Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chesna, the Chalica Chipmunk

This is a Time for All Ages story I wrote for this coming Sunday's Chalica Eve service.
There once was a chipmunk named Chesna.  She lived above the ceiling in the roof of a Unitarian Universalist church. Chesna was very quiet and no one in the congregation knew about her.  Sometimes, the minister thought he heard tiny footsteps.  And after a potluck dinner, someone might notice that a cookie or two went missing.

But most of the time, Chesna stayed out of sight in the rafters where no one could find her.  The church was a great home for Chesna during most of the week.  Other than a few church staff, and people who came to some evening meetings, Chesna had the building all to herself.

She had the church all to herself except, that is, on Sundays.  Sunday was the most dangerous day because all the people came for services.  And though Chesna worried that the people may see her, or that she might scare the children, she still loved Sundays.

Chesna loved Sundays, because she loved worship services.  She loved the singing and the sermons, she loved listening to musicians and readers.  And she especially loved the Time for All Ages for the children. When the adults sang the children out, Chesna skittered along the roof beams to listen to their lessons. Chesna learned all about the seven principles, about the lives of famous Unitarian Universalists, and how to be kind and sure of herself.

Now, on the first Sunday of every month, this church held an additional worship service in the evening. Chesna loved these Sunday night services most of all.  In the evening, the songs sounded even more lovely and the prayers seemed even more important.  The Sunday night services were definitely Chesna’s favorite.

One year, right after Thanksgiving, the weather grew terribly cold.  The temperature dropped so low that Chesna snuck into the church closet and took some of the small candles.  She scattered them around her in the ceiling so she could stay warm if the cold grew too great.

On the first Sunday of that December, Chesna sat waiting for the evening service.  It was snowing outside and ice was forming on the tree branches.  The people entered and sat in the sanctuary and the service began.

Suddenly, in the middle of the worship, the lights went out! Ice had formed on the power lines outside until they grew so heavy that they snapped and fell.  The sanctuary was now plunged in darkness.  The younger children started to grow scared and the adults tried to calm them.

All of a sudden, right in front of the pulpit, there stood Chesna holding a stack of candles.  She trembled because she was carrying as much as she could.  Even more, though, she was scared that people might chase her out of the building and into the snow storm.

Everyone immediately hushed to silence.  Then, a small child stepped forward, took one of Chesna’s candles and lit it with the chalice light.  Another child stepped forward, and then another until seven children had lit the seven candles Chesna had carried from the rafters.  Now there was plenty of light in the sanctuary and the worship continued.

The people were so grateful to Chesna that they built a little home for her right next to the pulpit.  During that whole week, people came in with food for Chesna and material for bedding.  And each night, they lit a candle so that Chesna could stay warm.

From that year on, the church celebrated the first week of December as Chalica.  People lit a candle on each of the seven nights, one for each of our seven principles.  And, Chesna the Chalica Chipmunk lived there in the church and was part of every worship service for many years.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ministers Supporting Occupy Wall Street

Fifteen Unitarian Universalist ministers throughout Southeast Michigan have affirmed their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement at their most recent meeting last week. The ministers reviewed and approved the following statement, similar to one also endorsed by more than 100 colleagues in Boston recently. Through this public expression, they encourage other clergy in Michigan and beyond to endorse Occupy efforts.
As clergy and people of faith, we applaud the Occupiers in Michigan and elsewhere who are reigniting American democracy from the grassroots. We join them in the vision of a society where all people enjoy a fair shake, with equitable access to education, healthcare, housing, and other basics necessary to achieve a dignified life. We are appalled that the nation's poverty rate today is higher than when Martin Luther King Jr. organized the "Poor People's March" back in 1968.

