For nearly 20 years, my email address was
firstname.lastname@example.org. I was able to put it on everything from business cards to credit card bills. From the days when I got onto the internet with a modem that precluded anyone else from using the telephone, until now, when I can connect to the internet from virtually any place that has a “hotspot,” I felt safe using email@example.com. However, while visiting my son at the end of September, I learned that someone had hijacked my account and was sending out spam, advertising discount prices on a variety of pills. As a result, my AOL account was frozen for a few days. Attempts at contacting AOL to change my password were futile. Automated messages told me that I needed to sign up and buy an AOL plan so that I could close the account. (I saw this as insult added to injury because AOL has stopped charging customers for accounts; opting instead to make their profits from advertisers willing to pay more for a larger pool of customers.)
So, I changed my email address to firstname.lastname@example.org
. Fortunately, Google was able to forward my AOL emails for a month. I also noticed that my AOL account was eventually unfrozen. So, for about a month or so, I was able to log on to AOL and check email. Fortunately, most of you have kindly made the changes and started communicating with me on my Gmail account. I say “fortunately” because the hackers tried using the AOL account again. The account was frozen, again, so I am hoping that it stays that way.
As you know, I welcome communications with you—wherever I am. I count on email, as well as my cell phone (607-227-2479) to communicate with you. I pride myself on my accessibility to church members who just want to speak with their minister, regardless of whether he is in Auburn, Ithaca, Montreal, or Philadelphia…or somewhere on the road. I have had friends and family members who have endured similar hassles, as well as worse ones. One friend had his identity stolen while he was in the hospital. He learned about it when someone tried buying a Mercedes Benz in Florida, using his identity!
Our identities are important. We have a right to be able to communicate with one another, securely. Hacking into another person’s account is a form of electronic rape. It is a violation of our identities, and ought to be covered by stringent laws. Unfortunately, I have learned that many of the violations come from out of the country…even from places such as China and Russia. Have any of you had problems with identity theft, or, having your email accounts compromised? I would appreciate hearing them as I prepare my sermon for January 9. Privacy is important. However, there are some compromises that we must make to keep our identities (as well as our nation) safe.
Stan Sears, Minister
Well, the new year has me very thankful that I can put 2010 to bed, as wonderful as some aspects of it were, and particularly to December, which was a bear between 100+ inches of snow, running out of water, and the death of my Dad. It has been difficult to refocus on service to the church in that time, and I am looking forward to a ‘boring’ time when I can choose what to focus on rather than being slung around by the tail of my life. I can’t remember ever intentionally creating boredom!!
So, what there is for me to refocus on is the kitchen project. We have had a windfall of offers from within the congregation and from an unexpected external source (our church secretary, Dolores, has generously enrolled her partner, Randy, in helping us with the design and implementation). While we are working on a design and the estimate that can be created from it, we know that a capital fund drive will be necessary to raise a substantial dollar amount to pay for new electric/plumbing/countertops. Just imagine the excitement this renovated kitchen
will generate in our members, and what it can offer to the community in the future. It is sometimes difficult to imagine the impact such an improvement can have on our ‘space’ and our effectiveness as a church. I am present in this moment to the simple brilliance of a new well in the house providing 25 gallons per minute of clean, endless, simple water. I could never have imagined the difference it could make in my world, I can tell you!
This month the board will be meeting to discuss a behavioral covenant for the church. I’d be pleased to discuss our findings and how they relate to the future of AUUS if you have questions or contributions to the discussion to
I always look forward to fellowshipping with you all. Be well.
The Rev. Dr. Stanley Sears, Minister
Auburn Unitarian Universalist Society
Citizen Article (appeared on Saturday, December 25, 2010)
December is the “candle” month on the multifaith calendar. It started with candle vigils for World AIDS Day on December first, and Jews lighting candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah. As the month progressed, candles have been lit by many people to commemorate the winter solstice; and of course, many Christians lit candles at Christmas Eve services. This was immediately followed by African-Americans lighting seven candles on the kinara for Kwanzaa.
There is a lesson to be learned from all these candles. Scholars of religion, as well as anthropologists studying
human development describe this religious impulse as part of what they call homo religiosus.
Underneath the veneer of our diverse religious traditions there is a common human quest for hope during life’s
most foreboding times. It transcends all our differences, even as it undergirds all of our religious stories. It is
symbolized by the yearning for light during the darkest time of the year. This is the meta-story underneath all of our
religious stories. Scholars of religious history believe that one of the early traits was the belief that human beings
could influence the forces of nature; that through their actions, people could create changes or have influence the
conditions that would be favorable for their survival. That is why, before there were candles, there were bonfires
(originally “bone fires” of sacrifice) which were ignited to placate the forces of the universe, otherwise known as God
(or the Gods in polytheistic cultures).
Later, these stories would have agricultural implications—hence the sacrifices meant to appease the forces of
the universe so that next year’s harvest would be bountiful. However, before the harvest implications, there was the
simple prayer/request for light. This is why, to this day, virtually all of our religious and cultural traditions with origins in the northern hemisphere have some form of candle ritual during December.
It is easy to lose sight of the common human origins when we are inundated with news stories about how one
religion, culture, or political system is superior or “chosen by God” above all others. This is one of the pertinent
arguments made by some of the “New Atheists,” such as Christopher Hitchens. While Hitchens would use this point to do away with much of organized religion, I would argue that we would do better to view our different religions as merely separate veneers placed on top of the common human substructure. By digging down and celebrating what we share, our common roots, or, what makes us all human beings, rather than what separates us and makes us different, we could take enormous steps toward a more peaceful world. It would be one in which we would coexist harmoniously as human beings.
One of the best examples of what can happen when we focus on our shared human experience goes back
nearly a century ago. According to legend, it took place during Christmas Eve, 1917, in the trenches of France during the Great War, later to be called World War One. There was no scheduled “Christmas truce” that year. However, on Christmas Eve, some of the soldiers in the German trenches began singing “Stille Nacht.” The American troops recognized the tune, and began singing “Silent Night.” According to the story, the troops serenaded each other, each singing the same tune in their own languages. For that one night, there was a respite from the stench of poison gas and the gore of bayonet charges. According to some accounts, the soldiers emerged from their separate trenches and wished one another a merry Christmas! It is amazing what can happen when we focus on what we hold in common, rather than what makes us different.
Let us keep these stories in mind as we put away our various candelabras and Christmas Eve candles with
their wax catchers until next December. The hands that have lit these various fires emerged from our common
humanity, just as our yearning for wisdom and understanding is human. There are some who ask, “Why can’t the spirit of Christmas (or Hanukkah, the Solstice, or Kwanzaa) exist year round?” I believe that it can. It will not happen because we recite any one particular prayer. This demands “prayer turned into action.” By keeping in mind the fact that all of us are in this together, sharing the human experience, we will create greater opportunities for peace and overcoming the ignorance of prejudice by tilting the axis of the world in direction of a more universal compassion.