Monthly Minister's Column
Reverend Michael J S Carter
Blessings at Year's End
by Dr. Howard Thurman
I remember with gratitude the fruits of the labors of others, which I have shared as a part of the normal experience of daily living.
I remember the beautiful things I have seen, heard and felt---some as a result of definite seeking on my part and many that came unheralded into my path, warming my heart and rejoicing my spirit.
I remember the moments of distress that proved to be groundless and those who taught me profoundly about goodness of good and the evilness of evil.
I remember the new people I have met, from whom I have caught glimpses of the meaning of my own life and the true character of human dignity.
I remember the dreams that haunted me during the year, keeping me ever mindful of goals and hopes which I did not realize but from which I drew inspiration to sustain my life and keep steady my purposes.
I remember the awareness of the spirit of God that sought me out in my aloneness and gave to me as sense of assurance that undercut my despair and confirmed my life with new courage and abiding hope.
A New Beginning
This is the final minister's column that I will write this year, and what a year it's been. I have been fortunate enough this year to not have to define my entire experience by the COVID-19 virus. That has been intentional on my part as I have experienced and known that somehow, life was and is larger than a virus. However, this has been my experience and insight and, of course, you all will have your own. Now matter, there is still much to be grateful for and we have made it. Yes, we have lost friends and family along the way and not necessarily to illness. This is the cycle of life. Shakespeare reminds us that life is a great stage and as players on this grand stage of life we all have our entrances and exits.
Without a doubt, the "Holiday Season" this year is being experienced differently by many because of the coronavirus. It is indeed curious how much difference can be marked between 2 days, from December 31 to January 1. We do not know what the future holds or what the new year will bring. 2021 may mark the end of relationships of many years' accumulation. It may mean the first encounter with stark tragedy, or radical illness, or other tasting of the dregs from the cup of bitterness. And yet, It may also mean the great discovery of the riches of another human heart and the revelation of the secret beauty of one's own.
It may show the meaning of a new kind of living. This, of course, may include a marriage or other committed relationship, a relocation, a graduation, or perhaps one's first job or even a new one. It may mean the hearing of a distant drummer calling you, the multiverse (or "God") sending you a message that only you can hear, above the noise and distractions of this busy life. When the call is answered, life becomes invaded by smiling energies never before released.
In whatever sense this Holiday (Holy Day) Season, in whatever way this coming year is a new year for you, may the moment find you eager and unafraid, ready to take it by the hand with joy and gratitude. It's been a pleasure to serve this congregation during this time. Do not be afraid! Be of good cheer! Be joyful even after considering all of the so called "facts." There is always room for joy,and love. You don't have to seek it. Just look for the ways you block it from coming to you.
Wishing you all a Merry Everything and a Happy Always!
Rev. Michael J S Carter
Some thoughts for Election Day 2020 and Beyond
As I write this column, there are only 13 days until election day 2020. It is an extreme understatement to remind you that much is riding on the outcome of this election; I believe our democratic experiment is in peril. Having said that, I do believe in my heart of hearts that "the contradictions of life are not final" and that our political leadership can and will change course. We shall soon see.
Yet whatever the outcome, we must keep moving forward as best we can. I want to share my thoughts with you, take them as you wish--or not.
When you have an intact and healthy sense of worth (inherent worth), you value other people. One begins to realize on a deeper level that people are different. You understand that people see and interpret things in different ways. You do not compare yourself to them, nor do you feel the need to compete with them. You know who you are which means you can at least try to accept others as they are.
When you do not have a healthy sense of worth, you feel the need to win every argument. Perhaps you know folks like this or you notice this a bit more, especially in these challenging times. Perhaps even you feel this need, at least some of the time. You may feel compelled to always prove your point. You may feel threatened by differences. You may need agreement with your views, values, and opinions in order to feel supported and acknowledged. Again, this may not be you but you may notice this in others at this time more intensely. When one is not sure that who they are is good enough, one will do their absolute darndest to prove that they are better than someone else or another group of people. This is not new information but it is easy to forget. It is easy to be triggered by others. Since one may not have enough of their own self worth to draw upon, they will set out to destroy the worth of those who they believe are attacking them. You see, as Gandhi once reminded us, "We think the enemy is hate. It is not hate but fear."
