Advertising - a judicious mixture of flattery and threats. ~ Northrop Frye

Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it. ~ Stephen Butler Leacock

Advertising is legalized lying. ~ H.G. Wells

Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century. ~ Marshall McLuhan

A few questions to ponder…#8230;as always, please focus on the ones that sing to you and feel free to improvise.

Advertising – “Buy this, it’ll make you beautiful/healthy/wealthy/socially acceptable/ happy”

  • What do you view as the purposes (both “Good” and “Bad”) of advertising?
  • What changes of approach in advertising have you seen over your lifetime?
  • What types of advertising do you find most effective – TV, radio, print, web, other?
  • How do you find yourself typically affected by advertising?
  • What, if anything, do you do to try to counter the effects of advertising on your (or others) value systems?
  • (Optional) Bring in a couple of advertising examples that you find extremely moving, beautiful or deceptive.

We all have experienced times when we felt as though our life was out of balance. Sometimes this seems to be a constant state of affairs. One reason for this is that it is not simply a matter of balancing work and kids, or stress and relaxation, but trying to balance everything in our lives at once. When thought of in this way it is easy to see how it is difficult to achieve balance in our lives. Nonetheless it is still something that is worthwhile to strive for.

  1. Think of a time when you felt that your life was out of balance. Did you make a change to bring things back into balance or was there some external force that helped bring things back into balance?
  2. Has there been a time when you felt things were out of balance and you identified what seemed out of balance and made a plan to bring them back into balance? Did your plan work?
  3. Have you ever experienced a time when something unexpected disrupted your life and actually brought things more into balance?
  4. Do you think that achieving some of your goals in life causes your life to go out of balance? Has this ever caused you to reexamine those goals?
  5. Has there ever been a time in your life when you feel that things were in balance?
  6. Have you ever had an experience where you let go of something and it helped bring your life into balance?

Consider the following:

#8220;Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill." – Barbara Tuchman

#8220;The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you the knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination." – Elizabeth Hardwick

#8220;Outside of a dog, a book is man#8217;s best friend. Inside of a dog it#8217;s too dark to read." – Groucho Marx

Books entertain us, delight us, inform us. We may belong to a book club or rarely pick up a book. We may be recreational readers. We may be curious readers, reading for information or insight. We may not read books now, but remember a time when we did.

Think of a book that made an impression on you. What book was it and how did it change your thinking? If you want, bring a copy and read a (very) short selection.

Do you rely on books for answers or information about questions you have? If you don#8217;t, do you get the information you need from another source?

Is there a book you would recommend to our Covenant Group? Whether for #8220;vacation" reading or information, please tell us why we might enjoy it or be informed by it.

#8230; commonly used to describe what often occurs in situations where truth and accuracy are far less important than the ability to achieve a suitable response in the audience, often needed in politics, religion or advertising. - Wikipedia

To discourse upon the contexts, frames of reference and points of observation which would determine the origin, nature, and meaning of data if one had any. To present evidence of an understanding of form in the hope that the reader may be deceived into supposing a familiarity with content. - Willing G. Perry

It is #8230; lack of connection to concern with truth - #8230; indifference to how things really are - that I regard as of the essence of BS. #8230; Both in lying and in telling the truth people are guided by their beliefs concerning the way things are. These guide them as they endeavor either to describe the world correctly or to describe it deceitfully. For this reason, telling lies does not tend to unfit a person for telling the truth in the same way that BSing tends to. #8230; The BSer ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, BS is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. #8230; BS is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. - Harry Frankfurt

At any given time, the chief source of BS with which you have to contend is yourself. #8230; Almost nothing is about what you think it is about–including you. #8230; All human communications have deeply embedded and profound hidden agendas. - Neil Postman

A few questions to ponder - feel free to improvise:

Give examples of BS you encounter. Postman identifies four kinds: Pomposity, Fanaticism, Inanity (ignorance in the cloak of sincerity), Superstition (ignorance in the cloak of authority.)

Are you good at detecting BS? How do you do it? How does BS affect you?

Do you BS? Give examples. How does it help or hurt you?

For our purpose, a cheap shot is defined as an unnecessarily aggressive and unfair remark directed at a defenseless person (i.e. they can not easily defend themselves in that moment) . The person does not have to be present though they certainly may be. Synonyms include gibe, barb, dig and slam.

Following are some questions for your reflection:

Tell us about a time you remember being the recipient of a cheap shot. What was the situation? How did you respond- externally? Internally? How do you feel about it now?

Tell us about a time (as recent as possible) when you took a cheap shot. What was the situation? How did the other person respond? How did you respond to their response? How do you feel about it now?

Tell us about a time (as recent as possible) when you THOUGHT ABOUT taking a cheap shot but resisted. Tell us about the situation and why you resisted. How do you feel about it now?

Tell us about a time you were an observer to a cheap shot. What was the situation; how did you respond? If you had it to do over, would you respond any differently?

Do you find cheap shots are prevalent in our culture? If so, why do you think that is the case, i.e. what’s in it for the shooter? If you believe cheap shots are not a healing way to communicate, what can you do?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted to wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost

There are clear points along the history of our life where we have stood squarely at a crossroads. Two paths beckoned, but being only one—we had to choose a particular path. Looking back through your life, reflect on the following questions and choose two or three to share with the group.

1. What roads could you have taken, but did not, in your life? (in your love life, your work life, your family life, your spiritual life, your life with friends?) How did you make the choices? How do you feel about them now?

2. Have you ever tried to go back to explore a path not taken? What happened?

3. When have you taken the “wrong” road? Did you feel it was wrong at the time? What actions followed to “right” the way or to make the best of your decision?

