Play It Where the Monkey Drops It

Prelude: Jim Pearce

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements: David Morgen

Good morning! I am David Morgen, a Worship Associate here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia. 

Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation seeks to create loving community, inspire joy and spiritual growth, and support courageous action. All are welcome, as together we journey towards justice and equity by learning, caring, and acting together.

We especially welcome any newcomers and visitors we have today.  

Each week brings us closer to finishing the building renovation and completion of the new patio behind Subramanian Hall.  We are planning to lay the patio paver stones on Saturday, Sept 26, and are relying on volunteers to help us with this project.  The details will be sent via email and the newsletter this week, but please mark your calendars and consider donating a few hours that day to help put the finishing touches on our patio.

The RE Program is excited to announce a new curriculum that will be offered to students in grades 2-5. Lego® UU Sources will be offered twice a month via Zoom. Our first class will be today at 11:15 a.m. You are invited to join us as we explore our UU Sources and have fun building with Lego® bricks. The link to join the class will be in this week’s newsletter and parents will also receive an invitation via email. Log into Zoom, pull up a chair, and pour out your Lego® bricks as we go on this adventure together!

We hope you will continue to send photos of yourselves, your family and pets to us to be used during our services.  It has been great to see everyone’s smiling faces, covid hair cuts and your various activities  in the photo collage — so please find and upload your photographs so we can share our collective joy with a new collage soon.  If you haven’t sent any yet, please do so we can see everyone eventually.

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to grab whatever materials you’ll need to light your own chalice if you’d like that to be part of your worship experience today.

As always, kindly set your phones to worship mode; we won’t know, but I think you might enjoy the hour free from distractions.  And feel free to check in on your social media of choice to let your friends and family know about this place of caring you’ve found today. Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news. 

And although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, we are all together in spirit and each and every one of us is welcome.  

And now let us prepare for worship while Cameron Moore shares their gift of music with us. 

Music: “May Your Life Be As A Song” Cameron Moore 

Call to Worship: Rev. Misha Sanders

Good morning!  I am Rev. Misha Sanders, and I am honored to serve as the senior minister here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, of Sandy Springs, Georgia.  I’m so glad you have joined our online worship today.  Our call to worship this morning is by Rev. Lyn Cox:

Spirit of Life,
Who draws us together in a web of holy relationships,
Make your presence known with us and in us and among us.
Remind us that we are not alone in history,
Ignite us with the courage of the living tradition.
Remind us that we are not alone in entering the future,
Anchor us with patience and perseverance.
Remind us that we are not alone in our times of grief and pain,
Comfort us with your spirit, manifest in human hands and voices.
Remind us that we are not alone in joy and wonder,
Inspire us to honor and extend the beauty we find in this world.

Divine music of the universe,
Let our hearts beat in diverse and harmonious rhythms,
Cooperating with an everlasting dance of love.
May we move with the rhythms of peace.
May we move with the rhythms of compassion.
May we move with the rhythms of justice.
Source of stars and planets and water and land
Open our hearts to all of our neighbors
Open our souls to a renewal of faith
Open our hands to join together in the work ahead.
So be it, blessed be, amen.

And now, I’m SO happy to kick it over to our own Shelton Chau, who will light our chalice!

Lighting of the Chalice: Shelton Chau

A Communion of Heart and Soul
By Bruce Southworth

For the gift of this day and for our community of spiritual nurture and compassion, we give thanks.
We light this chalice as a symbol of our faith.
May our many sparks meet and merge in communion of heart and soul.

Story Wisdom: Rev. Misha Sanders

Reading: David Morgen

The Ninth Obstacle
By Laura Solomon

“Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch.”

—Internet meme

While it’s true that we are not being called to war, it’s also true that these are challenging times. I would argue that some of us are being called to do far more than sit on our couch. Most of us, in fact. All of us, probably.

I understand this meme: we need humor. We need to poke fun at this extraordinary situation, and it’s healthy to do so. But we also need to be extraordinarily gentle with one another. Excessively gentle. Tender, even.

