Recording of our August 30, 2020 online worship service
Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am Bill Fox, your worship associate this morning along with Brianna Zamborsky. We are joined in worship leadership by accompanist Christina Dragone and vocalist Kaye Rittinger. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Bouncer Drieka DeGraff.
BUC is a spiritual home for all people of goodwill. We believe in justice and hospitality and have earned such designations from the Unitarian Universalist Association. We are a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which means that we have educated ourselves and taken action to protect our environment. We are also a Welcoming Congregation, a term that means we are intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. Our commitment to both of these programs was renewed in this year. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.
Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook. After the service, we invite you to stay for a virtual coffee hour. You will be randomly sorted into breakout groups and we hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. If you are worshiping with 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.
We have two announcements this morning:
Water Communion is coming up on Sunday, September 13. This year, we are inviting everyone to make a sign with water droplets, or in the shape of a water droplet, with your answer to the prompt: "I am." Your answer should reflect something about your identity or how you're feeling, like "I am hopeful," "I am left handed," or "I am awesome." BUC member and resident video wizard Kurtis Zetouna will be collecting digital photos of your signs and adding them to a video montage that we'll play during the service on the 13th. Take a photo of your completed sign and send it to Kurtis by Thursday, September 10th. See your weekly email update for complete details.
The Monday morning Coffee with the Minister meetings are ending. Tomorrow morning’s meeting will be the last one.
In today’s service, we will talk about how we take care of ourselves, especially important during a pandemic.
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.
Every day brings struggle, every day brings joy. Every day brings us the opportunity to ease the struggle of another, to be the joy in another's life. May this flame remind us to carry our light to each other and to the world.
"Surrender to This Life" by Gretchen Haley
Give up the fight for some other moment, some other life than here & now.
Give up the longing for some other world,
the wishing for other choices to make other songs to sing
other bodies, other ages,
other countries, other stakes
Purge the past forgive the future—for each come too soon.
Surrender only to this life, this day, this hour,
not because it does not
constantly break your heart
but because it also beckons with beauty, startles with delight
if only we keep waking up.
This is the gift we have been given:
these “body-clothes,” this heart-break, this pulse, this breath,
this light, these friends, this hope.
Here we remember ourselves
All a part of it all. Giving thanks, together. Come, let us worship
Joys and Sorrows
We have come to the time in our service we set aside for prayer, reflection, and meditation. We begin with Joys and Sorrows. Each Sunday we recognize the highs and lows of our lives. There were no joys or sorrows written this week, but for those joys and sorrows, shared or unshared, know that we hold you in our hearts.
I invite you to move with me now further into prayer and reflection:
(from The Sage’s Tao Te Ching)
Let your memories, good and bad
Come and go without lingering
These are not you.
They are merely images
Projected on the screen of your mind.
Don’t be trapped in this dark theater.
Go outside and meet the life
Set before you in this moment.
May it be so, Amen & Blessed Be.
excerpt from "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
by Bill Fox
For some of us, this is, if not the best of times, not so bad. For others, it is the worst.
How we look at our lives, depends on the story we tell ourselves. The stories we told ourselves in the past, tell ourselves now and will tell ourselves in the future.
We tell ourselves these stories to cope and to survive and to maintain sanity. We tell these stories to ourselves throughout our lives, in difficult times, and in more ordinary times.
One story caught my attention two years ago:
Julia Salazar ran for, and won, a New York state senate seat. Her story was that she had been raised poor and partly grew up in Colombia. Her brother said, ‘no, not true.’ They grew up in the US and not poor. The brother said the times in Colombia were just lengthy visits to grandparents after their own parents divorce. Mom agreed with the brother.
This story grabbed my attention because, at about the same time, my mother said to me, for a reason I don’t remember, “you grew up on Tireman and in Lafayette Park.” And I said: “mom, I did not grow up in Lafayette Park. By the time you moved to Lafayette Park, I had graduated college and was nearly 23.” She was not convinced. I know my mom well enough to know, this was not due to failing memory.
A few months later, while my brother was visiting from Boston, the topic came up again. I think my mom was trying to prove she was right and asked my brother where he thought he had grown up. He said: “on Tireman and in Lafayette Park.” And I said: “you were 21 and a college senior when our parents moved. How can you say you grew up in Lafayette Park?” Hmm.
Like the Salazar family, I believe this is partially rooted in class. Julia Salazar was, perhaps, trying to establish an immigrant, working class history as she sought votes in her district.
Tireman Avenue, where I lived, was the southern boundary of a housing project. The townhouse my parents bought in Lafayette Park, was a larger, more attractive home designed by a world-famous architect.
I think, perhaps, my mother does not want to admit she raised her sons on the edge of a housing project in a working-class neighborhood. “Working-class,” was the initial draw for living there, to my left-leaning, pro-union parents.
Over time, my mother came to see that housing projects do not have great reputations and she now has a tendency to talk about how bad the neighborhood got.
