I am rising like a Phoenix
From old ashes once again
Life has so many valleys
Deep dungeons of despair
Perhaps you saw me there.
Or did you glimpse me on a mountaintop
Where sunlight kissed the highest peaks
I laughed and forged a pathway
Through the storms
Rising like a Phoenix once again
One more transformation
Shedding weights that held me down
So blessed to be reborn
Once more to dance with wisdom
Swimming in that river of mystery
Where grace awaits us all.
When I have attended Passover Seders, I have enjoyed singing the song Dayenu.
The word means,”it would have been enough” and the song has 15 stanzas representing 15 gifts from God. The first five involve freeing the Jews from slavery, the next describe miracles, and the last five are about closeness to God. Each of the stanzas is followed by the word “Dayenu” (it would have been enough), sung repeatedly.
Last week I found out that I no longer have diabetes. It would have been enough. Dayenu.
This week I got the results of a recent sleep study and found that my sleep apnea has gone from moderate/severe to mild. I may be able to ditch my C-pap machine before much longer. It would have been enough. Dayenu
I don’t expect 15 miracles. But these are only the most recent two. Earlier ones were:
Not having lymphedema in my legs anymore Dayenu
Marked improvement in the lipodermatoschlerosis which was also in my legs and very painful. Dayenu
So I am up to at least 4. Dayenu
OK, maybe 5. I am able to exercise a lot more. Dayenu Maybe I am turning into a “jock” now that I have a Fitbit to vibrate and tell me to move.
Last week’s report:
I have exercise goals which I am writing down here to keep me accountable:
Exercise seven days a week.
Do at least 60 cardio minutes at least 6 out of every 7 days
Walk at least 250 steps every hour for 9 hours every day.
I am not doing a step goal as my knee is still quite wonky.
Class was great this week! We had a couple of new folks and we spent time going around the room with everyone participating. I learn so much every time we do this. One woman talked about how she is no longer afraid of working up a sweat when exercising, which brought home for me the fact that I can now exercise hard enough to sweat. Success. Sweat is good.
A few other people talked about how others in the group were their inspiration for both beginning and sticking with the program. It reminded me of the 12th step:
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
This program has a spiritual component I think and helping each other is a part of the practice.
We also talked about our heart rates and exercise.
And I got 2 pairs of new pants this week. They fit – but maybe not for long as I am still shrinking!
(My stats for the last week – down 2 pounds, drank over 8 gallons of water and exercised for over 565 minutes. My cumulative weight loss so far is 77.6 pounds.)
The pics are me in my exercise clothes. I get real hot and sweaty on the bike and these help.
This journey has always been about improving my health, and not simply changing a number on a scale. That said, the weight loss, the drastic change in my diet and regular exercise has yielded some real health results for me. I was diagnosed with diabetes around 10 years ago and have been taking Metformin daily since that time. I have kept my diabetes under relatively good control since I was diagnosed, watching my carbohydrate intake and limiting it to roughly 45 grams per meal. I was not concerned about fats, protein, or calories though and continued to slowly gain weight. My diabetes was stable, but I still needed the medication.
My A1c’s had been fine, always under the 7 recommended for people that have diabetes. They were improving once I started this program, and began hovering between 5.9 and 6, very good numbers for a diabetic, in the “prediabetic range”.
Then, just yesterday, I got a call from my medical provider who told me my A1c (the test for blood sugar) was down to 5.4, which is in the normal range. I was told I could stop taking the Metformin and that I now have a “history of diabetes” but that I am no longer a diabetic! I did not even know this was possible, so I am both stunned and thrilled! And yes, I have been working very hard, but some of it is clearly just luck, as others who work just as hard don’t have the same result. I am very grateful that my body is able to respond to my efforts and that my health is improving in this dramatic way.
Last week, when I wrote in anticipation about our anniversary dinner out, I said that I would have a martini but skip dessert. Well, at the end of the meal, they brought our a piece of s’mores pie with two candles. How could I not eat half? It wasn’t that long ago that restaurant employees would assume we were just friends. I clearly owed it to the GLBT community to eat that dessert with the love of my life! I did skip the crust, but the marshmallow, soft meringue topping and chocolate chunks were simply awesome and I enjoyed every bite.
I am learning that planning is important, but so is living life, adjusting as needed before and/or after. I had exercised and saved up some calories earlier that day, and did the same the day afterward. That one over-the-top meal did not impact my ongoing progress.
