather not deal with people who are queasy about the whole thing. However, some years after that I brought the subject up with another nurse, our own Phyllis Cassel (blessed be her memory), who had worked in blood centers. She urged me to give it a try–the staff there were used to dealing with nervous patients, and maybe I’d find out it wasn’t so hard after all. Not long after that conversation, I embarked on the path to parenthood, and over the course of my pregnancy I had to have so many blood tests that I started taking them in stride. Hm, maybe she was right. If I could deal with that, why not try donating?

    So once our child was born and I was eligible to give, I donated for the first time, and my hope was borne out: it wasn’t any tougher than a blood test. And I felt fantastic! I bounced out of there, absurdly pleased with the little bruise on my arm.

    Ever since then, it has become a regular practice. It took some determination and patience on the staff’s part, as well as my own, to get into that rhythm, but now it’s something I do every eight weeks. It’s good for me, too; as a vegetarian with an uneven iron intake, being a blood donor has gotten me on a regular schedule of taking iron supplements so my hemoglobin count will be nice and high. It also encourages me to drink plenty of water. But the real benefits are spiritual. I feel connected to my community–the wonderful staff who help donors help others, and the unknown people who will benefit. A circle that opened up the day my dad was hurt is made complete. I’m amazed by the resilience of the body. All of this means that I leave the donation center one pint down, but filled up with a sense of well-being.

    If you’ve been struggling the way I did for many years, this could be the chance for you to move from fear to fulfillment by becoming a donor right here in our Main Hall, in a community that supports you. Or if you can’t donate blood for whatever reason, please consider helping with a financial donation or by promoting the event to your friends.

    And a final hint for those entering the Olympics: the more water you drink in the couple of days beforehand, the quicker donating will go.



  • Weaving the Web: What I did on my summer vacation  August 10, 2019

    — Rev Amy Zucker Morgenstern

    Near the end of June, a year into the new “zero tolerance” policy of deterring immigration by separating families and locking up children, I learned that July 12 would be a day of nationwide protest (“Lights for Liberty”): against the camps in particular and for humane immigration and asylum policies in general. My family and I were getting ready to go to Mexico for three weeks, and that’s where we would be while our kindred-citizens were rallying outside detention centers and ICE facilities, at Congressional offices and on town greens.

    I had been aching for an organized response, something I could do beyond giving money and calling officials. There was no way I was going to miss this. So I announced to the U.S. Americans living in or visiting Oaxaca, and to the Lights for Liberty organizers, that there would be a demonstration in Oaxaca that day. The U.S. consulate was closed on Fridays, but we’d protest on the street outside.

    I admit, I didn’t want to spend a lot of my vacation time organizing a political protest. But we already had an ¡Engage Oaxaca! group — we had helped organize it immediately after the 2016 election, in the last weeks of my sabbatical there — and that was a good base from which to reach out to people. Friends helped: I asked for corrections of my tentative Spanish version of the poster, and got them. The family got into it: Indigo drew a child in a cage for the poster, and then we all put up copies around the city, especially in places U.S. citizens spend a lot of time, like the English library. We bought enough poster board and markers for ourselves, plus extras. Then we crossed our fingers and hoped there would be a good turnout.

    There was! Forty U.S. citizens showed up, many with signs of their own, in Spanish and English. Lots of Oaxacans gathered around to watch, ask questions, help out by taking group photos, and, apparently, alert the press, because several newspaper and TV journalists arrived half an hour later. When, at the end of the hour, we told the reporters that we’d be going inside to slip our signs under the consulate doors, they ran ahead up the stairs to get good photos, and stayed to interview us some more.

    I’m glad we reserved plenty of time for visiting friends, taking art classes, wandering the markets, eating at our favorite places, and all the other things we love in Oaxaca. But far from regretting the time spent on the protest, we all felt buoyed by it. Our little protest was a drop in the bucket, but that day we knew that there is a bucket, and that we can help it to fill up and overflow.

    You can watch one interview with us at tinyurl.com/oaxacainterview.

    Blessings, —Amy

  • Weaving the Web: The Thespians’ Final Bow June 16, 2019

    We start a lot of new groups at UUCPA, which, ideally, means a flurry of publicity and how-to-get-involved information. And sometimes groups end, and we should mark that as well.

    Decades ago, several (as it was then called) Palo Alto Unitarian Church members who loved music and drama organized an arts-in- worship group. They created dramas and music to enrich Sunday services, and also overlapped with many enthusiastic participants in in-house, non-worship productions such as The Mikado.