4. How can taking one way have “made all the difference” when they were “really about the same” to begin with? How is our perspective on the road not taken different when we are at the juncture or after we have walked down one path or the other?

5. What roads do you still hope to walk down in your life? What may be keeping you from doing so?

Almost everyone considers him- or herself a member of a community, or several communities at once. Examples include neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, schools, sports teams, art or music groups, political action groups, and many more. Different communities have different purposes, but successful ones have many characteristics in common such as shared goals, the ability to fulfill an important need, and sustaining high levels of member commitment.

Think about communities you belong to, or have belonged to in the past. (Please exclude our church community for now; we#8217;ll focus on that another time.) Make a list of them and narrow the choices down to three or four of the most important ones. To make the exercise more balanced, include both good and bad experiences. Then use the following questions, or questions of your own choice, to reflect on what worked or didn#8217;t work about these communities.

  1. Which communities offered the most positive experiences for you and the other members? Why? Could you articulate the values of these communities? (Think about how the groups were structured, their goals, what they accomplished and how they enriched the lives of the members and/or society.)
  2. How have you integrated these groups#8217; values into other areas of your life? (What did you learn from being in these successful communities? How would you think, act, or believe differently if you hadn#8217;t been in these communities?)
  3. What did you accomplish within these communities that you couldn#8217;t have accomplished by yourself? Could you have done these groups#8217; work alone even if you had wanted to? What talents or resources did the groups have that you didn#8217;t?
  4. What would you change in these successful communities if there is/was room for improvement? (Are there ways this community could keep from stagnating? Should it branch into other areas or serve different types of people?)
  5. Have you ever outgrown a good community experience? What was it that changed about you or the group? Do you have any regrets about leaving the group? Are you still in touch with anyone there?
  6. Which of your communities would you consider unsuccessful or a negative experience? Why? What did you learn from being in them? Is there anything you could have changed to make them work better? (Perhaps there a problem with the structure, goals, or leadership. Were the efforts under-funded in terms of time commitment or money? Were there conflicts between members? Were the groups incompatible with your values or lifestyle? Did you learn anything from the experience about what groups to avoid in future?)

#8220;The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur." -Vince Lombardi

“A competitor will find a way to win. Competitors take bad breaks and use them to drive themselves just that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as reasons to give up." -Nancy Lopez

#8220;There#8217;s nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility is being superior to your former self." -Ernest Hemingway (and others)

Competitiveness - the desire to be the first, the best, the foremost, and only one - has simply become outdated as a #8220;value." - Frank Petter

Competition can damage self-esteem, create anxiety, and lead to cheating and hurt feelings. But so can romantic love. - Mariah Burton Nelson

Questions for reflection:

What does competition mean to you?

How competitive a person are you? What form has your competitiveness taken (sports, games, dating, arguing, work, others)? Has your competitiveness changed over time? How? Are you better or worse for your competitiveness? How?

Would you like the children in your life to be more or less competitive than they are?

Are you interested in watching competitions? Describe the appeal or aversion.

Do you think competition is emphasized too much or too little in our culture? What good or harm does it do? What changes would you like to see?

From CG Brochure:

Goals of Covenant Groups: * to create deeper connections with one another * to strengthen our fellowship * to nurture our spiritual growth * to create a safe place where members feel heard and affirmed * to help us understand and appreciate different points of view * to perform, as a group, service projects for the church or larger community

Which of these goals you think are being particularly well addressed?

Which of these goals you think need more attention?

Consider the goal #8220;to create deeper connections with one another." What do you think #8220;one another" refers to? Others in the covenant group, others in the congregation, other others?

What do you think could be done #8220;to create deeper connections" between everyone in the fellowship?

The following readings on the topic “Empathy” are from two important 20th century thinkers: a philosopher and a psychologist.

Bertrand Russell: Three passions have governed my life: The longings for love, the search for knowledge, And unbearable pity for the suffering of humankind. Love and knowledge led upwards to the heavens, But always pity brought me back to earth; Cries of pain reverberated in my heart Of children in famine, of victims tortured And of old people left helpless. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, And I too suffer.

Albert Einstein: A human being#8230; experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Carl Rogers: Empathy means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them but without ever losing the recognition that it is “as if” I were hurt or pleased.

Please consider the following questions and prepare to share your thoughts and feelings to one or more of them:

  1. What situation or setting is most likely to evoke the feeling of empathy in you?
  2. Is it possible to have too much empathy? How would you know it was too much?
  3. Have you known people, or heard about people, who don’t have empathy when it would be appropriate to have it? If yes, please describe them.

Following are some statements and questions to help you reflect. As always, feel free to approach the topic in whatever way is meaningful for you.

“Envy is pain at the good fortune of others.” -Aristotle

“Envy is thin because it bites but never eats.” -Spanish proverb

“Envy is the only one of the deadly sins that is not fun.” -Roger Jones

From the online Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Envy is an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.”

“At the core of envy seems to be an upward social comparison, that threatens a person#8217;s self- esteem: another person has something that the envier considers to be important to have. If the other person is perceived to be similar as the envier, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envier that it just as well could have been him or her who had the desired object.”. “Envy is one of the seven deadly sins in the Catholic tradition. It is considered sinful because envious people ignore their own blessings, and focus on others#8217; status rather than their own spiritual growth.”

“Hatred is often envy in disguise. Envy knows no gratitude. Envy cannot be pacified. The envied inadvertently aggravates the enviers deepest inferiority feelings.”

  1. Are you aware of feeling envious in your life now? If so, please share about it.
  2. Are you aware of being envied in your life now? If so, please share about it.
  3. Share two or three examples from your past when you felt envy. How do you feel about it now?
  4. Share an example from your past where you were envied. How do you feel about it now? If nothing comes to mind, imagine what someone might have envied in you and share that..

