Call to Worship (here)
Our Unitarian Universalist tradition draws from many sources. The six primary ones are listed in the front of the grey hymnal, the page before hymn #1, if you want to glance at them. We tend to know our principles better than our sources, but the sources are what really ground our faith and uniquely distinguish it from other secular and religious institutions.
Ellen just spoke of one of those sources, the fourth, which is “the Jewish and Christian teachings that call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” Ellen learned much about love and about justice from her Jewish education. Martha and Waitsill Sharp were inspired to act from that same source. In 1939, most Unitarians identified as Christians, as followers of the prophet Jesus. Not exclusively so, of course; we almost always have had a liberty clause which guaranteed freedom of thought and belief for both congregations and ministers.
I will talk more about the history of our free faith in a couple of weeks, but today I want to focus on the story of the Sharps.
Their story, for us, relates directly to our second source which 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.
Martha and Waitsill Sharp confronting evil directly as they worked to rescue people. They left their young children and risked their lives for people they did not know in another part of the world. Why did they do it? Why would anyone leave their children?
They were already leading lives of meaning. They were already making a positive difference in the world. Martha was a social worker. Waitsill was a minister. They both were aware of the terrible threat of the Nazis. Waitsill preached about it, more than once I am sure.
They knew what they believed. They knew that all human life had value and that everyone deserved justice and compassion. As Unitarians, they also knew that humans had a responsibility to act. They could not stand by and expect God to save anyone.
But I don’t think they would have gone at all except for one very important reason.
They were asked. They weren’t the first people asked. 17 ministers had already said no, but for the Sharps when someone asks you to do something important, you had to at least think seriously about doing it. They said yes. They traveled to Prague.
So much of our Unitarian Universalist history comes from that time and place. While in Prague, they met Rev. Norbert Chapek, the creator of our flower communion. They were working with the newly formed service committee, the committee that commissioned Hans Deutsch to create our symbol of the flaming chalice.
The chalice was used for the rescue work that the Sharps and others did. Every time we light our chalice we are honoring that legacy of confronting evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power love.
Like any legacy, we can either ignore it or try to live up to it. I think most of us try, the best we can, to do what our faith calls us to do in the world. This congregation’s mission statement, “Live your sacred • Transform through love • Act with courage” is certainly in keeping with that legacy.
The powers and structures of evil are rising today, in our very own country. How will we answer the call to confront them with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love?
We have virtually the same story that most countries had during WWII. Jews were denied entry with the excuse that some of them might be Nazi spies. Today the excuse is that they might be terrorists or criminals. But people are not skittles, but it can make for some interesting metaphors.
I found the following on facebook written by Eli Bosnick.
I am going to try and skip over some of the profanity.
The Sharps loved their lives, but they knew that other lives were just as important. They were willing to eat the skittles.
Would you eat the skittles?
Today, in America, the forces of hate, misogyny, and white supremacy have been unleashed. They have always been here, but they are more blatant because of the rhetoric of the Presidential campaign. I can’t tell you how to vote, but I can say to vote your conscience and your values. There is so much at risk in this election for so many vulnerable people.
People of color are being executed almost daily in our streets. Just a few days ago, Terrence Crutcher’s car broke down. The police arrived and this unarmed man put his hands up as they directed. He had not committed a crime. But he was shot down and killed simply because he was a large black man and so looked like a “bad dude.”
Meanwhile while white college boys spend a couple of months in county jail after they are convicted for brutal rapes.
Ending racism will require much more than putting a slogan on a wall, or even preaching a sermon about it.
The Sharps risked all. Their actions saved lives, but their own children were hurt by their absences. Their marriage fell apart.
What are you willing to risk to save lives? Black lives because we believe black lives matter? Immigrant lives, Muslim lives, because those lives matter too. I’d use the phrase “all lives matter here” if that line had not been corrupted by those who believe that only the lives of people who are exactly like them really matter.
