Weaving the Web – Rev. Amy Zucker-Morgenstern

  • Weaving the Web November 18, 2017

    —Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern

    For anyone who’s seen the inside of my house and office, it is not a surprise to hear that I love books. And I’m in good company here at UUCPA. I’ve written before about how our church is bursting with book-lovers and books. We have Brown Bag Books discussion group as well as other frequent Adult Religious Education offerings focused on a book, such as the one Mr. Barb Greve, our Sabbatical Religious Educator, will lead in February on one of the UUA’s Common Read books, Centering. Our Sullivan Book Fund gives books to children and others in our programs, the Barbara Raskin Fund helps us maintain our children’s collection, and we give a gift certificate for books to every new member. A used book sale is a major part of the annual Yard Sale. Year round, we have the UU Used Books room on one side of the Main Hall lobby and the UUCPA Bookstore occupying the rest of that space on Sundays, except for Second Sundays, when another great love of our community bumps the books: enjoying food together. A Little Free Library (brainchild of our Adult Religious Education Committee, designed by Lynn Grant, and crafted by Byron Brown) announces to passersby that we are a home for those who love to read, and invites them to take a book. It’s right by the little redwood grove, a great place to sit and enjoy whatever they’ve found.

    And speaking of great places to sit and read, we have an excellent library, one of UUCPA’s most sparkling hidden gems. It’s in the same building as the main office, and it’s named for the parents of current member Fran Perry, book lovers and longtime members, the late Gail and Frank Hamaker. I go in there a lot just to browse, and you’ll see little cards with “Amy’s picks” here and there (If there’s a favorite of yours there too, feel free to grab a card from the desk and write your own – leave the card in my inbox and I’ll make sure it and its book are displayed prominently.) It has nonfiction, fiction, children’s books, cookbooks, courses on CD, all available by a simple signout process whenever you have a moment.

    The library is open whenever the office is: 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday. There will soon be the addition of an armchair or two and reading lamps, so you can settle in with a book as comfortably as at home. You can even make a cup of tea in the office kitchenette. Well, there is one difference between reading in the Hamaker Library and in my living room: the resident cat. I would suggest we acquire one for UUCPA, but there are allergy considerations. — Blessings, Amy

  • Midweek meditation November 10, 2017

    I can’t wait to see the new Murder on the Orient Express. Some might find that surprising. I’ve seen the Sidney Lumet version with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot at least once or twice, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the book. The twists hold no surprises for me, nor for anyone familiar with it; it’s one of those audacious Agatha Christie solutions that you don’t forget.

    In other words, I know how it ends. I not only know who’s going to be murdered, but who dunnit, and why. This might suggest to some people that there’s not much point to seeing the movie, and certainly not to rereading the book.

    But the end isn’t the point–and in fact, knowing what happens on the last page of a mystery frees the mind to pay more attention to what happens along the way. I want to watch for the telltale glances that signal someone’s guilty knowledge. I want to see if I can spot the moment when Poirot puts it all together. Even though I’m sure that in essentials, this version will be pretty faithful to the book, and therefore similar to the version I’ve already seen, I want to see how it looks this time, with this cast.

    I think of life the same way. We pretty much know how it’s going to end. But that’s not what makes life interesting. What’s important is what happens along the way. What did we see? What did we notice? Did the leaves dance as they fell at our feet on a November day? What expressions were on the face of a friend when they shared something important and brought us closer together? As we progressed towards the certainty of death from the certainty of our own birth, what did we learn? Because those things aren’t known at all, even to a mind as great as Hercule Poirot’s, or Agatha Christie’s, and they’re not recorded there on the last page. We write them as we go.

    The real mystery is in every day. I hope some surprises await you today.

  • Midweek Meditation: When it’s all too much October 14, 2017
    Dear ones, it’s overwhelming, isn’t it? It seems like every time we tune in to news, we receive another blow. The risk of burning out, shutting down or stressing out is real. Like Dorothy Day, one of my heroes, I keep thinking of this verse from Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” We want to keep a soft heart and an open spirit, but how do we stay vulnerable without being beaten down? Here are a few tips that I find work when I remember to use them.
    (1) Be selective and strategic about the news. It’s important for folks who want to be engaged in the world to be informed, but when the news is so full of disasters, threats, and scandals, it can stop being informative and be destructive instead. For example, when an elected official says something particularly outrageous reading about it can provide a short burst of energy–righteous rage has that effect. But like most short bursts of energy, it usually recedes quickly and leaves us depressed and depleted. It’s better to avoid those stories and focus on a few key issues you want to know about.
    (2) Know the signs of when you are hitting overload and get yourself out of that situation if you possibly can.

