Thursday, May 30, 2013

Our Circus

Reviewing a sermon offered at UUCT a few years ago, I found thoughts that are important to share now and again...

“The circus is coming to town!  The circus is coming to town!  

Look here come the wagons pulled by outsized working horses.  See here’s a billboard telling us about the wonders the trapeze artist can perform.  Hear the elephants trumpeting, and the lion roaring!

The circus is coming to town!  Queue up to see and hear and taste all the marvels of the circus...

The circus of romantic memory was a combination of exaggerated feats and ignored labors.  It was hard on the animals and humans that worked in it; and delightedly fascinating for circus goers...

The circus would never have happened if it weren’t for the thousands of hours of training and practice that prepared acts for the main event.  So, too, in the church as circus, the big top and the side-shows and all the other activities of the week need the support of many who are willing to learn how to participate in and lead discussions – over coffee and after services, for newcomers, and for those with specific interests.  It means we need to be willing to develop gifts we may already possess as teachers, leaders and listeners.  It means that learning never ends, and listening always begins anew with the next conversation. Preparing to lead (and participate in) services, discussions, and classes will meet your needs because there is a truth to the observation that whatever isn’t green and growing, is ripe and dying.  You came, and you continue to come, to this congregation because there is a need leading you forward into more discovery, more accomplishment, more and stronger relationships with the people of this church.

In the church as circus, caring for the simple, elemental needs of the people is a high calling. There are no great performances in the circus if the high-flyers haven’t been fed.  No one wants to enter the lion’s cage when the lions are famished. Everything in the church as circus depends on nurturing each other – literally and figuratively.  In the literal sense of the word, we need to feed each  other when trauma or disaster strikes. We need to care about the privations some experience and make ourselves available to help. We can’t turn aside when one of us is in need; because our circus depends on the health and safety of all. The roustabout and the clowns, the ringmaster and the daring lady on horseback share the same needs, and the church as circus asks that we address the needs of all – for the good of all.”*

With thanks to all who make our circus robust with love and good humor.              --      Robin Gray

* an excerpt from Under the Big Top, Robin Gray

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Going Squirrelly

They are sleek and insistent.  They take what isn’t theirs, and take and take and take.  They have formed gangs, flying their colors in sharp arcs through the trees around the house. No one could call them stealthy, they crash through the fallen leaves making noise enough for invading troops. Despite the aural message that precedes them, when they take to the trees they attempt a stealth that would do the Pink Panther and Inspector Clouseau proud. Now you see them, now you don’t. Jumping sideways from tree to tree they hug the far side of tree trunks. Cue music. Skulking, their shadowy forms approach the target. The bird feeders. 

The squirrels emptied feeders in a flash almost on a daily basis. To thwart their efforts, I put a baffle on the feeder pole.  The grey gang chortled as they slid to the base of the pole and jumped over the baffle.  

Next, I raised to pole up to nose-bleed height. (Fortunately the birds aren’t afraid of heights.) But, I now need a grappling hook to snag and refill the feeders. The smirking gang, however, learned to launch themselves from a wee branch on a sapling onto the top of the feeders. Once there they took up residence for long sessions of eating and dumping seed on the ground. Two squirrels at the feeders and the rest of the gang, a mass of twitching gray tails, pouncing on stray peanut halves and oilseed.

Third attempt to foil the gang. Convenient branches removed. Dang, if they didn’t learn to make a longer jump sideways from the trunk of a sapling. Repeats of the feeder emptying feats of days before.  

I threatened “squirrelicide” every time I rushed them off the feeders. They laughed and circled around to feed again.

Finally, I had three saplings removed. 

Not a day later, there were squirrels at the feeder! They now walked to the tip of a branch on a gracious, draping viburnum and launched themselves successfully to feeder trays. 

The viburnum doesn’t drape quite so gracefully anymore. It’s been judiciously pruned. The birds have been able to reclaim their feeders, and I can imagine being able to afford retirement someday, now that I’m not feeding that gang on their schedule. 

The moral of the story?  Violence contemplated does not lead to violent action, but, might fuel a necessary persistence. 

