If God could weep
For all the pain
That in this world abides
The tears would flow like rivers
The rain would never stop
Ocean waves like thunder
Would reach the mountain tops
If God could shout
A message out
For all the world to hear
The roar of words
Would echo round
This green and spinning sphere
If God could act
We’d surely have
Peace in all the lands
Food for all the hungry souls
And care for all the sick
If God is sleeping
I’d like to know
How to wake the Holy up
Most likely God is asking
That same question
Of everyone of us.
Video will be posted (here)
Call to worship (here)
So did you remember to reset your clocks last night? The folks who forgot should show up pretty soon.
We go through this changing times thing twice a year. “Spring ahead, fall back.” “Spring ahead” sounds like a good thing, a great leap forward, progress. “Fall back,” on the other hand, is a term that when used in a military sense might mean retreat, something you do when you are worried that you might be defeated. Circle the wagons and all of that; it doesn’t feel as positive.
What I don’t get, given that one seems more positive than the other, is that it is in the hopeful spring that we lose an hour of sleep.
We don’t get that hour back until the coming fall when we can then retreat to our beds and regain that lost sleep.
Of course, like too many things in our world, there are the haves and the have-nots. If you are born in the summer, you get a bonus hour every fall that you don’t have to pay back for six months, no interest. Ah, but for winter babies like me, an hour is stolen from us in the spring which we don’t get back for half a year. It is, if nothing else, an interesting excuse for being tired.
Every year it seems, the Utah legislature entertains the idea of not participating in daylight savings time.
Arizona never got with the program after all, so why should Utah go along?
I am glad we do, however. This semi-annual changing of the clocks is a fabulous metaphor and it keeps us on our toes. It also reminds us that our days and our lives are more tied to the seasons and that the hours of daylight matter. It also gets us used to change. Maybe that is why Arizona doesn’t like it.
Some of you are old enough to remember Bob Dylan and his song “The times they are a changing.” Those of you who are younger may remember your parents or even grandparents playing the record. I loved Bob Dylan’s songs when I was young. I still do.
“Gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown
And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin’”
Prophetic words as our glaciers melt and the seas begin to rise. Can we learn to swim? Can we reverse the effects of the massive climate change that we have brought to our planet?
“Come writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen Keep your eyes wide The chance won’t come again Don’t speak too soon For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who That it’s namin’
For the loser now Will be later to win For the times they, they are a-changin’
Pay attention, he was telling us there. We don’t know what will happen. Will the horrible income disparity in this country continue to grow until there is no middle class and only the very rich and the very poor? Will those who are getting the short end of everything be able to make enough changes that they will be able to win justice?
“Come senators, Congressmen Please heed the call Don’t stand at the doorway Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled There’s a battle outside And it’s ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls For the times they are a-changin’”
That verse really makes me think of our Utah legislature and their reaction to marriage equality. The halls of the statehouse have been rattled by more than one demonstration, including an absolutely huge rally for cleaner air. They are still standing in the doorway, however, blocking progress and change at virtually every turn.
“Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land Don’t criticize What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command Your old road is Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one If you can’t lend a hand For your times they are a-changin’”
I loved that verse when I was young. I am somewhat less fond of it now, however. Adults have always questioned what the young people are doing. Saying they play too many video games is not all that different from what the matriarchs and patriarchs of the old hunting and gathering clans probably said about those crazy kids that wanted to plant corn and then wait around for it to grow. The youth are always the ones who are destined to lead us into the future. I will try to lend them a helping hand whenever I can and hope that I know when it is time to step aside.
On the last verse of the song, Dylan, as he often does, goes Biblical:
“The line it is drawn And the curse it is cast The slow one now Will later be fast
As the present now Will later be past The order is Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now Will later be last For the times they are a-changin’”
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
Dylan’s song is in the apocalyptic tradition. That is the apocalypse, or the end times, or even the end of time. There will be great change, the tyrants will be banished, and the kingdom of God, the beloved community, will be established here on earth as it is in heaven.
Who wouldn’t move heaven and earth to bring about justice? I do believe as 19th century Unitarian Minister Theodore parker said, “the arc of the universe is long but that it bends toward justice.” I do believe that most things anyway, get better over time.
I told you a few weeks ago that I thought change was mostly good because change means we are alive.
