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January 4, 2009: “Carpe Diem, Manana”

Predictions: David Sarnoff wanted some of his associates to invest in the radio in the 1920s; the response supposedly: “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” —

    Harry M. Warner, of the famed Warner Brothers movie studio, was quoted when "talkies" were being suggested in 1927:  "Who the h . . .  wants to hear actors talk?" --

  ```Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, said in 1943  "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." --

Ken Olsen, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, as recently as 1977:  "There is no reason for any individuals to have a computer in their home." --

 -- TIME, 7-15-96, p. 54, "The Past, Imperfect." Other foresightedness: "This telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union, internal memo, 1886

 * "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." -- Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
  • “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”– Marshall Ferdinand Foch, professor of strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre Horse drawn carriages moved though New York City streets at an average speed of 11 1/2 miles per hour in 1906. In 1972, automobile traffic moved at 8 miles per hour in the city. And finally: A writer in The New York Times in 1900 prophesied that the advent of the automobile would solve the parking problem, since the auto occupies less space at a curb than a horse and wagon Resolutions are good, especially if there are changes we need to make in our lives. I heard about one poor guy who dialed his girlfriend and got the following recording: I am not available right now, but thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes. From an article entitled, Toward a Practical Theology For the Next Millennium, which I wrote for for the December issue of First Days 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?! 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. Let’s work on slowing things down a bit in the next millennium; this past thousand years has just gone by too damn fast. On theological as well as sociological grounds, we need to teach our busy folks procrastination; life has become too hectic, too busy, too damn technological (excuse me, either my fax of my cell phone just rang; or was it line one or line two?). Carpe Diem sounds fine for the Type A Personality, the Minister or corporate giant as CEO, and him or her of the clean desk and agendered lifestyle (yes, I think I just coined a word, and I hereby copyright it; you may use it with proper attribution), but for me, down here in ol San Antone, deep in the heart of Texas, I prefer Ma’ana and the desk of the creative mind. Yes, I’m aware that some people think that means unorganized, sloppy, even unagenderized, but for Christ’s sake, let’s remember that part where he talks about the lilies and worrying. Let’s get back to religion, for Heaven’s sake, back to killing everyone who disagrees with our particular brand (and that word has definite connotations here in cattle country, where vegetarians tread lightly, and it is not only a sin but actually against the law to talk badly about Beef-just ask Oprah of religion and letting God sort out the sheep from the goats. Someone once said that expecting the world to treat you nicely because you’re a nice person is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian. Somewhere I came across some poems on New Years by a poet named Nicholas Gordon who writes poems for free on his website of that same name, and I find his words inspiring, yea even for free! Happiness is something that one settles for

After the ups and downs of ecstasy.
Perhaps one doesn’t know what one is looking for;
Perhaps one doesn’t realize one is free.
Years end is time to tally up the tentacles,
Needing an occasion to take stock.
Everywhere are angels singing canticles
Well beyond the confines of the clock.
Years, no more than seconds, are but moments,
Each eternity again, again.
All live on the wheel of joys and torments,
Returning to the ramparts of the wind.

Carpe Diem Ma'ana is my way of reminding us to look at how we spend our time as if our time were a precious commodity, because it IS! One of my major regrets of parenting is that I didn't spend more time with my kids that I chose to spend reading the newspaper or watching TV! I entered Ministry in midlife, which meant I entered seminary, midlife which my children were little, indeed, my wife was also taking classes for her masters degree and we received our Masters degrees a week apart with our three kids attending both graduations of course! So yes, there was work  that both Cathie and I did to support the family that we might have done differently,  and I will always have regrets about my choices there as well, but the clear regrets are the ones that were just plain selfish!  And again, I know there needs to be a balance between work, play, and family needs, and that is what I think we need to find.

(Living By The Calendar Instead Of The Clock (New Year's)  "Leisure," from the Latin, means "to be free." Leisure is anything that restores you to peace while you are doing it. So, gardening, golf, reading, puzzles, and many other things can restore us to peace as we do them. Another cousin of leisure is the word "paragon." This little-used word means "the second thing that we do in life that keeps the first thing in tune." Hence, our work may draw energy from us, and we have then a "paragon," a leisure thing we do in order to restore us.

