Since the horrible murders last week in Santa Barbara by the young macho terrorist who hated women, there has been a lot of discussion about “rape culture” and how it is getting worse. Just check the hashtag #yesallwomen for literally thousands of comments and links to a multitude of blog posts.
Then yesterday a story broke here in Utah about how a local high school photoshopped some of the pictures of young women to cover up their shoulders and necklines. See the before and after photos and article here.
This is another aspect of rape culture. Women’s bodies are seen as merely sexual objects. They need to keep them covered in order not to incite men to rape them. Like men simply can’t help themselves if they see a bare shoulder. What a lie. What an outrage.
Women should not have to cover up their bodies because of the fear of rape. It doesn’t work anyway. Even wearing a burka doesn’t work.
Enforcing “modesty” like the Utah High School did only makes the problem worse. It implies that women can somehow be safer if they wear long sleeves and high collars. It gives the misogynist an excuse to take a gun and shoot them down simply because they won’t have sex with him. Women are not sex objects. We are not objects at all, but human beings and our bodies are our own, to do with as we will.
It is time to fight back.
Holly Near sang it: Here
Unravel the yarn
So it will not tangle
So it can be woven
Into yet another
The color of the yarn
Is the color of my heart
I leave with you
Your loom is waiting
For the next weaver
And a new tapestry
It will be beautiful
If I let go
May it be so
Marriage equality and my emotions go up and down, up and down, bouncing like a red rubber ball. It made me think of this song.
THE CYRKLE- “RED RUBBER BALL”
They say that justice is a journey, and the arc of the universe bends toward it. Well, Unitarian minister Theodore Parker said that and Martin Luther King repeated it – a lot. The last several months, however, have been more of a roller coaster. Judges rule, marriages happen, stays are issued, benefits are given and then taken away. Adoptions granted and then suspended. Who says they care about children? Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Idaho, etc, etc. There are too many states to name where the emotions and lives of GLBT are being batted around like a tether ball. Waiting to hear from Oregon today. It is time to untether the rope and let freedom fly free. Hit it out of the park. Follow the arc. May it be so.
In the name of Providence, which implants in the seed the future of the flower and in our hearts the longing for people to live in harmony. In the name of the highest, in whom we move and who makes the mother and father, the brother and sister, the lover and loner what they are; In the name of sages and great religious leaders, who sacrificed their lives to hasten the coming of the age of mutual respect -Let us renew our resolution—sincerely to be real brothers and sisters regardless of any kind of bar which estranges us from each other. In this holy resolution may we be strengthened, knowing that we are God’s family, that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us, and may we endeavor for a more perfect and more joyful life. Amen. – Norbert Chapek
I know this rose will open, come share a rose with me.
The Flower Communion service was created by Dr. Norbert Capek [Chah-Peck], the founder of the modern Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia. It is a wonderful ritual, which gives concrete expression to the humanity-affirming principles of our liberal faith. Our opening words and the blessing of the flowers were both written by Dr. Capek. When the Nazis took control of Prague in 1940, they found Dr. Capek’s gospel of the inherent worth and beauty of every human person to be-as Nazi court records show– “…too dangerous to the Reich [for him] to be allowed to live.”
Dr. Capek was sent to Dachau, where he was killed the next year during a Nazi “medical experiment.” This gentle man suffered a cruel death, but his message of human hope and decency lives on through his Flower Communion, which most Unitarian Universalist congregations celebrate each year.
And just as our first principle calls us to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we enjoy the beauty and variety of all the different flowers we have here this morning. The flowers are not perfect, and neither are we. The flowers might be bruised or bent, and bugs may have nibbled at some of their leaves. Still there is beauty, in each of the flowers and in each of us.
And in our theology, the bouquet also matters, because we know that we are all connected in an interdependent web of existence.
Diversity is a blessing and we must continue to work so that people, like flowers, are appreciated for their unique beauty and are not disparaged simply because they are different. Flowers do not bloom alone. They need each other, just as we need each other. After the service, at our annual meeting, we will decide together just what we want and need to do in order to keep the flowers growing in this special garden of ours.
Now, before we begin the flower communion, some words byElizabeth Strong
Enter into the communion of flowers.