The times truly are always changing, in both good ways and in bad. They change in big ways and in small. Change is always a challenge, and always an opportunity. Change can be exciting and it can also make us angry.
Many of you I know have had a variety of reactions to the announcement I made about my leaving at the end of June.
There were some tears, and I know that almost all of you, while in some ways happy for me, are also sad that I will be leaving. We have loved each other well. Some of you, maybe even all of you, are likely just a little bit angry as well.
“How can I leave you? Why won’t I stay, another year or two at least?” That anger is OK; it is a very human reaction. We talked about anger last week. People get angry with their loved ones who die, just because they have died and left them, so of course it is fine for you to feel some anger. Remember the three steps I suggested to handle anger in a healthy way?
Own it, understand it, and then do something with it. Create the future you want.
Change can also bring fear. That is a big one and fear is, like anger, a normal emotion in the face of change. What will happen? Imagining the worst-case scenario is really easy to do. What if you can’t find another minister? What if you don’t like the next minister? Maybe we shouldn’t have a minister at all or maybe just a part-time one, just in case, just in case?
It is OK to have all of those feelings, all of those fears and anxieties. As I said, it is very human to feel like that when faced with change, especially a change that is not one you particularly wanted.
But, after you acknowledge your feelings and fears, then what? Do you hunker down and just sit with them? Do you pull back and disengage? I hope not.
If you do that, you miss the good that can come from the change. You miss out on feelings of anticipation and excitement. Getting a new minister is exciting!
Who knows what new skills and gifts they will bring? Who knows what they might be able to teach you? Who knows what you might be able to teach them. Ministry in a congregation is a journey of partnership.
A minister of a church is a leader of course, but a minister also follows the lead of the congregation, channels in a way the hopes and dreams of the gathered community. I have followed you as much if not more than I have lead you. Where do you want to go next? That is for you to decide, both as individuals and as a community.
Sometimes we want to turn the clock back. We want to return to what we think was a simpler, less confusing time. It we really remember the past, chances are it was just as complicated and confusing as it is now.
Sometimes we want to set the clock ahead, to skip over what we are dealing with right now, to jump to some future time where everything will be settled, where everything will be wonderful, where all our problems will be solved.
I don’t know what the future will bring. I do know that it will be different. I also know that it will very likely be every bit as challenging and confusing as everything is right now. It will also be just as exciting and just as wonderful.
Every year, an hour is taken away from us, and every year we are given an extra hour to do with as we will. Let us use that loss and that gift as best we can.
When we get to our closing hymn, think about how you and we are on our way to the freedom land.
Best of all, in these changing times, know that we have the freedom to decide what that freedom will look like and how we want to get there.
An old sermon I am posting this as a response to Myke Johnson’s blog post (click)
I like bumper stickers. One that I used to see a lot said, “Dog is my copilot.” You may have seen that one too. It was a play on the phrase, “God is my copilot.” Dog is God spelled backwards after all. The dog one was much more popular for a time though. People do love their dogs, and most dogs just love riding in cars. Some folks may also have wanted to poke a bit of fun at the idea that God is standing around waiting to help us find our way home, through traffic.
This all leads me to wonder that if God were in fact a dog, what kind of dog would God be? A stately Great Dane perhaps, high above it all? A St Bernard, coming to the rescue? A practical Collie like Lassie or maybe a Golden Retriever who just wiggles with love? Some people may see God as a Pit Bull waiting to snarl everyone into hell in short order if they don’t shape up. When I look at a Pug, I sometimes wonder if God might often have a similar expression.
Now, I know, and you know, that God is not really a dog, except of course in the sense that there is a spark of the divine in all living creatures. But I think sometimes we humans can treat God like a dog. Not badly, I don’t mean that. But I think sometimes we tend to treat God as our own personal pet. We keep God on a leash, in a box, under our control. I think this is true even for folks that don’t believe in God. They usually have a quite definite image of the God they don’t believe in.
When I was young, I thought of God as an old bearded white man who sat on a golden throne, high in the sky, amidst fluffy clouds, with sweet-faced plump cherubs fluttering about him. A child, if they have courage, might want to climb up into the lap of that sort of God, the view alone would be worth it I think. If that God became angry, however, the clouds went gray and lightening flashed. Any sensible child would run for cover. Which is exactly what I did, and I stopped believing in God for a long time. Those childhood images of God stayed with me, though. I didn’t believe in that old man in the sky, but it was him that I didn’t believe in if anyone asked me about God.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, in Genesis 1, it says, “So God created humankind in God’s image.”