My brother, who attended Detroit’s best high school, then the University of Michigan and finally an Ivy League graduate school, has his own story to tell and I do not think the Tireman home enhances it. We were growing up, in the same house, at the same time, yet he tells a different story. How does he explain our different versions? Well…he went to high school near the home that my parent’s eventually bought – three years after he finished high school. Does that justify saying he grew up there?
I, on the other hand, do not have a problem with where I grew up. That I played ball in the projects, that I went to school in the projects. It was what it was. Of course, you are not hearing my family’s version of the story, you are hearing mine. My story. The one I tell about my life.
Now, what story will I tell myself about living in this pandemic? Or about living in this time. Will it be the worst of times for me or the best?
What I tell myself now is that it is good, at least in relation to the pandemic. I am working from home. I am driving less and reading more. I’m healthy. And each time I get a survey from my employer asking how I am doing in one word, I respond “great!” I’ve taken this survey a half dozen times and every time have responded “great!”
This may not seem like much of a story. Not all stories have exciting plots. I am fortunate to be able to work from home, but I also made the choice to stay at home to be safe.
What are the stories people tell themselves that allow them to make unsafe choices?
What story did people tell themselves when they joined a few 100,000 motorcycle enthusiasts in Sturges, SD?
What was the story told by the couple who used an underground parking garage to smuggle 100 guests into their storybook wedding in San Francisco? What story do they tell themselves now that they, and at least eight of their guests, have tested positive for covid-19?
I think about Herman Cain, the co-chair of Trump's black voter outreach initiative, who died recently of covid-19. What was the story he told himself as he sat in a Tulsa arena with 6000 others, close together, even when they could have spread out, without a mask, even though masks were available? What is the story any of the people in that arena told themselves?
The stories we tell ourselves about our lives during the pandemic and the actions we take because of those stories, may, at one extreme, determine life or death, as it did for Herman Cain. At the other extreme, in the words of The Late Late Show’s James Corden, it may determine whether we become "a hunk, a chunk or a drunk" while we social distance.
Charles Dickens wasn’t writing about epidemics when he wrote: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Dickens, however, did write about quarantining, in Little Dorrit, and isolation due to an epidemic, in Bleak House. He wrote his novels before the modern understanding of germs and disease transmission was developed by Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch and John Snow. But he understood that isolating one’s self in an epidemic was difficult and necessary.
Dickens, of course, was writing his character’s stories, but like the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives, they contained a colorful blend of both truth and fiction at the same time.
"When You Are Weary" by Jess Reynolds
Waking up is enough, Putting on shoes
before you walk out on wet leaves
that plaster the driveway is enough.
It is enough to love one person,
One dog, one tree in a neighbor’s yard,
One fifty-cent mug at the thrift store.
You turn on the radio in the car.
You let the minivan merge into your lane
during rush hour. After three weeks
of half-darkness, you change the light bulb
above your desk. It is enough to breathe,
to put your face in your cold hands
and tell your palms and the empty kitchen
that you don’t know what else to do.
You open the blinds just enough
to see if the mail carrier has come today.
You turn your head at the sound
of a musician on the street corner,
their guitar slightly out of tune.
You buy bananas at the supermarket
and eat all but one before they turn
to mush. It is enough to be here,
to drink cold water from the tap,
to fall asleep on the couch
with a cat in the crook of your knees.
It is enough to be alive.
by Brianna Zamborsky
In thinking about this summer service I kept saying to myself, Don’t talk about Covid. Don’t talk about Covid. Well, guess what?
It’s hard! It’s hard not to talk about the water you’re swimming in. Especially when you’re not used to being a fish.
Also, this story is timely. School starts tomorrow in Ferndale. Virtual school. In the morning Helen and I will go outside and take her picture in front of the big blue spruce like we do every year, but then, instead of hopping in the car, we’ll head back up the porch steps.
She’ll go to her room to log onto Google classroom and I’ll stay in the kitchen. And probably cry.
I am going to tell you my deepest darkest secret now: I really struggle with being a “mom.” That doesn’t mean I don’t love my kid--I love her with everything--but the job is another story.
You know those aptitude tests you take in high school to find out what job would be best for you? Basically there is a world of careers out there that I am better suited for. Jobs I love. Jobs I’m great at. Jobs that make me feel good about myself. Jobs that don’t come with a mountain of shame because what kind of a mother doesn’t love her job.
Prior to having my daughter, I was doing a lot of much needed work on myself. hen she came, that stopped. Now I took care of her all day.
Many years later, on the first day of kindergarten, I was the meme of the mom smiling and waving from the stoop with one hand, glass of champagne in the other. Not the blubbering figures running alongside the bus. Helen going to school all day meant I was able to get some of my time back, my identity. I was able to start taking care of myself again.
Then March 2020 happened.
Not only was I a full time mom again, but now a teacher too. Here I’ll just note that second to last from the bottom on that aptitude test is teacher.
