Muscle of Ministry

9232583-cartoon-of-woman-picking-up-a-heavy-box-it-causes-her-back-pain

They ache sometimes

My arms my legs

The work is hard

The path is steep

The lifting can be heavy

Sometimes sweat drips down

Into my eyes

My hair a wet halo

A crown of tears

One could imagine

 

None of that matters

In the end

That ultimate reality

That stands beneath us all

Did I love enough

Did I speak the truth

Did I find some ways

To help the spirit do

What the spirit needs to do

 

One beating heart

It’s all I have

To share

With hurting souls

It keeps me going

That strong muscle

Not mine alone

A gift of grace

I pray it will not quit

Until my work is done

 

 

 

California’s Prop 47: a Matter of Religious Principles

(a excerpt from a sermon given on 10/12/14)

I am definitely a values voter.

When faced with a political choice, I measure both candidates and ballot measures against the 7 principles of our faith. Will my vote help promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person? Will it bring more justice, equity and compassion into human relationships? Does it serve to forward the goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all? Does it respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part?

There is one important proposition on the ballot in the upcoming election that I think can be directly to the 4 principles I just mentioned. Our Social Justice Committee has taken it on as a major focus this year, and they were very right to do so. I am talking about Proposition 47.

Like all proposed laws, the proposition is complicated. It very likely isn’t perfect, very little is. The main thrust of the initiative is to redefine many non-violent crimes, such a drug possession and petty theft, as misdemeanors rather than felonies. This will reduce our prison population significantly and will allow those convicted to perform community service or other methods of restitution instead of just serving time. The money saved will be diverted to the schools, to drug treatment programs, and to mental health and victim services.

Currently there are 2.2 million Americans in prison or in jail. We have less than 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the prison population. We have the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. This makes no sense.

Some of reason for this is the amount of money that is being made by the privatized prison industry. Those corporations give generously to politicians and they lobby for measures that will increase their income stream.

Some of it, too, is due to racism. African Americans are six times more likely to be sent to prison than are whites. They also serve longer sentences, often for the same type of crimes. Roughly a third of all black men are involved in the criminal justice system in some way, which can lead directly to police violence as police officers tend to see all people of color as criminals. They shoot first and ask questions later.

Racism in this country runs very deep. Rooted in the sin of slavery, buttressed by a false mythology of equal opportunity, America has held too many people of color captive as an economic underclass. Now we are simply sending them to jail, partly as a political strategy. People in jail cannot vote. In many states, people with felonies on their records cannot vote. That too is a violation of our fifth principle.

I could go on, but in many ways, I am just preaching to the choir here. I am, instead, going to refer all of you to the Social Justice Committee. They will be in the back of the hall after the service to answer any questions you might have and they also have lots of ways for you to get involved to help California make this small step toward both equity and compassion.

I do believe that passing proposition 47 will be a very good thing, and that it is very much in keeping with all of our seven principles. I am not, however, telling you how to vote. Do your research, listen to your heart, and vote your conscience. We don’t have to think alike to love alike.

5th Principle

 

 

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I really do believe in our fifth principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” People should have a vote, a say, in what affects them.

Mark Twain said that, “In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from others.”

Mark Twain was not a member of a Unitarian Church, but he did have a lot of Unitarian friends. He clearly thought that people should examine their beliefs and convictions for themselves, and not take them on second hand authority. It is what our faith asks us to do. Our principles call us to examine our beliefs, to test them against our reason, our experience, and our hearts. They call on us to do the research, to check our sources, to search for truth and meaning in matters of politics as well as religion.

We can’t just believe the slogans, and we can’t just expect our leaders to save the day.

We are a liberal religion, by definition, because we promote the first hand authority of the individual conscience, because we don’t expect everyone to agree about everything, particularly when it comes to theology.

There is room in this faith for atheists, agnostics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, and followers of just about any other religious tradition.   To be comfortable in one of our congregations, however, most people find that it is important to at least be open to the idea that spiritual traditions and practices other than their own just might be very valid for other people. The same is true of opinions about options and decisions, whether they are political or about congregational life. Quoting 15th century Unitarian minister Francis David once again, “we need not think alike to love alike.”

