Archive | April 2015

POETRY OF THE SPIRIT SKSM Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Call to Worship

Come into this place

There are healing waters here

And hands with soothing balm

To ease your troubled days.

Bring your wounds and aching hearts

Your scars too numb to feel.

Your questions and complaints,

All are welcome here.

Rest awhile.

Let the warmth of this community

Surround you,

Hold you,

Heal you.

When you feel stronger,

Just a bit,

Notice those that need you too.

They are here.

They are everywhere.

Weep with them

Smile with them,

Work with them,

Laugh along the way.

Pass the cup,

Drink the holy fire.

Take it with you

Into the world.

We are saved

And we save each other

Again, again, and yet again.

Poem                          “Prayer “

Pray with me now,

If you will.

I think

We need

To pray.

Pray with me now,

Not out to some great intervener,

A handsome stranger,

Coming to the rescue.

You don’t have to barter your soul,

Your mind, your free and restless spirit.

Pray with me now.

We need to pray loudly sometimes

Giving voice with word or gesture.

To the urgent fires within our hearts.

Screaming out, “why this?”

“How long?”

Screaming out for help, for courage.

Outrage rumbles through our veins

And the pulse of our prayer is ragged.

Pray with me now,

If you will,

I think

We need

To pray.

We need to pray softly sometimes

Our silent bodies held still

A quiet hope rising to the wind

Blowing about the world in wonder.

Pray with me now.

Pray silently or out loud.

Our very prayers are an answer

The pulse of life, of hope

In our so very human hearts.

May our prayers be heard.

Message        POETRY OF THE SPIRIT                                      Rev. Theresa Novak

Some people are true poets. Poetry it is both an art and a craft and requires discipline to place words in such a way that the rhythm and meter enhance the images and their meanings. I am not a poet.   But poetry is a spiritual practice for me. Most of the images in my poems come to me in my dreams or just upon waking up. Most often it feels like I am coming up with the words, but just writing them down, pulling them from a river that is flowing through me. When the poems don’t come that way, I know that I am disconnected from spirit and have to find my way back home again. I, of course, have a poem about that.

Something seems wrong

When the words won’t flow

With the force of a waterfall

There is cause for fear

When old faithful fails

And there is no release.

The waters churn

The ocean rolls

The spirit tries

The spirit yearns

The earth it slowly turns

Until patience brings

The sunrise

An unexpected delight

Once again

We are again waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court on marriage equality. I spent seven years in Utah serving out fabulous church in Ogden. I left last June, partly because I was tired of living in a state where my marriage was always in question.

This is one I wrote in 2013.

It is called “Waiting for the Supreme (Court that is)”

They say

They will decide

This month

Once but not

For all

For some

Not everyone

Freedom pulses

In short spurts

Not equal

Breath held

Waiting

Will it matter

For you

For me.

Justice cannot

Be made

By nine

Black robes

Unless it rolls

Down like water

Blessing us all

True vows

Like faith

Oh freedom

Will you

Come for me

I raged sometimes, and poetry helped me process that rage.

My rage it is building

It will not be contained

I must fight for my life

My love and my dream

Shall I burn

Down your temples

And set fire to your lies?

Shall I spit

In your faces

And call you to pay?

For your crimes

Against freedom

For the people who’ve died?

Ah, but

God is my witness

I can do none of those things

I will love

You instead

With pain and through tears

My fury will fuel

The new dawning day

Justice and mercy

Will rain down on us all.

And another one, called “Walk Proud”

You can creep about

With your head down

Shoulders bent

Weighted down by fear

You can avert your eyes

Maybe they won’t see you

If you can’t see them

Duck and cover might work

Still the blows come

While words rain down

Fag dyke fat bitch

Whatever they hate about you

You can run sometimes

You can even hide

Lock up your heart

Chain your free spirit down

But still their poison seeps

Into the air you need to breathe

Stand up

As tall as you can dare

Gather your friends around

Be yourself and

Look them in the eye

The blows may still come

But the truth will wash

The air around you clean

Whoever you are

You deserve this:

A real life

A chance to dream

There are others

Yearning to follow

Footsteps free from fear.

Walk proud.

Join the conga line.

I also write, specifically for worship. This one was for a servie on covenants of right relations.

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

Another on a similar theme:

Will you walk with me

Across this great divide

The imagined distance

Between two souls

Worlds apart

Lives lived differently

Hopes perhaps the same

Will you stand with me

No matter what I say

Or think or do

Can I do the same for you

I will hold you

while you weep

Will you work with me

To dry the tears so quick to fall

Solitude is not an option

In this crowded crazy world

Walk with me.

And one on God:

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 every one of us.

