Recording of our July 11, 2021 online worship service
Good morning and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I’m Brianna Zamborsky, today’s Worship Associate and will be leading today’s service with fellow Worship Associate, Andrea Zellner, in her first appearance in the role, as well as musicians Max Kort and Keith Ensroth. We have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Jane O’Neil.
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 environmental action, economic equality, civic engagement, and racial equality.
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 only have one announcement this morning, but it’s a big one:
Fall Rummage is ON! September 26 through October 2. So save the date and save your stuff--we’re really going to need your support this year! Thanks!
And 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.
"Open to Unexpected Answers" by Julianne Lepp
read by Andrea Zellner
We seek our place in the world
and the answers to our hearts’ deep questions.
As we seek, may our hearts be open to unexpected answers.
May the light of our chalice remind us that this is a community of warmth,
and welcoming of multiple truths.
"In Faith" by Sunshine Jeremiah Wolfe
read by Andrea Zellner
This is a congregation that gathers in faith. Not faith in one religion or one god or any one way. We gather in faith of the power of diversity, the power of love, and the hope of a world transformed by our care. We gather in faith in ourselves and those around us. Not a faith that requires perfection or rightness in one another. Rather, a faith that in our shared imperfection we may learn to stumble and fall together. Faith that we will help one another to rise and to try again and again. We are Unitarian Universalists.
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.
Joys and Sorrows
We have come to the part in our service set aside for quiet and reflection. I have no written joys or sorrows to share with you today, but of course that doesn’t mean our community is without joy or sorrow. Let’s share a deep breath together and remember that we also share our happiness and pain.
Spirit of Life, it’s so easy to feel joy in this season of light and life, everything blooming and ablaze. Thank you for all this color. For the nice days that bring us out and together. But night still comes, and clouds and rain. Help us remember that we are all part of something larger, a human family, an unsolvable mystery. That we are never alone, even in the dark.
For today’s reading, I’d like to set side by side two texts. The first is from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the Appendix on the Spiritual Experience. The twelfth step of twelve steps in AA states, “Having had a spiritual awakening AS THE RESULT of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” This appendix is about what they mean when they talk about the spiritual experience. The second excerpt is from author Glennon Doyle, talking about her spiritual understanding of God as part of her recovery, from her podcast “We Can Do Hard Things.”
Appendix II of the Alcoholics Anonymous
Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James calls the “educational variety” because they develop slowly over a period of time. Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself. He finally realizes that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone. What often takes place in a few months could seldom have been accomplished by years of self-discipline. With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it “God-consciousness.” Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial.We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program. Willingness, honesty and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable.
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” —Herbert Spencer
And from Glennon Doyle:
You know that I have always felt this wild faith. I don’t know what it is. I relate to this thing I read, somebody said a long time ago that was, I, I don’t know what my faith is. I just know that whenever somebody asked me, I said, “Yes.”
I just feel that deep yes inside of me that there is something more going on down here than what we can see, right? And even at my worst moments when I was just so lost and sick, I mean, I remember being high as a kite, stoned out of my mind wasted and sitting in my backyard talking to God. Not feeling like God was mad at me. I mean, I definitely felt like God was probably like, “Okay, are we going to get started anytime soon here?” Like moving right along. But I always felt that there was this being, I don’t know, energy, something there that, when I decided to pick myself up off that bathroom floor, was there the most. Like this God of the bathroom floor that is always with us at our most broken. I remember thinking, looking at a pregnancy test, sitting on the bathroom floor, so broken, so sick and being like, “This is definitely not a God that does background checks.” Like this, “God, whoever this God is, has the lowest expectations of any being on the planet.”....This is a God that does not do its due diligence. Okay? All right? That looks down at a broken, broken girl and says, “Let’s give her the best thing she’s ever had now. Let’s give her the most important invitation of her life now, in this moment, in this brokenness, now. Let’s not wait until she cleans herself up. Let’s give it to her now.” Like the God of the bathroom floor is the one that I’ve always walked with, right?
by Brianna Zamborsky
ee cummings wrote the poem "i thank you God for most this amazing day" near the end of his life. For a long time, I really loved this poem, considered it among my favorites, except for that word God. It was perfect except for that! Now, I don’t mind. Let me back up and tell you a story.
About 13 years ago, in an upstairs apartment on the cold northern shores of Lake Superior, I was hitting rock bottom. When, one morning, I couldn’t imagine drinking again that day, but I couldn’t imagine not drinking either, I knew I needed help. So I started Intensive Outpatient Treatment.
I was like, “Hey, I need to learn how to drink like a normal person.” And they were like, “You are an alcoholic. That is what alcoholics say.”
I was an alcoholic. They didn’t actually say that though. They let you figure it out on your own. But I hadn’t lost a job or family or car. My bottom was a spiritual one. Joy and hope. These were the things I’d lost. But there was still some small light inside me that could say, “Help.”
I LOVE Andrea’s reading: This is a God that looks down at a broken, broken girl and says, “Let’s give her the best thing she’s ever had now. Let’s give her the most important invitation of her life now, in this moment, in this brokenness, now. Let’s not wait until she cleans herself up. Let’s give it to her now.”