Family can be as simple as parents and children (whether you are the parent or the child) or as complex as all one’s relations and in-laws, to say nothing of “adopted aunts, uncles, and cousins.” For the purpose of this session, I suggest we focus on our “immediate” family, the one in which we grew up as a child (ie. our parents and siblings) and/or the one in which we may be the parent (ie. our children). And rather than focusing on relations with our spouse or partner, which could be a session unto itself, let’s consider our parents, siblings, and children, whether living or deceased.

Some questions to get you thinking. Choose several that “speak to you” or create your own, if you prefer.

  • What words might you use to describe your experience growing up in your family? Happy? Neglected? Indulged? Loved? Respected? Frustrated? Can you relate a story that illustrates those feelings?
  • Which family members did you get along with best? Why? Which relationships were more troubling? Why?
  • As a child, do you remember feeling envy for another family, whether one portrayed on television, in the movies, or that of someone you knew? What was it about that family that appealed to you?
  • As a young adult, what vision did you have of your own family, yet to be realized? Did you want to be single or partnered? Did you want to have children? If so, how many? What sort of life style did you envision for your family and for yourself?
  • How has that vision played itself out? Did it come to fruition as you had imagined? Did you have more than one opportunity to create that family? What has been helpful to you in realizing your vision? Or what has held you back? What disappointments did you face?
  • What story or event from your family illustrates your highest sense of fulfillment or joy?
  • What story or event illustrates a turning point or a challenge that you had to face?
  • Looking back at all members of your immediate family, which relationship has been the most valuable? Why? Which has been the most difficult? Why?
  • What is your primary wish for your family as you face the future?

When we were young, holidays meals were generally family, possibly extended family, occasions. Perhaps as we grew older we began spending holidays with people outside our immediate family group. Perhaps we moved away from our family or perhaps our family moved away from us. Such moves might have been geographical, psychological, or political. Eventually holidays with immediate family may have become infrequent or non-existent. Now, it may be, we have acquired a set of friends who have become “quasi family” for holiday events.

If you still have holiday meals with close family, how do you feel about those occasions? Are they convivial?, contentious? Do you feel at ease?, tense? Do you attend them because you enjoy them?, because you feel obliged?

If you now have holiday meals with a created “family”, how do you feel about those occasions? Do they seem genuine?, superficial? Do you miss anything about immediate family holiday occasions? Explain.

Describe your notion of a “perfect” holiday meal. Where would it be? Who would be there? What foods would be essential? What would you do to make the occasion successful?

By “family” I mean “family-of-origin, immediate family or next of kin.” If you don’t have any immediate family, substitute any family that you are involved with and close to.

Please consider the following Chinese proverb:

‘Nobody’s family can hang out the sign, “Nothing the matter here.”’

Your summer travel may include a visit with members of your family. If it doesn’t, think back to a time when you spent several days with your family. In that context, please respond to the following questions:

  1. How does your family communicate? Are they open about their lives, sharing disappointments and fears as well as joys? Are they truthful? Do they tell half-truths? Do they keep secrets? If the communications are “dysfunctional” have you tried to change them?
  2. Are there old family patterns or hierarchies that come into play? Do you “automatically” assume the old role of big brother or sister, baby brother/sister, family princess? Do you enjoy the family patterns? If no, do you have strategies for coping with them?
  3. Do you do anything to prepare for family visits? If they’re visiting you, do you plan a busy schedule of places for them to see? Ask them to help with projects? Plan big meals? If you’re visiting them, do you offer to help with their projects? Take lots of naps?

to forgive –to give up the wish to punish or get even with; not have had feelings at or toward; pardon; excuse. Forgiveness – the act of forgiving. (World Book Dictionary)

Forgiveness does not mean condoning a harmful action, or denying injustice or suffering. It should never be confused with being passive toward violation or abuse. Forgiveness is an inner relinquishment of guilt or resentment, both of which are devastating to us in the end. As forgiveness grows within us it may take any outward form: we may seek to make amends, demand justice, resolve to be treated better, or simply leave a situation behind us. (Sharon Salzberg, Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness)

“It’s not just other people we need to forgive, Mitch,” he finally whispered. We also need to forgive ourselves.” “Ourselves?” “Yes. For all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done. You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened. That doesn’t help you when you get to where I am. “I always wished I had done more with my work; I wished I had written more books. I used to beat myself up over it. Now I see that never did any good. Make peace. You need to make peace with yourself and others.” I leaned over and dabbed at the tears with a tissue. Morrie flicked his eyes open and closed. His breathing was audible, like a light snore. “Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Don’t wait, Mitch. Not everyone gets the time I.m getting. Not everyone is as lucky.” (Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie)

Forgiveness renews life by finishing unfinished business. Even an unsuccessful attempt at forgiveness has the considerable power of its intention. We cannot force forgiveness because force closes the heart, but we can explore its possibilities, its capacity to heal the forgiver, and sometimes the forgiven… …Forgiveness does not condone unkind actions, but it does embrace the momentary actor whose unskilled ways led to such unskilled conduct. It does not condone thievery, but simply addresses the broken heart of the thief. It is mercy in action in the same way that compassion is wisdom in action. (Stephen Levine, A Year to Live)


What does the act “to forgive” mean to you?

How does forgiveness feel? How is does it feel to be the one who forgives? How does it feel to be the forgiven one? Can you share examples of being the forgiver and the forgiven in your own life?

What is the opposite of forgiveness?

Is forgiveness a practice that we could do as a community? How could we do that?

Some definitions -

- The exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor, disposition to benefit or serve another; favor bestowed or privilege conferred.

