Recording of our November 29, 2020 online worship service
Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am Donna Mohr. I’m joined today by pianist Forrest Howell, cantor Kaye Rittinger, and fellow Worship Associate Brianna Zamborsky, with technical support from Zoom Host Drieka DeGraff and Zoom Greeter Jane O’Neil. Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook.
BUC is a spiritual home for all people of good will. The lay leaders of this congregation have worked hard over many years to earn special designations from the Unitarian Universalist Association. In 1994, we became a Welcoming Congregation, a term that means we are committed to being intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. We’re also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a similar program for environmental justice work in a congregation. Our commitment to both of these programs was renewed in this year. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.
After the service, we invite you to stay for a virtual coffee hour. You will be randomly sorted into breakout groups and we hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. 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.
We have 4 announcements this morning:
Our annual poinsettia sale is now open! This year's sale benefits the entire Religious Education program, and we are taking orders online. We have large red plants for $25 and small red plants for $10. You can also order gift poinsettias for other BUCers. The order form now gives you the options to order plants that you'll pick up, AND order plants that we will deliver as gifts. You can do both or either, and staff will choose the gift recipients. You can submit your payment online, by Venmo, or by check. Place your order by clicking the red Order Poinsettias button on our website. All orders are due by December 6.
The BUC Adopt-a-Family program is a testament to the great generosity of our members and friends. You have already adopted most of our families, or donated money toward the program, and your love and caring for your fellow humans is deeply appreciated. We do have a few more families who need our help. To sign up, you can go to the BUC website and click on the orange Adopt-a-Family button, or contact Jane O’Neil for more information. The deadline to sign up is December 6--that's one week from today, so please don't delay brightening the holidays for these families.
This Tuesday, December 1 is our monthly Vespers Service at 7:00 pm. This service will take place on Facebook Live. This is a joyful, yet introspective evening service that centers gratitude for the day that has passed and welcomes the night that is beginning. The service will include candle lighting in remembrance of your beloved dead and any concerns in your heart. Names and information for candle lighting can be submitted via this link on our website under Worship Links, or shared during the service on Facebook Live. To view the service live, visit the Birmingham Unitarian Church Facebook page at 7:00 pm on Tuesday. The video will also remain on our Facebook page for later viewing.
This Friday, December 4 at 7:00 pm, the Pastoral Care Associates present “Managing Your Mental Health During the Pandemic” with Dr. Mel Chudnof. In this interactive Zoom lecture, Dr. Chudnof will discuss strategies and precautions we can take to protect our mental health and deal with the feelings of anxiety, irritability, excitability, and worry that are natural during these difficult times. Zoom information is on the Meeting Calendar and will be shared in the weekly update email.
Light the tender kindling of our souls
and make a roaring blaze
Of warmth and love and community.
From this little spark
May a fire of compassion spread from heart to heart,
And light our way, sweet spirit.
And light our way.
Spirit of Life, as we finish this special time of giving thanks, help us remember to
be thankful for every part of ourselves, every emotion--from joy to sorrow--every brain cell and every bone, everything that makes us human and here and alive to see this almost last day of another November and whatever it brings.
Recently, I received an email with some good advice. I ignored the part where they were trying to sell me something. The email said:
The world is not slowing down, whether we like it or not.
While that can be a bit perturbing, it's sometimes helpful to look back into our history, at the major hurdles we've overcome as a people. Major World Wars, economic depressions, plagues and famines... We humans are tough, and this pandemic, too, shall pass.
In the meantime, it's on each and every one of us to maintain our collective cool and nourish our minds and bodies with the love they need to thrive through these turbulent times. What does that look like? I'm talking meditation, moving your body daily, eating well, nurturing your closest relationships, and perhaps bringing even some ritual or spiritual practice into your life. Today, we will focus on self-compassion.
In Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, he writes,
“It is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving compassionately. We have, however, learned many forms of life-alienating communication that lead us to speak and behave in ways that injure others and ourselves. One form of life-alienating communication is the use of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness or badness on the part of those who don’t act in harmony with our values. Another is the use of comparisons, which can block compassion both for others and for ourselves. Life-alienating communication also obscures our awareness that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions….
“When we make mistakes, instead of getting caught up in moralistic self-judgments we can use the process of mourning and self-forgiveness to show us where we can grow. By assessing our behaviors in terms of our own unmet needs, the impetus for change comes not out of shame, guilt, anger, or depression, but out of the genuine desire to contribute to our own and others’ well-being.
“We also cultivate self-compassion by consciously choosing in daily life to act only in service to our own needs and values rather than out of duty, for extrinsic rewards, or to avoid guilt, shame, and punishment. If we review the joyless acts to which we currently subject ourselves and make the translation from ‘have to’ to ‘choose to,’ we will discover more play and integrity in our lives.”
We hope you come away from today’s worship service with something that helps enable your own self-compassion.
by Brianna Zamborsky
One day, in Detroit, a man walked by me, and said, “Who’s your Tiger?” What? Who’s...who is my Tiger? What a weird question? Then he gestured to the old English D on my hoodie, and realized this was about the baseball team. I’d lived in Michigan my whole life and had never heard this question. Was I supposed to answer him? I didn’t think I could even name one player, let alone a favorite. So I just smiled--feeling slightly abashed. Maybe I needed to start watching more baseball.
Why share this anecdote? Because I have a question for you: Who’s your Principle? Yes, I am asking, like my big city friend, which of the seven UU principles is your favorite? If you can’t answer, maybe you need to start watching more church.
