Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

December 2, 2018: “The Light We Want”

We gather to celebrate, once again, in the light of this beacon, in this place of warmth and safety, where we call on one another to be brave together.
We come with all of our frailty and our tenderness, as well as our strength and generosity.

I’d like to share with you the words of Erika Hewitt

Let us remember and celebrate, this morning,
that each of our bodies was woven together in the depths of mystery:
cells multiplying, tissue taking form, organs taking up their function,
all under the silky cover of skin.

Let us gather in reverence for the gift of these bodies,
whatever their ages, their shapes, their abilities,
and may we know them to be channels of the world coming alive through us.

These bodies, these blessings, bring the world to life
through seeing, taste, hearing, scent, and touch.
May we bring to our intricately woven bodies a sense of sacred caretaking.
In doing so, let us also be grateful for the embrace of the Holy:
the Presence that creates and sustains life,
the Mystery that knit together each of our bodies,
and the force of Love that celebrates our desires.

Personal Reflection “The Cuckoo Clock” Marie Nightingale
One of the biggest mysteries in my life has always been why my grandmother , Emma Liedke, (whose last name translates as small song, a fact I love) emigrated from Germany in the late 1890’s at the tender age of 16, leaving behind a beloved brother, Eric, who was a shepherd, ( doesn’t that sound Biblical?) and a much loved mother,& angering her father so much that he disowned her (a term that may sound very freeing, but was extremely bad for women who were so dependent upon men in those days.) Her mother gave her her only inheritance, a large cuckoo clock, carved in the Black Forest of Germany in the 1850’s.  It was approximately 24” x 24” & covered with birds and grapevines intricately carved.  It probably took up over half her trunk space.  There were 3 large weights shaped like pinecones that made the mechanisms work, for keeping time and for causing the 2 birds to call out; the quail every 15 min. and the cuckoo every hour.  Her mother told her to sell it if she ever needed money for it was very valuable. She never did, even through many hard times, she managed to keep it to pass on to her daughter, who became my mother.
  Her hard times started shortly after coming to America, when she met & married a handsome, charming, intelligent man who also spoke German, named Henry Hoffman, on April 21st of 1899 in Cleveland Oh.  The marriage certificate which I have framed says only that Emma was from Deutschsland no city mentioned.  Henry turned out to be an alcoholic.  This forced Emma to earn the living for the family of 5, by sewing coats by hand, scrubbing floors, taking in laundry & being a midwife.  Not surprisingly, she contracted TB & was in & out of Sunny Acres, the local sanitarium in Warrenville hgts. where they tried to cure TB with rest, fresh air & whole food .  When Emma died, my mother was about 13 so she & her 2 brothers, Ted age 8 & Harry 14 went to foster homes as basically unpaid servants and farm laborers.  My mother toted the big clock with her on her annual moves.  
    Later this same  cuckoo clock became a reassuring part of my childhood.  My father would pull up the large pinecone weights every night before he went up to bed.  The loud tick tock was a reassuring presence.  
   I realized as I was writing this, that one reason I empathized so much with my grandmother, whom I never met,  is that 61 years after she made the tragic error of falling in love with a charismatic man who turned out to be an alcoholic, I did the same thing ; once again proving that love is blind.  Luckily I had a much easier time than my poor grandmother as I went to college for 2 yrs then became a cadet teacher, as the need was great in the late 50’s & early 60s.  After my divorce my ex paid child support and I went back to Kent to get my Masters in Library Science.

Reading Marie Nightingale
Our reading this morning is a poem called “Chanukkah,” byRev. Lynn Ungar

Come down from the hills.
Declare the fighting done.
Be bold — declare victory,
even when the temple is wrecked
and the tyrants have not retreated,
only coiled back like a snake
prepared to strike again.
Come down. Try to remember
a life gentled by daily acts
of domestic faith — the pot
set to boil, the bed made up,
the table set in calm expectation
that when the sun sets
we will still be here.
Come down and settle.
Unlearn the years of hiding.
Light fires that can be seen for miles,
that dance and spark and warm
the frozen marrow. Set lamps
in the window. Declare your presence,
your loyalties, the truths
for which you do not expect to have to die.
It would take a miracle, you say,
to carve such a solid life
out of the shell of fear.
I say you are the stuff
from which such miracles are made.

Sermon “The Light We Want” Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

Judea is the mountainous southern region of Palestine, named after the patriarch of the Jews, Yehuda, who was renamed Israel after wrestling with God.

Judea was and still is the Greco-Roman name for Judah,
which was part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt until 200 BCE when war with Syria made it part of the Seleucid Empire.

After the battles that took the new territory, the new ruler, King Antiochus III wanted a reconciliation with his Jewish subjects, so he allowed them religious freedom. It was good for the Jews, allowing them peace of mind and practice, but 25 years later, the king’s son and new ruler, Antiochus IV, invaded Judea at the request of the Tobias’s,
who led a small Jewish faction that wanted to see the Jews become more like the Greeks and Romans in their daily lives outside of the temple.

The Maccabees were a small band of rebel fighters, led by Matisayu and his son, appropriately named Judah.