- The divine favor toward men; the mercy of God, as distinguished from His justice.

- Fortune; luck.

- To adorn; to decorate; to embellish and dignify.

- The free and unmerited favor or beneficence of God (there but for the grace of God go I.)

- Elegancy and beauty of movement or expression.

- A short prayer of thanks before a meal.

- The title of a duke, a duchess, or an archbishop, and formerly of the kind of England.

But I want first of all – in fact as an end to these other desires-to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want in fact-to borrow from the language of the saints – to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Barry

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron fees. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Consider the role of grace in your life. What is your definition of grace? Is it something you do? Something you receive? Something you create? A way of living? How do you recognize the presence of grace in your life? Can you relate the story of a time when you felt the presence of grace in your life?

For the purposes of our reflection, #8220;giving" is when we become aware that someone needs something and we want to help them. Giving can also be felt as a response to our hearts telling us to make a helpful connection with another person.

The following questions are meant to help you consider how you think and feel about helping other people. These questions are a way to #8220;prime the pump" of your reflections.

  1. Do you look for ways to give your time, attention, effort?
  2. Do you consider #8220;giving" to be a spiritual practice? Why or why not?
  3. How do you feel when someone asks for your help? For example, you might feel: Surprised because the other person is usually independent; burdened because you already have too many things to do; glad that you can be of assistance; honored because he/she has trusted you. Other thoughts/feelings#8230;.
  4. When you give help, do you take the other person#8217;s preferences into account or do you want to do it #8216;your way?#8217;
  5. How do you react if/when you feel taken for granted when another person asks for help?
  6. Do you feel embarrassed if you think the other person is too effusive with their thanks?
  7. Have you ever offered help, advice, or services to someone who did not ask for help? What response did you receive? Has that response influenced your attitude about reaching out to help others?

There are many feelings related to asking for and receiving help. To many people it feels easier to give rather than to receive help. For some it is difficult to ask for help or receive it because this contradicts their sense of independence. Children often receive strong messages about being independent and unquestioningly carry those messages into adult life. Other people feel reluctant because they are afraid the results will not be done to their standards.

Receiving help, in any degree, is an opportunity for human connection and may generate a sense of gratitude to the person or group who reached out to a person in need.

Reflect on how you feel when you receive help. From whom do you feel comfortable receiving help: family, friends, colleagues, anyone? No one in particular or does it depend on the situation?

Review the following statements to help you focus on how you receive help, weather you asked for it or not. Which ring true to you and which do not? Explain.

  1. You feel comfortable and grateful when someone responds to your request.
  2. You receive help graciously because you realize the other person is doing it out of genuine caring.
  3. You don’t feel very comfortable but know you need the help in this situation.
  4. You think you are incompetent if you need to ask for help.
  5. You feel irritated with yourself because you are in an “inferior” place. You also feel intruded upon if the other person does not know when to stop.
  6. You are disconcerted or angry when you did not ask for help but someone wants to give it, anyway.

It is not possible to organize the public business for long around hatred, fear, and resentment. There is some steady gravitational pull in the universe toward higher things. David. W. Orr

World events in the past year have been very discouraging. Yet caring, hard-working, and intelligent people continue to affect positive change everywhere, through good deeds great and small. To keep your own hopes alive, we invite you to reflect back on some of the good that has been accomplished in the world in recent years.

This is not intended to be a debate about progress or a review of world history but simply a focus on work for social change that has improved our own lives and the lives of others. We hope you find some comfort and perhaps even some inspiration in this session.

  1. Choose two or three important issues about which you are currently concerned or have been discouraged (for example, the environment, reproductive rights, or gay rights). Now think back 10 years or 20 years. What progress has been made on those issues in that time frame? Have you and your family, friends, or community played a part in that progress?
  2. Think about your parents’ generation and your grandparents’ generation. Name some ways in which the world changed for the better since they were your age.
  3. Can you remember a time in your life when you felt that an issue or situation was hopeless but you kept going anyway? How did you maintain hope in a hopeless situation? How did it come out?
  4. Think of a well-known activist or crusader, past or present. What do you think inspired them to go on, even in the face of overwhelming opposition or defeat? How have they been an inspiration to you?
  5. Have you ever encouraged someone who was without hope? How were you able to help? What did you learn from this experience?

For a really inspirational look at the state of world affairs, go to this link and read the full article by David W. Orr, “The Hour Before the Dawn,” at

In an essay titled #8216;Hospitality,#8217; Ana Maria Pineda writes #8220;#8230;the church is in a good position#8230;to expand the circle of those who are made welcome#8230;. Unfortunately, the church#8217;s walls sometimes seem to shut people out instead of welcoming them, and even what happens inside those walls can have the effect of excluding others#8230;Each community must find ways of creating a (place) where all can become free to receive and give."

The practice of #8216;radical hospitality#8217; reflects the understanding that each person needs to be recognized and known for who they are a unique combination of personal history, interests, hang-ups, talents, etc.

Think about the first time you visited a church or other organization that you had some interest in joining.

What were you looking for?

Did you feel welcomed? Ignored? Unseen?

If you felt welcomed, what happened to promote that feeling?

If you felt ignored or #8220;unseen," what experience(s) that led to that feeling?

Humiliations, though ineradicable, must be repaired before they take root. - Anita Brookner in Bay of Angels, 2001.

Linda Hartling says, " I think this sentence accurately captures the enduring impact of humiliation while emphasizing the urgency to repair these breaks in relationships. Like Brookner, I tend to believe that once a humiliation has occurred it cannot be completely erased. Without timely intervention, victims become marked or haunted by these experiences - their humiliation takes root in their lives."

