Recording of our December 27, 2020 online worship service
Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am Worship Associate Judy Amir. I'm joined in worship leadership by Worship Associate Chris Slon. Our musician this morning is Christina Dragone and our cantor is Keith Ensroth. We also have technical support from Jane O’Neil and Zoom greeter Drieka DeGraff.
BUC is a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Even in our virtual format, we are a thriving community with a place for everyone. All people of goodwill are welcome here. Social justice is an essential component of our lives. We are a “capital W” Welcoming Congregation and a Green Sanctuary Congregation. Our social justice work this year is focused on civic engagement, racial inequality, economic inequality, and environmental justice.
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. 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.
A few religious education-related announcements this morning. Starting January 3, the Building Bridges class will be meeting at a new time: on the first and third Sundays of the month at 1:00 pm. Coming of Age will still meet every Sunday at 1:00 pm and will start back up on January 3. GUUSH will meet on the second and fourth Sundays of the month at 1:00 pm and will start back up on January 10.
You did it again! BUC members and friends certainly made this 2020 holiday season a bright spot in a difficult year for dozens of kids at Walt Whitman Elementary School. Together we adopted 147 children from 46 families, providing very generous gift cards for their parents to use in making their holidays happier. With the total funds donated, we were able to give these families $100 per child--what a wonderful gift! Thanks again to everyone at BUC--and beyond--who contributed. And thanks to the BUC elves--Cheryl Shettel, Barb Schandeval, Kym Worth, Barb Robinson, Kimery Campbell, Joanne Copeland and Valerie Phillips--who helped make it all happen!
Thank you 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.
Today we are between the past and the future. It’s not really last year anymore but it’s not the new year yet. It is just now.
We only ever really have now. But now has no duration. It is only the instant where the uncertainty of the future becomes the memory of the past. Now can only be experienced as it passes. Now. And now. And now yet again.
Let us shed tomorrow’s worries and yesterday’s regrets for the purity of now. Who knows what we’ll find, now?
Now, our service begins.
We take this moment now to light a flame.
We light this flame in this chalice in solidarity with UU communities around the globe as a symbol of our shared commitment to our principles.
We light a flame together in solidarity with all humans gone and yet to come who light a flame in the desire for warmth, for light, for security.
Chris Slon and Judy Amir
Our opening words today are from many perspectives.
“How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”
― St. Augustine of Hippo
“It's being here now that's important. There's no past and there's no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can't relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don't know if there is one.”
― George Harrison
“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
― Albert Einstein
“The good old days weren’t always good; tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
― Billy Joel
“Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.”
― Louis L'Amour
"In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time."
– Leonardo da Vinci
We are stewards of this community and of our beautiful campus. Even when we’re not worshipping onsite, we are still responsible for expenses of maintenance and our wonderful staff.
We give because it makes us feel good; we give because we are able to; we give because our beloved community means so much to us, individually and collectively, we give.
Thank you for your gifts.
Your contributions can be sent using Venmo, user name BUCMI, or through our website. Giving through either platform is easy and free. You can also put a check in the mail to us.
Joys and Sorrows
This is the time in our service where we lift up our joys and concerns. News of life shaping events that bring us great joy or sorrow.
Here in this space we gather, called by our sense of urgency, or duty or the longing for community, called to be together this day.
Here in this space we are gathered, called to do our part in weaving a web of human community.
Here in this space we gather to share our joys and sorrows.
We will be turning off the recording to allow privacy for this sharing.
"Now" by Clifford Martin Reed
You are the eternal, the timeless.
You would have us dance and sing in celebration of the present moment, but we can't see your smile or hear your song.
But how will we find you if we don't look where you are?
We search the past -- through its dusty libraries, its darkened ruins, its blood-soaked battlefields, but you are not there. We find only idols -- and people bowing down to them. Of you there is but a whisper -- "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"
We search the future, straining our eyes to find you. But we see nothing -- only our own mirages and maybes reflected back on fearful, hopeful faces. And we hear a whisper -- "Do not be anxious about tomorrow; tomorrow will look after itself."
You are now -- in us, with us: the present is your dwelling place.
Call us out from bondage, touch us with eternity; free us from the drag of the past, the pull of the future. May we know you, love you, serve you -- not yesterday, not tomorrow -- but now, in this timeless moment. Amen.
by Judy Amir
The problem with regrets about the past
I’d like to share a reading with you – author unknown
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
There are two days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.
One of these days is Yesterday with its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains. Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control.
All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word said. Yesterday is gone.
The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow with its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and poor performance. Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.
Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds – but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet unborn.
This leaves only one day – Today. Any man can fight the battles of just one day; it is only when you or I add the burdens of those two awful eternities – Yesterday – and Tomorrow – that we break down.
It is not the experience of Today that drives men mad – it is the remorse or bitterness for something which had happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring.
Let us, therefore, live but One Day at a Time.