    (3) Build sweetness and happiness in to your days, every day. Go someplace you find beautiful and peaceful, do something you love, be with people who make you happy. Half an hour’s connection with the things that give you peace and love is like an inoculation against the world’s hurts.
    (4) Take action in one, manageable, concrete way. The purpose of this post is not to rustle up donations, but if it eases your heart to know you have done something to help–and I am pretty sure it will–do that something. Here are a few sites related to the ills of the past few weeks.
    Neighbor to Neighbor (from a UU minister serving in the US Virgin Islands)

    UUA Disaster Relief Fund (helping post-Harvey, Irma, and Maria; also channeling funds to those affected by the North Bay fires)

    (5) If you, like Ezekiel, talk to God, or pray in some way, do. Pray to whatever force you believe can give you a heart of flesh when your heart is growing hard like stone, and a new spirit when yours gets worn out. At moments like these, I sit quietly and open my hands in front of me like a bowl. Sometimes I can feel something new and lifegiving pouring in.

    What else do you find helps you when events threaten to make you feel helpless? Send them to me (parishmin@uucpa.org) and I’ll share them.

    Peace, love, faith, hope,
  • Midweek meditation September 28, 2017
    Several months ago I was rehearsing with the choir, which generously welcomes sporadic participants like me, when we turned to a piece I knew I’d sung before. It turned out that the choir had sung it at my installation here, 13 years earlier, and then it came back to me: I had been a choir that sang it at the UUA General Assembly in 2002, and I had liked it so much that a year later, when I was called here, I suggested it for the anthem at the service of installation.

    This week, we are singing it again, as accompaniment to our guest Gregory C. Carrow-Boyd’s sermon, “Eyes on the Prize.” In it, he’ll share his thoughts on what it takes to realize our vision of “a truly multiethnic, multicultural, multigenerational spiritually vibrant community.” And I’m pondering the beautiful photos and words of Amelia Shaw that hang in the Main Hall foyer, which offering their meditations on where white culture (her own, and mine) fits in to that vision . . . well, more on that on Sunday.

    But through it all, now, I hear the words of Kenneth C. Patton, the founder of the Universalist Charles Street Meetinghouse in Boston, set to music in this anthem. He writes,

    What more have we to give to one another than love and understanding?
    And the choir repeats: “What more have we to give

    to give

    to give
    to one another

    than love and understanding?” as if trying to hammer home the simplicity of this truth. As we meet across the borders of culture, ethnicity, age, theology, what better gifts can we offer than our love for each other and our ardent attempts to understand where each person–literally, not only in the slang expression–“is coming from”?

    We treasure knowledge; we seek wisdom. But these alone will not weave together the disparate threads of our lives and experiences into a community. All the way home after rehearsing this anthem, I kept hearing, like a mantra in my head, Patton’s reminder of what does:

    Wisdom must be made the implement of love
    And love the guide and repairer of knowledge.

    I’ve been on a quest to learn more about other cultures, other ethnicities, to hear voices outside my own experience, and so to set the whiteness that is my heritage in its proper, modest place. It’s a search for knowledge, and maybe even wisdom. Lest knowledge become the be-all and end-all, we’ll have these words to remind us of the real reason we strive to welcome all voices, all lives, into our community. And, reflecting on my installation, I know it’s also the real reason for creating a Unitarian Universalist community in the first place. It’s all about love.

    See you Sunday,


  • Weaving the Web September 24, 2017

    It’s really exciting to be getting ready for the arrival of our Sabbatical Religious Educator, Mr. Barb Greve. Barb and I have not worked together, but we’ve met frequently: not surprising, since Barb has seemingly been everywhere and done everything in Unitarian Universalism. I’ve enjoyed every interaction. He has such knowledge, expertise, and love for Unitarian Universalism, particularly religious education (see the announcement on page 11), and it will be a treat to work with him. Then we’ll welcome a newly energized Dan Harper back in March.

    Recent conversations have reminded me of something that runs quietly through my life at church but that I seldom articulate: I am also a professional religious educator. Part of it is that I teach Adult Religious Education (ARE) classes and a segment of Coming of Age, of course, and have even taught UU seminarians how to organize and teach ARE, but it’s not just that. It’s more a matter of orientation. Any rabbi will tell you that the meaning of “rabbi” is “teacher,” and that their job is therefore chief teacher of the congregation. Clergy, including rabbis, are other things as well: celebrant of worship and rites of passage, comforter, counselor, volunteer coordinator, community organizer, and director of a complex non-profit organization. But there is no question that, just as my orientation to my own life experiences is “What can I learn from this?,” my preaching, pastoral care, organizational work, and justice are always carried on a strong stream of the question, “What can I help people learn in this moment?” And that’s why I’m a member of not only the UU Ministers’ Association but the Liberal Religious Educators’ Association (LREDA, pronounced Luh-RAY- dah). It’s also why it’s so important to me to include young people in leadership roles for which I’m responsible, like Worship Associates (Miles Chen, Jessalyn Grant-Bier, and Olivia Ramberg-Gomez will all be in the pulpit in this role this fall), and why I devote a big part of my work in this largely volunteer-led community to coach- ing volunteers.

    I think we are all learners and we are all religious educators. So as we go into a period of ferment and change in our formal Religious Education programs, let’s all be thinking: what do I teach by what I say and do here at UUCPA? What spiritual guidance am I giving, explicitly and implicitly? What do I want to learn, and what do I want to help others to learn? I would love to hear what answers emerge for you.