Archive | April 2014

Wake Up

 

 

Rub the sleep from your eyes

Toss the covers aside

It’s time to do something new

Open your mouth

In a yawn so loud

It echoes beyond the walls

Stretch up your arms

To embrace the day

If you search with care

Under your bed

You will surely

Find some shoes.

 

 

 

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Two Utah Children Two Tragedies

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There were two more tragedies this week in Northern Utah involving young children.  A three year old girl shot and killed her 2 year old brother with a rifle that their father had left in the living room.  (news article) The family living room was transformed in an instant into a dying room.  It was clearly an accident, but the parents and especially this young girl will carry this trauma inside them for the rest of their lives.

A couple of days later, another child was run over in his own driveway by a relative who did not see him behind the car.  (news article).  The boy was apparently playing with other children in his front yard.

I do not want to bring more grief to the parents of either of these two children, but “accidents” like these two happen almost every week around here.  They are preventable. If parents have guns in their homes they need to keep them under lock and key, not sometimes, but all the time.  Don’t let your kids play in the front yard until they are at least school age.  If you don’t have a fenced back yard, take them to a park or keep them in the house.

Utah parents worry about school shootings, but so many more children are killed by accidents like these in or outside their own homes.  It is frightening how often they happen here.  When I was living in California, I only recall one instance of a child being run over in their driveway and  I don’t remember any who died playing with their parent’s guns.

For a so-called “family friendly” state, Utah needs to take a lot better care of the children.

Utah’s “gold standard” families can be very dangerous for kids.  I wrote about this same issue last December (here)

Easter Again

easter stone

Video posted (here)

Opening words (here)

Reading (here)

Sermon text:

It is Easter again. The holiday rolls around like clockwork at around the same time each year. That is a good thing. We need Easter in our lives, and once a year is not too often.

 There are also other holidays at this time of year. The Jewish Passover celebration is one of liberation, of freedom from slavery. The ritual meal, the Seder, recalls the time the Jewish people spent in Egypt as slaves, and tells the story of their escape to the Promised Land.

Oester is the pagan celebration of spring and fertility. It is where we get the name Easter, and it is also where the Easter Bunny comes from. Rabbits don’t normally lay eggs, but the Goddess Oester was in the form of a rabbit, an animal known for its fertility.

Easter is the story of Jesus, his death and resurrection. It is about finding hope in the midst of terrible tragedy and death. Most simply it is a story about a victory over death. It is good that the story is set in the springtime of the year. It is convenient that it coincides with the ancient pagan celebrations of fertility and rebirth. But Easter is much more complicated than the fact that the crocuses are blooming and the earth is ready to be reborn.

If the mystery of the resurrection had not happened, Jesus would have likely been remembered, if he was remembered at all, as simply one more in a long line of Hebrew prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and so many others who called their people back to God, to faithfulness, and back to caring for others, particularly for the poor and oppressed.

I recently read the book Zealot, the life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth written by Reza Aslan. The author is Muslim and he got a lot of undeserved flack on Fox news with the interviewer asking how he dared to write about Jesus since he is not a Christian. It was a ridiculous criticism. You don’t have to be something to write about it intelligently. The book was good, and I would recommend it, although there was not much in it that was completely new to me. He did an excellent job of writing about the political situation in Galilee and Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.

Jesus was one of many prophets, healers, and revolutionaries who were active at the time. Most of them were also crucified, which was the standard Roman punishment for rebellion against the state. He was not the first of such zealots, nor was he the last. The Jews rebelled against the Romans 70 or so years after Jesus. They lost that struggle, that armed revolt, and their temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

Jesus was mostly a teacher and a healer, traveling around preaching to ordinary people with a fairly ragtag group of followers. He made some people mad. The occupying Romans certainly weren’t happy with him; some of his followers thought he was the messiah, a new king that would free his people and bring Israel back to her glory.

The established religious authorities weren’t crazy about him either. He broke their rules time after time. He ranted about the moneylenders in the temple.

And, just like the payday lenders of today, those moneylenders made a lot of financial contributions to those who had the power.

He healed people and he didn’t even charge them for it. He fed the hungry, also for free. Yes, he must have made a lot of people mad.