Democracy is one of the methods we use to move forward despite, and sometimes even because of our differences.

It is tricky business, democracy. Too often the majority can tend to vote to deny the rights of a minority. We have seen that often in this country. If it was up for a simple vote, we would still have Jim Crow laws in the south, we might even still have chattel slavery. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people would forever be treated as second-class citizens or even sent to jail, simply because of who they are and who they love. For our country, we have a court system that tries to balance the will of the majority and the rights of individuals.

As Unitarian Universalists, we also have our other principles to guide us as we practice democracy both in the public square and in our congregations.

I am definitely a values voter.

When faced with a political choice, I measure both candidates and ballot measures against the 7 principles of our faith. Will my vote help promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person? Will it bring more justice, equity and compassion into human relationships? Does it serve to forward the goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all? Does it respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part?

There is one important proposition on the ballot in the upcoming election that I think can be directly to the 4 principles I just mentioned. Our Social Justice Committee has taken it on as a major focus this year, and they were very right to do so. I am talking about Proposition 47.

Like all proposed laws, the proposition is complicated. It very likely isn’t perfect, very little is. The main thrust of the initiative is to redefine many non-violent crimes, such a drug possession and petty theft, as misdemeanors rather than felonies. This will reduce our prison population significantly and will allow those convicted to perform community service or other methods of restitution instead of just serving time. The money saved will be diverted to the schools, to drug treatment programs, and to mental health and victim services.

Currently there are 2.2 million Americans in prison or in jail. We have less than 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the prison population. We have the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. This makes no sense.

 

Some of reason for this is the amount of money that is being made by the privatized prison industry. Those corporations give generously to politicians and they lobby for measures that will increase their income stream.

Some of it, too, is due to racism. African Americans are six times more likely to be sent to prison than are whites. They also serve longer sentences, often for the same type of crimes. Roughly a third of all black men are involved in the criminal justice system in some way, which can lead directly to police violence as police officers tend to see all people of color as criminals. They shoot first and ask questions later.

Racism in this country runs very deep. Rooted in the sin of slavery, buttressed by a false mythology of equal opportunity, America has held too many people of color captive as an economic underclass. Now we are simply sending them to jail, partly as a political strategy. People in jail cannot vote. In many states, people with felonies on their records cannot vote. That too is a violation of our fifth principle.

I could go on, but in many ways, I am just preaching to the choir here. I am, instead, going to refer all of you to the Social Justice Committee. They will be in the back of the hall after the service to answer any questions you might have and they also have lots of ways for you to get involved to help California make this small step toward both equity and compassion.

 

I do believe that passing proposition 47 will be a very good thing, and that it is very much in keeping with all of our seven principles. I am not, however, telling you how to vote. Do your research, listen to your heart, and vote your conscience. We don’t have to think alike to love alike.

Our opening words this morning, a poem I wrote awhile back, is in some ways a song of praise to being liberal, a term that has a bad rap on both the right and the left these days. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion.

 

Definitions of liberal include the following:

 

Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes. “We have always done it that way,” is not a good answer in one of our churches.  It might be an explanation, but it doesn’t or shouldn’t close off the consideration of other options.

 

To be liberal is also to be open to new ideas, to be broad minded and tolerant of the ideas and opinions of others. It is to be generous in spirit.

 

I have been here as your developmental minister for 7 weeks now. Your leadership asked for a developmental minister because, I quote:

 

“Our fellowship is aging out, as are our buildings. We are treading water in every conceivable manner.

On our present trajectory of asset drawdown, our endowment will be gone in 4-5 years. We need to radically reinvent ourselves to thrive in a challenging era.”

 

The charge I received from your board of trustees, as described in their application to the UUA who sent them my name in response, was as follows.

 

“Catalyzing the transformation of BFUU into a sustainable and vibrant congregation, capable of thriving in a challenging future.”

 

It is a challenging task, and one that will take the efforts of all of us, working together. There will be mistakes and missteps and conflicts along the way. Some of you may even feel that transformation is not necessary, that everything was just fine the way things were.

 

We have made some fairly significant changes recently to the format of our Sunday services. Some of you like the changes and some of you miss what was done before. That is OK – remember – We need not think alike to love alike.