Some sociologists say that the process is just the reverse, that humans create God in their own image, or an image that signifies an ideal in the common culture. Old white men were the ones with all the power while I was growing up. No wonder that is what God looked liked to me.
Earlier, I told a story about playing hide and seek with God. It is easier to find something if you know what you are looking for. Think for a moment if you will, think about how you picture God.
Talking about God in a Unitarian Universalist church can be a tricky business at times.
Some Unitarian Universalists, when the idea of God is even mentioned, bring out the metaphorical garlic. Usually these are folks who, like me, were raised with a fairly traditional idea of God.
All of us, whether we are believers or unbelievers, tend to carry around with us images of what God is and is not. We need to pay attention to those images, to what we think about even the God we may not believe in. Because God is a cultural symbol of what is ideal, what is the most valued; our image of God can affect how we are with ourselves and with each other.
If we see God as perfect and unchanging, how do we see our own need for change? Do we remain stubborn in our own Divine right to stay the way we are, hanging on to maybe some bad habits just because they are our own? Or do we maybe feel bad, because we aren’t perfect, and feel we should be? Are we too harsh with our friends and family, seeking perfection in them too, and becoming angry and disappointed when they inevitably fall short? Do we let others change and grow, even if we are afraid that if they change that they will somehow leave us behind?
If we see God as all knowing do we somehow get the idea that it is possible to know everything? What does it say about the need for lifelong learning? Do we feel stupid because we don’t know everything, or do we tend to act like “know it alls?
It plays out at the societal level, our image of God. If we imagine a judgmental God we might believe that only the so-called “deserving poor” should be helped by society. We can be impatient with those who don’t agree with us, judging them stupid and ill-informed. If we see God as all powerful, we may be tempted to sit back and let some divine force do all the work for justice that is in fact our work to do. Even if we don’t put that on God, we can put it on others. We get the idea that if we don’t have the power to change things in a very powerful, in an absolute Godlike way, then we can sometimes feel that it is not worth trying. We relinquish what power we do have and yearn for the “government”, the “democrats”, the board of trustees, the minister, the committee chair to see the light and take the appropriate action.
Most important, though, on a spiritual level, how we image God can affect our own sense of well being, our sense of our purpose in life. A limited image can narrow our sense of possibility, of who we are, and who we can become.
It is also deeply insulting to the Divine Spirit of creative force that is within us all. If we put God on a pedestal, way up in the clouds, it is harder to feel the spirit fully as it moves in our daily lives. God becomes an abstract concept, disembodied, something that has no relevance for us at work, in our homes, or even in our churches.
Charles Hartshorne, a UU theologian, in his book, Divine Relativity, critiques this traditional image of God.
A wholly absolute God can provide no lasting good inclusive of human achievement….
A wholly absolute God is power divorced from responsiveness or sensitivity;
and power which is not responsive is irresponsible and, if held to settle all issues, enslaving. (Hartshorne148-149)
Hartshorne also said, “In trying to conceive God, are we to forget everything we know about values?”
Hartshorne’s question about values is a good one. Our conception of God should be composed of the highest human values. It leads to the question of what kind of God would be most valuable; what kind of God does the world need? Bernard Loomer says that
“value is greater than truth… the problem with being addicted to truth is that it can throw you off from many of the deeper dimensions of life.” (Religious Experience and Process Theology pg 71)
Maybe God is like that, a value deeper than truth, or what we can conceivably know as factual, provable truth. Maybe it even doesn’t matter so much what God really is, what the “truth is,” but instead it may be more important to believe – or even not believe – in the sort of God we need. If God is truly God, then God will be the God the world needs. Shouldn’t that be part of the definition?
Power and perfection are two of the traditional attributes of God that I think most need reconstruction. If God is all powerful, then God is responsible for all the horrors in the world as well as all the goodness and beauty. Do we want to honor and worship power in this way? Doesn’t worshiping power lead to unjust wars, to imperialism? Does it serve our local communities when the powerful are more honored than the weak and vulnerable? A God who shares power with us, who helps us develop our own strengths, is more the kind of God I believe we need. Not a tyrant or a dictator. If we worship a dictator God, it is too easy to search for that in our human leadership as well.
