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.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Opening Spam" by Rev. Barbara Merritt

No matter how many filters our church programmer / server employs, no matter how many filters I create on my own computer, no matter how carefully I screen my incoming e-mail messages, every day I find myself inadvertently opening some UCE (unsolicited commercial e-mail.) Called by the acronym spam, the name actually refers to the Army issue luncheon meat. A sketch in the British comedy Monty Python series had all the patrons at a restaurant shouting for Spam . . . and thus evolved the idea of flooding the market with stuff you don’t want. A more popular understanding states that the letters of spam stand for Stupid, Pointless, Annoying, Messages. All I know is that every time I open one and find an unwanted solicitation, I hear a little voice saying “gotcha.”

It is a simple enough task to send such messages to the trash. But so much of it goes through the system, that lately I have started paying attention to what incoming messages are able to fool me, intrigue me and unfortunately, entrap me into wasting my time by opening them up.

In the Hindu tradition, sinfulness and error is placed in five categories: lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. Much like Dante’s circles of hell, or Catholicism’s seven deadly sins, the purpose of any categorization of how we human beings get lost or distracted is to turn us in more productive directions. What I find fascinating is how easy it is to place almost all my Spam messages in the five Hindu classifications.

Lust? Welcome to the world of pharmaceuticals, and pornographic sites, and strangers who want you to visit their chat room. I become very annoyed with myself when a message asks, “Can you help me?” and then my mind is subjected to a brief, but still very sad and desperate pitch from someone in the commercial sex trade.

Anger? There are political tirades from both sides of the aisle. Both the right and the left are assuming that outrage and money are the best ways to change the political process.

Greed? From Nigeria and dozens of other countries, all are asking me as “a good Christian clergy person” to help them transfer millions of dollars.

Attachment? Attachment in Hinduism is defined as excessive selfishness and a desire to be in control and to possess. The spam that tells me that I have ordered something I didn’t order, or that my credit card account has been used for an unauthorized purchase play on my fear. The chain letters that are sent to me use a carrot as well as a stick. If I will only forward the message to ten friends I will be blessed, ealthy, have unlimited good luck and will be healed of all illness. If on the other hand I don’t forward the message, there will be hell to pay.

Ego? Here’s the one I fall for constantly. If the message says “Thank you,” I want to know who is grateful. If the message line says “Good Job,” I want to know who’s noticed. I have opened “in appreciation” and “eloquent words” and “question?” all with the expectation of a genuine communication. None of them were. This week, in my inbox, I succumbed to opening messages entitled “Dante”, “mistake. . .”, “Thanks for your support” , “Question” and “Being of Service.” Gotcha! They were all trying to get me to buy something I didn’t want. And the spammer’s knowledge of human frailty gets past all my filters. If you currently get e-mail, spam is pretty much a given.

As we approach the holiday season, there is another “given.” There is realnourishment. You can participate in life giving interactions. And there are endless opportunities for us to be generous with one another.

You’ll have to find a diet that works for you, but mine would include the following:
*Spiritual practice. Find the meditation, the prayer, the reflections, the disciplined exercises that allow you to listen, to pay attention and to be a part of something larger than you understand.

*Worship. Be in the communities that speak to your better nature, that return you to your focus, that remind you of what you know is true, but which you continually forget.

*Physical labor and exercise. Especially as winter approaches, your physical body needs work and attention and care. Do it!

*Family and friends. Find the people who make you laugh, who help you relax, who know your faults and love you anyway. Time spent in good company can restore your soul.

*Beauty in nature (even in November and December) and at the art museum and in music. (Sometimes the best moment in my week is when our choir sings an especially glorious anthem.) Appreciating what is harmonious makes it easier to get through all that is not.

We can wish for a spam-free holiday, but we won’t get it. This is a complicated creation of good and bad, real communication and calculated disinformation, sincerity and cynical manipulation. But in the midst of it all, may you hear the messages that love keeps sending. “You are a beloved child of God.”


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