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Saturday Morning Worship: Worshiping Together, Working Together for Social Justice

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General Assembly 2010 Event 4002

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How do we apply the concepts of Congregational Study/Action Issues to our own personal lives? Renee Zimelis Ruchotzke, recipient of the 2010 Social Witness Sermon Award of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and the Commission on Social Witness, preaches on “Food For Thought.”

The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.

Prelude: “Play the Game”

[Written and performed by Jennifer Friedman]

In a quiet and cold town Settled along the banks of the stream
Live the forgotten souls Of the new world economy
The seeds have all been sown And yet the children are all hungry
Many men plow this land And yet the profits to the company

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh Oh----Oh

There’s an air of fear Blowin in with the wind
Of the battle’s lost And the choices that they’ll have to make
Cuz, when the big men change the rules You can bet it’s not their lives at stake

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh Oh----Oh

And when it’s all been lost When we’re all broken and suffering
Should we just play the game Do we all just play the game

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh Oh----Oh

And with the test of time will we all stand up or walk away
Should we just play the game will we all just play the game

Opening Words

[Rev. Heather Starr, Commission on Social Witness, speaking]

Good morning, and welcome to this morning’s service. Together today we will savor the bountiful meanings of one of the current Congregational Study/Action Issues, chosen by delegates to this General Assembly in 2008: “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.” This is a chance for you to hear and ponder some ways to engage with this topic and connect food and environmental justice with your own spiritual practice and congregational lives. What might you consider, in your own families and communities, as you become more and more aware of the impact of our choices about food on all other aspects of our environment and our world? Let this be a time of reflection and potential action, mindfulness and movement, dreaming and scheming for the world we collaboratively care for.

Chalice Lighting

[Rev. Dr. Paul Johnson, Commission on Social Witness, speaking]

Our Chalice Lighting words come from the Book of Mark, Chapter 4:

“If someone would scatter seed on the ground
And would sleep and rise night and day,
The seed would sprout and grow.
The earth produces of itself
First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.
When the grain is ripe, the harvest is come.”

May the lighting of our chalice symbolize our dedication to the search for meaning, our humility in the presence of mystery, our commitment to the realization of justice for all, and our hope for harmony with our shared Earth.

Meditation: “Building a Compost Pile” by Barbara Crooker

[Caitlin DuBois, Commission on Social Witness, speaking]

This poem is by Barbara Crooker, from Hunger Enough: Living Spiritually in a Consumer Society.

is not unlike building a poem: making something
out of nothing, turning straw into gold, garbage into loam.
Taking what others would throw out:
eggshells, apple peels, coffee grounds,
newspapers full of cumbersome verbiage,
banana skins, grapefruit rinds, grass clippings,
and adding to it daily.
If it seems like nothing's happening, you're wrong.
In the dark, heat and pressure build;
things begin to break down and add up.
Turn, aerate, let it breathe. Add water.
Add worms. Add eye of newt, and bacteria.
It's earthy as a river; it smells like a stable floor.
Are those critics I hear, typing away,
or crickets in the corner of the woodpile?
How do you know when it's done?
Well, you don't, you just abandon it,
to misquote Paul Verlaine. But when you scoop
some out, it's moist and dark as chocolate torte,
black gold; this compost, this humus, it's a richness
you can never get enough of.

Opening Song: “‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple”

[John Hubert speaking]

Good morning. I am honored to be joined today by Sonja Johnston from the Minnesota Valley UU Fellowship in Bloomington, MN, on the piano. We invite you to rise in body or spirit and join in singing the famous and beautiful Shaker hymn by Elder Joseph Brackett, “‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple.”

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free,
‘tis a gift to come done where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘till be turning, turning we come round right.

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free,
‘tis a gift to come done where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘till be turning, turning we come round right.

Presentation of Social Witness Sermon Award

[Rev. Bill Hamilton-Holway speaking]

Hello, I am Bill Hamilton-Holway, President of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. The UUMA is proud to co-sponsor with the Commission on Social Witness the Social Witness Sermon Contest.

Each year ministers and lay preachers are invited to submit sermons they have preached in the last year on an aspect of one of the congregational study/action issues adopted by delegates to previous General Assemblies.