Martin Luther King said that “power without love is abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” He said that “power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and that justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” That old image of God hurling thunderbolts and hurricanes from the sky is an abusive one and it is a limited one.
I think we can honor God and still ask the question. “What kind of God would serve us well, here, today, in the twenty-first century?” What God could be more inclusive of diversity, more responsive to oppression, better able to help us get along with others in peaceful and loving ways? What kind of God could help us face and do what is before us now to face and do?
What could it mean to us if we began to see God not as absolute and unchanging, but as relational? What if God was a sensitive, changeable presence, one that interacted with the world rather than ruled it? What if we took God out of the box, off leash so to speak? Maybe we could start imagining God as the best of what humans have the potential to be.
Maybe we could begin to see change as something good, that growth in ourselves and in other people is a natural thing. Maybe we could also stop beating ourselves up for who we are now and stop worrying so much about who we aren’t yet, what dreams are still out of our reach. Maybe we will even stop being embarrassed about who we used to be. We might learn to accept and love ourselves and each other in our actually quite glorious imperfections.
If we carried the ideal of relationality into the world, if we identified the divine nature as one who is supremely sensitive to others, maybe we would learn to listen to one another better. Maybe we could begin to understand those with different life experiences from ours, those with different views, different politics. Maybe we could find some common ground if we aren’t all stuck in the paradigm of always being perfectly and absolutely correct.
On a spiritual level, if we understand God as a presence that truly interacts with us, that changes when we change, a tremendous power could be released into the world and into our own souls. We could work with the God force, not simply for it or against it.
We could be major players on the Divine team, in partnership, in community. Unlike the image of the old man in the sky, this relational image of God can inspire love and compassion rather than awe and fear. The following poem by WEB Du Bois, an African American born shortly after slavery, expresses this well I think.
Help! I sense that low and awful cry -- Who cries? Who weeps? With silent sob that rends and tears -- Can God sob? Who prays? I hear strong prayers throng by, Like mighty winds on dusky moors -- Can God pray? Prayest Thou, Lord, and to me? Thou needest me? Thou needest me? Thou needest me? Poor, wounded soul! Of this I never dreamed. I thought -- Courage, God, I come!
Du Bois’ poem is somewhat startling. It portrays a God who is not all powerful, who needs our help in fact. Can we imagine God that way?
How different than that judgmental lordly figure – a God that is wounded, that weeps, that is vulnerable.
I have never been able to really wrap my brain around the orthodox version of the Christian trinity, and I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human, but I can see the appeal of a God who suffers with us, one who really knows our pain, because that God feels pain too. What draws us closer to other people? Do we really like best those who seem perfect? Don’t we instead appreciate more someone who is trying?
When it comes to love of other people it is usually their imperfections that draw us. We want to help a friend in pain. Our best friends are often those who are willing to share some of their vulnerability, some of their fears. The ones that are patient with us, that listen. We can trust them with our failures and also cheer their triumphs and successes with full and open hearts because we know something about their struggles. Can we love God in the way we love those friends?
Perhaps, if God were really a dog, it wouldn’t be a purebred at all, but a shaggy, floppy eared mutt who loves freedom and is interested in the world. A God who is not perfect, who is not all powerful and unchanging, who like us, needs both courage and compassion.
May we all find courage. May we all find compassion. May we all find an image of God that we can let run free through our lives and through the world. Blessed be.
A minister, a politician, and a movie star walk into a bar together…
It should be the beginning line of a good joke, but I am afraid it is just too far-fetched.
They would never go into the same bar. But in the bars they do go into, someone is very likely to say to any of them – and not as a pick up line – “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”
Ministers, politicians, and movie stars all tend to be recognized by people we don’t know. It happens to me all the time. Someone will come up to me in the grocery store, at the pizza joint, or at the do-it-yourself car wash, and say, “Oh, I know you, aren’t you the minister of the UU church?” They have maybe been to the church a time or two, attended a wedding or memorial service I officiated, saw me at an event or demonstration where I spoke, or even saw my picture in the newspaper.
OK, it is a smallish city. But in smallish cities, ministers are public figures, especially if they tend toward the out-spoken.
I don’t know for sure what Brad Pitt does or Mitt Romney . Odds are extremely good I will never run unto any of them at a bar or anywhere else. I would recognize them, but they wouldn’t know me at all.