 

Because the feedback has been mixed, I want to keep trying what we have been doing for at least several more months, tweaking as we go along, but not simply going back to the old format.

The board and I will evaluate how it is going at some point in the future, with input, of course, from all of you. This is a democratic instituion.

 

Our 5th principlestates that we will use the democratic process within our congregations. It is important to notice that word, “process”.

 

Democracy does not mean that everyone gets their way. That is frankly impossible in any human community. We are diverse. We have different opinions, ideas, concerns and needs.

 

Your elected board of trustees and I are doing the best we can to lead this fellowship into a future that will encourage both the spiritual and numerical growth of this community. We want it to continue to exist and to serve not only those who are here today, but also those who may come in the future. The Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists is never going to be a mega-church, and I don’t know anyone who wants it to be. It does have the potential, however, to be perhaps a hundred members strong, financially sustainable, and providing a welcoming community to all who come.

 

Your board and I are doing what we are doing because of our love for this congregation and for this faith of ours. Please give us a chance.

 

There is a wonderful poem by ee Cummings, that I think applies here:

It is called “dive for dreams,”

Dive for dreams
Or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)

trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)

honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at this wedding)

A slogan may topple you. Don’t believe the slogans. Dive deep for your dreams, trust your heart, and honor the past while welcoming the future. Try new things. You might find you like them.

I am not at all sure that it is possible to not be afraid of change.  Change always brings some loss. Rather, I would hope for us all to grow courage in spite of our fears.

May it be so! Namaste

Marriage Equality again in Utah

 

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I moved from Utah back to California at the end of June, partly to live in a state where my marriage would be recognized.  The photo above is of our wedding cake.  It has been nice.  No issues come up when I introduce my spouse as my wife.  No one even blinks an eye.  Now, finally, all marriages are recognized in Utah again.  Things have been bad there since the brief window where people married last December after a federal court ruling.  The state officials continued to fight against equality in increasingly nasty ways.  They are still trying to do so, but have to realize at this point that they really are on the wrong side of history.  Blessings to all my Utah friends today.  Your steadfast work in planting the seeds for justice is finally bring the harvest end. Congratulations!  I won’t fly back for the celebrations, but my heart is with you today.

Days of Awe

High_-Holy_-Days_-Crafts-and-Activities-for-Kids-Yom-KippurHigh-Holy-Days-Crafts-and-Activities-for-Kids-YomHigh-Holy-_Days_-Crafts_-and_-Activities_-for_-Kids_-Yom-_-Kippur__49

Days of Awe

The Jewish High Holy Days ended last evening at sundown. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the ten days between the two holidays are also called the Days of Awe.

 

It is a sacred time, a time to get right with God, to confess your sins, to atone for your sins, and to give and receive forgiveness.

 

Sin is a difficult concept for many of us Unitarian Universalists to wrap our heads around. We don’t believe in original sin. Many of us don’t believe in the idea of a supreme being that can forgive our sins, even if we have them.

 

The Rev. John Buerhens says,

“We may not be sinful by nature. Much less born into the world by a sinful process. But we are born into a world in which the manifold sins of oppression, pollution, exploitation, racism, sexism, and other narcissisms are all present before we arrive. Such sin is not original with us; we do not choose it. But it traps us.

And here is the paradox: until we accept the deep truth that we all share this condition, we may be trapped indeed. Trapped in pride and illusion. Only in humbly accepting that we share this condition even with those who have wronged us can we forgive others and allow ourselves to be forgiven. As C. S. Lewis said, “The first step toward being humble is to admit that one is proud. And that’s a biggish step, too.”

 

Ah, humility. We Unitarian Universalists can tend to be a self-righteous prideful people, politically correct in all things, and a little too quick to pass judgment on others. When we make mistakes, it can be hard for us to admit them, even to ourselves, because maybe we fear that judgment, our own and that of others, may be turned upon us.

 

So how do we approach this time? Judaism is part of our religious heritage and its wisdom is referred to in our sources, the ones I spoke about the other week. Some of us too, grew up in Jewish households.

 

I don’t have that background myself, but the High Holy Days still speak to me. I think they speak to the human condition, the lack of perfection, the sorrow and regret we all live with. The also speak to the resentment and anger we can hold against others.