We support this contest as an incentive to Unitarian Universalists to reflect on and speak out about social justice issues that shape the fabric of our culture. Whether our focus is on bringing peace to a world at war, or addressing the unequal access of people to water, food, shelter and health care, the call at the heart of our Unitarian Universalist identity is to notice, to name, to inspire, to organize, and to act, that we and the communities of which we are part are transformed.

We call it putting our faith into action, and we encourage one another to hone our skills and rouse our courage that we can make a difference.

This year preachers were invited to focus on study/action issues adopted in 2006 and 2008 concerning Peacemaking and Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice. I serve a congregation in the Berkeley Hills of California. When it comes to food, my cup runneth over. Markets abound with fresh and organic food year ‘round. Yet, even there, we hear the call of those who are hungry, of families that must choose between rent, and food, and medicine.

We must hear the call to ethical eating, to equitable eating. We must learn to be thoughtful about food.

And that is why I am pleased to present this year’s Social Witness Sermon Award to Renee Zimelis Ruchotzke, for her sermon, titled “Food for Thought.”

Renee graduated from Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago this past May, and is now a minister in preliminary fellowship. She serves as consulting minister for the UU Congregation of Greater Canton in Ohio. She was also the 2007 recipient of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Seminarian Award for Excellence in Social Justice. Renee, congratulations, and thank you for sharing your sermon with us this morning.

Sermon: “Food For Thought”

[Renee Zimelis Ruchotzke speaking]

Fall is my favorite time of year. Where I live in Ohio, leaves change into their fall wardrobe of golds, reds and oranges. The familiar routine of the school year adds structure to the week. My favorite varieties of apples ripen, and our local orchard starts selling fresh cider.

Years ago, autumn brought a sense of urgency, the need to set up stores of food for the upcoming winter. When I was a little girl, I loved the book Little House in the Big Woods. Throughout the book, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes in detail the constant attention to preparing and preserving food so that it would keep during the off season. The plump fall deer shot by Pa were turned into strips of smoked venison. The family pig that ran wild in the woods was turned into ham and bacon and sausage. Milk was turned into butter and cheese. The oats were cut and threshed, with the grain stored and with some of the straw turned into wide-brimmed hats. Corn was turned to hominy. Nuts and honey were gathered from the woods. Hardy vegetables like onions, peppers, squash and potatoes were put into cold storage.

My own family practiced a modern, modified version of this kind of food preservation that was also based on the rhythm of the year. We had a large vegetable garden and raspberry patch. We would put all of our kitchen and yard waste into the compost pile and in the late fall use the rich humus to augment the soil. We would go out to farms in the far corners of the county and pick bushels of vegetables. Sometimes we would buy things at the farmers market. We would pickle cucumbers, okra and sauerkraut. We would can tomatoes and make jellies and jams. We dried slices of apples and stored them in cloth bags to be used later in pies. We would freeze the other vegetables and fruits. We bought walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans in the shell. We also bought a whole pig from a local farm and shared it with my grandparents, butchering it and freezing the different cuts, and making garlicky polish sausage out of the rest of it.

I have to admit that most of this work was done by my parents and grandparents. It was done partly out of wanting to save money, and partly out of habits formed during the depression and living as refugees during & after World War 2. As a child at the time, it was easy for me to romanticize it. But even as an adult, I’ve found that it is not that hard to can. It just takes a little time and attention.

This morning, I want to talk about food and mindfulness. There is one kind of mindfulness, which is when we attend to the actual tasting and eating of the food. But there is another kind of mindfulness, the mindfulness of how our relationship with our food influences our relationship with creation, what we call the interdependent web of life. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us, “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

In our liberal religious practices, we often try to find ways to reconnect to nature. The 19th century American Transcendentalists, who were also Unitarians, sought transcendence through the natural world. Ralph Waldo Emerson ends his seminal essay “Nature:”

So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect—What is truth? and of the affections,—What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will. Then shall come to pass what my poet said; `Nature is not fixed but fluid. Spirit alters, moulds, makes it. The immobility or bruteness of nature, is the absence of spirit; to pure spirit, it is fluid, it is volatile, it is obedient.

He continues,

Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.”