A number of years ago, before I entered the ministry, I was a national level officer in a professional association, the Federal Manager’s Association. We held our annual conventions in DC every year and we also had a PAC fund. I had the opportunity to meet with quite a few Members of Congress in their offices. I met Ann Richards and Hilary Clinton at fundraisers for other candidates. Most were delightful in their own way, but even though I shook their hands, I did not really “meet” them. They were wearing their politician persona.
Politicians can be charismatic, but they see so many people, most of whom want something from them, that most of the time they aren’t really connecting to the people they are meeting. That is true no matter what party affiliation they might have. They have their standard lines which they use to respond to just about anything anyone might say.
I suspect movie stars are much the same way. ”Yes, I will give you an autograph.” ”I am happy you enjoyed my last picture.” ”Get out of my face.” They don’t have to think about what to say to a particular individual; they don’t have to really connect with the other person. They can just be a “public figure.”
Ministers have a public persona too, even if we don’t happen to be wearing a collar or a stole. People, even strangers, expect something different from us. They sometimes think we can see into their very souls. It is daunting sometimes. It is always humbling. We listen to their stories of pain and heartache. Our words don’t have to be many, they don’t need to be particularly eloquent, but they have to be real, a memorized script just won’t do.
I think we have more in common with the bartenders.
Did you reset your clocks
Springing forward in time
Did you change them last night
Or wait until morning
Was your bed extra cozy
Did dawn come too soon
Was the light in your window
From the sun or the moon
Sometimes we look forward
Sometimes we turn back
An hour is lost
The time it has changed
Wake up and get going
With deliberate haste
A whole world awaits us
A new day will be born
From struggle and memory
From work and regret
Love leads us on
This we will never
Video of this sermon will be posted (here)
Call to worship (here)
Our culture does not always teach us how to deal with anger in healthy ways. We are expected to be nice and polite and to act like everything is fine, even when it is not. We can hold our anger in, deny it and pretend it doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t make it go away. If we do not acknowledge our anger and treat it like the useful tool it is, then we run the risk of our anger exploding outward in destructive ways or staying inside of us and poisoning our spirits.
Anger is a normal human emotion, and as was stated by feminist theologian, Beverly Harrison, in this morning’s reading, it is best understood as a simple feeling-signal that all is not well.
If we are angry, it also means we care. We don’t often get really angry about things that don’t matter much. Maybe we get irritated at minor things, a slow car in front of us on the freeway, a houseguest that leaves dirty dishes in the sink for us to deal with, but unless we allow it to build, those types of irritations do not turn into rage.
Anger is a normal emotion, but it can also be complicated. It is not always clear what is making us angry; we just know that something does not feel right. Maybe something seems unfair, maybe we feel disrespected or ignored, or perhaps we feel betrayed. Underneath our anger there is often another emotion; sometimes it is hurt, disappointment, or fear.
You ask someone not to do something and they do it anyway. Someone does something that creates a situation that feels dangerous to you.
A precious object is broken and cannot be repaired.
Sometimes we are angry with others. Sometimes we are angry with ourselves. Sometimes we are angry with God.
Anger is energy – it doesn’t just go away. We need to do something with that energy and the choice of what to do with it is ours.
All of us carry pain, sometimes from our childhoods and sometimes from experiences we have had as adults. Sometimes in order to bury the pain we wrap it in anger, in resentment. It can be like carrying a time bomb around inside. If the wrong thing happens, maybe even if someone says the wrong thing in all innocence, it can be a trigger that can make the bomb explode. This is what I think happens in cases of road rage.
Let me give another example, a fairly easy one to understand. Perhaps when you were younger, a dog bit you, or at least scared you badly. As a result, you are now afraid of dogs. Many years later maybe you go hiking in an area where dogs are not allowed. Then suddenly you see a dog running loose, the owner close behind. You might very well want to scream at the owner. You might even do it. How dare they have a dog here!
But if you weren’t really afraid of dogs, if you hadn’t had that earlier experience, you might be irritated that someone was breaking the rules. You might even comment that the dog should not be there. Chances are, however, that you would not be particularly afraid and it would be very unlikely that you would start screaming angrily at the dog’s owner.
Fear and anger can be an explosive combination. How can we learn to manage anger in healthy ways?
Step one, I think is to simply acknowledge that we are angry. It is nothing to be ashamed of. As I said, it is a normal human emotion, something that tells us that something is wrong.
