Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Eve Homily "No Room At The Inn?"

What meaning can the manger story have for us as Unitarian Universalists.     As I studied and tried to understand this story,  I was struck by both the depth of and the inconsistencies of the story.  First and foremost, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of a man known as Jesus of Nazarene.  Interestingly, The gospels of Mark and John have no story about the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew has Jesus being born in house. But  I have always found the story of the Manger that Ken read from the Gospel of Luke meaningful.   There was no room for them at the Inn. First let us look at the inn.  At the time of Jesus, an inn was not just a place where travelers slept.  It was the meeting house for the entire community. 
So to look at this story from a metaphorical perspective, these were people who were being excluded from the community. Now to be clear, it didn’t say there was no room at the inn, it says there was no room for them at the inn.  How many people in the course of life have heard this but in other words  Sorry you cant live in this neighborhood because of the color of your skin.  There is no room for you at the inn.  You will get paid less for this job than a man, There is no room for you at the inn.  You cannot get a loan from the bank, because you come from a different part of town.  There is no room for you at the inn. You cannot get married, because your sexual orientation is different than others.  There is no room for you at the inn. 
But there is plenty of room at the inn…And it should be open to all people.  The times they are a changing, and we are seeing some changes but we cannot rest in our vigilance to see justice enacted for everyone.  And the message of this family not allowed to stay in the inn to give birth is the story of all who have been oppressed. It is the story of how we survive, how we find truth, how we overcome, how being oppressed changes our worldview, and most of all, how to change the world so that no one is excluded from the inn.  
Also meaningful to me was the symbolism of being placed in a manger.  I picture them there among the animals and bales of hay.  I look at this as human beings in harmony with nature, of being one with the universe.  I find this message an environmental vision that we need to live in accordance with nature, not abuse it, not dominate it, but live in it, a place where our babies are safe, where our lives are safe, where we can live and grow comfortably and healthy. 
The story of Jesus birth is the story of creation retold. I think about the story of the virgin birth and how we find it incredible.  Then I think about today and how we use invitro fertilization to create life.  And with cloning, soon it seems we will not need humans at all to create life.  I think that is incredible as well. The story is the story of new creation, of life, of beginnings, and how those beginnings may seem innocuous, scary, unsure.  But ultimately this is the story of finding hope in a time of despair. 
At the time of this story, The Jewish people were under the yoke of oppression of the Roman empire. This young baby grew up to give hope to people, to show them a new way to create and live within society, to help them create a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.  In times like this, the Christmas story is a good reminder that amidst the financial struggles and world conflicts, there is another way to live, there is hope for a better world, there is a different paradigm for which we can resolve our disputes.  I notice this time of year, every person seems a little happier, a little nicer, a little more willing to go out of their way to help one another.  It is a reminder of how we can be all the time with each other, a reminder of how we can envision and live in this world in peace, with love and justice for all.     May it be so.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poem - True Understanding

True Understanding

I feel the wind whistling by
I watch grass shake as the wind blows it.
I hear the waves crashing on the shore
Cold breath invades my nostrils
The sun blinds my computer screen
The computer blocks my view of the beach
I put away my computer
and write with pencil and pad
my thumb hurts from writing
due to a injury long ago forgotten
so I put down my pencil
and pick up my head
and admire and enjoy
all the sights
and sounds
and smells
around me
I still notice
Life in all its abundance
I still live
I move my sunglasses on and off
To see with different perspectives
I see the sand on the bluff
with the vast blue ocean behind it.
As if climbing reaching upward
Trying to get to the water
And pool clearers cleaning
And leave blowers blowing
And I, writing exploring, wondering
Like the sand trying to reach the ocean
Not ever realizing it is on a bluff
But still I reach
Still I wonder
Knowing true understanding
Is beyond my reach
But I am closer
than if I didn’t try
And I have learned some things
And I have experienced some things
As I dream
And reach for
The ocean of understanding
Just over the bluff.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Movie Review Golf In The Kingdom - 4 out of 10 on the JWO Scale