Note for The Friends of Squirrels: We used to have a dedicated squirrel feeder. The squirrels couldn't figure out how to use it. The raccoons, however, beat a path to our backyard, and then also developed a taste for birdseed. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Memories of John Galt

Sign posted by Craig Root on I-95*

I was traveling along a highway when I saw it.  “Who is John Galt?” were the only words emblazoned on an enormous billboard.  I knew the answer, having read Ayn Rand’s thinly disguised philosophical treatise, Atlas Shrugged, some forty years earlier.  I could even remember when I read it.  
On summer break from school, I was working in a warehouse that shipped non-food items to supermarkets. Women worked in narrow alleys between walls of boxes and a clacking metal track.  At the head of the track, boxes were assembled, orders thrown in, and as a box was pushed a woman she was responsible for “picking” the items in her bays.  Moreover, she was responsible for setting up extra boxes if more were needed, for banding small items, and finally for packing every item neatly and securely, no matter the shape or size. With some regularity, the managers hectored us to do our jobs more effectively. If one woman fell behind in her picking and packing the whole line suffered as boxes crowded the track.  At such times, women often made time to help their overwhelmed co-worker. Management clearly preferred faster work over cooperative endeavors.
Men were employed as stock boys.  A stock boy could make your life miserable.  If he was angry or lazy or both, he might never restock your shelves while orders piled up on the track. Rarely could a manager be entreated to correct the problem. On the other hand, a dedicated stock boy could anticipate your needs and keep a steady flow of stock on the shelves.  
The men were always paid at a higher rate than women. But, we all suffered from the heat, and withstood the useless blast of loud fans; while air-conditioning was reserved for the bosses upstairs.  
As women, we also shared the disdain of the owners and managers. Any woman employed in the dirt, dust, and the noise of the warehouse was treated like a slow-starter in the big race of life. 
I read Atlas Shrugged to the end. So many pages, and so much reading; some of it done in quasi-quiet moments in a warehouse. I know I felt little empathy for Galt in the end. If he wanted to know what it was to be on the oppressed end of a small business, he should stop by the warehouse someday. If he wanted to understand resentment he should be a woman working as a “picker,” paid less money and more arrogance than her male counterparts. 
“Who is John Galt?” -- for me, he’s the figment of a philosophy that sets the individual above community, personal triumph over cooperative effort. I wouldn’t have been able to work five summers in that warehouse without the support of women who came to my aide, or stock boys who eased the path, or other college students who recognized that everyone - everyone - in that warehouse was treated as less than fully deserving of happiness.   
                                                                                                                                            - Robin Gray
*I-95 John Galt Billboard Mystery Solved; Friday, July 17, 2009, The US Report,, accessed May, 14, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Learning Peace

As I reflected on my own experiences after the service Dreams of Peace this last Sunday, I wondered what pictures of peace I would carry forward into the future.  I was able to surface a number of peace-provoking experiences.  

The meditation we sang and shared together brought me a deep feeling of calm. We sang first: “I am worn, I am tired, in my quiet sorrow. Hopelessness will not let me be. Help me.” Then we followed that with a spoken meditation that called on images of peace through allusions to music, and finally sang: “When I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out I’ll breathe out love.” By the end of the cycle, I felt myself releasing real tensions and anger; and, rising in compassion and forgiveness.  I want to hold that feeling inside for as long as I can keep it with me.

I also thought about the Soulful Sundown the Young Adults offered us on Saturday evening.  We sang songs and heard readings that helped me to experience the promised opportunity to slow down. That feeling is another one that I will want to carry into my daily life to renew a commitment to peace.

I will carry with me, too, a memory from the Community Human Services Partnership award process. Last week, I was one of a group of seven ordinary citizens who volunteered to help make decisions about how pooled human service grants would be awarded in Leon County. We were only looking at seven programs that serve low and moderate income people, in a bevy of dozens and dozens of applicants. We did our homework, listened to agency presentations, and then began deliberations.  

Each person spoke about what they’d discovered and seen. Some comments were supportive, others were corrective. When we all gave assent to something, it was posted on the feedback sheet. We ranked the seven programs in a multi-step process. That was good news for some programs, and not so good news for others.  

Then, we were confronted with the fact that we had requests for about $80,000 more than we could award. Five hours of deliberation in total. Feelings shared. Compromises offered. Facts checked. Our mission to serve low-income, vulnerable people brought to the fore a number of times. Decisions made. And, in the end relief.  Relief accompanied by grateful praise. We took our job seriously, spoke our minds, and treated each other with the same respect we hope all our agencies offer to their clients. We took the peaceful path even when we had different opinions. We were a part of making a small peace. 

I am thankful for the peace that is, at times, alive in my heart, alive in my experience.  I am mindful of a living peace working in my memory, creating new opportunities to reach toward peace. May we all be so blessed.

- Robin Gray