 

This is a time to try and let some of those feelings go.

 

A traditional Jewish prayer for this time is as follows:

 

 

“O Source of peace, lead us to peace, a peace profound and true;

lead us to a healing, to mastery of all that drives us to war within ourselves and with others.

May our deeds inscribe us in the Book of life and blessing, righteousness and peace!

O Source of peace, bless us with peace.”

 

Don’t we all want peace? Peace for ourselves and for those that we love, and peace for our world that is so torn apart by violence and hate?

 

Peace my friends, begins with us.

Many of you know the reading by Lao-Tse that is in our hymnal.

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

How do we find peace in our hearts?

I think the practice of both atonement and forgiveness can help lead us there.

One of the readings from the Torah, the Jewish Scripture, that is read in synagogue for Yom Kippur is from the book of Isaiah, chapter 58.

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
 and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,…?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
 and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
 and break every yoke?
 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
 and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?
 when you see the naked, to clothe him,
 and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
 9 ….”If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
 with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
 and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
 then your light will rise in the darkness,…
 11….You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

We do fairly well here on trying to loose the chains of injustice, but what about the pointing fingers and malicious talk?

Where is simple forgiveness, for our own selves and for each other?

Most of our sins are relatively minor: things like rudeness, inattention, carelessness, selfishness, all small failures that can eat away at the fabric of community if they are neither acknowledged nor forgiven.

Sometimes others hurt us, and the hurt is more painful because of other experiences we may have had. Do we take the time to reflect on this, to offer an explanation, or do we store up this hurt with all the others and not reach out for understanding.

People who are hurting can also hurt others in their pain. Forgiveness comes a little easier if you can feel some compassion for someone who has hurt you.

Forgiveness does not include condoning or excusing bad behavior. Even with good reasons, it is not OK to hurt others. The really bad actors need to go to prison of course, to make everyone else a little safer, but we all also know people who we just avoid, who are dangerous to us emotionally even if we have no fear of physical harm from them. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to let them back into your life, but it does mean that you can finally get to a place where you have let go of at least most of your anger.

Letting go of our anger is a way to get to that peace we were praying for earlier.

Letting go of our guilty feelings, trying to make amends for the wrongs we have done, asking for forgiveness, giving the gift of forgiveness to ourselves, is yet another way.

John Buehrens also said,

 

“Those who risk and fail can be forgiven; those who never risk and never fail are failures in all their being. They are not forgiven because they do not feel their need for forgiveness. Therefore let us dare courageously not to be conformed to this age, but to transform it—first in ourselves, then in the world, and both in the spirit and power of love.”

A Rumi quote I have always loved:

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass,the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make sense any more.”

As the Unitarian Francis David said back in the 1500’s, “We don’t have to think alike to love alike.”  I think he and Rumi would have liked each other.

 

Take the risk. Try to find that field. Reflect for a moment upon the last year.

What did you do or not do that you regret? Is there a way to make amends? Will saying that you are sorry be a beginning?

What are you angry about? What will it take for you to let that anger go? What will it take for you to forgive?

We will have some silence for your reflections.

In a few moments, Peter with blow the Shofar in the traditional way, but first I will close with these words by -Robert Eller-Isaacs. It is a responsive reading that is in our hymnal, but you don’t need to turn to it. Your line is easy to say, “we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.” It is easy to say, but so much harder to do. Let’s try it.

 

 

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For losing sight of our unity,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

Amen and Blessed Be.

Beyond Right and Wrong

 

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A Rumi quote I have always loved:

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass,the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make sense any more.”

I try to remember this quote whenever I am in the midst of a disagreement.  It is a way to stay spiritually centered, to examine my own motivations, and to remember that we are all connected, all holy, even when we disagree.  As the Unitarian Francis David said back in the 1500’s, “We don’t have to think alike to love alike.”  I think he and Rumi would have liked each other.

 

Check Your Sources Please

People have asked me about my theology, am I a humanist, a theist, or a pagan. My answer is simple – I am a Unitarian Universalist and I look to all of our sources.

 

Most of us are pretty familiar with the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism. If you are not, they are listed in the front of your hymnal and on the order of service..