An adaptation of the book by Michael Murphy, it might get such a low rating due to my high expectations of the movie.  The book is I believe one of the greatest books that expresses the spirituality of Golf. But no, it gets such a low rating because it is a poorly made movie.  I am not sure if the movie was just done amateurishly due to a low budget, or if they were going for a Terrance Mallckesque type surrealistic vision.  However the cinematography was just poor.  The movie screen was mostly dark throughout the movie.  And although one could see this metaphorically that humans are living in darkness, it doesn’t make for an engaging movie.  The movie also suffered from characters with deep sometimes non understandable Scottish accents. So although this might have made it more authentic, it made it non understandable.   If one didn’t know the book, they would not gain even a modicum of the depth of its meaning from watching the movie. The only saving grace of the movie is that at many points it quotes the book and it was a good reminder as to why the book held such meaning for me.  Read the book, ignore the movie. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My thoughts on the Tim Tebow Phenomenon

A recent article in the New York Times entitled "Tim Tebow’s Gospel of Optimism"  and the response to it, has really forced me to go deep about my feelings about the Tebow situation and evangelicalism in general.  So here are the facts. His team was losing when he took over, and they are winning when he became the starter. With the exception of Green Bay, the quality of the teams they were playing at the beginning of the year were the same as after he became starter.  The facts that his stats are not good doesn’t interest me.  I have often said, “stats are for losers.”  Results are what matters, but even more so than results are how we relate to others, are we taking right actions in our professions.  I think Tim Tebow scores well in both of these areas.  Now I have to say that not being a big college football fan and living in Central Florida during the Tim Tebow era, his followers and supporters can be insufferable for their god like praise of him.  It may be deserved, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to a non college football fan.  But now he is in the pros, and even thought he beat my Jets, and he often wins in unorthodox fashion, I have to say I actually looked forward to watching the game last Sunday against the Bears to see how it would turn out.  I have to respect the way he handles himself on and off the field, his competitiveness, his optimism, and his wins (although for all you conspiracy theorist, do we really believe that no offensive lineman on Denver held opponents the whole game vs. the Bears).  So as far as football goes, I am glad Tebow is playing and winning. I don’t know if it will last.  All I know is that it is fun to watch and it makes for good entertainment (which let us remember is what football is)

It is how Tebow handles himself off the field though that seems to bother more people, and I admit that I have had to reflect on why that is.  On the one hand, every interview I have seen of him, he seems like a likable guy, with a good sense of humor, and a deep faith.  I am not opposed to someone with a deep faith. He speaks to his faith, and how it has helped him throughout his life achieve what he has, and he gives credit to God for all his success.  Again, I would hope everyone’s faith could provide that for them.  I haven’t heard him say that God is causing the Broncos to win, but rather his beliefs and belief in God allows him to do his best and gives him resiliency and optimism in all that he does.    Again giving ones all, having resiliency and optimism are all good things.  I think it is important to note these traits can be obtained in ways other than the Christian Faith, but if that is what creates it for Tebow good for him.  If we don’t believe something is possible, then it more than likely it will never happen, or we will not even  attempt it. Optimism doesn’t mean we should be na├»ve, and cant be realistic.  (So I hope Tebow works on his throwing motion and practices more with his receivers)   Yes, Tebow’s success (as the author points to) goes against conventional wisdom and even logic.  But we can learn something from that.  I often have values that lead me in directions that others would consider illogical.  Yet internally they create a wholeness within me and my relation to the universe.

The thing I struggle with in this story though is the exclusivism.  The article states that Tebow has said that heaven is reserved for devout Christians.  I have never heard Tebow say this, although it is something I have heard many evangelicals say.  When people do say this I often ask them if they believe that Ghandi or the Dali Lama (clearly holy people) are not going to heaven?  Some say they are not, and some do religious gymnastics and say, that even if they don’t profess it, somehow, the spirit of Jesus is within them.  My religious beliefs lead me to accept the right of others to believe differently than I do.  I try to inform others about my religion as well, as it has helped me transform my life and helps me lead my life in accordance with my values. Due to this, I do not object to Tebow sharing his beliefs. (Are there any Unitarian Professional Athletes though)   So I guess the thing that I struggle with is do I have to accept someone whose beliefs are, that due to my beliefs I am going to hell. This exclusivism leads some Christians to cause others (even in their own religion)  extreme pain.  So I must stand up and speak truth when people of any religion use their religion to cause others pain.  I cant control what others think, but I can control how I think, and how I act towards others. 