Last Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching again (sermon – here). I love leading worship and it gives me energy. It is interesting that I had over 6100 steps that day, more than any other day to date. There are physical demands in preaching, part of why I had to give it up for awhile. My knee was throbbing at the end of that day, but it was so worth it!
We had a substitute facilitator last night and it was a pleasure again to be with the woman who had guided us through the intensive phase of the program. She was able to draw stories and examples from people in the group that she knew well. The checkins were a bit deeper than usual as a result. The issue came up of what to do when you are feeling bad about yourself, because guilt and shame are avenues that lead to failure and despair. So many of us are raised to be such perfectionists, which can create a vicious cycle. We try to be perfect and fail because perfection is impossible, then we simply stop trying and feel even worse. I offered the following poem which a friend had posted online earlier this week and which helped me.
by Rev. Dick Gilbert.
In the midst of the whirling day,
In the hectic rush to be doing,
In the frantic pace of life,
Pause here for a moment.
Catch your breath;
Relax your body;
Loosen your grip on life.
Consider that our lives are always unfinished business;
Imagine that the picture of our being is never complete;
Allow your life to be a work in progress.
Do not hurry to mold the masterpiece;
Do not rush to finish the picture;
Do not be impatient to complete the drawing.
From beckoning birth to dawning death we are in process,
And always there is more to be done.
Do not let the incompleteness weigh on your spirit;
Do not despair that imperfection marks your every day;
Do not fear that we are still in the making.
Let us instead be grateful that the world is still to be created;
Let us give thanks that we can be more than we are;
Let us celebrate the power of the incomplete;
For life is always unfinished business.
The rest of the class was a discussion of artificial sweeteners. It was a good discussion but not very relevant for me. I gave up my diet Coke addiction years ago, switching to water or unsweetened iced tea on hot summer days. I have always tried to avoid overly processed foods and still cook from scratch with simple ingredients and sometimes complex spices. I am now just passing on the orange juice and leaving out most of the butter, cheese, pasta and bread that I used to eat.
The Fitbit is still keeping me moving. I finished the “Valley loop” this week, one of the virtual adventures on the app for the device.
No longer having diabetes will take some time to sink in. What an amazing result and so unexpected!
(My stats for the last week – down 1.4 pounds, drank over 8 gallons of water and exercised for over 510 minutes. My cumulative weight loss so far is 75.6 pounds.)
This month’s worship theme is on covenant. A covenant is essentially a promise, but it is a deeper and more faithful promise than an ordinary one. It is not easy or thoughtless.
Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher that lived in 400 BCE is quoted as saying that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
I am not sure that I completely agree with him on that. Life, all life, has value. There are animals that do not have a capacity for self-reflection, but their lives are worth living. Those of you who have shared your lives with special animal friends know this to be true.
But Socrates’ point is a good one. Because we have thecapacity to examine our lives, it can be a waste to simply live them without ever thinking about their meaning.
The 20thcentury Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams took Socrates’ statement in a different direction. He said:
“An unexamined faith is not worth having, for it can be true only by accident. A faith worth having is faith worth discussing and testing…
No authority, including the authority of individual conviction, is rightly exempt from discussion and criticism.”
Adams was also pretty blunt when he said:
“The free person does not live by an unexamined faith. To do so is to worship an idol whittled out and made into a fetish. . . . the faith that cannot be discussed is a form of tyranny.” (Adams, The Prophethood of All Believers 1986, 48).
An unexamined faith is not worth having.
So how do we, as Unitarian Universalists, examine our faith? How do we examine our lives and learn how to follow a principled path, one that makes us feel more alive and one that can help us make a positive difference for our world?
We don’t have a common creed, a set of particular beliefs. As individuals, we have many different ideas about God, and we have a wide variety of opinions about almost everything.
We do have some things, however, that we have agreed upon. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what those things are?
Yes, we have our seven principles.
In case you can’t remember them, they are listed in the front of the grey hymnal. It might be useful to turn to them. Note the words at the beginning, “we the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote.”
The UU Congregation of Marin is one of those member congregations. We have, as a religious institution, covenanted, or promised, to affirm and promote the seven principles.
Some people consider our seven principles a creed. Many of us when we first read them, said, “That is exactly what I believe!” I did that.
