It’s holiday time! Let’s talk turkey…..um, Wish Lists! (Still working on leftovers ?). First off, I’d like to report on our amazing generosity from last year. We were able to buy EVERYTHING on the list! So thank you, thank you, thank you! Technically, we haven’t spent all the money from last year because some of it went toward plantings and we’ve been slowly buying new plants all year long. The final chunk helped buy the plants and mulch for the new pollinator garden.
A funny thing happened to my Wish List this year. Well, not funny, more like astounding. I had started my list just when we got a substantial donation from a lovely, generous, long-time member. So, that donation covered several items that would have been on the list but that we no longer need—because we have them!: 20 new hymnals; the completion of the hearing sound loop in the choir area of the Sanctuary (newtechnology has allowed us to do something we could not do just 3 years ago); video equipment to be used to record in the Sanctuary; with the remainder being applied to the long-term (i.e., expensive) project we have in mind for the yard between the main building and the Memorial Garden, now to be known as the “Main Building Backyard Project.” (It will be awesome when it’s done, I promise.)
But fear not! (Holiday spirit, right?) I still have a Wish List for this year! Just like for the solar panel project, you may donate to a particular item in any amount you desire. However, please designate your donation to the WISH LIST so we can use it for any item on the list if we need to.
Nursery changing table – $100 Our hand-me-down table is in sad shape. Entry sign for the Memorial Garden – $500 The current one is peeling AND has “church” instead of “congregation” in the name. Furnish a designated “teen space” in RE Commons – $500 Every church needs a hang-out space for teens, and the way we are spread across campus, there is no place in the main building for that. Our great RE folks have set aside an area in RE Commons now, but we need to get some seating for it and make it cool. Screen the movie, The Mask You Live In, at UUCA, and open it to the community – $500 The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it. The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men. We think it’s an important movie for both our UUCA and greater community. Install LED lights in Sandburg Hall – $1,000 more! Who could object to brighter, dimmable lighting in Sandburg Hall? We’ll change out those 30-some-year old fluorescent fixtures. This project will cost $2,000 but Ken Brame and Judy Mattox have offered a $1,000 match, so all YOU need to do is come up with $1,000 more. We can do it! Compost Now – $1300 Between bear raids and the fact that getting food waste out of the landfill is environmentally correct, we’ll be using Compost Now to collect our food waste every week from the main building and 23 Edwin Place. This service will cost $2500 a year but I’ll manage to get it officially into the budget next fiscal year. This will pay for the unbudgeted amount this fiscal year. Pavers from lower parking lot to Memorial Garden – $4,000 Instead of pouring concrete, we want to use pavers like the ones on our front patio to make a handicap-accessible path to the Memorial Garden. This is another part of the Main Building Backyard Project.
Last Sunday a group of adults and children gathered in the RE 4 to continue working on the giant masks for this year’s Christmas pageant. One of our youngest UUs joined an adult in choosing colorful ribbons and gluing them to the horn of the Unicorn mask. At another table, a group of children and adults with the help of local puppeteer Jennifer Murphy created another mask. They used balls of newspaper held together by packing tape to mold the face of an old wise man which they covered with strips of paper saturated in paper maché paste. As I observed everyone creating, laughing and conversing I thought about how what I was witnessing exemplified multigenerational community building. Yes, multi-generational; all ages together. Other activities like the talent show or group singing in the tree house at The Mountain during this year’s October congregational retreat in which all ages gathered, cheered each other on and sang together also contribute to building multigenerational community. They help us get to know each other and appreciate the diverse needs we each have as we participate in the life of our congregation.
We are making progress in working together to dismantle the “upstairs, downstairs divide” between children and adults. I am grateful that UUCA is willing to take on this challenge. This divide meant faith formation for children usually occurred downstairs in the RE Commons. For adults, it happened upstairs in worship or adult programs. More frequent whole congregation services provide opportunities for all ages to engage in faith formation through the practice of communal worship. Children receive the message that worship is for them, too, and they witness the rituals, songs, and rhythms of worship. There may also be more opportunities for all ages movement or clapping to accompany stories, songs or meditations. I invite you to experiment and “do when the spirit says do.”
At times the energy level and engagement of our youngest UUs may be distracting. And, yet they are a reminder of the gift of the children’s presence among us. The discomfort we may feel is normal and a reminder that the work of inclusivity calls us to de-center our individual needs so that all of us may share the worship space. This can be challenging and is part of the process of faith formation.
Opportunities for multigenerational connection also occur during weekly Wednesday Thing programming. The planning team is scheduling regular all age events such as story yoga, game nights, creative dance, art projects, and multigen choir. There are many opportunities for multigenerational engagement at UUCA that will let our children know that they are important members of our community and strengthens their UU identity.