Should you ever find yourself on the attack, realize you are experiencing at that moment a sense of "less than" or "not as good as." When you find yourself tearing someone else down in order to prove your point, realize that you have lost your grounding. You are not centered in yourself. Disagreement is not the same as an attack! When you call someone out, when you criticize their physical being, their talents, gifts or efforts, believing that their inability to agree with you somehow makes you wrong, realize you have lost it! You have lost touch with your sense of inherent worth and dignity. By the way, I have been guilty of everything I wrote about above... just sayin'!
You may have not realized this at the time. You may not have realized that you attack, criticize, or tear people down when they do not agree with you. Take a deep breath and draw on the strength of who you are. Stand in the strength of what you know. Should you be faced with a different point of view, allow yourself and others to be different. It will be a gift in these challenging times. It will be the gift of inner peace. There are difficult days ahead. Be smart. Keep your heart open.
Be joyful, even after considering all the facts!
Peace to you All,
Justice & Blessings,
Rev. Michael J S Carter
Nothing is Lost
As most of you know by now I love the season of autumn.
Indulge me once again as I riff on what the season means, at least from my limited perspective. Yes, fall means that summer is past as one season blends into another. This change accentuates the passing of time and allows (if we are willing to take it) a time of recollection and reflection. But fall provides something more. There is a harvest, a time of ingathering, of storing up things, especially those things of the heart. Nothing is lost, nothing disappears. As the extraterrestrial visitor says to a human child grieving the death of his father in the remake of the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still, "the Universe wastes nothing. Nothing is wasted." All things belong, each in its own way, to a harmony and an order which envelops all, which infuses all. Yes, Fall accentuates the goodness of life and finds its truest meaning in the strength of winter and the breath of Spring. I thank God for the Fall.
I write this column two days after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has died (she died September 18th, 2020). We are losing, but not forgetting, these great souls of wisdom, compassion, and love; Congressman John Lewis, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rev. C. T. Vivian, and Rev. Joseph Lowery, to name just a few. And yet they have given us our marching orders. We must lose our fear of each other and no longer be ashamed of who and what we are. I give homage and thanks to their lives and their vision of what this nation can be--to live up to the full meaning of its creed.
" ...Let us go forth now to save the land of our birth from the plague that first drove us into the 'will to quarantine' and to separate ourselves behind self-imposed walls. For this is why human beings were born. All human beings belong to each other, and he or she who shuts themselves away diminishes themselves, and he who shuts another away from him or herself destroys themselves. And all the people said Amen."
---- Dr, Howard Thurman ( The Search For Common Ground)
Rev. Michael J. S. Carter
Hitting The Pause Button
Here we are entering the last quarter of the year 2020. For some the end of the year can't come soon enough. Others look at this experience with social unrest, a pandemic, political upheaval, climate change and the like as a great adventure. Some see it as a hot mess and still others view it as all of the above.
However you personally happen to view the events of this year, there are roughly 3 more months to go. It's been a wild ride for sure. With that in mind, I wanted to say that if you have not already had an opportunity, try to get some down time.
Whether or not it is a "staycation" or a vacation, do try to make the time to decompress. There is so much noise out there and it does affect us in ways known and unknown. Body, Mind, and Spirit are all affected by the media, the fear, the confusion, the hype, you name it. Find your center and hold it.
I just had a vacation in South Carolina and spent some time on the beach. I had not been on a beach in 8 years! It was wonderful, the sun, the sand, the sky, the ocean, not many people around, it was delightful. I was also grateful for the opportunity because I have the privilege to be able to take the time and get some relaxation and I am very much aware that many people cannot afford the luxury, especially at this time.