I’ll also note: I’m not a bad person. If you see yourself in this reflection, you are not a bad person either. I know there are more moms out there like me, good moms but moms for whom the role is not our calling, mom’s who don’t talk about it but instead suffer alone because mothers are supposed to love their jobs. That’s a story we all need to stop telling.
Imagine working a job you hate, but the outcome of which , strangely, matters to you more than anything in the world.
That’s what made this spring so awful. When I have a full life outside of parenting, I’m the best mom I can be. When I don’t, I feel resentful. Angry. Drained. Suddenly, this spring, that full life was taken away and I had to spend all my time with her, teaching her.
But what made this spring so awful wasn’t these personal losses in and of themselves. It wasn’t even those bad feelings; it was the shame of having them. And more than anything, it was the fear that my daughter would feel unwanted or unloved. It’s so much more complicated than that.
I read in a book once that children pick up on this stuff. We know there’s a difference between needing a break from your kid and not loving your kid, but if you sigh when they walk into a room or tense at their touch, do they know the difference in that moment? Does it matter?
I was desperate to conceal my negative feelings but pretending is exhausting and pretty soon I had nothing left. Although I’ve been medicated for chronic depression for decades, and had been making really good progress with self-compassion in therapy these past few years, parenting and teaching with little relief brought on a major depressive episode and a serious bout of self-hate.
This is the rock bottom part of my story. Then, a quote on Facebook and a true-crime show called Dirty John changed everything.
(Actually I was in therapy with my wonderful psychologist and psychiatrist during this whole time so probably it was them. But these did resonate.)
The Facebook post was this quote: “Parents: prioritize your ability to remain regulated for your child over your ability to provide them academic instruction. Academics don’t protect your children from trauma. Your relationship does.”
That was the beginning of a shift. I was suffering. Our relationship was suffering. If I wanted to protect her from not only the trauma of covid, but the trauma of living with a parent with mental health problems, I had to start taking care of myself again.
Taking care of yourself, in part, means listening to your body and giving it what it needs. So I did.
Sometimes, I would just go lie down. Helen might come ask if I was alright and I’d tell her: I’m just feeling sad or upset right now so I’m taking a break. I think having our kids see us take care of ourselves is good for them.
Sometimes I would spend much of a day doing a puzzle. It’s something I can get lost in when I can’t actually leave.
Many things I would have done were not options at this time, but I did what I could. It helped.
However, taking the time to care of myself meant less academics. Guess what else it meant? More screentime. Every parent watching right now had a little panic attack just hearing that word. That and iPad can send us into a spiral of “should”s and soundbites about fresh air and sedentariness and brain development in seconds. Modern parenting means a lot of fear.
So we fought about it. About screen time. In the middle of a global pandemic. There were tears and screaming from both of us daily. This isn’t healthy for anyone! Including my husband who was in the basement probably praying to every god there is and Gov. Whitmer--we can do that as UUs--to please let him go back to his office.
This is where my second pop culture induced breakthrough comes in. There’s a scene in this show Dirty John where the mother reminds her adult daughter, “Sometimes, when you’re playing tug of war, you have to let go of the rope.”
Helen and I were playing tug of war. I needed to cede control. I needed to surrender. I needed to let go of the rope. Maybe not even pick it up.
Everything connected, just like my puzzles. Let go of this anxiety, and all the anxieties of modern parenthood and take the time to take care of myself, because that’s how I could take care of my child.
After that, Helen did spend more time on the iPad. But she also wrote a killer report on Helen Keller, made clay sculptures, listened to podcasts, and skateboarded around the living room. Since the weather was warmer, I spent more time in the garden. Sometimes Helen joined me. We dug together, threw grubs to the robins, and enriched the soil.
On the surface, it might have looked like I was neglecting my child and her education and just doing whatever I wanted. But if this was you as well, you’ll know that’s not the case. That’s why UUs assume the best intentions of everyone and don’t make judgments based on how things seem on the surface.
The deeper truth is this: while we didn’t put a sticker in every square on the schoolwork chart, in fact we neglected entire subjects, we got a gold star for putting ourselves and each other first. When Helen thinks back on her covid experience someday, I hope the story she tells herself is this one, one of resilience, of feeling our feelings, of our family, surviving, together.
I know my experience is a privileged one. I am thankful everyday for the mental health care, time, and resources referenced in this reflection that are not available to many. That’s why we UUs fight for social justice--mental health should not be a privilege. That’s a rope we can grab onto and pull as hard as we can, together.
Now, enjoy the rest of your Sunday, everyone. It’s absolutely beautiful. But, it’s a school night! I have high hopes that this year will be a great one, for all of us. 3rd grade, here we come.
Surrender to this life.
Let go of your anxieties, the stories you hold tight about your past, your future, or your now.
Let them go and be here. In joy. In pain. It is enough. You are enough.
How are you going to take care of yourself today? Go--do it with gusto! There’s no better way to take care of this beautiful heartbreaking world.