Most often, to build toward leisure demands that we disassemble something else. In Thomas Moore’s book Meditations, he tells of a pilgrim walking along a road.

The pilgrim sees some men working on a stone building.

“You look like a monk,” the pilgrim said.
“I am that,” said the monk.
“Who is that working on the abbey?”
“My monks. I’m the abbot.”
“It’s good to see a monastery going up,” said the pilgrim.
“They’re tearing it down,” said the abbot.
“Whatever for?” asked the pilgrim.
“So we can see the sun rise at dawn,” said the abbot.) From Sermons Website

Seize the day, yes? Carpe Diem and all that. As I was searching for material on the internet, synchronicity hit as t often does in sermon preparation, and if I believed in a God I w would say it was his intervention. You know the word, synchronicity? It means something like a divine coincidence for people who don't believe in God! Psychologists use it a lot and spiritual writers and intellectuals.  The great Psychiatrist Jung coined it to describe an event that is more than just coincidental and that has great meaning. I googled New Years Poems(  and one of the sites was, synchronistically- Carpe Diem: Poems for Making the Most of Time! it was from Academy of American Poets.  Now this was actually while I was already writing the sermon and was just looking for a poem or two! This what it said:

"We are food for worms, lads," announces John Keating, the unorthodox English teacher played by Robin Williams in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. "Believe it or not," he tells his students, "each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die."

Carpe diem remains an enduring rhetorical device in poetry because it is a sentiment that possesses an elasticity of meaning, suggesting both possibility and futility. Many poets have responded to the sentiment, engaging in poetic dialogues and arguments over its meaning and usefulness. Robert Frost briefly considers the notion of living in the present in a poem appropriately titled "Carpe Diem." He concludes, however, that "The age-long theme is Age's" and ends the poem with his own sentiment, that one should seize tomorrow, not today:

But bid life seize the present?
It lives less in present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing
Too present to imagine.

The existential dilemma suggested by carpe diem includes a sense of helplessness and senselessness, sentiments which are often expressed in a poet's resignation to a life filled with inexplicable losses and hardships. In Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "Spring and Fall: To a young child," the poet warns that "as the heart grows older / It will come to such sights colder." However, Walt Whitman's poem "O Me! O Life!" represents a refusal to acquiesce to such interpretations of existence. Whitman calls the reader to the present moment, and demands something meaningful be attempted:

The question, O me! so sad, recurring What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

I think it is asking the same question that is asked at every memorial service but not out loud whenever that passage from Ecclisiastes is read To everything there is a season, and isn't it read at every service? It is read at everyone I do and for good reason I always ask the question that is at the end of the chapter-What gain has the worker from his or her toil? Because the answer is also given, but it doesnt sound Biblical, it sounds too Unitarian Universalist, it sounds too Carpe Diem, Ma'ana, but, brothers and sisters, the Bible does say this! 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. And as I also say at every memorial service, everything in moderation of course.

One of poems from the Carpe Diem site recommends.  is a bittersweet favorite of mine, described as a poem of gratitude about the simple pleasures of life, by Jane Kenyon who died several years ago of cancer. She was the young wife of  well known New Hampshire Poet Doanld Hall who had survived cancer and was in his 70s.

Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

from Otherwise, 1996
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn

New Years brings change, of course, but more than that; it brings the possibility of change. It gives us, even if its just am illusion, of a clean slate!  Let me share a poem  by MARTHA COURTOT -called "Crossing a Creek"

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.

We must trust ourselves and others; that requires faith. Faith is not just about the unseen, but about the growing possibilities. There is the story And, this story: It's the story of the little boy who did a wonderful painting in school.  When his teacher saw it, she was puzzled, though.  It had many colors, and shapes -but she couldn't really tell what it was! Now I know there are lots of teachers here.  And teachers know one of the important laws of teaching children about being creative: let them tell you what it is, never ask! This teacher knew she wasn't supposed to ask.  So she praised it generically, and suggested he take it home. He did - very carefully, because he was quite proud of his new creation.  When he got home, he pulled it out right away, and offered it to his mother.