You see Everything has to stop at one time or another. When driving you must pause at stop lights and stop signs (I sincerely hope you do). On a train there must be stops before you reach your destination. An airplane stops at the head of the runway before takeoff. Realizing this, we forget that we too must stop before moving from experience to experience to refuel and to rest.
Most of us will not leave a job until we find another. As soon as a romantic relationship is over, many of us are ready to jump right back into another one without time to really heal and to rest. Some people actually feel guilty if they take the time to pause or to rest. Perhaps they are missing something or "wasting time."
Sometimes it is a good thing to do nothing and then afterwards to rest. We don't have to always be earning money or earning our keep or meeting some responsibility in our lives at all times. Press the pause button on your life sometimes. The images and sounds of life must come to a halt if you want some clarity about what to do next. It is a blessing to push the pause button, to have the ability to stop and gather strength, or to wait until things have passed before turning a corner and moving forward.
A pause in Life's journey does not mean that nothing is happening. In reality, it is an opportunity to be present and to catch up with what is going on. Unless you pause, you may not know if you are fast forwarding or going in reverse.
Don't just do something. Stand There!
"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including You!" ----Anne Lamott
Rev. Michael J S Carter
Masks Beneath Masks
" Love takes off the mask we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."
-- James Baldwin
Lots of talk these days ("heated discussions" may actually be a better phrase) about masks. Yes, I have gotten into these discussions even after swearing off. Questions like "should you wear one?" "Should you not?" Opinions and statements ranging from "those who do wear masks respect science", and "those who don't don't respect anything." "Blue states respect science and those poor red states... what are they thinking?" Well, I'll leave that conversation alone and invite you to think about the masks we wear everyday as human beings with or without the reality of Covid-19.
Most of us wear all sorts of masks and were wearing them long before the virus came along. We have a business mask, a social mask, a home mask, a play mask and a don't-you-dare-mess-with-me-mask, cause-I'm-not-playing-with-you mask! Of course, there are the many masks of the many roles we play. There's the daughter/son mask, the father mask, the mother mask, the wife/husband mask. There is also the help-me-I'm-lost mask. Each one of our masks carries duties and responsibilities, fears and frustrations, likes and dislikes, demands and desires.
Sometimes the responsibilities of one mask conflicts with those of another. Or, to hold one mask in place, there may be many things we must do that are inappropriate for the other masks we wear. In fact, we can become so skilled at putting on the appropriate mask, at the appropriate time, in order to survive that we eventually lose sight of our essence. Perhaps it is time to wear the mask of authenticity and integrity. Find your true essence (regardless of what others may think or say about you) and allow it to show in all of the roles you play. It is an anchor in these changing times. If you wear it all of the time, or at least try to, there will be a lot less confusion about what to do and how to do it.
"We reach for the mask of righteousness when our insecurities are exposed, slip it over the purple scars and yellowing bruises we gained when open-faced, we first met our fears. Once inside our masks comfort fills our lungs and our breathing softens. No one told the dangers of living behind the mask, of what happens when tears fall in darkness and do not wash away arrogance and pride. No one told us how life fades from faces untouched by opposition. But now that we know, will you help me lift my mask? And if you'll let me, I'll help you lift yours."
--Stephen Shick (from: Be The Change)
Rev. Michael J. S. Carter
There are many conversations going on these days about many things. Racial justice, wearing of masks, presidential politics, etc. Perhaps you have been involved in some of these topics or all of them. Hopefully, you come to realize that there are some people with whom you are never going to be right. No matter what you say, or how you say it, what you do or how you do it, there are people who are going to find something wrong with everything. This includes you. There are some people who can take what you say and twist it into something you did not say in order to be right. By the time you realize you are fighting a losing battle it is too late. They are right and you feel wrong! You see, the challenge with being confronted by an I-gotta-be-right person, is that they have a way of bringing out the I-gotta-be-right in you.