Another:

How can we know God

If we won’t look into the mirror

Deep into our own eyes

How can we know faith

If we don’t trust ourselves to do

What we know is right

How can we know compassion

If we are not gentle and tender

To our own hurting souls

How can we know love

If we don’t remember

That our own feelings matter

Who bakes the bread

Who pours the wine

Our bodies and our blood

Are the sacraments of life

All creatures walk

The holy path

With twists and turns

With fear and doubt

Surprising joy

Around the bend.

This can be my life

This can be your life

Sacred journeys

Must begin somewhere

Why not here?

Why not now?

Why not you?

And for you who aspire to be ministers or other religious leaders:

Mantle of Ministry

 

What is this mantle?

This holy vestment

Of clerical fashion

Is it a superwoman cape

Or merely a disguise?

It can make me taller, thinner

It can amplify my voice

Bring courage to my path

It carries its own baggage

And sits by me at the station.

It cradles my shoulders

When I kneel trembling

In prayer or in despair

It offers comfort

When words do not suffice.

A heavy weight

It gives me wings

Lost, it leads me home

Buried in my bones

Lending the strength I need.

What is this cloth

Woven by the spirit swirling

Awesome and overwhelming

It is not worn lightly

And can’t be left behind.

Lessons learned in practice

Visions clarified

The call just keeps on coming

Echoes with the wind

There is ministry to do.

Swimming

If you walk along the shore

Waves might tease your feet

Drawing you into the sea’s embrace

Ankle deep the sand shifts

Taking the space from beneath your toes

Keep moving to stay still.

If you go deeper

Waves will pound your thighs

And bring you to your knees.

Stagger to your feet

Sand has scraped your hips

And salt has burned your eyes

The hardest place to stand

is in the midst of breaking waves

Punishment for indecision.

Beyond the breakers

The ocean swells in ecstasy

Longing draws you there.

The gentle pulse of tides

Rocks you in the heart of time

Gather courage and ride them home.

Pacific Central District Assembly – worship notes

IMG_0279

Opening worship:

Bless this Morning

Bless this day

Bless this good company

Of faithful seeking hearts

We have come to worship

To learn and grow

To find our way in a changing world

From small fellowships

And large congregations

From cities and small towns

From the mountains and the valleys

And from across the ocean wide

We have come to worship

We have come to light our flame

Blessed is the fire that burns deep in the soul.

It is the flame of the human spirit touched into being by the mystery of life.

It is the fire of reason; the fire of compassion; the fire of community; the fire of justice; the fire of faith.

It is the fire of love burning deep in the human heart; the divine glow in every life.

Music -#1074 Turn the World Around (Cue for Chalice lighters to enter carrying candles)

Come we now out of the darkness of our unknowing

and the dusk of our dreaming;

Come we now from far places.

Come we now into the twilight of our awakening

and the reflection of our gathering.

Come we now all together.

We bring, unilluminated, our dark caves of doubting;

We seek, unbedazzled, the clear light of understanding.

May the sparks of our joining kindle our resolve,

brighten our spirits, reflect our love,

and unshadow our days.

Come we now; enter the dawning.

Homily

No, “trouble don’t last always”, but trouble always comes. We know it is true.   We have trouble in our own lives. There is a whole lot of trouble in the world. There is so much racism. So many young black men in particular die every day from violence, from police violence. There is war and poverty and environmental catastrophe. There is the transphobia and homophobia that causes the deaths of so many of our young people both through violence and through the despair of suicide.

And too often, friends, our congregations, which should be places of both refuge and renewal, which should inspire us and give us both energy and hope; our congregations they get in trouble too.

We worry about money.

We fight with each other over stupid things.

We respect the inherent worth and dignity of all, except those who disagree with us. We refine our mission statements and we search for that special minister who will lead us on our journey, but will somehow manage to do so without changing anything at all. The board members are burnt out. The building is falling down. What should we do with our children and youth? Where are the children and youth? How shall we care for our elders and where will we find enough volunteers? What can we do about raising enough money to do what we need to do? How can we fund what we want?

Tornados spin us around, flying monkeys abound. We don’t have enough courage or brains for the task and even our hearts are failing fast.

The path seems to lead nowhere at best and we really want to reach the mountaintop, our souls yearning for a glimpse of that emerald city that we know, we know, lies just beyond a rainbow that waits behind the rain.

Oh, we get so weary

The mountains are so high

Boulders come from nowhere

And roll onto our path

We push them back

More come again

Is there a way around?

Our compass has a crack

We did not see before

Supplies are getting low

Walking a faithful path is never easy, even when we know that we are called to do so. Some of us can’t walk at all; instead we have to roll. Sometimes it seems that all any of us can do is crawl.

How can we move in ways that will bring our congregations and the world to a better place?

We have all imagined the land that beyond the rainbow lies.   It is a place of justice and harmony and a place where all are fed. It is a place where the congregations we love so much are not only surviving but are thriving.

How can we get there, what can we do?