The Sharps did not care about the religion or the race of the people they saved. And back then, Jewish people were considered to be a different race. We know now that race is simply a social construct, that there is no intrinsic difference between any of us, no matter the color of our skin. . But even in that time of ignorance, the Sharps knew, because of their Unitarian faith, that all life is sacred, to be treasured and protected.
Others had said no, but the Sharps said yes when given the opportunity to make a difference, to do something important with their lives.
The poet Mary Oliver asks us what we will do with our “one wild and precious life.”
It is the same question Martha Sharp asked her grandson, “What are you going to do with your life that is important?”
Will you say yes if someone asks you to do something scary for justice? It doesn’t have to be life threatening, although these days you can never tell. Maybe it is just speaking up when you hear hate expressed in a public place – like when you hear someone in the grocery store rudely telling someone else to speak English instead of Spanish. Anyone ever heard that? I have, even here in California where Spanish was spoken long before English was. Maybe it trying to talk to some of your relatives who have been swayed by the politics of fear.
Explain why you care, why you are willing to take a risk for justice and compassion.
Explain that your faith calls you to have a warm heart and an open mind. Tell the story of the Sharps. Explain how that story has inspired you. They were asked and they said yes. Consider yourselves asked. May it be so.
What would it take
For you to decide?
Would you stay safe or go
When humanity called?
Would you leave your children
Your work and your home?
To risk your body
Maligned and abused.
How deep is your faith?
How strong is your call?
Martha and Waitsill
Just had to go.
Evil was growing
It had to be stopped.
They met hate with love
And saved who they could
This is the challenge
We still face today
Hatred and fear
Build walls to keep
Children die in the desert
And drown in the sea
What would it take
For you to decide
To answer their cries
With love in your heart?
Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War is an account of a daring rescue mission that occurred on the precipice of World War II. It tells the story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who left their children behind in the care of their parish and boldly committed to multiple life-threatening missions in Europe. Over two dangerous years they helped to save hundreds of imperiled political dissidents and Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation across Europe.
If there is a stairway into heaven
There must be an elevator too
Every one is welcome
You don’t have to believe
You don’t have to be good.
You don’t need to worry
About playing a harp
You just have to come
And be who you are
If a God does exist
And I am never quite sure
Then God must be kinder,
Not meaner than most.
We won’t have to crawl
Grovel or whine
We’ll just push the up button
And ride into the clouds
Along with our enemies
Neighbors and friends.
Come in today, come in.
Come in peace, come in hope.
Come in sadness and in despair
Bring all that you carry
And all that you are.
Know you are welcome here.
Come in this morning,
And let your tears flow
In memory and pain.
Let the gentle waters of the spirit,
Soothe you and heal you
As you drink your fill
Of community and of hope.
The river of life flows on
With the force of all our yearnings.
The strong stones of our journeys
Build the pathways to our healing.
Come in peace, come in hope
Come in sadness and in despair
May our thirst be quenched
May we all find the strength
To meet hate with love
And carry the blessing into the world.
Amen and blessed be.
Some of you were here a couple of weeks ago when I talked to you about John Murray and how he did not believe in hell. Do any of you remember that? I heard afterward that some of the younger people were a little confused about the idea of hell, and weren’t really sure what “hell” means. I think that this congregation takes Murray’s “Give them hope not hell” pretty seriously. That is a very good thing, but just so you know, some people, some religions, believe that people who do bad things are punished by God after they die in a place they call hell. Unitarian Universalists rarely believe in that kind of god. I am not at all sure what, if anything, happens to us after we die, but I think it is just the same for all of us. We might become part of a larger spirit, or maybe we simply return to the earth to be reborn in another form. Maybe a flower or a tree, maybe a squirrel or even a bug. Who knows for sure? There is no punishment after death though, that doesn’t make any sense to me.
