Two Old Poems from my time at Starr King School for the Ministry

With all the negative attention that Starr King School for the Ministry is getting in the press these days, I thought I would share these two poems that I wrote while a student.  I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to study there.  Bless this school….

This prayer was presented at the school’s orientation worship service on Friday, Aug. 27, 2004.

Divine Spirit,

Bless this school,
Bless all of the staff, the students, and the very bones of this building.

Bless our collective hopes and our universal fears. Bless the congregations that nurture and support us, And those we nurture and support in turn.

Teach us to speak the truth,
Both with power and with care.
The world is so full of hurt,
The weight of oppression so heavy,
It sometimes threatens to still our very hearts. Add your endless compassion
To our awkward words and faltering phrases. Guide us to wisdom.
Steep us in humility.

Lend us your strength and power, Soul of all understanding,
May we ride your deep river of Grace Into the valley of justice revealed.

 

A poem from May 2006 when I graduated from SKSM

Seminary Garden

We live in a wild garden here.

Strange plants
Surround us as we wander.
Some with thorns
And some with — Oh so fantastic blooms.

f

Sometimes we tarry on a bench
In rapture captured by
What feels like awesome possibilities found. Other times we struggle,
Bodies and souls clenched in yearning,
Lost amidst the tough weeds
Deep in the dank muck of despair.
Twisting paths through shade and light Cooling breeze and warming sun
Graced by solemn mysteries
Giddy laughter
Leads us on.
Forever on
And back
Again, again
To where it seems we started.

Gates we find,
Some open
Some locked and rusted shut.
We enter –
Or we don’t.
We leave the gate unlatched behind us — Or we don’t.
Others wander with us for a time
Dear souls.

f

Our fingertips touch in passing A whispered exchange Passwords shared,
Promises given.

The garden feeds us as we grow Then
Too suddenly it seems
It is time.

f

Farewell friends
There are more gardens
And wonders to share
We may meet again.
— Or not
But still
Always
We have shared this particular garden, This particular time.
Many blessings on the journey.

Promises, Promises

promise

 

Call to worship (here)

Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith, not a creedal one. What does that mean?

Theodore Parker had this to say:

“Be ours a religion which like sunshine goes everywhere, its temple all space, its shrine the good heart, its creed all truth, its ritual works of love.”

Theodore Parker, a 19th century Unitarian Minister, is one of my favorites partly because it is said he wrote his sermons with a pistol on his desk because he usually had fugitive slaves hidden in the parsonage.

His ritual really was works of love. Naming our creed all truth was also a definite challenge to the religious mainstream of his day.

Being a creedless faith does not mean we don’t believe in anything.

Creed, by definition, is a system, doctrine, or formula of religious belief. The most famous is the Apostles Creed, the Roman Catholic version:

I believe in God,

the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried;

he descended into hell;

on the third day he rose again from the dead;

he ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;

from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting.

 

There are variations – the Lutherans say “Holy Christian Church” rather than holy catholic church, I guess to avoid confusion.

 

A creed is a statement of beliefs that are taken on faith. Members of religious institutions that have creeds are expected to agree with the beliefs specified in that creed. If you question the Virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or his unique divinity as the only son of God, you can be labeled a heretic. During the reformation, many were burned at the stake for that kind of questioning. Today, people are excommunicated from some faiths because they do not believe or follow all of a church’s teaching.

Parker’s line, “creed all truth,” was an affirmation that people should believe what is true and that truth is subject to testing, to analysis, to science as well as personal experience. Unitarian Universalists believe things. As individuals we all have beliefs, some of which we hold fiercely and passionately. There are also a lot of beliefs that we hold in common with one another. Those beliefs are not a creed, however, because they are not a requirement. They are also subject to change based upon new knowledge or new experience. “Our Creed all truth” but what that truth may be at any given time or for any given person is open to both questioning and doubt.

 

Some people consider our seven principles a creed. Many of us when we first read them, say, “oh yes, that is exactly what I believe!” Let’s look at them now if you will. They are on the back of the order of service. Please note the introductory lines. It does not begin with “I believe” like the apostles creed.   It says instead that we covenant – and what does covenant mean? Simply, a covenant is just a promise. As Unitarian Universalists we make promises; promises to do things. The seven principles of Unitarian Universalism are not statements of belief, but rather action plans that we try to follow both as congregations and as individuals. Action plans! Don’t you love it?

 

 

What matters most is not what we believe, but what we do, how we treat other people and how we care for our planet. That is a lot harder work than simply saying you believe in the virgin birth.

 

Am I treating that person that bugs me with respect? Am I fair and just when I deal with others?

Am I working toward the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all?

OK, I guess you have to believe that these are good things to do, so beliefs are a part of it. But the key is not the belief, but the promise of action.

 

We are described as a covenantal faith because we are a promise making people. We make promises to each other and do our best to be faithful to those promises.

