First Unitarian Church of Worcester

Sermons, Memos and other writings from the newsletter and worship services of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester. The First Unitarian Church is located at 90 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608. Our phone is 508-757-2708 and our webpage is A audio CD is produced for almost every one of our regular services. Call our office or send a note to the office at our website to request that one be shipped to you.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Attention Must be Paid" Memo by Tom Schade

I watched one of the worst television situation comedies I have ever seen last night. I will not name names because I try to be considerate of the feelings of others, even fictional characters.

I like TV sitcoms, because I need to take a break from the tragedies of current events and baseball. And so, over the years I have been a regular viewer of some of the best comedy series. (Still not naming names, because I wouldn’t want any of them to feel hurt if I leave off someone.)

I can still get pulled into an old episode of Golden Girls when flipping through the channels. It is amazing to me how much younger and more attractive Rose, Blanche and Dorothy are becoming over time.

The great series have interesting characters, witty writing, great ensemble acting, clever dialogue. So, one can forget how depressing and irritating a bad one is. And this one, the one I watched last night, was truly terrible, full of stereotyped characters who insult and make fun of each other, surrounding a lead actor who seemed to be trapped in his stand up comedy routine, two or three plotlines jammed together without any rhyme or reason, a laugh track too loud. Blech! It was an awful experience.

So why did I watch it?

Well, I didn’t want to watch the ABC/Disney fictionalization of the supposed errors of the Clinton administration: “The Path to 9-11.”

I had been warned that someone somewhere was trying to divert my attention. The producers of the ABC show wanted me to think about what Bill Clinton could have done, but didn’t, rather than thinking about what George Bush should not have done, but did.

So, instead of letting my attention be commandeered by political manipulators, I lavished it on a stupid sitcom. Even though I was completely aware of how brain-damagingly awful the show was, I was paying attention to it, and not ABC. OK, I have to now tell you the name of the show: “The War at Home.” It’s just too ironic.

Your attention is the most valuable resource in the world. Everyone wants it. Candidates and political parties want to attract your attention. The entire advertising industry is dedicated to developing the means to reliably get and hold your attention. The commercial entertainment industry is funded by advertisers to create art in order to compete for your attention. There is big money and power that can be won, if your attention can be gotten and held.

And yet, as valuable as this resource of yours is, you and I have very little control over what we pay attention to. It is the little lost lamb of our faculties, always wandering off on its own, straying where it should not go, running further away when we chase after it. Our wandering attention makes every task we do take twice or three times longer than it could. Sometimes, in its wandering, it does come back with something new, but most of the time, we are not creative, just distracted. I get attracted by bad situation comedies on TV.

Spiritual practices, like meditation, contemplation and prayer, are human efforts to herd the lost sheep of our wandering attentions.

Congregational worship is one such spiritual practice, an hour or so per week set aside to think about what really matters.

It is a time to reflect on how you are living your life.

· Are you embodying your best and highest values?

· Are you treating others in the way that you would wish to be treated?

· Are you wasting your time and paying attention to trivial things?

· Are you expressing the love that you have for the important people in your life in ways that they can feel?

· Are you trapped in self-pity, or paralyzed by shame?

It is true that congregational worship as a spiritual practice is led. The worship leader directs your attention to certain questions and offers particular insights for you to consider. It is not a completely self-directed process, but this has a positive value. Just like a fitness instructor in an aerobics class will push you to exercise muscles you neglect, the worship leader lures you into thinking about areas of your life that you might be ignoring. (There is another parallel between an aerobics class and congregational worship: you get a much greater benefit if you make it a habit.)

Where will you be paying attention this fall? The War in Iraq? Issues in your family life? Health questions? The midterm elections? The predictably tragic conclusion of the Red Sox season?

Why not make a habit of regular congregational worship? It might help keep all of these things in a proper perspective. So come!

And remember, if you can’t come, for whatever reason, we make a CD recording of every service. Call the church office, if you would like one sent to you.



Post a Comment

<< Home