Archive | March 2014

A Principled Path

1979620_10203042807898680_1342923190_nTwo young girls from the neighborhood attended church this morning, coming on their own for the second time.  They have clearly already made a friend, and this week they sang in our choir – one did the solo for “Hush”

Video is posted (here)

 

Call to Worship (here)

 Socrates, that ancient Greek philosopher that lived in 400 BCE is quoted as saying that the unexamined life is not worth living.

I am not sure that I completely agree with him. Life, all life, has value. There are animals that do not have the capacity for self-reflection that we humans have, but their lives are certainly worth living.  Those of you who have shared your lives with animal friends know this to be true.

But Socrates’ point is a good one. Because we can examine our lives, it is a waste to simply live our lives without ever thinking about what they mean.

20th century Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams took Socrates’ statement in a different direction. He said,

“An unexamined faith is not worth having, for it can be true only by accident. A faith worth having is faith worth discussing and testing…No authority, including the authority of individual conviction, is rightly exempt from discussion and criticism. (Adams, The Prophethood of All Believers 1986, 48).

Adams was pretty blunt about it.

“The free person does not live by an unexamined faith. To do so is to worship an idol whittled out and made into a fetish.

The free person believes with Socrates that the true can be separated from the false only through observation and rational discussion. In this view the faith that cannot be discussed is a form of tyranny.”

An unexamined faith is not worth having.

So how do we, as Unitarian Universalists, examine our faith? How do we examine our lives and learn how to follow a principled path, one that makes us feel more alive and one that makes a difference for our world.

We don’t have a common creed.  As individuals we have many different ideas about God, we have a wide variety of opinions about almost everything really.

We do have some things, however, that we have agreed upon. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what those things are?

Yes, we have our seven principles that can help guide us in our lives. What is your favorite principle? Call it out!

The majority of Unitarian Universalists are most strongly drawn to either to our first principle or to our seventh.   They are certainly the most often quoted in sermons and in conversations when you are trying to explain what Unitarian Universalism is all about.

Affirming and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person is important. So is respecting the interdependent web of all existence.

The first principle uplifts the rights of the individual and the seventh reminds us that we are part of something much larger. (Holding up hands) Individual – community.  We struggle with the tension between those two principles.

How do we handle a truly disruptive individual, respect their inherent worth, and still manage to move ahead as a community?  What if there is a decision to make and almost everyone is saying yes and a few people are loudly shouting “no”?

Do we try to please everyone or do we just keep fighting about whatever it is?  Do we sometimes just say, “thank you for your opinion, but we are going ahead, because it is the right thing to do for our community and for the world?”

Some say there is an inherent conflict between our first and seventh principles.

But isn’t part of respecting someone’s worth and dignity letting them know when they are doing something that diminishes of damages another person or group of people?  We offer real respect by engaging them

Similarly, the seventh principle respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part is about a lot more than respecting the environment.

It says we are all connected.  Every individual with all of their inherent worth and dignity is connected to every other individual.  So what do we do if there is a conflict between an individual and the needs of the wider community?

The difficulty we sometimes have is, I believe, that we too often forget that we have seven principles, not just two.  The first and seventh principles are like bookends.  Sometimes we need to pay attention to what is in the middle.

What’s in the middle?  What is our 4th principle?  It is OK to look it up.

Bingo. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning is the correct answer.

The other 4 principles lead us there, moving from the outside in.

The second principle, justice, equity and compassion in human relations points to the sixth, the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;

The second principle is about how we promise to treat individuals, while the sixth is what that means on a larger scale.

The third and fifth principles, acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations and the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; Those tell us what to do as we engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Free (one hand) Responsible (other hand)

Individual – Community

It is the essence of dramatic tension. Everyone who wants to live ethically, in right relationship to other people and to the world, to examine their life and their faith, struggles with contradictions.  How do we search for truth and meaning?  How do we discover what we are called to do with our lives? It is a call, a spiritual call. Being called is not something just for professional ministers.  And what is our usual answer? Who me?  Not me, God.

Moses said, “Choose my brother instead.  He’d be much better at this than me.”

The Buddha sat beneath a tree; Jesus went into the wilderness. They were seeking truth and meaning, wondering what their lives were really about.

Don’t we all do that?  We wonder why we are here, if our life has any purpose, any meaning beyond whatever societal success we might attain or not.  What is the point?  Does it matter what we do and how we live?

To find the answers to those questions, we have to go deep, very deep, inside of ourselves.  We have to look in the mirror and see our whole selves, our failings as well as our gifts. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I called to do?

Who are you?  Why are you here?

What are you called to do with your one precious life?

It can be scary.

The choir just sang the song “Hush”. It is in our teal hymnal. “Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name, oh my lord, oh my lord, what shall I do?”