So who was Jesus? Was he a man, a malcontent, a prophet, a lunatic, or a God? Find your own answer to that question, and cherish the freedom you have to do so. There is, I think, some truth in all of those definitions.

As the story goes, Jesus went to Jerusalem the week before Easter. On Palm Sunday he entered on a donkey and crowds of the poor welcomed him.

On the other side of town, at the same time, there was a procession honoring Pilate, the Roman governor. A different crowd greeted him and cheered him on.

Jesus then had a meal, a Passover Seder, and afterward he was betrayed by one of his followers, a man named Judas. A quick trial of sorts followed and then he was hung on a cross, tortured, and died. It was a common form of execution in the occupied territories of the Roman Empire.

So who killed Jesus? Was it the Romans or was it the Jews? Or, did God plan his death all along? People have died because of the various answers to that question. Jesus and all of his followers were Jewish, but still Jews have been blamed for his death by many Christians over the centuries and even by some today.

Would the holocaust have happened without that version of the Easter story? And if God planned his death, why then would the Jews or even Judas be blamed?

My money is on the Romans, with some strong encouragement of both the religious and local secular authorities of the day. It was really just the 1% trying to protect their wealth and power from a movement that scared them.  It threatened their power and their privilege.

The idea that Jesus died because it was God’s plan is one that generates more questions. Did Jesus die for our sins? Why would God kill his son? Are humans so evil that such a sacrifice would be required? Is God so cruel that he would require such a terrible death for someone who was doing so much good?

The idea that Jesus died for our sins was a fairly late development in Christianity. His life, and his resurrection were celebrated, but the crucifixion was not glorified. Crosses did not show up in the early churches for almost 1000 years. (http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/107992.shtml?utm_source=f)

The theology of the atonement: that Jesus died for our sins continues to be a mainstay of conservative Christianity. Universalists have always challenged that, as it is not in keeping with the concept of a God of love.

Whatever the cause, Jesus clearly suffered. He cried out in despair and he thought that God had forsaken him. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It is an emotion that I think all of us have felt at one time or another. Even if we have never believed in God, there are times when most of us have been alone and afraid and have felt that there is no help for us left anywhere in the universe. We cry out in despair, in anger and frustration. It is not so very hard for us to identify with the suffering Jesus.

We can also identify with the grief of his followers, his disciples, the women and the men. How they must have wept as they laid him in the tomb! All of us have known grief and loss.  He was their leader and their minister. He was the one who healed them, fed them, and loved them. They believed that he would bring about a new world order, the kingdom of God on earth. Then, suddenly, all was lost. He was captured and executed. Jesus was dead and so too were all their dreams. There would be no better world. There would be no justice and no mercy.

Out of this time of grief and total despair, the miracle of Easter was born. Easter makes no real sense unless we understand that it comes after Good Friday. It is only the winter that makes us long for and appreciate the spring. Real laughter comes only after the tears have been shed. What is dead must be laid aside, so that hope can walk through the open door of the tomb.

Jesus came back to life, when all had believed him dead. Literally true or not, his followers believed that they spoke with him again. If nothing else, his message lived on in their hearts. The love of God was stronger even that the heaving stone that was placed in front of the tomb.

Easter, for us, can be a time that is about coming back to life, about rolling away whatever stone is our blocking our way. The stone could be fear. It could be shame or regret.

It could be anything that is in our way, anything that is keeping us from living lives that are full of meaning, and of joy.

The Easter story brings relief at its end. There was suffering and there was death, but out of it came new life and new hope. Jesus reappeared after only three days. The tomb was empty. He came back to life.

Can we listen to this story and believe that we can follow his example? Can we find out how to get our own heavy stones rolled away so we can find our way back to life? Can we do justice and love mercy? Can we love our neighbor as ourselves?

Can we see every human being as part of our family? How long will this resurrection take us? Are three days enough? Three years? Three decades? Three thousand years?

It is Easter again.   It is time once more to resurrect our dreams, our hopes, and our energy.

Easter

easter stone

What an effort it must have been

To climb down from that cross

So many centuries ago

They thought you were dead forever

It certainly looked like that

You’d prayed your last prayer

Healed your last leper

Driven out your last demon.

They even buried you.