When you have the smallest glimmer of I-gotta-be-right in your eyes, people detect it. Even when you couch your need in care or concern, those you approach recognize in you what they know about themselves. In response, they can become as determined as you. They have a need to be right, and they are not afraid to sacrifice you in pursuit of their own needs. If you have the same need, somebody is going to go down hard.
The need to be right is nothing more than the need for external validation. The conflict created when one need-to-be-right person locks horns with another need-to-be-right person is really a blessing in disguise. The one who can back down first, without feeling they have lost anything, is the one well on their way to self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-love. Perhaps you may not have known that you still have a need for self-validation. We all do at times. But just for today, surrender, take a deep breath and ask yourself, is this worth it? You do not have to always be right and when you are you will know it. You don't have to attend every fight you're invited to. Nothing is worth giving up your inner peace to prove you are right.
Peace and Robust Health To You!
I was speaking with an astrologer friend of mine recently about what it means to go through a Mercury retrograde. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, back when the gods and goddesses were thought to be in charge of the affairs of humanity, Mercury (the planet of communication) shuttled messages between the gods and mortals. In today's world, Mercury is the computer, the telephone, the internet. Mercury acts as a messenger who collects data and information. When Mercury goes retrograde for 3 weeks 3 times a year, travel, technology, and communications seem to break down during this time period. The next 2 Mercury retrogrades for this year are June 18 - July 12, and October 13 - November 13.
Usually, it's a time to not force anything and just go with the flow, because the planet Mercury appears to be going backwards or in retrograde motion. This is also at time when people who you have not heard from in a while may pop up again in your life. You have the dates above so see how this works for you if you are interested. Personally I like to know when the Mercury retrogrades appear so as to be prepared for the little annoyances and aggravations that can occur during the 3 week time period. And to be fair some Mercury retrogrades are milder than others.
Ironically, it is said that this period is a time to do anything with the prefix "re" in front of it. A good time to review, relax, revisit, etc. The prefix re means to do again. What a blessing! Just think, you can re-peat a lesson at no charge until you get it right. You can re-group after a setback. You can re-structure your life should it appear that things seem to be falling apart. You can re-create your image should you happen to fall apart. You can re-position yourself in any situation, one you re-evaluate. You can always re-think the evaluation once it is done. While most of us do not like doing things over, when you consider the blessings of re, doing it again may not be so bad.
You can re-deem your character by re-tracting words spoken harshly. You can re-cover from your losses through the power of re-organization. At some point, we have all faced the pain of being re-jected, which is actually just a wonderful opportunity to re-flect on who we really are. There is no reason to live with re-morse or re-gret when you consider that every experience is simply a re-hearsal for the next. You can always re-move yourself from a situation when you feel you just can't re-late.
When you re-fuse to nurture yourself, you burnout. When you re-lease habits, people, and situations that do not honor who you are, you will re-generate your power. You cannot re-capture your hairline when it re-cedes, but you can always re-lax the re-quirement that you must look pleasing all of the time. Re-fine your thinking! Re-form your life! Re-search what you need to be and do without any re-sistance! Don't be re-luctant to do things more than once. Re-do what you need to do to re-collect yourself.
You don't have to wait for Mercury to go retrograde to do it (although it may help). Be happy even after considering all of the facts. Hope to see you all soon....Stay well. Happy Summer!
The World Health Organization defines health as, "A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
In the world of psychology and mental health, we are really good at defining what is wrong with us, but what does it look like to be right, healthy, or whole? Would we know it if we saw it? Are there degrees of wholeness? Does wholeness look the same for you as it does for me?
Wholeness is a complex issue because it involves all of what makes us human - mind, body, soul, emotions and relationships. None of these can be scientifically studied in a vacuum, put under a microscope or dissected. You may argue that we can dissect the body and look at it on a molecular level, and you’d be right. Does this give us accurate or complete information about how the body interplays with the soul or emotions? I’m not so sure.