 

The principles are guides for living, an ethical framework for how we are called to live our lives. They are what our member congregations have covenanted, promised, to affirm and promote. We care about the worth and dignity of all, about justice, equity and compassion, about spiritual growth, the search for truth and meaning, the democratic process, creating a real world community, and last, but never least, respect for our living planet. The nationwide climate watch is taking place today. The big one is in NYC, but some of us are BARTing over to Lake Merritt after the service to participate in a rally there.

 

But why do we care about those things that are in our sevn principles? What do we use in our searches for truth and meaning? How and why do we work for justice?

 

The answers to those questions are, I believe, contained within our six sources. The sources are also listed in your hymnals. They quite literally define Unitarian Universalism unique place in the world of ideas and world religions. I quote, “The living tradition we share draws from many sources.” Living is a key word here, as well as the word tradition. Our sources are from our history; they are where we came from. But even more importantly, they are what we can use to find out where we are going.

In our reading this morning, Paul Oakley makes a similar point. He says that the sources lead us to specific actions like loving our neighbors and working for justice. I agree with him, but I want to take it a step further. Our sources are not just about our history and they are not just guides for the present, but they are a list of research materials as it were. A reference library we can go to when we have the need, when the world or our lives have changed in ways that we no longer understand.

 

These sources are incredibly rich, every single one of them. I want to encourage all of you to look at them and think about them. Some of you may feel more drawn to some of them than others. Some of the sources may have little personal meaning for you. That used to be true for me. But if you pay a little more attention to those sources that haven’t moved you in the past, I think you may be surprised at what you will discover. It is a living tradition after all. We need to give it ways and room to grow. The sources are the wells from which we draw spiritual water. Sometimes one of the wells can get a little dry. Californians understand about water shortages. A reservoir can be empty or the groundwater from a particular well that has been over used may no longer quench our thirst.

 

The first source is:

Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

 

What does that mean? Several things I think. Revelation is not sealed. We are not a faith that believes that all religious truth was written down in ancient scriptures. Mystery and wonder are all around us. We need to trust our own experiences and our own senses. If we see a rainbow and think it is a miracle, maybe it is.

 

Many of us have had, in our own lives experiences which some would name spiritual. There have been times where a deep realization of an important truth has left us in awe and wonder. It is a knowing that not everything can be understood by the simply rational. It is a sense that there really are forces that both create and uphold life, even if they are forces that are beyond our understanding. This direct experience could be a sense of having a personal connection to God, but it doesn’t have to be exclusively theistic. One of my former congregants who defines himself as a humanist tells a story about the feeling he had when he visited the Smithsonian in Washington DC. He had a moment there when he realized that everything in that fabulous museum actually belonged to him. He was part of something much larger than himself. We should never discount our own experience of the world around us. This source reminds us to think, see, and feel for ourselves. It doesn’t mean we will always be right, but we should not substitute someone else’s judgment about what is right and good for our own. If we aren’t sure, we can check other sources.

 

 

 

The second source is:

Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

 

This is where we could say, “What would Jesus do?” Who are your heroes? Who has inspired you? It could be someone famous, but it could just be someone you know. Many members of this church community have inspired you both with their words and deeds. There are awesome role models here, both in service to the fellowship and in working for justice. This source also leads us to look at our heroes and who they were as well as what they did. Did they confront evil not only to bring about justice, but did they do so with compassion and love? No one is perfect, but those who would lead us to hate others are not those we should try to model ourselves after. Martin Luther King is one of my inspirations as well as Ghandi, both of whom held strongly to love as their guiding force. My namesake, Mother Theresa is not a bad role model either, although I do not share her Catholic theology. This second source is a place we can go to discover more effective ways to bring about a more just world.

 

The third source: Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

 

This one is incredibly varied. The religions of the world are many and varied. What do they have to teach us? What spiritual practices from other traditions can give our lives more meaning?

Yoga, Buddhist meditation practice, the Hindu concept of Namaste, and the daily prayers of Islam, are only a few places we can go for help in our spiritual and ethical lives. This source is a place awaiting our discoveries. Most of us have not looked too closely at what the different world religions have to offer us. It is important to understand context, however. If we simply cherry pick or grab onto the low hanging fruit, we don’t do this source justice and may even be drawn into cultural appropriation.

