Look to the Future
Opening words (here)
We have talked about change a lot in the last few months. I admit that it has really been on my mind and in my heart particularly after I decided in the late fall that I would leave you at the end of June. That is coming up pretty quick now, isn’t it? My last worship service with you will be June 22.
Change is natural; we know that. And some changes are ones we feel sad about while others fill us with eager anticipation. Often both emotions are present at the same time.
The choir’s song this morning about summer reflects the gladness that most people feel when a hard winter is over and the long warm summer days have finally come. Today we have also put out our summer runners, one of the ways we mark the changing seasons in this congregation. It is important to acknowledge change and the passage of time.
Nic’s wonderful song is also about the excitement of change, about following a dream.
I love the song, but one line in it gives me some pause.
“Don’t look back – you can never look back where you’ve been. You can only look where you’re going.”
I love the image that birds don’t look back over their shoulders when they are flying, but it also makes me think about the Bible story about Lot’s wife.
The book of Genesis does not tell us her name, as is often the case with female characters in Bible stories. She is just “Lot’s wife.” Some Jewish Midrash refers to her as Edith. Midrash is a tradition that tries to fill in some of the gaps in the ancient stories; sort of a description of what might also have been happening that can help explain the story better. Anyway, as the story goes, Edith and Lot were fleeing the city of Sodom right before it was to be destroyed. They were told not to look back. Edith looked back anyway and God turned her into a pillar of salt. Why did she look back? Was she having a hard time letting go of what her life had been in that city? She must have had friends and family members living there. It must have been impossible for her to just walk away and not give it at least one parting glance. She must have been crying as she left, and perhaps the whole pillar of salt thing is just a metaphor of the salty tears she shed knowing that all she had known before was going to be destroyed.
Change always involves some loss. Always. Even when the change is overall a very positive one, there is some grief involved. Ending a bad marriage or relationship can be a very good thing, particularly if abuse has been involved, but there still can be some grief when it ends. Maybe it is just sadness over the loss of the hope for what might have been. I think it is important to recognize the full spectrum of emotions that come up around change.
Some of you who have left other religions to become Unitarian Universalists may still feel some grief about the things you left behind in your other faith tradition.
Whatever the change is, it is important to look back, to know what you are leaving, and to grieve the loss. Only then can you really look forward and step into the future. I promise, you won’t turn into a pillar of salt, although you may shed a few tears.
What isn’t always so healthy is to not look back at all, to just shut the door to the past and pretend it doesn’t matter anymore, even that it never mattered at all.
The past always matters. Good or bad or in-between, it matters. The future is built on what has gone before.
I found our reading about the train this morning a little nerve-wracking. The train could have come as it did once before and caught more young boys mid-span. More lives could have been lost. Some changes, some bridges that we need to cross in our lives, can be simply terrifying. They can take real courage to navigate.
But some of what I like about that story is the description of what it felt like to be in the middle of that bridge:
“We were in between. We were off balance. We were unknown to our own selves. As if on cue, the breeze picked up, whipping through the wooden beams.
It tousled Terry’s hair. He smiled. Another gust, cooler, caused me to stop. Christian hollered and tossed his t-shirt high above our heads, and for a moment it rode the wind out beyond the bridge. I shut my eyes, threw open my arms, wide, and let that same wind rush across my skin. Then, with eyes open, we stepped forward.”
That in between space is important, it is where transformation happens. They were free floating in the wind and then they stepped forward with courage and joy. They suddenly knew they had the power to cross that bridge safely and discover what was on the other side.
This congregation is currently in an in-between space. I am currently in-between too. Beginning July 1, I will no longer be your minister. We are saying goodbye to a relationship we have shared and valued. We will do that formally and ritually on the 22nd of this month. Although I am sure I will see some of you again, it will be a completely different relationship than the one we have now.
You are also looking forward to the future. You will soon have a fabulous new minister and with her you will enter a time of reevaluating your mission and goals.
The wind will blow about you and through you and you will move boldly to the other side of the bridge. I know you will, because you are courageous and faithful people.
And for me, I am going home and will be close to family and old friends. I will also be starting a new part-time ministry in a congregation very different from this one. I will still be a minister, but I won’t be your minister anymore, and that is something that in some ways is heartbreaking for me and, I know, for many of you. We have done good work together and your hearts really are entwined with mine.
As in the poem I wrote and read this morning at the beginning of the service, we need to unravel the threads that have bound us together carefully. They are not going away, just being transformed and woven into a different tapestry, one that I suspect will be even more beautiful that the amazing one we have created together. The new one will come from your collective dreams, so dream deeply and dream well.
We will all, I hope, look back on our time together with love and gratitude, but not with any kind of nostalgia that will inhibit our welcome embrace of the future. Great things really do await, the only real limit is a failure of imagination.
It is pride weekend here in Utah and I need to say something about the incredible progress that has been made because courageous people lived their dreams. When I first came out, it was illegal in most states to even be in a relationship with someone of the same gender. If someone caught you kissing, you could be arrested and thrown in jail.
Today marriage equality is real in, I forget how many states it is now, and Wisconsin is the latest. It will happen, again, in Utah.
But even achieving marriage equality throughout this nation will not mean the work for justice will end. Not until everyone, no matter who they are, who they love, their immigration status, or how much money they have, not until everyone, and I mean everyone can count on being always treated with dignity and respect then we will not have true justice and equity in this world of ours.
Our closing hymn today is one of our favorites I know. I chose it for that reason, but also because of some of the words.
“From the light of days remembered burns a beacon bright and clear. Guiding hands and hearts and spirits into faith set free from fear.” It is good to look back at the past as long as looking back becomes an inspiration that gives us the courage to meet the future.
“From the stories of our living rings a song both brave and free calling pilgrims still to witness to the life of liberty,”
How we live, right now, today, matters.
“From the dreams of youthful vision comes a new prophetic voice which demands a deeper justice built by our courageous choice.” And I just need to say that a youthful vision can come from someone of any chronological age.
But yes, deeper justice can come to one and all. We just need to keep the fire burning and the dreams alive. I love you. Nameste.