Step two would be to try and understand what you are angry about. This is where counting to ten can help. Taking a few breaths, pausing before you react to your angry feelings doesn’t make the anger go away, but it gives you a moment to think.
It might help now to be thinking about a time when you have felt angry. Maybe you want to think about a time when you have been furious, maybe even “blind with rage.” If you don’t want to go there right now, and that is OK, just think of a time when you have been seriously irritated.
What made you so angry? What were you feeling? Our bodies usually produce adrenalin when we experience anger – the old flight or fight response of our brains that are programmed for survival. What was the immediate cause of your angry reaction? Did it remind you of anything else? Was your anger deeper and stronger than seems justified by the particular event?
Two examples: Sometimes when I am working on the computer, and having a hard time either writing a sermon or composing a sensitive email, I can get irritated if I am interrupted. I have even been known to speak too sharply to my lovely wife when she asks me about the shopping list.
It is clear that my reaction is all about me and is not at all a fair response to anything she did. It’s kind of like the old line about having a bad day at work and going home and kicking your dog.
That was an example of misplaced or misdirected anger, and if we take a minute to think before we speak, we can avoid hurting someone else’s feelings.
Sometimes our anger is directed correctly, however, but is much more intense that the particular situation calls for. The second example: your teenager’s room is filthy, as usual. You have calmly asked her to clean it up every day for the last week, but it hasn’t happened. Then she asks to go to the movies with a friend, and you explode and yell that she is not leaving the house until her room is clean.
Ever been there? After you explode, you realize that you let your anger build up to a point where you could no longer contain it. A better plan would have been to tell her earlier in the week that you were getting angry because her room was still a mess, and that she needed to clean it before she does anything fun.
Step three for managing anger, is figuring out what to do with it. No worries, there are only three steps. One: acknowledge it. Two: understand it. Three: do something with it.
Once we realize that we are angry and know why, only then we can know what we should do about it.
If you don’t acknowledge that you are angry, even to yourself, your anger festers inside of you.
It becomes easy to turn the anger against yourself. There must be something wrong with me for feeling this way. Anger is energy, and it will find somewhere to go. If there is too much social pressure to be polite and to not be angry, our anger will either make us sick or come out in other ways. How many of you have experienced passive aggressive behavior from others? How many of you have practiced it?
People often resort to passive aggressive behavior like saying something nasty with a smile, giving a backhanded compliment, asking a not-so-innocent question. People do that when they don’t want to acknowledge even to themselves that they are angry or because they are afraid of the consequences of expressing their anger. I didn’t mean it that way. It’s OK. I am fine.
And then there is malicious compliance. Oh, I was just doing what you said you wanted.
Sometimes passive aggressive behavior and malicious compliance are simply coping mechanism when the angry person feels powerless.
It is much better, if you can admit that you are angry and you can understand why, to express that anger in a direct and appropriate way. Using “I” statements is much better than the accusatory “you.” It is more effective to say, “I am angry” than “you made me angry”, because it is less likely to trigger a defensive reaction. It is also more effective if you can articulate why you are angry, and include at least some of reasons that your anger may be more intense than expected.
“It makes me angry when you don’t listen to me. It upsets me a lot because my mother never listened to me when I was a child.” Expressing anger in that way is very positive. It can create changed behavior and increase mutual understanding.
Beverly Harrison said,
“Where anger arises, the energy to act is present. . . We must never lose touch with the fact that all serious human moral activity, especially action for social change, takes its bearings from the rising power of human anger.”
I don’t get really angry with individuals very often, but I am simply furious about much of what is going on in our world, our country, and our state. I am outraged at the increasing income disparity between the rich and the poor and that people can work full time and not earn enough to survive. I am furious that our politicians have put their votes up for sale and that corporations have been allowed to buy our democratic institutions. I am angry about what we are doing to our planet. I am appalled that our state attorney general has told judges not to process the adoptions for married same gender couples. That particular one makes me even angrier because it feels personal. I remember the relief I felt when Anne and I were able to legally adopt each other’s biological children when they were young. How dare a state that pretends to care about children deny a child the right to a legal relationship with both of their loving parents?
My solution to such anger is to write, agitate, and OK yeah, preach about it. “Don’t mourn, organize,” is good advice for all of us.
Marge Piercy wrote the following poem:
Anger shines through me.