Enter with joyful hearts.
Enter with reverent thoughts.
It has taken long months beneath
cold ground for these flowers
to prepare their blooming.
It has taken each of us long times
of growth through sorrow and joy
to prepare for our living now.
The blooming season is short,
The flowers stay only a brief time.
We are travelers upon the earth:
travelers through all too brief life times.
Therefore let our moments be bountiful.
Let us rejoice in our unique colors, aromas, and sounds.
Let us celebrate together in love;
that as we travel away, we take with us
the memory of golden hours together
among the flowers.
Amen and Blessed Be!
Will the children of the congregation please come forward as we bless the flowers? Blessing words by Norbert Chapek:
Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these, thy messengers of fellowship and love. May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to thy holy will. May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike. May we cherish friendship as one of thy most precious gifts.
May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that, whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in this world.
Partaking of the Communion
We have blessed these flowers in the midst of this diverse community, led by the children, who are our future and our present. It is time now for us to share in the Flower Communion.
I ask that you each in turn, as you feel moved, knowing that there is no need to rush, approach the table quietly from the center aisle, approach it slowly, –reverently–with a sense of how important it is for each of us to address our world and one another with gentleness, justice, and love.
Please select a flower–different from the one you may have brought–that particularly appeals to you.
As you take your chosen flower–noting its special and individual shape and beauty, perhaps noting its imperfections as well –please remember to handle it carefully. It is a gift that someone else has brought to you. It represents that person’s unique humanity, and therefore deserves your kindest touch. After you have chosen your flower, please return to your seat via one of the side aisles. Let us now share in this Unitarian Universalist ritual of oneness and love.
May the flowers we have shared this morning remind us that all are precious and all are beautiful, each in their own unique and special way. Together we create an amazing bouquet. May this garden flourish and may it bless the world. May all of us be guided always by the transforming power of love.
For most of my life
I have been blessed – or cursed
With strong opinions.
Like strong drink,
Can be intoxicating
Raise your glass high
Work for the cause
I have an idea
I know what we should do
And so often
The people I am with
Have listened and agreed.
Sometimes they even do
What I say.
For which I am grateful.
A minister is expected
To know what is right
How to walk this planet
In a way that serves life
A moral guidepost with vision
And God knows I try
But really now
I am only human
Like strong drinks
Are hard to set aside
But sometimes we
I guess I mean I
Need to stay
Just a bit thirsty
Ask a few more questions
Listen hard for the truth
Explore many paths
Sip some more water
Take some more time
Before we can mix
Just the right cocktail
With an olive of justice
A portion of hope
A splash of compassion
Together at last
In a shaker of love.
call to worship (here)
Mothers Day can be tricky. It is a complicated one for ministers because people’s emotions tend to be all over the map about this holiday. How can we make this time sweet but not overly saccharine? How can we honor the mothers among us and still be respectful of those who may be carrying deep scars that this holiday can rip open?
Our reading this morning addressed some of those issues, but not all of them.
When it first began, Mother’s day was much simpler and perhaps even more controversial. Julia Howe wrote her Mother’s Day Proclamation, which we read earlier, in 1870 as part of a “Mother’s Day for Peace.” Howe was an abolitionist, a feminist, and a Unitarian. She also wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Howe’s Mother’s Day for Peace was the beginning of what has evolved into our current Mother’s Day. I don’t think she would recognize it, however. It has really changed.
Mother’s Day is complicated because being a mother, or a parent of any gender, is complicated. Most mothers, myself included, love their children deeply and want to do their very best for them. They want to be the absolutely perfect Mom or Dad and to be acknowledged as such by their child or children. Parenting is hard work, and it is nice to get a thank you at least once a year.
Poetry and flowers, candy and breakfast in bed, all of that can be fun and good.
But does anyone really measure up to all of that perfection, to the ideal that is the cultural sentiment on this day. Sweet mothers, saintly mothers, always-patient mothers, anyone really like that here?
Even if you don’t count the really terrible mothers, and there are too many of those in this world, most of us just do the best we can. It may be good enough; it may be just fine. We may be sweet in general, but we are not really made of the saccharine sappy stuff we read on greeting cards.
