You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2011.

Too big to scan in one piece, from last Monday:



Today’s model had captivating hands:


A sanitation worker in downtown Lima. Photo by Manfredwinslow (public domain)

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968:

“We are challenged on every hand to work untiringly to achieve excellence in our lifework. Not all men are called to specialized or professional jobs; even fewer rise to the heights of genius in the arts and sciences; many are called to be laborers in factories, fields, and streets. But no work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

My daughter (age 4 1/2), this afternoon, on seeing a street sweeper:

“That man is being good to the earth. He’s picking up the garbage . . . his mind is like our minds. He says the earth is for walking on, not the earth is just a garbage can.”

To a mind free of prejudice, heroes are everywhere.

Our service this week, in honor of Labor Day, is about the dignity of work. Lucy Bunch, our intern minister, and I had a great conversation planning it yesterday, and today I went looking for passages for our centering words. We have a new practice, requested by our minister of religious education, Dan Harper, of including a passage from a religion of the world (or another UU source) in every service. It isn’t necessarily keyed to the theme of the service, but the Talmud has an abundance of opinions about the value of work. For example, according to the rabbis of the Talmud, one of the religious obligations of every parent is to teach their son (let’s make that “child”) a trade.

Then there’s this:

I am a creature of God and my neighbor is also His creature; my work is in the city and his is in the field; I rise early to my work and he rises early to his. As he cannot excel in my work, so I cannot excel in his work. But you may be tempted to say, “I do great things and he small things!” We have learned that it matters not whether one does much or little, if only he directs his heart to serve the divine purpose. (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakot 17a)

And this:

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: When the Holy and Blessed One told Adam, “Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, but your food shall be the grasses of the field,” Adam began to well up with tears. “Master of the Universe, shall my ass and I both eat at the same trough?” But as soon as God said to him [immediately following]: “By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat,” his spirits were soothed.  (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Pesahim 118a)

And, in a modern commentary written for a Haggadah, this:

A man was once sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor, and was shackled to a huge wheel fixed in the wall, which he had to crank during all his waking hours. As he turned the heavy wheel, he would often try to imagine what he might be achieving through his backbreaking work. Perhaps he was turning a millstone that was grinding grain into flour, or perhaps he was bringing water up from a deep well to irrigate a field.

When the long sentence came to an end and the shackles were removed, the first thing this man did, broken in both body and spirit, was to go to the other side of the wall to see just what he had been accomplishing for twenty-five years. How shocked he was to discover that there was nothing there! Just a wheel in the wall, not attached to anything. At this point he broke down in tears. “Twenty-five years of hard work, all for nothing.” The awareness that all his work was of no avail was far worse than the hard labor itself. The Egyptians knew this, and this is how they tortured their slaves.  (From Bondage to Freedom, Passover Haggadah with commentary by Rabbi Abraham Twerksi)

I was inspired by a Facebook friend’s inquiry (“What songs give you goosebumps every time?”) to bring Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 in the car yesterday and start it up at “Blind Willie McTell.” The goosebumps are still there.

Something I love about Dylan is that how, when he has a refrain, he will sing it differently every time. There it was on “Blind Willie McTell,” five verses and the two-line refrain sung five different ways. Next song, “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky,” same thing. I’ve been listening to “Jokerman” for 25 years, hearing new things in it all the time, and part of the reason is that no two refrains are sung the same way.

It doesn’t sound at all gimmicky the way Dylan does it, but like the result of a singer really listening to the words he sings. He’s there with every nuance of meaning, with what’s happened in the preceding verse, and it flows out in his voice. When a singer elicits so much from the music–when his voice is so present to his words, gives them such immediacy and power, reaches down through the depths and pulls so many layers of meaning from them–the listeners do the same. My dream of a perfect Sunday morning is for my preaching to be like that.

A friend left a message on my work phone yesterday whom I hadn’t heard from in over ten years. We spent a lot of time together in 1994, when we were both living around Los Angeles, and then kept in touch for a few years after I moved east, but had lost track of each other. I’d tried finding her on the web and via Facebook, but she has a common name and I never managed to track down an actual address, e-mail address or phone number. I’m very grateful that she found me (searching Unitarian + Amy Zucker did the trick) and “walked across that burning bridge.”