Anger shines through me.
I am a burning bush.
My rage is a cloud of flame.
My rage is a cloud of flame
in which I walk
like a precipice.
How the streets
of the iron city
and the dirty air
between me and things,
A good anger acted upon
is beautiful as lightning
and swift with power.
A good anger swallowed,
a good anger swallowed
clots the blood
Our anger can be good if we own it, understand it, and use it wisely. My prayer is that we will not use our righteous rage against ourselves or against the innocent.
Our closing hymn this morning “My life goes on in endless song,” was written during the McCarthy era, the Red Scare, when many lost their jobs or were imprisoned because they would not betray their friends. The energy of anger is shining in the words of that song, but there is also love, hope, and faith.
Together they create the melody.
What should we do with our anger?
Shall we hold it inside?
Until it explodes
Scorching the earth with hate
Fight like there’s no tomorrow
Burn down every bridge that we see?
What should we do with our anger
Shall we bury it deep in our hearts
Feed it with resentment
A smoldering coal that smokes
And colors our vision grey.
What shall we do with our anger?
Shall we release it bit by bit
Hiding a nasty word with a smile
A dagger sly behind a hug
A pretended innocence
Oh, what shall you do with your anger
What shall I do with mine?
Can we build a fire to light our way
And warm our ragged hearts?
Can fury can give us the energy
To build the world anew?
Can justice come from rage?
Can anger be guided by love?
Can it become a blessing
Instead of a curse?
Only love will make it so.
Call to worship (click here)
Music Video (Click here)
The sermon was not video-taped this week.
What is love? That is a complicated question. Most of you know by now that this church is not a place to come if you are looking for easy answers.
Frank Sinatra sang about love being a many splendored thing.
“It’s the April rose that only grows in the early spring. Love is nature’s way of giving a reason to be living.”
The Greeks, who were quite excellent at philosophy, broke love down into four different types: Eros, a passionate and intense love that arouses romantic feelings, Storge, is family or brotherly love, something you might feel for your children or your very best friend, Phileo, is the affection you feel for the people you like, and last, but not least, Agape, which is love in the verb form, an unconditional love that requires action.
The Greeks distinguished their forms of love not only by the qualities of the different types of love they were defining, but also about where that love was directed: to a lover, a family member, a friend, or to the world.
What they left out was love of self, which is an odd and significant omission I think. I have no clue as to why, except maybe it was just assumed that people love themselves. The Greeks were much less guilt ridden and prone to self-esteem issues than is our modern culture.
It is very difficult to love anyone else if you don’t love and respect yourself. Can we apply all four of the Greek forms of love to ourselves? Can we like ourselves as in Phileo? Other people like us, so it shouldn’t be that hard for us to like ourselves as well. Can we love ourselves like a close family member? After all, we know ourselves better than we know anyone else. I also don’t think there is anything wrong with self-love in terms of Eros. We are all sexual beings; passion is part of our nature. Loving yourself, satisfying yourself sexually, is not a sin. We’re probably going to need talk more someday soon about sin and what it means in our religious tradition, but for me, a sin is something that actually causes harm, not just something that someone says you shouldn’t do.
And then there is Agape, love as a verb, love as unconditional. Agape love directed inward is a form of radical self-acceptance. It drives us toward spiritual health, and moves us to make the changes in our own lives that allow us to focus that Agape love on other people and on the planet.
So what do you think love is? Do you think it can be divided into categories like the Greeks did?
My friend, the Rev. David Miller, who serves as the minister of one of our congregations in San Diego, CA. has been posting quotes about love on his facebook page.
Some of my favorites are:
Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker
“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”
Rita Mae Brown, Riding Shotgun
“Sorrow is how we learn to love. Your heart isn’t breaking. It hurts because it’s getting larger. The larger it gets, the more love it holds.”
“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth.
Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.
“There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”
Everyone, it seems, has something to say about love. The minister who officiated at my recent wedding asked both Anne and I what we had learned about love in our 39 years together. This is what I wrote:
What I have learned about love is this: it doesn’t come easy. It isn’t a happily ever after riding into the sunset with a prince or princess by your side. Soul mates aren’t magic mirrors reflecting back how you want to see yourself or them. Reach through the mirror, pay attention to the cracks. They are how the love – and light gets in. Leonard Cohen taught me a lot with that line. You aren’t royalty either, just a frog like other frogs. Life is the swamp can be lovely though. It is not necessary to sing every song in tune or dance in time with a perfect rhythm.