The name Maccabee is an acronym for the verse, “Mi Chamocha Ba’eilim Hashem,” which means “Who is like you amongst the supernal beings, O’Lord.” 

They battled against the Syrian Empire, which had taken over the temple in Jerusalem, then erecting a statue of Zeus and and beginning the daily practice of slaughtering pigs at the altar.

It was a terrible war between the Maccabees and the Syrians that lasted three and a half years, but the Jews finally got the temple back. It was profoundly desecrated, and needed to be cleansed for sacred rituals again.

According to the Talmud,
pure undefiled olive oil with the seal of the high priest was needed to light the cruse — the oil lamp — in the temple, which was required to burn throughout the night, every night of the year. In the temple was found only a small amount of oil, just enough to burn for one night, but it would take 8 days to purify more oil.

The word Hanukkah derives from the Hebrew verb meaning “to dedicate,” and that’s exactly what they aimed to do. But they needed more oil than they had. Or they needed a miracle.
The miracle of Hanukkah is a small one. The small amount of oil they had lasted the whole 8 days, so the menorah could burn each night until they had more pure, undefiled olive oil.

All Jews see the miracle of the oil to be a minor miracle. It didn’t save anyone. But it is become part of the story of how they formed as a unified people out of the twelve diasporic tribes descended from Yehuda.

Conservative Jews see the rededication of the temple as a liberation of Israel from contamination of the temple, and more importantly contamination of the people of god from pagan Greco-Roman invading culture. It’s something worth celebrating, but the miracle is minor enough to make it a minor holiday.

For more liberal Jews here in North America, the book of Maccabees and the battle for the dedication of the temple is all about religious freedom, a struggle that continues to this day, a struggle almost as great as the one they fight against rampant commercialism,
and the well-intended need so many Christians in the dominant culture have to make the minor holiday Hanukkah somehow analogous to Christmas, with its over the top expectations of gift-giving.

The Jewish Reconstructionist Communities in the United States came up with a new way of looking at the holiday, by removing the expectation of gifts and instead focusing on 8 virtues: Courage, gratitude, Tzedakah, knowledge, understanding,
love and hope, each on it’s own night an into the day following.

I came across this cute story that begins, “Once upon a time in a country far, far away (but somehow very like here) there lived a family named Rosengolden with six children, two parents, a cat named Kitty, a dog named Rover, a parakeet named Tweety and an iguana named Slimy. The six children were named Judah, Judith, Reuben, Ruth, Herschel and Hannah. The parents were named Mordecai and Malka.”
Each person in this super-Jewish family came up with their own favorite virtue they wanted to add to the mix. Reuben is the guy who chose Tzedakah, Hebrew for charity or almsgiving. (…)

So Chanukah has been around a long time, 2200 years or so, and it’s survived pretty much in tact, despite internal differences of opinion and outside pressure to …. well, Hellenize.

Chalica, the Unitarian Universalist holiday has only been around since 2005.

Darlene Marshall and a few other young adults studying for the ministry at the Vancouver School of Theology in British Columbia were sitting around talking one day about Unitarian Universalist identity and practices. Darlene said matter-of-factory that there should be a UU holiday. Everyone agreed, in that authoritative way all seminarians have.

Actually, I don’t mean to be dismissive, because they were actually right. All other faiths have their own holidays. Just this month, Christians are observing Advent in preparation for Christmas, Hindus have Diwali, The African diaspora has Kwanzaa. Then there’s Ramadan, Chinese New Year, all the Jewish holidays.

Jews know they are Jews because they have Passover and Yom Kippur and Chanukah, and they tell the stories of each, and how those events formed their identity as a people.
What do Unitarian Universalists have? No holidays.

I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t work in a UU church, I’d love to be able to say to my employer, I can’t work late every night this week, because I have to leave at 4 in order to be home in time for my family’s observance of our religious holiday.

We should have a holiday!
But, as my mother always says, when you say “should,” that’s when all your troubles start.
Anyway, Daylene went home that evening and began writing about the new holiday. she imagined it being Chalica, a derivation of the word chalice, not so that it would sound like any other holiday. She figured it should be a celebration of that which is most identifiable to Unitarian Universalists as our shared identity; our seven principles, and since there are seven days in a week, the holiday should be a week long, ending at our Sunday Service, in which we’d celebrate the seventh principle:
the interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part. Each day, the family would gather around a chalice, and light it, perhaps before dinner or before rushing off to school and work, and pledge themselves to upholding one of our seven principles in some small way that day.

Daylene’s selection of the first month of December, she insists, was totally random. She never intended it to compete with Christmas and other winter holidays, and certainly didn’t intend the word, images or practices to invoke those of Chanukah.

Her hope was that the practice wouldn’t add to the pressures of the season, but diffuse them, by taking the focus off of consumerism and allowing space for UU adults and children to just slow down and remember the values and identity that we share.

She sent her little essay off to a few friends, including the people involved in the previous day’s conversation.
Then a friend started a website, which quickly became a facebook page that within a couple years grew to over a thousand members.

And this is where the trouble starts.