Henry David Thoreau conformed his own life to this ideal when spent a couple of years in a cabin by Walden Pond, observing the change of the seasons and the activities of the wild life. He too ends his book with a countercultural message:

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

The voices that call us to live counter culturally today, in a different relationship to nature than that of our consumer-focused society, are not led or dominated by the Unitarians or Universalists. But, because of our Seventh Principle, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence,” we are part of the conversation. In his essay, “The Heart of a Faith for the Twenty-first Century,” the Rev. David Bumbaugh calls the seventh principle our “radical theological position.” He writes,

“The seventh principle represents our peculiar contribution to the religious agenda. . . . [It] calls us to reverence before the world, not some future world, but this miraculous world of our everyday experience.” [1]

Part of our religious tradition is being present in the moment, in the here and now.

For the last couple of summers, my husband and I have been riding our bikes on the local rail-toitrails. It is astonishing to watch the landscape change from week to week, with each wildflower blooming in its turn throughout the season. One week, the milkweed plants were full of Monarch butterflies, giving the impression of shimmering black and orange petals. The trails also give a new perspective to my local community, where every stream and river crossed is an event. Being constructed on old railroad beds, the trails also give a different perspective of the town’s factories by going through their backyards where the vats of waste and the piles of excess inventory are in full view. The trails also seem to skirt local water reclamation facilities.

I once read a challenge by writer Wendell Berry to try to give directions without referring to any man-made landmarks, as if one were a pioneer when the land was first settled. As a mindfulness exercise, I sometimes look at the scenery as I ride my bicycle trying to look at the natural beauty with the same kind of attention that I pay to street signs, but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.

I think this is because my life just doesn’t depend on it. Literally, our ancestors’ lives depended on their mindfulness of the natural world around them. They needed to know the lay of the land, or else they would get lost. And in the time of the hunters and gatherers, they needed to know where the food was; the patch of berry bushes, the apple trees, the nut trees. Later, with agricultural methods, food could be grown intentionally, with seeds saved from past crops. Even a couple of generations ago, most food that people ate was grown locally either in their own gardens or by people they knew.

But what has happened in the past couple of generations is that the growing of food has become globalized and specialized. Government subsidies have encouraged huge agricultural farms that grow soybeans and corn, and have kept cheap the prices of foods that contain these ingredients. The cheap corn is then fed to livestock in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, called CAFOs; keeping the price of meat artificially low. The ingredients that go into processed food, such as high fructose corn syrup, are cheap and plentiful. Most of the produce in our grocery stores is from the San Joaquin Valley and more and more often from other parts of the world. From what I understand, today 10% of the fossil fuel we consume is in support of our current system of food production. What we are doing is not sustainable.

I’ve read a lot of books and articles on this topic and it’s taking sheer will on my part to not go into the facts and details of the consequences of the way we currently eat in this country and to not offer rational arguments for change. Instead, this morning I want to talk about how being mindful of our food choices has its own reward. Eating sustainably can result in sensuous pleasure.

Fruits and vegetables that are eaten in season are at their peak in flavor and freshness. Compare an October apple to one purchased in early June, or a tomato fresh off the vine in August to one purchased in the dead of winter.

Food that travels across the country or across the ocean needs to have certain characteristics that allow it to pack and store well. In contrast, food that travels across town can be an heirloom variety that was bred for taste and texture.

Fresh, grass–fed chicken eggs are perky with deep orange yokes. Free-range chicken tastes like…. well chicken! But more so!

Starting last year, my family has subscribed a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. At the beginning of the growing season, I paid a few hundred dollars for a share of produce. Every week, I get a half-dozen eggs, and a box full of fresh produce that is ripe that particular week. It’s been fun to be creative with the ingredients each week. Have you ever seen the Food Network show Iron Chef? I think of our version as “Green Chef!” A sample week’s key ingredients might be potatoes, winter squash, lettuce, eggs, plum radishes, turnips, a tomato or two and cabbages. My CSA delivers at the Saturday Farmer’s market, so it’s an opportunity to complement my CSA subscription veggies with other wonderful local produce. It’s also a place where I connect with others in my community and listen to local folk musicians. There are several booths with prepared food, cups of coffee and fresh-baked bread, and one stand that features only gluten-free baked goods! There are also a couple of stands that feature poultry and bison. The market is only 8 blocks from my house, so I walk down with a little folding grocery cart, further reducing my carbon footprint.

