Weaving the Web – Rev. Amy Zucker-Morgenstern

  • 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.

  • Midweek Meditation: Dreaming Together February 8, 2018
    I want to share a poem I love, by Francisco X. Alarcon:

    Dreaming together

    a dream
    we dream

    we dream
    Sonando juntos

    un sueno
    lo sonamos

    la realidad
    la sonamos


    We each have dreams, things we hope for in the hearts of our hearts–and sometimes barely dare to hope for. This coming Sunday’s service will begin there, giving us time to perceive our dreams–dreams that, if we’re adults, we might not even have articulated to ourselves for a long time. (Young children, I find, are more likely not to even be able to identify something they long for, other than maybe a popular toy; unless they’ve already encountered adversity, they have most of what they desire, for now.)


    There are a lot of different ways to think about UUCPA and what it’s for. I love this poem because it expresses one of our main purposes in gathering as a congregation: to “dream reality together,” to join together to make the world of our dreams become real. We do it in simple ways, like a conversation with a new friend at coffee hour, and we do it through complex programs and multiyear plans, like Our Whole Lives, and the campaign for marriage equality, and the small groups that meet twice a month and take our minds to places we couldn’t go alone. For me, UUCPA is a workshop, a studio, a laboratory, a classroom, a place where we make, on a small scale, the world I dream about.


    In the service, we’ll take time to dream, and express those dreams through color and words. The children in RE will be doing the same, along with the Valentines they make for Stevenson House residents (talk about making the world you dream about!). In the weeks to come, Kathy Swartz, who is a wonderful quilter in our midst, will take what we’ve done and stitch it into a quilt that will remind us, in vibrant hues, of the better reality we are shaping together in this beloved community.

    Sonemos juntos–let’s dream together.




  • Midweek Meditation: Wisdom from Ursula K. LeGuin February 1, 2018

    You might be hearing a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin from me in the months to come. I never go long without reading something she wrote, but I’ve read an unusual amount since last Monday, when she died at the age of 88. There is so much in her books that has shaped who I am and points the way to who I want to be next, if I just listen to it.

    For example, a lot of unhappy experiences in my life have been redeemed by this thought from Shevek, the protagonist of The Dispossessed, as he reflects on the results of four years of privation: “The thing about working with time, instead of against it, he thought, is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.” “Even pain counts” might come as close as anything can to my core philosophy of life, this little musing still challenges me to reconsider how I think about time. There’s more for me to discover in these words.

    And in these, which I rediscovered when looking for a Le Guin quote to start last week’s Board meeting and found this from The Tombs of Atuan, one of her Earthsea books: “Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.” It fit our commitment to the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” and even though I had forgotten reading them, I recognized these words as conveying something that sank into my bones many years ago. I was a child when I read that book, and beginning to decide what kind of life I wanted. Her thoughts on freedom were friendly companions to me as I was coming to realize that the road I wanted, needed, to take was not the easy one.

    That last phrase (“the laden traveler may never reach the end”), far from discouraging me, releases me from the expectation that I need to get to Point B in order to think of my life as successful. It encourages adventure and an attitude of discovery—after all, only some moments of life are destinations, but all of the moments are the road, so what do I want to find along the way? As Genly Ai considers, on a long journey of his own, in The Left Hand of Darkness, “It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

    Even something as simple as this: when a character (Shevek again) who lived in a society in which all property was held in common–and thus had no buying, selling, advertisements, money, or economic inequality–visited a country much like our own, he listened to the radio, but “seldom turned [it] on after finding that its basic function was advertising things for sale.” I never tune in commercial radio or television without this line flashing through my mind and reminding me of the station’s purpose. With this ostensibly throw-away line, Le Guin helped me to see just how many of my interactions each day are sales. Not only in the marketplace, but in relationships, we are selling or buying or being urged to buy or being offered an exchange of some kind, this for that, tit for tat. If I want things to be otherwise, I need this awareness.

    All of these thoughts have helped make me who I am. It’s good to have a friend like that, speaking wisdom to you through their books or music or movies. Do you have an author or other kind of artists who has become that embedded in the way you see the world?