Tag Archive | God

This I Believe About God @UUP 10/23/16

Opening words:

What should I call you

He, she or it

Are you a person, a thing, an idea?

Where are you now

While I call out your name

Are you high on a cloud

Or under a bush

A fire in the daytime

Or warmth in the night?

Do you live in a mansion

Or outside in the woods

Should I tremble in fear

Or relax in your love?

Are you father or mother

Brother or child?

Do you dwell deep inside me

Or around the next bend

My questions are many

My answers are few

Oh God be my witness

I am doing my best

Come down from your heavens

To live in our souls

Bring peace to this planet

Comfort the lost

Care for the children

The hungry the hurting

Who cares what we call you

I know you don’t mind

Living and loving

We’ll just try and be kind

Reading:

from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple 

 “Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into this world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit. It? I ast.Yeah, it. God ain’t a he or a she, but a it.But what it look like? I ast.         Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It aint something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found it… Listen, God love everything you love – and a mess of stuff you don’t, but more than anything else, God love admiration.         You saying God vain? I ast.Naw, she say.  Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.           What it do when it pissed off? I ast.Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

sermon notes:

“Autumn lies down to rest having shared all her best, comes a soul and comforter, autumn gives her hand to winter.”

That line from the anthem the choir just sang reminds me of the words of John Muir.

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

The changing of the seasons can sometimes seem to mirror the changes in our lives. Very little in life stays the same for very long.

This morning I want to share with you some of the changes that have happened within me as I have tried to follow our 4th principle, “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

Some of this will be about what I have come to believe about God.

First, how many people here have dogs?  Do you love your dog?  There are a lot of jokes around the fact that God is Dog spelled backwards.  That makes sense if you love dogs – and for some of you, loving a dog is much easier than loving God.

This leads me to wonder that if God were in fact a dog, what kind of dog would God be?  A stately Great Dane perhaps, high above it all? A St Bernard, coming to the rescue?

A practical Collie like Lassie or maybe a Golden Retriever who just wiggles with love? Some people may see God as a Pit Bull waiting to snarl everyone into hell in short order if they don’t shape up. When I look at a Pug, I sometimes wonder if God might often have a similar expression.

Now, I know, and you know, that God is not really a dog, except of course in the sense that there is a spark of the divine in all living creatures.  But I think sometimes we humans can treat God like a dog.  Not badly, I don’t mean that.  But I think sometimes we tend to treat God as our own personal pet.  We keep God on a leash, in a box, under our control.  I think this is true even for folks that don’t believe in God. They usually have a quite definite image of the God they don’t believe in.

When I was young, I thought of God as an old bearded white man who sat on a golden throne, high in the sky, amidst fluffy clouds, with sweet-faced plump cherubs fluttering about him.  A child, if they have courage, might want to climb up into the lap of that sort of God, the view alone would be worth it I think.  If that God became angry, however, the clouds went gray and lightening flashed.  Any sensible child would run for cover.   Which is exactly what I did, and I stopped believing in God for a very long time.  Those childhood images of God stayed with me, though.  I didn’t believe in that old man in the sky, but it was him that I didn’t believe in if anyone asked me about God.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, in Genesis 1, it says, “So God created humankind in God’s image.”

Some sociologists say that the process is just the reverse, that humans create God in their own image, or an image that signifies an ideal in the common culture.  Old white men were the ones with all the power while I was growing up.  No wonder that is what God looked like to me.

Earlier, I told a story about playing hide and seek with God.  It is easier to find something if you know what you are looking for. Think for a moment if you will, think about how you picture God.  You don’t have to believe in God to do this. (pause)

All of us, whether we are believers or unbelievers, tend to carry around with us images of what God is and is not.  We need to pay attention to those images, to what we think about even the God we may not believe in.  Because God is a cultural symbol of what is ideal, what is the most valued; our image of God can affect how we are with ourselves and with each other.

If we see God as perfect and unchanging, how do we see our own need for change?

If we see God as all-knowing do we somehow get the idea that it is possible to know everything?

If we see God as all powerful, do we think that if we don’t have the power to change things in an absolutely Godlike way, then we can feel that it is not worth trying.

Several things happened to me that shattered my old image of the God I did not believe in.  The first was shortly after I retired from Social Security.

I was in the hospital for several days, undergoing a number of tests.  Everything turned out fine for me, but in the next bed was a woman who had just been told that her heart was giving out and she had only a month or so left to live.  She was crying and worrying that she was going to hell because of how she had lived her life.  I started channeling John Murray.  I told her firmly that there was no hell, that a God that would send people to hell makes absolutely no sense at all.  I still didn’t believe in God, but it was a different God whose existence I questioned.