Wonderful words and True BUT
I’ve generally been a living in the here and now person. It helps keep me grounded and for the most part happy.
But – tell me that in the middle of the night as I lay awake – the time when all the “bad” things I think I have done go racing thru my mind. Most of it centers on my husbands illness and death. Why didn’t I encourage him to talk more about how he was feeling. What took me so long to accept that this time he was actually dying? Even worse I had a degree in counseling and knew full well the importance of this.
And why, is it always the middle of the night when I think of all the brilliant ways I should have handled a situation and the things I should have said? And even if I’m not awake they invade my dreams. I lose a lot of sleep over regrets.
So the question is – how do we stop regretting the past and move on? Because so many times our regrets about the past can prevent us from enjoying life in the present. Obviously this is a common concern among us as numerous articles from psychologists and religious scholars have been written.
Among the many suggestions was an exercise that I have actually done in a group setting. Set fire to them. We wrote about the events around our regret, including the emotions attached to it and set fire to the list. Instead of asking yourself “What if I had never done this or that?” ask yourself “What if I keep wallowing in regret for the rest of my life? Will it change my situation?” Realize that regret only begets more regret. It just adds another regret – that of spending all your life regretting. Make your regret known. If you truly regret the way you acted or what you said to someone, apologize.
And stop thinking that the whole world cares – they don’t.
Regret is like any other emotion; it serves a basic survival function. We need to be open to embracing the productive aspects of regret in order to lessen its duration.
Regret is how we learn to reexamine our actions. Personal growth and positive change would be impossible without something forcing us to periodically identify decisions that led to negative consequences.
Reframe our thoughts on the regretful situation or decision and think of mistakes as opportunities to grow and change.
And finally, accept blame. Oftentimes we blame external circumstances for our actions which leads to more bad decisions and, in turn, more regret.
Let's all try to live in the here and now.
by Chris Slon
The problem with worries about the future
I have been accused of being too cerebral, too rational, too academic. Of that I am probably guilty, but I have to say in my defense that sometimes—sometimes—that is a feature, not a bug.
It is certainly true that for me that personal attribute is my antidote to the poison of worry.
If you will indulge my inner professor, let me explain my perspective on worry. You might find some nugget of truth to give you a toehold on your mountain of worry, or it might just make you feel less alone to see some other poor fool’s struggle with worry.
Let’s start with a useful definition. Worry is a natural human reaction to the uncertainty of the future.
Constrained by the laws of thermodynamics that make life possible, we are compelled to follow the arrow of time defined by increasing entropy. It is because of entropy, though, that we cannot remember the future. We travel through our lives at the speed of time knowing only what has already happened.
When you think about it, that’s a hell of a way to go through life. That’s like driving from New York to Los Angeles in reverse with the pedal to the floor and no rear view mirror.
How do we deal with continuously crashing into an unknown future?
Well, we humans, as a species, have developed an incredibly successful way of dealing with that uncertainty.
I have it on dubious authority that the birds of the air and the lilies of the field don’t worry. But I know humans worry, and we are naturals at it. I would bet each of you is pretty good at it without ever having taken lessons. Some of us probably could qualify for the worry Olympics, if there were such a thing.
When we worry, we do three things.
First, we create a model of the world from what we have seen in the past. There are two orthogonal ways to do this. Scientists create objective models with the language of math. Poets create subjective models with the language of metaphor. We all create models with some mix of those two.
Second, we run the model forward faster than real-time to make predictions about the future. Of course, if you’ve ever done anything like play the stock market, conduct a biology experiment, or raise a child, you know things don’t always turn out quite like you predict. So despite our models uncertainty remains.
Nevertheless we go on to the third step, filling ourselves with dread today over our worst predictions of tomorrow. When life was primitive and almost continuously life-threatening, dread motivated us to avoid potentially lethal circumstances even at the cost of possible opportunities.
Taken together, worry is a conservative strategy, but it worked. By worrying, our ancestors survived long enough to have offspring--to whom they passed on their worries.
The world today is far less life-threatening. Yet still we worry. This facet of human nature that made us successful as a species now is just baggage we have to carry around as individuals.
For me, it helps to understand worry as a natural process sanctioned by evolution. When I regard it that way, worry is no longer a poison contaminating the present moment; it is a motivating force to make the present moment count. This perspective helps me channel dread into energy for problem-solving.
Now, whereas all that might sound encouraging on a bright Sunday morning, here I add a footnote.
In the desperate darkness of three in the morning when sleep is most elusive and I lie awake with my children and the world they are going to inherit on my mind, I find this academic approach limited at best. Then, I do what any rational, cerebral, academic person has left to them. I pray.
The supplication I make are words usually attributed in some form to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. I’m sure you’ve heard the words before, but I offer them to you now to recall in your own moments of desperate darkness:
Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
May it be so and blessed may it be.
As we extinguish our flame, this service becomes part of the past and the day is yet to come. Let us take the purity of now and keep it present with us.
So may it be and blessed may it be.