by Rev. Karen S. Stoyanoff, Ph.D
Last month I pointed out that September always feels to me like time to get back to work, so I wasn’t surprised to realize that the celebration at the end of October feels like a timely break from diligence and routine! We all need to pace ourselves and recognize the value of “time out” from whatever is routine. So whether you treat the end of October/beginning of November as holidays or holy days, I hope you will find a respite in them.
For those of us that celebrate Halloween as a great time to indulge a fantasy and dress up as some beloved [or scary] character, the respite is a welcome way to take time from our routine to be frivolous. Too much hard work, with no option for fantasy, creativity, and fun will eventually have a telling effect on our outlook on life! And who doesn’t want to take just a few minutes to play at being some kind of super hero or villain? For those who celebrate “all saints” or “dia de los muertos”or Samhain, the break from routine couples with a time of remembrance and some deep introspection that helps to fuel the work to come. In either case they provide liminal time that might just make life better or, at least, allow us to reignite our passions for the things in life we have committed to.
I wish you all a happy, productive, fulfilling Fall, with enough joy to inspire your spirit.
In the meantime, may you Go shining, Karen
There’s a feeling of “September energy” in the air! All the kids are back in school, most college campuses are ‘open for business’, the football season is fully underway, and the air, while still delightfully warm, has just a hint of cooler weather to come - it’s a bit more brisk than it has been for months. I love this time of year because it invites me to get down to serious business once again, after the lethargy that summer often induces. After all, the month starts with Labor Day - a celebration of workers! So I’m looking around for important things to do [and I have no trouble finding them]. In addition to my usual pursuits, I’ve just completed the course work to become a mediator. That’s something that I’ve been interested in for a very long time. Now, of course, I have to put in hours of ‘on the job’ training, but it will soon lead to a new pursuit in earnest.
My hope for all is that you, too, feel the energy that is swirling around and are inspired to joyfully take up serious work once again - that is assuming that you, like me, enjoyed a bit of a respite over the summer!
And just for the record, in this election year, the scuttlebutt is that absentee ballots will be mailed in the next week or two. Remember our fifth principle - supporting the democratic process in our congregations and in society at large. There is no more iconic way to live it out than to vote. Of course, really following the 5th principle requires that your vote be a knowledgeable one. So please pay attention to all the candidates and propositions and you, too, can be part of the living tradition!
In the meantime, may you Go shining, Karen
We are in what was called “the dog days of summer” when I was growing up. As I thought about this a couple of days ago, I realized that I should look it up since I don’t know that I ever heard an official definition of the term. What I found first was actually what I suspected: the dog days of August refer to the hottest, most uncomfortable part of the summer. That definition was followed by two others though that were new to me. First it also designates the time when Sirius, the dog star in the constellation Canis Major is rising. Evidently the correlation between Canis Major rising and hot, sultry weather occurs in enough areas of the Northern Hemisphere that it is accepted as true. And the final definition is that the term was publicized by American ballparks to boost sales of tickets to mid-afternoon games during August.
What I remember that is not included in any of the definitions, at least not specifically, is the feelings of laziness that accompanied the heat. Couple that with the fact that during my school years, by August I’d worn out the joy of not having anything to do [freedom!] and basically, I was bored. Boredom can be a good thing - it induces creativity, deep thought, and introspection as an antidote. All of those are worthy pursuits. To say nothing of the idea that sometimes we need a fallow time to regroup, restore our energy, and gear up for the busy Fall ahead!
My wish for all of you during these dog days is that you may have blessed rest, fruitful introspection, useful deep thought, and efficient recharging of your battery. Come Fall, there will be plenty of work to be done!
In the meantime, may you
Go shining, Karen
Shootings and bombings are coming at such a rapid pace that it is difficult to internalize the horror of one attack before it is eclipsed by another or several other attacks. I’ve spent time in the last few days talking with others about what we might do to honor the 250 who died in Baghdad after Sunday’s attack, only to be invited into other conversations about vigils for Alton Sterling and [Philando] Castile in Baton Rouge and St Paul. And then this morning I wake to the news that 5 police officers have been ambushed and killed in Dallas as a peaceful protest march was wending its way through downtown. As I was returning home from a meeting just now I heard a commentator on Newsradio ask if people thought the country was out of control.