Some of us are being called to serve vulnerable communities. Some of us are being called to provide comfort, care, and support in new, challenging ways. Some of us are medical professionals and first responders taking risks. Some of us are accompanying the dying. Some of us are holding the fragile mental health of children and adults. Some of us are scared for ourselves, or for our children, or for our parents. Some of us are out of work. Some of us don’t know how we will pay our rent. Some of us are uninsured and scared. Some of us will need to spend days at home entertaining children—which presents myriad challenges for our own mental health, or our child’s mental health. None of us are unaffected.

Years ago, I did one of those mud run obstacle races. I didn’t struggle much with the actual physical obstacles (or the mud), but I had a moment of utter panic when I realized I had to change my clothes in a big tent where there was no privacy. My friend had her moment of struggle when we were in line and she had no choice but to wait patiently. My biggest learning was that while there were eight physical obstacles on the course, we all had a ninth obstacle.

That’s kind of what’s happening right now: COVID-19 has imposed eight obstacles that we’re all contending with. But we each have nine—or more—obstacles. You have no idea what anyone else’s ninth obstacle (or tenth, or eleventh) is. You just know they have it.

We have no choice but to be gentle…excessively, generously, powerfully gentle.

Joys and Sorrows Prelude: “No Coming, No Going” by Jayna [Video]

Joys and Sorrows:  Rev. Joan Davis

Good Morning. I’m the Rev. Joan Davis, Northwest’s Affiliated Community Minister, and I am here to bring you the Joys and Sorrows this morning. And I invite you all now, those of you with Joys and Sorrows to share with our congregation here gathered virtually, to open the chat box at the bottom of your screen and enter your Joys and Sorrows.

Joys and Sorrows is our time in this space to honor these sacred moments and milestones. For our Ritual, we have water and we have river stones.Smooth and heavy in our hands, these river stones symbolize life’s pleasures and times of ease and life’s burdens and times of heaviness. The water in our bowl is a precious natural resource. We use it sparingly, reminding us of the preciousness of each life and its unique journey.

Prayer and Meditation: Rev. Joan Armstrong

At the close of a weekend in which the news media has reminded us over and over of the grief, and loss of so many when the World Trade Center towers fell. Let us consider those who came after. Let us remember the children born nineteen years ago on September 11th, 2001. And, all those children who came after them. They’ve never known peace time. They’ve only known of a world in turmoil. Spirit Of Life, That Which Is Holy and Loving and True, hear our prayers for healing, kindness, resiliency, and courage.

Prayers that our bodies and our spirits will survive this time of unimaginable loss. Thank you for giving us each other, this loving community, and thank you for giving us hope. Amen.

And now our Voices of Northwest will sing “Rivers of Grace”.

Music Interlude: “Rivers of Grace” Voices of Northwest

Sermon: Rev. Misha Sanders Play It Where the Monkey Drops It

When golf came to Calcutta, India, it was because of the British, of course.  They had colonized the country, and like colonizers do, they were filling up the space with things that were familiar to them from whence they had come.  And so, the story goes, they began building this huge, elaborate, lush, near-perfect golf course right in the middle of Calcutta, and the locals they had hired as laborers probably warned them…or maybe they didn’t warn them at all, just for their own amusement…there were going to be problems the rich British golf dudes were not anticipating.  

And they were right.  They built their big fancy golf club.  It was lovely.  It was inviting to all the wealthy and powerful and white. 

There was just one vexing problem, though.  

See, what the Indian people knew that the British were not so familiar with is that when you build your fancy things human in Calcutta, you are building on macaque monkey land and the monkeys will not be evicted.  

It doesn’t matter how important or expensive, it doesn’t matter if you try to create barriers, whatever you build, the monkeys assume is theirs because they were there first, and they are really not wrong about it. 