I read this to mean that it is important to be aware of humiliation so as to reduce its impact on our lives and to prevent its recurrence. I invite you to think of this as a purpose for our discussion- that our intention is to become aware of our humiliations and the impact they have had/are having in our lives and to commit to action to prevent recurrence of humiliation to ourselves and others.


  1. What does humiliation mean to you- how are you defining it?
  2. Tell us about a time(s) in your life when you experienced extreme humiliation. What happened that you felt so humiliated? -What was the feeling like? -What did you actually DO?
  3. What did you learn from the experience(s)?
  4. What have you done to heal yourself?
  5. What have you done to prevent recurrence?
  6. How are you feeling about the experience(s) now?

“If Sisyphus had only found the time for some creative power lounging, he might have ended his pattern of self-destructive behavior and discovered that some stones are best left unturned.” #8212; Gregg Levoy, “Creative Idleness,” Hemispheres, November 1994

“Creative Idleness” is about taking extended periods of time just to sit back and relax, and to reacquaint ourselves with a nonbusy mode of living and nonwork forms of expression.

“Idle hands are the Devil’s playground.” Thank goodness we don’t think like that any more. Or do we? We may not believe in the Devil, but what’s behind our constant busy-ness and working? Other kinds of devils—hard-driving employers, workaholism, financial insecurities, fear of boredom…there are lots of reasons, and some are good. But think about the words of writer Gregg Levoy:

“I used to think of Sisyphus as sort of a patron saint of workaholics…Lately, though, I feel I have been overlooking the true instruction of Sisyphus’ life, which is that each time his great grindstone rolls to the bottom of the mountain, he is granted a rest while he walks back down to retrieve it. Though he must work for all time, according to the myth, he does not work all the time.”

UU minister Rev. Cathleen Cook, says that the “right” model for living is not “action-action-action”—which she compares to “breathe out, breathe out, breathe out” with no chance to breathe in—but “action-reflection,” which gives us time to understand our actions (and others’), to integrate and learn from our experiences, and to rest in preparation for the next action.

Gregg goes on to write about taking a four-month sabbatical. “I needed distance from what was pressing in on me so that I could find a penetrating quiet inside myself. And I needed to hold that silence up to my ears, like an empty shell, and listen to the roar of my own life. I needed time to reacquaint myself with some nonwork modes of expression, and some friends; to open myself to some of the things that gave me joy as a child; to savor the benediction of play; to read a novel again; to await further instructions.”

Exercise 1: Take an imaginary sabbatical What if you could just step off the roller coaster for a couple of months? Not a vacation, but a real sabbatical, which obviously comes from the same root as “Sabbath.” How would you rest and refresh yourself? What would you reflect on? What creative energies would you renew or release? Where would you go to do this?

Exercise 2: Downsize that sabbatical Could you do any part of your imaginary sabbatical in just a day or a weekend? Could you cancel weekend chores, take the phone off the hook, send the kids to a relative’s, or whatever it takes to give yourself some of the rest and renewal you imagined?

G89, 5/16/2006 © First Unitarian Church of San José 2003

Here is what Jack Kornfield says about intentions in #8220;A Path with Heart":

#8220;The heart is our garden, and along with each action there is an intention that is planted like a seed. . . . Through simple awareness of our intention from moment to moment, we can plant a splendid garden, we can create patterns of well-being and happiness that last far beyond our personalities and our limited life. . . . We can be aware of the different states of fear, wanting, confusion, jealousy, and anger. We can know when forgiveness or love or generosity is connected with our actions. When we know what state is in our heart, we can begin to have a choice about the patterns or conditions we will follow . . . "

  1. Think back on your interactions with people recently - What were some of your intentions in these interactions?
  2. Do certain kinds of intentions create certain kinds of results?
  3. How can you increase your actions that are driven by love, compassion, generosity?
  4. How can you limit actions that are based on negative emotions or drives

“Enough” is a nebulous concept, but coming to personal terms with it is a necessary step toward happiness and satisfaction. However, that’s easier said than done! There is no guidebook that spells out exactly how many material possessions are enough for each person, so every individual must reach his or her own conclusion. In fact, doing this is one of life’s essential tasks.

This session encourages you to think deeply about the issue of “how much is enough?” to come up with your own answers to these basic questions: How much money, (and possessions, services, living space, shopping, clothing, etc.) that money provides is “enough” for you? How much do you need to be content? And what don’t you need to be content?

Please use the following exercise and questions as guidelines for thought.

  1. Make a list of major things that you own and services you use. Then circle the things on the list that you need — that you absolutely couldn’t do without. Put a box around items that aren’t necessary but that make your life easier. Put a star by those that are luxuries. How do you feel about this exercise?
  2. If you don’t feel you have “enough” right now, how much more money or material possessions would be enough? How would you know it was enough?
  3. How much money would you need to feel wealthy? How would wealth change your life? Would it change your standards of “enough”?
  4. Can you have too much — more than enough — of a good thing? How do you know what’s too much?

Define nature; what does “nature” mean to you?

What distinctions do you make between • “raw” nature; • a natural world modified by human activity (such as the Bay Area grasslands, which are populated with plants brought in by the Europeans), • a manicured garden, • and an office space?).

Are people part of nature or is anything that is made or influenced by people inherently “not nature”?

How important is it for you to be in nature or to experience nature? Which places in nature and which aspects of nature are most important to you and why (for example, being outdoors, plants, animals, ocean, mountains etc.) What specifically do you do to experience nature and what does this mean to you?

Spirituality and Nature: Is Nature part of your spiritual path? For some religions such as Paganism and many of the native religions, the forces of nature are very central to the belief system. UU-ism refers to the interconnected web of life. Do you find that you experience a deeper connectedness when you experience nature directly?