Look, it sure didn’t seem like the best thing I’d ever had. I’ve had cake. This was not cake. Getting sober was hard. First of all, I had to go to AA. Here are some things to know about AA:
They’re often in churches. Cheap rent.
Everyone has thick blue books about the size of a bible.
The word God is on every page of those books.
For someone with a very cynical view of organized religion, these are troubling facts.
So I freaked out on these poor people. I shared that I was here to stop drinking and I wasn’t interested in all this God stuff, been there, done that, and they couldn’t change my mind so they needed to just get that through their heads right now and not even try cuz they weren’t gonna convert me and on and on...I might have used the word cult.
I was mad. Because, underneath the mad, I was confused and I was scared.
Because here was the community that was supposed to help me, but in it was this word that I already knew couldn’t. It’s the 2nd step! And the 3rd! Right after admitting you’re an alcoholic, you have to come to believe that a Power greater than yourself could restore you to sanity. Then you make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand him.
How was this ever going to work?!
Being a lit major helped. I was able to put the work in historical context—this was written in the 1930s--before women’s rights or Unitarian Universalism. And to pick apart the language. I noticed the use of Higher Power instead of God and the phrase “as we understood him,” which felt flexible. These were life rafts. If this was where I needed to be, if I needed to work these steps, I needed to figure out how to make this God thing work.
First I went through my whole AA book and added an "s" to the front of every "he." Then I changed every God to HP, higher power. Now I look at HP and immediately think “Harry Potter.” Which also works.
This helped. We’ve talked about pronoun use so we know; language matters. I was now conceptualizing a female higher power instead of a male God. It took the trauma out of this book that was to be my new bible.
I still didn’t know what to believe in though, what I was going to turn my will and my life over to. But I kept showing up, trying to figure it out.
It’s actually pretty amazing to sit around the tables and listen to recovering alcoholics (or addicts) grapple with the topic of God. UUs would love it. Some people don’t think about it too much—they easily go back to the God of their childhood with whom they hadn’t had a nasty falling out, but had simply lost touch. Some are already religious, so these steps are quickies. It’s the other ones that have some interesting things to say. Some go to nature…like many of us…they have direct experience with that transcending mystery and wonder. Some find Buddhism and eastern religions—the idea of living in the moment and many other aspects of these work really well with the “one day at a time” model of AA. Some stick with Higher Power, content to sit in that agnostic space with varying degrees of investigation. As the bare minimum, you’ll hear something like, “I don’t know who God is but I know it ain’t me.” And that’s enough. And I remember one person adding an “o” to God. They can believe in Good, in Goodness, can turn their lives and wills over to that.
I found a UU church.
I sat in a pew with my friend who came with me. There were flowers everywhere. I cautiously picked up a thick blue book to find poems by Mary Oliver.
When it was time for the sermon, the speaker began, “Did you know that looking at a flower in the morning can help stave off depression for the rest of the day?” I did not!
Turns out she was a florist in town. And it was Flower Communion. My friend and I each left with a flower, even though we had not brought one. I left with something else. THIS could be God. This is what the word God could mean. God can be flowers. God can be a lady talking about flowers. God can be a community growing and sharing flowers. After we left we jumped into the icy even in July waters of Lake Superior. With all our clothes on. Then we got brunch at the natural food restaurant where we both worked, reborn.
It’s wild to me that I am now leading a UU service. As Worship Associates, we read this book in which the authors talk about transformative worship. Our goal, everyone who plans the services, is to create transformative worship. We want you to feel differently when you leave than when you came in.
As one woman put it, she longed for surrender in a worship service, “for something beyond an intellectual engagement with the sermon topic for the day. She longed for a spiritual experience that would engage mind, body and heart in a community of shared emotional experience and spiritual insight. She longed for transforming depth.”
Nothing is more of a surrender than recovery from addiction, than placing your faith in a God you don’t understand and a bunch of strangers just as messed up as you are with your soul laid bare and your hands held open saying please, help me. Right then, God is hope. Hope that when you jump, the lake will catch you, even if the water is cold as hell.
The idea of God is perhaps the most fraught one in the history of the world. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe when you need it most, God can simply be a flower. A friend. A far northern shore. We are all connected to something bigger, even if it’s just each other. Maybe God can be that, our 7th principle. The word God, it follows, is similarly a tricky thing to navigate. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe it can simply be a different word. Good. Peace. Love.
I thank you Love, for most this amazing day.
Earlier I said language matters.
But also, God is just a word. I think both can be true. I wonder if UUs like AAs can let go of the weight of “God” and surrender to the lightness of God, the possibility of “God.” Or at least let it in. Let the word and the idea into our services and let it awaken us, slowly, amazing day by amazing day.
Let us at least, as Andrea’s reading suggests, be curious, be open, because you never know whom around you, or within you, might need it.
To close, I want to read the e.e. cummings poem I mentioned at the beginning. He wrote it as a Christian, but listen to it from the voice of a recovering alcoholic:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Go forth with your hearts open
to what’s bigger than you--this day, a blue
true dream of sky, our collective selves,
goodness, joy, love, hope, God. Whatever it is,
be grateful, cultivate it, and be free.