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December 31, 2007: “New Year’s Eve Service-Losing Your Baggage on Purpose”

It seemed appropriate to use our favorite UU folksinger, Pete Seeger’s adaptation of Ecclesiastes in his song, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn.’: I always read from Ecclesiastes when I lead memorial services, and always point out something not usually addressed.

But this passage ends with a question: ‘What gain has the worker from his or her toil?’ What is not usually included in funerals or memorial services and which I think should be , is one answer to the existential question only a few verses later from that same chapter: ‘ I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; also that it is God’s gift to us that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their work.’

We all know the danger of overdoing that around this time of year

‘Twas the night!!

‘Twas the month after Christmas, and all through the house
Nothing would fit me, not even a blouse.
The cookies I’d nibbled, the eggnog I’d taste
At the holiday parties had gone to my waist.
When I got on the scales there arose such a number!
When I walked to the store (less a walk than a lumber).
I’d remember the marvelous meals I’d prepared;
The gravies and sauces and beef nicely rared,
The wine and the rum balls, the bread and the cheese

And the way I’d never said, “No thank you, please.”
As I dressed myself in my husband’s old shirt
And prepared once again to do battle with dirt—
I said to myself, as I only can “You can’t spend a winter
disguised as a man!”
So–away with the last of the sour cream dip,
Get rid of the fruit cake, every cracker and chip
Every last bit of food that I like must be banished
“Till all the additional ounces have vanished.
I won’t have a cookie–not even a lick.
I’ll want only to chew on a long celery stick.
I won’t have hot biscuits, or corn bread, or pie,
I’ll munch on a carrot and quietly cry.
I’m hungry, I’m lonesome, and life is a bore—
But isn’t that what January is for?
Unable to giggle, no longer a riot.
Happy New Year to all and to all a good diet! A Seasonal Invocation anonymous

Like in the story of the great prohibitionist preacher thundering his message at a temperance rally on the evils of alcohol:

“Who has the most money to spend?” he bellowed. “The saloon keeper! Who has the biggest house? The saloon keeper! Who has the finest furs and the most jewelry? The saloon keeper’s wife! And who pays for all this? You do, my friends, you do!”

A few days later, a couple who had been in the audience met the eloquent battler of booze in the street and congratulated him on the wonderful speech. They thanked him profusely and said it had given them new direction and had changed their life around.

 "I'm pleased to see that you've given up drinking," the lecturer said. 
 "Well, not exactly," admitted the man. "We bought a saloon." 

Well. let’s start the next year by forgiving ourselves of our shortcomings and bad habits, even while we resolve to keep working on them. There’s a wonderful Irish toast: “May all your troubles in the coming year be as short as your New Year’s resolutions.” especially those, we might add, that we actually kept!

When Bill Elliot, author of the wonderful book, Tying Rocks to Clouds; Conversations with Wise and Spiritual People, who gave his multi-media presentation to the church I served in San Antonio, he spoke with some humor about his time in Nepal, and how they are now trying to capitalize on all the Westerners who are coming for spiritual enlightenment and a good vacation while they’re at it. One of his slides was of a sign at an area being developed as a tourist attraction; the sign said, in both English and in the language of Nepal: ” Garden of the Gods,” and then underneath:” Under Construction.” Aren’t we all “the Garden of the Gods, under construction?” Therefore, we need to forgive our being under construction, still trying.

Since Janus looks both forward in prediction and hope, there is also the past which we carry around with us as what the therapists might call “baggage.” Sometimes we have so much baggage that we are slowed down in our life’s journey. perhaps even stalled and can move no further, cursed by too much heavy baggage, too much psychological and/or religious blinders that blinds us to the brightness of the potential and the possibility of the future. An article entitled “Serious Stuff or Fluff?” in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, July/August 1996, p. 12., by University of Wisconsin’s Robert Enright, Ph.D. and Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D. spoke of the letting go of forgiveness:

“In one study, when Enright and Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D., interviewed a group of incest survivors, none expressed any desire to forgive their perpetrators. The duo assigned half of the women to some forgiveness workshops anyway–and not only did all eventually forgive, but a year later they reported far less anxiety and depression than a nonforgiving control group. ‘I have never seen such strong results with incest survivors,’ says Enright.

Forgiving, however, does not mean letting the guilty party off the hook. ‘ It’s not excusing or forgetting–it’s giving up resentment that you’re entitled to,’ explains Enright. The paradox, he says, is that ‘by giving this gift to the other, it is the gift giver who becomes psychologically healed.'”

We are healed by the letting go of the past, of our or another’s sin, of the abuse, of the countless mistakes and bad judgments which we humans are heir to. To live our potential into the future, to find the religious dimension for our selves we must first be emptied of what is filling us up, of what is holding us back, of the baggage which is slowing us down, of the religious or psychological abuse we might have suffered, we have to let it go, and get going with our lives. Save us all from religious guilt which we don’t deserve; we certainly should have enough already for what we do deserve! As we age into the future, let us remember the quip- ” pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” We have all erred, all made mistakes. Love is the answer, forgiveness the task, of ourselves and others.