Some native religions require people to undertake a “Vision quest” which usually consists of several days alone in nature. The Abrahamic faiths also refers to people spending extended time out in the “wilderness”. Have you ever undertaken such a quest or know someone who did? What is your reaction to this practice?

Some people have coined the phrase “Nature deficit disorder” to describe how today’s children are increasingly cut off from Nature due to the prevalence of electronic media. Do you think this it valid? If so, how serious a problem do you think this is, and what could/should be done?

Sometimes it seems as if everything in life is conspiring against our having peace. The dog is barking, the kids are fighting, you’re stuck in traffic and you just had an argument with your spouse. There is the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, turbulence in the financial markets, the reality of global warming and an underlying sense of impending crisis just over the horizon. In the midst of all of this unrest, how is peace possible? The answer to this question depends in part on how you define peace. One way to define peace is simply the absence of conflict. If you can resolve whatever conflict you are facing, then you can have peace. But when conflict rears its head, peace runs out the door and it won’t return until the conflict is settled. This notion of peace is a good start, but it is also fragile, because it is totally dependent on your circumstances. A stronger definition of peace is one that allows you to rise above circumstances and remain calm despite the storm raging around you. It is a sense of assurance that no matter what happens, things will eventually get better, and that somewhere, someone, or something trustworthy is in control. This sort of peace is not dependent on circumstances. Rather, it allows you to see beyond your surroundings and fix your eyes on a point in the distance that allows you to hold steady on your course and ride out the storm.

How can we find this sort of peace? All of us can rise above any situation that life hands us. All of us can live a fulfilling life in the middle of the turmoil. All of us can find a sense of peace and purpose. In her newest book, “Embracing Uncertainty”, Susan Jeffers, PhD, provides the tools that she has found most effective in helping us see the world in a more life-affirming and powerful way. Here is a taste of a few of the many tools included in her book…she writes:

  1. “Un-set" your heart. Un-setting your heart means letting go of your picture of how you want it all to be. It means letting go of trying to control things over which you have no control. One of the prime causes of our suffering is our wanting things to be different than they are. Yes, we all want a peaceful world instead of a world filled with weapons of mass destruction. Yes, we all want health instead of illness. Yes, we all want healthy, happy children instead of children who break our hearts. But sometimes life doesn#8217;t hand us what we want. And when we un-set our hearts from our needing it all to be a certain way, we can breathe a sigh of relief and open the door to a more powerful way of living.
  2. Create a #8220;wondering" life instead of a #8220;hoping" life. It helps us un-set our hearts when we replace the words #8220;I hope" with the words #8220;I wonder." Let me demonstrate. Instead of #8220;I hope the war ends quickly," make it #8220;I wonder if the war will end quickly." Instead of #8220;I hope the stock market goes up," make it #8220;I wonder if the stock market will go up." Instead of #8220;I hope I keep my job," make it #8220;I wonder if I#8217;ll keep my job." Notice the relief in this simple shift. Even with difficult situations in our lives, substituting “I wonder” for “I hope” keeps our hopes from being dashed and opens up the possibility of our learning and growing from whatever happens.
  3. Choose the path of trust. When you fully understand that you have little control of the external world, you then have two choices: you can choose to see yourself as a #8220;poor-me" victim at the mercy of circumstances or you can choose to develop the trust that, no matter what happens in your life or in the world, you will have the inner strength to create something good from it all. Hopefully you will choose the latter!
  4. Increase your inner sense of power. One way to help you develop trust in yourself is to cut off negativity in the mind by saying to yourself over and over again, #8220;Whatever happens in my life, I#8217;ll handle it!" Those of you who are familiar with my work know that it is one of my favorite affirmations. I suggest you emblazon this powerful affirmation on your mind. If you say it often enough, you will ultimately believe it. And if you really believe that you can handle anything that happens in your life and in the world, what could you possibly have to fear? Nothing! So when the #8220;what-if#8217;s" are driving you mad, simply cut them off by saying over and over again, #8220;Whatever happens, I#8217;ll handle it!" You#8217;ll feel a sense of confidence wash over you. #8220;What if I lose my job? I#8217;ll handle it." #8220;What if my children have difficult times? I#8217;ll handle it. Whatever happens in my life, I#8217;ll handle it!"
  5. Collect #8220;heroes" who have learned to #8220;handle it." Heroes to me are people who have created much good in this world as a result of horrible experiences in their lives. A few heroes come to mind: Christopher Reeve, who created so much good as a result of his paralyzing accident; Viktor Frankl, who created so much good out of his experience in a concentration c Ram Dass, who created so much good as a result of his debilitating stroke; Marc Klaas, who created so much good after the murder of his daughter. As you collect heroes, you understand this important thought, #8220;If they can learn and grow from their experiences, I certainly can learn and grow from mine!" As you collect your heroes, your trust grows and your worry about the future gets smaller and smaller.
  6. Focus on the learning that can come from any situation in your life. Yes, you can learn and find strength from anything that happens to you, just as the heroes mentioned above have done. I certainly learned from and found strength as a result of my own experiences with cancer and divorce. If you see ALL situations in life as a way of learning and growing, it helps you let go of your need for things to be a certain way.War#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;..a way of learning Peace#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;..a way of learning Illness#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;..a way of learning Health#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;.a way of learning Poverty#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;a way of learning Wealth#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;.a way of learning Depression#8230;#8230;a way of learning Joy#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;#8230;.a way of learning So despite what is happening in your life and in the world, constantly remind yourself #8220;I can learn from this." When you can see the opportunities inherent in all situations, good or bad, it truly helps you embrace all the uncertainty in your life.
  7. Embrace the thought #8220;It#8217;s all happening perfectly." This is another affirmation I use over and over. And it truly helps me let go of my needing things to be a certain way. #8220;Susan, how can things be happening perfectly when there is possibility of war, terrorism, illness, poverty, and violence?" My answer to that is that we cannot know the “Grand Design,” the great mystery of it all, and as we say #8220;It#8217;s all happening perfectly," we begin looking for the good in any situation that life hands us. When we look for the good, we always find it. Yes, so much good can come from so much that is bad. In that, it truly is happening perfectly. So when things seem very difficult in your life or in the world, just keep repeating this reassuring statement until it becomes an automatic part of your thinking. This always helps me to have trust, not only in myself, but also the Grand Design.
  8. Focus on the blessings. I have learned from my heroes that, no matter how horrible life may seem on the outside, it is so important to focus on the beauty. As we go about our daily lives, we take so many wonderful things for granted. It#8217;s now time to notice. Strangely, this is hard to do, especially when we have our eyes focused on the bad. It sounds ridiculous, but we actually have to train ourselves to notice all the beauty in our lives. And train ourselves, we must…because focusing on the blessings is an absolute necessity for diffusing our fears about the future. A suggestion: As you go about your day, stop for a moment and notice when something wonderful happens. Then say to yourself while still in the glory of the moment, #8220;I have had this." This is the acknowledgment that #8220;No matter what happens tomorrow, I have had this today." It is in the noticing of the little things that you truly get the feeling of a life well-lived … that wonderful hot shower, that kiss from a loved one, the fact that your car started, that great dinner you are eating, the warm rays of the sun, a candy bar, a wonderful television show ….
  9. Get involved. Positive action has an amazing effect on our psyche. As we take action, we begin to feel more powerful and our fear about the future decreases considerably. Keep repeating to yourself: #8220;My life has meaning and I will do whatever I can to make this a better world." Then ask yourself, #8220;What am I called to do?" Make a list of what comes to mind, and begin taking action. When you remember that your life has meaning, it makes it so much easier to push through the fear and live a life that matters. And your self-esteem grows and grows. Just as importantly, you will have found the secret of creating a joyous and fulfilling life.

