Archive | October 2014

Promises

Promises, promises

Which ones will we make?

Are they ones we will keep

Or ones we will break?

 

What does it matter?

Do we really care?

Will we look for the courage?

To take up the dare?

 

It is not always easy

To be kind or be good

We’ll fall on our faces

We won’t do as we should

 

But it’s still worth the effort

Although we will fail

Even when we blow it

We won’t end up in jail

 

A promise is a promise

It’s not a command

It is pledge for the future

So we know where to stand

 

I’ll remind you of yours

You’ll remind me of mine

Our promises together

Will bear fruit in good time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muscle of Ministry

9232583-cartoon-of-woman-picking-up-a-heavy-box-it-causes-her-back-pain

They ache sometimes

My arms my legs

The work is hard

The path is steep

The lifting can be heavy

Sometimes sweat drips down

Into my eyes

My hair a wet halo

A crown of tears

One could imagine

 

None of that matters

In the end

That ultimate reality

That stands beneath us all

Did I love enough

Did I speak the truth

Did I find some ways

To help the spirit do

What the spirit needs to do

 

One beating heart

It’s all I have

To share

With hurting souls

It keeps me going

That strong muscle

Not mine alone

A gift of grace

I pray it will not quit

Until my work is done

 

 

 

California’s Prop 47: a Matter of Religious Principles

(a excerpt from a sermon given on 10/12/14)

I am definitely a values voter.

When faced with a political choice, I measure both candidates and ballot measures against the 7 principles of our faith. Will my vote help promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person? Will it bring more justice, equity and compassion into human relationships? Does it serve to forward the goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all? Does it respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part?

There is one important proposition on the ballot in the upcoming election that I think can be directly to the 4 principles I just mentioned. Our Social Justice Committee has taken it on as a major focus this year, and they were very right to do so. I am talking about Proposition 47.

Like all proposed laws, the proposition is complicated. It very likely isn’t perfect, very little is. The main thrust of the initiative is to redefine many non-violent crimes, such a drug possession and petty theft, as misdemeanors rather than felonies. This will reduce our prison population significantly and will allow those convicted to perform community service or other methods of restitution instead of just serving time. The money saved will be diverted to the schools, to drug treatment programs, and to mental health and victim services.

Currently there are 2.2 million Americans in prison or in jail. We have less than 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the prison population. We have the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. This makes no sense.

Some of reason for this is the amount of money that is being made by the privatized prison industry. Those corporations give generously to politicians and they lobby for measures that will increase their income stream.

Some of it, too, is due to racism. African Americans are six times more likely to be sent to prison than are whites. They also serve longer sentences, often for the same type of crimes. Roughly a third of all black men are involved in the criminal justice system in some way, which can lead directly to police violence as police officers tend to see all people of color as criminals. They shoot first and ask questions later.

Racism in this country runs very deep. Rooted in the sin of slavery, buttressed by a false mythology of equal opportunity, America has held too many people of color captive as an economic underclass. Now we are simply sending them to jail, partly as a political strategy. People in jail cannot vote. In many states, people with felonies on their records cannot vote. That too is a violation of our fifth principle.

I could go on, but in many ways, I am just preaching to the choir here. I am, instead, going to refer all of you to the Social Justice Committee. They will be in the back of the hall after the service to answer any questions you might have and they also have lots of ways for you to get involved to help California make this small step toward both equity and compassion.

I do believe that passing proposition 47 will be a very good thing, and that it is very much in keeping with all of our seven principles. I am not, however, telling you how to vote. Do your research, listen to your heart, and vote your conscience. We don’t have to think alike to love alike.

5th Principle

 

 

ballot-box.jpg-w=jpg

 

I really do believe in our fifth principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” People should have a vote, a say, in what affects them.

Mark Twain said that, “In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from others.”

Mark Twain was not a member of a Unitarian Church, but he did have a lot of Unitarian friends. He clearly thought that people should examine their beliefs and convictions for themselves, and not take them on second hand authority. It is what our faith asks us to do. Our principles call us to examine our beliefs, to test them against our reason, our experience, and our hearts. They call on us to do the research, to check our sources, to search for truth and meaning in matters of politics as well as religion.