Then I read Rebecca Parker’s Proverbs of Ashes.  A lot of that book is about her being sexually molested as a child.  While talking with her therapist, she comes to the realization that God was with her in those moments when she was being abused, holding her in love, and that even if she died, would continue to hold her.  What most struck me while reading that was the God she was talking about wasn’t all powerful.  That God could love her and hold her, but could not prevent what happened.

I still didn’t believe in God, but I stopped believing in a God I could blame for all the bad things in the world.

In seminary, I dove into theology and in particular I loved Charles Hartshorne, a UU theologian.  In his book, Divine Relativity, he critiques the traditional image of God.

He said,  

A wholly absolute God can provide no lasting good inclusive of human achievement….

A wholly absolute God is power divorced from responsiveness or sensitivity;

and power which is not responsive is irresponsible and, if held to settle all issues, enslaving.  (Hartshorne148-149)

 

Hartshorne also said, “In trying to conceive God, are we to forget everything we know about values?”

Hartshorne’s question about values is a good one.  Our conception of God should be composed of the highest human values.  It leads to the question of what kind of God would be most valuable; what kind of God does the world need?  Bernard Loomer, another theologian, says that

“value is greater than truth… the problem with being addicted to truth is that it can throw you off from many of the deeper dimensions of life.” (Religious Experience and Process Theology  pg 71)

Maybe God is like that, a value deeper than truth, or what we can conceivably know as factual, provable truth.  Maybe it even doesn’t matter so much what God really is, what the “truth is,” but instead it may be more important to believe – or even not believe – in the sort of God we need.    If God is truly God, then God will be the God the world needs.  That should, I think, be part of the definition.

I then started to ask the question, “What kind of God would serve us well, here, today, in the twenty-first century?”   What God could be more inclusive of diversity, more responsive to oppression, better able to help us get along with others in peaceful and loving ways?  What kind of God could help us face and do what is before us now to face and do?

What could it mean to us if we began to see God not as absolute and unchanging, but as relational?  What if God was a sensitive, changeable presence, one that interacted with the world rather than ruled it?  What if we took God out of the box, off leash so to speak?  Maybe we could start imagining God as the best of what humans have the potential to be.

Unlike the image of the old man in the sky, this relational image of God can inspire love and compassion rather than awe and fear. The following poem by WEB Du Bois, an African American born shortly after slavery, expresses this well I think.

 Help! I sense that low and awful cry — Who cries? Who weeps? With silent sob that rends and tears — Can God sob? Who prays? I hear strong prayers throng by, Like mighty winds on dusky moors — Can God pray? Prayest Thou, Lord, and to me?  Thou needest me? Thou needest me? Thou needest me? Poor, wounded soul! Of this I never dreamed. I thought — Courage, God,  I come!

Du Bois’ poem is somewhat startling.   It portrays a God who is not all powerful, who needs our help in fact.  Can we imagine God that way?

When it comes to love of other people it is usually their imperfections that draw us. Our best friends are often those who are willing to share some of their vulnerability, some of their fears. We can trust these friends with our own failures and also cheer their triumphs and successes with full and open hearts because we know something about their struggles.  Can we learn love God in the way we love those friends?

After learning about different ways to imagine God, I decided to stop worrying about whether God existed or not.  Once I did that I began to both remember and experience moments in my life where I felt the presence of something deeper and larger than just me.  Those moments I would describe as transcendent and they have happened at relatively random times.  Sometimes when I am writing or speaking from the heart I get the feeling that the words are coming from someplace else.  I have also sometimes felt something powerful in hospital rooms where I sat people who were in the process of dying.

Call it the spirit of life, call the strength of the human spirit, call it magic, call it whatever you will, or call it nothing at all.  I choose to name that awesome something, that mystery that cannot be fully described, I choose to call it God.

And perhaps, if God were really a dog, it wouldn’t be a purebred at all, but instead a shaggy, floppy eared mutt who loves freedom and is interested in the world. A street dog that knows the ways of the world. A dog who is not perfect, who is not all powerful and unchanging, and who, like us, needs both courage and compassion.

May we all find courage.  May we all find compassion.  May we all find an image of God that we can unleash and let run free through our lives and through the world.  Blessed be.

Letting God Off Leash 1/4/15 @theBFUU

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Call to worship (here)

I like bumper stickers. One that I used to see a lot said, “Dog is my copilot.” You may have seen that one too. It was a play on the phrase, “God is my copilot.” Dog is God spelled backwards after all. The dog one was much more popular for a time though. People do love their dogs, and most dogs just love riding in cars. Some folks may also have wanted to poke a bit of fun at the idea that God is standing around waiting to help us find our way home, through traffic.