And I feel compelled to ask, “when will it end?” although I’m not sure anyone can answer that question, or the much more ominous one: “will it end?” There are a few things I do know. Among them, that it doesn’t matter who the slain victims are – it is still a lost life, it is still a tragedy, and there are still people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Another thing I know is that it doesn’t seem to matter who we are: every one of us could be the next target. True there are demographics that render some more likely [frequent] targets than others, but it seems right now that no one and no place is truly impervious to the possibility of danger. And three, that although it would be easy to give up, give in to helplessness and hopelessness, withdraw from action – that is exactly the thing we must not do.
This “out of control” violence will not end if we do not continue to stand against it and call for measures to curtail it. Many years ago Margaret Mead pointed out the importance of our staying in the battle for a better world: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” We, who consider ourselves people of faith and progressives must be that small group. No matter how much I may despair of ever making a difference, of prevailing in even a small way, I have to continue forward with action after action. If we are willing to be steadfast, to call again and again for gun control, to lead the way to a better world, others will join us. Those who have given into despair, fear, and hopelessness will follow our lead – maybe not today, or next week, maybe not even this year, but eventually. However, I believe also that if we give up, our world may never change from the strife ridden, violent state of things that now seems to permeate every place. And so I have just accepted an invitation, here in Orange County, to be part of a discussion to talk about how this community crisis affects all of us, what needs to change, and how we can work together to stop the violence. That’s one small step I can take.
But I know there is another, even more important step I need to take as well. We can’t simply work to eliminate the violence – we need to also put something in its place. And that, of course, is love. It’s hard to love someone if we have defined them as our enemy. It’s hard to love those who are reacting with violence toward those that they believe are their enemies. But we must find a way to do that or there will be nothing good to take the place of violence even if we make a raft of laws against it. We already know how to love each other [most of the time], we already know how to reach out to the victims of violence and their loved ones. Can we now add to our call for a better way a realization and sensitivity to those who are so alone, so held down by the world they live in, that they feel the only resort they have is violence? Can we find ways to enter their world BEFORE they reach that point and look to helping them find other opportunities to be heard, to survive, even to thrive? If not – if our only recourse is to do battle against violence [note that I looked for a word that didn’t connote violence, but realized that most of the words we use are violent], we won’t reach the better world we dream of, but rather create a new wasteland. I’ve never thought I was all that good at “loving my enemy”, but I keep trying. I keep looking for ways that I can love and respect all, and sometimes I actually succeed.
I hope you will join me. The opportunities actually abound.
Blessings on our work together! Karen
After last month’s column I’m sure no one will be surprised when I write about “May Flowers” this month. I think of them as the reward for living through the long winter that ends with the spring rains. And, as always, they form a metaphor for me. I’ve always done justice work and I’m well aware that often it feels like there is no end in sight and very little reward for the effort and the accompanying pain. At the moment, I cannot offer an alternative hypothesis to that feeling. In the past month I’ve gone to several justice seeking events and after two of them today, it’s hard to stay upbeat. This morning I met with others as we attended the County Board of Education meeting. I was there for public comment time. The speeches before mine were like fingernails on a blackboard [for those of you old enough to remember that particularly unpleasant experience] and they left me feeling raw and in pain. So much vitriol and anger, so much disrespectful rhetoric! This afternoon I went with another group to stand with workers at a company in Orange County that has now dragged their feet for two years since a union was voted in by workers - refusing to set up a meeting to begin negotiations. We weren’t treated rudely, but were left standing for a long time before anyone in management would talk with us. When that finally happened we got no substantive response from the person who met with us. And so I wonder how I can write an upbeat column in the face of such disappointment.
But here’s the thing! In both cases today, and in many others in the past weeks I was struck by the loving, committed group of people who I joined in these justice efforts. They were truly a balm to my dispirited feelings. I noticed that they are often the same people - from one event to another and I liked the smiles with which I was greeted by friends I didn’t even know a few months ago. I am gratified by my own feelings of joy as I greeted them. We are a diverse group, we justice seekers. We are a rainbow of colors, a wide range of ages, we consist of a variety of “orientations,” a number of different faith groups,and we show up for a number of different causes - because let’s face it: there’s plenty of oppression to go around. That sense of belonging to a wonderful group of people who care about and want to stand with those who are being treated badly is just the antidote I need!