 

The fourth source is: Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

 

This source is our immediate history and heritage. Both Unitarianism, the belief that God is one, and Universalism, the belief that God loves all of creation and that there is no hell; both have their roots in very early Christianity. Unitarian Universalism arose from Christianity just as Jesus was a follower of the Jewish faith. This history speaks very strongly to those of us who attended exclusively Christian Churches or Jewish Congregations in the past and loved the many inspiring messages contained in both those scriptures. One point, that bears repeating: We are still Christian, we are just not exclusively Christian anymore. It is just like we are not exclusively humanist, agnostic, or pagan. There is so much to learn from study of the Bible. Inspiration is everywhere in the parables of Jesus and the stories of the Hebrew prophets.

 

 

Our fifth source is: Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

 

This is the one that I think can help keep us honest. Whatever we believe and do must make some sense in the real and rational world. Yes, we can have understandings of mystery that are beyond the realm of the scientific method, but it is dangerous ground to rely on something that is in direct contradiction to what reason and science tell us. Angels might fly, but we humans are subject to gravity. The Bible might say one thing, but if science tells us the world is much older than 6000 years, I am going with science. Science and religion are not in conflict.

They should both be about increasing our understanding of the universe and our place in it.

 

That brings us to our sixth source, the last official one, which is: Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature

 

How can we not live in harmony with nature when we are part of it?   This is the favorite source for many of us who have come to Unitarian Universalism from pagan traditions and practices. There are seasons to our lives just as there are seasons in the year. The need for harmony with nature is also in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as well as in the various world religions. Sometimes we just need to go up on a mountain and watch the sunrise.

Sometimes we need the peace that can come from sitting by a river or watching a flock of birds fly by.

 

Those are our six official sources, places where we can go for inspiration and for solace. Is anything left out?

What would you add to this list? It is not written in stone, we can add things to it, just as we can rewrite the seven principles. There is a democratic process to do that at our national assemblies. The sixth source was added to the original five in 1995. There was also a proposal to revise the wording of the sources a couple of years ago. It did not pass, but it could have.

 

What would you add?

 

One I might add would be something about the arts, about music and poetry. Beauty and meaning both can come from artistic creativity. It is worth thinking about adding them more specifically to our list of reference materials.

 

Our sources are in some senses a reference library. They aren’t just history and they aren’t just an action plan as Paul Oakley suggested.

 

He said that, “We irrigate the fields not by worshiping the water but by doing something with the water.”

 

He is not wrong, but we also need to go back and drink from the wells the water comes from, again and again. Living is thirsty work.

 

We can’t afford to ignore any of these spiritual wells just because we might like the flavor of one of them a bit more.

 

We are an open minded and openhearted people. Our sources are rich and life sustaining. May we drink deeply and be satisfied.

Shaky Ground

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(My niece’s kitchen after the Napa quake.)

Sometimes

(It doesn’t happen often

Thank God

Or your Lucky Stars)

The ground

Beneath you moves

With such sudden violence

It knocks you down

Upon your knees

And everything

Around you falls

Shatters in an instant

Your foundation cracked

The ideas you have hung

So carefully on your wall

In ruins on the floor

With the everyday plates,

Wine glasses,

And holiday platters

Stay on your knees

A moment

Look up

The sky shines still

And sparrows fly

Let’s follow them.

 

 

 

Why Are We Here?

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Opening Words (here)

Sermon notes:

The words church and God in the reading may have made some of you uncomfortable. Remember what I said the other week? Listen to your discomfort. It can be a good thing. In the story I told the children, I imagine the person who was asked the question about the purpose of the church was more than a little uncomfortable.

So why are we here? Why are you here? Why does the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalist even exist? History could be referred to of course, there were reasons this congregation was formed. There were reasons that some of the founding members mortgaged their homes in order to purchase this land and build these buildings that we enjoy.

