What To Do With a New Year, Rev. Arthur G. Severance

Start Date

 What will YOU do with your new year? Your brand new shiny, never used, year. Go ahead; do ANYTHING you want with it! The sky�s the limit. Money�s no object. Imagine. You have an entire new year in from of you! What will you do with it?

       Don�t waste it! Don�t throw it away! Don�t find yourself at the end of it, wishing you�d used it better, like you might have this past year. No, this year will be different, I promise. What will you do with it?

            Free poet Nicholas Gordon writes this about New Year:
New years are a chance for a beginning
Even when there hasn't been an end.
Wheels turn in an interminable bend,
Yet, marked in one spot, seem to wobble spinning.
Each year we hope to do a little better
Although we know that really nothing's changed.
Reason thinks that everything's arranged, So we must dream if we would fate unfetter.

            One of my colleagues had used a poem of Gordon's and in researching him, I found that he had put his poems on the web for free for anyone to use and enjoy with proper credit given at www.poemsforfree.com. 

Want to be a poet?

            We call it the NEW YEAR as if it is real, as if there is an actual time demarcation in the time-space continuum somewhere, as if this was an actual point in time that could be identified as January 11, in the year 2011 of the Common Era, or CE, which is the latest academic usage, or the more archaic, AD, which means Anno Domini, Latin for, �In the Year of our Lord,� which further actually means when Jesus was born. The Jews and the Moslems, as well as most other religions, as you might well imagine, have their own numbering system for years, though in commerce they are often forced to use the more common, and therefore actually Christian one of January 11, 2011.

         Because you see, to measure time, one would need to know when it began, and we�ll be talking about that later in the month when I talk about infinity and the fact, or is it a theory, that there really was no beginning of time, but let�s not get into that now!  So to measure time, as we laughingly like to call it, we pick a historical event, the birth of Jesus, which of course, in this case is not historical, but faith based, and measure it from there.

            So the real measurements come from the sun and the moon and the seasons which result, all producing, I would argue, humanity�s holy days which turn into our holidays. New Years is related, like Xmas, to the winter solstice and the beginning of the the lengthening of the days which gives the appearance of a new year, though, of course, as countless cartoons point out every new years, we look out the door on New Years Day and it looks suspiciously like the day before!

             How we seem to hold New Years Eve in secular religious esteem!  Yet I never remember any New Years Eve services in my Congregational church growing up? No, New Years Eve is much more, well, pagan! How crucial we think about New Years resolutions, or what children sometimes aptly call �revolutions!�

            In an episode of the comic strip �Nancy,� Nancy is sitting at a table writing: "9.  Be nicer to people; 10.  Eat only healthy food; 11. Share with friends." She is all the way down to number 28 which is "Stop being so pushy." She writes, "29. Cut down on sweets; 30. Be less critical of others."

Sitting next to her is her friend Spike.  Spike asks: "New Year's resolutions?"
            Nancy replies:  "It's that time of the year again."
            Spike says,  "I'm impressed.  These are really good goals...but do you think you can keep all of them?"
            Nancy replies: "Why should I?  These are for you."  Then she hands the list of resolutions to him! It's always easier to make resolutions for someone else isn't it?  You know it might be a lot easier if we just let our significant other make our resolutions for us. Indeed, maybe we could start a new tradition by making resolutions for our friends  and/or loved ones.. Don�t you think that would be helpful?

            Or as my favorite theologians, Mark Twain, said, �New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions.  Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.�

            Whether there is an ACTUAL new year happening or not, humanity for millennium have acted that way, have celebrated that way; who are we to change things, after all?

            Do you remember the big shift in time that wasn�t? The new millennium? The debate over when it really started? Was it the year 2000? and the dreaded 2000K?  Or the science fiction year of 2001? I will admit to being a fan of staring the new millennium on 2000; I hope you don�t think any less of me, and I do want you to know that I understand and respect both opinions so there is no reason to start writing to me to try to reason with me why it should really be 2001.  In fact, I took a scientific poll in church and it looked like it was about even divided, which in UUism counts for doctrine!  Do you remember further back when New Years eve of 1983 came and we worried about coming into 1984?

            Time is a long string, a chain, a connected web, and our lives are the same. So I share this poem written on New Year�s Eve afternoon, 1999 �End of the World Skeptical Blues�

            �I light the incense/ brace myself/called by holy forces/I can not begin to understand, measure, or name-/ to a promethean struggle to?/hold back the coming millennium/ almost as if I heard a still small voice within/ almost as if I was a I true believer/rather than a faithful doubter, a loving, hoping, skeptic/that somehow,/in this unfathomable and immeasurable universe,/I might be of any consequence at all- less than a blip on a time radar screen,/smaller than a nanosecond in the clock of life /while swimming in paradox lake as the sun goes down/and the sky of my life/like a closing movie shot/turns deep colors of pink and purple, red, yell, blue, white,/then all is black/the comfort of night has fallen.