I think people created the idea of hell because sometimes people do really bad things that hurt other people. When someone does something bad it is easy to get angry at them and want to hurt them back. If we can’t punish them ourselves, we want God to do it.
Today is our water and stones service, a time when we gather together as a community in preparation for the fall and the coming year. This year it is also the 15th anniversary of a day when some people did some really bad, really terrible things. On September 11, 2001, they flew airplanes into buildings in New York and in Washington DC and killed a lot of people.
Those of us who were alive on that day will never forget it. Those of you who don’t remember it at all may want to talk to your parents or the people who care for you about it more later. It was a terrible and a very sad day. It is important, I think, to cry when bad things happen and when people are hurt. Tears can help us heal and go on and find hope again.
The choir is going to sing a song for us now about finding hope, about opening the windows of our hearts and letting peace and love inside.
I may ask you to come up again and help me later in the service, if you’d like to do that, but for now, you can go back and sit with your families.
Reflection 2 prayer
Open the window, let the dove fly in.
A dove is, of course, a symbol of peace. We need more peace in the world and in our own lives. It is so easy to feel despair when so many terrible things happen. Relationships fall apart, jobs are lost, we are bullied at school, the rent goes up, and people we love can die. Then there are mostly random events like earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes and tornados. Humans also create suffering for ourselves and others by things we both do and do not do. Global climate change is already killing people, and it will get much worse if we don’t act more decisively to protect our planet. What really breaks our hearts, however, is the pain and suffering that is intentional.
Today is the 15th anniversary of a planned mass murder. It wasn’t the first, and as we know too well, it wasn’t and won’t be the last. From slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples, to Sandy Hook, Oklahoma City, Boston, and Orlando. I can’t list them all, there are too many, even limiting it to the United States. That alone is heartbreaking, and I haven’t even mentioned war, but I should. We have to name the Holocaust as well.
The horror of what people can do to other human beings gives us so much to weep about, so much to fear. When I feel overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world, I hear echoes of the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah, crying out,
“Is there no balm in Gilead, Is there no physician there?
So why is there no healing for my people?”
His cry is our cry, aren’t we all looking for a balm to ease our suffering? For a physician to heal our wounds and the wounds of our world?
One of my favorite theologians, Mr. Rodgers, said that when something bad is happening, to look for the helpers, because they are always there. As Unitarian Universalists, we pride ourselves on being helpers. In a couple of weeks, I will talk about what some of us did during the Holocaust to try and help.
When we are in trouble, if we can, we also reach out and take the hand of another person. We just hold on, as tight as we can, feeling that human connection.
One memory of September 11th that stays with me is the images I saw of people either jumping or falling from one of the towers before it collapsed. The images were tiny, but you could tell they were people. Two of them were holding hands as they fell. We don’t know who they were, how could we? Were they coworkers, friends, strangers, or lovers? We don’t know their religion, race, sexual orientation, immigration status, or gender identity. We don’t know what jobs they had or how much money they were making. None of that really matters. They were two people who held onto each other. It did not save their lives, but I believe it gave them strength.
I also believe that religious communities such as this one can give us each the strength we need to face whatever comes, to work as helpers to try and heal some of the hurt in the world. Our tears are healing too as they wash over our wounds with a gentle salt caress.
Will you pray with me?
Hold us as we weep and give us the strength and courage to do what we can to help heal this broken world. We are grateful for communities such as this one that offer comfort and meaning in confusing and even terrifying times.
We are grateful for the water that quenches our thirst and grows the plants that become our food. But mostly, we are grateful for the beloved companions who travel with us on this journey we call life.
We pray that those who hunger might someday have their fill. We pray that all will someday understand that we are all connected, that no one should be left out, that every drop of water and every single soul matters.
We also offer prayers this for members and friends of this community:
We pray for all who are suffering in body or in spirit. We pray that they might soon find both comfort and healing.
If there are other people who should be mentioned, in prayer or in gratitude, please say their names now, just their names.
