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January 24, 2021 | Online Worship

Recording of our January 24, 2021 Online Worship Service

Worship manuscript:


Welcome and Announcements

Bill Fox


Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am Bill Fox, your worship associate, and will be assisting Tom Raffel in this morning’s service. We are joined today by our accompanist Forrest Howell, and hymn leader Kaye Rittinger; with technical support from Mary Jo Ebert.


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. Social justice is an essential component of our church life.


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.


Announcements:


Calling all BUC bakers! The Bake-Off Fundraiser is coming up on February 14. Show your love for the BUC community and religious education by volunteering to be a baker. The link to sign up is in your weekly email update, or look for the orange button on our website.


BUC Environmental Action invites you to “Kiss and Tell.” Kiss the Ground is a full-length documentary about regenerative agriculture, which has the potential to balance our climate, replenish our vast water supplies, and feed the world. You are invited to view the film—that's the "kiss" part—and then join us this Tuesday, January 26 at 7:00 pm to "tell" us what you thought about it, in a discussion led by a member of Sierra Club Michigan. You can stream the film with a Netflix subscription or create a free account on Vimeo and rent it for $1. After you've watched the film, join us this Tuesday at 7:00 pm for the discussion. Zoom access info is on the calendar.


Stewardship season is coming up! For this year’s annual pledge drive, you can choose to receive your pledge packet in one of two ways: by email, or by postal mail. Please click the red button on the BUC website to let us know how you prefer to receive your pledge packet.


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.

And with that, our service will begin.


And now our service will begin.


Chalice Lighting

“Struggle and Joy” by Vance Bass

Read by Tom Raffel


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.


Opening Words

“In Need of Healing” by Maureen Killoran

Read by Bill Fox


Welcome, you who come in need of healing,

you who are confused, or have been betrayed.

Welcome, with your problems and your pain.

Welcome, too, your joys and your wonderings,

welcome your need to hope, your longing for assurance.

Instead of answers, here may you find safety for your questions.

Instead of promises, may you find community for your struggles,

people with hands and hearts to join you

in engaging the challenges and changes of our day.


Offering

Bill Fox


The mission of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to create a free and welcoming religious community that encourages lives of integrity, learning, service, and joy. The weekly offering serves as an ongoing reminder of this mission. Sharing in this weekly practice of generosity also strengthens the bonds between congregants and our high purpose. So let there be an offering in support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website, Venmo (user name @BUCMI), or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.


Offertory

“My Monkey Mind” by Tom Raffel

Performed by Tom Raffel


Introduction:

I wrote this song back in 2009, two years after my first experience with clinical

depression. On the surface, this song celebrates the power and promise of the human

brain, and its amazing evolutionary history. But it also marks a time when I struggled

with feelings of guilt and shame over my own struggles with mental health. Writing this

song helped remind me that most of my emotions are outside my conscious control, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. More than that, our ancestors evolved emotional responses like anger, anxiety, and even depression for good reasons that probably helped them to survive. So there's no point in beating myself up over it.


My brain first evolved for the ocean,

And not for the world of today.

My thoughts get confused by emotion,

And instinct can lead me astray.

For lizard mind cares only that I fill my basic needs,

And lonely inner mammal wants affection for me please.

And soon my head is spinning with solutions to appease,

The pieces of my monkey mind.


Chorus:

My monkey mind, my monkey mind.

It’s not always right, but it thinks all the time.

My monkey mind, my monkey mind.

My imperfect monkey mind.


My mind can get anxious or fretful.

Emotions get angry or sad.

But life would be so uneventful,

If logic were all that I had.

For though lizard mind cares only that I fill my basic needs,

And lonely inner mammal wants affection for me please,

They help to drive the passion and the creativity

Residing in my monkey mind.


(Repeat Chorus)


There’s really no shame in admitting

Our link to those tree-swinging days.

Just think what a crime we’re committing,

Denying the progress we’ve made.

For though lizard mind cares only that we fill our basic needs,

And lonely inner mammal wants affection for us please,

What triumphs and discoveries will all our children see,

In thanks to our monkey minds!


Chorus:

Our monkey minds, out monkey minds.

They’re not always right, but they think all the time.

Our monkey minds, out monkey minds.

Out beautiful monkey minds.


Our monkey minds, our monkey minds.

They’re not always right, but they think all the time.

Our monkey minds, our monkey minds.

Our imperfect, time wasting, test taking, song making,

ground-breaking monkey minds.


