Monday, June 30, 2008

"Now Let Us Sing" -- Finally!

Hooray! During the Closing Celebration of General Assembly, we sang "Now Let Us Sing," number 368 in our hymnal Singing the Living Tradition. At the Long Beach GA, Jim Scott tried to teach this during his GA workshop, but he started us out much too slowly (in my opinion) and people didn't catch on. I was disappointed, but you really cannot sing this one slowly. It won't work. So, it was quite a thrill when Sarah Dan Jones led it yesterday. I belted it out at home with my spouse while watching everyone get into it at GA. I hope many of the attendees take it home to sing in their congregations.

"Now Let Us Sing" is one of my very favorite hymns, partly because of its rich history at my congregation. Way back in 2000-01, Madison UUs began to learn number 368, first at James Reeb UU Congregation, then through the young adult group and then during worship services at my congregation. The first time we sang it at FUS, one of our ministers had four printed cards: Faith, Hope, Love and Joy. She held up one card for each verse! We had at least two song leaders, one for each part. After that, we sang "Now Let Us" fairly often for awhile, with only two screw-ups: once someone made the mistake of playing it on the organ and another time only the men got to sing it. Other than that, it's been pure bliss every time. We even sang it as an Energy Break at a Parish Meeting once. And of course, on the busride home from the St. Louis GA!

Anyway, if you don't know "Now Let Us Sing," I highly recommend you give it a try. Sing it fast; sing it often for optimal ecstacy.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Hands in the Air? General Assembly from Afar

I've been watching the live streaming of General Assembly: our annual meeting, conference, convention, celebration and UU Revival. If it weren't for the security restrictions, our lack of funds and my spouse's heart attack, I would want to be there in person!

GA is usually the high point of my year: I revel in Universalism, the hands-in-the-air worship services, spectacularly moving music, huge crowds, great speakers, dancing, singing, connecting with friends and meeting new ones. GA is an extravert's paradise -- each day, I have more energy than the day before as the ecstacy builds, until I shout Hallelujah all the way home!

Certainly, those of us watching on our laptops aren't having that experience, but we can still be inspired and challenged from afar. Plenary II, featuring debate on a business resolution urging us to make a strong commitment to youth and young adult ministry, was outstanding. To hear youth and young adults express their yearnings for belonging, support, guidance and empowerment was thrilling. To hear a few older delegates express their misgivings about the proposed resolution because it didn't include details about how to improve youth and young adult ministry in our congregations was sobering, but familiar.

In the end, I was proud to see a large majority vote for the resolution. What is so wrong about being idealistic, about expressing a vision for the future? I love hearing someone cast the vision. Because once we've got the vision, we can figure out the details ourselves -- the planning and execution of the objectives in our day-to-day church lives.

I don't want those select few who attend GA to tell the rest of us how to do something, but showing us why, giving us a challenging vision for the future is great.

With goosebumps,


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Flower Communion: A UU High Holy Day

I attended three different Flower Communions this spring because I love the legacy of Norbert Capek, flowers and our UU rituals. At James Reeb UU Congregation, Rev. Darrel robed for the service, calling Flower Communion one of our "High Holy Days"! He had set up the chairs in the round, with a fabric-covered table in the center, complete with the Chalice, orchids and a few large vases full of water. We took our flowers up and made beautiful bouquets with them, then went up later to take a different flower. Wow! I'd never been to FC at a small congregation before, so didn't realize how creative one can be with the ritual elements.

The other two services were at my hUUge congregation, with choirs singing and the usual benches-facing-the-pulpit setup. But at the Saturday service, ushers sent baskets of flowers around so we could each take one. The usual Sunday thing is for the flowers to just be at the pulpit for folks to take if they want after the service ends, so that dispersing the flowers is not part of the ritual. The services where we took flowers and held and smelled them had more meaning to me, because grasping a flower that represents the beauty and uniqueness of a fellow human is much more profound than gazing at a bouquet from afar. It's important to me for rituals to be participatory -- open to all of us, no matter what.

When I was a little girl, I never liked watching the priest conduct an elaborate ritual to mix himself a drink that only he could have. I don't like unexplained, exclusionary rituals that don't ring true for me. Flower Communion, with its melding of natural beauty, community, inspiration, courage and justice is as real at it gets. Thank God for religious freedom and for those who gave their lives to uphold it.

One more note: Now that I've embraced the notion that a ritual is simply a repeated action that has a deeper meaning beyond the physical and has a beginning, a middle and an end, I have been empowered to celebrate and even create my own family rituals. (Learned this at the 2006 Meadville Lombard Winter Institute.)

A Sweet June Day to all,

Monday, June 2, 2008

One Heart Attack, Two Arteries and Three Stents

My world has been very small since Thursday because Sam (my spouse) had a heart attack. He comes home from the hospital tomorrow with two newly-opened arteries, nitroglycerine tablets and lots of information. He has a new role -- "cardiac patient" -- to add to all his other roles.

As scary as this journey has been, I know that our religion has made us stronger, more centered and more easily able to focus on the present than we would otherwise be. These qualities seem more essential than ever now.

But we're buoyed not only by Unitarian Universalism, but by our faith community, by the many people offering their help, support, thoughts and prayers, butternut squash soup and New Yorker cartoons. By watching a toddler push a footstool around the hospital room, being visited by a favorite minister and reading a lovely card from a baritone in our chorus.

Blessed be,