During this month of gratitude, I am grateful to be on this journey with you. I hope you will explore how we can continue to build multigenerational community and support lifespan faith development at UUCA. I welcome opportunities to hear your ideas and feedback. I also invite you to participate in future whole congregation worship services and multigenerational programs.
If Thanksgiving is a time for celebration, may it be a joyous, delicious occasion shared with loved ones. If it is a day of mourning a loss or grieving the injustice done to native peoples know that you are held in our hearts. Below is a link to a few conversation starters that may enliven conversation around the dinner table. Enjoy!
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
I thought the earth remembered me, she took me back so tenderly, arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds. I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed, nothing between me and the white fire of the stars but my thoughts and they floated light as moths among the branches of the perfect trees. All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness. All night I rose and fell as if in water, grappling with a luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better.
Like another story quite familiar to us, this one begins with a fall. But in this case, the fall is no metaphor.
Hurtling downward, Skywoman tumbled through space. Clutching nothing more than a handful of seeds that she grasped from the Celestial tree as she fell, she plummeted through the dark until surprisingly she felt the warm embrace of feathers. Geese resting on the primordial sea had seen her coming and flown up to catch her and break her fall. But they couldn’t hold her for very long. So, they called for a council of the animals.
The great turtle announced that he could hold her. So, they set her on his back and talked about what to do next. They agreed that Skywoman would need some land to live on. So, the swimming animals took turns diving to the bottom of the ocean to find some land. One by one the strong swimmers tried – otter, beaver sturgeon – but none succeeded. In the end, it was little muskrat, weakest of all, who dived and returned with a handful of mud.
Skywoman took the mud, spread it on the turtle’s shell and she began to sing and dance in gratitude and celebration. As her feet moved the land grew and grew, and on the land she planted the seeds from the Celestial tree that grew into grasses, flowers, and trees. And so the world began.
When we invite memory into our spiritual lives, we can never be exactly sure where it will take us. For memory is embodied in stories that live in and through us, and shape us in ways we can’t always anticipate. In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass Robin Wall Kimmerer invites us to consider this Iroquois origin story as an alternative way of looking at our human relatedness to the Earth.
It is far different from the story centered in our culture, which tells of another woman banished from the garden, made to wander in the wilderness with her mate and instructed to subdue the Earth to survive. The story points to how our culture remembers the Earth, a threatening place to be brought under heel.
Kimmerer is a fascinating guide to this story life underlying our attitude toward the natural world. An enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she is also a distinguished botanist and professor of environmental biology. So, while she understands and teaches the narrative of science that measures and describes the natural world, she also carries from childhood a different sensibility, one that gave her, as she put it, a “natural inclination to see relationships, to seek the threads that connect the world, to join instead of divide.” Others have had this insight. Two decades ago Thomas Berry argued that “If the Earth does grow inhospitable toward human presence, it is primarily because we have lost our sense of courtesy toward the Earth and its inhabitants, our willingness to recognize the sacred character of habitat.” It was why he urged that we cultivate a sense of what he called re-enchantment with the Earth, a view that puts us in relation to the community of life.
Kimmerer, though, takes this a step further, introducing us to what she calls “a grammar of animacy,” and it takes us back to a way of thinking about the world centered in relationships.
It’s something that she said came to her as she was struggling to learn the language of her people. English, the language she was raised in, is centered in nouns. It’s concerned principally with things – dogs, trees, mountains, clouds – while Potawatomi is centered in verbs – actions, activities. In fact, 70% of Potawatomi words are verbs, compared with 30% of English words.
Apart from it making her a little crazy to think about learning the rules to use those verbs – tenses and forms – this understanding also opened something to her. Looking through a dictionary that someone created, she was astonished to find words that translated into English as something like “to be a Saturday,” “to be red,” “to be a bay.”
At first, she was puzzled. It sounded so cumbersome. But then it occurred to her that speaking of the world as a place of action gave it a new vitality. “When bay is a noun,” she wrote, “it is defined by humans, trapped between its shores and contained. The verb to be a bay releases the water from bondage. To be a bay holds the wonder that for this moment, the living water has decided to shelter itself between these shores, conversing with cedar roots and mergansers. Because it could do otherwise – become a stream or a waterfall and there are verbs for that, too.”
In a sense, this way of speaking animates the landscape. What we see when we look out is not a static vista but a world that is active and alive. That is why, Kimmerer says, many indigenous people use the same words to address the world as they use for family. Because, she says, as they see it, “they are family.” Plants and animals, yes, but also mountains, water, places. They are animate. They have their ways. And they are worthy of attention, of respect.
