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November 22, 2020 | Online Worship

Recording of our November 22, 2020 online worship service

Worship manuscript:


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


Welcome

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, and our Religious Education Coordinator, Nico Van Ostrand. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis, and Zoom Greeter Drieka DeGraff.

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 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 4 announcements this morning:


First, our high school youth group, GUUSH, had planned an outdoor worship service for this afternoon. That service has been postponed a few weeks. More to come.


We are pleased to announce that this year's Adopt-a-Family program has begun. At the request of Walt Whitman Elementary School, our participation in this year’s program will be gift cards only. A link was sent in the Thursday shout-out and we already have adopted 6 families. Today, immediately after worship concludes and before coffee hour, Jane O’Neil will give a very brief presentation with a Q&A.


It’s also time for our annual poinsettia sale benefitting our Religious Education program. This year we’ll have red poinsettia plants in either small or large, and you can order them by clicking the Order Poinsettias button on our website. You can submit your payment online, by Venmo, or by check. All orders will be due by December 6.


Want to do something on Thanksgiving but still be socially distanced? Join us for a Zoom gathering from 3:00-5:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day, which is Thursday, November 26. Bring something with you to share virtually with the group that represents what Thanksgiving means to you in 2020, like a poem, picture, story, song, food, or recipe. If you’d like to attend, please RSVP to Carol Winslow by November 24.


Social justice work is one of the ways BUC lives out our Unitarian Universalism. Each Sunday, we give a list of our justice commitments, but on this Thanksgiving Sunday, we take a moment for a land acknowledgement instead. This statement applies specifically to the geographical area of BUC. There is a unique and rich history of First Nations people in every area of this continent and I invite you to find out what that is for your location. I invite your close attention:


The campus of Birmingham Unitarian Church occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabe - the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. Bloomfield Hills is situated on land ceded in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. We acknowledge Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native Nations as well as historic Indigenous communities in Michigan. We also acknowledge Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and those who were forcibly removed from their homelands. In offering this land acknowledgement, we affirm Indigenous sovereignty, history, and experiences.


Let’s take a moment to reflect on this statement and our complicated history.


And now, let us join together in worship.


Opening Words

by Nico Van Ostrand


Welcome, not into this place of worship but into this spirit of worship, crossing the threshold of the Zoom link into the sanctuary of the internet -- we are in community right now and it is imperfect but it is beautiful.


Wherever you are right now, notice something sacred, something beautiful, something wonderful about where you are joining us from today.


You are here, and I am grateful. Grateful for being. Grateful for being here. Grateful for being here together.


Offering

The mission of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to create a free and welcoming religious community that encourages lives of integrity, learning, service, and joy. One of the ways that we live out that mission is by providing monetary support for people experiencing a financial crisis, especially people who are part of our Beloved Community.


The account we use to provide that support is funded entirely by contributions from our congregation. Normally, we use the plate collection from the entire month of November for this purpose, but this year being what it is, we chose not to. Instead, I’m asking for your contributions today and in the week to come. All plate collection or non-pledge contributions made today through Saturday will go directly to BUCers in need.


Contributions can be made through our website, through Venmo, or a check in the mail.

The need is particularly high this year and funds are starting to run low. Those of you who can, I invite you to give generously in support of your fellow BUCers. And, if you need a little help, please contact me or Valerie Phillips.

Story for All Ages

"The Worth of Cherry Blossoms" by Sarah Conover, from In Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom For Children and Parents


In Japan two centuries ago, there lived a Buddhist nun named Rengetsu. Her life as a nun began tragically, after her husband and young children died. To support herself, she worked as a potter, a poet, and an artist. Her exquisite poetry gained her instant fame. She soon found herself moving from one home to the next, trying to avoid the constant press of customers.


Although Japan named her a Patron Saint of the Arts, she never held onto the money her art brought in -- she gave it to those who needed it most. More than a few times she parted with her warm kimono to a shivering street beggar. When a robber entered her home during the night, she lit a lamp for him to see by, then fixed the thief a cup of hot tea while inviting him to discuss his desperate situation.


Rengetsu said she moved about like “a drifting cloud blown by a fierce wind.” Her poems are fresh with images from journeys through forests and mountains. On one such pilgrimage to a remote region, she had hiked since noon without having passed through a single village. But at last, as dusk descended, she came upon a small settlement along a riverbank. She knocked upon the door of an inn, humbly asking for a night's lodging. But the Inn was already full.