 

This all leads me to wonder that if God were in fact a dog, what kind of dog would God be? A stately Great Dane perhaps, high above it all? A St Bernard, coming to the rescue? A practical Collie like Lassie or maybe a Golden Retriever who just wiggles with love? Some people may see God as a Pit Bull waiting to snarl everyone into hell in short order if they don’t shape up. When I look at a Pug, I sometimes wonder if God might often have a similar expression.

 

Now, I know, and you know, that God is not really a dog, except of course in the sense that there is a spark of the divine in all living creatures. But I think sometimes we humans can treat God like a dog. Not badly, I don’t mean that. But I think sometimes we tend to treat God as our own personal pet. We keep God on a leash, in a box, under our control. I think this is true even for folks that don’t believe in God. They usually have a quite definite image of the God they don’t believe in.

 

When I was young, I thought of God as an old bearded white man who sat on a golden throne, high in the sky, amidst fluffy clouds, with sweet-faced plump cherubs fluttering about him. A child, if they have courage, might want to climb up into the lap of that sort of God, the view alone would be worth it I think. If that God became angry, however, the clouds went gray and lightening flashed. Any sensible child would run for cover.   Which is exactly what I did, and I stopped believing in God for a long time. Those childhood images of God stayed with me, though. I didn’t believe in that old man in the sky, but it was him that I didn’t believe in if anyone asked me about God.

 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, in Genesis 1, it says, “So God created humankind in God’s image.”

 

Some sociologists say that the process is just the reverse, that humans create God in their own image, or an image that signifies an ideal in the common culture. Old white men were the ones with all the power while I was growing up. No wonder that is what God looked liked to me.

 

Earlier, I told a story about playing hide and seek with God. It is easier to find something if you know what you are looking for. Think for a moment if you will, think about how you picture God. (pause)

 

Talking about God in a Unitarian Universalist church can be a tricky business at times.

Some Unitarian Universalists, when the idea of God is even mentioned, bring out the metaphorical garlic. Usually these are folks who, like me, were raised with a fairly traditional idea of God.

 

All of us, whether we are believers or unbelievers, tend to carry around with us images of what God is and is not. We need to pay attention to those images, to what we think about even the God we may not believe in. Because God is a cultural symbol of what is ideal, what is the most valued; our image of God can affect how we are with ourselves and with each other.

 

If we see God as perfect and unchanging, how do we see our own need for change? Do we remain stubborn in our own Divine right to stay the way we are, hanging on to maybe some bad habits just because they are our own? Or do we maybe feel bad, because we aren’t perfect, and feel we should be? Are we too harsh with our friends and family, seeking perfection in them too, and becoming angry and disappointed when they inevitably fall short? Do we let others change and grow, even if we are afraid that if they change that they will somehow leave us behind?

 

If we see God as all knowing do we somehow get the idea that it is possible to know everything? What does it say about the need for lifelong learning, about humility even in our strong opinions? Do we feel stupid because we don’t know everything, or do we tend to act like “know it alls?

 

It plays out at the societal level, our image of God. If we imagine a judgmental God, we might believe that only the so-called “deserving poor” should be helped by society. We can be impatient with those who don’t agree with us, judging them stupid and ill-informed. If we see God as all powerful, we may be tempted to sit back and let some divine force do all the work for justice that is in fact our work to do. Even if we don’t put that on God, we can put it on others. We get the idea that if we don’t have the power to change things in a very powerful, in an absolute Godlike way, then we can sometimes feel that it is not worth trying. We relinquish what power we do have and yearn for the “government”, the “democrats”, the board of trustees, the minister, the committee chair to see the light and take the appropriate action.

 

Most important, though, on a spiritual level, how we image God can affect our own sense of well being, our sense of our purpose in life. A limited image can narrow our sense of possibility, of who we are, and who we can become.

 

It is also deeply insulting to the Divine Spirit of creative force that is within us all. If we put God on a pedestal, way up in the clouds, it is harder to feel the spirit fully as it moves in our daily lives.   God becomes an abstract concept, disembodied, something that has no relevance for us at work, in our homes, or even in our churches.

 

Charles Hartshorne, a UU theologian, in his book, Divine Relativity, critiques this traditional image of God.

 

He said,

 

A wholly absolute God can provide no lasting good inclusive of human achievement….

A wholly absolute God is power divorced from responsiveness or sensitivity;

and power which is not responsive is irresponsible and, if held to settle all issues, enslaving. (Hartshorne148-149)

 

Hartshorne also said, “In trying to conceive God, are we to forget everything we know about values?”

 

Hartshorne’s question about values is a good one. Our conception of God should be composed of the highest human values. It leads to the question of what kind of God would be most valuable; what kind of God does the world need? Bernard Loomer says that

 

“value is greater than truth… the problem with being addicted to truth is that it can throw you off from many of the deeper dimensions of life.” (Religious Experience and Process Theology pg 71)

 

Maybe God is like that, a value deeper than truth, or what we can conceivably know as factual, provable truth. Maybe it even doesn’t matter so much what God really is, what the “truth is,” but instead it may be more important to believe – or even not believe – in the sort of God we need.   If God is truly God, then God will be the God the world needs. Shouldn’t that be part of the definition?

