Magical Mystery Tour – Donald Milton III & Rev. Anthony D. Makar
COME, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing.
“Fill the cup that clears today of past regrets and future fears; for tomorrow, I may be myself with yesterday’s seven-thousand years”
The other day a fellow musician in the crush of December or maybe better said the pour of December posted this on Facebook. “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
I love talking to congregants after services and there are some things that congregants say to me a lot like, “are you always like this?” “how much caffeine have you had this morning?” and the thing I hear most often, “you really love your job.” From long time members and visitors alike I get this sweet compliment. I say it’s a compliment because when they say it to me I believe that we’ve been on a journey together that morning. When my worship colleagues and I meticulously plan these services we want people to be on that journey with us and one surefire way to engage people is to make what you’re doing look easy. Performers and teachers in the room understand this. When Rev Makar or Rev Rogers come up to the pulpit and own this space, when their sermons feel like they’re both practiced, polished, and spontaneous we as a congregation are more likely get sucked into the message.
Alternately, if I get up to lead a hymn from the piano or on the guitar and I struggle through it you are less likely to join me on the journey. So one thing that we do really well on Sunday morning is we put on a complex service with many layers and many moving parts and we, to the best of our ability, make it look pretty easy.
But the thing about making something look easy is it takes a whole lot of really hard work and a whole lot of time. Sunday morning is the best, of course I love Sunday morning, because so much hard work goes into creating a worship experience that at the least will inform, comfort, or uplift and at its best will change people’s lives for the better. Sunday is the best day.
Rev Makar posed a question to the staff at the beginning of this program year. He asked, “what is one thing that you wished the congregation knew about your job that you don’t think they do?” And my answer was simply, that my job is hard. I don’t think the congregation believes that I show up on Sunday and throw something together. But the congregation does get to see the fun part and it is the fun part. This part of my job is fun; it’ very fulfilling and very rewarding. Sunday morning, Wednesday evening rehearsals with the choir. Those times are the best. There are also meetings where our amazing staff gets together and we get creative and bounce ideas about how to make our community better, stronger, more welcoming. These are great times. There’s also e-mail, and paperwork, and e-mail, planning, and score study, and e-mail, and research, and pastoral care, and e-mail.
A thousand people come to UUCA and somewhere between 15 and 20% of them make music here. It’s awesome but it’s a lot of people to communicate with. And, no matter what happens during the week we will have somewhere between 6 and 9 pieces of music on a Sunday morning be they hymns, choral anthems, classical instrumental pieces, rock songs, folk songs, or my personal favorite, something weird. Each of these pieces will tie into the larger message of the service and the broader theme of the month or the season. It is good work, it is important work, it is rewarding work.
A psychologist walked around a room full of students. She held out a stone, about the size of her palm and she asked the class, “how heavy is this?”
Answers called out ranged from 6 oz. to two pounds. The professor replied, “Does the weight really matter? If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the stone doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes. So what should I do?”
The class is puzzled for a second until somebody says, “put the glass down.”
We live in time of overwork. A time where people wear their 60 hour work week and resulting exhaustion as a badge of honor, as something to “humble brag” instead of evidence that the system is broken. We’ve come to accept it, and changing the paradigm is not only hard on a societal level but on an individual level. We get so busy that we find ourselves treading water doing everything we can to keep afloat. Sometimes you need to stop treading water so you can build a boat.
This sabbatical is a gift. The congregation is giving me a chance to put the stone down for a little while, to fill my cup, to build my boat and I’m sure several other metaphors. This is an opportunity to come back not only with a full cup but better prepared to keep that cup from running dry. I was hired here at 24 and I’ve spent a quarter of my life working with you and working for you. It’s just setting in that this sabbatical is starting soon but the other thing setting in is that I’m going to miss this. I might not miss the e-mails or the long hours but I will miss the people, the community, the music, the worship. Whenever my mother who is one of the sweetest humans on the planet says, “I miss you,” she follows it with, “but it’s a good miss.” I will miss all of these things but it will be a good miss. I am fortunate to work for and we are fortunate to be part of a community with a life saving message. We have flaws and disagreements but we work together to create a community that holds us when we need it, and a world that values everyone. I will come back ready to continue this work beside you, together we are more than any one person can be.
SABBATICAL COMMISSIONING (ANTHONY)
The Hebrew Bible says that “In six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God rested, and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17). This is the theological origin of the tradition of the Sabbath, and it has always seemed pretty straightforward to me. But recently I was surprised to learn that the Hebrew word translated as “refreshed,” vaiynafesh, literally means, and God exhaled. God exhales on the seventh day, says the Bible—God breathes out and relaxes. So it must be that on the previous six days, God quickens existence and life with a creative inhale. And here we have a profound picture of the nature of the fundamental reality in which we live and move and have our being. The creative process, ongoing and never ending, in the larger world and in ourselves, has a rhythm to it. Inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale: this is fundamental reality.
Take a moment, now, to try an experiment. Inhale deeply. Fill your lungs with air, as far as they will go. Now—don’t stop. Keep on inhaling….