“Wholeness is our capacity to experience health as transcending all limitations while accepting them, overcoming this virus of perfectionism which keeps us locked into an imaginary world rather than the real world...it is paradoxically in accepting (limitations) that we can transcend them."
— Laurence Freeman
Because the subject of wholeness is so immense, I’d like us to consider just 3 parts of what it means to be whole:
1. How we see ourselves - The whole person is able to see themselves truthfully and accept his/her limitations as well as areas of personal excellence. This requires relational feedback and personal reflection. The whole person doesn’t only see themselves in a positive light. They are able to see their flaws and idiosyncrasies. Rather than self-condemnation in their shortcomings they are able to embrace themselves with acceptance and gratitude. The whole person also recognizes that they have blind spots. They are committed to self-compassion and curiosity in the areas of the unknown. For some people, accepting the negative is easy but it’s more difficult to accept the good. The whole person is able to integrate both the good and bad as part of reality.
2. What we do with how we see ourselves - The whole person moves toward improving his or her limitations and shortcomings and utilizing areas of personal excellence. This is not a striving for perfection. A whole person rests in who and where they are in life, while seeking personal growth for the benefit of self and others. There is a resting in each moment because perfection is not the goal and one never arrives at a place of perfection. Each moment is good even though we may experience pain and brokenness in the moment. There is a greater story being written, and the imperfections of life make it beautiful - but I’m getting ahead of myself as I begin to delve into the spirituality of wholeness...more on that later.
3. What we do when we go “backwards.” In case you missed it, life is not a steady improvement in the right direction. A whole person will have pain, struggle and broken relationships. Wholeness is not dependent upon our circumstances. A whole person is able to find comfort within the discomfort of life. In other words, there are times when we will take two steps forward and three steps back.
We all want to feel whole. It cannot be attained. Often, the harder we try to become whole the more we experience our brokenness. Wholeness must be realized and therefore received. It is a gift and free of cost to any who would wish to pursue it. It is a journey. There is so much more that can be said on wholeness. But for now, this is all I have.
Spring is here in all of her glory! A time of renewal and regeneration. Call it what you will, rebirth, resurrection, what was once left for "dead" is alive again. The lesson of this time of year is that the opposite of life is not death. The opposite of death is birth, for Life has no opposite. Besides, we die a bit every day so what is there to fear?
Author John Rodgers wrote, "We are only born once into life, but in life we are re-born many times." He was describing the many "mini-deaths" we experience on our journey through life.
We die to old beliefs to be reborn in truth. We die to habits of need, dependency, and control to be reborn to reliance on the inner life that we have cultivated which some call Spirituality. We die to fear of being reborn to fearlessness.
We are taught that death is the end. It is, we believe, the darkness into which we plunge, never to return, of which no one can speak. As long as you are breathing, death becomes what we commonly call change. There is a line in Langston Hughes' poem, Dearly Lovely Death, when he says of death that, "...change is thy other name." The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius reminds that, "death smiles at all of us, and all we can do is smile back."
You may have forgotten or may not have even been aware of the many times you have faced death or the ways in which death can alter your state of being. Just remind yourself to lay down your sword and shield, lay down your notions and fears about death and be willing to change.
Wishing you Health, Prosperity, and a Gentle Peace,
A few poems in honor of the April showers that most will surely come our way....
"Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night--
And I love the rain."
Langston Hughes, 1902-1967, April Rain Song
"In time of Silver Rain, the earth puts forth new life again.
Green grasses grow and flowers lift their heads,
and over all the plain the wonder spreads.
Of Life, Of life, Of life.
In Time or Silver Rain."