It must have felt so good

To lay your head down

The funeral cloths were soft.

The darkness was comforting

So weary you were

Tired, hurt, bleeding.

You’d seen so much

Suffered so much

Done so much

What harm could it do

To give into rest

For a few days

It must have been hard

To hear the weeping

Of those who had loved you

Of those who had betrayed you

The stone was heavy

But you had to push it aside

Rolling away defeat

Banishing hopelessness

Overcoming fear.

What an effort it must have taken

To come back not knowing

What people would think

How they would respond

Would they think the miracle

Was only about you?

Thank you for letting us know

That we each have the chance

The opportunity, the responsibility

To be reborn

Resurrected.

Again and again.

Like the earth

Each spring

Each morning

Forever and ever

Amen.

In Memory of Rev. Georgette Wonders

I never met her

I don’t think

Maybe passing in a crowd

Yet I still grieve

This sister spirit lost too soon

Sorrow hangs a halo

For what might have been

Another day

Another hour

Another blessing

Given and received

So short our lives

So warm our hearts

Tender mercy

Help us heal

And begin again the work

She left for us to do.

 

 

 

A Universe of Miracles

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Video of sermon posted (here)

Call to worship (here)

Reading (here)

Music video (here) Our Music director, Beth Dion, sang this song,

Sermon text:

Something simply amazing happened a few weeks ago. It was in the news, but I don’t think it got nearly the attention it deserved.

From the March 17th LA times:

“Scientists staring at the faint afterglow from the universe’s birth 13.8 billion years ago have discovered the first direct evidence for the theory of cosmic inflation — the mysterious and violent expansion after the big bang.

The findings, made using radio telescopes at the South Pole, support the idea that our known cosmos make up just a tiny fragment in a much larger, unknown frontier that extends far beyond the reaches of light.

During this period of inflation, which happened just a fraction of a second after the big bang, the universe ballooned from smaller than an atom to 100 trillion trillion times its original size, at a rate faster than the speed of light.”

Wow! That is, rather, I have to say it “cosmic.”

They are already talking about a Nobel Prize for this discovery.

Some more explanation:

“The researchers used radio telescopes at the South Pole to stare at the cosmic microwave background radiation — a faint afterglow left over from the big bang that permeates the universe.

Scientists have long wondered why this faint background light is so uniform across the sky… Stars clump into galaxies, and galaxies cluster together unevenly across the heavens. But no matter where you look, the cosmic microwave background seems to look essentially the same.

Why was the cosmic microwave background so smooth while all the stuff that came after it looked so lumpy?

In 1980, theoretical physicist Alan Guth came up with an answer: All that stuff from the early universe had originally been in a single tiny spot when it was ripped outward in a violent expansion.

Because the universe was compressed and experienced a single sudden expansion, the characteristics of the background radiation would be roughly the same.

It would require a massive spurt of inflation that scientists could barely comprehend. In less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the universe popped into existence, the newborn cosmos expanded from the size of a tiny subatomic particle to roughly the size of a basketball.

As the universe continued to expand at a slower rate and then cool, it carried with it the signature of this early trauma.

Guth’s inflation theory became a cornerstone of our understanding of the early universe — but scientists had thought it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove.

The signal from the cosmic background microwave has weakened over time, making it exceedingly difficult to find the signature of this ancient inflation behind all the cosmic “noise.”

The only hints could come from distortion in the fabric of space-time, created by the trauma of inflation. That could be detected by looking for a particular pattern of polarized light in the cosmic microwave background, known as B-mode polarization.

The theory was that sudden inflation, based on Einstein’s theory of relativity, should cause an onslaught of gravitational waves that ultimately would change the polarity of the background radiation, leaving behind a distinctive swirling pattern.

The theory of inflation is rooted in quantum mechanics, which operates on the subatomic scale. The new discoveries show that the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity, which governs very large-scale phenomena, are also quantum phenomena.

Much remains unknown. Scientists still don’t agree on exactly what triggered inflation in the first place. Whatever it was, they do think that it was a mysterious, repulsive force — rather like the dark energy that pervades the universe today and is causing it to expand, but far more powerful.

The discovery lends support to the idea that what we typically think of as the universe is just a tiny part of the much larger cosmos. Parts of the universe could have been hurled well beyond the range of light and thus far beyond the observable fringes.