"Oh, honey, that's beautiful!  Let's put it up on the refrigerator (right next to the church calendar, I'm sure!).  Can you tell me what it is?" Obviously, this mother wasn't a teacher - or was she?

The little boy beamed with such joy.  And very proudly, as they fastened the picture to the fridge, he said: "Mommy, it's a possibility!"

So is this new year, my friends, and so are our lives.  I don't when I first heard the phrase, were all on thin ice any way, we might a well dance, but this closing hymn. Let It Be a Dane is my favorite. Almost 30 years ago, the year we first discovered UUism when a friend invited us to their fellowship. -let em repeat that- when a friend invited us to the fellowship!-    we heard the UU troubadour minister, Ric Masten, who wrote that wonderful song. He and his music were profoundly inspirational! It became almost like my theme song as I played it so many times on my guitar as I went to seminary, preached around at the UU Congregations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. I loved it because it was playful while being Biblical, like the Ecclesiastes poem, To Everything There Is a Season. When I went to Texas I played it there as well!  It is a great New Years Song, is it not, and a tribute to Ric Masten who died of cancer last year.

Ten years ago my mother, too died of cancer and I turned 50. I wrote a couple verses to Joni Mitchell's great song The circle Game, the last of which goes:

He knows now there are many years to come and fears not future, pines not for the past

He's learned that love will live when we are done And it's the journey not the end is our task.

Let us remember the journey and how we live not just our lives, but our love; and how we share our interconnectedness with the rest of the world. Let us not just walk together, but also make sure we love one another, remember to invite our friends to church, be generous stewards of our resources to the church, to the earth,  and let it be a dance! Carpe Diem, Ma'ana.

Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. Vaya con Dios is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is Go with God, SO I adapted it to say Vaya Con Su Dios, Go with your idea or interpretation of God.

Opening Words

2 New Yorker cartoons 1. Two Oriental sages walking along a mountain path, and one says to the other: I’ve followed this way and I’ve followed that way, and the way to go turns out to be my way.

The stereotype bearded, white robed NYC prophet carrying a sign that says: The World is Not Coming to an End. We have to Learn to Cope!

Two poems by Nicholas Gordon

Here We Have Another New Beginning

Here we have another new beginning,
Another chance to be what we are not.
Praised be those who recognize the rot,
Portion out the guilt, and go on living.
Years change far more frequently than we,
Nor are our changes more than painted screens,
Each placed to maximize our meager means,
Windows on a world that none can see.
Yet, truth be told, we know well what’s within.
Each resolution fails to touch the heart,
As in the end we are, as at the start,
Remorseful reprobates, half hope, half sin.

Hope is Often Rented by the Year

Hope is often rented by the year.
A ceremony helps ensure the signing.
People like transitions to be clear,
Preferably at moments when they’re dining.
Yet as a rental flat can be a home,
No one wants to terminate this lease.
Each thinks hope too poor a risk to own
While needing its bright arc for inner peace.
Years therefore start with hope again renewed
Even as the old year’s wishes die.
After all the books have been reviewed,
Ring in the New Year!–with a gentle sigh.

Carpe Diem
by Robert Frost

Age saw two quiet children
Go loving by at twilight,
He knew not whether homeward,
Or outward from the village,
Or (chimes were ringing) churchward,
He waited (they were strangers)
Till they were out of hearing
To bid them both be happy.
“Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure.”
The age-long theme is Age’s.
‘Twas Age imposed on poems
Their gather-roses burden
To warn against the danger
That overtaken lovers
From being overflooded
With happiness should have it.
And yet not know they have it.
But bid life seize the present?
It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing
Too present to imagine.

Does the statement, We’ve always done it that way ring any bells…

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did they use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.

Now the twist to the story…

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds. So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s rear end by a bureaucrat or is that redundant? Happy New Year