As she rested, stars appeared out of the advancing darkness. The village grew steadily more quiet. The sounds of families enjoying their suppers faded into those of preparing for the night. Rengetsu was tired, but not discouraged. Beyond the town she had earlier spied a forgotten orchard with lush, soft grass beneath the trees. She retraced her steps down the road and bedded down for the night under a cherry tree.


In the middle of the night, she sensed a bright light upon her face. It awakened her. When her eyes opened, a hazy, snowy Moon loomed in the cloudless sky. Directly above her, thousands of cherry blossoms had opened while she slept, and each flower now held bright moonlight in its pedal cop. It was so lovely Rengetsu gasped. She bowed towards the village, giving thanks for this unexpected gift: a gift of nature far more meaningful than a comfortable night in bed! Rengetsu then composed this poem:


Through their

Kindness in refusing

Me lodging,


I found myself

Beneath the

Beautiful blossoms


On the night of the

Misty moon.


Turned away

at the Inn

I take this unkindness as grace

resting instead

beneath the heavy moon

and evening blossoms.


Homily

by Rev. Mandy Beal


Today’s story is about a woman who did not get what she wanted. She wanted to find a warm, comfortable place to sleep. Instead, she slept outside in the cold night air. What seemed like bad luck actually gave her the opportunity to experience something really special. She didn’t get what she wanted, but she got what she needed. If she had gotten what she wanted, she would have missed out on the magical moment of watching the cherry blossoms open. She’s probably the only person in the world who got to see that. After all, who else was sleeping out in the orchard?


This has been a year of us not getting what we wanted. As hard as this year has been, I think it’s helped us understand more about the difference between what we want and what we need. We wanted to eat at restaurants, but we ate at home. We wanted to hang out with friends and family, but we used Zoom, the phone, or maybe talked through a door. We wanted to have church in our building, but we got Zoom church instead. We didn’t get a lot of what we wanted, but we got most of what we needed.


Having to stay in our separate homes for Thanksgiving is definitely not what we wanted. It might make us sad, and it’s ok to feel sad. But I think there are ways that we can be honest about feeling sad without getting stuck on the sadness.


I recently saw an episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and heard an interview with Matthew McConaughey, who’s recently written a book. The book is called Greenlights and it’s about red-light, yellow-light, and green-light times of his life. I think the metaphor is pretty self-explanatory. If you’d like to listen to the interview yourself, it’s from the October 21 episode.


I’ve never really wondered what Matthew McConaughey has to say about life. I think of him as someone who gives great advice about how to have fun, but not really the person you go to for life advice. I was wrong about that. As I listened to his conversation with Trevor Noah, I was impressed with what Matthew McConaughey had to say about facing adversity. All of us will face difficulty in our lives. He said: “When faced with the inevitable, how do you get relative to the situation?” For him, it’s not about changing the situation, but understanding yourself in light of the situation so you can find a way to work with it, rather than try to get around it.


He went on to describe the way that yellow and red light times have assets that can lead to green light times. What I found most interesting was the importance he placed on being honest about how you feel. Sometimes we hear that we have to push difficult feelings aside so we can be happy. I think we're going to hear a lot about that this holiday season. Matthew McConaughey said his approach to yellow and red light moments is not a “delusionally optimistic thing of seeing the glass half-full.” His point was it’s up to us to find the assets of any situation and build on them. He believes, and I agree, that can only do that when we’re both honest about how we feel and looking for the good in it.


I wonder how we can apply that thinking to our situation. How do we get relative to this Thanksgiving? We might experience feelings of anger, sadness, hopefulness, optimism or something else. We might feel all of these things in a day or even a mixture of them all at once. But if we’re in denial about what’s going on, we miss out on the chance to really understand it and to understand who we are because of the experience.


Once we understand our relationship to the situation, we can evaluate its potential assets. Those might be different for each of us, and there will be times when we might not see any assets at all. But if we’re going to find those moments, we have to look for them.


Just like the woman from our story, we don’t have a lot of choices for our Thanksgiving celebrations this year. The doors are closed to us and we have to close our own doors. But if that woman had sat down at the city gates and cried all night, she would have missed the special moment with the cherry blossoms. I don’t want us to miss any cherry blossoms this year. We’re going to have to do things differently than we’re used to, but surely we can still find something we’re grateful for. After all, that’s really the whole point of Thanksgiving - giving thanks. This year, we’re probably not getting what we want, but I think if we try, we just might find we’ve got what we need.


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