I recently read a quote/poem by Edwin Markham in Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith which was
            “He drew a circle that shut me out
            Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
            But love and I had the wit to win
            We drew a circle that took him in!”

So in addition to optimism, I will preach the gospel of love, love even for those whose beliefs are different than mine. I hope Tebow does well, and gives all underdogs in the world a reason to believe.  But if Denver faces the Jets again in the playoffs, I will be rooting against Tebow.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sermon December 11th Lights of Fredom

Starting later this month, people of the Jewish Faith will be celebrating the Festival of lights, or the holiday known as Hanukah.  Often people ask me why do the dates change every year.  Whereas America and most of the West is on a Gregorian or Solar Calendar or how often the earth orbits the Sun. The Jewish Calendar is based on a Lunar Calendar meaning how often the moon orbits the earth, These are not equivalent, so every two to three years a month is added to the Jewish Calendar so that the holidays still stay within the same seasonal relationships.  Muslims on the other hand do not add a month periodically and that is why their holidays over time will change from season to season – from winter to summer.  So due to the adjusted Lunar dating, Hannukah always falls near the Christmas season.
Growing up Jewish the Holiday and Story of Hannukah was always a fun time.  As you heard in the story with the children the Holiday lasts eight days to symbolize the story of the temple candles lasting eight days.  At the time I grew up, and this is just my personal perspective, not a scholarly religious perspective,  Hannukah in my culture was really the Jewish answer to Christmas.  On the schoolyard, we could laud it over our Christian friends that we received eight days of gifts instead of just one day on Christmas.  Of course I failed to mention that the first seven days, the gifts usually consisted of socks and underwear.  But a gift is a gift. We should be grateful for everything we get.  There were some other interesting traditions.  We had the driedle game.  This is like a spinning top. 
We would be given what was called Hannukah gelt, gelt being the Yiddish word for money…so Hanukah gelt  was chocolate in the shape of coins.  So we would all ante up some gelt, spin the driedle, and depending on which side it fell, we would win, lose,  split the pot or the gelt would get rolled over into the next person’s turn.  It was a fun game, but looking back on it, it all seems very strange that they would be teaching children how to gamble at such a young age.
It was a joyous time, as we were taught that we were celebrating freedom.  We were celebrating the overthrow of oppressors and celebrating the religious rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem that had been defiled, we were celebrating the miracle that the light had lasted eight days instead of the expected one day.  But mostly we were celebrating religious freedom.  Particularly in the second half of the 20th century in the spector of the Holocaust you can imagine why this story resonated with Jewish People. 
But like most religious stories, under the scrutiny of closer examination, the answers tend to be more complex. And of course, remember that the information we have is over two thousand years old and was often written with a particular agenda in mind.  So upon initial examination, I found it interesting that the story of Hannukah was no where to be found in the Jewish Scriptures. Descriptions of it are found in the Talmud, which are Jewish teachings by Rabbis in this case written somewhere between the 3rd and 6th centuries.   Mention of the events, are also found in the Christian scriptures.
So the story goes,  Alexander the Great had conquered Israel in approximately three hundreds bce. After Alexendar’s death, the area was divided by his generals and Israel ended up being controlled by what is historically known the Seleucid Dynasty.  Under Alexander local religious customs were allowed, and integrated with Greek customs.  Many Jewish people assimilated into the Greek Culture.  However with successive Seleucid leaders culminating with Antiochus IV Jewish customs and services became minimalized, then outlawed, and the final straw that broke the camels back so to speak was when a statue of the Greek God Zeus was erected in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The stories talk about Jews willing to be put to death as martyrs rather than to submit to the Greek religion. 
