Looking Forward, Looking Back

Prelude: “Greensleeves” Traci/Chrissy Guitar Duet

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Rev. Misha Sanders

Good morning! I am Rev. Misha Sanders, your Senior Minister 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.  I hope you’ll join us after worship for coffee hour… from the comfort of your own homes.  You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude is over. 

Have you voted yet? Absentee? Early? Or are you planning to vote on Election Day, January 5? It is not only our duty to vote in this runoff, it is our sacred right to do so. Want to check your absentee ballot status? 

The link to check your status is being posted in the chat box.  Please do check, if you are unsure!  [https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do

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 with the song “Come, Come, whoever you are”, sung by our own Larry Helfrich.

Music: “Come Come Whoever You Are” Larry Helferich

Call to Worship: Rev. Joan Armstrong-Davis

I Need You

I need a sense of time. Always I have an underlying anxiety about things. Sometimes I am in a hurry to achieve my ends and am completely without patience. It is hard for me to realize that some things take time, that not all processes are swift. I cannot discriminate between what takes time to develop and what can be rushed because my sense of time is dulled. O to understand the meaning of perspective that I may do all things with a profound sense of leisure of time.

I need a sense of order. The confusion of the details of living is sometimes overwhelming. The little things keep getting in my way, providing ready-made excuses for failure to do and be what I know I ought to do and be. Much time is spent on things that are not very important while significant things are put in an insignificant place in my scheme of order. I must unscramble my affairs so that my life will become order. I need a sense of order.

I need a sense of the future. I need to learn that life is ever on the side of the future. I need to keep alive in me the future look, the high hope. Let me not be frozen either by the past or the present. 

Grant me, O Patient One, Your sense of the future without which all life would sicken and die.

from Prayers for Today, Howard Thurman

Come, let us worship together.

Lighting of the Chalice: The Chau Family

Story Wisdom: Rev. Misha Sanders

Hi, y’all!  Since Miss Adia worked SO hard to help prepare the wonderful Christmas worship last week that many of YOU starred in, she is taking this Sunday off and I hope she is still snug in her jammies, resting, because she deserves it!  So, today, *I* am lucky enough to get to bring you a story.  

So, welcome to my little kitchen, because today’s story is about something good to eat! 

Have you ever heard of Hoppin’ John?  Hoppin’ John is not a person, it’s a thing, even though the name sounds like it would be for a person, doesn’t it?  

[move ‘What is Hoppin John?’ magnets up into camera view.]

So, what *is* Hoppin’ John?  Maybe you already know, because you eat it in your family.  

Yes, it’s a food dish.  

Especially here in the Southern states of our country,  Hoppin’ John is something people eat on New Year’s Day! 

This simple, delicious dish usually has in it black-eyed peas, some kind of rice, and usually-but-not-always a side of collard greens.  

It is said to bring good luck to people if you eat it on the very first day of every new year.   

Now, I don’t know about that.  No matter how much Hoppin’ John thousands and thousands of people ate last year on New Year’s Day, we all still ended up having a pretty hard year, didn’t we?  

But some traditions are fun to keep anyway, especially if they have an important story about how they got started.  And Hoppin’ John DOES have a very important story like that.  

The first recipes for hoppin’ John appear in cookbooks that date back to the 1840s, long before even the very oldest person you know was born, and we know it was made by enslaved people in the South even long before then. 

Plantation owners searched long and hard for a crop that would grow well in the hot weather. Rice grew well near the rivers, so that was a good choice, but the white farmers had never grown rice  before.  But, as we know, many of these farmers were owners of enslaved people from West Africa, and these West African people had been growing rice in their homeland for many many hundreds of years, and they were very good at it. So, we can thank the ancestors of African-Americans for bringing rice to our country.  [plate rice]

Now, another important ingredient in Hoppin’ John is black-eyed peas. And guess where black-eyed-peas came from?  That’s right, West Africa. So, possibly, enslaved Africans brought peas with them, planted them in their new surroundings and created a dish that would remind them of their true home.  But this is probably only partly true. It is also likely that the slave traders saw black-eyed peas as an inexpensive and easy way to feed the enslaved people onboard the ships, and that’s how the first peas got to our land. [plate peas]

Now, why is it called Hoppin’ John?  We really only have guesses.  Some say that a disabled man named John who walked with a little hop became known for selling peas and rice on the streets of Charleston. Others say that enslaved children hopped around the table because they were so excited to eat this special holiday dish. Some fancy people say it comes from a French word for dried peas. Maybe all of those stories are a little bit true. 