Doesn’t feel good, right? Welcome to life in modern America, where the inhale-exhale rhythm of creation is out of whack. Today there is a constant flow of intense stimuli and endless information, and we inhale the emails, we inhale the images, we inhale the jabber, and we can’t seem to stop even as we end up feeling manic-depressive, feeling fried, feeling exhausted, feeling like we’re trapped in Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room and can’t get out…
On top of this is the endless inhale of choices in our American marketplace. For me this is so well illustrated by something I once encountered at a restaurant called Macaroni Grill. “Create your own primo pasta,” the menu said. “Choose from everyday indulgences that take your pasta creation to new heights.” At this point, I’m rolling my eyeballs. Gimme a break. The subtext, I know, is that as a consumer in a postmodern hyper-individualist society, the act of purchasing becomes nothing less than the art of declaring who I am, the art of constructing my personal identity. I am what I buy. But must this be the case when I’m hungry and I just want to eat some good Italian food? My eye scans the rest of the menu. I see five categories, each with multiple options: sauces, toppings, yummies, the actual type of pasta, and the type of side salad to accompany the dish. In all, there are 38 options to choose from, to take my pasta creation to new heights.
I ordered a cheeseburger. My small act of protest.
The inhale is constant and exhausting. In his tremendous book called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller makes this clear. How busyness and overwork become a kind of violence in which we simply cannot be our best selves. “I have sat on dozens of boards and commissions,” says Wayne Muller, “with many fine, compassionate, and generous people who are so tired, overwhelmed, and overworked that they have neither the time nor the capacity to listen to the deeper voices that speak to the essence of the problems before them. Presented with the intricate and delicate issues of poverty, public health, community well-being, and crime, our impulse, born of weariness, is to rush headlong toward doing anything that will make the problems go away. Maybe then we can finally go home and get some rest. But,” Muller continues, “without the essential nutrients of rest, wisdom, and delight embedded in the problem-solving process itself, the solution we patch together is likely to be an obstacle to genuine relief. Born of desperation, it often contains enough fundamental inaccuracy to guarantee an equally perplexing problem will emerge as soon as it is put into place. In the soil of a quick fix is the seed of a new problem, because our quiet wisdom is unavailable.”
Perhaps this is why, in Judaism, regularly observing the Sabbath is no less than one of the famous 10 Commandments. It’s right up there, with “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” like don’t murder, don’t steal, honor your parents, and don’t bear false witness against your neighbor. It’s just as momentous, just as far-reaching, even if, on the surface, the command to unplug from the usual grind and to shift to a different level of being seems … frivolous. And here, I have to confess that, in the past, this is exactly how this commandment had seemed to me, in comparison with the others. In the past, there would always be this voice from Sesame Street coming up to sing, “One of these things is not like the other….” Why, I always thought, had the author of the Ten Commandments put “Thou shalt not murder” on the same footing as “Thou shalt remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”? Until I realized that people who lack an intentional practice for rest and spiritual reflection commit a kind of murder themselves. A murder of the life force within and without. Diminishment, depletion, erosion, exhaustion—in our bodies and in the body of our earth. There is a reason why the Chinese pictograph for the word “busy” brings together two characters: one for heart, and another for killing.
The message is clear: like God in the ancient creation myth, we do well to embody the rhythm of inhale and exhale in our lives even as it commits us to doing something that is countercultural and flies in the face of our secular world.
I commend to each of you the wisdom of “Thou shalt remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Don’t forget to exhale…
And now I’d like to ask Donald Milton III to join me here at the pulpit.
The tradition of Sabbatical for spiritual professionals is rooted in the Biblical concept of Sabbath – setting aside regular time to refrain from usual work patterns so that there’s room for the different and deeper kind of work of spiritual renewal. It is meant to promote long-term relationships between spiritual professionals and congregations. It is also meant to ensure that the leadership of spiritual professionals is inspired and not, as Wayne Muller put it, a matter of rushing headlong toward doing anything that will make problems go away—doing this because we just want to go home and get some rest…
In accordance with our UUCA Sabbatical Policy, one month of sabbatical leave is provided to spiritual professionals for each year of service, up to a maximum of six months. Mr. Milton is now in his eighth year of service at UUCA and so is absolutely eligible for the maximum, which he will take starting January 1 and ending June 30th of 2016.
[To Don] Don, on your sabbatical, we wish for you rest and renewal, and many opportunities for discovering fresh ideas and inspirations. After almost eight full years of serving this congregation, may you take this time to learn and explore, have great adventures and surprising experiences of grace and wonder, and receive ministry and spiritual care from others.
Beloved congregation, I promise to use time away from you reverently, playfully, and creatively, honoring our mutual and sacred trust.
On behalf of the congregation, let me say that we promise you and one another to use this time of renewal well too. We will continue working on our Long Range Plan, encouraging each other’s spiritual growth, honoring our covenant, and bringing the insights and gifts of Unitarian Universalism to the wider world. We are grateful for the leadership of your Sabbatical Team, who will ensure that our UUCA programs of music and the arts stay strong and continue to delight and inspire.
It is with a sense of excitement, humility, and gratitude that I embark upon this time for renewal. I am grateful for the leadership of this place that will keep things going strong.
Don, we will miss you greatly, but we are bound together, with each other, and with you. We wish you a successful sabbatical.
For a time, may you rise majestic against the grey sky and fly with the wild swans.
We will await your return, as a refreshed and renewed Director of Music.