 

Many of our Unitarian Universalist congregations have also adopted congregational covenants that contain promises about how we will be together in a religious community. A sample is as follows:

 

“As a member of our Unitarian Universalist community, I covenant to affirm and promote our Unitarian Universalist principles. I am mindful, that as an individual and as a member of this community, I am accountable for my words, deeds, and behavior.   Therefore, whenever we worship, work, or relate to one another, I covenant that I will:

 

 

 

Treat others with kindness and care, dignity and respect;

Foster an environment of compassion, generosity, fellowship, and
creativity;

Share in the responsibilities of congregational life;

Speak truth as I experience it and listen to all points of view;

Practice direct communication.  Speak to the individual -

not about them;

Act with respect and humility when I disagree with others;

Seek out understanding and wisdom in the presence of conflict;

Be true to my chosen path although the way may twist and turn, and
 support others on their journeys;

Resolve conflicts through intentional compromise and collaboration
 and, when necessary, request facilitation and/or mediation. “

 

Our board of trustees is in the midst of discussing adopting such a covenant for themselves, and is also considering proposing something similar for the congregation to discuss and then vote on. Such covenants have been proven to enhance the positive feeling of community and to reduce the rancor that can be involved in some conflict situations.

 

Speaking directly to each other and not about each other is probably the hardest promise in that covenant.   What fun it is to complain to a sympathetic ear about something someone else has done! How much harder it is to tell the person directly that you don’t like what they did and why.

 

One point on that: it really isn’t necessary to tell people to their face every little thing we don’t like about them. We all have personal flaws and quirks that it would be a bit rude to have pointed out to us. We all make mistakes. But if we are upset enough about something that we begin to gossip or complain to others about someone else, then we need to express those feelings directly.   It is about respect. It is how most of us would like to be treated. It also prevents misinformation from being spread and the community being torn apart by rumor and innuendo. Acting with respect and humility when you disagree with someone is also important. None of us can be right all of the time, and opinions expressed in arrogance are destructive in a religious community.

 

So no creed, but what do Unitarian Universalists believe? Has anyone here ever been asked that question? It can be a hard one, because there is not a simple answer to what is really the wrong question.

 

When someone asks that question, they are usually asking for a creed, for something that all Unitarian Universalists believe.

One way to answer is to say that we believe different things based on what makes sense to us as individuals. Some of us believe in God and some of us don’t. It can help here to say what you believe.

We don’t have a creed as a faith community, but as individuals many of us have personal credos. (kree- dough)

 

There is a curriculum for youth which includes drafting their own statements of belief, which is what a credo is. It is a good exercise for adults as well. What do you believe about God, about what happens after you die, about the purpose and meaning of life? Those are questions worth exploring.

 

Creeds, in and of themselves, are not bad things. It helps to know what you believe, because what you believe matters. Is all human life sacred? What does that mean to you in terms of supporting the death penalty? Are children born good, evil, or do they have potential for both? What does that mean to you if you are a parent or a teacher?

 

One of the especially sweet things about Unitarian Universalism is that we can have a wide variety of individual credos, a wide variety of beliefs, but can still decide to be together in religious community.   You can believe in the Apostles creed that I read earlier and be a Unitarian Universalist.

 

You can be an atheist, a pagan, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, you can hold any theology that makes sense to you.

 

You can still be figuring out what you believe, and you can change your mind about what that is over time.

 

The question, “What do Unitarian Universalists believe?” as I said, is really the wrong question. A better one is perhaps, “What is Unitarian Universalism?”

The best answer is that Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith. We are bound together by our promises. Covenants are not contracts, but statements of intent. How we live into those promises, the actions we take in our lives and in the world are what matters.

 

Covenants also aren’t rules or laws. You don’t go to jail or get throw out of the community if you break your promises from time to time. We all break our promises sometimes. We are human and we do not always live up to our best intentions. But living according to covenant can bring us back to those intentions when we fail short. We can forgive each other and ourselves. Then, we can we begin again together in love.

 

Bottom line, the test of faith in a Unitarian Universalist congregation is not about believing the right thing; it is rather about doing what is right. May we all strive to live up to our highest aspirations for the good.

Namaste

Promises

Promises, promises

Which ones will we make?

Are they ones we will keep

Or ones we will break?

 

What does it matter?

Do we really care?

Will we look for the courage?

To take up the dare?

 

It is not always easy

To be kind or be good

We’ll fall on our faces

We won’t do as we should

 

But it’s still worth the effort

Although we will fail

Even when we blow it

We won’t end up in jail

 

A promise is a promise

It’s not a command

It is pledge for the future

So we know where to stand

 

I’ll remind you of yours

You’ll remind me of mine

Our promises together

Will bear fruit in good time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

ballot-box.jpg-w=jpg

 

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

 

197

 

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

 

grassy-meadow-to-the-sea-231869

 

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.

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