Why is Hoppin’ John a New Year’s Day good luck food? 

The most likely story is that enslaved people would often have the period between Christmas and New Year’s off from work, since no crops were growing at that time. And since they were not given much time off from their very hard labor, maybe this one special week felt like good luck, and the food felt lucky, too.  But we know now that nothing about slavery was ever lucky, and it was never okay, don’t we?

Hoppin’ John was, and still is, often eaten with collard greens, which can resemble paper money, [plate collard greens] and “golden” cornbread, for good luck with money, too. [plate cornbread]  

[eat] 

It is SO good!  

And even though it can’t really make sure I have a good year, it sure does make me feel thankful.  I feel thankful to have plenty to eat. I feel thankful that I have a healthy body that lets me eat good food.  And I feel especially thankful for all of my African-American friends whose tradition this really was before it became popular among people like me, who do not have black or brown skin, or ancestors who were enslaved.  

So, Hoppin’ John is an African-American tradition, but one that we can all enjoy.  

It is important that we know where the things we enjoy come from, isn’t it?  It is important to give people the credit they deserve, when we know more about the story.

DId you know that there is another African-American tradition being celebrated right now, and it is its very own holiday?

Watch with me now as Dr. Phillip tells us all about it.

Interlude: “Kwanzaa” Philip Rogers

Good morning.  I am Philip Rogers Director of Music here at Northwest.

Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you the significance of the annual African-American first-fruits celebration of Kwanzaa.

The term Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits”.  This celebration was established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga of California State University following the Los Angeles Watts riots as a means for establishing unity and solidarity.

For seven days families come together to celebrate Kwanzaa in their own way, which may include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading… and concluding with sharing a traditional feast.

On each of the seven nights families gather near the Kinara candle holder to light one of the seven candles… symbolic of seven African culture values. Black symbolizes our racial identity, Red symbolizes our blood shed for freedom, and Green symbolizes the Earth and abundance of possibilities.

 On day 1, December 26th, which was yesterday, the black candle in the center was lit with the principle of Unity or Umoja being discussed.

 On day 2 a Red candle is lit representing Self-determination or Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)

 On day 3: a Green candle is lit representing Collective Work and Responsibility or Ujima (oo–JEE–mah)

On day 4 a Red candle is lit representing Cooperative Economics or Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)

 On day 5 a Green candle is lit representing Purpose or Nia (nee–YAH)

 On day 6 a Red candle is lit representing Creativity or Kuumba (Koo OOM bah)

 On day 7, January 1st, the final Green candle is lit representing Faith or Imani (ee–MAH–nee)

It is on this seventh day that the family feast known as Karamu is share when all seven principles are reinforced to promote personal …and generational practice.

 Thus ends our brief description of the African American celebration known as Kwanzaa.

Introduction to Interlude: Rev. Misha Sanders

Interlude: “Meditation On Breathing” Philip Rogers

Joys and Sorrows: Ashley Fournier

Good morning. I’m Ashley Fournier-Goodnight, a member of the Care Corps, and I am here to bring you the joys and sorrows this morning. Joys and sorrows is our time in this space to honor sacred moments and milestones. For our ritual, we have water and river stones. 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. Smooth and heavy in our hands, the river stones symbolize life’s pleasures and times of ease as well as life’s burdens and times of heaviness. 

I invite those of you who have joys and sorrows you wish to share with our congregation to enter them into the chat box.  

From Marti Wilson regarding her nephew, Ryan Wilson, she states: “She wishes she had better news, but Ryan is again in Kennestone Hospital. He has a damaged esophagus from emesis or vomiting during previous hospital stays. He still suffers from MRSA.” Marti has been grateful for the concern and the response from her congregation. Please continue to send positive healing energy for Ryan and keep Marti and her family in mind.

We learned recently that former member Elizabeth “Betty” Kloss, maiden name Bennington, passed away on December 1 st in Warren, Ohio. She was 91 years old and had home hospice and her family by her side. Many Northwest members will remember Betty. She served the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta as Church Administrator for the 10 years before her retirement. She was also the Director of the Memorial Society of Georgia, an organization that assists those making end of life decisions. Arrangements are being handled by the Staton-Borowski Funeral Home in Warren, Ohio.

