The Reverend Peter Friedrichs delivers his weekly message to the congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County.
The Reverend Peter Friedrichs delivers his weekly message to the congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County.
Living Legacies – A Memorial Day Reflection
Memorial Day brings up some complicated emotions for me. I don’t have any relatives I know who died in war. My grandfather volunteered to serve in WWII and, from what I can tell, pretty much hung out on a beach in Australia the whole time. My father enlisted in the Army and served stateside after the Korean conflict. I was young enough to miss the draft for Vietnam by a couple of years and didn’t lose any friends over there. I was an armchair liberal in high school, and have always wondered what I would have done had I been drafted. Resisted? Registered as a conscientious objector? Fled to Canada? Gone into the service because it was my duty to God and country? I’ll never know.
So, I don’t know what it’s like to be caught in the heat of battle, or to run into a burning building, risking life and limb for the sake of another. Nor do I know what it’s like to be a medical professional these days, working tirelessly to help save others, every day staring down the barrel of a stealthy but lethal disease. And it brings tears to my eyes knowing that so many caregivers have lost their lives as a result. I don’t like to use the metaphor that says we’re fighting a war against this disease, but in the case of these front-line responders and helpers, it does seem apt, particularly today, on Memorial Day.
But what of the rest of us? What of the majority of us who have been asked simply to stay at home? To be self-isolated and socially-distanced? It certainly doesn’t feel like a war when, with a few quick keystrokes on our laptops we can have groceries or a prepared meal delivered to our door. When we can sit on our lawns and chat with neighbors across the yard. I don’t want to minimize the stresses of homeschooling while simultaneously trying to get work done. Those struggles are real. But they hardly rise to the level of life-and-death battle. I doubt any of us would call these struggles “heroic.”
And yet, as we heard from Mark Bernstein last week, it does take courage, and fortitude, and persistence to keep up our isolation and distancing. It takes moral courage to have patience and to stay at home and to do what we can to flatten the curve. As this whole situation wears on, it seems to take more and more courage, more stamina, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but all this pressure to re-open stores and businesses and churches comes exactly at the same time as my resolve is ebbing and my patience is wearing thin. That’s perhaps true for the whole country. And it could have dire consequences.
If you’re feeling worn down by your confinement, it’s not surprising. There’s even a name for how we’re feeling right now, for this stage many of us seem to be going through. It’s called “Third Quarter Phenomenon.” As reported in a recent article in Psychology Today, TQP is something that scientists have observed with individuals living for long periods of time in space, on submarines, and at Arctic research facilities. It’s characterized by agitation, irritability, depressed mood, and decreased morale in the “third quarter” of periods of social isolation. Does that ring a bell for anyone? If you think about what we’ve been through and what we’re going through, this makes sense. At the beginning, in the “first quarter,” as it were, we were in response mode. We were all about figuring out what we could or couldn’t do, how we could and couldn’t be. Once we got past that first stage, we entered something of a honeymoon phase. The novelty of staying home and our mastery of things like wearing a mask or planning a week’s worth of meals led us to feel like “We’ve got this. We can do this.” But now the honeymoon is over, and signs of Third Quarter Phenomenon are setting in. I see it in my adult daughters and their school-age children. I’ve noticed it among colleagues
On Moral Courage
The pandemic was well under way. Leaving his position of privilege, this respected medical practitioner went into the streets and hospitals to serve those who were suffering and dying from the disease. The physician’s name was Guy de Chauliac. It was the 14th century and the plague, known as the Black Death, would devastate up to a third of the population of Europe.
De Chauliac was what researcher Kim Strom-Gottfried would call a moral exemplar, one who shows courage, integrity, and service during times of upheaval; one who places their safety at risk in order to live by the values they hold dear.
