Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Trustees of the Earth

I may have mentioned this before, but I have monocular vision, meaning I only look out of one eye at a time.  I used to use this as an excuse for my bad golf game, but then I found out that one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game Ben Hogan played and won many professional tournaments in his last three or four years without sight in one eye.  Even more interesting for me is that in one eye, I am short sighted and one eye I am far sighted.  So of course when I am driving, I tend to use the eye that I am farsighted in, and when I read I tend to use my eye that I am near sighted in. Since I tend to do more reading than driving, my far sighted eye has gotten weaker and weaker over the years. And I think that makes intuitive sense.  That which we use tends to get stronger and that which we don’t use tends to get weaker from lack of use.  And so it is with how we think about the world.  We tend to tend to spend more time on shortsighted activities. We tend to focus on the immediate.  I think I felt this even more acutely when thinking about terrorism and the events in Boston this past week as I was so focused on the moment to moment spectacle of the search for the bombers. I had to turn the television off.  We are so busy, so scattered,  always one step behind the protean nature of our challenges that  we never look at the underlying causes that lead to our challenges in the first place. 
         With terrorism, we are constantly trying to defend ourselves against the always changing means with which our enemies are using to attack us, that we get so distracted by the particulars that we can never stop long enough for a concerted effort to find solutions. We have abdicated our rights particularly our fourth amendment right to privacy and we have abdicated our collective responsibility for our government out of fear or complacency.    I think the same and somewhat connected idea is also related to our environmental issues.
We are having one environmental catastrophe after another, we are so busy being reactive to the tragedies that affect us that we don’t look for the underlying causes and solutions, we don’t look for the answer as to why we as humans, as a nation, and as a world continue to act in ways that are contrary to our own long term best interest. We continue to support a fossil fuel industry that clearly is not in the best interest of our environment let alone our country.  Whether out of fear or convenience, or complacency we have abdicated our collective responsibility for the common good to appease our capitalistic short term objectives. 
Now I am not against Capitalism, but when it works contrary to our national and human interests we have an obligation to act.  And there is not a worse offender than the oil industry and as an example,  Exxon Mobil. Its ex-CEO,  asked if his company might consider building more refineries domestically, to better protect the U.S. from potential gasoline shortages and security crises, he shrugged off the question saying “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”  And he is right, they are a multinational company with business and employees in 180 countries who care only about their profits.  And yet Exxon Mobil has their own foreign policy, and pays for their own armies to defend their business interests, and its business has influenced our country’s foreign policy and certainly has directly influenced our energy policy, which directly affects our lives.  Now I know this all sounds very political and not very religious, but our religious values should guide us as to  how we live in the world, and we live in a political world . If we believe in the oneness of all existence, if we believe that we are interdependent with all that is, if believe we are meant to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature, then it is our religious imperative to care for the earth.
For we are certainly not living in rhythm with nature currently.  It is why I liked the word that Mike used in his reflection.  Trustee.  Because the root of that word is trust.  We have been given a gift.  We live on this remarkable planet.  It truly is remarkable. It was formed in just the right way to allow us to exist, and it has sustained us for millenniums.  Yet we know, we know on our current trajectory, we are overwhelming the earth’s resources and our own sustainability as a species. 
            Our reliance on fossil fuels and other non renewable energy and the reaches we have to go to obtain them are not only stretching the sustainability of our planet and ecosystems, but I contend the means and methods by which we obtain energy and our pursuit of the profits they engender are straining us as species as we use our power unconstrained upon other countries and their indiginous populations throughout the world for corporate benefit.  But in a modern technological interdependent world, where there is a  push there is a pull. And we are out of balance and falling and failing.  We have been entrusted with something special. Let us not betray that trust. 
But where do we start. Thich Nhat Hahn the famous Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, when asked by a student, “There are so many urgent problems, what should I do?,” he advised “Take one thing and do it very deeply and carefully, and you will be doing everything at the same time.”  That has always been my philosophy when it comes to Congregational Social Justice work.  I would rather do 1 thing very well that is lasting than 10 things which dilute our energy and lead to nothing.