We talked for an hour and only scratched the surface. So much has happened in our lives: illnesses, operations, new careers, divorces and marriages, the arrival of children and grandchildren, the death of the person who brought us together as friends. We still connect in that effortless click of conversation. I feel like someone deposited a wonderful, beribboned gift on my doorstep, when it’s not even my birthday.

Last Sunday’s sermon. It will shortly be up at the UU Church of Palo Alto, along with a list of resources for further action and inspiration.

August 14, 2011

Today I was really wishing I could spend at least an hour on each pose. There is one session at the studio that’s one almost-four-hour pose, but it’s on Tuesday mornings and those are filled with important work meetings. Maybe some vacation week, though that would most likely be family time.

The breakthrough realization of the day was on shadows, which sometimes have sharp edges, sometimes soft ones. This is true even of small dimple-like shadows. Laying down the long edge of the charcoal and drawing the charcoal away from that point creates that clear edge better than drawing a line along the edge. I haven’t liked the smudgy, indistinct appearance of some of my shadows, and this really sharpens them up.


I got so caught up in details that I lost track of proportions a little. Hard to keep all the balls in the air.

I was interested to learn that there’s a worker-owned art supply store in the city, so I checked it out after class, also enjoying the excuse to get dim sum, since the store is two blocks from Chinatown. Prices and inventory are good–it’ll be a pleasure to make it my regular source.

A few ideas that are in the mix for this Sunday’s service:

Stories of local cases of trafficking and slavery, such as the restaurant in Berkeley that inspired David Batstone’s involvement in the issue, the use of Thai slaves to repair the Bay Bridge, or even closer to home, forced prostitution in San Mateo and Sunnyvale.

Our heritage of Unitarian abolitionists like Theodore Parker and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Universalist abolitionists like Benjamin Rush–and those Unitarians and Universalists who opposed them. The former are important because we honor them and may be inspired to follow in their footsteps, creating the 21st century movement to equal their abolitionism of two centuries earlier. The latter are important because their hesitancy may illuminate what barriers stand between us and action.

Harriet Tubman’s repeated journeys back to slave states, the most dangerous places she could go, in order to free others. Clearly her answer to Kevin Bales’s question, “And if we can’t use our power to bring about the end of slavery, are we truly free?” would have been “No.” The same challenge faces us: we are ostensibly free. Are we willing to venture into troubling territory to bring people out of bondage? That territory, for us, does not carry the risks the South did for Tubman; the risk we run is the discomfort of learning of others’ suffering and having to change.

Videos about human trafficking playing on the patio before and after the services, my technological abilities permitting.

The longing to be a part of a UU abolitionist movement. We don’t have one. We need one. I’m starting it now. Join me to get in on the ground floor.

I could have happily spent two hours drawing this man’s foot. Most of the morning, I allowed myself to be lured off the path of focusing on one small area, but during this pose I zeroed in on something that I could give real attention for ten minutes. Attention, yes: the process is as much like mindfulness meditation as anything.

The vast majority of Americans favor increasing taxes on the richest few percent, and yet we act as if we are a minority.

This week I watched A Bug’s Life for the umpty-umpth time (we have a pretty narrow range of movies around here. Pixar, Pixar, Disney, Pixar, Pixar, Ghibli, Pixar) and as usual, my favorite scene was the one where Hopper, the grasshopper gang leader, explains to the other grasshoppers (the bad guys) why they have to keep forcing the ants (our heroes) to collect food for them.

You let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up! Those puny little ants outnumber us a hundred to one, and if they ever figure that out, there goes our way of life!

We outnumber the rich a hundred to one, so what we need from our leader is for him to remind us of our power. Instead, President Obama is swallowing the grasshoppers’ big lie. It’s going to be up to someone else (that would be us) to show the grasshoppers who’s boss.

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