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Tonight and tomorrow our congregation’s choir (and various other musicians, most of whom are congregation members and staff) is putting on a concert, A Nation of Immigrants. The centerpiece is a mass by our music director, Henry Mollicone, a noted composer who is also, this year, a composer-in-residence here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto. Ever since Henry became our music director, he has forged a connection between social justice and music. This piece, Misa de los Inmigrantes, alternates the elements of the Latin mass (here sung in Spanish) with narration, in English, telling the true story of a recent immigrant from Mexico. Another concert a few years ago featured his Beatitudes Mass, which also integrated interviews with real people, in this case homeless people; Henry stipulates that all proceeds from performances of this piece benefit the homeless. Tonight’s concert splits the proceeds between the Day Worker Center of Mountain View and UUCPA.

Music and justice are a natural fit for our congregation, and Henry has helped put them together in other ways, for example enthusiastically generating a list of pieces for a Coming Out Day service in which I requested that all of the music be by LGBT composers and librettists. I’ve been thinking about other ways to use our love of music, and the power music has to change hearts, to take it out beyond our worship services. How about a congregation-based Threshold Choir? Sending small groups to sing or play at hospitals, assisted-living facilities, shelters, or hospices? (As a teenager, I was very moved by caroling with my mom and a few other members of the New Haven Chorale at Yale-New Haven Hospital on Christmas Day.) Creating a group that sings songs of work, struggle, and peace? Creating musical groups whose membership intentionally combines members of the congregation and other groups such as recent immigrants (our area has a zillion), veterans (ditto), or people without homes (ditto)?


The first drawing (shown here in two parts) is probably my favorite since I started going to the 23rd Street Studio last fall. The shadow running across her left leg and foot is too sharp, and there are a dozen other places where something isn’t quite right. But the belly and right thigh represent a breakthrough. Those expanses of skin where there isn’t much going on in the way of dramatic contours or shadows are hard for me; I have tended just to skip over them in the past, not quite able to capture, or even see, the subtleties of the light there. But the more I draw, the more I can see them, and show them, and this time it worked pretty well.

Click on an image to see the larger version.

The most exciting social justice idea I’ve come across in ages is happening right here in San Francisco. It’s called Carrotmob, as in carrot as opposed to stick, because the basic idea is to reward businesses for socially responsible behavior. Specifically, the organizer engages businesses in a bidding war–e.g., which one will commit the biggest percentage of one day’s proceeds to making environmental improvements to the property?–and promises to send a crowd of shoppers to the highest bidder on that day. In the first campaign:

[Brent Schulkin] went to 23 convenience stores in San Francisco and identified the store willing to make the strongest environmental improvements in exchange for a large number of new customers coming and spending money. Carrotmob was born when hundreds of people came to the store at the same time to buy anything they wanted. The “mob” more than tripled the store’s daily revenue in a few hours, and that revenue is how the store financed an energy efficiency retrofit of their lighting system.

I’m joining, but that’s not enough. I want to organize a Carrotmob. How about a congregation-based Carrotmob group?

I missed drawing last week because Joy and Munchkin had the day off and we had plans together. As it turned out, I was too sick to do anything but sleep.

I went in today focused on how to use the whole range from white to black with sufficient transitions in between. A rare glitch with a model meant we only had time for five drawings aside from the warmup gestures; here are the first three.

(Click on thumbnail to see larger version)

These are the only other three from last week that I like enough to post. On (e), the only really successful part was the hat, so I cropped it to that detail.

I’m pushing myself to go darker with the blacks, and the result is a kind of florid appearance that I dislike, as in (g) here. I’m trying to figure out what I did in the drawings where I went dark and had plenty of contrast but not that florid appearance. Why is (h), the one on the right, a success and (g), the one in the middle, is not?

photo by Gary Vanderlinden

While the monks of Drepung Loseling Phukhang Monastery were at our church this week, they had for sale malas (beads used for counting mantras or prostrations), flags reading Om Mani Padme Hum, wall hangings with various writings of the 14th Dalai Lama, and so on. This quote caught my attention, especially the part I’ve emphasized.

Let me explain what we mean by compassion. Usually, our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong–any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other, and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.

As for the closeness we feel toward our friends, this is usually more like attachment than compassion. Genuine compassion should be unbiased. If we only feel close to our friends, and not to our enemies, or to the countless people who are unknown to us personally and toward whom we are indifferent, then our compassion is only partial or biased.