There are innumerable examples of moral exemplars throughout history, people who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to do what was right. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Galileo, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Ghandi, Harvey Milk, Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai (Muh-lala you-sah-faai). And other lesser known individuals who demonstrated the courage to speak out and take action at great personal risk. People like Edith Cavell, a nurse in Belgium during World War One who was arrested and executed for helping Allied servicemen escape back to England; Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading suffragette in the United Kingdom, who was jailed several times for her efforts to gain women the right to vote; Ida B. Wells (1862 – 1931) African-American activist. She investigated the practice of the lynching of black people in the US and wrote about it in newspapers. Her office in Memphis was burnt down after exposing a lynching. Despite considerable opposition, she was able to turn public opinion against the practice. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran Pastor who consistently spoke out against Nazism and was eventually arrested and died in a concentration camp. And our own Michael Cervetus, the original Unitarian martyr, who in the 14th century, wrote a book entitled On the Errors of the Trinity challenging the basic beliefs of Christianity. He became a marked man during the Spanish Inquisition and went underground, was eventually exposed, arrested, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake.
All of these individuals, known and unknown, exhibited what today we call Moral Courage: the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences. Moral Courage means doing the right thing in the face of your fears.
During this generation’s pandemic, during this extraordinarily challenging and difficult time in our history, we see an abundance of moral exemplars. Hospital workers on the front lines caring for people with Covid-19; paramedics heading out in ambulances to care for strangers; staff working in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and community homes for people with physical and intellectual disabilities; those providing psychological or spiritual counseling to patients, caregivers and front line staff; cashiers in grocery stores and pharmacies; the ones who drive the buses and trolleys, who deliver the mail, who disinfect the offices and hotel rooms, who work in meat factories, who volunteer at food banks, who go to work every day in any business that is deemed “essential.”
Moral courage for these people is not something spontaneous. Of course, we admire and acknowledge the person who instinctively runs toward the fire or the automobile accident to help, rather than running the other way. But to the people I listed, the act is deliberate. These people are clear eyed about the inherent risk of the situation that faces them. They admit to their natural fears and yet take decisive action to assist or alleviate the situation despite those fears. Whether through a sense of duty, altruism, or simply the need to keep their jobs, they rise each day, screw up their courage, and charge back into battle against a foe that they cannot see and cannot
Parenting Through the Pandemic
This Sunday, four mothers in the church,
Liss Small Sharon FichthornKelli SchweitzerLaura Evans
offer their reflections on “Parenting Through the Pandemic.” They are shown below for all to read!
I used to think I had a pretty good rhythm going. I enjoyed my home life, my work, the time I spent with friends, and time spent alone. All of that has fallen away. I no longer have the time, the space, or – frankly – the mental clarity to do the things that I think of as simply mine. Painting, knitting, playing the piano, practicing yoga…
Instead, I am working full-time (remotely), teaching two bright and belligerent students, running an amazing zero-waste vegetarian all-hours commissary, attempting to stay sweet with my husband, and – most daunting of all – mothering in a pandemic. Which is the work that is relentless.
Not since my children were newborns has mothering felt so important, beautiful, brutal, universal, and isolating. Although I have amazing friends who I talk to regularly, I still feel kind of on my own most of the time. No one can tell me exactly what my children need right now. Not even my children themselves. None of us have the language for it. I’m left trying to narrate my own feelings throughout the day in the hopes of normalizing the waves of fear, joy, sadness, and gratitude.
I did have one “Parenting Win” the other night. I took a sobbing 5-year-old out to the back deck and introduced him to the power and effectiveness of a few well-timed Primal Screams.
If you know my kids, Calvin and Jesse, you know that they have lots of big, creative ideas… All. Day. Long. My house is NOISY right now. There’s not a lot of space for my own thoughts. And isn’t that typical of motherhood? Struggling to find your own thoughts amidst the noise and opinions of others. So again, I’m noticing how parenting in a pandemic is a lot like being a brand-new parent. It’s just me and Gabe and our kiddos, on our own little island, cozy and loved yet quite alone, trying to figure out how to survive and maybe even thrive in a brand-new situation.
My house is chaotic right now, but it’s also pretty joyful. I feel so lucky that I’m here to listen to my kids’ ideas, to watch them nurture those ideas in a project, to see their creativity and pride. My children are just old enough to be pretty independent. And just young enough to still want me nearby. I will never again have this much time with them, at these sweet ages. And so as much as I could use a little alone time, I have to admit that I am not eager to send them back to school for 7 hours a day when this is all over. This pandemic is scary and sad and I wish it weren’t happening. But this period of intensive mothering, with all of its hardship and beauty, is a gift. I intend to treasure it.