We have several birthdays to note: Brian Freeman on 12/26, Allen Rider 12/29, Cameron Moore on 12/30, Letitia Sweitzer also on 12/30, and Joy Hickman and Alida LeBron on 12/31.

I will end our ritual by placing a final stone for all the joys and sorrows held in our hearts this morning, but unspoken; and, with this prayer:

As we step across this threshold, let this new year be a year of greater awe and gratitude,

Of deeper kindness and acceptance, and more courageous acts of conviction.

For a kinder, more equitable and sustainable world is not only possible, she is on her way.

And in the quietness of this sacred community, we can ever hear her breathing.

An excerpt from “As a New Year Begins” by Kate Lore

And now, a gift of music from the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Brooklyn, NY: 

Music Interlude: “How Can I Keep From Singing”

Sermon: Rev. Joan Davis “Looking Forward, Looking Back”

The month of January derives its name from the Roman God, Janus, who was celebrated on the first day of each month and especially during the first month of the year. Janus was a popular god, representing the power of creation and beginning.  

Ovid tells us that at the very beginning when the elements – earth, air, fire and water – were formless, Chaos took the shape of the god, Janus, the god of doorways and gates. Janus had a head with two faces, so he could look in each direction. He could  observe inside and outside, up and down the road. He was the god of departure and return, arrival and leaving.  

Today, Janus is mostly remembered as the god of beginnings who presided over daybreak and the start of the new year. And, he’s always depicted with two heads – with two faces — one looking backward and one looking forward— just as we may be doing at this time if we are to make sense of our lives and this extraordinary time we find ourselves in.

And Time, particularly our sense of time is what I’d like to talk about this morning. But first a story, a story about a small boy.  

As a child young Albert was slow to walk and slow to talk.  His teachers thought that he was disabled – what we’d call developmentally delayed.  Perhaps they’d never seen such an introspective child and one with such an imagination!.  As he grew older he was found to be a disruptive child – so many questions!  Albert, would you just sit down and stay seated, they said.

By the time he was twelve or thirteen and studying higher math, philosophy, religion, and music he was also having a recurring dream — one that he had for many years. He imagined himself running alongside a beam of light and he wondered what that would feel like.

Albert Einstein was born into a world of rigid temporality based on Isaac Newton’s concept of time which was quite easy to understand. It simply stated that time was there. It was universal. It just flows along and cannot be at all affected by anything; and it flows at a uniform rate. Any impression of a variation of time is simply human misperception. This is common sense — what we would call clockwork time.  

What Einstein did with the Theory of Relativity is introduce into physics the profound and far reaching notion of time as relative. No longer could one talk of the time, only my time and your time depending on how you are moving. To use the catch phrase:  time is relative.  

Most of us wear watches and use cell phones, calendars and planners. Our linear clockwork sense of time is fundamental to our everyday lives, and indeed, to how we view life. This sense of time is basic to everything we do and what represents reality to most of us. And this clockwork sense of time has affected us dramatically, for it is the basis of the whole created world of science and technology that we have built around ourselves.

However we have not always lived by the clock in this way. Once upon a time – so to speak – the life of a human being was built around cycles and seasons and tasks, around the greater movements of the earth and the chores that sustained our lives upon the earth. Time, as such, was not measured and did not matter, for people lived by seasons and cycles and experiences. When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth they brought their calendars and clocks with them, but the Native Americans who met them taught them to follow Nature’s sense of time and plant corn when the bud of the white oak tree grew to the size of a mouse’s ear. Such was the Native American sense of time back when.

Our linear clockwork sense of time finds endless expression in our everyday language. We have time, we save time, we waste time. Time is short. We never have enough time. Time is acquired like a commodity. For a species that once measured time in a cyclical, seasonal manner the notion of having “enough time” for something is very strange. Yet perhaps, this is a clue to why our modern sense of time can stifle our lives. We can look, and need to look beyond that sense of time.

The remarkable thing about time according to Paul Davies, author of About Time: Einsteins Unfinished Revolution, is that the most powerful insights into the subject are provided, not by academic debate, but by direct revelation. Anglican Bishop and physicist Ernest Barnes wrote in 1929:

I remember that I was going to bathe from a stretch of shingle to which the few people who stayed in the village seldom went. Suddenly the noise of the insects was hushed. Time seemed to stop. A sense of infinite power and peace came upon me. I can best liken the combination of timelessness with amazing fullness of existence to the feeling one gets in watching the rim of a great silent fly-wheel or the unmoving surface of a deep, strongly flowing river.  