            The Story of My life, as interconnected with you/whoever you are that hear or read this-/tonight New Year�s Eve of the new Millennium 2000,/But only if you believe that we can start at 0./The story of my life as connected with family,/children I have helped raise and love so dearly/even as they are growing up and away./Wife of my heart and mother of our children,/I will have to admit it./  I am the most important character of all time,/but only to me./and only in connection with you.

            I am a motherless child now yet still exist,/though somehow diminished./I have been a fatherless child for the last 25 years/and somewhat diminished./And on this great and world transforming eve,/I will leap into tomorrow/into the arms of love and life itself/into a trust in tomorrow, a love for today/and a blessed memory of yesterday.

            Would I change my life if I had it to live over?/A stupid question, really;/as if we could be hypothetical about our past./It is as useless a question as, �do you believe in God?�/And I always answer, �it all depends, doesn�t it? What are you really hoping to find out about me by that awful question?�

            Come, let us hold hands, close our eyes,/hope for the best, pray for the rest, /and then leap boldly/into the great time chasm of tomorrow,/next year, next century, next millennium, next life.�

            Can you see that metaphor in your minds eye? Holding hands with someone, maybe everyone here, at the top of a precipice and jumping off into the unknown future together. We do that when we marry, don�t we? 

Some of you did that when you built this church and left the old mansion-church named Graystone. Cathie and I did it a number of times, starting not just having children, but with my deciding to enter ministry in mid-life, then leaving our lives behind and moving twice-once to San Antonio Texas, and the second time to here. All of you have taken that jump as well at some time in your lives, some many times. Maybe a few were on Bungee cords...

            Every new year is a potential for change, sometimes whether we want it or not!  One of my favorite columnists and then authors is Ellen Goodman, and she writes about she and her husband on New Year�s Day: �We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched.  Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential.�

            Do you know what the ten most common resolutions are? These are what I read somewhere: 1.  Get in shape.  2.  Lose weight with a healthier diet.  3.  Stop drinking.  4.  Start budgeting.  5.  Get a new job or start a business.  6.  Spend more time with family or friends.  7.  Save more money or get out of debt.  8.  Get more organized.  9.  Give more or volunteer more time to help others.  10.  Stop smoking!

            Notice �attend church more� is not on there and I think it should be!  Maybe we should go back to that old commandment, �Remember the sabbath and keep it sacred;� one day a week when we set aside a sacred time, however we describe that.  Isn�t it amazing when you think in psychological terms of how wise the sages were to include that as one of 10 rules for living one of 10 Commandments?  A day of rest, a day of contemplation, a day of spiritual quest; it sounds like an ideal, now, doesn�t it?  Who has time for that? Should there be church meetings on a day of rest? The wisdom of the Bible is in the use of reason and new interpretations, but the wisdom has stood the test of time. The wisdom in that commandment was that we should never get so busy that we can�t take a day off to rest, to contemplate what life truly means, why life is sacred, why we should love one another, how we should be in relation with the beloved community and what is it that we think of as holy?

            Too often we think of all the faults we have that need changing and not the strengths we have that need reinforcing. I was finally able to give up smoking in 1992 after many fruitless attempts when I sought medical help and finally found the right combination of factors!  I�ve decided that one of my goals for the year will be a positive one, to find more ways to express my creativity through worship, writing, music, and photography. I find spirituality in being creative and since that is part of my ministry, it also helps my job! It should be a win-win resolution, one that I want to keep! Oh, there are a few other things I need to work on, in case you�re already thinking of that, or you�re my wife, for instance, but we�ll also get to those later as well.

            One of the most famous American clergyman of the 19th century, Congregationalist Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, said �Every one should be born again on the first day of January.  Start with a fresh page.  Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first of January let every body gird themselves once more, with their face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.�

            So what will we do with this new year? I wrote some stream of consciousness prose poetry:

New Years New Decade 2011

            �And so the New Year Comes/As if we could prevent it./ It comes like age,/like birthdays, /reminding us of our mortality. �Time�s running out!�, it seems to say,/like �last call!� at the bar, /or am I just getting too old? /Too Cynical?  When time flows on like a river/where does it go?  What will you do with this new year?/It could be your last./Would that make a difference/ in how you acted? /In how you treated people?/Yourself? /Family?/Your job?