So as part of our living into our congregational vision which “Encourages responsibility for the earth and its creatures”  Our Green Sanctuary Team’s new environmental social justice project will involve engaging congregants to be a part of water testing programs on both sides of the river.  In Illinois, we will work with the Water Sentinels program which is run through the IL Sierra Club where we will be testing water in streams and creeks that feed into the Rock River.  In Iowa we will be joining in with the IOWATER:  a Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring program.  Please see Mike after the service for more info
Let us be like my eyes, both short-sighted and far sighted.  Let us find the right balance to put us back into balance with the rhythms of nature.  Let us be short sighted in what we can do in our day to day lives, but also let us be far sighted in our actions as a community, as a country and as a world, so that over time, we can create a sustainable world for generations to come. We have been entrusted to do this, let us not fail. We have not used this portion of our being as much over time and it has weakened. 
Let us strengthen our far sightedness, by weakening our dependence of fossil fuels and embracing sustainable energy sources,  let us strengthen our resolve, by weakening the grip that corporate short term thinking has on our lives, let us strengthen our planet by weakening our individual desires and fears and embracing our collective responsibility.  And although there are some who think we have passed the tipping point for a sustainable earth, this remarkable world, has found ways to sustain life throughout its creation and existence. It has found ways to heal itself.  Let us be good trustees, let us help our world heal itself, and perhaps in so doing we shall be healed as well. May it be so. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


This being a service entitled Humor, I feel this overwhelming urge to tell a joke.. My original title for this sermon was humor is not a laughing matter. I really don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to choose humor as the sermon topic.  But I think humor is important to our lives and important to our religious and spiritual life as well. So here goes.    Q: How many Unitarians does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Six – If you read my last newsletter article you know it takes 5 people to start a task force.  Such a light bulb task force will have as its goal and mission to choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey, you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is wonderful. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb. You will be invited to present it next month at our annual Light Bulb Sunday Service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life, and tinted, LEDs, CFLs and Halogens, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence. The sixth person is needed to light a candle as a more energy efficient means of the lighting your way and cursing the darkness.   So that was my poor attempt at telling an old Unitarian Joke.

So why is that people say it is ok to tell jokes about yourself, or your group but not about others. I had a really good Lutheran joke this morning, it was hilarious, but it didn’t seem appropriate to tell a Lutheran joke in a Unitarian Church.  For those who have listened to Prairie Home Companion Unitarians are often the butt of jokes by Garrison Keillor. I admit, I don’t find it as humorous when non Unitarians tell jokes about Unitarians.  In truth, when we tell jokes about ourselves, we at least hopefully know the context and the depth of what it means to be a Unitarian,

When a non Unitarian tells it or hears it, it is received in the abstract and can appear to be mocking and in fact in Keillor’s case I think it is meant to be mocking.  I think that is an important part of how humor can be powerful in both a good and a bad way.  Because humor involves trust and context. There is certain humor that is funny because it mirrors our life experiences. So there will be certain things, such as farm jokes, maybe about chickens or other animals, that intellectually I can understand, but I really just don’t get in the gut of my being, not having lived around animals and seeing them mostly at the zoo. And as I imagine, some people wouldn’t understand the depth of some of the Daily Show’s, John Stewart’s jokes about the Jewish Holiday of Purim if you never grew up in Jewish family that celebrates Purim. Context is everything. Sometimes the truth as told through humor can hurt, so  Humor also requires trust that its intentions are well meaning, and trust that it is not being given or received maliciously. 