Some stories also talks about religious Jews killing assimilated Jews.  It talks about how a small group of fundamentalist Jews led and fought a guerilla war  against a much larger, better equipped force. Some modern scholars even suggest this was more of a civil war between different factions within Judaism at that time.   So in some ways this is a story about clash of cultures, a clash of city vs. rural values, a clash of assimilating modern values versus maintaining deeper fundamentalist beliefs. A clash of one group imposing its values and its religion on others.  So it is interesting and I think ironic to think about that this holiday is a celebration of religious freedom, based on the victory of the fundamentalist sect of the religion against an occupier who wanted to eliminate all aspects of the religion.   
There is a deep lesson here.  Peace could have reigned, if not for the Greeks intolerance and exclusion of Jewish traditions.  And that I think is the core of an interesting question.  Do religions or religious teachings cause people to be intolerant of others, or do leaders merely use religion as a way to persecute others for power.  I think this leads to the more difficult question as to whether there are universal truth, and if so are we capable of realizing it, or is all truth relative subject to circumstances and culture?  In his sermon “The Permanent and Transient in Christianity” written in 1841 by Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker he writes  – “It is hard to see why the great truths of Christianity rest on the personal authority of Jesus, more than the axioms of geometry rest on the personal authority of Euclid, or Archimedes If Christianity were true, we should still think it was so, not because its record was written by infallible pens; nor because it was lived out by an infallible teacher, -- but that it is true, like the axioms of geometry, because it is true.”  Now he was speaking of Christianity, but we can apply those same criteria to any religious idea. How is truth determined? Unfortunately, sometimes we only find truth retroactively.  Because we determine truth through experiences, and sometimes failing, and analyzing, and experiencing some more.  There are things we just don’t know, and we have to accept that we may not know in our lifetime, and we have to ask how do we live together without knowing ultimate truth…. but knowing that we may not know in our lifetime doesn’t mean we should resign ourselves to stop searching for the truth. 
I am heartened by the thought that knowledge and wisdom builds upon former knowledge and wisdom….We have a long history of thinking we know something to be true only to be surpassed by new wisdom….from Copernicus, to Galileo, to Newton, to Einstein, and now expanding on Einstein’s unproven unified field theory, we have people working on Super String Theory, to try to describe the nature of the universe.  And so it should be with Religion. What need does religion fill in the life of humanity? Religion has existed in one form or another since the inception of humanity. Religion tries to answer the big questions of life and death, such as - What is the nature of humanity? What is the purpose of our existence? How do I explain and deal with the suffering in the world around me.  How do I deal with the fact that I know I am mortal? How do I find meaning in life? And we have to ask, how do we live together without knowing these ultimate truths?  How do we answer these questions? We long ago rejected the literal interpretation of words written thousands of years ago, but what after that?   Our religion in its principles calls us to promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  It doesn’t ask us to accept every word that is written in the past, but to learn from different sources, from new ideas that build upon the old.  Until we find those truths, our principles ask for acceptance of one another.  And this has been at the bedrock of our religion from its inception.  We trace back the formal Unitarian origins to Kind Sigismund in Transylvania who in 1568 issued the Edict of Torda called the ACT OF RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE AND FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE. 
Translyvania was the first country that allowed the Unitarian message to be spoken without persecution.  But Toleration and acceptance of practices that are different than ours is much easier to do in theory than practice. But Religion has changed and evolved over time. Our mere existence shows us that.   Religion has not always rested on its past. At one point people sacrificed children for their religion.  That ended and then animals were sacrificed in the name of religion. And now we invest in our religion.  We invest our time, our talents, our treasures in search of truth and meaning, in our search to answer those deep questions of life and death. And ours is a long tradition of Religious Freedom and searching.  But freedom and diversity is a very tricky business. We have to be careful that relativism does not lead to a suspension of the ethical. Everybody draws the line in a different place. 