I love questions. You will learn that. I think most Unitarian Universalists love questions. One could even say that asking questions is a part of our free faith. We don’t have creeds, but instead we have guidelines for ethical behavior, which is what our seven principles are about. If you don’t remember them, they are on the back of your order of service. This is not a faith tradition where everyone can do whatever they might feel like doing, whenever they feel like doing it. It is an accepting tradition; we do acknowledge our imperfection. We aspire to high ideals and know we will still sometimes fail, sometimes dismally. That is OK, but the demanding part of our faith is that we keep trying. We have goals and visions of the world we would like to create. It isn’t an easy task.

This fellowship has a mission statement. Did you know that? It pretty much answers the question of why we are here. It says what we are supposed to be doing here together, on Sundays and throughout the week.

The mission statement is on the front of your order of service.

“Building character, enriching spirits, promoting community, and serving humankind through spiritual growth and social action.”

It is a pretty great statement, I think. Do you all like it too?

But what does it mean? Building character: this fellowship intends to build the characters of those who participate. Someone from another congregation told me that they came to Sunday services to learn how to be a better person. Is that true for you? It matters how we live our lives and how we treat each other. Character also includes other things like integrity and responsibility, practicing compassion and forgiveness, being open minded, curious, inspired to make a positive difference with our lives, both for the people we are close to and for the wider community and world.

We are also here to enrich spirits, to help people feel whole and to experience joy and sorrow in ways that are real. A religious community needs to provide comfort to those that are hurting. Has this fellowship ever done that for you?

Promoting community – this is what we practice because we know that we are all connected. Our congregations can be places where we can discover how to get along with people who are different from us, who will change us and who we will change, because we are all a part of that interconnected community of life on this planet. We can then take what we have learned out into the world and help others learn about living with both respect and with love.

Our purpose is also to serve, all of humankind the mission statement says. Unitarian Universalism is not a “sit back and enjoy own spiritual understanding. No, we are called to serve, and spiritual growth is what fuels our social action. We can learn to love the whole world, including ourselves.

But why do you come here? Why do we need a congregation like this one here in this town? Why do we need a religion like Unitarian Universalism in the world?

So think for a minute about why you came here this morning. You are here after all, so you must have a reason for coming.

What are some of them? Go ahead and shout them out. I know some of you are not shy.

Robin Bartlett, a Unitarian Universalist Religious educator, in her blog post from which our reading was taken, has heard a lot of people say they come to church for their children, because the children are asking questions about God, or because a neighbor or friend is trying to recruit them into a more conservative religion.

Some people say they come to church because the sermons are entertaining. The crazy preacher can be really funny; you never know just what she will say. You could find much better entertainment, however, on TV, in the movies.

Maybe you come for the music, but you can find great music a lot of places, at concerts, festivals, and even on I tunes.

Some people say they come for the intellectual stimulation, to hear words and ideas that make them think. Of course you could attend a college level lecture for that. There are a lot of other places you can go to stimulate your brain cells.

Maybe you come because you care about social justice. This community works very hard in many ways to bring more justice, equity, and compassion into our world. But if social justice action is your only reason, there are literally thousands of other groups you could join that are doing fabulous work for a wide variety of social causes.

If you are looking for inspiration here, for motivation, for ideas on how to live in this complex world, you could read poetry, listen to TED talks, or join a self-help group.

If you are hurting and looking for comfort or if you are trying to find yourself, you could go to therapy.

Some people come to church to make friends, or even to find a life partner. You could also do that at a bar, a health club, or through social media.

Some people also come to church to find God, the holy, to connect with their inherent spirituality. There are other ways to do that. Go out in nature, watch a sunset, plant flowers, or play with your children. You will surely find the holy there.

Did I cover everything?

I did forget one, which reminds me of another joke. I’d heard it before, but one of our elder’s shared it with me the other week.

It’s Sunday morning and the alarm goes off. A woman turns over in bed and groans. She turns to her partner and moans. I don’t want to go to church today. I know the sermon is going to be boring. People will ask me to do things I don’t have time for. I’d rather just stay home and sleep in today. Her partner turns to her with a sigh. Honey, you have to go to church today. “Why? Why do I have to go to church?”

The answer? “Honey, you have to go to church because you are the minister.”

There are many reasons to come to church, but unless you are the minister, there are many other options. Even ministers can decide on a different career choice. Almost none of us are do it for the money in any case.

But how many places can you go where all of those reasons can apply?