We can’t just believe the slogans, and we can’t just expect our leaders to save the day.

We are a liberal religion, by definition, because we promote the first hand authority of the individual conscience, because we don’t expect everyone to agree about everything, particularly when it comes to theology.

There is room in this faith for atheists, agnostics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, and followers of just about any other religious tradition.   To be comfortable in one of our congregations, however, most people find that it is important to at least be open to the idea that spiritual traditions and practices other than their own just might be very valid for other people. The same is true of opinions about options and decisions, whether they are political or about congregational life. Quoting 15th century Unitarian minister Francis David once again, “we need not think alike to love alike.”

Democracy is one of the methods we use to move forward despite, and sometimes even because of our differences.

It is tricky business, democracy. Too often the majority can tend to vote to deny the rights of a minority. We have seen that often in this country. If it was up for a simple vote, we would still have Jim Crow laws in the south, we might even still have chattel slavery. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people would forever be treated as second-class citizens or even sent to jail, simply because of who they are and who they love. For our country, we have a court system that tries to balance the will of the majority and the rights of individuals.

As Unitarian Universalists, we also have our other principles to guide us as we practice democracy both in the public square and in our congregations.

I am definitely a values voter.

When faced with a political choice, I measure both candidates and ballot measures against the 7 principles of our faith. Will my vote help promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person? Will it bring more justice, equity and compassion into human relationships? Does it serve to forward the goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all? Does it respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part?

There is one important proposition on the ballot in the upcoming election that I think can be directly to the 4 principles I just mentioned. Our Social Justice Committee has taken it on as a major focus this year, and they were very right to do so. I am talking about Proposition 47.

Like all proposed laws, the proposition is complicated. It very likely isn’t perfect, very little is. The main thrust of the initiative is to redefine many non-violent crimes, such a drug possession and petty theft, as misdemeanors rather than felonies. This will reduce our prison population significantly and will allow those convicted to perform community service or other methods of restitution instead of just serving time. The money saved will be diverted to the schools, to drug treatment programs, and to mental health and victim services.

Currently there are 2.2 million Americans in prison or in jail. We have less than 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the prison population. We have the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. This makes no sense.

 

Some of reason for this is the amount of money that is being made by the privatized prison industry. Those corporations give generously to politicians and they lobby for measures that will increase their income stream.

Some of it, too, is due to racism. African Americans are six times more likely to be sent to prison than are whites. They also serve longer sentences, often for the same type of crimes. Roughly a third of all black men are involved in the criminal justice system in some way, which can lead directly to police violence as police officers tend to see all people of color as criminals. They shoot first and ask questions later.

Racism in this country runs very deep. Rooted in the sin of slavery, buttressed by a false mythology of equal opportunity, America has held too many people of color captive as an economic underclass. Now we are simply sending them to jail, partly as a political strategy. People in jail cannot vote. In many states, people with felonies on their records cannot vote. That too is a violation of our fifth principle.

I could go on, but in many ways, I am just preaching to the choir here. I am, instead, going to refer all of you to the Social Justice Committee. They will be in the back of the hall after the service to answer any questions you might have and they also have lots of ways for you to get involved to help California make this small step toward both equity and compassion.

 

I do believe that passing proposition 47 will be a very good thing, and that it is very much in keeping with all of our seven principles. I am not, however, telling you how to vote. Do your research, listen to your heart, and vote your conscience. We don’t have to think alike to love alike.

Our opening words this morning, a poem I wrote awhile back, is in some ways a song of praise to being liberal, a term that has a bad rap on both the right and the left these days. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion.

 

Definitions of liberal include the following:

 

Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes. “We have always done it that way,” is not a good answer in one of our churches.  It might be an explanation, but it doesn’t or shouldn’t close off the consideration of other options.

 

To be liberal is also to be open to new ideas, to be broad minded and tolerant of the ideas and opinions of others. It is to be generous in spirit.

 

I have been here as your developmental minister for 7 weeks now. Your leadership asked for a developmental minister because, I quote:

 

“Our fellowship is aging out, as are our buildings. We are treading water in every conceivable manner.