Sometimes the images expressed around Mother’s Day remind me of that old nursery rhyme I heard rather a lot growing up.
It goes something like this:
What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of
That’s pretty sexist isn’t it? Little girls are made of much more than sugar and spice and so are adult women. We all have a few puppy dog tails in us too.
Most of you have heard by now of the girls who have been kidnapped from their schools by terrorists in Nigeria. It wasn’t an accident. The group, a religiously fundamentalist one, believes that educating girls is sinful. They think women should just get married and have children and that motherhood is not only the highest calling for women, but the only calling that is even acceptable. This particular group happens to also be Muslim, but there are many Christian denominations that do not believe in giving girls and women equality with men. It is all just a matter of degree.
So Mother’s Day is making me a little more thoughtful this year as I think of those girls, the very brightest from their villages, still being held captive and likely to be sold as child brides.
Being a mother is special, but it should not be sum total of any woman’s life or sense of self worth. It is often said that a mother would die for her children, and that is true in my experience for most of us. The love can be that deep. It does not mean, however, even if you would leap in front of a speeding car to save your child, that your own life has no meaning beyond your role as a mother.
Those of you in this room know that, it is the kind of life you lead and have led. Even if you don’t work outside of your home, you have a sense of who you are that is separate from your children.
So can we say that motherhood is great, that it is a calling, but it is not one that all women must choose in order to be seen as having a worthwhile life? I think we can say that.
Another nursery rhyme:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
What do you think about that one? Does it give you a good Mother’s Day feeling?
There is some reality there. If you have a lot of children, sometimes you don’t know what to do. I only had three and really can’t imagine have 5 or 8.
Maybe I can, though, after all some of you call me Mother Theresa, and while I don’t think of the adults here as children, I do kind of mother you as your minister. No one ever gets too old to not sometimes enjoy a dose of motherly love and caring.
It is hard to take care of children, to have the resources to feed and clothe them. So the old women fed them broth and no bread.
I am not very fond of the line about whipping them and sending them to bed. I frankly don’t think physical punishment works well for children. There are better methods of discipline. I do understand the urge to spank a child, however.
A story from my own life:
As I said, I have three children. The older boy and the girl were very easy and cooperative when they were young. (I am not going to talk about what they were like as teenagers – that is a different story.) Our youngest son, however, was difficult. His twin sister had a bald spot when they were about two, because he kept pulling her hair. We tried time outs. We tried taking away things. We always put him in the front of the stroller so he couldn’t reach his sister.
He also hit his older brother, who never hit him back. Once, while traveling in Canada, in Jasper National Park, our youngest son, who was about 4, ran over, for no reason that we could figure out, and slugged his 8 year old brother hard in the face.
I lost it. I grabbed him and spanked him. He was enraged and would not say why he had done what he had done.
Did the spanking work? No, not really, although I do think it made his siblings feel like I would protect them.
What actually worked happened a couple of years later. Maybe it was partly just growing up. He was in the first grade and really wanted a file cabinet. He grew up to be a CPA so it makes some sense now, although we thought it a bit odd then.
We made a deal with him. If he could go for a full 30 days without hitting his sister or brother, we would buy him a filing cabinet. He went a few days, and then he hit one of them. Uh oh, he then had another 30 days to wait.
He got his file cabinet eventually and in the process learned that hitting should never be the first reaction.
I tell that story, because our kids had two mothers, and both of us did the best we could, but in reality we were just muddling through. I spanked him that time because nothing else seemed to work. That didn’t work either. You just have to keep on keeping on with the parenting thing, doing the best you can. Don’t feel too bad if you make mistakes. It is also OK to apologize to your children when you do. They need to learn that their parents are human too.
Love can be fierce, my friends. It is not always the sentimental, self-sacrificing, self-effacing, love that is portrayed on greetings cards. Love, deep love, is bold and courageous. It isn’t saccharine but it has a rich sweetness.
There is mama bear love and papa bear love. It is protective. It doesn’t stand by when someone is suffering. It doesn’t look away when there is injustice. It nurtures, it cherishes the uniqueness of other human souls, treating them with the dignity and respect we all deserve.