Langston Hughes, In Time of Silver Rain
March is Women's History Month, and we have St. Patrick's Day and the beginning of Spring. I just wanted to let you know of some other tidbits of info (some of you may find useless) about the month of March as well. Let us remember in the words of author Max Coots, "that unless we moved the seasons of the self, and Spring can come for us, the winter will go on and on..." despite the fact of Spring. The good news is that we will survive whatever this winter brings and get ready for the rebirth that is Spring.
It’s March—Happy New Year, ancient Romans! I mean Americans!
Welcome to the third month of the year—or, if you were born before 150 B.C., the first! According to the oldest Roman calendars, one year was ten months long, beginning in March and ending in December. It may sound crazy, but you can still see traces of this old system in our modern calendar: because December was the tenth month, it was named for the number ten in Latin (decem), just like September was named for seven (septem). So, what about January and February? They were just two nameless months called “winter.”
If you’re a basketball fan, March Madness is a cherished time to reacquaint oneself with the couch, especially during the early tournament days when dozens of games unfold consecutively.
March was named for war—and lives up to its title
March was actually named for the Latin Martius—aka Mars, the Roman God of war and a mythical ancestor of the Roman people via his wolf-suckling sons, Romulus and Remus. With the winter frosts melting and the ground becoming fertile for harvest again in the Northern hemisphere, March was historically the perfect month for both farmers to resume farming, and warriors to resume warring.
Incidentally, the Pentagon still seems to agree with this Roman tradition: with the exception of the recent War on Afghanistan, almost all major US-NATO led military operations since the invasion of Vietnam have begun in the month of March. To name a few: Vietnam (initiated March 8, 1965), Iraq (March 20, 2003), and Libya (March 19, 2011) all follow the trend.
Beware The Ides of March
We’ve all heard it uttered, but what does “beware the Ides of March” actually mean? On the Roman calendar, the midpoint of every month was known as the Ides. The Ides of March fell on March 15th. This day was supposed to correlate with the first full moon of the year (remember, winter didn’t count then) and marked by religious ceremonies, but thanks to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar we know it for another reason. Supposedly, in 44 BC, a seer told Julius Caesar that his downfall would come no later than the Ides of March. Caesar ignored him, and when the fated day rolled around he joked with the seer, “The Ides of March have come.” The seer replied, “aye, Caesar; but not gone.” Caesar continued on to a senate meeting at the Theatre of Pompey, and was summarily murdered by as many as 60 conspirators. So, if someone tells you “beware the Ides of March,” they are probably just letting you know they’ve read Shakespeare.
March 1: As the saying goes, March comes “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” But with climate change, who really knows?
March 17: St. Patrick’s Day.
March 19: The sun shines on the equator for the Vernal Equinox, giving us a near 50-50 split of day and night.
The Myth of Perfection
It’s a New Year and I am encouraging all of us to learn to be gentle with ourselves in this New Year. Yes, that includes me as well. This column is for February and I am writing this in January so it’s not too late. What does being gentle with oneself look like you ask? Well it can look like many things. Here are a few suggestions:
Stop trying to be perfect! Stop trying to fix yourself. We are perfect in our imperfections. Stop trying to change yourself. Stop trying to do everything just so. Stop trying to improve every little thing to impress people with just how perfect you are. Stop looking for little imperfections in your life and in others so that you can perfect them. The quest for perfection is a myth and a waste of time and energy. (This message is especially for, but not limited to those of you who are born under the zodiac sign of Virgo. You know who you are.)
It is a quest that closes your mind and your heart to the beauty that is all around you. You can be so preoccupied perfecting the cracks in you that you fail to realize that the light comes through the cracks. Remember the words of author Ernest Hemingway, who said, “Not everything that appears to be broken needs to be fixed.” In fact, some of us are strong at the broken places!” In other words, everything need not be perfect in order to function. This includes you and me.
So, you may have held perfection as the standard that you needed to live up to or achieve. Accept that you are perfect just as you are. Embrace the cracks in your life and the breaks in your heart as places where the pure light of love and understanding can shine through.