 

Power and perfection are two of the traditional attributes of God that I think most need reconstruction. If God is all powerful, then God is responsible for all the horrors in the world as well as all the goodness and beauty. Do we want to honor and worship power in this way? Doesn’t worshiping power lead to unjust wars, to imperialism? Does it serve our local communities when the powerful are more honored than the weak and vulnerable? A God who shares power with us, who helps us develop our own strengths, is more the kind of God I believe we need.   Not a tyrant or a dictator. If we worship a dictator God, it is too easy to search for that in our human leadership as well.

 

Martin Luther King said that “power without love is abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” He said that “power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and that justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” That old image of God hurling thunderbolts and hurricanes from the sky is an abusive and limited one.

 

I think we can honor God and still ask the question. “What kind of God would serve us well, here, today, in the twenty-first century?”   What God could be more inclusive of diversity, more responsive to oppression, better able to help us get along with others in peaceful and loving ways? What kind of God could help us face and do what is before us now to face and do?

 

What could it mean to us if we began to see God not as absolute and unchanging, but as relational? What if God was a sensitive, changeable presence, one that interacted with the world rather than ruled it? What if we took God out of the box, off leash so to speak? Maybe we could start imagining God as the best of what humans have the potential to be.

Maybe we could begin to see change as something good, that growth in ourselves and in other people is a natural thing. Maybe we could also stop beating ourselves up for who we are now and stop worrying so much about who we aren’t yet, what dreams are still out of our reach. Maybe we will even stop being embarrassed about who we used to be. We might learn to accept and love ourselves and each other in our actually quite glorious imperfections.

 

If we carried the ideal of relationality into the world, if we identified the divine nature as one who is supremely sensitive to others, maybe we would learn to listen to one another better. Maybe we could begin to understand those with different life experiences from ours, those with different views, different politics. Maybe we could find some common ground if we aren’t all stuck in the paradigm of always being perfectly and absolutely correct.

On a spiritual level, if we understand God as a presence that truly interacts with us, that changes when we change, a tremendous power could be released into the world and into our own souls. We could work with the God force, not simply for it or against it.

 

We could be major players on the Divine team, in partnership, in community. Unlike the image of the old man in the sky, this relational image of God can inspire love and compassion rather than awe and fear. The following poem by WEB Du Bois, an African American born shortly after slavery, expresses this well I think.

 Help! I sense that low and awful cry — Who cries? Who weeps? With silent sob that rends and tears — Can God sob? Who prays? I hear strong prayers throng by, Like mighty winds on dusky moors — Can God pray? Prayest Thou, Lord, and to me? Thou needest me? Thou needest me? Thou needest me? Poor, wounded soul! Of this I never dreamed. I thought — Courage, God,  I come!

 

Du Bois’ poem is somewhat startling.   It portrays a God who is not all powerful, who needs our help in fact. Can we imagine God that way?

How different than that judgmental lordly figure – a God that is wounded, that weeps, that is vulnerable.

 

I have never been able to really wrap my brain around the orthodox version of the Christian trinity, and I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human, but I can see the appeal of a God who suffers with us, one who really knows our pain, because that God feels pain too. What draws us closer to other people? Do we really like best those who seem perfect? Don’t we instead appreciate more someone who is trying?

 

When it comes to love of other people it is usually their imperfections that draw us. We want to help a friend in pain. Our best friends are often those who are willing to share some of their vulnerability, some of their fears. The ones that are patient with us, that listen. We can trust them with our failures and also cheer their triumphs and successes with full and open hearts because we know something about their struggles. Can we love God in the way we love those friends?

 

Perhaps, if God were really a dog, it wouldn’t be a purebred at all, but a shaggy, floppy eared mutt who loves freedom and is interested in the world. A God who is not perfect, who is not all powerful and unchanging, who like us, needs both courage and compassion.

May we all find courage. May we all find compassion. May we all find an image of God that we can let run free through our lives and through the world. Blessed be.

If God Could

 

mountains_norwegian_norway_rivers_fjord_wildflowers_1920x1080_26855

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 everyone of us.

Letting God run off leash Nov. 11, 2007

An old sermon I am posting this as a response to Myke Johnson’s blog post (click)

Sermon:

I like bumper stickers.  One that I used to see a lot said, “Dog is my copilot.”  You may have seen that one too.  It was a play on the phrase, “God is my copilot.” Dog is God spelled backwards after all.  The dog one was much more popular for a time though.  People do love their dogs, and most dogs just love riding in cars.  Some folks may also have wanted to poke a bit of fun at the idea that God is standing around waiting to help us find our way home, through traffic.

