Recording of our April 26, 2020 online worship service
Worship manuscript: This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), unless otherwise attributed.
Good morning and welcome to our first Michigan Unitarian Universalist virtual megachurch worship service! Today, Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton, People’s Church in Kalamazoo, and Birmingham Unitarian Church have come together as one worshiping body. Today’s service is lead by the team at Birmingham Unitarian Church, we’ll follow the format BUC has been using these past few months. In the weeks to come, each church will lead a service, and the worship style will vary accordingly. At this time, I’d like to invite my ministerial colleagues in this venture to introduce themselves... I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, Senior Minister of Birmingham Unitarian Church in beautiful Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I’m joined in leading today’s service by BUC’s Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing with technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis. Birmingham Unitarian Church is a Welcoming Congregation. This is a designation that demonstrates a commitment to doing the work of being fully inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. We’re also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a similar designation for environmental justice work. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well. A few quick notes about the service. In an effort to prevent Zoombombing and to ensure that everyone can enjoy the service with minimal distractions, BUC disables the chat box during our services. We also keep all participants on mute throughout the service. We will have a virtual coffee hour today. As we’re gathered from across the state this morning, this is an exciting opportunity to get to know new people and maybe see some old friends. If you are worshiping us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you. We hope that you’ll stay after the service and get to know us, too. We have three announcements this week. First, today at 1pm CUUB will hold a congregational meeting to present the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-2022. Please note that CUUB members will need to switch back over to CUUB's Sunday Service Zoom link at 1pm. More information can be found in CUUB news. Second, from BUC’s Social and Environmental Justice Committee - Voting is an important way to get involved in our democracy and there’s a lot you can do to help ensure our country functions fairly and democratically. You are all invited to join us at Beyond Voting, a four-part webinar series were we can learn about big and small ways to be part of the solution. Session One will be held this Thursday, April 30 at 7:00 pm. The topic is: Census 2020: What You Don’t Know About the Census in Michigan! This session will focus on the status of Census participation in Oakland County and easy ways you can help boost the numbers. The zoom link is available on the BUC website. And lastly, the BUC Climate Change Resolution Task Force invites you to a discussion of the film Chasing Coral. This documentary film explores what’s happening below the waves, how coral health impacts our seafood stocks and solutions to prevent further warming of our ocean. On May 3 we will gather via zoom to discuss the movie--that means you'll need to watch the film on your own before the meeting. A zoom link for that will also be posted on the BUC website Thank you, again, for joining us this morning, or whenever you’re watching this. Although we are not together physically, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again. And with that, our service will begin.
Although we worship from our separate homes, we joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice: We light this chalice to honor the wonder and curiosity that lives in each of us, that carried us during our childhood and is ours to reclaim in this tender moment of challenge and fear. Opening Words
Open the windows and doors this morning, Shake the dust from your heart and open up to joy. Open up to time that we share. Our connections make us who we are, Let us be willing to be made anew. This is the time to form new connections, Seeking out a new face from home or from afar This is the to deepen our connections, How you doing; but, how are you really doing? This is the time to challenge ourselves To hear a new word, to speak a new truth. In this virtual house of memory and hope, we join together from our separate lives and separate realities to witness the oneness and wholeness of Life. Offering
We have reached the time in our service when we ask for your financial support. In the spirit of love and collaboration, as our churches are taking turns leading the service, the offering will go to the congregation hosting worship. Today’s collection will go to BUC, and in the weeks to come, it will go to CUUB and then to People’s Church. So this is an opportunity to pay it forward. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on our economy and our individual finances. I ask you to consider, though, if you may have saved some money by not buying gas, or lattes, and of course, haircuts. Perhaps some of that can come our way. Your contributions can be sent using Venmo or through our website. Our Venmo username is @BUCMI. Or, if you navigate to our website, there is a “donate now” button. If you need to set up accounts through either of these giving platforms, I urge you to do so when the service is over. You can also put a check in the mail to us. I ask you to consider how much you’ve relied on your congregation in the past months and do what you can to support the good work of BUC. Please give generously. Joys and Sorrows Joy - Rev. Rachel celebrated her 40th birthday on Friday! She is grateful for the many kind emails and cards she received. I’m also very grateful for her mentorship and happy to join in the well-wishes for her birthday. Brian Lewis - We are full of relief!!! Our parents have had their medications all refilled; they are unable to return home at this time. It was a major challenge - solved! David Greenquist - For those of you who are not Facebook friends with me or otherwise didn’t get my message, I would like to let everyone know that because I work at Walmart and am considered an essential worker, you’ll be pleased to know that so far I have not experienced any symptoms of this virus and please keep me in your thoughts and prayers that I don’t catch it. Mary Jo Larson - Our daughter Liz is sick from the coronavirus, transmitted at the nursing home where she is a speech pathologist. Although she is otherwise young and healthy, we can't help but worry, and she is feeling rotten. We appreciate your loving thoughts and concerns. Reading Today’s reading is an excerpt from Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn. It should be noted that this passage has some ableist language. We all experience fear, but if we can look deeply into our fear, we will be able to free ourselves from its grip and touch joy. Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones. The first part of looking at our fear is just inviting it into our awareness without judgment. We just acknowledge gently that it is there. This brings a lot of relief already. Then, once our fear has calmed down, we can embrace it tenderly and look deeply into its roots, its sources. Understanding the origins of our anxieties and fears will help us let go of them. Is our fear coming from something that is happening right now, or is it an old fear, a fear from when we were small, that we’ve kept inside? When we practice inviting all our fears up, we become aware that we are still alive, that we still have many things to treasure and enjoy. If we are not busy pushing down and managing our fear, we can enjoy the sunshine, the fog, the air, and the water. If you can look deeply into your fear and have a clear vision of it, then you really can live a life that is worthwhile. Homily These past two months have been tiring, frustrating, difficult in ways that we could not have imagined. And now we know that it will continue on, at least a few more weeks, but we also know that we don’t really know how long this will continue. Our quarantine experience has been full of big feelings from the beginning and those already big feelings are amplified by the ongoing uncertainty of it all. We’re feeling this at a primal level. We worry about our finances, our loved ones, and our own health. We’re all coping with a rapidly changing landscape and a lot of unknowns. We have good reason to be afraid. And yet, being constantly afraid has its own set of problems. Fear impacts our physical and mental health and it can impact the relationships that we so desperately need right now. We’re trapped between something that’s very scary and the serious issues that arise when we’re constantly afraid. Our emotional lives are complicated, to say the least. We are born with a set of core emotions. As we grow up and our thinking becomes more complex, our emotions become more nuanced. Our feelings are influenced by our past experiences, our perception of the present, and what we think might happen in the future. They are also driven by our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze responses. This is the part of us that has evolved to respond to real or perceived danger. Feelings are both cognitive and physiological and our experience of our feelings changes over time. This makes it hard to recognize and deal with strong feelings like fear. When we are afraid, that sympathetic nervous system, that fight, flight, or freeze response, is activated. This can cause increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and the production of adrenaline. Cognitively, you might experience racing thoughts, intrusive thoughts, or confusion. These are the clues that your body is responding to a threat, even if you don’t consciously feel threatened. Emotions can also be a clue that our sympathetic nervous system is responding to a threat. The fight response often feels like anger or irritability; flight feels like you’re trapped and need to run away; and freeze feels like you’re exhausted and need to take a nap. When we’re afraid, we can move through different levels of each of these responses, which means that we might feel a flight response at one time and a freeze response at another, both caused by fear. It’s understandable that we would feel fear right now. We’re dealing with something new that is legitimately scary. And because this is all so new and changes rapidly, our fear might feel completely different than how we’re used to experiencing fear. In other words, you may not realize that your underlying core emotion is fear because it’s showing up differently in our current context. For me, my fear is being processed as the fight response. I’m finding myself feeling irrationally angry in new and profoundly bizarre ways. During the few times I’ve ventured out into the world recently, I’ve found myself wanting to yell at people for not wearing masks properly. Prior to this, when strangers have annoyed me, I’ve been pretty good at ignoring them. I’ll have you know, I have never once shouted at a total stranger. But here I am, ready to flip out on everyone I see wearing a mask below their nose. Because really, why would anybody wear a mask below their nose? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I can’t control their behavior. I never could control anybody’s behavior, but it feels more important now because I’m afraid of the impact their behavior might have on my health. In normal circumstances, I might be annoyed by another person’s behavior, but under the shadow of fear, my reaction is elevated from annoyance to anger. What helps me deescalate my anger is a sense of curiosity about my reactions. In the moment, it’s hard to be curious about a primal response. But I’ve found it really helpful take a few deep breaths and ask some wondering questions. I start with “I wonder what I’m feeling right now?” My irrational mind answers: “Hulk Smash!” I continue on, OK that sounds like anger. Why am I angry? Because that person is doing something dangerous! Dangerous to who? I’m sitting in a car with the windows up. They are 15 feet away. Am I really in danger? No, I’m not in danger. I am afraid. The danger isn’t real, but I am afraid because the world is a scary place right now and I’m angry at that person because I’m more comfortable being angry than afraid. Being angry feels like doing something. Anger feels like action because of those physiological responses. When our blood is pumping, it feels the same as having done something. But all anger really does, especially in our situation, is keep us in a heightened state of emotion and active stress response. Being afraid launches the stress response, the fight, flight, or freeze, which I’ve been experiencing as fight, and that in turns causes fear, and so on. This creates a cycle that continues until is it consciously disrupted. Strong emotions, especially fear, can consume us. If we can separate our self from our reaction, we can bring a note of objectivity to our emotional response. When we meet our fear with compassion and curiosity, rather than an impulse to bury it and never look at it again, we have a better chance of moving through it. When we bury our fear, we only allow it grow and fester. Fear does not stay buried long. By bringing curiosity and wonder to our reactions, we can explore them with a sense of spaciousness. We move from “being afraid” to “experiencing fear.” An old illustration of meeting fear with curiosity is the shadow of the monster on the wall that turns out, upon further examination, to be nothing more than a mouse with really good backlighting. Fear is just the overblown shadow of a tiny mouse that is nothing but vulnerable. Our vulnerability, and it’s protective layer of fear, deserves to be treated with love and compassion. Our fear is a cover for something very tender. It tries hard to protect us, but it doesn’t always serve us. When we understand what’s happening in our mind and body, we improve our chances of stepping out of the cycle of fight, flight, or freeze. It’s ok to be afraid, but during this Spring of Uncertainty, we don’t have to always feel afraid. Feeling our fear, then being curious about it, can help us lay that fear down; and then pick up some hope, joy, compassion, and more. This is an ongoing process and we’re not always going to get it right. But let’s try anyway and be kind to ourselves throughout the process.