You don’t have to be a parent to practice this kind of love, although many parents feel this way about their children.
That is another thing that is often left out of the traditional messages delivered on Mother’s Day.
Yes, it is a blessing to have a mother, a parent, an older friend or relative who loves and cares for you when you are vulnerable, when you feel afraid and alone. It is a blessing we should be grateful for if it is something we have or have had in our lives.
The relatively unspoken side of this equation is that it is also a blessing to be the giver of that kind of love. We should also be thanking our children for the privilege of parenting them.
So now, let us all say a big thank you in our hearts. Thank you to all who have loved and cared for us and another thank you to all who have allowed us to love and care for them. Love is a circle, without beginning or end.
We can love all the precious children, no matter where they live in this troubled world. We can try to care for them, to help them grow up strong, smart, and tall and without fear.
We can love all of our elders: we can care for them and appreciate the wisdom they still have to offer. We can love and care for our Mother Earth. We can love and nurture the mother spirit that lives within us all, that heals us and makes us whole.
So whatever your feelings are today try and accept them for what they are. You might be missing a mother who has died. You might feel sorrow because the mother you had was not able to be the one you needed. You might have regrets about the kind of mother you have been. Mother’s day is complicated. Take in the sweetness of it as well as what is bittersweet. Most of all, try to love who you are and what your life has been like. Celebrate the fact that we are all human. We all have that very human gift that is the ability to change and to grow. And if you are going out to for a Mother’s Day brunch, have a wonderful time.
In the deep forest
There are trees
Grow from her body
Fed by her.
All in a row
Or in a circle they grow
Strong because of
The gifts she gave them
Would that our children
Grow as wise
And as tall.
Would that our leaves
Shelter all the children
From the storms
And the forest fires.
Mother love and care
All of us
We are all of one forest
Reaching for the sun.
Video of sermon (here)
Call to worship (here)
Music Video John Lennon (here)
Power to the people, right on.
Sometimes, I think we give power a bad name. Love of power is so often considered a negative, we say someone is power hungry and that is a real insult. Who wants to be called a power mad control freak, an autocrat?
Sometimes too, I think we are afraid of our own power. It can be scary to realize that your actions, and sometimes even your thoughts, can actually change things. What if we make things worse by exercising the power we have?
When I was in the sixth grade, I had a teacher who told me to always use my powers for good.
Her comment, which may in fact have been a random off hand one, has stuck with me over the years. She said I had power. What a concept! I did not feel very powerful then. She told me to use my powers. Wow! And she told me to use them for good, not telling me exactly what good was.
In my life, I have tried to follow her advice: to acknowledge what power I have, and to use that power for good. I have defined good to mean not just something positive for myself, but something that makes the world a better place
It can be uncomfortable to realize that we have power. All of us have power, I think, but often we deny it and pretend it doesn’t exist. I think we need to learn to love power, not for itself, but for the good that it can do.
Most of us have heard the message that we are powerless, particularly when it comes to politics. The recent court decisions that allow the very wealthy to unduly influence the electoral process certainly reinforce that impression. If money is speech, then speech isn’t free.
But admitting you are powerless in some situations is different than being afraid of the power you have.
Many of you are familiar with 12 step programs. Step 1 is always admitting that you are powerless. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is being powerless over alcohol.
An alcoholic does not have the power to stop after one or two drinks, but they do have the power to follow the 12 steps, or other paths to recovery.
The serenity prayer calls us to accept the things we cannot change, another acknowledgement of a lack of power. But the same prayer asks for the courage to change the things we can. Using our power often takes courage.
It is so much easier to simply say, “I can’t do anything about that.” It may be easier, but it makes us smaller when we deny our power and pretend that a situation is out of our control when it is one we really could do something about.
Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
This happens all the time, even here at church. An idea comes up, and then someone says, “We can’t do that because we don’t have enough money, time, volunteers whatever it is that we think we need and don’t have.” But while it may be true that an individual may not have any of those things, if it is something the community really wants to do then the time, money and committed volunteers will be found. It is also true that not every good idea is suggested at the right time, and not every idea is something that will get enough people sufficiently excited about it that they will use their collective power to make it happen.