Marriage means so much more if you have been engaged for decades. I know this from experience. Because engagement is the thing, one of them, that makes a marriage, a partnership, work. Be real and honest and yourself. Listen carefully. Pay attention. Hold your lover’s hand, but don’t hold them back, and try to catch them when they fall. You will stumble too. Stay engaged even after you are married. I think that might be the key.
In any case be grateful. If someone really loves you, it is a miracle
Love, like justice, does not come easy, but with enough grace, with enough effort, it comes.
That is what I wrote, and the minister used some of those words in the ceremony. After the wedding, our daughter gave us a toast. It really moved me, and I am going to read parts of it for you.
“Not many daughters get the opportunity to give a wedding toast for their parents. It’s kind of an unusual situation. It’s like, “when I first met Anne and Theresa…I was in the womb. I remember when they were just two young lovebirds, the vague sound of their voices coming through to my amniotic sac.”
I also can’t ruminate on their future together. It’s like “spoiler alert,” 39 years later.. things are pretty good. You still get nervous when the other person drives. You are still in love. You have 3 kids.. and they turned out awesome.
So, I don’t get to do the typical wedding toast. But, instead I do have this really remarkable opportunity to celebrate my moms’ relationship. I want to talk about what I’ve learned from my witty, opinionated mothers.
Especially with all of the news and debate about marriage equality today, I’ve had lots of time to think about my moms and the impact they have had on me. Am I all screwed up because I have lesbian moms? Am I confused about who I am? Do I wish I had a dad?
I’ve had to answer those questions a lot. And the answer is no.
My mothers are parents who chose to be together, in spite of real obstacles.
These are parents who pushed their children to always be who we are, no matter what other people think. Parents who taught us to advocate for our rights and for the rights of others. Parents who taught us to love who we love, no matter what.
They have taught me so much, but because today is a wedding, I want to talk in particular about what I’ve learned from my mothers about love.
Some of you might know that last summer, I hiked the John Muir Trail. It’s a backcountry trail that runs 218 miles from Yosemite, over 8 mountain passes to Mt. Whitney, all in the backcountry. This is something I would never have considered if not for the wonderful summers my mothers spent taking the three of us camping in Yosemite, in Yellowstone, in Glacier national parks.
One of the things I was thinking about as I was hiking, was my moms. I had called them from an outpost a week into the hike, and they told me that they had been officially married in California.
It’s good I had my moms to think about because while the trail was beautiful, actually hiking it was also the hardest thing I have ever done. My backpack was too heavy; it weighed 45 pounds. I had to clamber up these endless 10-mile inclines, up thousands of feet in elevation, to get to each peak. And then I had to do it all over again. Those climbs were absolutely horrible.
But then, I’d get to the top.
And the top was unfailingly the most beautiful place I’d ever been, each peak more breathtaking than the last. There were turquoise alpine lakes, wildflowers, and snowcapped peaks, the whole world spread out below your feet.
And I realized, this is what I know about love. And I learned it from my moms. It is hard sometimes. It can be horrible. There are endless switchbacks and sometimes you don’t know if they’ll end, you’re not sure if you’ll make it to the top.
But you keep working at it, you put your head down and put one foot in front of the other and you make it to the top. And at the top is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been.
And then you do it all over again.
And, mommy and mama, you’ve been through a lot together. You’ve climbed a lot of long uphills, and I’ve watched you put the work into many of them. You have reached so many glorious peaks. Thank you for your perseverance and your honesty, your commitment and your love. You’ve taught me that the things that matter, like love, take work.”
That made me cry when I heard it, and it still makes me a bit teary-eyed.
We have had some hard things to deal with in this community the last few weeks. Many of us have been experiencing grief and loss. But even in the midst of painful emotions, we know that life is better because of love. Life is better with you.
I want to end this sermon with you, reading something together. Please turn in your grey hymnals to #639. The words are from 1 John 4. Your part is in italics.
Let us love one another, because love is from God.
Whoever does not love God does not know God, for God is love.
No one has ever seen God, if we love one another, God lives in us.
God is love and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them.
There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.
Those who say “I love God” and hate their brothers and sisters are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
No one has seen God, if we love one another, God lives in us.
Namaste my friends, Namaste.