This all leads me to wonder that if God were in fact a dog, what kind of dog would God be?  A stately Great Dane perhaps, high above it all? A St Bernard, coming to the rescue?  A practical Collie like Lassie or maybe a Golden Retriever who just wiggles with love?  Some people may see God as a Pit Bull waiting to snarl everyone into hell in short order if they don’t shape up. When I look at a Pug, I sometimes wonder if God might often have a similar expression.

Now, I know, and you know, that God is not really a dog, except of course in the sense that there is a spark of the divine in all living creatures.  But I think sometimes we humans can treat God like a dog.  Not badly, I don’t mean that.  But I think sometimes we tend to treat God as our own personal pet.  We keep God on a leash, in a box, under our control.  I think this is true even for folks that don’t believe in God. They usually have a quite definite image of the God they don’t believe in.

When I was young, I thought of God as an old bearded white man who sat on a golden throne, high in the sky, amidst fluffy clouds, with sweet-faced plump cherubs fluttering about him.  A child, if they have courage, might want to climb up into the lap of that sort of God, the view alone would be worth it I think.  If that God became angry, however, the clouds went gray and lightening flashed.  Any sensible child would run for cover.   Which is exactly what I did, and I stopped believing in God for a long time.  Those childhood images of God stayed with me, though.  I didn’t believe in that old man in the sky, but it was him that I didn’t believe in if anyone asked me about God.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, in Genesis 1, it says, “So God created humankind in God’s image.”

Some sociologists say that the process is just the reverse, that humans create God in their own image, or an image that signifies an ideal in the common culture.  Old white men were the ones with all the power while I was growing up.  No wonder that is what God looked liked to me.

 

Earlier, I told a story about playing hide and seek with God.  It is easier to find something if you know what you are looking for. Think for a moment if you will, think about how you picture God.

Talking about God in a Unitarian Universalist church can be a tricky business at times.

Some Unitarian Universalists, when the idea of God is even mentioned, bring out the metaphorical garlic. Usually these are folks who, like me, were raised with a fairly traditional idea of God.

All of us, whether we are believers or unbelievers, tend to carry around with us images of what God is and is not.  We need to pay attention to those images, to what we think about even the God we may not believe in.  Because God is a cultural symbol of what is ideal, what is the most valued; our image of God can affect how we are with ourselves and with each other.

If we see God as perfect and unchanging, how do we see our own need for change?  Do we remain stubborn in our own Divine right to stay the way we are, hanging on to maybe some bad habits just because they are our own?  Or do we maybe feel bad, because we aren’t perfect, and feel we should be?  Are we too harsh with our friends and family, seeking perfection in them too, and becoming angry and disappointed when they inevitably fall short?  Do we let others change and grow, even if we are afraid that if they change that they will somehow leave us behind?

If we see God as all knowing do we somehow get the idea that it is possible to know everything?  What does it say about the need for lifelong learning?  Do we feel stupid because we don’t know everything, or do we tend to act like “know it alls?

It plays out at the societal level, our image of God.  If we imagine a judgmental God we might believe that only the so-called “deserving poor” should be helped by society.  We can be impatient with those who don’t agree with us, judging them stupid and ill-informed.  If we see God as all powerful, we may be tempted to sit back and let some divine force do all the work for justice that is in fact our work to do.  Even if we don’t put that on God, we can put it on others.  We get the idea that if we don’t have the power to change things in a very powerful, in an absolute Godlike way, then we can sometimes feel that it is not worth trying.  We relinquish what power we do have and yearn for the “government”, the “democrats”, the board of trustees, the minister, the committee chair to see the light and take the appropriate action.

Most important, though, on a spiritual level, how we image God can affect our own sense of well being, our sense of our purpose in life.  A limited image can narrow our sense of possibility, of who we are, and who we can become.

It is also deeply insulting to the Divine Spirit of creative force that is within us all.  If we put God on a pedestal, way up in the clouds, it is harder to feel the spirit fully as it moves in our daily lives.   God becomes an abstract concept, disembodied, something that has no relevance for us at work, in our homes, or even in our churches.

Charles Hartshorne, a UU theologian, in his book, Divine Relativity, critiques this traditional image of God.

He said,

A wholly absolute God can provide no lasting good inclusive of human achievement….

A wholly absolute God is power divorced from responsiveness or sensitivity;

and power which is not responsive is irresponsible and, if held to settle all issues, enslaving.  (Hartshorne148-149)

 

Hartshorne also said, “In trying to conceive God, are we to forget everything we know about values?”

