Unitarian Universalist Congregation East

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Feb 22, 2015 News of The Chalice

Today Madeline spoke to us about the symbolism of the Chalice.  Every UU Church lights some equivalent of a chalice at the beginning of services.  This is not surprising.  The symbolism of light is deeply embedded in Western cultural tradition. It lights our way.  It is warmth, protection, illumination, cooking, and even creation.  A flame within a chalice, represents the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and is a symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith.

Hans Deutsch, an Austrian artist, first brought together the chalice and the flame as a Unitarian symbol during his work with the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II. The Unitarians were smuggling refugees out of Europe and they needed some official seal to give their religion more gravitas. Deutsch designed a seal with a flame and chalice.  To Deutsch, the image had connotations of sacrifice and love. Unitarian Universalists adopted the Deutsch’s chalice as the sysmbol of the religion.  Today there are many different interpretations of the flaming chalice, including the light of reason, the warmth of community, and the flame of hope.



Posted 4 days, 17 hours ago at 10:10 pm.

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March 15, 2015 News about Happiness

in Today’s service, Lisa introduced us to Happiness.  OK, it was a little more focused than that.  What she actually did was show the first half of the Documentary film “Happy” by Roku Belic.  And then, as is the custom of our congregation, we had a discussion of happiness in the congregation.

Yes, this is a movie about happiness.  Here is what they say about their own movie: “Does money make you HAPPY? Kids and family? Your work? Do you live in a world that values and promotes happiness and well-being? Are we in the midst of a happiness revolution?”

The director takes on all of this, but to start off, he claims that 60% of your happiness is attributed to genetics.  You are a basically happy person or not a happy person depending on how you were born.  The other 40% is largely up to you and your environment.

We have learned through biology that a lot of a person’s dose of happiness depends on their dose of a hormone called dopamine.  Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter which is a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain has several dopamine systems which play a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Most types of rewards increase the level of dopamine in the brain.  What biology cannot tell us is how we go about getting our dopamine ( our rewards.)

One good way of getting dopamine is through exercise… especially if you get your exercise in a fun and novel way (the movie illustrated examples of marching in wacky parades or running in races that are themed… like gorilla runs.

Related to exercise is “flow. ”  Flow is the idea that you can reach happiness through simple repetitive mundane tasks.  You can do this through an exercise like running where you just think about one foot coming down in front of the other.  Runners call this being in the zone.  But any simple repetitive task can get you to flow.  It is the mental state where a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

They then talked about “Hedontic adaptation.”  This, they say,  is the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.  This means that no matter how much improvement you have in your life, you get used to it and then you aren’t any happier than you were before the improvement took place.  So stuff outside your life has little influence over you.

The authors do suggest, however, that internal goals (intrinsic goals) are on the opposite side of the value system from the hedonic adaptation of extrinsic goals.  In other words, you find happiness within your self, or with your relationships with close friends/relatives

There is a lay understanding that adversity in life is a negative thing, but there is no evidence to back this up.  There is lots of evidence that overcoming adversity brings happiness.  There is a Buddhist teaching that says that life is painful, but suffering is optional.  Suffering, they say, is a result of a loss of control.  If that is true, then there are two approaches… gain even more control than you currently have, or give up on the idea that you have to have control over everything around you.  As Sylvia Boorstein’s grandmother said:  “Where is it written that you are supposed to be happy all the time?”

Do nations have national value systems?  Find out next week when we continue our look into happiness.







Posted 5 days, 16 hours ago at 11:15 pm.

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Feb 15 2015 News and Notes

Today is the National Preach-in for the planet.  Despite the fact that the U.S. Senator that heads the Senate Environment committee thinks that if it is snowing in Washington, then that proves that global warming is a hoax on the American people, the consensus of scientists who study climate agree that the climate is warming.  There is also general agreement that the strong correlation between humans putting carbon into the atmosphere and the global temperature rise is, in fact, a causation relationship… that is to say that human activity is causing the warming.

We humans consume and dispose, and we do it in such an unbalanced way that it is affecting the balance of climate on our planet.  We dispose in a very harmful way and developing countries are bearing the burden of that.

Our little planet has a delicate balance of nature in order to sustain the life we find on it.  Already we are making it difficult for the planet to sustain us.  The Audubon society, for example, is dedicated to conserve and restore natural ecosystems for birds and other species.  They are alarmed at climate change.  It is messing with the birds.  Birds themselves can move to cooler climates to maintain their preferred temperatures, but the plants they feed on cannot so easily adapt to rapid change in the environment.  The birds are having trouble feeding themselves.  You cannot be a climate denier in the presence of a bird watcher.  You can’t fool them.  They know.



Posted 2 weeks, 4 days ago at 11:49 pm.

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Jan 25, 2015 News and Notes

this week Deepa explained to us about the ideas presented in Alan Lightman’s book: Accidental Universe.  It is a series of essays by a humanist/physicist writer, Alan Lightman, and I am going to have a hard time doing it justice here in this summary.  Today Deepa just talked about the first essay.  Can we prove the existence of God?  Can a religious experience be scientifically proven?  For starters, we have trouble explaining the existence of the things we find in the universe.  There is evidence, apparently, that there are many universes that are somewhat consistent with each other but still separate and different.  We have trouble imagining the implications of this, just as fish have trouble imagining any world that exists that is not wet.

There is a lot of “dark matter” and “dark energy” that we don’t know much about.  We don’t even know all its properties, but there seems to be a lot of it.  I should clarify, there is theoretical evidence of this stuff, but no physical evidence yet.  Climate change deniers would have a field day with this one.  The logic of a climate change denier is “if you can’t prove it, then that is proof  that it does not exist no matter how many people believe it its existence.”

The Buddhists are going to have trouble with this logic as well,  You can’t find oneness with the universe that is a multi-verse.

I hope the subsequent essays are easier for me to explain because I think this week we will have to remain unsatisfied with my ability to take notes and explain what Deepa was talking about.

Peace, (hopefully)


Posted 2 weeks, 4 days ago at 11:35 pm.

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Jan 18, 2015 News and Notes

Today Madeline led us in a discussion of Martin Luther King Jr.

We covered the basic tenants of his life.  Martin Luther King, Jr. lived in America, born January 15, 1929 and died April 4, 1968.  he was an American Baptist minister, activist, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.

It is interesting to remember that MLK was also an early opponent of America taking it’s cold war mentality to Vietnam.  He was vilified for this at the time.  Yet, looking back from 2015, he was right to oppose the war.  The U.S. has now accepted the government in Vietnam that it fought so long and so hard to keep from taking power.  By recognizing the government in Vietnam, we accepted that the government there is valid and an acceptable member of the community of nations.  In other words, the U.S. government accepted the idea that we had no valid reason for opposing the Vietnamese government in the 1960’s.  It wasn’t much of an apology, but it was all that Vietnam was going to get.  And we can now thank Martin Luther King for his call to stop the aggression.

We listened to a recording of his speech, and it was very powerful.  So in stead of reciting facts about his life, I think I will include a few quotes of his.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

All said by Dr Martin Luther King.



Posted 1 month ago at 1:10 am.

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