Pastoral Prayer

"A Survival Meditation" by Nathan C. Walker

Read by Bill Fox


The following meditation will begin and end with the sound of the mindfulness bell.

breathing in

i am aware of my pain.

breathing out

i am aware that i am not my pain.

breathing in

i am aware of my past.

breathing out

i am aware that i am not my past.

breathing in

i am aware of my anger.

breathing out

i am aware that i am not my anger.

breathing in

i am aware of my despair.

breathing out

i am aware that i am not my despair.

breathing in

i am aware of peace.

breathing out

i am aware that i am worthy of peace.

breathing in

i am aware of love.

breathing out

i am aware that i am worthy of love.

breathing in

i am aware of joy.

breathing out

i am aware that i am an agent of joy.

breathing in

i am aware of hope.

breathing out

i am aware that i am an agent of hope.

breathing in

i am aware.


Reading

“Unraveling my Purple Sweater” by Amy Kinney

Read by Bill Fox


In her book Unraveling My Purple Sweater: The Beginning of My Journey Through Depression, Amy Kinney wrote:


For years I have lived with depression in silence. I suffered in my own darkness, while on the surface I wore masks that seemed more socially acceptable to me. To the world I appeared happy, healthy, and successful but on the inside, I felt misery, sickness and failure. I struggled silently, journaling books and books of feelings that I never shared.


On days when I was desperate to share my inner self, I wore purple sweaters, for I believed that their dark color made me look as sick on the outside as I felt on the inside. My hope was that someone would notice my sadness and reach out to me. Unfortunately, no one recognized this distorted attempt to communicate and I continued suffering in secrecy.


Finally, one afternoon, I picked up a pencil and started to draw. Pages later, I realized that I had finally found a way to reach out without hurting myself.


The image on the screen and those that follow are drawn from Amy Kinney’s journal communicating her inner turmoil with others:


Inside of Me things are boiling over

The calmness on the outside is threatening to crack

No matter how hard I try to stay on top of things, I just can’t seem to lick up the drips fast enough.

When did such little things become so Overwhelming?

It is so easy to get sucked into the black hole, and so very hard to climb back out.

I am the evil monster I face every day.

Needing people but not able to reach out. Recoiling from people when they reach out to me.

I am safe in my shell.

It's okay to cry. If you hold back your tears, your body will find a different way to cry.

Just when I think I’ve hit rock bottom, I find another trap door.

People have many different ways of trying to help me out of the hole. I just need someone to come down and listen. Eventually I’ll find my own way out.

I am so ashamed every time I take a step backwards. I always apologize, although I don't know who I'm apologizing to...

Slipping is so effortless. Staying balanced and healthy requires so much work. Sometimes I forget that it is worth it.

And then miraculously, I smile. I know it won’t last forever, but I will try to keep it in my pocket to remember.

Finding joy in small things can brighten your day in a big way.

At some point I realized that it's not about trying hard, it's about choosing, even when the choices are hard.

I can choose to be broken, or choose to be strong!

I still feel like I'm treading on the thin line. But at least now I'm aware of it.

I will not surrender to my illness. I will embrace my whole self!


Homily

"Finding Joy in the Midst of Depression"

by Tom Raffel


I had my first experience with clinical anxiety and depression in 2006, shortly after defending my doctoral dissertation. Not surprisingly, the final few months of finishing my PhD were stressful, and I experienced perfectly normal, and perfectly understandable, feelings of high anxiety during that time. More surprising, at least to me, was when my anxious thoughts and feelings didn't melt away after my successful defense. If anything, they became worse. I found myself responding to familiar situations in unfamiliar ways. Simple choices left me paralyzed with indecision. Jobs I used to tackle head-on, suddenly seemed like serious burdens I couldn't handle.


Within a few months, my emotions spiraled out of control, and I couldn't keep pretending these were normal responses to stressful situations. I felt as if I'd been betrayed by my own brain, and I hated myself for my perceived weakness. Like Amy says in her book, I was the evil monster I faced every day. I beat myself up over it. Relentlessly. And of course, this only made things worse, driving me into a deep depression I couldn't shake. It took a lot of time, and a lot of work, and a lot of help from friends and therapists, to bring myself back to a manageable new normal.