Nine-month-old Izzie cuts her first tooth and goes from crawling to cruising. Three-year-old Eliie surprises us by learning to ride her brother’s old two-wheeler, six-year-old Wyatt rediscovers his skateboard and perfects his boarding skills, eight-year-old Maddie gets new roller skates and zooms up and down the street in front of her house, right on top of the giant chalk Chutes and Ladders game the kids drew earlier that morning. We arrange a Zoom meeting to celebrate my 65th birthday with a three-household toast, the adults sharing drinks that we made from a Saloon Box kit that arrived in the mail (who knew this was possible?), while the big kids drink strawberry smoothies in fancy glasses. Grandparenting and parenting during the pandemic means sharing family milestones via text, photo, email, FaceTime, Instagram, FaceBook, Zoom, mobile phone, and snail mail. After each connection, I have to temper my urge to hook up my little trailer and head out west.
Staying connected through technology
We Will Not Give Up on Love
The sermon is provided by the Rev. David Miller, who serves at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (VA). It is inspired by the song “Orpheus” by Sara Bareilles, whose lyrics are shown below for reference.
There is no text for the sermon, so please listen to the sermon.
“Orpheus” by Sara Bareilles
Come by the fire, lay down your headMy love, I see you’re growing tiredSo set the bad day by the bed, and rest a whileYour eyes can closeYou don’t have to do a thing but listen to me singI know you miss the world, the one you knewThe one where everything made senseBecause you didn’t know the truth, that’s how it works‘Til the bottom drops out and you learnWe’re all just hunters seeking solid ground
Don’t stop trying to find me here amidst the chaosThough I know it’s blinding, there’s a way outSay out loudWe will not give up on love nowNo fear, don’t you turn like Orpheus, just stay hereHold me in the dark, and when the day appearsWe’ll sayWe did not give up on love today
I’ll show you good, restore your faithI’ll try and somehow make a meaning of the poison in this placeConvince you love, don’t breathe it inYou were written in the stars that we are swimming inAnd it has no name, no guaranteeIt’s just the promise of a day I know that some may never seeBut that’s enough, if the bottom drops outI hope my love was someone else’s solid ground
Don’t stop trying to find me here amidst the chaosThough I know it’s blinding, there’s a way outSay out loudWe will not give up on love nowNo fear, don’t you turn like Orpheus, just stay hereHold me in the dark, and when the day appearsWe’ll sayWe did not give up on love todayWe’ll sayWe did not give up on love today
What We Do For Others
I would like to begin today’s message by expressing how good it is to be with all of you today. In this time of stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, it’s a gift and a blessing to be provided with the opportunity to join others in sacred time and worship, and to be invited and welcomed not only to your church but into your homes. So, my heartfelt thanks for this time together.
To say that we are living in a strange and sometimes confusing time is, sadly, not an overstatement. For those of us who connect with others through Facebook or other social networking sites, we are able to witness the various and numerous experiences that our friends and family, and the people that we follow are going through. Some posts are filled with joy and inspiration – flowers discovered during daily walks, songs that folx have created, and uplifting quotes. While other posts reflect the sadness and frustration that folx are experiencing, such as a loved one being sick with COVID-19, the loss of a job or steady income, food insecurity, and frequent episodes of either insomnia or lethargy. Such revealing posts regarding isolation and outbreak remind us that responses vary from day to day and that these experiences are both familiar and uniquely individual. It is in this remembrance that Life and Spirit charge us to breathe deeper into awareness, interconnectedness, and love, so that we may continue our advancement towards the vision and practice of Beloved Community.
When Life and Spirit beckon us to breathe deeper into awareness, interconnectedness, and love, these forces are asking us to transform words into actions and to choose a path that is less traveled.