Robin Bartlett tells us to go to church

“for community, for learning, for solidarity, for a good word, for love, for hope, for comfort, even for salvation. Go to church because you can’t imagine not going. Go to church because (of what) your church …demands of you. Go to church because you cry in the worship service at least once a month. Go to church because you look forward to seeing the people.

Go to church because your church forces you to put your money where your mouth is–to use your financial resources to make a statement about what has worth. Go to church because you are known here. Go to church because you want to be known. Go to church because you pray for this same imperfect, rag-tag group of people all week until you meet again. Go to church because you need to in order to get through your week. Go to church because if you miss a week, you feel like something was really missing in your life. Go to church because your church community helps you to go deeper; to risk transformation; to yank you further down a path–to ultimate reality, to truth, to God–kicking and screaming. Go to church because it is a statement to yourself and your children about what has value and meaning. Go to church to find your purpose and live it. Give yourself the gift of church.” http://uuacreligiouseducation.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/dont-go-to-church-for-your-children/

She goes on to say, specifically addressing parents who say they come to church for their children,

“If church is not a gift for you, it won’t be a gift for your children.

You know that old (line) that we borrow from (the) plane instructions we hear read by flight attendants–… apply your own oxygen mask first before you apply your child’s, right? Well, you are your child’s religious educator and oxygen mask. Not our (religious exploration) curricula. Not our volunteer teachers. Not (the) minister. You. That’s a big responsibility, and (maybe) you don’t feel up to the task because (few) of us do.

But if we aren’t getting our spiritual needs met–our religious yearnings satiated; our deepest cries in the night soothed; our need to serve and be served; our God-sized hole occasionally filled, emptied and then filled up again– then we are never going to be up to the task of helping our children do the same.”

She says, “Don’t go to church for your children; go to church for you. You deserve it. Your children deserve it. And this brutal and beautiful world needs you to.”

That last line is worth repeating, “This brutal and beautiful world needs you to.” How important is this congregation, not just to those of us who gather here each Sunday, but also to others in our town, in our state. I think we offer a vital service just by continuing to exist and to thrive. We offer hope to the young person wondering if their life is worth living because they are gay, to the man just released from prison expecting to be shunned by everyone he meets, to the recovering alcoholic, to the person who is homeless,to the eccentric thinker who everyone else thinks is just crazy, to the members of conservative religions who worry that their questions are somehow sinful, and to all the people who are suffering in so many ways from a culture that is far from accepting of differences and difficulties. Even if they never find their way here, even if they never sit in this room with us, if they know about us, we have given them some hope. We have made a difference. We have offered an alternative, a radical alternative, a community based on love.

So if you have been thinking this morning about the reasons you come here, I assume you have thought of more than a few.

I have another question for you. How much would it cost if you went other places to get what you find here at this church? How much more would you be spending on tuition, on therapy, on concert and movie tickets, or on drinks in a bar, if you did not come to church? What about the things that are truly priceless? How could you possibly meet anywhere else the diverse and wonderful people we have here in this religious community? Where else would you be welcomed with such open and loving arms no matter who you are and how you are feeling?   Where else are tears and laughter both not only acceptable, but treated as precious?

One last joke so we can end on a lighter note

Ready?

“If you don’t know what eschatology means, it’s not the end of the world.”

Hilarious right? OK, for those of you who don’t get that joke, eschatology is the theological stance of a particular religion on the end of the world. It isn’t something most Unitarian Universalists worry about much. We definitely don’t take the book of revelation literally. We may worry about environmental disasters or wars ending life on this planet, but our various views of God and the divine do not include the idea that God will destroy the world at some future date.

No, our theology is about life, about continual new beginnings, second, third and fourth chances. It is a life saving, life enhancing theology. We stand on the side of love, and that is why we are here. Amen and Namaste.

Why are we here #BFUU

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Why are we here?

Living at the intersection

Of Cedar and Bonita

This beautiful tree

Has deep roots

Watered by love

And sacrifice

A passion for justice

A yearning for peace.

The branches a shelter

For all who have need.

 

Growing and changing

Stretching tall and wide

Reaching out

Reaching in

Wrapping minds

Hearts and arms

Around a world

Around a vision

Love will win

We can make it so.

This tree will grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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