Dr. King inspired people of all races and classes to walk for "Jobs and Justice." The national Occupy movement asserts the same goals. These protests are occurring for a reason. In the more than four decades since King's death, middle-class incomes have stagnated, the jobless rate has soared, and the super-rich have managed to manipulate financial regulations and tax rates to claim an ever growing share of the nation's wealth. The richest 400 people in the country now have more assets than the poorest 150 million of their fellow citizens combined.

The vast majority of Americans – the 99% and many of the other 1% – are angry when some of the biggest businesses in the country pay no taxes. We see banks that brought the country to the edge of economic ruin being bailed out with public money, while millions forfeit their homes in the mortgage meltdown these same banks created. We feel increasingly powerless when mammoth corporations, invested with all the rights of "persons" to spend limitless amounts of money in electoral politics, hand-tailor legislation to benefit shareholders and CEOs at the expense of citizens and workers.

Has Government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" now become government of, by, and for the specially privileged? In order to restore our democracy, ordinary people must rise up to restore control of their own lives and economic destiny. We call on all to join in supporting the Occupiers closest to you, logistically, politically, faithfully. Now is the time.

Rev. Jeff Liebmann – Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland, Midland MI
Rev. Gail R. Geisenhainer – Senior Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Ann Arbor MI
Rev. Yvonne Schumacher Strejcek – Parish Minister, Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton, Brighton, MI
Rev. Dr. Claudene F. Oliva – Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint, Flint MI
Rev. Andrew L. Weber - Ann Arbor, MI
Rev. Kathryn A. Bert, Senior Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, East Lansing, MI
Rev. Karen J. McFarland – Dexter, MI
Rev. Dr. Nana' Kratochvil – Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Michigan, Mount Pleasant, MI
Rev. Kimi Riegel – Minister, Northwest Unitarian Universalist Church, Southfield MI
Rev. Mark Evens – Associate Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Ann Arbor MI
Rev. Suzanne Paul – Consulting Minister, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, Troy MI and Minister, New Hope Unitarian Universalist Congregation, New Hudson MI
Rev. Shelley Page – Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church, Grosse Pointe MI
Rev. Roger Mohr – First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit, Detroit MI
Rev. Laurie Thomas – Community Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, East Lansing MI
Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum – Minister, Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty, Clarklake MI

(Affiliations are for identification only and are not intended to represent commitments by the congregations)

Life's Little Steps

This past week provided a number of very interesting milestones in my life.  Each, in their own way, reminded me of how life moves on in relentless small changes and realizations.

I took my first week of vacation since arriving in Midland this past August.  I have found it challenging to force myself to take days off and to get away from my work.  I love doing ministry and the temptation to constantly reflect, write, or tinker with even mudane tasks is great.  But, I flew to Jacksonville to visit my daughter Ashley, her husband Kevin and my new granddaughter, Caitlin Elizabeth.

After 20-odd years, I had forgotten the crying, the endless string of feedings, and the cumbersome travel equipment.  But, my week with Caity also reminded me of the tiny steps we take every day as we learn and grow.  I watched her gaining control of her visual focus, searching out faces and voices.  I got to see many smiles of gleeful recognition.  And, as the video shows, she has just begun that first phase of controlling her body that starts with rolling over and holding your head up high.

I had promised myself that I would take an actual vacation over Thanksgiving.  Other than checking emails, I shocked myself by doing just that.  I refrained from writing, managing calendar events, or contemplating future sermons.  And I returned home much refreshed and ready to jump into the busy December holiday season.

I also returned home to a phone message about the delivery of my new CPAP machine.  After my cardiologist suggested a sleep test two months ago, the results determined (to my complete surprise) that I apparently have rather severe sleep apnea.  Last night was my first wearing the manageable, yet still cumbersome gear while sleeping.  It took several attempts to get all of the straps and hoses into their proper places (I think!) and I managed to sleep fairly well through the night.  Needless to say, though, I felt completely like Caity performing her first rollover, or reaching out in an effort to clasp a toy.

Our lives are never finished products.  When you take time to consider the challenges, the little steps from one age very much resemble those we take in every phase of growing and learning