            If you had one year to live/how would it be different?/What will you do with this new year?/If you, or your significant other, / were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow,/what would go through your mind?�

            Sometimes, of course, we are so busy that we lose sight of those things that really matter; we hear that so often don�t we? As someone has said (Michael Altshuler), �The bad news is time flies. The good news is you�re the pilot.� We have some control over the flight. We must find out what parts we do have control over, find out what we want to control, find out what, and perhaps who, we want to give up trying to control! The good news is that there IS time to change, to treat people you love, perhaps even yourself,  like you would if you only had that one year left to live. The scary news is, of course, we don�t actually know how long we DO have to live! So let us live now as if we meant itl

            I believe that we, the world, the universe, IT, if you will, - all connected, part of what I call my theology �You, Me, and the Universe Mystical Naturalistic Humanism,� that what we do, say and how we act towards one another matters- to each other, to ourselves, to the world. The 19th century Unitarian astronomer, Maria Mitchell, wrote, �... as small as is our whole system compared with the infinitude of creation, brief as our life compared with the cycles of time, we are so tethered to all by the beautiful dependencies of law, that not only the sparrow�s fall is felt to the outermost bound, but the vibrations set in motion by the words that we utter reach through all space and the tremor is felt through all time.�

            I think that�s what Jesus meant when he talked about how the lilies of the field don�t have to spin cloth yet how beautifully they are arrayed, and if the force of nature can do that, what some call God, why should you worry about tomorrow. Worry won�t change anything!  Instead have faith in the process of life itself that things will work out, remembering that we are all a part of that process working and loving together. That what one does unto the least of us is done to all of us! Compassionate  capitalism. It�s OK to make a profit, but not at the expense of someone else�s life! As part of Buddha�s message he talks about �Right livelihood� being part of the 8 fold path to enlightenment. and think about what �right livelihood� would mean to you in terms of job. It�s all connected; what we do, what we say, where we work, how we treat each other, even ourselves! It�s all part of religion as well, whatever we call it, and each year we have the chance to be reborn, to be born again, if you will. Indeed, I heard a new translation of that term which I thought very helpful; when Jesus says you must be reborn, another way to translate that word is you must be �rededicated�.

            Yea each year we have the potential of being rededicated to the spirit of life, to the peace which passes all understanding and the love that makes it all worthwhile.

            What will you do with this next year?

            Come into this new year with an open heart/Come into this new decade with an open mind./Letting yesterday go/Holding hands, /Let us leap together, trusting one another /Singing/Loving,/Helping,/playing,

praying,/worshipping, /working,/writing.,/relaxing, communicating, /creating, /giving, /sharing, /meditating, /thinking, dreaming,/ parenting, befriending,/being /believing.

May we co create a year of love, justice, prosperity, and peace.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, Assalaamu Alaikum, Abrazos a todos, Namaste, Blessed Be, Vaya Con Su Dios,

Opening Words

  We gather this morning,
           at the beginning of a new year.
  No year has ever been like this coming year,
           and no one will equal it.
  Like a newborn baby taking her first breath,
           it glows with potential.
  What is possible in this new year
            can seem limitless.

  Yet some may approach this new year
           with apprehension.
  As their bodies become more frail and vulnerable
           they anticipate less, not more.
  For them, possibilities narrow with time,
           as the sun sinks slowly toward the horizon.
  Like an old, aching man, releasing his last breath
           the light may go out.

  Whether one's personal possibilities
           are expanding or contracting
  The planetary consciousness
           vibrates with growth and development.
  The interconnections between everyone
           increase exponentially
  Along with what Google knows about everything.

  And ecological stresses and resource depletion loom ahead
            like a brick wall before a runaway train.

  No matter what happens to us in this coming year,
           we will be changed.
  May that change, move each of us
           toward compassion and away from hate,
           toward justice and away from oppression,
           toward the good, the beautiful and the true.

  In the spirit of hopeful anticipation,
           let us join together in the celebration of life.

   Faithfully yours,
  Sam Trumbore

MEDITATION ON FORGIVENESS
Let It All Go

All our lives we have been told to seek that which is good,
         to turn our faces from the dark and toward the light,
                 toward beauty, toward truth.

 But the truth is that the world is not always good.
The light we seek casts shadows,
         and there is brokenness amid the beauty.
Our world is far from perfect, as are we.

 We strive to be in right relations with one another,
         but there are times when we are left angry or disappointed,
         even as we sometimes anger or disappoint others.

Whether it is the harsh words said by a loved one,
         the loss of a friendship,
         the carelessness of a stranger,
         or the scars left by a childhood trauma, Bad things do happen.

We cannot seek Truth, Beauty, and Light
         without acknowledging
                 that which is false, broken, and in shadow,
         for all of these exist within us as well.

 In this moment of silence let us remember the wrongs we have endured
         that we may forgive them, and forgive yet again.
And in these times of quiet let us think of our resentments,
         give form to our grievances,
         and bring them forward to burn.

For like our anger, the flames may burn and destroy,
         but like our love, the flames may also cleanse and purify.
Let us undertake the work of forgiving ourselves and each other,
         that we may begin again in love.

                                       adapted from  -- Rev. Thomas Rhodes

Event type
Worship Service