You don’t have to stand on your own two feet. You don’t have to go it alone. You can roll along in wheelchair mode and you can speak your truth with your hands.

We all have a path

But it isn’t a plan

It comes and it goes

Fading from sight

When we forget who we are

Lost in the woods

We can’t see the dream

The vision gets clouded

The body gets tired

Words can confuse

We forget we can see

We forget how to feel

The path is still there

Our feet know the way

Don’t worry so much

Stay steady and know

This journey takes time

Just when you stumble

Or after you fall

The moonlight will shine

Through densest of brush

It will make sense at last

You’ll know where to go

If we keep singing, if we keep going, if we have the faith, if we have the hope, we will find the courage to do what we must do.

Now let us sing.

 Closing worship

Homily

Does that fire burn within you?   Are you more committed now to walking a faithful path? Some of us may have felt lost and even discouraged when we came here today. But we came anyway, hoping that, just maybe, one more meeting, one more workshop; one more inspirational presentation would provide the solution to all of our problems.   We have so many complex problems that it really seems like would take a wizard to solve them all. Did you see any wizards today? What did those wizards tell you?

I find, often, when I attend events like this, that nothing presented is really completely new to me. The information and perspectives are more just reminders of what I already know. Maybe it is because I have been to a lot of workshops and conferences and I have read a literal ton of books. (I haven’t converted to kindle quite yet.) But I believe it is more than that. I believe that if we pay attention to something, some situation that appears to be problematic, if we use both our hearts and our minds, something happens. Somehow, some way, we find that we really do know what it is that we need to do. A path appears, and we just have to find the courage to take that first step.

Call it grace, call it God, call it the moral arc of the universe that is bending us toward justice, call it whatever you will, or leave it as an unnamed mystery, but something is calling us. Something is leading us on that faithful and fateful journey we are all trying to navigate.

We can be guided by the lessons of the past, those beacons bright and clear, we can listen to the lessons of our own lives and be inspired by the courageous choices of others. But the hunger and the passion, the flame is something that burns within each and every one of us.

Someone is behind the curtain, but it isn’t a wizard, or a wise old woman, or a micromanaging God that is pulling all the strings.

Lift up the curtain and look inside. All you will see is a mirror and your own face looking back at you. Look into you own eyes and listen with your own ears. Hear your own call and get going on your journey. And when you begin to move, look around and you will find others who also are called. Look around now, and look at the people in this room with you. Can we walk together? Can we be faithful? Can we help each other when we stumble and when we are afraid or tired? Can we clear the way so that it just might be a little bit easier for those that follow after us? Our spiritual ancestors did it for us, so how can we not do so for the future?

Oh, we will need all the help we can get, but the reality is that together we do have what it takes to move toward making our dreams a reality. It won’t be easy, but we have the power to bring more love and justice, more compassion, more generosity, more joy into the world. Do you feel some of that power within you and around you? Just like the tin man, we have an amazing amount of love inside of us. Just like the scarecrow, we are much smarter than we realize, and just like the lion, we have all the courage we need.

Are you ready to answer the call?

Prayer offered at an Interfaith Action for the Homeless

Spirit of Life, God of many names and understandings

Hold us all as we stand together this evening
Knowing we are one people
One family
No matter who we are or what we have
No matter where we are or where we have been
No matter what we have done or not done
We are human
Children of God
Made in the divine image
We all deserve respect
We all deserve compassion
We all deserve a decent place to live
Enough food to eat
And tender care when we are sick

Forgive us for our failings
Forgive us for our fears

Grant us the wisdom to know what we must do
To change what is not right
To bring this community and this country
Back to the promise of a decent life for all

Give us the energy to keep working
Give us the courage to stand strong
Give us the faith to know that change will come

Help us to know that is us,
And no one else that can turn despair into hope
And fear into compassion
We can only do this through the redeeming power of love.

May it be so Amen, blessed be and Namaste.

Rolling away the stone @thebfuu 4/5/15

the-stone-is-rolled-away

 

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.

 

 

Happy Easter. There are 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. That holiday can hold deep meaning for those who do not identify as Jewish

 

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. The holiday holds meaning for those who do not identify as pagan. It is also a particularly fun one for children.

 

Easter is the story of Jesus and his death and resurrection. A Christian story, it too holds meaning for those who do not identify as Christian.

 

The Easter story is a rich one, an important one, and not an easy one to understand. It has been the source of hope and renewal for millions. Millions have fought and died over how it should be understood.

It is good to be celebrating Easter this morning as a Unitarian Universalist! We can dig into the story, ask some hard questions about it, and – best of all – we do not have to agree on all the answers. Hallelujah! No religious wars here.

Easter is most simply a story about a victory over death.

 

If Easter had not happened, Jesus would have likely been remembered as simply one more in a long line of Hebrew prophets. 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.