The monkeys showed up and were curious.  The golfers began golfing, trying to ignore their simian companions or marvel at their novelty…but there were some problems with this coexisting relationship.   The big one was that curious young monkeys love to chase a ball and pick it up and take it home to show their friends.  Monkeys would observe from the trees on the outskirts, watch a great hit, and follow the ball to wherever it landed, pick it up, examine it, play with it a bit maybe, then discard it wherever they may have taken it.  

So, the people built a high wall around the golf course.  Surely that’ll keep them out.  

“You underestimate our Western ingenuity!” said the British.

“You underestimate our monkeys!” said the Indians. 

So, you already know that the monkeys just found the walls amusing, right?  Climbed right over those fancy barriers and kept on messing with the strange two-legged creatures and their baffling game. 

So, the people began trapping the monkeys and removing them.  Some through monkey relocation projects, and some through permanent measures of terrible cruelty, because colonization always results in unnecessary cruelty to humans as well as our non-human companions and our earth. 

But you already know, don’t you, that those displaced monkeys found their way back home.  And they brought new friends and family with them.       

And so eventually the golf club honchos had to concede defeat.  But they didn’t want to give up on their beautiful, fancy resort, and so they added a new rule to the game.

Cameron, can we see the image of the sign, please?

Play the ball where the monkey drops it. 


Well, that was GREAT news for the monkeys, but I know a few Enneagram 1s and Myers Briggs ISTJs, and Virgos that would NOT enjoy playing golf at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Maybe that’s you.  It sure is me sometimes.

Let me tell you why I think it is especially important right now that we play. And particularly why we play games like CandyLand, and UNO, and Sorry, and Chutes and Ladders, and Trouble. Games of chance where your skills really don’t matter because it doesn’t matter how close to home base you are, sometimes if your neighbor’s next pop happens to be a two, you are heading right back to home base and starting over, buddy.  And we can laugh about it and keep on popping the popper and enjoying our time together.  

Low-sakes resiliency training in the form of a game of a rousing round of Chutes and Ladders might just be the homeschooling lesson we all need right about now, remote learning supervisors.  

Because as life goes on, the stakes get higher, don’t they? And I’m not just talking about when we grow up.  I’m talking about our children who were picked up from school one random afternoon in March, handed a mask to put on their face, and have NEVER seen their friends and teachers again. 

We cannot expect them, or ourselves, to just play through the obstacle, as though a maurauding gang of macaques didn’t just stroll through stealing all the balls and pooping all over the green.  

Sometimes you have to pause the game for a very long time to clean up the poop.  That’s not fair. 

Sometimes the monkey doesn’t ever bring back your ball and that means your game is over.  That’s not fair.

Sometimes the monkey drops the ball right into the hole you were aiming for, and your competition breaks his club and storms off the course.  That’s not fair. 

Sometimes your first year college experience is from your parent’s house via the internet instead of from the beautiful campus housing you so carefully chose and qualified for. That’s not fair. 

Sometimes your temporary furlough turns into a permanent lay-off. That’s not fair. 

Sometimes your loved one doesn’t recover and you cannot be with them to say goodbye. That’s not fair. 

It’s not fair that right now in beautiful Georgia we are enjoying near-perfect late summer weather, many of us are getting out into nature more and more, stretching our cabin-fevered limbs, and remembering that the world is still beautiful and lush and vibrant…while our beloveds on the west coast cannot safely breathe the air around them because their world is on fire. 

It is not fair that COVID-19 is present in some people who will remain healthy and symptom-free, while thousands of others will die.  

It is not fair that, no matter what the game of chance we venture out to play, the odds of being murdered while doing it are exponentially greater in this country if you are Black, and it has always been that way.  

It is not fair that Georgia voting rolls have been illegally purged and polling places restricted and absentee ballots delayed, and districts gerrymandered so that White Supremacist governing can remain the norm. 

And here is where I remind myself that playing it where the monkey drops it does not mean that I get to shrug, say, “Oh, well…good game.  I’m obviously losing, so I’m going to just quit” and go back into my blanket fort until a vaccine arrives, or the election changes the balance of power, or a good rain quenches the flames. 

