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January 31, 2021 | Online Worship

Recording of our January 31, 2021 online worship service

Worship manuscript:


This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (mandy.beal@bucmi.org), unless otherwise attributed.


Welcome

Rev. Mandy Beal


Good morning and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, this congregation’s Senior Minister. I am joined in worship leadership by our Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing, as well as Worship Associate Bill Fox. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis 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. Social justice is an essential component of our church life. We are a Green Sanctuary Congregation. We are also a capital “W” Welcoming Congregation, a designation that means we are intentionally welcoming of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and their families. Our social justice work this year is focused on environmental action, economic inequality, civic engagement, and racial inequality.


Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on our website and our Facebook page. After the service, we invite you to stay for virtual coffee hour. If you are worshiping with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you.


We three have three announcements this morning:


Stewardship season is coming up! For this year’s annual pledge drive, you can choose to receive your pledge packet by postal mail OR by email. Please click the red button on the BUC website to let us know how you prefer to receive your pledge packet. Please respond immediately with your preference.


This Tuesday, February 2 is our monthly Vespers Service. The service includes candle lighting in remembrance of your beloved dead and any concerns on your heart. Names and information for candle lighting can be submitted via this link on our website under Worship Links. To join the service live, visit our Facebook page at 7:00 pm on Tuesday.


It's Bake-Off time! Bake-Off is a time-honored tradition that benefits our Religious Education program and this year, we’re taking it virtual. In addition to the $10-per-dozen Fan Favorites, like chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies, you can also order $20-per-dozen "Mystery Bakes" and be delightfully surprised! All baked goods will be available for pickup in the church parking lot on February 14 between 2:00-4:00 pm. Don't want any treats but still want to support RE? For $5, the RE Council will send a handmade Care Card on your behalf to brighten another BUCer’s day. You can also make a monetary donation of any amount. All Bake-Off orders must be received by Wednesday, February 10, so place yours now by using the blue Bake-Off button on our website.


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 now our service will begin.


Chalice Lighting

Rev. Mandy Beal


We worship in our separate homes this morning, but we are joined with a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:


“We light this chalice as a reminder of the deep joy that is in us and in All That Is. This flame dances and plays, moving freely with the changes of its environment. Let us be so inspired.”


Opening Words

by Bill Fox

read by Bill Fox


If you were the child who always swung highest on the swing, you are welcome

If you were the child who never ventured from the sandbox, you are welcome

If you were the child who would walk down the street gathering everyone else to play, you are welcome

If you were the child who stayed indoors to play by yourself, you are welcome


Come let us worship together this morning. Welcome!


Offering

Rev. Mandy Beal


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 (username @BUCmi), or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.


Reading

from “Creating a Toy Box” in Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach

read by Bill Fox


When my daughter was born, one of the unheralded joys of motherhood was that I finally had a legitimate excuse for buying toys. As Katie grows older and her gift preferences inevitably evolve from miniature china tea sets to compact discs and clothes, I have to constantly remind myself that I don’t need an excuse anymore to make toys a part of my life. If I am to continue to grow, as a human being and as an artist, it’s imperative for me to respect the power of play. That’s why I have my own toy box.


Playing is hard for most women I know. Creating your own toy box symbolically suggests the importance of fun if you’re to function at full throttle.


First, find the perfect box. A wicker picnic basket, or a small wooden or fabric-covered box with a lid can do duty as a toy chest. But the lid is the most important feature because what goes in there is your business. These are your toys. Your toy box. Maybe you’ll share. Maybe you won’t. Take it to your bedroom and put it high on a shelf in your closet. Close the door.


Now this week, plan a creative excursion to begin filling it. Take $10 and go to a well-stocked five-and-dime or a great stationary-and-gift shop. Get some stickers, some colored paper clips, some pretty pencils and whimsical erasers. Now look through the funny cards. Get a few that tickle your fancy. What else do you see? A milk jug in the shape of a cow, a string of chili pepper lights, a magic wand. Store your stickers and cards in your toy box until the right moment comes along to use them, place the paper clips and erasers on your desk at work, hang the chili pepper lights over your spice rack, put the cow milk jug in the refrigerator. Laugh when you see your toys and let them visually remind you to lighten up.


Now think about the toys you yearned for as a child but never had. It’s not too late to own a Steiff stuffed teddy bear, build a beautiful dollhouse with real electric lights, or complete a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. Start changing your holiday or birthday wish list. You don’t have to get a Dustbuster if what you really want is an antique French Jumeau porcelain doll. Tell the people in your life your new preferences.


“Play is the exultation of the possible,” Martin Buber reminds us. Now get your toys. Go out and play like a good big girl.


Homily

by Rev. Mandy Beal


One of my greatest and most consistent joys of the past year has been my dog. I have a Black Lab and her name is Tonks. She’s named after a character from the Harry Potter book series. In the books, Tonks is clumsy, goofy, and socially awkward; but she ultimately is one of the strongest forces of good in the series. The name is more apt than we could have imagined when we named the dog after her.


Tonks, my Tonks, the dog, is one of the least coordinated and ungraceful dogs I’ve ever known. It took her until about age 2 to really understand how to play fetch. She’s a purebred Labrador Retriever; they’re basically born with a tennis ball in the mouth. But not my Tonks. For years, she would chase down the ball and then get distracted by some random scent. Frisbees were worse. She’d chase the Frisbee, but never catch it and when it was on the ground, she had no idea how to get it off the ground, and would furiously dig at the top of the frisbee before plaintively looking up at me, then straight back to the fruitless digging.