For example, Merriam-Webster’s online definition of awareness, “the quality or state of being aware: knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists,” exemplifies how the word requires an adjective to flesh out its actual quality or state – for example, slight awareness or acute awareness, etc. The lens of Life and Spirit, however, quickly expands the definition of awareness into a state of being present, with an openness and empathy to receive and witness the Other and their experiences. Such an expanded definition invites one to experience another’s creative agency. As UU Reverend Patrica Jimenez, expounding on Ismael Garcia’s quote explains, “To be a creative agent means that one is not just allowed but also actively encouraged to tell one’s story as an act of “active assistance” and “passive witness.” As Dolores Huerta, organizer, and activist, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, reminds us in the documentary Dolores, “All that a person has is his or her story. Who they are. What they’ve gone through. What their families have gone through. When you’re trying to deny them their story, you’re taking away their power.” The deeper walk with awareness invites us to see the more complex nature of reality. It asks us to seek out and honor the histories of this land that we are unaware of, and to discover for ourselves who has benefited, either directly or indirectly, from these missing histories. It asks us to know and honor the stories of our siblings. In relation to the pandemic, it invites us to see the myriad of stories, struggles, and needs that are unfolding during the stay-at-home orders. Awareness opens our hearts to the reality that some folx may not be able to rebuild their lives or savings. It opens our hearts to the fact that, for some folx, isolation, food insecurity, educational inequity, healthcare inequity, and socio-economic inequalities have always been present in their lives and that the end of the pandemic does not mean the end of these disparities.
When realizations like this occur within us, and our hearts are opened, Life and Spirit call upon us to breathe deeper into interconnectedness. Wit
Coyotes on the Golden Gate
As we approach Earth Day 2020 – the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – we’re witnessing something amazing during our confinement. With our travel restricted by stay-at-home orders, and a radically reduced number of cars on the road and planes in the air, we’re seeing a spontaneous recovery of air and water quality around the planet. With factories producing fewer goods and people taking fewer trips in the past few months, the silver lining of this pandemic is an environmental rebound like none we’ve ever seen. For the first time in a generation, residents of New Delhi, India can see the Himalayas from their homes. There are rumors of dolphins playing in the canals of Venice, Italy and the water there is clear enough now to see fish swimming. There have also been sightings of coyotes walking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In just one month, from February to March, air pollution in China was reduced by nearly 20% and in Europe the drop has been a staggering 60%. Closer to home, the northeastern United States saw a 30% reduction in fossil fuel pollution when you compare February to March.
The Great Pause – this “timeout” from our 21st century lifestyle that the pandemic has imposed on us – has given us irrefutable proof of how that lifestyle affects the environment. It also demonstrates the Earth’s resilience. How quickly it can respond to a significant reduction in our human impact on the planet. We know, of course, that it’s not going to stay this way forever, that the stay-at-home order isn’t a sustainable solution to the world’s environmental problems. While there have been significant improvements in the past few months, there have also been devastating human impacts in the form of job losses and the loss of lives. And we know there’s tremendous pressure to get the country and the world “back to normal.” Back to doing what we were doing before our confinement. But we can hope that these visible, tangible, and rapid environmental improvements will influence policy makers and citizens alike when, eventually, we begin to ease all the restrictions we’re living under. Although I’m afraid it will, let’s hope that “getting back to business” doesn’t mean “business as usual,” and that “re-opening the economy” doesn’t mean that we give industries free rein to return to polluting ways of production we saw in the before time.
So, this global rebounding of the environment is impressive. But now I want to bring us closer to home and ask you this: Where have you taken refuge in the past weeks? What has been your sanctuary while you can’t visit our Sanctuary? When we think about refuge or a sanctuary, we usually think of a safe space, and often that translates to indoor space: a building like the church, or our home, or even just a room like our bedroom or maybe even a bathroom. If you’d like, tell me in the chat where you’ve been finding refuge and sanctuary these days.
What’s somewhat paradoxical about this pandemic is that, in some ways, the safest place to be is outside. Outdoors, nature has become a sanctuary. Yes, staying home is what’s recommended, and if you and your loved ones stay cooped up at home without any contact with the outside world, that’s the best way to avoid getting sick. But for me, and for many others, getting outdoors – going for a walk or a run – has been our refuge. Our shelter from the storm. Because for many of us, being confined to our homes is stress-inducing rather than stress-relieving, even for the most “home-bodied” among us.
I had something of a spiritual experience outdoors just this past week. Last Friday I spent a whole day weeding a flower bed. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? My usual gardening method is to get a truckload of mulch and to basically just dump it in the garden, hoping to smother the weeds