How Sad, the Year Just Passed

How sad, the year just passed! A year the past
Arose like smoke from deep beneath the rubble,
Pouring up through fissures in the heart,
Perhaps our own as much as those of others.
Year of hatred writhing in raw pain,
Near mad with certainty arrayed in faith,
Each aggrieved alight with righteous anger,
Whirlwinds swirling through their swathes of rage.
Yet let us in the new year look for justice,
Ever the rock on which to live in peace,
Administered with love for every soul,
Regarding every evil as our own. Nicholas Gordon

From an article entitled, ‘Toward a Practical Theology For the Next Millennium,’ which I wrote for for the December issue of ‘First Day’s Record,’ a UU ministers’ Journal: I propose a new slogan, perhaps a new theology for the next millennium, as arbitrary a measurement of real time and history as that might be ‘Carpe Diem, Ma’ana!’

Yes, yes, I’m all in favor of Robin Williams and’ The Dead Poet Society’ movie and their catchy slogan of ‘Carpe Diem-Seize the Day!’, but down here in the borderlands of Mexico where the blazing sun makes Siestas (Spanish for ‘meditation,’ or ‘nap; ‘what I prefer to call, ‘reclining meditation’) in the afternoon, Carpe Diem just doesn’t quite cut it for Hispanics or Anglos. No, if one adds that lovely Spanish expression, ‘Ma’ana,’ which not only means, ‘tomorrow,’ but also can mean, ‘later; there’s no hurry. Relax. Have an iced tea.’ Not ‘have a nice day,’ but ‘have an iced tea.’

New Year’s Eve is about looking forward, about change, about resolutions to personal changes. Let me share a poem by MARTHA COURTOT -called “Crossing a Creek” pulled out of email chat line:
Crossing a creek
Requires three things:
A certain serenity of mind,
Bare feet,
And a sure trust
That a snake we know slides silently underwater
Just beyond our vision
Will choose to ignore
The flesh
That cuts through its territory,
And we will pass through.

Some people think crossing a creek
Is easy,
But I say this —

All crossings are hard,
Whether creeks or mountains,
Or into other lives
And we must always believe
In the snakes at our feet
Just out of our vision

And we must practice believing
We will come through.

So let’s leave our psychological ‘baggage’ behind; let’s not even bring it to the airport of next year. In my wedding services I always invite the couple to leave the past conflicts behind and ask them never to fight about what has happened before this wedding day. And further, that when they do argue or are angry to remember the exact feeling that they hold right now, this emotional high of wedding day, surrounded by the love and well wishes from beloved friends, and family. I share with them what I have come to call, in true UU fashion, ‘The Ten Suggestions’, and share No. 4 for this New Year’s Eve:. ‘Be slow to anger but quick to forgive. Grudges are much too heavy to carry around, and they tend to multiply the longer that we hold them.’

We co-create the new year, that is, we are part of our own creation mixed with other things out of our control, and exactly what the mix is may define the different religions. Let us concentrate then, on the parts we DO control, or at least have a hand in or influence upon. Sometimes it may seem beyond us to forgive a particularly difficult person or even ourselves, so that means that it will not be easy; it does no mean impossible. Let us seek help when we need to, and sometimes that may be as close as a call to your minister or even another friend with whom we can feel free to be honest. And maybe, we need to talk to the person with whom we are in conflict, starting by admitting OUR part of the blame, if blame we want to call it.

So let the turning of the sun, of the year, of our lives, be incentive, inspiration, to co create the best year yet in our lives. Happy new year.

Peace, in Hebrew-‘shalom,’ in Arabic-‘ Salaam;’ may love guide us.

Opening Words The Rules For Being Human – Cherie Carter-Scott

  1. You will receive a body.
    You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period of this time around.
  2. You will learn lessons.
    You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called Life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons.
    You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.
  3. There are no mistakes, only lessons.
    Growth is a process of trial and error: Experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the
    experiment that ultimately “works.”
  4. A lesson is repeated until learned.
    A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.
  5. Learning lessons does not end.
    There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
  6. “There” is no better than “here.”
    When your “there” has become “here,” you will simply obtain another “there” that will again look better than “here.”
  7. Others are merely mirrors of you.
    You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.
  8. What you make of your life is up to you.
    You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.
  9. Your answers lie inside you.
    The answers to Life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.
  10. You will forget all this

Opening Words
Andrew Pakula

Come into this circle of community. Come into this sacred space.
Come into this circle of community. Come into this sacred space.
Be not tentative. Bring your whole self!
Bring the joy that makes your heart sing.
Bring your kindness and your compassion.
Bring also your sorrow, your pain.
Bring your brokenness and your disappointments.
Spirit of love and mystery; help us to recognize the spark of the divine that resides within each of us.
May we know the joy of wholeness.
May we know the joy of being together.

global chalice lighting

December 2007 (In English, French and German)

In times of darkness we stumble towards the tiny flame.
In times of cold we seek the warming fire.
In times of repression we reach for the lamp of truth.
In times of loss we pray for the comforting light.
In times of joy we light a candle of celebration.
Spirit of Life, as we kindle this light, help us find what we need this day.
Global Chalice Lighting for January 2008

The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists announces the 53rd in its monthly series of global chalice lighting readings. Congregations worldwide are invited to participate.


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 the times of music and readings to follow,
let us write 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.

                                    -- Rev. Thomas Rhodes