Victor Hugo said, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
Two of the quotes from our reading come to mind here:
Dorothy Day: “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
And of course, Margaret Mead who said,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The key is commitment first, and that commitment, that sense of real purpose then generates the power that is within you, calls it to action. It is just like the energy of action we mention in our chalice lighting each week. Commitment and then action that goes step by steady step, brick by brick, bake sale by bake sale, letter by letter, facebook post by facebook post, tweet by tweet, bringing one more person along, increasing the power, multiplying it as others get involved.
The people are so powerful, but we don’t always realize it when we should. Too often, we give up without even trying.
Some more quotes:
Eleanor Roosevelt: Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.
Phillip Brooks: Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.
Swami Vivekananda: The Vedanta recognizes no sin it only recognizes error. And the greatest error, says the Vedanta is to say that you are weak, that you are a sinner, a miserable creature, and that you have no power and you cannot do this and that.
There is a spiritual aspect to power.
I ran across this poem the other day, and somehow it seems to relate to this topic. It is by Hafez, the Persian poet who lived and wrote in the 1300’s.
Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.
If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.
Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,
Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.
God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.
The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.
But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.
I like that image of God holding us upside down and shaking all the nonsense out.
We are so full of nonsense sometimes. We are so full of no’s and negatives. We need to shake them out and off and let our power flow as it is meant to do.
In our responsive reading this morning, we read the words of Olympia Brown, Universalist Minister, and the first woman ordained in the United States by any national denomination. Stand by this faith, she tells us. Work for it and sacrifice for it. Use the power we have within us and among us to spread the message of love, of justice, and of compassion.
That power comes partly from our imaginations. John Muir said that the power of imagination makes us infinite.
If we can imagine a better world, a better anything, then we can help create it.
Shortly after I came here to Ogden to serve as your minister, I asked you all a question. Does anyone remember what it was?
Do you know how awesome you are?
This church has done so much. You bought this building and paid for it. There is no mortgage. You started the OUTreach program, you have created an incredibly beautiful sanctuary, you have spirited and meaningful worship services every single Sunday of the year, you have engaging religious exploration classes for all ages, you started a Navigator’s program, you were instrumental in passing Ogden City’s non-discrimination ordinances. What else? You have a food shelf that serves both our members and the wider community.
You were selected as a breakthrough congregation because of your innovations in all worship for all ages.
Just this morning, the UU church of Ogden was mentioned in the Metro NY district meeting as a congregation that is doing things right.
And very exciting news this week, the committee that is looking for an interim minister received the names of 6 professional interim ministers who expressed interest in working with you next year.
This is, well, just awesome. These ministers are specially trained and have both experience and expertise in interim ministry. Their services are in high demand and they can pretty much pick and choose where they want to go.
It is because of your awesome reputation within the UUA that they are even considering coming here. It also bodes very well for getting a fabulous settled minister after the interim year. Ministers want to serve congregations that really understand the energy of action, that try to live their values and act of their principles.
So, do you know how awesome you are? You should by now, but I have another question for you?
Do you also know how powerful you are? Do you know how much power is here right now in this sanctuary?
You have already had a huge impact on Ogden and even the entire state as the congregation that is known for standing on the side of love.
What more will you do? How will you use your power? I won’t be here to do it with you, but I will be very excited and proud to follow your story, to see what else you will accomplish.
You can do anything you want to do. The power is within each of you, and in all of you together. You need a new minister and you will find one. If you need more money, you will find it, too.
You are awesome. You are powerful. Don’t be afraid of your power; don’t be afraid to use it. Love your power, people, because it is the power of love.
End by chant from
1 Corinthians 16 – #713
– repeat after me
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith.
Be courageous be strong
Let all that you do be done in love.
Power flows from deep inside
A dream a prayer a spark
Volcanic ash a vapor cloud
As far as you might see
Don’t look away
Don’t turn it down
Don’t waste it on
The energy the urge the will
The want the wish the faith
The well will not run dry
Drops of water, rain and hope
Can fill our glasses full
Power from acts of love
Power from each soul
Combine to fuel creation
A world we long to see
We need our power
To change ourselves
To bring justice to the world
Love your power
Give it room
Love should never
Ever be denied