I never consciously tried to develop a sense of humor, It is just my outlook on life. My original title humor is not a laughing matter, seems absurd in and of itself. I find the world absurdly funny sometimes.  And yet that is exactly what humor can do for us.  It can let us see how absurd we are when we take ourselves too seriously.  It doesn’t mean I don’t think seriously about things.  I consider myself a serious man, but I don’t take myself too seriously.  I have found as I have gotten older and more comfortable with who I am that I can offer my view to the world with no expectations of outcomes.  As religious liberals we believe revelation is ongoing and in our multicultural world there is certain degree of relativity in regards to ultimate truth. It is in this tension that we live striving honestly to search to find our way together without being able to neatly categorize things.
This reminds me of an old Zen story about a Zen master who lay dying. His monks are all gathered around his deathbed, and the senior monk leans over and asks the master for any final words of wisdom for his monks. The old master weakly says, "Tell them Truth is like a river." The senior monk relays this message on to the other monks. The youngest monk in the group is confused, and asks, " I don’t understand, What does he mean that Truth is like a river?" The senior monk relays this question to the master, and the master replies, "O.K., Truth is not like a river." (who ever thought a zen monk would sound like my Jewish Grandfather)
Laughter is a way for us to live within the complexity of this world, when at times it is hard to find solid footing as the grounding of reason and logic is shaken by the course of human events and injustice surrounds us as we search for certainty in an uncertain world. And so I take joy in the little things in life, and laugh at the foibles of myself and world. That’s a hard thing. So often we are conditioned to feel we have to edit ourselves, suppress our inner joy and laughter, worrying about what others will think of us.  The truth is to use humor, is to make yourself vulnerable. To laugh is make yourself vulnerable. Laughter opens up a place in our hearts and minds and allows us to see and feel things in a different way. And that can be a scary thing.
In the book of Genesis, when God tells Abraham that Sarah who is an old woman,  will bear a child, it says Abraham fell on his face and laughed in the presence of God, and later when Sarah overhears God repeating this to Abraham, it says Sarah laughs to herself. God asks why did Sarah laugh? Sarah denies laughing and God says and this is an exact quote God Says “Oh yes you did laugh.”  (I may have added a little accent on it.) But when Sarah does give birth she names the baby Isaac which in Hebrew means “He Shall Laugh”, and Sarah says “God has brought laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh with me.  
She was originally afraid to laugh in front of power, she was afraid to laugh at what she saw as absurd, but God chides her for not expressing her feelings. That is the lesson of this story, don’t hold back what you are feeling, let your feelings out, express your inner laughter at the absurdity of life, and  that will give permission for others to laugh as well. And maybe just maybe if we can laugh together, we can find peace together.  
Ultimately as the earlier joke alluded to, I believe humor is about lighting the way for us, It is about allowing us to see past the pretense, to see past our pride, to see past our own posterior (I needed a third P for the alliteration)  This whole week I kept asking myself, is humor religious.  Religion is supposed to be serious stuff, right? Good, Evil, Sin and Salvation (those are some of my upcoming sermon titles, its not all humor)   But ultimately religion should help guide us in how we interact with each other and with the world.  And as the book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh.  Often these two are connected.  On the cover of the order of service is a drama mask for laughter, but often it is accompanied by a crying mask. The ying and yang.  Humor can be used to cover our fears and it can be used to transform society. Humor can be comforting or prophetic.  Humor can be used as a weapon, or humor can be used to heal our souls, It can heal the mental pains that haunt us, and as well the physical pains that 
Norman Cousins was editor of the Saturday Evening Post and the Saturday review, for those who remember those publications, but he is probably more well known for writing books about his laughing cure for disease.  While seriously ill, Cousins developed a healing program that included a positive attitude and laughter induced by Marx Brothers films. Cousins said, "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep, When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval." 
We saw this same method of holistic healing in the movie Patch Adams with Robin Williams where as a doctor he used humor and relationship building with his patients in addition to modern medical techniques. The real Patch Adams, he has actually created something called The Gesundheit! Institute. Its mission states “it is a project in holistic medical care based on the belief that one cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, the community, the world, and the health care system itself.” 