The findings also leave open the idea that there could be multiple universes, not just the one we inhabit.”

http://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-cosmic-inflation-20140318,0,766934.story?page=1&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A%20latimes%2Fnews%2Fscience%20%28L.A.%20Times%20-%20Science%29&utm_source=feedburner&track=rss#axzz2wJoqWNhF

I won’t pretend that I understand all of that – or even most of it. Some of you might. Maybe the reason that this discovery hasn’t gotten wider press is because of the complexity of the science.

But even if you only understand a little bit of it, the significance cannot be denied. It is evidence in support of the big bang theory of creation, something that occurred almost 14 billion years ago. It is evidence that the universe, the cosmos, is much older and larger than we ever imagined.

“We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden”

Joni Mitchell wrote those words in the song, “Woodstock,” that the band Crosby, Stills, and Nash made famous.

We are stardust. We are small creatures on a small planet that is spinning through a universe older and vaster than anything that was imagined in the past.

Our very atoms go back to the beginning of time. That is spelled A-T-O-M not A-D-A-M, by the way. Should it make us feel small and insignificant? Are we somehow less than worthy if God did not directly create us from a lump of clay or someone else’s rib?

I don’t think so. I believe instead, like the song Beth sang earlier, that the increasing understanding of the universe means that, “everything is holy now.” We are stardust.

It truly is a miracle that we are alive, here today, in this place, and at this time.

So much is made of a supposed conflict between science and religion. I don’t see a conflict at all. There is something very spiritual about a scientist looking into the mysteries of life and of creation. Scientists develop their theories based upon known facts, they look for ways of testing those theories, and then they revise them again and again as necessary as new things are learned. Isn’t that the essence of life? Isn’t that at least part of why we are here?

Have you ever watched a baby, or a small child, discover something new? It could just be a mote of dust that is dancing in the sunlight. They might reach for it only to discover that it is not something they can hold in their hand. That fact doesn’t make them cry, it fills them with awe and wonder, as they enjoy something that they cannot yet understand.

Much of life is like that for us. Things happen that we cannot explain. We are thinking of an old and dear friend, and then suddenly they are on the phone wanting to talk. We are unhappy and feel like we can’t go on, and then a stranger smiles at us. The crocuses and daffodils are coming to life now in Utah. Out of the snow and dry ground, their bright colors amaze us with their beauty.

It is the small things that create miracles, the dust motes, the smiles, the seeds that somehow comes to life in the cold ground, and perhaps the most awe-inspiring of all, the inflation of the universe from something smaller than an atom into all the stars we can see in the sky at night, and all the one’s that are so far away that their light only reaches our eyes long after the fires of those distant suns have burned away. We are stardust, billion year old carbon. Everything is holy now.

If everything is holy, are we not holy as well? Our very bodies are composed of elements that were created before the beginning of time? Can we see ourselves as sacred beings, destined to live our lives in tune with a creation story that is truly cosmic in its scope? We may not be made in physical image of God because the cosmic God has no form or shape, or at least one that could be recognized as human. The cosmic creation story hints of a God that is pure energy, that was capable of sparking the biggest bang of all.

You don’t have to name that energy God, but it is hard to deny the power that was unleashed when the universe expanded.

Remember too, that we all have a spark of that kind of energy within us. Namaste, Namaste, we say it all the time. The divine spirit is in each and every one of us. Is it possible that we might be able to expand our own universe, our own lives, in an awesome big bang of creation?

It must have been loud

That moment of creation

Waking up Adam and Eve

And probably the animals

Dozing on the Ark

 

Mix up your metaphors

And come down from

Your high horse.

Creation can’t happen

In a vacuum.

Wait!

Maybe it did.

If the universe can be created from a vacuum, in a microsecond of time, then what can we create, if we unleash the holy power within each of us?

This religious community, this relatively small church has accomplished so much since it began a little over 20 years ago. We have changed both our town and ourselves. I can only say that both have been for the better.

But there is always more. The force of life and love is always expanding, spreading out, reaching deeper, and answering a call that is buried deep in both our bodies and our cells. Everything is holy now. There is no reason to let fear, loss, or despair blind us to that reality.