    That faded, but perhaps the love of theater just lay dormant, because when Philip Hodge joined the church years later, he found enthusiasm for a group called the Thespians, which welcomed both congregation members and drama lovers from outside UUCPA. Sometimes they provided entertainment at such events as the auction and canvass dinner. By the early 2000s, the main purpose of the Thespians was to welcome anyone who loved plays to come together to read plays as they were meant to be read: together, aloud. Under Philip’s devoted leadership and with many participants, the meetings expanded to as many as three per month.

    When he passed age 90, Philip handed the information and many carefully annotated scripts along to the next generation, and upon Philip’s death in 2008, Samuel Thomas Morgan (known to all as Tom) took up the reins. The Thespians continued to meet regularly for several years.

    The group and the congregation as a whole grieved when Tom died suddenly in January, 2019. The rest of the group decided no one had the energy to lead it for the time being and so it was time to retire from the stage.

    Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the Thespians and its predecessors. And if you are reading this and would like to do some playreading now and then (perhaps as an Auction event?), the scripts are still being kept safe and ready for you.— Blessings, Amy

  • Weaving the Web May 18, 2019

    More beauty and more layers of meaning are coming our way in the form of a permanent projection screen that will be installed in the Main Hall, near the ceiling above the piano. The AV Committee has been hard at work exploring all the options and issues, and has made a first-round proposal to the Board, who affirmed the plan and the availability of funds in our capital budget. We hope to have the screen in place by midsummer, and as the details are still evolving, your input about what needs to be considered is welcome. It will be designed to be visible from everywhere in the Main Hall, without blocking the branch or being blocked by the hanging quilts, and to be attractive and fit the style of our beautiful Joseph Esherick-designed sanctuary.

    We already need a screen for most memorial services, to show pictures of the beloved deceased person. The temporary screen we currently use is not ideal either aesthetically or logistically – for example, when the choir needs the space on the risers – and it will be wonderful to be able to offer grieving families a simpler and more beautiful means for showing photos. Likewise, we already use a temporary screen for movies, Adult Religious Education presentations, and congregational meetings, and it’s exciting that the AV Committee is working on an improvement.

    Once it’s in place, other uses become available to us. We can add visual elements to our services: colors and images to enhance our words, rituals, and music. We can project hymn lyrics, freeing our hands and making it easier to look forward and sing out. (We’ll still use hymnals as desired.) With the service guided by slides on the screen, we can cut down on the number of printed orders of service. Again, we’ll keep printing some, but many people will opt out, saving paper and reducing our impact on the environment.

    Some congregations recognize dedicated volunteers with displays that are projected before the service begins, or have a visual image in place that fits the service’s theme.

    A new visual component to our services will take more time on my and other worship leaders’ part. It is an additional element that requires planning and careful thought, and we want to practice it thoroughly so that it is a seamless part of the service. However, it is one that can add layers of meaning and beauty, speaking to us in the language of color, shape, art and images. I’m looking forward to developing these skills and have already begun compiling best practices and advice from colleagues who use a projector weekly

    Thank you so much, AV Committee – among them, Byron Brown and Brian Weller, who presented the plan to the Board, me, and the Aesthetics Committee. Thanks, Jeb Eddy, for promoting this idea long before the new AV Committee was formed, and to the Committee on Ministry, who took the idea and suggested a task force to begin to flesh it out.

    What uses do you imagine for a projection screen in our worship space? What considerations are important to you? Please keep the ideas flowing with e-mails to audio-committee@uucpa.org.

    Blessings, —Amy

  • Midweek meditation: What celebration belongs on your calendar? May 2, 2019

    In last Sunday’s sermon, “Lima Bean Respect Day and Other Neglected Celebrations,” I asked about something you value and wish to honor with your attention that doesn’t show up in the civic or religious calendar. Animated conversations followed, as people paired up and talked about what is important to them

    Two of the things that are most important to me, and too neglected in my rush through my days, are making art and observing nature. As soon as I articulated this, I knew the perfect day to celebrate them: the birthday of the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. His attention to nature and creation of art make him one of my favorite artists. I’ve now looked it up and have added “Art and Nature Day” to my electronic calendar so that I will honor them with my time this July 26 and every July 26.

    After the service, a few people told me what holiday would appear on their personal calendars. A few others chimed in in support of lima beans. But most of us only heard from one other person. So, the comments section is open! What are you marking in your own personal liturgical year?