That speaks to me of the wholeness of the universe, and how laughter is a part of what makes us whole.  Many progressive religious scholars agree that Jesus healings of the sick, wasn’t about physical healing, but about a spiritual healing.  Those who were ill were not allowed to blessed by the rabbis in the temple, they were considered outcasts.  They were healed because they were included as part of the religious community and were allowed to be blessed in community. They understood the context and depth because they were no longer on the outside looking in, or being looked down upon, but then they became one with the community and in doing so found wholeness. And in doing so we can find wholeness as a society as well. 
Often humor whether by comedians, or comedy sitcoms are the first to deal with issues that we struggle with as a society.  Those who are on the outside, those without control, those who do not otherwise have a voice in the halls of power, use comedy to inform our Country of the challenges they face. Historically From Sanford and Sons bringing issues of poverty to the American Living rooms, to All in the Family showing how White Middle Class America reacted to women’s rights and the African American’s struggles to achieve equality, to the Cosby show which gave upper middle class White Americans and African Americans a view of both that would be similar to each other.  And from  Ellen DeGeneris, to Will and Grace and now Modern Family which allowed straight America again through the lens of comedy to gain comfort with and a sense of normalcy about Gays and Lesbians. Laughter opens us up, laughter allows us to see our fears, to see our commonalities, and ultimately to see our shared hopes revealed in a non threatening way.
And lastly single most important reason for humor is that it gives us joy.  I think most of us hope to have joy in our lives.  It is a natural thing for human beings to want joy.  We feel better when we feel joy, we treat others better, we treat ourselves better when we feel joy. Again, as Ecclesiastes Ch 8 v15 says “So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves”  Joy and laughter can be a spiritual practice.  Every night before I go to bed, I watch a ½ hour sitcom, so I will go to bed laughing.            
I try to be intentional in my life to see the lighter side of things, to free me from the weight of the world, and to express what I feel to others.  And so I end with another UU joke. Q: Why did the UU cross the road? A: To support the chicken in its search for its own path. (I had to get a chicken joke in) Let us support each other on our religious and spiritual journey, ours is  a non creedal religion, our mission asks us to embrace our search for meaning and our vision calls for us to be recognized as a Congregation that feeds the mind and spirit, so let us support each other, let us feed each other, not just bagels and potlucks, but let us feed our spirits with joy, a holy joy, a sacred joy, with holy laughter. May it be so. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

A couple of mini movie reviews - Zero Dark Thirty/Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Zero Dark Thirty a 5 out of 10 on the JWO scale –
I really just don’t understand the popularity of this movie. If people think this is Academy Award material, either we have sunk to a new low in movie making or I am really out of touch.   If you take out the context that this related to Bin Laden, this was just a slow, boring, poorly filmed assassination caper movie.  Of course you cannot ignore the context, it was a major part of our psyche for the last 12 years. But my point is that doesn’t make it a good movie. Perhaps the movie gives closure to some people who want a visual as to what happened. I didn’t need that. I like Jessica Chastain as an actress, but her range was limited here, with equal bouts of pouting and anger.  There was such a build up about the torture at the beginning of the movie.  I have seen harsher depictions of violence on Saturday morning cartoons.  So what redeeming qualities does the movie have.  It shows how morals are transient in our society.  It also shows how the single-mindedness and commitment to something can lead to success but also can leave you empty.  Sort of like how I felt after watching this movie  gave me 2 hours of emptiness in my life.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. – an 8 out of 10 on the JWO scale
Just a delightful movie (although slightly predictable). The story has adventure, dreams of a better life,  relationships and second chances.  Some older people choose to move to India to retire/visit and it explores their stories.  What I liked so much about this movie is the message that the most important thing in a relationship is honestly sharing your thoughts and feelings with another. We so often imagine what others are thinking, that we imagine the negative. Only by opening up to others will we experience growth and deepening relationships.  There are many layers to this movie that deal with class and love, but ultimately for me it is about honesty. And there was also some great scenery of India. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


            This time of year the holidays of Passover and Easter intersect, and as well we should remember this coming week is the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and now with Spring finally in the air, we come together to celebrate our own renewal by our perseverance through our long winter and our transformation by the love and connection we have with all that is.  Through the darkness, through the winter times in our lives, we struggle to see the light ahead.  And just as the earth has its seasons, seasons for planting,  seasons for growing, seasons for harvesting,  there is also a season to allow the lands to be fallow, so it can heal itself so it will be ready to produce again in the future. It is the same with us as human beings.