On the way back, I often stop at the food co-op and pick up staples such as bulk herbs, yeast and wheat germ. They also carry milk from a local dairy packaged in an old-fashioned glass milk bottle, which is neither homogenized nor ultra-pasteurized, and I sometimes use it to make mozzarella and ricotta cheese.

I’ve talked a bit about the kind of mindfulness round our relationship with food. I want to go back to the other kind of mindfulness, that of attending to the actual tasting and eating of the food. I invite you, with your mind’s eye, to think of your favorite fruit or vegetable. (pause) Now think of what that fruit or vegetable is like at its peak of ripeness. (pause) Imagine its color and texture. (pause) Imagine its fragrance. (pause) Imagine taking a bite and savoring the flavor, feeling the fullness of its perfection as taste, texture and fragrance create a symphonic experience of the senses.

In her essay “Eating ethically” in the Spring 2007 issue of the UU World magazine Amy Hassinger wrote:

Imagine the possibilities: if each of our congregations committed to buying organic, shade-grown, fair-trade coffee at our coffee hours and providing organic half-and-half for the cream; if we made a point of serving locally grown and/or organic food at each social event or fundraising dinner…[she continues:] if we made each of our churches available as a drop-off point for a local CSA or farm cooperative.

Imagine what might happen if our congregations took the lead in our communities by facilitating relationships between other churches—or even other institutions, such as retirement homes and hospitals—and local farmers. [2]

I see some of these possibilities becoming realities. As we Unitarian Universalists engage with the current congregational Study/Action Issue of Ethical Eating, let us not forget our imaginations. Let us find creative ways to live sustainable lives. Let us find meaningful ways to encourage our neighbors to do likewise. Let us do so with joy and appreciation of the delights such ways will bring. Amen and Blessed Be.


  1. "The Sanctity of Life," by Rev. David E. Bumbaugh. The Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ, September 25, 1994.
  2. "Eating ethically: When most food is grown in environmentally unsustainable ways, is there a 'Seventh Principle' approach to food?" by Amy Hassinger. UU World, February 15, 2007.

Closing Hymn: “Blue Boat Home”

[John Hubert speaking]

Our closing song is Blue Boat Home, number 1064 in Singing the Journey. This traditional hymn, Hyfrodol, has been given new life with Peter Mayer‘s wonderful text. The image of all humanity together in a blue boat home spiraling through space allows us to consider how each of our individual choices impacts the whole. I invite you to rise in body or spirit and recommit yourself to our interdependent web.

Though below I feel no motion, standing on these mountains and plains
Far away from the rolling ocean, still my dry land heart can say:
I've been sailing all my life now
Never harbor or port have I known.
The wide universe is the ocean I travel, and the earth is my blue boat home.

Sun my sail and moon my rudder as I ply the starry sea,
leaning over the edge in wonder, casting questions into the deep
Drifting here with my ship's companions, all we kindred pilgrim souls,
Making our way by the light of the heavens, in our beautiful blue boat home.

I give thanks to the waves upholding me, hail the great winds urging me on,
greet the infinite sea before me, sing the sky my sailor's song:
I was born upon the fathoms, never harbor or port have I known.
The wide universe is the ocean I travel, and the earth is my blue boat home.


[Rev. Heather Starr speaking]

Though we may be far from the houses in which we store our belongings and return from our travels, we are all, already, at home—here on this earth, here in this lively religious community that challenges us to keep growing and changing throughout our lives. We are ever striving to become our best selves, to give back to the earth on which we live out of the gratitude we feel for the lives we have been given. May this gratitude guide you forward, into your day and activities here, as, together, we do all that we can to care mindfully for one another and this earth that we share.

Postlude: “Plant More Than You Harvest”

[Written and performed by Jim Scott]

Plant more than you harvest
sun and water, earth and seeds
Plant more than you harvest
give the earth all that it needs

Clear the meadows and the highways
plant stout trees between.
Let the forests hold the hillsides
Cover the earth with green

Plant more than you harvest
sun and water, earth and seeds
Plant more than you harvest
give the earth all that it needs

Tall cedar and the spreading oak
Cool all that dwell below.
And the fallen trunk helps seeds reveal
the secrets that they know.

Plant more than you harvest
sun and water, earth and seeds
Plant more than you harvest
give the earth all that it needs.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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