Hartshorne’s question about values is a good one.  Our conception of God should be composed of the highest human values.  It leads to the question of what kind of God would be most valuable; what kind of God does the world need?  Bernard Loomer says that

“value is greater than truth… the problem with being addicted to truth is that it can throw you off from many of the deeper dimensions of life.” (Religious Experience and Process Theology  pg 71)

Maybe God is like that, a value deeper than truth, or what we can conceivably know as factual, provable truth.  Maybe it even doesn’t matter so much what God really is, what the “truth is,” but instead it may be more important to believe – or even not believe – in the sort of God we need.    If God is truly God, then God will be the God the world needs.  Shouldn’t that be part of the definition?

Power and perfection are two of the traditional attributes of God that I think most need reconstruction.  If God is all powerful, then God is responsible for all the horrors in the world as well as all the goodness and beauty.  Do we want to honor and worship power in this way?  Doesn’t worshiping power lead to unjust wars, to imperialism?  Does it serve our local communities when the powerful are more honored than the weak and vulnerable?  A God who shares power with us, who helps us develop our own strengths, is more the kind of God I believe we need.    Not a tyrant or a dictator.  If we worship a dictator God, it is too easy to search for that in our human leadership as well.

Martin Luther King said that “power without love is abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”  He said that “power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and that justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”  That old image of God hurling thunderbolts and hurricanes from the sky is an abusive one and it is a limited one.

I think we can honor God and still ask the question. “What kind of God would serve us well, here, today, in the twenty-first century?”   What God could be more inclusive of diversity, more responsive to oppression, better able to help us get along with others in peaceful and loving ways?  What kind of God could help us face and do what is before us now to face and do?

What could it mean to us if we began to see God not as absolute and unchanging, but as relational?  What if God was a sensitive, changeable presence, one that interacted with the world rather than ruled it?  What if we took God out of the box, off leash so to speak?  Maybe we could start imagining God as the best of what humans have the potential to be.

Maybe we could begin to see change as something good, that growth in ourselves and in other people is a natural thing.  Maybe we could also stop beating ourselves up for who we are now and stop worrying so much about who we aren’t yet, what dreams are still out of our reach.  Maybe we will even stop being embarrassed about who we used to be.  We might learn to accept and love ourselves and each other in our actually quite glorious imperfections.

If we carried the ideal of relationality into the world, if we identified the divine nature as one who is supremely sensitive to others, maybe we would learn to listen to one another better.  Maybe we could begin to understand those with different life experiences from ours, those with different views, different politics.  Maybe we could find some common ground if we aren’t all stuck in the paradigm of always being perfectly and absolutely correct.

On a spiritual level, if we understand God as a presence that truly interacts with us, that changes when we change, a tremendous power could be released into the world and into our own souls.  We could work with the God force, not simply for it or against it.

We could be major players on the Divine team, in partnership, in community. Unlike the image of the old man in the sky, this relational image of God can inspire love and compassion rather than awe and fear.  The following poem by WEB Du Bois, an African American born shortly after slavery, expresses this well I think.

 
Help! 
I sense that low and awful cry -- 
Who cries? 
Who weeps? 
With silent sob that rends and tears -- 
Can God sob? 
Who prays? 
I hear strong prayers throng by, 
Like mighty winds on dusky moors -- 
Can God pray? 
Prayest Thou, Lord, and to me? 
Thou needest me? 
Thou needest me? 
Thou needest me? 
Poor, wounded soul! 
Of this I never dreamed. I thought -- 
Courage, God, 
 
I come! 

Du Bois’ poem is somewhat startling.   It portrays a God who is not all powerful, who needs our help in fact.  Can we imagine God that way?

How different than that judgmental lordly figure – a God that is wounded, that weeps, that is vulnerable.

I have never been able to really wrap my brain around the orthodox version of the Christian trinity, and I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human, but I can see the appeal of a God who suffers with us, one who really knows our pain, because that God feels pain too.  What draws us closer to other people?  Do we really like best those who seem perfect?  Don’t we instead appreciate more someone who is trying?

When it comes to love of other people it is usually their imperfections that draw us.  We want to help a friend in pain.  Our best friends are often those who are willing to share some of their vulnerability, some of their fears.  The ones that are patient with us, that listen.  We can trust them with our failures and also cheer their triumphs and successes with full and open hearts because we know something about their struggles.  Can we love God in the way we love those friends?

Perhaps, if God were really a dog, it wouldn’t be a purebred at all, but a shaggy, floppy eared mutt who loves freedom and is interested in the world. A God who is not perfect, who is not all powerful and unchanging, who like us, needs both courage and compassion.

May we all find courage.  May we all find compassion.  May we all find an image of God that we can let run free through our lives and through the world.  Blessed be.

Haunting Church

To watch a video of this sermon, click here.