And why should we be surprised by this, we are a part of the land, not separated from it, when we separate ourselves from all that is, we cut ourselves off from the source of our power, the source of who we are.  The word Adam, the name of the first human being in the Bible comes from the Hebrew word adamah which means earth. Thus we are one with the earth and thus one with each other. And as often does, tragedy strikes in the world, or in our life, and we end up feeling  cut off, we feel alone, we become fearful for ourselves and others, and we can often become absorbed in our fear and grief and we spiral downward.  Sometimes we hit rock bottom, sometimes someone catches us on the way down and then we have to start that long climb. Suffering is a part of life.  Everyone suffers in some form or another.  Some are minor, some are major, some are personal, some are systemic, some seem arbitrary, but the question I ask you to face today is how do we deal with suffering.  This is one of the great questions that religion from time immemorial has tried to answer.   I think it is important to understand that when we suffer, we must realize that we are on a journey, a journey from loss to anger to depression to despair, to indifference, to acceptance, to healing and finally to the renewal of spirit. I think it is important to understand that everyone handles suffering differently.
But we must love something or someone very much to be in pain at its/their loss.  To never have such love, is to never to live fully into our best selves. Often though we get stuck on our life journey in the anger depression and despair part of the journey.  We shut down our emotions as a way to cope with the pain, we believe if we harden ourselves, if we never let anyone or anything get close to us again, we will never have to feel such pain again.  This is deceptive practice.  It may be necessary for a time, to lay fallow, to give us time to rest and process and heal.
But if we never leave this place, if we never open ourselves to trust others again, if we never open our heart to love, we forget what it is like to love, whether to love ourselves or to love our neighbors, and being cut off from such emotions people often end up leading lives of quiet desperation,  lives of  self-destruction or even causing others destruction.  I am reminded of the story told by Rev. William Sloane Coffin at the funeral of the death of his son who died in a car accident.  One of his parishioners said “Sometimes I just cant understand the will of God” Sloane replied “I'll say you don't…God’s heart was the first to break” 
Do not deny your pain.  Have the courage to face your loss, to live with it and to realize that within that pain is the seed of love, a seed that has to be watered, a seed that can grow again.  As the song Halleujah said, even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my lips but hallelujah, Be grateful for the fact that you felt something so deeply, that you have the ability to feel something so deeply. Be grateful for the gift of life and the gift of love. That seed is still within every person.
But to allow that seed to grow  I do think it is important to have a vision that renewal is possible, accepting that we may not know how long it will take us to get there, or even how to get there, but if we don’t have that vision, it is too easy to get stuck in despair.  Even if we don’t know if we can get there in our lifetime, our life, the life we lead can be a beacon of light and can be healing to others.  Often our way out of suffering is to help others out of their suffering. This message has long resonated from the Judea-Christian religious tradition
Moses was not allowed to go to the promised land. 
In the book of Deuteronomy,  we are told
“that the Lord showed Moses the whole of this land. I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there”  The reason why? We are told in the book of Numbers that this punishment and the Death of his brother Aaron, were due to Moses and Aaron taking credit for providing water on their wilderness journey instead of attributing it to God. A little harsh punishment if you ask me, and maybe there is more that was left out of the story, but in that story, we see the arbitrariness that life can give us, things we have no control over. But we cant let that stop us. 
If Moses stopped at the point in the desert when he learned he would not step foot in the promised land, perhaps none of the Hebrews would have made it.