No.  Playing it where the monkey drops it means staying in the game.    

It means that when the part-time in-person schooling option isn’t working out, we sit together as a family and consider a Plan B.  

It means that when we cannot visit our Meemaw in the hospital, we sing to her on the phone until she falls asleep.  

It means that we send some of our resources to people we love in California or Oregon who have just lost their home to flames. 

It means that we sign up to be a voting registrar or a poll worker in a neighborhood that we know has been hard hit by voter registration purges and restrictions. 

It means that sometimes when I have done all those things and I am worn out, I join Zoom to play Kahoot with my NWUUC family, and I congratulate the winner, even if it’s not fair that she won just because her internet connection is faster than mine. 

There is no level playing field.  The games are all rigged.  Nothing is fair.  And that is sometimes okay because it’s low stakes and meant to build resilience, like a game of UNO.  And sometimes it is not okay because the oppression built into our systems of control must be addressed and dismantled.  

And none of it is my fault! 

But, dang it, I am still the only one responsible for how I react to it all. Just me.  That doesn’t seem fair, either.  

But what’s my next move?  I’m not going to break my club and leave the green, but I’m also not going to walk in the monkey poop and pretend it doesn’t stink up my shoes. 

Playing it where the monkey drops it means taking breaks…sometimes long breaks…to accommodate the erratic schedule of the monkeys.  I am speaking metaphorically, parents, but you can use that to mean what it needs to mean for you and your monkeys, if you’d like.  Sometimes that might mean that Tuesday’s morning math lesson will commence at bedtime three Fridays from now.  

Playing it where the monkey drops it, beloved folks who live alone and miss human interaction…sometimes it means learning new tech skills that will allow us to see each other’s faces, even if it is frustrating and we feel left behind and left out of modern advances. And even if it takes us WEEKS longer than it took our twelve-year-old neighbor kid to figure out.  

Playing it where the monkey drops it means that we, NWUUC, wait to . We wait indefinitely, with no end-date scheduled,  to enjoy the beautiful newly expanded space that YOU all made happen through your love…we wait until we can ALL enjoy it safely together, and we make do with pictures and assurances from our Building Team that it’s nearly done and it looks great.    

And so, in the meantime.  While we wait sometimes. While we play through the obstacle sometimes. While we remove the obstacle ourselves before we can make another move sometimes.  While we concede defeat sometimes.

What matters is that we are not playing the game alone, and we are not all operating by different rules.  Oh, it seems that the rules are different for some of us sometimes, because of those systems of oppression that I mentioned earlier, under the influence of which we all live.  But when the game isn’t fair, the only thing we can do is decide together…with the others who are in the game with us…is what we are going to do about it.  

This sermon title and topic isn’t original with me.  The first time I heard about playing it where the monkey drops it, it was in a sermon preached by Nancy McDonald Ladd, when she was the intern minister at my home church.  

My son was an infant, and he and I and his father were living in a tiny little bug-infested above-garage apartment with three broken windows, freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer.   

Nancy preached about playing it where the monkey drops it, and it made me mad.  I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like her.  I didn’t like her smug assertion that I was somehow responsible for my reaction to unfair living situations, and so I took my ball and went home.  Of all the privileged nonsense.  I wasn’t having it.  

And…of course…she was right.  I went on being mad, but I also went on to learn much from Nancy who is now my colleague and friend.  

And I’m sorry to report that the game hasn’t gotten any more fair.  

But, I divorced that man, and I raised that little baby, I eventually got here to Georgia and to YOU, where I belong, and WOW, we have played through a lot of stolen balls and monkey excrement to get here, haven’t we? 

And there will always be more. 

Calcutta is never going to have monkey-free golf greens no matter who tries to colonize her next.    

Human beings are never going to be impervious to viral infections no matter how hard our scientists work to get ahead of the game. 