 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host, praise father, son, and Holy Ghost.  Those are the traditional words to the doxology that I grew up singing every Sunday in church.  I still like them better than all the variations that are available in our hymnal.  The choir just did a fabulous medley of them – I think it was a medley and not a mash up, but maybe there is another word.

A religious path can take many twists and turns.  It is a journey that I think never ends but continues for our whole lives and perhaps even beyond death.  Those that believe in reincarnation believe that.  Personally, I am not sure what happens after we die, but I believe that if our souls do live on that they will continue to change and grow, that we will arrive at new and different understandings. Isn’t that part of the definition of living?

But even if our path toward spiritual understanding has no definite end, it has a beginning.  Most of us can remember a time when we had some sense of the divine, of mystery, a time when we began looking for answers, for something that would give our lives meaning, something that would help us make sense of all the chaos, of all the pain and confusion that we saw around us. We may have been struck with awe at something in the natural world; we may have gazed in wonder at the stars or a new born baby’s face.

We all have a religious past, even those of us who did not grow up in any faith tradition.

Just out of curiosity, how many of you here today did not regularly attend religious services before you entered your teens?

In many parts of the country, it would be closer to a majority of the congregation raising their hands in answer to that question.

Most of us here have experienced other faith traditions.  We have memories of them. Some of those memories are good ones, but others might be haunting us in ways we might not even understand.  Particularly for people who were hurt by a religion or by a religious community, anything that reminds them of that can be incredibly painful.  I have heard stories from people whose religious leader mentioned them specifically in a prayer in a way that made them feel sinful and wrong.  Our community prayers might make them nervous as a result of their past.  Others have been judged, shamed, and shunned by their religious community when they expressed disagreement or doubt.  Reciting a congregational covenant, even one so benign as our covenant of right relations, might be upsetting to them. Some people, even though they may have rejected the concept of an angry God, still feel some fear when the word God is used.

How can we honor our diverse religious pasts, care for those among us who have been wounded, and move forward together as a community of love and acceptance?

First, I think we need to acknowledge the pain.  The hurt some of us knew in other communities is real and it was wrong.  There has been abuse, physical and sexual, and perhaps the most damaging of all, spiritual abuse.  Too many times our innocent hopes, dreams, and spiritual yearnings have been shattered by the actions of humans and, yes, by demeaning and damaging theologies.

So, if you have been hurt in any of those ways, please know that it was wrong.  Please know that you are loved just the way you are, by God, and by those who really do try to love their neighbors as themselves.

Please know too, that others here can relate to those feelings and fears.  For myself, I avoided all churches for almost 30 years and even after I found a Unitarian Universalist church, I still freaked out some if God or Jesus were mentioned in the service in a positive way.

I am not in that place anymore.  Part of what I did was to consciously reclaim the good things from the religion I grew up in.  It wasn’t a terribly coercive one in fact, so maybe it was easier for me than it has been or will be for some of you.

I was raised in the First Christian Church, which is now known as the Disciples of Christ after a merger. Interestingly enough this building was originally built to house a congregation of that denomination.  I still get mail sometimes addressed to the pastor of the First Christian Church of Ogden.  Talk about haunted houses!

I was baptized in a font just like the one behind this curtain, saying yes when I was asked if I took Jesus Christ as my lord and savior. But as mainline Christian Churches go, there wasn’t a lot you had to believe in order to belong; no creed but Christ was their motto.  I did not have to worry about the virgin birth or literal interpretations of the Bible.  Sunday school was Bible stories, singing songs like “Yes, Jesus loves me”, and memorizing Bible passages and other things.  We got prizes for doing so. I was the only one in my class to memorize all the books of the Bible in order.  The prize was a small glow-in-the-dark cross. I was very proud of it and kept it by my bed at night.

I left the church in my teen-aged years. One turning point was when some missionaries from the Billy Graham crusade came and showed our youth group a film.  I don’t remember it very well, I know it had cowboys in it and that one of the young men was very troubled, accepted Jesus, and was saved.  After the film, one of the missionaries asked us to come forward if we too were willing to accept Jesus.  No one moved.  I wanted to, I really did, but I had already been baptized, I had already been saved, so what would it mean if I went forward again?  Was the earlier act a lie?  Was I somehow so fundamentally flawed that I needed saving again? It seriously creeped me out and I began drifting away.  Somewhat later, although still in my teens, when I realized I was a lesbian, I knew the church would not accept that part of me. I felt somewhat relieved that I had left before they decided to kick me out.

But as I have grow in my Unitarian Universalist faith, I have reconciled that experience, and come to understand that I also received gifts in my childhood church home, things that were more important than a glow-in-the-dark cross.  I heard of a loving God and a gentle Jesus.  I learned about the quiet comfort of prayer.  I leaned about service to the church as I helped my mother prepare the communion that we shared each Sunday.  Grape juice and unsalted crackers, tiny little cups and paper doilies, it represented the Holy and once baptized, I too was allowed to participate. We washed all the little cups afterward by hand.  It felt like important work.  I think it was.