Closer to our time period, Martin Luther King Jr. just a few days before he would be assassinated said “
“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And Gods allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” 
I ask you what are we doing to make sure that his sacrifice was not in vain. We are in the middle of a time when many are still, over 40 years after his death still suffering the affects of racism that continues today.  Are we renewing our spirit as it deals with oppression in this country, in our community.  What are we doing to make sure that MLK mountaintop view is in view for everyone to see.
And of course today being Easter, in the Christian tradition, today marks the day that Jesus’s followers felt the renewal of his spirit that inspired them to create communities that looked at the world in a very different way compared to the one they lived in.
However much some Church’s actions may seem to Counter the gospel message of Jesus, let us focus on the fact that he spent much of his ministry worshiping with, eating with teaching and healing others. He did all this particularly with those who were not in the mainstream of society. His was a radical message that everyone mattered, a radical message that teaches us about healing others and healing ourselves through an inclusive ministry.    
Each of these people, and many many more, knowing they were putting themselves in harm’s way, having suffered themselves, knowing the risk to themselves, nevertheless acted to reduce the suffering of others.
We look back on them now, and they appear to be giants, but they were just people, people who wanted to end suffering.  Each could have had comfortable lives, a sheepherder, a minister, a carpenter, but they were the right person at the right time in history. And they had the courage to do what was needed of them and the courage to be who they were meant to be.  And I am asking you, what are you the right person for in this time and place, In what ways are you helping to heal others and to change the way we look at and live in the world. What are you willing to sacrifice to help build the beloved community.  What are you willing to let go of? 
Are you willing to let go of your fear, are you willing to let go of the way things have always been, Are you willing to let go of the need to be right.  Lastly to be healed, we must learn to forgive. We must learn to forgive ourselves for our own imperfections.  We must learn to forgive others, others who left too soon, others who hurt us, others who think differently then us.  Forgiveness too requires letting go.  We must let go of our  sanctimoniousness, we must let go of our obsession with having been aggrieved, we must let go of our mindset that we must get even.  And lastly to quote the late Rev. Forest Church, “we must let go of our control over everything that lies beyond our power, including our control over others, over events, and over the future.  He goes on to say, (I love this line) fear accompanies us all the way to the grave, but we needn’t hold its hand or accept its cold comfort.” Most of my childhood and into young adulthood, I lived in constant fear…would I get a good grade, would the girl like me, would I hit the winning basket, would I live through the day,  would I get the job, would I keep the job. In retrospect, the answers were yes, sometimes, once, yes, sometimes, yes. You can match them up later, but you noticed, there were a lot of yeses, yet sometimes fear prevented me from even trying.  The goal is to transcend our fears, even embrace our fears, and risk some pain, risk putting ourselves out on a limb. As Will Rogers said that is where the fruit is. And the fruit that I speak of is making a real and deep connection, connections with your emotions, and a connection with others. And such connections will lead to a real change in the world and in your world.
Let us remember why we come together. We are here to build the beloved community.  We walk together with each other on this journey of life.  It is a journey that is filled with thought provoking conversations, eating, singing, some dancing and much joy. 
But it is also a journey for walking with each other in times of challenge and suffering. It is a journey of opening our hearts and being a presence in each other’s lives. Even when it is uncomfortable.  It is a journey to create a culture of love and compassion.  So let us take pause for a moment and recognize how our hearts break with the suffering we experience in our lives and in the world. Then let us remember that we are not alone, we have each other.  We can make a difference in each other’s lives. And we can make a difference in the lives of other people in our community who are suffering.  In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says "there is a light within each person, and it lights up the whole universe. If it does not shine, there is darkness.”  Let us push away the stone that keeps us and others in darkness and blocks the light from our lives, let us let the light in and let us shine our lights on each other and the world.  To quote another Leonard Cohen song Anthem (that is the quote in the order of service)  “Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack, a crack in everything,  That is how the light gets in.”  Let us be renewed Hallelujah!! A holy and a broken Hallejuah
May it be so.

Church reflects on message of ‘Two Who Dared’

Church reflects on message of ‘Two Who Dared’