On our present trajectory of asset drawdown, our endowment will be gone in 4-5 years. We need to radically reinvent ourselves to thrive in a challenging era.”

 

The charge I received from your board of trustees, as described in their application to the UUA who sent them my name in response, was as follows.

 

“Catalyzing the transformation of BFUU into a sustainable and vibrant congregation, capable of thriving in a challenging future.”

 

It is a challenging task, and one that will take the efforts of all of us, working together. There will be mistakes and missteps and conflicts along the way. Some of you may even feel that transformation is not necessary, that everything was just fine the way things were.

 

We have made some fairly significant changes recently to the format of our Sunday services. Some of you like the changes and some of you miss what was done before. That is OK – remember – We need not think alike to love alike.

 

Because the feedback has been mixed, I want to keep trying what we have been doing for at least several more months, tweaking as we go along, but not simply going back to the old format.

The board and I will evaluate how it is going at some point in the future, with input, of course, from all of you. This is a democratic instituion.

 

Our 5th principlestates that we will use the democratic process within our congregations. It is important to notice that word, “process”.

 

Democracy does not mean that everyone gets their way. That is frankly impossible in any human community. We are diverse. We have different opinions, ideas, concerns and needs.

 

Your elected board of trustees and I are doing the best we can to lead this fellowship into a future that will encourage both the spiritual and numerical growth of this community. We want it to continue to exist and to serve not only those who are here today, but also those who may come in the future. The Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists is never going to be a mega-church, and I don’t know anyone who wants it to be. It does have the potential, however, to be perhaps a hundred members strong, financially sustainable, and providing a welcoming community to all who come.

 

Your board and I are doing what we are doing because of our love for this congregation and for this faith of ours. Please give us a chance.

 

There is a wonderful poem by ee Cummings, that I think applies here:

It is called “dive for dreams,”

Dive for dreams
Or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)

trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)

honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at this wedding)

A slogan may topple you. Don’t believe the slogans. Dive deep for your dreams, trust your heart, and honor the past while welcoming the future. Try new things. You might find you like them.

I am not at all sure that it is possible to not be afraid of change.  Change always brings some loss. Rather, I would hope for us all to grow courage in spite of our fears.

May it be so! Namaste

Marriage Equality again in Utah

 

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I moved from Utah back to California at the end of June, partly to live in a state where my marriage would be recognized.  The photo above is of our wedding cake.  It has been nice.  No issues come up when I introduce my spouse as my wife.  No one even blinks an eye.  Now, finally, all marriages are recognized in Utah again.  Things have been bad there since the brief window where people married last December after a federal court ruling.  The state officials continued to fight against equality in increasingly nasty ways.  They are still trying to do so, but have to realize at this point that they really are on the wrong side of history.  Blessings to all my Utah friends today.  Your steadfast work in planting the seeds for justice is finally bring the harvest end. Congratulations!  I won’t fly back for the celebrations, but my heart is with you today.

Days of Awe

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Days of Awe

The Jewish High Holy Days ended last evening at sundown. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the ten days between the two holidays are also called the Days of Awe.

 

It is a sacred time, a time to get right with God, to confess your sins, to atone for your sins, and to give and receive forgiveness.

 

Sin is a difficult concept for many of us Unitarian Universalists to wrap our heads around. We don’t believe in original sin. Many of us don’t believe in the idea of a supreme being that can forgive our sins, even if we have them.

 

The Rev. John Buerhens says,

“We may not be sinful by nature. Much less born into the world by a sinful process. But we are born into a world in which the manifold sins of oppression, pollution, exploitation, racism, sexism, and other narcissisms are all present before we arrive. Such sin is not original with us; we do not choose it. But it traps us.

And here is the paradox: until we accept the deep truth that we all share this condition, we may be trapped indeed. Trapped in pride and illusion. Only in humbly accepting that we share this condition even with those who have wronged us can we forgive others and allow ourselves to be forgiven. As C. S. Lewis said, “The first step toward being humble is to admit that one is proud. And that’s a biggish step, too.”