Once it was Unitarians that were burned at the stake.   There are still religions that are practiced in America that as part of its practice sacrifices animals. I would think many of us would struggle with that concept. And I am chastened to remember that things that today we take for granted today such as civil rights laws did not exist for everyone in my lifetime. Prior to the 1990s And I can speak to this personally, that prior to the Clinton Presidency when a bill was passed to make it federal law, it was illegal to adopt interracially in many states.  And so I have to ask myself, what is happening today that is unjust that if we act today our descendants will take for granted. Hopefully the right of gays and lesbians to be married, and their right to adopt children will become the federal law in the land.  Maybe that every person is fed, and housed, maybe that every person has an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential.   Humanity is not a monolith that changes overnight, everyone at the same pace, in lock step with each other. And although we have different cultural expressions, I do believe that we as a species as expressed in most religions can provide underlying universal truths that can lead us to a peaceful sustainable interdependent co-existence. 
And just as we would not today ever consider sacrificing a child for religion, so we have to admit we have certain limits on our acceptance and toleration as well.  And although I may not believe in a duality of good and evil, on the continuum of life there people on one end of the continuum,
such as Jesus, Mother Theresa, the Dali Lama, Rumi, Ghandi, King, Heschel, who promote(d) non-violent peaceful acts as answers to their religious deep questions, and there are others on the other end of the continuum, such as the Crusaders, Hitler, Pol Pot, Bin Laden who promoted violent and destructive acts as answers to their questions.  This is the clash of our cultures now, the values of peace vs. war, the values of sustainability vs consumption, the values of love vs. hate, the value of interconnectedness vs isolationism.  The challenge is everybody from their own perspective thinks they are doing the right thing with the best of intentions.  But we can see by individual’s actions, and the outcomes of their action just where they are on the continuum.  It is our imperative to shine a light on injustice, to shine a light on the darkness so acts that are harmful to others are recognized. 
And just as I talked about in words for all ages, the Mennorah has the Shammash, the helper candle to that is used to light the other candles.  We cannot just keep our light to ourselves. It is not enough for us to be a beacon on a hill and to shine our lights on others.  Instead we have to be the Shammash, we have to share our light with each other and with others. We have to see the light that exists in others, and we cannot allow others to eliminate our light.  To do this we have to see each other as fellow human beings.  We need to have a realization that there is much we can learn from each other and we should not always assume we have all the answers.  We should shine the light of truth on ourselves as well as others and look for the light within others. And we should search and accept truth wherever we find it, whether within or without for it is truth that we seek, not our truth, the truth.  And each week I ask you to remember these thoughts as we light our chalice when we begin worship, and as we say In the light of truth and in the warmth of love, we gather to seek, to sustain and to inspire.  The Flaming Chalice is the symbol of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. It is the symbol of our need for truth (the light of truth) and our search for truth, the symbol of acceptance, (the warmth of love), and the symbol of lifting each other up and seeing the best in each other. That is what I would hope you think of when you see this flame. This symbol of the flaming chalice was created by Austrian artist, Hans Deutsch, in 1941.  Deutsch worked with the Unitarian Service Committee in helping Unitarians and Jews escape from Nazi Europe. 
He was asked by the Unitarian Service Committee  to create a symbol for their documents and clothing "to make them look official, to give dignity and importance to them, and at the same time to symbolize the spirit of our work” So let us dedicate ourselves, let us dedicate our hearts, to take the right actions, to do the hard work that needs to be done to Build our Beloved Community, it is through our work, our important work, that we do with dignity, as a congregation and as a religion,  it is through our actions that others will see our light, and how our light can change the world. And let this chalice light be a symbol, let the story of the miracle of the lights lasting eight days be a symbol, but more so let our lights shine constantly and have our symbols lead us to acts of love, justice and compassion
May it be so