Clinical anxiety can come as a chronic slow burn, like a dull ache in your chest that never goes away. Or it can come as a panic attack, a kind of paralytic shock that takes hold and makes you want to curl up in a corner and retreat from the world. What's even more disconcerting, though, is when anxiety continues after the stressful situation ends, or when panic flares in response to some normal, easy-to-resolve problem. That’s when we start talking about an anxiety disorder.


If any of this sounds familiar to you, you’re in good company. Even if you’re not struggling with anxiety or depression, there’s a good chance someone close to you is. Right now, people around the world are experiencing rates of anxiety and depression that are unprecedented in modern times. The extended period of trauma and isolation caused by this pandemic is causing a secondary epidemic of mental health problems, that experts think may only get worse over the next few months. According to the Census Bureau, nearly one third of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety disorder in April 2020. But by December, that number rose to nearly 40%, including more than 40% of women and nearly half of young adults. Health systems are reporting spikes in mental health emergencies for children, at a time when closed schools makes it harder for kids to access mental health services. This is a stressful time, and perhaps all of us are in need of a little healing.


Anxiety and depression are linked together, in ways that never would have made sense to me prior to my own experiences. Both emotions involve the amygdala, a small part of the brain that is outside of our immediate conscious control. Someone with an anxiety disorder has an overactive amygdala. We don't know exactly what causes anxiety disorders, but we know it can run in families. And we know it can be triggered by trauma.


Our ancestors might have said a demon had ahold of me. Sometimes I wonder if that perspective might have been helpful! Helpful to think it was caused by some external supernatural force, and not my own fault. One of the biggest problems with depression is it's self-perpetuating. I know my emotions are irrational, and I blame myself for losing control. And my guilt and anger at myself drive me into even deeper depression, and so on till I can't function anymore. Biologists refer to this as a positive feedback loop, and it's hard to escape. This is the kind of depression brilliantly illustrated by Amy in her book, "Unraveling my purple sweater". This is the kind of anxiety and depression being experienced, perhaps for the first time, by millions of people around the world.


For me, an important step in breaking this “spiraling” cycle is reminding myself that these emotional responses are outside my control. That's a big part of what my "Monkey Mind" song was all about.


Our brains’ higher functions, like logical reasoning and empathy, are built on more ingrained functions that developed in our deep evolutionary past, before our ancestors had to deal with social media, or international politics, or even complex social interactions. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson said in a recent episode of Cosmos, “There is no way for evolution to rip out the ancient interior of the brain because of its imperfections, and replace it with something of more modern manufacture….” Tyson says, “The old part is in charge of too many vital mechanisms for it to be replaced altogether. So it's sometimes counterproductive. But that's a necessary consequence of evolution.”


For me, part of breaking the spiraling cycle of depression is reminding myself that this is a problem in my brain, and I have limited control over it, and that’s okay. And there’s no point in beating myself up over it.


But I have to admit, in the heat of the moment this kind of logic can be hard to accept. In the depths of my worst depressive episodes, the things that helped most - aside from a low dose of antidepressant, which can be immensely helpful – were strong connections with other people and moments of joy. Back in 2006, I recall digging out a set of Family Guy episodes on DVD, and watching episode after episode till the irreverent jokes started to penetrate my dark mood. This winter, I’ve spent a lot of time re-watching clips of my favorite late-night comedians. There's nothing like laughter to help penetrate the gloom.


And there's nothing more important for mental health than meaningful connections with other people. Almost every morning for the past year, I woke up with a feeling of dread, in anticipation of the new challenges I might face that day. But on Xmas morning, I woke up with a strange feeling - positive anticipation. It was so weird, that I had to stop for a moment and take stock of my feelings. I noticed that my thoughts weren’t focused on what presents I might receive, as they might have been when I was a child. Instead, my anticipation was for the joy I hoped to see on the faces of other people in my household. I suppose it's a sign that I'm getting older. But it was also a reminder that we all need something joyful to look forward to, and sometimes planning a joyful surprise for others is the best thing we can do to ward off our own feelings of anxiety, gloom, or despair.


Go then, and see if you can spread a little joy, for yourself and for the people around you. Especially, perhaps, if you’ve been struggling to feel joy for yourself lately.


Benediction

“Each of us ministers to a weary world” by Darcy Roake

Read by Tom Raffel


There is too much hardship in this world to not find joy,

every day

There is too much injustice in this world to not right the balance,

every day

There is too much pain in this world to not heal,

every day

Each of us ministers to a weary world.

Let us go forth now and do that which calls us to make this world

more loving, more compassionate, and more filled with the grace of divine presence,

every day



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