Blessings on all who have been named and upon all who have named them. May peace be with you.
We will now have a time of silence for your personal prayer or meditation. Silence, BELL
Blessings on this Church and upon our wider communities! Blessings on the world and all its creatures! Blessing on all of us. Namaste. Hymn #95 there is more love
This ritual is for young and old, for rich and poor, for gay and straight, for the able and less able, for people of all backgrounds, races, and situations. It is for founding members and first time visitors.
One of my favorite poems is I’ve Know Rivers by Langston Hughes, an African American poet from the Harlem renaissance of the 1920’s and also a gay man. It is in our hymnal #528. Let’s read it together.
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve know rivers ancient as the
World and older than the flow of
Human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when
dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and
It lulled me to sleep.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I looked upon the Nile and raised
The pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the
Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
Went down to New Orleans and
I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn
All golden in the sunset.
I’ve know rivers:
Ancient dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Our souls grow deep, I believe, when we become more aware of our connections. Souls, like rivers, cannot stand still, movement, change is in their very nature. Just as rivers seek the sea, we humans seek connection with something greater than ourselves.
One of our tasks, as human beings, and collectively as a religious community, is to deepen our souls, to increase our understanding, and to move forward toward that transformative moment when we know that we are not alone. That no one is alone. We are somebody, each of us, and just like in our opening hymn. And in our final hymn this morning we will sing about the peace, the sorrow, the joy, the pain, the love, the tears, and the strength each of us has within us. When we share our tears and our strengths, they fill us and bind us together as we move toward that deep sea of mutual care and understanding. All of it, all of the individual drops of our complicated lives come together and create the spirit of life that can both heal and transform. It is then we really feel the power of the river, the power of love. It is a wellspring of the spirit that calls us to drink deeply and be satisfied and renewed. Some of you may have brought water or a stone with you today that you collected from somewhere special to you. Some of you may have forgotten or simply didn’t know that we would be doing this today. No worries, we have extra water and extra stones. In a minute, I will invite each of you to come forward to add some water to this vase (bowl?). This is a sacred and quiet ritual. After the service there will be plenty of time to share your summer adventures with your friends. Today, let the water you pour symbolize the tears you have shed in your life and offer that sadness and grief into the care of this community. Add your water without any words if that feels right or, if you are so moved, perhaps whisper a word or two that describes what you are feeling or who you are remembering. Jesus will be playing while we do this, so not everyone will hear whatever words may be spoken, but we will all be holding on to each other, with the fullest attention of our hearts. After you have added some water, move to the altar that has the stones and add one to symbolize the strength you have within you and the faith in the power of the love that sustains us all. After you have placed your stone, please select a different one to take with you. Keep it warm in your hand as you return to your seats. Keep it to remind you of the strength we can find together.
Ritual blessing Now we will bless this water and these stones. (Children) Blessed be this water gathered here from far and near;Blessed be these stones, strong and solid as the earth. Blessed be those whose lives are lived like flowing springs, and those who are steady as a rock. Blessed be this community of memory and hope, which in its coming together, in joy and sorrow, in struggle and in triumph, makes this water and these stones holy. We bless this water. (say it with me)We bless this water.And for the stones that are on this altar and the ones we are holding in our hands.We bless these stones. (say it with me) We bless these stones.
Does the changing of the season
Speak to your spirit?
The warm glow of sunsets
The rustle of autumn leaves.
We must prepare for winter
Even as we bask
In the fading light.
What did you harvest this year?
Will it feed you?
Will you have enough
To share with our hungry world?
I fell down a lot when I was a kid, so many times that I can’t count them. I always had skinned and scabby knees. All kids fall a fair amount I suppose, my own children certainly took some tumbles. I may have fallen more than is usual, however, as I had polio when I was just a year old, and my legs are a bit uneven which can throw my coordination off. It was hard to learn to skip, and I never learned to skate. I am just not physically graceful.