Our nation is never going to be free of the scourge of racism, sexism, homo- and trans-phobia, and xenophobia.  Not completely, no matter how much we try to cover it or reveal it, the latter of which I believe is the only way forward at all. 

Climate crises aren’t stopping, and we can never go back to the Old Normal, if we plan to mitigate the damage at all.  

We can’t ever undo the damage of a White Nationalist government, not completely, no matter who we vote into office in November. 

But we do have our next move.  How are we going to play this?  

Is it a big thing, like joining the Poor People’s campaign and finding an active role to fill in spreading the message?

Is it putting more that you had planned into the Venmo account of a frontline worker who is on unpaid sick leave right now because they might be infected?

Is it sending supplies to the humane society of Portland, Oregon, as they are inundated with suffering pets whose homes were lost in the fires?

Or, maybe it is shutting down all the plans you had for this evening to play Candyland with your child.  Or your spouse.  Or your neighbor.  Or the online version with your best friend from high school.  

Because sometimes a fun, low-stakes game of resiliency training is exactly what we need to stay in the bigger game for the long haul. SOmetimes we do it from a blanket fort, so that we can emerge after a nap with greater clarity for what comes next. 

I want to make time for more fun, low-stakes resiliency training in my life, how about you?

Can we commit together to do that this week? Remember that video ameron played for us during our offering time today?  The one where the pictures you’ve sent in get featured in a montage of gorgeousness that we all need to see?   I invite you to keep sending in more.  We’ll edit it as often as we need to.  This week, if you want to play, I invite you to share with us pictures of yourself playing.  Maybe it’s playing Sorry, or some other low-stakes resiliency training game of chance.  Maybe it’s golf.  Maybe whatever it is, it’s in a blanket fort. Whatever it is that refuels you for the unfair high-stakes game we’re all in.  

Play It Where the Monkey Drops it, my friends. 

May our grounding in the principles of our expansive faith remind us that when the rules don’t apply or don’t make any gosh-darn sense, we are stronger than our circumstances.  We are resilient. We are hilarious. We are strong. And we are in it for each other.  We are in it for each other. We are in it for each other. 

My pastoral prayer for you today is that you have a safe, fun, blessed week with very little monkey poop to clean up. 

May it be so. 

I love you. 

Offering: David Morgen

The offering that we take each Sunday isn’t just a stale habit: it’s an opportunity to recommit to this place, and to this people. Our offering is an affirmation—a “yes.” 

When we give, we say yes to something we value. With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith. Our offering will now be given and gratefully received.

Dedication of the Offering: David Morgen

“To the work of this congregation, which is weaving a tapestry of love and action, 

we dedicate our offerings and the best of who we are.” 

Music: “Jubilate, Alleluia”: Junior High Honor Choir of Georgia Independent Schools, Dr. Philip Rogers, conductor

Hello I am Phil Rogers, Dir of Music here at NW. As we conclude our service I would like to share one of the selections I conducted in February at Oglethorpe University with the Georgia Independent Schools Junior High Honor Chorus. The title is Jubilate Alleluia by Audrey Snyder.

Benediction: Rev. Misha Sanders

By Susan L Van Dreser

Let us sing the magic of imagination by which we know one another and learn the lives of eras gone by.
Let us sing the magic of creation by which we build the world of our soul and teach its wisdom to others, young and old.
Let us sing the magic of our lives together, holding and shaping by the movement of breath from heart to lung all new life that is to come.
Go now with singing. Go now with magic in your fingertips. Touch this world with life.

Postlude: Jim Pearce

Today’s service participants:
Worship leads: Rev. Misha and David Morgen
Chalice lighting: Shelton Chau
Story Wisdom: Rev. Misha
Music: “May Your Life Be As A Song” Cameron Moore, “No Coming, No Going” by Jayna, “Rivers of Grace” Voices of Northwest, “Jubilate, Alleluia”: Junior High Honor Choir of Georgia Independent Schools — Dr. Philip Rogers, conductor
Producer: Cameron Moore
Usher: Lynne Dale