Genuine compassion is based on the recognition that others have the right to happiness just like yourself, and therefore even your enemy is a human being with the same wish for happiness as you, and the same right to happiness as you. A sense of concern developed on this basis is what we call compassion; it extends to everyone, irrespective of whether the person’s attitude toward you is hostile or friendly.

I have wanted a proper mala (all 108 beads) for some time, but as with all such purchases, have felt the tension between the wish to have one and the desire not to be acquisitive, especially about spiritual things. This week, offered the excuse that I was helping the monks build more dormitories for their monastery, I bought one from them. I will not be using it to count prostrations, the way the Tibetan Buddhists do, thank you very much, but on my walks I’ve been using it to meditate as I go, and trying to work up some respect, and thus genuine compassion, for people I tend to pity or dislike.

Previous post on the monks’ visit

Several Tibetan Buddhist monks are creating a sand mandala this week at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (photos here). The mandala is beautiful, and it is also instructive to watch the monks work. A daycare and a school rent our space, and children gather around the monks to watch. When a kid touches the table, the translator patiently tells him or her to stand a couple of feet back (we also have chairs for them to stand on for a better view), but the monks show no anxiety that anyone will brush their arms or bump the table, even though either one would mean recreating many hours’ work. It’s happened, too, the translator told me.

I like to build marble runs, a childhood pleasure I have been reliving since Joy bought me lots of Quadrilla for my birthday a couple of years ago. Munchkin is now old enough to place the blocks carefully, but she still sometimes brushes against it and brings it down by mistake, or semi-mistake. After even ten minutes’ work on a marble run, I find it difficult to stay calm about the prospect of its being knocked down. I mean, what if I can’t remember how I built it? Attachment, anger, yep, the Buddha had my number. I was not clear on how the creation of a mandala was supposed to increase compassion, but I’m starting to get it.

Pope John Paul II, it is now clear, put enormous effort into covering up the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, which enabled it to continue.  Then the Vatican invited Cardinal Bernard Law, of all people, to lead one of the Pope’s funeral masses:  a great honor to Law, a rebuke to those who dared criticize him for actively covering up child molestation in his archdiocese of Boston, and an unmistakable message that he had the late Pope’s full approval.  And now the church, including Pope Benedict, is rushing to make John Paul II a saint.

“Saint” has a very specific meaning in the Roman Catholic Church.  To be canonized, one must be a confessor of the faith, martyr and/or miracle worker. But even so, the word also carries its common meaning of “person of extraordinary virtue or benevolence.” Apparently that meaning is being suspended in this case.

Another day when I felt like I wasn’t hitting a groove, but now that I look at these, especially the third one, I think I actually did. It has a subtlety of shading I’ll have to study again before next time. That won’t be next Monday, because Joy and Munchkin have the day off, so it will be a family day.

This past Monday’s was definitely a session when I did not seem to be able to make the kind of marks I wanted to.  The charcoal seemed either too hard or too soft, which may have been true, as I was using some different charcoal than usual, and/or the too-hardness and too-softness might have been in the hand.  And yet hand and charcoal and model did connect in that torso of (c).  Moments of grace.

Leadership is a partnership. Just as some of my peak moments occur when I am helping to bring out the best in my congregation, others occur when the people of the congregation are bringing out the best that I have to give. I had one of those moments this past Sunday. I’d changed my topic the moment I heard the news (and oh, how glad I was that I’d turned on the computer. I could have found out about Tucson on Sunday morning on my way in to church . . . ). I didn’t have the kind of time for reflection and writing that I usually do, but that was how it had to be.

Looking down at the mishmash of paragraphs and margin notes and don’t-forget-to-mentions in my hand as I came to the pulpit, I was very tempted to preface the sermon with an apology, which was really an excuse: “Please bear with me if this isn’t as cohesive as I’d like. I was up most of the night, I’m sure you understand . . . ” But that would be a disservice to the listeners.

So I just plunged in. I spoke from the heart, and a bruised and uncertain heart it was, and I could do that because my congregation values it. Sure they want the preacher to make sense, but they care most about passion and are willing to bounce over the rough spots. Because they’ve made that clear, I could let go of my own nerves about wanting to give a more polished presentation than was possible, and give them the passion. They are making me a better preacher all the time. I’m so happy they’re my partners in this ministry.

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