What shall we do when we know our name is being called? What shall we do when we know that it is time, past time, for us to stand for freedom and for justice? What shall we do when we are afraid?

Fear has so many dimensions: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of ridicule, fear of power, fear of the unknown.

No, not me; choose someone else.

But while we are sitting beneath the tree, while we are wandering in the desert, while we are drawing whatever wisdom we can from each and every one of our six sources, we also need to be turning ourselves inside out, finding a path based on principles that we believe in.

The Buddha did not stay beneath the tree, he was called by the suffering he saw around him to go back into the world.  Moses came down from the mountain to lead his people to the Promised Land.  Jesus came back from the desert and began casting out demons and healing the sick. They answered their calls.

It doesn’t really matter who we think is calling.

 

It could be God and it could be something that is part of the human spirit. Personally, I believe that something beyond human understanding calls us to be the best people we can possibly be. It stirs our souls, comforts us in the dark nights, and keeps us going when we have lost almost all of our hope.

I tend to call it God, the Holy Spirit, or the divine presence. Name it what you will, but to live life fully, we all must tap into that source, that Spirit of Life that lets us know that our lives do have meaning; there is a reason we are here.

Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

There is a place, deep within each of us, that knows what will make us come alive.

Our justice work is most effective when it comes from that place, the place of passion as well as conviction.

If our heads, our hearts, and our spirits are all engaged then our actions and our witness has a power beyond measure.

It is so easy to look away, to turn from what we know is calling us, it is so easy to say, “Not me, someone else can do it better.”  “I am too busy.” It is easy to avoid looking inside to find what you know is yours to do.  We miss the chance to come fully alive.

Of course, it is also possible to get lost in endless contemplation, to ignore the world, and just seek our own personal enlightenment.

But if we listen to whatever is calling our name, then we hear the cries of the suffering and we feel the pain of the oppressed. The world becomes part of us, we know that we are not merely separate individuals, isolated in our own pain, our own worries, but we are contained in an intricate web of life, a web that is held together by compassion and by caring.

It isn’t a linear process, this spiritual seeking. A circle is created, energy is renewed, and the call is heard and answered.  The world is changed and we are changed, and the world is changed some more.

We are all called to be accountable to the Spirit that lives within us and to live in a way that reflects that Spirit and brings more love and justice into the world. Paying attention to and trying to live by our seven principles can help us do that.  The most important one is the one inside of all the others, that free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

We are all accountable to the Spirit of Life.  We nurture and grow our own souls, and so we will heal each other and the world. We can walk a principled path together.

 

song: “It’s a blessing you were born and it matters what you do.  What you Know about God is a part of the truth.  Let the beauty you love be what you do and you don’t have to do it alone.”

Link to song (here)

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When Life Flashes

When your life flashes

Behind your eyes

Memories crashing

Against time

Take a breath

Find the place

Where your toes

Can cling

To the muddy

Sometimes slippery

Ground

Grab a hand for balance

A sapling’s branch

A stone.

The stars spin

In the universe

And so

My friends

Do we

Hold on tight

It has been

And will be

Quite a ride.

 

 

Big Bang – Sing and Rejoice!

 

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It isn’t  often we get news like this.

Cosmic Inflation

Scientific evidence supporting the big bang theory has been discovered.  It should restore and reenergize our faith, knowing that we were created by an amazing cosmic event.

The universe is holy.  Everything is a miracle.

It is time to sing and rejoice!   Listen to this wonderful song by Peter Mayer

Peter Mayer 

 

Justice Sometimes Requires a Wrecking Ball

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Sometimes justice requires a wrecking ball.  The walls and structures of oppression need to come down.  Of course those in power want to maintain it.  Of course they are upset when courts don’t rule in their favor.

Utah is like that.  They are grasping at straws as the walls of their carefully constructed culture come crashing down around them.  Young Mormons are leaving the church in droves because of the rigidity of thought.   Thank you, internet, for enlarging their world.

The state’s case against marriage equality is truly bizarre.  It would be funny if real people weren’t being hurt.  If children were not being denied the right to have two legal parents, simply because their parents are of the same gender.  Utah does not allow anyone who is “co-habiting” to adopt.  It doesn’t seem to matter what is best for the children.

From the court case:

*See full news article (here)

“To allow the “difficult policy choice” about marriage rights to be made by “judicial fiat” would not be akin to the “narrow” decision that ended bans on interracial marriage, but instead would unleash “an unprincipled judicial wrecking ball hurtling toward an even more important arena of traditional state authority,” the state said.” 

“That wrecking ball would impose “novel” and “corrosive” principles about marriage and parenting and would undermine state sovereignty, according to the 120-page reply brief the state submitted to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals just minutes before its midnight deadline Friday.”