But let’s examine those principles. Note that the introductory line doesn’t say “we believe.” It says that we covenant – that we promise to affirm and promote those seven things. As Unitarian Universalists, we make promises; promises to do things. The seven principles of Unitarian Universalism are not statements of belief, but rather constitute an action plan that we try to follow both as congregations and as individuals. Action plans! Don’t you love it?
What is your favorite principle? Call it out!
The majority of Unitarian Universalists are most strongly drawn to either to our first principle or to our seventh. They are certainly the most often quoted in sermons and in conversations when you are trying to explain to someone what Unitarian Universalism is all about.
And while people can certainly have favorite principles, I believe it is also important to examine them together.
Our first principle uplifts the rights of the individual and asks us to respect everyone’s inherent worth and dignity. The seventh principle, respect for the interconnected web, asks us to remember than we are all part of something much larger than ourselves.
(Holding up hands) The first principle is about the individual and the seventh is about community. Individual – community. How do we hold those two in balance? We can sometimes struggle with the tension between those two principles. I know I did as a supervisor and as a new Unitarian Universalist. I had to weigh the needs and problems of an individual employees with the needs of both the larger work team and the mission we were charged with accomplishing.
The tension between these two principles can also surface within our churches.
How does a congregation respond to an individual whose behavior is truly disruptive, maybe someone who makes racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or sexist comments? If we can’t find a way to call them back into covenant and remind them of our first principle, what do we do?
Do we ignore it, or do we find ways to encourage them to change their behavior so that we can create the warm and welcoming religious community we all want and need?
Being welcoming to all does not necessarily mean being welcoming to all types of behavior.
Sometimes the balance has to shift from the individual toward the interconnected web, or community side of the equation. It is never simple. This isn’t an easy faith.
Sometimes it can feel like there is an inherent conflict between our first and seventh principles. Maybe we should just choose one and be done with it.
It gets easier if you consider them in relationship with each other.
Isn’t part of respecting someone’s worth and dignity letting them know when they are doing something that diminishes or damages another person or group of people? Sometimes it is more respectful to speak the truth and offer the possibility of change, than simply saying, “Oh, that’s just the way they are; they always do that.”
Similarly, the seventh principle respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part is about a lot more than respecting the environment.
It says we are all connected. It says every individual with all of their inherent worth and dignity is connected to every other individual.
Sometimes we forget that we have seven principles, not just two, and that they are all interrelated. The first and seventh principles are like bookends, and we need to take the time to read the books as well.
What’s in the middle of the bookshelf? What is our 4th principle? It is OK to look it up.
Bingo. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning is the correct answer.
I would argue that the 4thprinciple is the most important one and that the other 6 lead us there, supporting us on the path of examining our lives and our faith.
Our second principle, justice, equity and compassion in human relations points to the sixth, the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
The second principle is about how we promise to treat individuals, while the sixth is what that means on a larger scale. It is the same as the relationship between the 1stand seventh. Individual — community.
The second and sixth also define the goals or mission that follow from the first and seventh principles: positive and respectful relationships between all people and all nations.
The third principle is acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations and the fifth is the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
Those two contain some of the specifics of the action plan. Accept one another, encourage spiritual growth, respect the right of conscience and use the democratic process when making decisions.
They tell us what to do as we engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Free (one hand) Responsible (other hand)
Individual – Community
Our principles contain the essence of dramatic tension. Everyone who wants to live ethically, in right relationship to other people and to the world, to examine their life and their faith, struggles with contradictions. How do we search for truth and meaning? How do we discover the meaning of our lives and what we are called to do with them?
Today is Epiphany in the Christian tradition. One definition of epiphany is a, usually sudden, perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. As we examine our faith and our lives, sometimes we are looking for an epiphany, an understanding that will help lead us on our life’s journey.
But how can we begin that search for truth and meaning?
The Buddha sat beneath a tree waiting for enlightenment. Moses climbed a mountain. Jesus went into the wilderness. They were seeking truth and meaning, wondering what their lives were really about, what their “action plan” should be.
Haven’t we all experienced that feeling? We wonder why we are here, if our life has any purpose, any meaning beyond whatever societal success we might attain or not. What is the point?
Does it really matter what we do and how we live?
To find the answers to those questions, we have to go deep, very deep, inside of ourselves. We have to look in the mirror and see our whole selves, our failings as well as our gifts. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I called to do?
Who are you? Why are you here?
What will you do with your one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver asks?
Sitting with those feelings can be scary.
Fear has so many dimensions: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of ridicule, fear of power, fear of the unknown.