As I think back over the past years I realize that those friendships that have bloomed in my life through working on justice have always been the reward for doing the work. It’s never been easy work, always involves some pain, but enfolded in the warmth of a group of like-minded others makes it a joy. So may you all find the “May Flowers” that come to you in your work in the world, whatever form that takes. May we take the expanding interconnection that grows in our lives as the incentive to keep on keeping on, until we build the world we dream about.
The old saying is that in April we have showers and this year, I know we are all hoping for that to happen. The California drought hasn’t yet gotten the help we hoped would come with an El Nino. As I thought about that saying [April showers] I realized that it has several meanings for us. To begin with many of us do complain when our planned outings are “dampened” by rain and it’s important to remember that there is a cycle to life that doesn’t necessarily coincide with our deepest or most frivolous desires. I guess we are inherently selfish in that regard and a stern reminder from Mother Nature, that we need to see a bigger picture than whatever we might have planned for the moment, is in order. There are more important concerns than my planned picnic, shopping trip, sporting event, or my tennis or golf game. Perspective tells us that “truth” all the time, but it is easy to get caught up in the moment.
And another message [at least for me] that I need to hear is that I’m not all that powerful - I can’t overthrow the rhythm of the cosmos by a selfish desire. That’s a relief! I’m glad for the reminder that nature and many other things will go on as they have before whether I’m in synch with that plan or not. What a relief to know I can’t do that much damage by being selfish or thoughtless. That’s not to say that I should give up trying to avoid both selfishness [at other’s expense] or thoughtlessness, but I also ought not to get “too big for my britches” [to use a phrase my parent’s generation was fond of].
And finally I’m reminded that sometimes what seems like a burden, a stumbling block, or just an undesirable occurrence has a silver lining after all [wait for next month’s column to hear that one. I’m assuming you already know what comes after April showers]. So may we all find comfort and peace in gentle April showers enriching our lives, feeding our souls, and reminding us of lessons we need to learn.
I was both shocked and saddened to hear about the horrific violence that occurred in Anaheim last Saturday [February 27, 2016]. Sometimes it seems like the hatred fueled by the oppression of people of color will never end and it’s easy to get discouraged when new violence erupts as it did . The stabbings done to the counter protesters by members of the Klu Klux Klan were not fatal, fortunately and it appears that the fight was initiated by the counter protesters, which means that there was animosity and violence on both sides. It’s not easy to deal with the fact that our city, named by Tom Tait, Anaheim’s mayor, as “the City of Kindness”, has made national news in a way that makes mockery of the motto. I know that there are many in our city that want to be part of a city of kindness, not one of hatred and violence, but in the face of this tragedy, it is easy to lose sight of that.
So it was with joy and a sense of healing that I attended the peace vigil in the same park This is what democracy looks like. This is what peace looks like. This is what Anaheim looks like,” holding hands and carrying banners proclaiming love and peace.evening, February 29, 2016, standing with upwards of 200 citizens asking that we not fight, but rather treat each other with love. There were Unitarian Universalists there, members of other faith groups, elected officials, and many people I didn’t know. Some of us were persons of color and some of us were white-skinned. Groups and organizations gathered, including OCCCO, CLUE, the Orange County Human Relations Council and Commission, and others - again I didn’t know all of those who joined in the vigil. The group marched from the park to City Hall, chanting, "
And I know that’s the Anaheim I love. I’m proud to have been part of the response to the hatred and violence of the weekend. I hope you all will join in standing for our Unitarian Universalist values of love, compassion, inclusivity, freedom, and justice in the days to come. If we all stand together, I believe we cannot fail!
In the meantime, may you
“Welcome to the land of beginning again” is the opening line of one of my favorite UU “calls to Worship.” Of course we can ‘begin again’ at any time of year, but it seems particularly appropriate right now at the very beginning of 2016! As the calendar starts anew we too can make changes that we’d like to in our lives, do a reassessment to see what’s working well and we want to keep, and commit to new, worthy efforts [both personal and societal].