What more can this community do? What more can you do? What is your answer to the message from the universe? It shouts for us to live our lives in fullness, to expand our minds, to open our hearts, and to reach our hands out to try and grasp that shining something that floats in the sunshine. And always we return, to awe and wonder at the miracle of the universe. Everything is holy now.

Close with words by Mary Edes: “Like the cosmic dust following after the great Perseus Meteor, we are the living remnants of time and all that has come to pass in its wake—briefly shining lights on the way to eternity. We are only visible to the naked eye for an instant. Take this moment to shine like the start dust you are. May the light of our time on earth shine to bless the world and each other. Shine. Shine. Shine.”

Namaste, yet again, Namaste

Searching for Sugar

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“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  But you can’t make lemonade without sugar.  When our lives are messed up and lousy with lemons, we need to look for some sugar before we can even think about making lemonade.

Not to take the metaphor too far, but our culture serves lots of lemons to people and then blames them for not making lemonade.  If life is a lemon where can we find the sugar?  If sugar is love (give me some sugar darling), then Unitarian Universalism can be just what a whole lot of people need.

Or maybe it is mainly universalism they need.  They need to know that their lives are worth something, that they matter, and yes, that God loves them fully and without judgement or conditions.  When the wider culture tells you are sinful, that you will surely go to hell, or that your troubles are simply your own fault, or even worse, God’s punishment, it feels truly terrible.  Then you really might need to find a church community that is truly loving and accepting, a church that doesn’t believe in hell at all, that treats everyone with respect for their worth and dignity. Finding a church like that can be literally life-saving for all sorts of people.

Who needs this message most in America?  LGBT people need it, and they have been coming to our churches in numbers for decades.  Poor people need it and they come too, but they don’t tend to stay around for very long in most of our congregations.  Actually, most of the working class LGBT people don’t stay very long either.

It is time, I think, to look more deeply at how our church culture around class issues is leaving a lot of people sucking on lemons.  They aren’t finding the sugar, the accepting love, that they came looking for.  They hear words of love and acceptance, but still often feel like they are somehow less valued than other people in the church.  What if you haven’t been to college, like country music and are bored by classical, prefer beer to wine, enjoy reality TV shows more than masterpiece theater, or work at Walmart?  What of you are homeless or just getting out of prison?  Will your local church welcome you with open arms or ignore you at coffee hour?

The early universalists were not elitists, but the early unitarians certainly were.  As Thomas Starr King famously said, “The Universalists think God is too good to condemn them, and the Unitarians think they are too good for God to condemn.

More on the theology later, but there is a lot we can do to improve our welcome to people that are not middle class.  But first we have to talk about it.  We have to look at the core of who we are and what we want to be in the world.  Who are we really here for?  Is it the people who need us or do we want to be just a kind of club for the rapidly disappearing middle class?

Frankly, you can get better classical music at the symphony.  You can get more challenging intellectual stimulation from a lecture at the local college.  Church is much more than that.

If religious community is lemonade, then we need the lemons.  We need those who are inpain and despair.  We need their tartness and their perspectives.  We also need sugar, real sugar, not saccharine, sugar that consists of a love that will hold us all, really hold us, whoever we are and whatever our struggles.

But the main ingredient in lemonade is not lemons or sugar, but water.  We need to dig our spiritual wells deep enough so that all can drink and be satisfied. Then we can go out and dig more wells and make more lemonade to serve to the rest of the world.  Some of our churches are doing this.  Some are becoming increasingly diverse in terms of social class.  It is time to figure out why it isn’t more of them.

lemonade

. ,

How shall I say goodbye?

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How shall I say goodbye

How can I loosen

The heartstrings

That have held us so close

For the last seven years

A lifetime it seemed

A ministry true

Hope and dreams

Tears and laughter

Music and prayer

Were the cement

That bound us together

We trembled in awe

At the mystery of life

Revealed each new day

The blessings of birth

The tears of grief

The joy of weddings

The hard work of  justice

I won’t say goodbye

I won’t break my heart

The ties are so deep

The best I can do

Is offer with grace

A fond fare thee well

My hearts strings will sing

In memory and love

A sweet song of gratitude

For the rest of my life