There been quite a bit of discussion on Facebook about whether Chalica is a “misappropriation” of other holidays. It’s not, the Rev. Lisa Schwartz of the UU Fellowship of Topeka, Kans., concluded in online remarks. “I see Chalica as an evolutionary celebration. . . . It seems a fun and light-hearted way to fight the commercialization of our culture, introduce family ritual into homes, and deepen UUs’ understanding of our Principles . . . all at the same time.” (

The good news is that a few congregations have adopted the practice of observing Chalica as a holiday. Our congregation in Ventura, CA, led by Rev Jan Christianson, was among the first.

She has found it to be delightful, and a lighthearted way of calling congregants back to basics during a time when it’s easy to fall prey to the ravages of excess.

I have it on good authority that our sibling congregation in Shaker Heights has been celebrating Chalica for years. But instead of encouraging people to partake of the holiday at home during the first full week of December, and celebrating together on one Sunday, they take seven Sundays in a row beginning during the first worship service of the year.
That’s so UU, isn’t it? Take something that already exists, resist anything that smacks even slightly of outside authority or clericalism, and adapt it to our completely unique needs that nobody else could ever understand. There’s got to be some way to word that more politically. It could be our eighth principle.

Chalica even has its own song. A couple of songs, I think. My understanding is that one of them is very serious and one of them is set to the tune of Adam Sandler’s Hannukah song. You know. “Go tell your Veronica, it’s time to celebrate Hanukkah.” Really? That just makes Chalica sound like a joke. And, you know, cultural misappropriation of Chanukah.

I’ve heard some people — detractors and cheerleaders alike, compare Chalica to Festivus for the Rest of Us, the holiday created by characters on the old sitcom Sienfeld, with its new traditions of Feats of Strength and Airing Grievances. It’s not “real” but a bunch of people have taken it seriously,
and have actually started to celebrate with family and friends on December 23. So it’s become real.

If only Unitarian Universalism were as widespread as fandom of Sienfeld! People really would be leaving work early for a week in December.

In the past week, as I’ve been thinking about Chalica, and comparing it to long standing holidays like Chanukah, a big difference between them stands out, differences greater than their longevity.

Chanukah looks to the past, and celebrates a moment in history in relationship to the time before it and the time after it, to explain how Jews got here. Chalica looks to the future, in hopes of what we could be, without providing much insight into how to get there.

Chanukah is al about mystery, the mystery of the oil lasting 8 nights when everyone knew it was only enough to last one. Nobody tries to explain it or minimize its significance, they just allow it to be.
Chalica is about certainty: a daily statement about the commitments our congregations make with one another.

There isn’t a narrative, a compelling story, or any kind of mystery associated with it. We know what the seven principles are, who created the holiday, and why they thought we needed it. Carl Sagan once said “If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.”

I wasn’t feeling very positive about Chalica and the purpose it served until yesterday.

At the memorial of John Opie, his grandchildren came up to the chancel together to share their reflections on a man they each had a different name for. Their parents came from a blended family, two families of three kids each that formed a new family back in 1976. The oldest grandson Graham called them the Opie-Ray Clan. Each of the grandchildren spoke of what John meant to them,
and I think every single one of them said a little about something so simple, it moved me to tears. They’d go with their grandfather to a place called Oink’s for ice cream during the summer. I got the impression they went in groups, sometimes in pairs, sometimes they even got their beloved grandfather all to themselves, as they engaged in what was obviously a sacred ritual, complete with a season of observance, regular practices, and years of memories.

This practice, this ritual, call it the holiday of Oink’s, helped form an identity for this generation of the Opie-Ray clan. I’m not saying it was the only thing. Obviously, the clan is built on really the really strong foundation built by barb and John and their commitment to openness, exploration and kindness. But the little things they handed down — love of art and music, hiking and canoeing, eating ice cream on a hot day, and — those are the things that make them who they are.

That’s what families do. We hand down heirlooms to each other intentionally, and pass on qualities from generation to generation the way Marie’s grandmother did. The way the Jews of two millennia passed on menorahs and the igniting of candles for eight nights in the darkest month of the year.

Come to think of it, I’ll bet a lot of those early Jews thought “what a silly thing to do. This holiday isn’t real; somebody just made it up because they wanted a a holiday. They only thought there wasn’t enough oil for eight nights.”
Maybe it was just an excuse to have a few quiet nights in the dark of winter.

Whatever they thought about it, they just did it. And probably some of them enjoyed it as much as they’d enjoy getting ice cream with their grandfather.

Maybe that’s the power that Chalica could have. The power to celebrate an identity that already exists, from simply slowing down to be alone together on purpose during the most hectic month of the year. There’s hope in that. There’s an affirmation of life.
That might just be all the mystery we need: finding hope where hope is hard to find.

In a season of seeking light in the darkness, perhaps the light that we as Unitarian Universalists are seeking is the light cast by chalices at home, lit as we share stories and ideas that unite us in ways that can only be described by actions and not words.

Starting tomorrow, we are going to light seven candles on seven nights in our home. Just for the fun of it.
Just to try something new that a bunch of other Unitarian Universalists are also doing. Something tells me we’ll feel more connected to each other and other UUs simply by doing it. Maybe you can do the same.