As adult I have only had three falls that were at all serious, which is really quite miraculous.
Once was just this last Sunday, thankfully just after and not just before I lead my first worship service at a new church. There is a step in the back of the chancel that was not yet embedded in my memory. While I was putting my things together before heading to the social hour, I tripped on that step, and down I went. No major damage, but my shoulder is still sore from where I landed. The first service at a new church is a big deal.
The time before was in my driveway in Ogden, Utah. I was on my way to the church where I was to lead worship for the congregation and for the attendees of our district assembly. There were Unitarian Universalists from all over the western states, and the sanctuary was packed. It was very big deal to be leading worship for that gathering. I preached that day with a black eye and a scab on my chin. I also damaged one of my knees in that fall, a knee that still gives me some trouble.
The first time I took a big fall as an adult was after going out to Thai food with an old and very dear friend. We left the restaurant and crossed the street on our way to the car. The pavement was uneven, and I tripped and my face landed on the curb. I broke my glasses that time. The next day I got on a plane to DC for my very first meeting with the then Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Kenneth Apfel. The meeting was an extremely big deal, something the organization I worked with had put a lot of effort into setting up. I met him with a black eye, taped-up glasses, and a few scabs on my face.
I don’t fall often, obviously, partly as I tend to be fairly careful knowing how clumsy I can be. I do trip a lot. But it seems my serious falls have all been at times where something significant is happening. It is likely just a random coincidence. I don’t always fall down at momentous occasions. I might have stumbled a bit at my wedding, but I definitely did not fall to the ground.
We can draw some meaning even from random events, if we want to do so.
These three falls of mine all happened around events that were highlights of my professional careers, moments that I felt both lucky and honored to have experienced. Moments of grace, if you will.
We can’t all be graceful, but our lives really can be full of grace.
How’s that for finding an accidental blessing?
Call to worship (here)
I love the story of John Murray that we shared with the children this morning. True or not, it is one of the very few miracle stories we have in our faith tradition. The wind blew Murray’s ship to Thomas Potter’s farm back in 1770. The wind then stalled just long enough so he was there on a Sunday. After he preached only once, the wind came up and he was gone again. It was a very short dance he had with those good people, just one sweet song where he preached about love. Just like the old sailing ships needed wind to move, so congregations need the music of the spirit to help them dance into their future.
The story doesn’t say really what happened after he left, but I imagine the congregation’s life went on, just as Murray’s did. They probably did great things, just as Murray did – or maybe not.
The particular character and possibilities of a religious community are much deeper and stronger than any change any minister might bring. I believe that congregations have metaphorical hearts and that those hearts beat out a singular rhythm when the community gathers for worship in its sacred space. It creates a living breathing space, a place of comfort, and a place of hope. It is more than the roof and walls that give us shelter this morning; you were a community before you moved to this building. Like a plant that has been repotted, you have given yourself room to grow. But it is your plant, the one started from a tiny seed of just a few people, that will flourish here, not anyone else’s.
The flaming heart of this congregation was kindled by people like John Murray, centuries ago.
That spark was then carried here by the founding members of the UUP. With grace it will warm the hearts of other people who will be here long after all of us are gone.
But any living breathing creature changes as it lives. A new minister does bring some change to a church, sometimes simply by being new, a different face, a different voice.
The poet Robert Frost said that:
Ends and beginnings – there are no such things.
There are only middles.
Frost was right in some ways. All of us have come from somewhere. We are here together now, but our individual journeys did not begin today. We are in the middle of our lives.
We are beginning our time together today, however, and I know that for me it will be a day that I will remember.
A beginning can be also be an anxious time.
Some of you may be anxious today. Who is this new minister anyway? What will her sermons be like? Will they irritate me or put me to sleep? Will I like her? Will she like me? Will she help our church grow? Will she want to change it too much and too quickly? Will she listen to us? Will she care about us, and will she love us? What is the deal; is she an interim or not?