Although this was written by an adult, this experience of timelessness is not unlike the mystical experiences that young children report having. By the age of twelve or thirteen they learn to suppress such experiences — or they learn not to talk about it according to Robert Coles a psychiatrist, author of The Spiritual Lives of Children as well as other researchers.

But other cultures at other times have understood time differently.

Great Time or Dream Time was a form of mythological or fantasy time experienced by ancient peoples whose sense of reality was not limited to materialism. What they remembered or imagined for them was as real as any other experience. The creation story in the Book of Genesis is an example of this. We now know through regression therapies that reveal memories of the birth experience that we come to awareness as human beings in water – and then there is light – the first day.  

Experiential Time is somewhat like that and it characterized all hunman civilization before time-keeping devices were invented. You are in and out of Experiential Time almost every day when you get involved in what you are doing to the point where you forget about clock time. Experiential time is a way of living by experiences and by the seasons and cycles of nature.

Awaiting Time was part of the renown Egyptian culture which was fixated on death — not in a morbid way, but as a door to the life to come. They experienced passing time, but it had no real significance compared to the life to come.

Circular Time was part of early Greek culture.  It was a view of happenings that placed the gods, the stars and fate in the center of existence and everything human circling around them in perpetual cycles of growth and destruction. Things would build toward the Golden Age and then degenerate and rebuild and so on. We have some of that in our culture now.

Illusionary Time is common to Eastern cultures. It is the belief that time itself is an illusion derived from our preoccupation with material things while reality is centered in the nothingness the has no time. This is beyond Experiential Time in that it so focuses on nothingness that time does not matter or even exist.  When our consciousness reaches that state, it is the ultimate fulfillment some call Nirvana, while others refer to it as the State of Grace. Very few of us have experienced this.

Finally, there is Progressive Time, which is related to linear clock time. In it’s religious form Progressive Time sees a plan for the universe, and every moment of passing time has a purpose in that plan. Where Progressive Time is different from clock time is that while we cannot change the plan, we can move it by our action or inaction.  For instance, if we all became saved tomorrow, then judgement day would quickly arrive. Or, if as a congregation Northwest would get behind a justice issue such as Black Lives Matter, then racial equality would be more quickly realized. Unitarian Universalism, like other Western religions, is based on a belief in progress.

Each of these historical understandings of time is familiar to our experience. We slip in and out of them from time to time. But overwhelmingly, most of us are locked into linear clockwork time. But we seem to have a need to alter our perception of time and especially over the past nine months of COVID Time. 

During this time our lives have been altered dramatically in different ways and to what extent. Few of us have been  spared the life altering experience of the time of COVID. My family has been fortunate. Bob and I have our home with plenty of room for social distancing. We have enough income and we have our health. Family is nearby and they take good care of us. Still we are ready for this to be over.

Others have suffered greatly. Lost homes, lost jobs, lost loved ones.  

And then there are the healthcare personnel and other front line workers. How they get up and do what they do every day, I can’t imagine.

This has been a year of chaos no matter how you look at it. Ovid tells us: The god of two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward is also the god of Chaos. Perhaps we alter our perception of time to keep the chaos at bay.

How did you get through this year?

I need a sense of time.  

I need a sense of order.  

I need a sense of the future.

That’s Howard Thurman.

And I’ll end it here with the sentiment that was on every holiday greeting I got this year. I am SO looking forward to the New Year, 2021.

Blessed be.

Music for Reflection: “Auld Lang Syne” by Rev. Misha Sanders

Introduction to Offering: Rev. Misha Sanders

We give to remind ourselves how many gifts we have to offer.
We give to remember that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
We give with the faith that, together, we have enough.
We give to 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: Rev. Misha Sanders

Now please join me in the dedication of our offering. 

“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.”

Thank you to our own Rev. Joan Davis, for ministering to us this morning, and for honoring us now with a benediction. 

Benediction: Rev, Joan Davis

Cheered by our community, blessed by our covenant, uplifted in mind, and renewed in spirit, go forth in courage and in peace to meet the New Year and the days to come.

Blessed be.

Postlude: “Still Still Still” by Sally Mitchell