Questions for consideration:

  1. Do you agree with any, or all of the tools in the excerpt?
  2. If you have doubts or anxiety about the future, do you think these tools can help?
  3. Do you think peace begins “at home”, and from there spreads out into the larger community?
  4. Will lasting peace, then, be created from the bottom up, top down, or both?

#8220;June is busting out all over#8230;.." - Carousel

#8220;What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days#8230;." - James Russell Lowell

Poets/lyricists have said that the best days come in June, probably because it#8217;s the beginning of summer (in the northern hemisphere) and the winter is over.

A #8220;perfect" day may be out-of-reach but #8220;There is no shortage of good days."

For you, what are the #8220;key ingredients" of good day?

How important is the weather?

What would you do, or not do?

Would other people be involved? If yes, who?

How do good days happen for you? By good planning? good luck?

#8220;Explorers and travelers, not to mention tourists, may take to a pilgrimage route, but the motives for their departure, what they seek, and the significance of their ultimate destination are never those of a pilgrim. The pilgrim#8217;s progress is both an interior journey, a spiritual exercise, and a physical journey toward an actual site#8230;." from #8220;Sacred Roads" by Nicholas Shrady. #8220;With a deepening of focus, keen preparation, attention to the path below our feet, and respect for the destination at hand, it is possible to transform even the most ordinary trip into a sacred journey, a pilgrimage." from #8220;The Art of Pilgrimage" by Phil Cousineau

  1. Where would you go if you made a pilgrimage? A former home? A holy shrine? Graceland? Your family gravesite? A famous battlefield?
  2. What draws you to that place?
  3. Would you go alone, or with others? If with another/others, who?
  4. Would you take a map? Or use a guide? If yes, who or what would be your map/guide?
  5. How would you get to your destination? Would the way be easy or strenuous?

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776 The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America ”We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

The word privilege is misleading. Its connotations are …positive… We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned, or conferred by birth or luck…something everyone must want. Yet some [privileges] work to overpower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance, gives permission to control, because of ones race or sex. The kind of privilege which gives license to some people to be, at best thoughtless, and at worst murderous should not continue to be referred to as a desirable attribute – Peggy McIntosh (Privilege: A Reader, Kimmel and Ferber, Editors)

…race and sex are not the only advantaging systems …we need to similarly examine the daily experience of having age advantage, or ethnic advantage, or physical ability, or advantage related to nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. – Peggy McIntosh (Privilege: A Reader, Kimmel and Ferber, Editors)

To run or walk into a strong headwind is to understand the power of nature. You set your jaw in a squared grimace, your eyes are slits against the wind, and you breathe with a fierce determination. And still you make so little progress. To walk or run with the same wind at your back is to float, to sail effortlessly, expending virtually no energy. You do not feel the wind; it feels you. You do not feel how it pushes you along; you feel only the effortlessness of your movements. You feel like you could go on forever. Only when you turn around and face that wind do you realize its strength. Being white, or male, or heterosexual in the United States is like running with the wind at your back. It feels like just plain running, and we rarely, if ever, get a chance to see how we are sustained, supported and even propelled by that wind. –Michael S. Kimmel (Privilege: A Reader, Kimmel and Ferber, Editors)

To explore the role of privilege in your own life, please reflect on the following questions.

Have you ever had the experience of finding yourself in a group of people, all or most of whom were from a different race, ethnic group, sexual orientation, religious belief, or political philosophy? Describe how that experience felt to you.

Using Michael Kimmel’s analogy of privilege as a supporting wind, describe any ways in which you may feel this wind at your back. In what ways do you walk into the wind of privilege?