There may be other questions on your mind as well. If you are new, you may be wondering how you will fit in here.
Will you be held and valued for who you are and not just what you bring? Will this become a place of sanctuary for you, a place of inspiration, a place of comfort, a place of spiritual growth?
Will you be able to “Live your sacred and learn to Transform through love and Act with courage?” That is the commitment to action that this congregation has made. It is a challenging and worthy one.
Many of you may also be missing Reverend Mary today.
Some of you may be excited, eager for whatever the future might bring. Some of you may just be tired.
All of those questions and all of the emotions that may be stirring within you right now are OK. Whatever you are thinking and feeling right now can be held here. Just breathe a minute and recognize and honor whatever is going on within you.
All your questions won’t be answered today. All those feelings won’t be resolved right away either. More questions and more feelings will also come to the surface over time.
All of us have come from somewhere. I want to share some of where I come from with you now.
I was born and grew up in Watsonville CA. I am 66 years old, married, finally, to my wife, Anne, who I have been with since 1975. We have three adult children all currently living in the Bay area.
I went to UC Berkeley from 1968-1974, getting a BA in demography and a MA in sociology. I then worked for the Social Security Administration for twenty-five years in Richmond, CA, mainly in management positions. I took early retirement in 2001, partly because George Bush was elected, but that is a long story and not appropriate for worship. I was an active lay leader at our Congregation in San Rafael from 1994 until I started seminary at Starr King. I did my internship in Annapolis, Maryland and served as the minister of the UU Church of Ogden from September 2007 until June of 2014.
From mid-August 2014 until July of 2015, I served as the 3/4-time developmental minister for the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists in Berkeley, CA.
Last year, I explored being retired.
Those are barest details, the resume if you will, of where I have come from, to be here, with you, now. But those facts don’t explain any of the reasons why.
So why am I here?
I was enjoying being retired. After all, I had an incredibly satisfying full-time settled ministry in Utah. My work as a developmental minister with the Berkeley Fellowship was good too in some ways, but it was also frustrating. Their history had wounded them in ways that made healthy relationships difficult to create. After I resigned from that position, I resolved not to take a position with another congregation unless it was 1. An easy commute from my home in San Rafael, 2. Relatively healthy 3. Needed and wanted what I had to offer and, most importantly #4. Sounded both exciting and fun.
I thought I’d likely just stay retired. But then, but then, Rev. Mary told me that she would be leaving.
Petaluma. Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma, a young congregation without a lot of baggage, a growing congregation, with good energy, and a very positive reputation. Nearby, healthy, and in the middle of discernment about the transition from a family style congregation to a pastoral one. It is a transition that I helped lead the Ogden church, I know the dynamics and have ideas about how make that transition go relatively smoothly. Could anything be more exciting or fun?
I am here in what I am calling, for lack of a better term, as a transitional minister. I am under a contract approved by your board, not the congregation as a whole. It is a two-year contract, with an option to renew for an additional year. I know that the congregation was looking for an official interim minister, but official interim ministers can only stay for a maximum of two years. That was the position I applied for, but as the search committee, the board, and I discussed it and thought about it more, we realized that with a half-time position, two years might not be quite enough time to help decide if you wanted to a settled minister and to prepare you for that possibility. You have not yet had a “settled” minister, one that is called to serve you by vote of the entire congregation. Rev. Mary was also hired by the board. A called mister has a very different relationship with a congregation compared to a minister that is hired. That difference is one of the things we will be talking about, in sermons and other conversations as our time together unfolds.
Hopefully, I have answered a few of your questions this morning, although I know you have many more. You have a sense now of my preaching style and I don’t see anyone sleeping yet. If you are really exhausted some coming Sunday though, feel free to rest your eyes a bit. Attending church should renew your spirit and simple sleep can be healing too.