 

He was 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 ranted about the money lenders in the temple. And, just like the pay day lenders of today, I am sure they made a lot of financial contributions to those who had the power. He healed people and he didn’t 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.

 

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 had a meal, a Passover Seder and then 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 was his death planned all along by God? 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 today. Would the holocaust have happened without that version of the Easter story? And if his death was God’s plan, why would the Jews or even Judas be blamed?

 

I say it was the Romans, with the strong encouragement of both the religious and secular authorities of the day. It was the 1% trying to protect their wealth and power from a movement that frankly scared them.   It is the answer that makes the most sense to me, but you get to decide for yourself what makes sense to you.

 

The idea that it was God’s plan is worth exploring more deeply, however, as it raises an important theological issue.

 

 

The issue even has a name, “theodicy.” The term comes from the Greek and involves the effort to reconcile the traditional characteristics of God as all good, all loving, and all-powerful with the fact of evil in the world. In simple terms, the question is why do bad things happen to good people? If God is running the world, then why does God let those things happen? I handle that issue for myself by understanding God as a force for good, and not as an all-powerful being. Others believe that even bad things come from God, as lessons, as tests, or as punishments.

It is an issue worth exploring, and the Easter story is a prime example of how the same event can be interpreted in different ways.

 

Jesus was a good person and a bad thing happened to him. He suffered. He cried out in despair and thought that his God had forsaken him. He died and he was buried, sealed in a tomb by a heavy stone.

 

Some interesting things are said to have happened while Jesus was on the cross. One of my favorites is from John 19.

“standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.”

 

This is a curious verse in that there was not just one, or even two, but three Mary’s there. And who was the disciple Jesus loved? Didn’t he love them all? Or was there one special one? And who was it? Was it Mary Magdalene? Or was it a male disciple because he said “Woman behold your son?” It is hard to tell as these writings were all oral traditions before they were written down, but it is interesting that both the nature of the relationship and the gender of the “disciple whom he loved” are fairly ambiguous.

 

This is obviously not a traditional interpretation of that verse, but is another one worth thinking about. In any case, the verse shows that even as he neared death, Jesus cared about both his family and his friends. He wanted to make sure they would take care of each other after he was gone.

It is also clear that Jesus despaired. He felt that God had left him, forsaken him. 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. It is not so very hard to identify with the suffering Jesus.

 

We can also identify with his followers and their despair after his death. Some of us will never forget when Martin and Malcolm were murdered, when the Kennedy brothers were killed, or when Harvey Milk was slain. Many of us wept bitter tears at those times. I know I did.

 

But Easter, although an upsetting story in so many ways has a miracle at the end. The stone gets rolled away and Jesus comes back to life! Hallelujah!

 

Easter can also lead us to reflect on what is blocking our pathway to a more abundant life. What is the stone that seals the tomb that you may have buried yourself in? Did someone else put us there? Are you able to roll that stone away by yourself? Do you need some help? If you want to come back to life, the stone has just got to go! Roll it away!

 

The resurrection of Jesus can be interpreted as a metaphor, and it can also be seen as a fact. In either case, what does it mean? Does it signify hope for all of us? Did his death save us? Who do we mean by us? What do we mean by salvation?

 

Very early in Christianity, there was a lot of argument about this. OK, there is still a lot of argument about this.

The earliest Universalists, prior to the 4th century even, were divided over some of these issues, but they were in agreement that if the death of Jesus provided salvation, it was salvation for everybody by the grace and goodness of God. No exclusions. No restricting salvation to just Christians; it is universal. Not everyone agreed then and not everyone agrees now.

There is a New Testament verse that is often quoted that deals with some of this. John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

 

The conservative interpretation of this text has caused a lot of grief. “God loves us, he sacrificed his son, believe this or you will die.” The book of John is the most mystical of the Gospels, and taking it at all literally doesn’t make much sense to me, and it also doesn’t really do it justice.

Are humans so evil that such a sacrifice would be required? The verse itself says God gave his son out of love. Perhaps it was a simple gift, and not a sacrifice.

Maybe the message from God was instead, “Here is this man in whom I have invested my spirit, listen to what he says, believe him, follow him, and life will come to you.”

The Easter story should be one of pure joy, of pure relief. 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 of hope? Can we find out how to get our own heavy stones rolled away so we can find our way back to life? Can we learn to do justice and love mercy? Can we love our neighbor as ourselves? Can we see every human being as both our parent and our child? How long will it take us? Are three days enough? Three years? Three decades?

 

Those questions are for each of you to answer, each in your own way. But as Unitarian Universalists we are called to life, to be born and reborn again and again.

You can live with your questions, cherish your doubts, and believe what you must, but don’t let anything keep you shut inside a cold tomb of despair. Come back. Come back. Come back to Life. Come back to hope and commitment; come back to searching for a better way; roll those heavy stones away. Blessed Be. Happy Easter.