But while we are sitting beneath the tree, while we are wandering in the metaphorical desert, while we are drawing in whatever wisdom we can find, we also need to be turning ourselves inside out, and finding a path into the world.
The Buddha did not stay beneath his tree, he was called by the suffering he saw around him to go back into the world. Moses came down from the mountain to lead his people to the Promised Land. Jesus came back from the desert and began casting out demons and healing the sick. Harriet Tubman went back down south to free more slaves.
Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
There is a place, deep within each of us, that knows what will make us come alive. We can follow a principled path.
I will end with these words by Leslie Becknell:
“What kind of case could be made to convict you of full-fledged whole-hearted Unitarian Universalism? What do you do when life calls on you to live out your principles? When someone’s opinion is different than yours. When someone at the committee meeting interrupts and goes off on a tangent. When your beloved doesn’t take out the trash. . . . When you request that your employer make a policy change. When you are living your life every day.
I won’t challenge you to memorize the principles. I invite you to learn them by heart and be willing to back them up with the life you lead”
From: “Learning the Principles by Heart” Leslie Becknell
Amen and blessed be
I don’t want to sound like a commercial, but the Fitbit Anne gave me for Christmas is making a real difference. I also paid the $30 (per year) to upgrade from the free version of Lose It so it could send my meal info to Fitbit. I have always loved technology and this one is so fun. Like Santa , it knows when I’ve been sleeping and tells me how much REM and deep sleep time I got the night before. The exercise programs are a motivation and much easier than timing my exercise on my phone. It tells me to take 250 steps every hour and it is hard to ignore a vibration on my wrist. Best are the “adventure” challenges. This week I virtually hiked the Vernal Falls trail in Yosemite, something I have done in real life at least 30 times, starting when I was a child and taking my own children there. I know that trail in my bones although I haven’t been able to hike it in many years. So fun to do it virtually and see the photos of places I know so well. I start the “Valley Loop” today. At 35, 899 steps, that will take me almost a week.
At group this week we talked about resolutions, goals, and intentions, and what the different definitions are. I said that I like to use the language of covenant, which is a more of a sacred promise, something you come back to again and again, even if at times you falter. (I am preaching on this topic this Sunday.)
I am trying to learn the names of the new-to-me people in our group. It was easier this week as there were 3 men named John. I try to use people’s names when I speak to or about them, and will try and model this more often in the group. Knowing someone’s name is the first step in making a real connection. In a support group, knowing each other’s names is critical I think. It can be hard, because people drop in and out and the facilitator has lots of classes with lots of people. It is kind of like congregational life, I guess, and as a minister there were always people whose names I did not know. But I’d rather ask for a name multiple times, than skip over what is a need-to know.
One of the John’s made a comment that struck me. He said that now that he is no longer fat, he feels like he is who he was always meant to be. Body and spirit both was the implication. So much of our fat shaming culture eats away at our sense of dignity about who we are and/or who we have been. I hate that. There is virtue is setting a goal and accomplishing it, but there is no shame in failing. This stuff is hard. Life is hard.
A colleague posted a question today about experiences with food and shame. The following is what I wrote in response:
“Growing up working class, and having a large garden, there was always enough food although the quality declined as the month ended and the money grew tight. We celebrated with rich food when the money came in. Free food has always been particularly hard for me to resist, storing up for some intrinsic fear of scarce times I think. I was thin until my mid 30’s, but eating has always provided some emotional comfort for me. It started when I was a child eating potato chips or saltines with butter late at night when the house was chaotic and going out for pizza with my mom when my father was very drunk and we needed to get out of the house. It is funny, now that I am in a serious weight loss program (because of my personal health needs, NOT because being fat is inherently unhealthy!) for the first time in my life I am only hungry right before mealtimes. I have never felt a lot of shame about eating or my size, even when I was over 300 pounds, although I was frequently upset and pissed about others reactions to my size. It is OK to use. my name. I am who I am.”
We are going out to dinner tonight for our 44th anniversary. I will save up some calories so I can have a martini with the meal, but I won’t get dessert this year. I will order a reasonably sensible entree, but if I go over in calories today I now know one meal will not sabotage my progress. I am feeling good and it is time to get on the stationary bike and start walking the valley loop trail.
(My stats for the last week – down 1.9 pounds, drank over 8 gallons of water and exercised for over 510 minutes. My cumulative weight loss so far is 74.2 pounds.)