It is also important work to reclaim the good things in your personal religious history.  Yes, acknowledge the bad things, the things that moved you to leave.  Those were real.   You can feel good about your decision to try something different, just as you can feel good about sticking with your childhood faith if that is what you have done.

Cherish your doubts as it said in the responsive reading that Gabriel led us in this morning.  Doubt will help us walk in the light of growing knowledge and understanding.

But cherish your history as well because if nothing else it has brought you to where you are today.

Two weeks ago, two members of this congregation, Renee and Mary, shared with us what they learned from growing up Catholic.

It was the first of what will be a series where our members share what they have learned by growing up in different faith traditions.  I want to include those who grew up Unitarian Universalist and also those who grew up without any faith.  There is only one rule.  You can’t say anything bad about your prior faith.  That was the charge we gave to Mary and to Renee, and I think we all learned something from their words.  I suspect they learned something as well.

If you think you might want to participate, to speak to us all about your childhood faith please talk to me or to one of the worship associates.  It is OK if you still have some unresolved issues because speaking of the positives can be a way to begin some healing of old wounds.

So I love the doxology again, although I have reinterpreted it in a way that makes it even more meaningful to me.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise the sun, the rain, and the snow, praise the night and the day, praise the mountains and the sea, praise the desert and the plains, and praise all that is, has been and will ever be.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, praise mother, daughter, friend and foe.  Praise all who live and breathe.

And the words of one of our hymns speak to me, “Come spirit come, our hearts control, our spirits long to be made whole, Let inward love guide every deed, by this we worship and are freed.”

They remind me of the yearning I felt as a young teen, standing in the back of a sanctuary, one not unlike this one, wondering if I dared go forward, wondering if I could possibly be worthy, my spirit was longing to be made whole.

During the offering time, as you light a candle, drop a stone in the water, or just sit quietly, I invite you to reflect some on your own religious history.  Acknowledge the bad if there has been hurt there, but also try to see what good you might have put aside in order to avoid pain, things that could still have positive meaning for you.

Our closing hymn will be about laying some of the burdens we carry down.  The song makes me feel like dancing.  I hope it does the same for you.

Many Names

What should I call you

He, she or it

Are you a person, a thing, an idea?

Where are you now

While I call out your name

Are you high on a cloud

Or under a bush

A fire in the daytime

Or warmth in the night?

Do you live in a mansion

Or outside in the woods

Should I tremble in fear

Or relax in your love?

Are you father or mother

Brother or child?

Do you dwell deep inside me

Or around the next bend

My questions are many

My answers are few

Oh God be my witness

I am doing my best

Come down from your heavens

To live in our souls

Bring peace to this planet

Comfort the lost

Care for the children

The hungry the hurting

Who cares what we call you

I know you don’t mind

Living and loving

Is all we must do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You?

Who are you?

What is your name?

What makes you human?

Or not

Fire in the desert

Breath on the wind

A whisper in the night

A song

A story

Courage and fear

What is your name?

Is it “God?”

 

I am that I am

My name doesn’t matter

Goddess or God

Spirit or Wisdom

Allah or Jesus

Even Mary is fine

 

What matters is this

What you do in my name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cosmic Dance

The little chicken

Was wrong

The sky is not falling.

The earth is

Falling through

A huge Universe

Spinning around

In a cosmic dance

Chickens do not

Study astronomy

 

The ancient peoples

Were also wrong

As they sat

Around campfires

Spinning tales

Making guesses

About God

They made a God

In their own image

They did not

Study theology

Or science

 

The breath of God

Blows through

The universe

It doesn’t help

To study

 

Just listen

To the music

The laughter

And the love

The cosmic dance

Is calling you.

Rise to your feet

And join hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apocalypse – not

Have you been to the mountaintop

Seen the fire and flaming ash

The lava flowing like liquid gold

A perfect apocalypse?

 

Get that image away from me

Erase it from your brain

God is the cool of the misting sea

The warmth of a sunlit field.

 

The Holy comes in sweet daydreams

Not terrors in the night

The Spirit lives within us all

Hold it close in loving arms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Believe

I believe because I must believe

That God loves each and all

 

I believe because I want to believe

That peace will come someday

 

I believe because I need to believe

That justice will come to be

 

I believe because my eyes have seen

The rainbow after the storm

 

I believe because my ears have heard

The people sing the Spirit’s song

 

I believe because my heart can beat

With the pulse of love and gratitude

 

I believe because we work as one

In a harmony of diversity

 

I believe because I am not alone