I promise to be honest with you and hope that you will be honest with me. All of us will make mistakes, and all of us won’t always agree about everything. That is OK, it is as it should be. I promise to listen to you, to try and understand you both as individuals and as a congregation, to care for you and to do my very best for you. I hope that you will help me with this and will invite me into your lives as your minister. I hope that you will tell me what you want and what you need.
I will work very hard to grow this church, if that is what you want to do. During the board meeting last Sunday, Carol said that you have always, whenever a decision needed to be made, chosen what you hoped would lead to growth.
I also want this congregation to grow, to fill these pews to overflowing, to maybe move to a larger space, one that would truly be your own. I want this congregation to grow, but not to make myself or even you happy. I know that there must be many people in Petaluma that are desperately seeking a faith community such as this one. It would be selfish to not welcome them in, to offer them warmth and caring, hope and healing.
As the Reverend Barbara Pescan has said, there are so many people down in the valley, looking for their way home. We must light a bright lamp for them, so they can find their way. Our lives will also be enriched by their presence.
There will be changes; there always are, even if we have no idea of what they will be. We will also change, all of us. I know I will. The relationship of a minister and a congregation, even a temporary minister as I am, is an organic one. We will bend in the wind together, learning to dance to the music that is calling out to our spirits.
Amen and Blessed Be
The curtain is up
On the stage of the world
The actor takes aim
Against all I believe
Is he speaking his truth
Or playing a game?
Lives are at stake
There have to be rules.
I’ve read my history
I’ve lived it too long
Lessons hard learned
We can’t feed this beast.
Hatred is catching
And fear no relief
There has to be love
Compassion at least
Bring down the curtain
Let’s change the game
Greatness is worthless
When bartered for souls
Do you hear the music blowing
Soft as wind in trees
Do you see people moving
To a rhythm all their own?
Does the pulse of your heart
Beat in time with a spinning world?
There is no other answer
We must learn to dance
On our feet or in our chairs
Across the walls that divide us
Into the rooms inside our souls.
Spacious the world is
After all is said and done
Mystery surrounds us
And to Mystery we return
The chorus of our lives is short
It is the melody that matters
Joe Biden got it exactly right last night during his speech (Click) at the DNC when he said Trump is most famous for telling people they are fired and looking like he is enjoying it.
That comment really spoke to me.
I have fired people. I don’t remember exactly how many, not a lot, maybe 5 or 6 when I was a manager in the federal service, and a couple of times as a minister. It is never easy and it certainly isn’t fun. Sometimes it has to be done, however. With only two exceptions, the people I fired had problems getting to work on time on a reasonably consistent basis. After repeated warnings, it became clear that the very basic job requirement of showing up, was not going to be met. The mission was suffering because their job was not being done. So I fired them, but I also felt bad for them. I hoped they would learn a lesson from the experience and do better in their next job. The other two were individuals that just weren’t suited for the jobs they were in. They weren’t able to meet the minimum job requirements at a satisfactory level. I could only hope they went on to find something else they could do well.
Each and every time, however, firing someone has been hard and has made me sad. Those individuals had inherent worth and dignity and being fired was a very painful experience for them. I felt of them, but needed to temper my sadness for them with my concern for the health of the organization to which I was responsible. Poorly performing employees can bring the whole team down. If the work is important, then it needs to be done well. Sometimes people need to be fired.
But sometimes, it is possible to fire someone up instead of firing them. I have done that too and it is highly satisfying to help turn someone’s poor performance around with clear expectations and encouragement when they make an effort to improve.
Someone who enjoys firing people is just not suited to leading our nation. Empathy, compassion, encouragement, inspiration are what I want to see in a leader. I don’t want to follow someone who will exclude large groups of people from the process, in essence firing everyone who might disagree. Instead, I want to follow someone who will fire us all up and inspire us to do our best. That is the message I am getting from the Democrats this week, one that resonates with me as a person of faith. I do wish the other party had fired their candidate, who is just not suited for the job.