What specific actions can you as an individual and we as a congregation take to identify and confront privilege in our daily lives?

re ·spon ·si ·ble adj. 2. Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority. 4. Able to make moral or rational decisions on one#8217;s own and therefore answerable for one#8217;s behavior.

re ·spon ·si ·bil ·i ·ty n. 1. The state, quality, or fact of being responsible. 2. Something for which one is responsible; a duty, obligation, or burden.

#8220;Every right implies a responsibility;#8230;" – John D. Rockefeller Jr

#8220;We are alone, with no excuses. That is the idea I shall try to convey when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does." – Jean-Paul Sartre (French existentialist philosopher and writer, 1905- 1980)

#8220;We have the Bill of Rights. What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities." – Bill Maher (American Comedian, Actor, Writer and Producer. b.1956)

#8220;As human beings, we are endowed with freedom of choice, and we cannot shuffle off our responsibility upon the shoulders of God or nature. We must shoulder it ourselves. It is our responsibility." – Arnold Toynbee (English Economic Historian and social reformer, 1889- 1975)

In ethics, moral responsibility is primarily the responsibility related to actions and their consequences in social relations. In this context, the word responsibility has at least two related meanings: 1. Responsibility concerns the harm caused to someone by the actions or inactions of someone else and implies the obligation to answer for prior actions. Often this means answering to some specified authority.

Responsibility is the sense in which one is responsible for achieving (or maintaining) a good result in some matter. The idea is that one is entrusted with achieving or maintaining this outcome.


Consider responsibility in the sense of #8220;achieving a good result."

What are some such responsibilities you have taken on yourself?

What are some such responsibilities that have been assigned or delegated to you?

Do you have a responsibility you resent?

Do you have a responsibility that you feel you may not be able to #8220;achieve a good result?"

Which of the two senses of responsibility – #8220;harm caused" or #8220;achieving a good result" – do you feel is more important? Explain why?

rev•er•ence #8212; noun

a feeling of profound awe and respect and often love; veneration. see synonyms at honor.

In #8220;UU World Summer 2006," Kendyl Gibbons writes:

What we feel on the shores of the ocean or the mountain heights is no special insight of our own; it is the common heritage of the human race. #8230; Who can stand in the shadow of the great pyramids, or the radiant light and soaring stone of the cathedral at Chartres — who can listen to the deep cadences of the Book of Common Prayer fall sonorous on the ear — and not realize in the very fiber of being that our wonder and our hunger and our terror and even our most valiant “yes” to life are not ours alone, but echo down the ages of the whole human race?

Think of a personal experience when you felt a sense of reverence. What was it about the experience that gave rise to the feeling of reverence?

Think of a personal experience when you felt a sense of reverence should have been, but was not, present. What would you have wanted to be different?

Paul Woodruff in #8220;Reverence, Renewing a Forgotten Virtue," says:

Reverence is the well-developed capacity to have the feelings of awe, respect, #8230; when these are the right feelings to have.

What do you think Woodruff means when he says:

#8220;#8230;when these are the right feeling to have?"

That is, could you have #8220;feelings of awe, respect, #8230;" when these would NOT be the right feelings to have?

Fast Food, Overnight Delivery, High-Speed Internet #8212; Slow Down!

The following quotations are from a book, In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honore. It was first published in 2004 by HarperCollins Publishers.

#8220;#8230;the Slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail#8217;s pace. Nor is it a Luddite attempt to drag the whole planet back to some pre-industiral utopia. On the contrary, the movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world#8230;.Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto the right speed."

#8220;#8230; at the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York, Reverend Garry James made an eloquent case for the Slow philosophy. In a sermon entitled #8220;Slow Down!" he told his congregation that life #8216;requires moments of intense exertion and quickened pace#8230;But it also requires a pause now and then a Sabbath moment to assess where we are going, how quickly we wish to get there and, more important, why. Slow can be beautiful.'"

#8220;Like everyone else, I look to technology to help me buy more time, and with it the chance to feel less hurried. But technology is a false friend. Even when it does save time, it often spoils the effect by generating a whole new set of duties and desires."

#8220;These days, many people are seeking refuge from speed in the safe harbour of spirituality#8230;.All this makes sense at a time when people crave slowness. The spirit, by its very nature, is Slow. No matter how hard you try, you cannot accelerate enlightenment."

#8220;We are never happy with the speed of our Internet connection."

#8220;As one Zen master put it,#8217;Instead of saying #8216;Don#8217;t just sit there, do something#8217; we should say the opposite, #8216;Don#8217;t just do something; sit there.'"

Following are questions for reflection; feel free to create other questions:

  1. Which of the above quotes, if any, describe your feelings and thoughts about being slow vs. being fast?
  2. What part(s) of your life require speed? What part(s) of your life benefit from slowness?
  3. Have you intentionally tried to find the right speed, the #8220;tempo giusto," for your life?
  4. What practices help you #8220;slow down?"
  5. What makes you feel rushed? Is that a bad thing?

work ~ noun

1: activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something: a: sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result#8230;

The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing [, when done well,] has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real. ~ Marge Piercy

I believe you are your work. Don#8217;t trade the stuff of your life, time, for nothing more than dollars. That#8217;s a rotten bargain. ~ Rita Mae Brown

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don#8217;t recognize them. ~ Ann Landers

How do you distinguish #8220;work" and #8220;job"? Are they different? How?

What makes work #8220;real" to you? Does work have to be #8220;hard" to be #8220;real".

Describe a work situation that was/is particularly gratifying. What made it so?

Describe a work situation that was/is particularly un-gratifying. What made it so?