Mine is the first principle: the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I usually think of that as us being like Oprah, saying, “You have worth and dignity!” “You have worth and dignity!” “Everyone has worth and dignity!” and welcoming people with open arms. But there’s another way to look at it, and, I would argue, a way we need to look at it to move towards truly valuing others and truly benefitting from our interconnectedness: we need to turn the first principle inward. How often do we hear “inherent worth and dignity of every person” and think of ourselves?
Our focus as a social justice minded faith is usually on how others are treated, particularly the historically marginalized and oppressed whose inherent worth and dignity has not been honored. But unfortunately many people don’t honor their own either.
In the 80s-90s, recognizing this problem, there was a huge self-esteem movement with self-help books and school programs all aimed at making people feel better about themselves by increasing their self-esteem. Unfortunately, this didn’t work. Self-esteem isn’t the answer. Self-compassion is.
Here’s Kristen Neff, author and leading researcher on self-compassion, explaining the difference, in more depth:
“Although self-compassion may seem similar to self-esteem, they are different in many ways. Self-esteem is about judging ourselves positively. It refers to our perceived value, or how much we like ourselves. In modern Western culture, self-esteem is often based on how much we are different from others, how much we stand out or are special. It is not okay to be average, we have to feel above average to feel good. This means that attempts to raise self-esteem may result in narcissistic, self-absorbed behavior, or lead us to put others down in order to feel better about ourselves. We also tend to get angry and aggressive towards those who have said or done anything that makes us feel bad about ourselves. The need for high self-esteem may encourage us to ignore, distort or hide personal shortcomings so that we can’t see ourselves clearly and accurately. Finally, our self-esteem is often contingent on our latest success or failure, meaning that our self-esteem fluctuates depending on ever-changing circumstances.”
In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. Self-compassion also allows for greater self-clarity, because personal failings can be acknowledged with kindness and do not need to be hidden. Moreover, self-compassion isn’t dependent on external circumstances, it’s always available – especially when you fall flat on your face! Self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behavior, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger.”
So, this isn’t a lecture about self-esteem vs. self-compassion, but I think this analysis is interesting considering our theme of interconnectedness: which avenue of finding worth helps connect people more: the one that’s about competition, and comparison and being better and special and different, or the one that’s about seeing yourself as human?
Okay, you might be wondering...how do I practice self-compassion?
Having compassion for yourself isn’t really any different than having compassion for someone else. There are three elements of self compassion--this is the first one: self-kindness vs. judgment. When you feel compassion for someone, you're attuned to their suffering, the word actually means “to suffer with.” You are warm and caring, even if they messed up big time, you offer them understanding and kindness, not criticism or judgment.
Now, can you do that for yourself? Can you put the self-flagellating torture device down and be nice? Here’s a therapist trick: get a photo of yourself as a child, the cutest one you can find, now imagine talking to that little child the way you talk to yourself in your head when you’re not being compassionate. Ouch. Or imagine saying those cruel things to a beloved friend. You wouldn’t--so don’t do it to yourself.
The second element of self-compassion is: common humanity vs. isolation. You are human. All the suffering you endure is part of being human and all humans endure suffering. Understanding this, instead of believing you are alone and separate in your pain will help you feel compassion for yourself and all other human beings. Life is hard. We’re in this together. We are connected in this way.
The third element of self-compassion is mindfulness. As UUs, many of us are familiar with practices of meditation and yoga and how beneficial mindfulness is.To have self-compassion, we have to be able to recognize and sit with our feelings rather than suppress them.
This whole concept of self-compassion by the way is very Buddhist. As one of our sources, we can turn to it for spiritual guidance. This is ancient wisdom--not a new idea.
Ok, so there are loads of meditations you can do to work on self-compassion--I recommend Kristen Neff’s website for many written and guided ones for free--but here’s one I like called a Self-Compassion Break. I like it because it’s short and you can do it anytime/anywhere in literally seconds. It will also show how the three elements of self-compassion work together.
Exercise 2: Self-Compassion Break
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
Now, say to yourself:
1. This is a moment of suffering. (That’s mindfulness.)
Or you can say: This hurts./Ouch.
2. Suffering is a part of life. (That’s common humanity.)
Or you can say: Other people feel this way./I’m not alone./We all struggle in our lives.
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt a soothing touch you’ve discovered feels right for you.
3. May I be kind to myself. (That’s self-kindness.)
Or you can say: May I give myself the compassion that I need./May I learn to accept myself as I am./May I forgive myself./You can also come up with your own phrase or mantra. Ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?”
This practice can be used any time, and will help you remember self-compassion when you need it most.
If you start working on self-compassion, not only are you going to start feeling more loving kindness toward yourself, it will spill out into the world. All my life I’ve considered myself to be very non-judgmental and kind, but it wasn’t until I realized that the way I related to myself was incredibly judgmental and unkind that I saw how that spilled out into the world as well. Once you flip this, not only will you be filled with loving kindness--as one of my favorite hymns goes, a hymn that is based on a Buddhist prayer by the way--but you will start to fill the world with loving kindness as well. And if we all did that? Wow. What a difference it could make.
If we can look at our first principle, and remember self-compassion, and treat ourselves as if we have worth and dignity, it follows that we will treat others that way. Self-compassion as part of a daily spiritual practice for self-care is important and will help you as an individual, but another message today is that fostering self-compassion can actually become a form of community-care as well. So the goal is not just our own emotional health, but emotional health as a society. And wow do we need that.
Famous Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us that “there’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected.” We may find it hard to see the inherent worth and dignity of some people right now, in our divided world, but we are all connected, whether we like it or not, and maybe practicing this on a personal level could lead to healing on a larger level and we could all live in a more compassionate world.
Fellow humans, remember this week with whatever it brings, that our
hearts are always in a holy place, for we are always connected.
Know that deep down, our hearts beat in one universal rhythm.
May we each, through self-compassion, find the sacred space to hear it.