The arguments and images sound like hyperbole because they are, and they also show just how terrified the Utah state officials are of any change at all that might threaten Utah’s patriarchal theocracy.   They then name the risks of marriage equality:

“Those risks include: fewer and shorter heterosexual marriages; an increase in fatherless and motherless parenting; reduced birth rates and more out-of-wedlock births; less “self-sacrificing” by heterosexual fathers; and increased social strife, the state said.”

Utah’s birth rate could stand to drop a bit, not that marriage equality would help with that.  Those 10 kid families put a real strain on the schools – which our legislature barely funds.  I am really not clear how letting LGBT people get married can do any of the things listed.  And, nothing like trashing all the single moms and dads out there, most of whom are doing fine jobs parenting their kids.

Same gender marriage does threaten the patriarchal norms of Utah, however.  A marriage of equals runs totally counter to the culture here.  It might make heterosexual women think they can challenge the status quo even more, that they can have a real voice in the public square and in their marriages.   Some of those women might even start asking to be admitted to the LDS priesthood.   Oh, that is already an issue.

Racism, sexism, homophobia have got to fall –  even if it requires a “judicial wrecking ball.”

Read an earlier post on Utah’s “Gender Diversity” (here)

Why Church?

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Call to worship (here)

Video posted (here)

Today we have yet another sermon title with a question mark in it.  Why church?  The question mark is at the end, but it could have been after the “why.” We are in some ways, a “Why?” church.  We are almost always asking why.  Why do we do it this way?  Why do we have to change?

I heard a joke the other day about our churches.  If we do something once, it is an experiment.  If we do it twice it is a tradition.  If we do it three times, we have always done it that way.

Why do we humans react the way we do?  Why do we do the things we do?  Why, why, why?

Why do we love questions so much?  Yes, we are the “why” church.

We are already known as the “love church,” because we try always to stand on the side of love.  It is through love and with love that we try to answer life’s questions and figure out what we should do.  We just don’t stand, we move, we rock and we roll.  Yes?

Love is usually the answer to why.

But why church?  Or more specifically, why do you come to church?  Why do we need a church like this in this town?  Why do we need a church like this, a religion like Unitarian Universalism in the world?

So think for a minute about why you come to church.  You are here after all, so you must have a reason for coming.

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

Robin Bartlett, a Unitarian Universalist Religious educator, in her blog post from which our reading was taken, has heard a lot of people say they come to church for their children, because they are asking questions about God, or because a neighbor or friend is trying to recruit them into a more conservative religion.  That is a real concern here in Utah where youth who are not LDS can be socially isolated in the wider community.

It also helps for adults when the missionaries come calling to be able to say, “Sorry I already have a church.”

But you could say that, even if you never attend services.  You don’t have to be a member of a congregation to tell someone you are a Unitarian Universalist.

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

Maybe you come to church for the music, and our music here is fabulous, especially for a small church.  But you can find great music a lot of places, at concerts, festivals, and even on I tunes.

Some people say they come to church for the intellectual stimulation, to hear words and ideas that make them think. Of course you could attend a college level lecture for that. Weber state offers a lot that will stimulate your brain cells both with their own faculty and a lot of interesting guest speakers.

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

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

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

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

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

Did I cover everything?

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

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

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

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

Robin Bartlett tells us to go to church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As you probably know, our board members and stewardship committee folks are hosting dessert gatherings for all of you who attend services here, whether or not you are members.  These offer a chance to talk about what this church means to you and to the wider community, to decide how you can contribute to its continued success, and to eat some yummy desserts with people you already like or ones you might want to get to know a bit better. Some have already been held.  Some are at the church and some are at people’s houses.  If you haven’t gotten a personal invitation yet, there is a sign-up sheet on the reception counter or see Tom Taylor. If you are really short of money, come anyway, there are always volunteer activities that you do that will help sustain this church too.

One last joke which I saw on twitter this week under the hashtag #theologynerd

Ready?

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

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

No, our theology is more about life, about continual new beginnings, second, third and fourth chances.  It is a life saving, life enhancing theology.  We stand on the side of love, and we come to church to do just that. Amen and Namaste

Apoplectic Apocalypse

Get a grip

Don’t have a stroke

The world is not about to end

At least not the way you imagine.

 

No angry God is coming

To toss everyone but you

And those just like you

Into a fiery caldron

 

The four horsemen

Are not riding in from

Any of the four directions

Waging war on the Antichrist

 

Pay attention though

There is a whirlwind

Of greed, of hate,

Of callous disregard

 

Mind your manners

Care for the earth

It is where we are

And where we will remain

 

Not a second coming

But a second blooming

We must learn to love each other

This life, this world, forever.

 

If God Could

 

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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.

Changing Times

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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.

 

Letting God run off leash Nov. 11, 2007

An old sermon I am posting this as a response to Myke Johnson’s blog post (click)

Sermon:

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.

He said,

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.

Politicians, Ministers, and Movie Stars

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.

 

singing bowl