It’s a little disorienting to think about, yet how many of us have found ourselves chatting to chickadees at our birdfeeders or staring admiringly at the magnificent white oak we pass on the way to work? Our language classifies them as “its,” but there is something inside us that accords them something more: some animacy, some care and respect.
This is the spirit that inhabits Mary Oliver’s poem that we heard earlier about the surprising welcome that she discovered spending the night in the woods. And it’s telling that she frames what she experiences not as a discovery but as a reunion of sorts. “I thought the earth remembered me,” she writes.
Removed from all that sheltered her – “nothing between me and the white fire of the stars” – she found herself attuned to whole kingdoms of life who by their presence held the space, while, as she puts it, she was “grappling with a luminous doom” that by morning had left her, in her words, something better.
Many of us here can testify to that kind of healing, to finding on forest paths or mountain peaks a connection to a deeper rhythm that settles our souls, a rhythm that moves not so much in us as through us, that tells we are home, in enduring relationship that connects us with all life that has been and will be.
It is a comforting way to imagine our relation to the world. And still, in this Thanksgiving season, the fact remains that the links in that relationship are frayed. Fires in California and waves of hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast testify to all the ways that we humans are out of sync with those deep rhythms.
Here in Asheville, activists joined by clergy from the Creation Care Alliance have maintained a fast on Pack Square to bring attention to the threat of climate change. I joined them on Friday and offered words of blessing for their work. About a dozen or so were gathered. Here’s what I said:
Given the state of the world, I begin with words of confession and lamentation. We confess today that we humans have failed the Earth. Blessed with ingenious minds and clever hands capable of healing and hope, repair and renewal, we are instead doing terrible damage: extirpating species, poisoning the water and air, disrupting climate patterns.
We see the effects in forests ablaze, coastal cities inundated, and all the ways that the Web of life is being torn to tatters. Amid all this, we lament our hubris, our apathy, our willful blindness and denial.
This is reason to disrupt the quiet patterns of our lives to remind ourselves of the work before us, work that will require relinquishment and sacrifice of all us, as symbolized in our fast today, work to put ourselves in right relationship with all life, with the very Earth itself.
We see hope in that spark of compassion that resides in each of us, that we give many names, that of the spirit, of God, the holy. We see the dawning of a new possibility, a new way of being that defines itself not standing apart, but woven together in relationship, that finds kindred in all things.
Bless this work, this hope, this determination to repair what has been rent asunder, to reclaim our original blessing in harmony with all things, united as one people in care of the Earth.
Of course, even with all the damage we see, Earth’s systems surprise us with their resiliency. How else to respond than with gratitude? So, as we enter this Thanksgiving season let me introduce you to words that come from indigenous tradition, words that encompass this larger perspective and help us experience a worldview that embraces animacy in its fullest form and ties all together as one.
It is the Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunee, the people of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Six Nations who centuries ago joined to make a confederacy of peace. These words begin every gathering of those people. They establish the place where they begin and tell of the relationships embedded in our living, in the community of being in which we all participate.
If you are a highly risk-averse person, this blog title has your attention. If not, you are about to stop reading (if you got this far). To you I say, keep going! Your life may depend on it.
At the moment, this congregation has no “active” emergency response plan. A couple of years ago we got something started and did manage to hold a fire drill during worship services, but the plan was complicated, the volunteers got overwhelmed and everything just kind of faded out of existence.
So, it’s time to try again. This time we’ll try to create a less-complicated plan and only address two “emergencies”: the most likely, fire, and an extremely unlikely but probably scarier, active shooter. Other things can go wrong, of course, but if we can master these two, we’ll be doing great.
As an aside, all of our RE classes have already practiced a fire drill this year, and one of the strategies to use for an active shooter is to evacuate, just like a fire drill. So they are ahead of the rest of us.
If you are interested in volunteering to help UUCA develop and implement an emergency response plan, please contact me. This work absolutely requires dedicated volunteers—six or so to create the plan and many more than that to put it in place. This is NOT a staff job although there will obviously be staff support.
But just as importantly, EVERYONE needs to be educated on what to do, both during a fire and in the event of an active shooter. To begin that process, we have scheduled a presentation by the Asheville Police Community Resources unit to tell ALL of us what to do during an active shooter incident. It’s a sad thing to have to do, but here we are.
Please attend this presentation on Sunday afternoon (4pm) on December 2. We’ll learn the 3 things every person needs to do if in the area of an active shooter: Avoid. Deny. Defend. Or, saying the same thing a different way: Run. Hide. Fight.