For me it’s exciting to know that there is important work to be done. We did accomplish good things in 2015, so we know we can succeed if we put our shoulder to the wheel and push. I’m still basking in the warmth of knowing that the Year Round Emergency Shelter and Multi-Purpose Center in Anaheim will be moving forward, but as I said when I made comments at the Orange County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, “it’s only a drop in the bucket - there’s more to be done.” I’m looking forward to working on whatever the next step turns out to be!
So my new year’s wish for you is that you find joy in meaningful tasks, that you know work that is important, that you also cut yourself some slack both in terms of perfectionism and leisure. And, perhaps most of all, that we find work together that can “bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice.”
May your life be shining with joy and purpose!
It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over! I hope all of you have been enjoying the hot days of summer and will continue to do so into the Fall. We do have a choice, you know - whether we view the glass as half full or half empty [or if you an engineer you might view it as too big a glass!]. it’s possible to complain about it being too hot to accomplish anything, or the constant air-conditioning [if you are lucky enough to have it] causing the utility bill to go way too high. But it’s also possible to focus on the pleasant sides of our summer weather - leaving the windows open at night, feeling lazy and enjoying it, or watching the garden grow [after weeding it, of course]. I’m sure you can think of many more positives and negatives, but those are the ones that come to mind for me. The choices we make about how we approach our world and our situation are ours, but they often control whether we are happy in general, whether we have energy and will to accomplish good things, or whether we feel good about our place in the world. And if you are one of those who thinks the glass is the wrong size, it may be that you just haven’t found the niche in which you can be of service, thrive, or feel that life is full and right just the way it is.
Because all of this is a choice, I wish you the right size glass that you view as at least half full of something that gives you purpose and delight!
In the meantime, may you
Go shining, Karen
I have learned much in my life from children and I’m happy to report that two of my best teachers currently are my 8 year old granddaughter [Nicole] and 10 year old grandson [Luke]. Often the lessons they teach me are profound - sometimes beyond their own understanding at the time. But sometimes they are pure delight and even funny enough that I have work hard to keep a straight face when I’m responding. Perhaps one of the most delightful of those occurrences happened late this spring. My granddaughter, days away from finishing second grade, proudly took her mother, brother, father, and me to see the display on her desk during the “parent open house” at school. One of the items was a pamphlet entitled “If I Ran the World”. On each page there was a statement that the student completed with their own thoughts. One of them started out, “If I ran the world, I would eliminate. . . “ and Nicole had finished by writing, “flu, death, snap peas, and tornados.”
I don’t think I quite kept the straight face I intended to after reading it. Snap peas just don’t seem to belong on that list! When I finished laughing I looked back at the list and realized, once again, the wisdom of youth. We all can name the catastrophic things that create fear in us, maybe some of them actually keep us awake at night. Indeed, those are possibilities one would expect to find on a list of things we’d like to eliminate. But the truth of the matter is that they don’t actually happen very often in our lives. I grew up in tornado country, knew about the one that got
Dorothy to Oz, but never actually saw one. I was close a couple of times, but definitely safe. How wise of my granddaughter [who at the age of 8 shouldn’t be worrying about her own death yet] to include one of the everyday, mundane things that are often a far greater plague in our ongoing existence.
Snap peas aren’t one of my particular favorites either, although I might have chosen a different food if I were making the list. The point is two-fold in my mind. First we might take some time to identify the small, everyday irritants in our lives and avoid them. I guess when you are 8 you can’t always choose what foods are set in front of you, but you probably could politely let other people know you don’t like them [that would be cilantro for me]. And the second point is that when we can’t avoid those little annoying things, we can probably live with them. So I guess the even greater wisdom Nicole was expressing was to know what we can control and what we can’t, but even more so, to know the difference between.
So my wish for you is that you avoid the things you really hate whenever possible, while learning to live peacefully with that you cannot change! And always pay attention to those young people who are filled with wisdom!
In the meantime, may you
Go shining, Karen