 

Ah, humility. We Unitarian Universalists can tend to be a self-righteous prideful people, politically correct in all things, and a little too quick to pass judgment on others. When we make mistakes, it can be hard for us to admit them, even to ourselves, because maybe we fear that judgment, our own and that of others, may be turned upon us.

 

So how do we approach this time? Judaism is part of our religious heritage and its wisdom is referred to in our sources, the ones I spoke about the other week. Some of us too, grew up in Jewish households.

 

I don’t have that background myself, but the High Holy Days still speak to me. I think they speak to the human condition, the lack of perfection, the sorrow and regret we all live with. The also speak to the resentment and anger we can hold against others.

 

This is a time to try and let some of those feelings go.

 

A traditional Jewish prayer for this time is as follows:

 

 

“O Source of peace, lead us to peace, a peace profound and true;

lead us to a healing, to mastery of all that drives us to war within ourselves and with others.

May our deeds inscribe us in the Book of life and blessing, righteousness and peace!

O Source of peace, bless us with peace.”

 

Don’t we all want peace? Peace for ourselves and for those that we love, and peace for our world that is so torn apart by violence and hate?

 

Peace my friends, begins with us.

Many of you know the reading by Lao-Tse that is in our hymnal.

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

How do we find peace in our hearts?

I think the practice of both atonement and forgiveness can help lead us there.

One of the readings from the Torah, the Jewish Scripture, that is read in synagogue for Yom Kippur is from the book of Isaiah, chapter 58.

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
 and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,…?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
 and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
 and break every yoke?
 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
 and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?
 when you see the naked, to clothe him,
 and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
 9 ….”If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
 with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
 and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
 then your light will rise in the darkness,…
 11….You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

We do fairly well here on trying to loose the chains of injustice, but what about the pointing fingers and malicious talk?

Where is simple forgiveness, for our own selves and for each other?

Most of our sins are relatively minor: things like rudeness, inattention, carelessness, selfishness, all small failures that can eat away at the fabric of community if they are neither acknowledged nor forgiven.

Sometimes others hurt us, and the hurt is more painful because of other experiences we may have had. Do we take the time to reflect on this, to offer an explanation, or do we store up this hurt with all the others and not reach out for understanding.

People who are hurting can also hurt others in their pain. Forgiveness comes a little easier if you can feel some compassion for someone who has hurt you.

Forgiveness does not include condoning or excusing bad behavior. Even with good reasons, it is not OK to hurt others. The really bad actors need to go to prison of course, to make everyone else a little safer, but we all also know people who we just avoid, who are dangerous to us emotionally even if we have no fear of physical harm from them. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to let them back into your life, but it does mean that you can finally get to a place where you have let go of at least most of your anger.

Letting go of our anger is a way to get to that peace we were praying for earlier.

Letting go of our guilty feelings, trying to make amends for the wrongs we have done, asking for forgiveness, giving the gift of forgiveness to ourselves, is yet another way.

John Buehrens also said,

 

“Those who risk and fail can be forgiven; those who never risk and never fail are failures in all their being. They are not forgiven because they do not feel their need for forgiveness. Therefore let us dare courageously not to be conformed to this age, but to transform it—first in ourselves, then in the world, and both in the spirit and power of love.”

A Rumi quote I have always loved:

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass,the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make sense any more.”

As the Unitarian Francis David said back in the 1500’s, “We don’t have to think alike to love alike.”  I think he and Rumi would have liked each other.

 

Take the risk. Try to find that field. Reflect for a moment upon the last year.

What did you do or not do that you regret? Is there a way to make amends? Will saying that you are sorry be a beginning?

What are you angry about? What will it take for you to let that anger go? What will it take for you to forgive?

We will have some silence for your reflections.

In a few moments, Peter with blow the Shofar in the traditional way, but first I will close with these words by -Robert Eller-Isaacs. It is a responsive reading that is in our hymnal, but you don’t need to turn to it. Your line is easy to say, “we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.” It is easy to say, but so much harder to do. Let’s try it.

 

 

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For losing sight of our unity,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness,

we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

Amen and Blessed Be.