When we went into lock down, I started taking her to the dog park almost every day. It was as much for me as it was for her. By this point in her life, she had a better grasp of fetch - I throw the ball, she gets the ball, she brings the ball back, I throw the ball again. She still struggles with the part about letting the ball go; after all the ball is now her favorite thing. But she finally gets the overarching concept and it’s become a routine for us.


As the weeks, then months in lock down went by, we’ve spent a lot of time playing fetch and I’ve come to accept that she’s just kinda bad at playing fetch. She often has no idea where the ball has gone. It takes an embarrassingly long time for her to find it, especially if it lands atop the climbing structure in the dog park - a riser all of two feet high. She’ll look under benches, under the climbing structure, never on top of it. If the ball doesn’t make it very far and it lands closer to me than her, it might as well be on another planet - there’s no chance she’ll find it and I have to go point it out to her. All of this from a dog who is part of what is widely considered the world’s most successful hunting breed. I love that dog - she’s fundamentally bad at fetch.


But she loves playing fetch. She loves it with her whole body. Her tail is up, her ears are up, she paws eagerly at the ground in a singular focus. She hops with anticipation when my arm is stretched back and she rockets down the length of the dog park in pursuit of a ball she trusts is going to wind up in front of her - even if it doesn’t make it that far and she has to spend a good 2 minutes trying to find it. There is nothing she loves more than playing fetch and she is consumed by the pure joy of it. She has no idea she’s bad at it and I am so grateful there’s no way she can know.


This is the kind of joy that we have when we are immersed in play as children. This pure joy felt generated by unashamedly loving something. And we tend to lose that over time. I would like to think that no adult intentionally squashes a child’s joy by telling them they’re not good at something, but I know those people exist. What happens for most of us is a developing sense of self awareness that has something to do with comparison. We benchmark our behavior and our reactions against those of our peers. If someone receives praise for their drawing, and we don’t, we learn that our drawing is “not good.” We internalize that experience of someone else receiving praise as a negative reflection on the value of our art, whether or not that’s the implication.


The same thing happens in other kinds of play. I remember loving gymnastics before I realized that I had been an “advanced beginner” for several years and I was older than the other “advanced beginners.” It’s true in music. I remember the viciousness of ensemble music and vying for first chair. The trouble with human play is we tend to turn it into competition. There are a lot of people who love competition and who thrive in those systems of play turned who’s-the-best. They tend to be the people who excel at that form of play.


To stick with something you love in the face of negative feedback, explicit or implicit, takes a lot of resilience. It requires vulnerability to do something because you love it rather than because you’re “good” at it. I think that’s our biggest stumbling block to keeping play as a part of our lives. We find ourselves in a system where play is regulated and judged. Something that we once did for the pure joy of it is now a matter of being good, bad, or mediocre at that activity. And we’re told it’s ok to be mediocre, as long as we’re trying to improve, but trying to improve is its own pathology and sucks the fun right out of creative, playful pursuits.


It doesn’t have to be that way. Play can be, and I think is inherently, a spiritual practice. It’s a habit we can develop that nurtures the place where our intellect and emotions meet, that place we can call the “soul.” Play is the embodiment of joy. It’s the experience of joy in the body and it’s the generation of joy through the body. Play is fundamental to our nature. We know this because children do it on their own, without being taught or encouraged. This means of accessing and generating joy is native to our species, but we tend to lose it somewhere along our developmental journey, mostly through shame.


Shame tells us we’re not good at something, so we should stop doing it. To do something we’re not good at opens us up to criticism, or even ridicule. It hits most of us in the guts to think of that time we made something for a special person and we knew it didn’t reach them the way we hoped it would - even if they were nice about it. Maybe it was the “oh, isn’t that sweet” about something we took very seriously or the “tell me about this picture” that we were just old enough to understand meant “I have no idea what you’ve drawn or why.” For many of us, growing up is a process of shrinking to fit the expectations of our peers and the important adults in our lives.


One of the saving graces of being an adult is having the opportunity to build resilience to shame. It’s the trade off we get for having to go to work, pay bills, and understand how insurance works. If we have to do all of that, we deserve to cast off the crushing worry about what others might think of our creative pursuits. At a certain point, life becomes too precious to waste on pleasing others or making ourselves small in order to avoid criticism. As Anais Nin wrote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” By not letting ourselves play, we limit ourselves and our experience of life. We limit who we can be.


Not only are we entitled to embodying joy, we need it. Our souls need to experience joy at the physical level. Without joy, we become numb to ourselves, our loved ones, and really the world around us. And what’s the point of life if we’re just muddling through it. Life is a precious gift. Something we only get once. What are you here to do? Is it to put your head down and take up as little room as possible? Or is it to experience life in all of its richness? I think it’s the latter. And we can’t do that if we’re burdened with shame and trying to draw as little attention to ourselves as possible.


So go big. Paint indecipherable paintings with broad strokes and bright colors, or with a million tiny little dots that make no discernible pattern. Get lost in writing a short story or an essay that may never see the light of day - who cares if you don’t know where to put commas? Go to the batting cages and miss every single pitch. Sing out of key - the Bible says make a joyful noise, not a perfectly pitched noise. Play fetch with an uncoordinated dog who runs with total abandon and loses the ball on a two foot riser. Joy is your birthright. It’s time to claim it. You don’t lose anything by feeling good, but you risk a lot if you miss out on the pleasures of embodying joy.



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