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Text to my Sermon Dec. 4th - Celebrating Family

Today we dedicated  children as part of our beloved community.  I would like us to think deeply today, about just what this means as these families start and continue their journey of parenting.  What this means for the child, for the parents, and for our entire community.  Raising a child is sort of like the the tag line from the show Star Trek – “going to a place where no person has gone before”.  As parents there is a sense of wonder and innocence, the child’s first words, first steps, when they smile at you after you make a goofy face at them……and then a dose of reality and a loss of innocence for the adult and the child,  changing diapers, the first time they fall, the constant waking up at three in the morning, there is the balance between protection and fostering independence.  of holding back, and a letting go…. always on guard, trying to keep them from danger, but also a desire for them explore and to create, as well  there is a time for teaching, how to read, how to play, and speaking as the parent of  young adults, a dream that maybe even one day they will learn how to balance a check book or do a budget…and then a time for learning….how often we find out about ourselves when raising our children…..when a child asks us an innocent question about why you are doing something it forces us to become self reflective and consciously think about our actions.….they are watching, observing, mimicking, so we have to ask yourself, what do we want our children to mimic….and even if you are not parents, other peoples children in our community are seeing how you act…..and so let us be conscious about what words  we say and how we say those words to our children, and to each other that our children witness. When I was young my mother would curse like a banshee.  However after she would curse she would say, “pardon my French”.  So I grew up thinking I spoke a foreign language.  That was ok until a third grade geography class when we were discussing Europe, and when we came to France, I raised my hand and assured them I spoke French. What happened next didn’t go over well. 
This concept of “right speech”  reminds me of the fourth of Five Buddhist Mindfullness Trainings which states: “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”
And  right speech is not unique to Buddhism.  It is part of all major religious traditions.  In the Jewish scriptures, in Deuteronomy 6.7 – a passage that is the source of one of the most revered prayers in the Jewish language, the people are told to recite the holy words to their children and talk about them when you at home, and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. So I ask you to be conscious of what you say to and in front of the children and to each other, how you say it, and how often you say it.  Love each other, forgive other,  guide each other, heal each other….with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might….let these thoughts be written upon your heart. Let your children hear your holy words, they need to hear your holy words.  They may or may not be the holy words your parents used, they may or may not be the holy words from scriptures written thousands of years ago…they may be words like Love, Compassion, Grace, Freedom, Peace, Forgiveness, Truth, Justice, Spirit,  I ask you to think about what words are holy to you?  What words and values do you want to share with the children of this congregation,  and as well children need to be able to create words that are holy to them that have meaning to them.   Your children, Our children need to hear these words, need to see all of us as role models of how to live. 
            But ultimately, it is our goal to allow our children to grow to reach their full potential whatever that may be, to become the unique wonderful being that they were created to be.  Let us remember that we do not know what that is….it is tempting to want them to be who we want them to be….but we must have the courage to allow them to be who they need to be….Letting their life unfold, to follow where their heart leads them, based on their skills, their potentials, their choices, their hopes, their passions, their dreams…..not ours.  Children have a tremendous capacity within themselves and it is our responsibility as parents and as part of this community to nurture their talents and dreams, to  help draw those out from within hemselves…to  help them realize who they are and what they are capable of. 
So what do we as a community have to do with this…how do we participate in this.  There are some very practical things we can do to support each other.  We can offer parents a night out once in a while and let them know their children  are in safe hands.  We are working towards a commitment to have childcare at congregational events, to make it easier for parents to attend events.  Our Pastoral Care program has a team to support to families in times of emergencies.  We can offer parenting classes and support groups. We can volunteer to work with religious education and expand our religious education programs.  We will be starting a youth choir because we have two members who have committed to working with the youth on this.  What happens here happens because you make it happen.   But most importantly, we can be there to help support, guide, and be mentors to young people.  We can make them feel welcome within our community, in our worship, in our lives.
Today we commemorated this sacred event of life, this sacred covenant  to and with families, with a drop of water.  Obviously there are parallels of this in many world religions.  But I ask you to think about what makes this unique to our community.  Water is the symbol of life. Approx 70% of the earth is covered with water,  Over 60% of the human body is made up of water. I got those facts on the internet, so they be off  bit from actual, but the point is it is a substantial percentage.  Water is the beginning of life, from which life then grew on this planet.   Water can be both sublime and powerful.  Each droplet of water on its own is not powerful and evaporates, and I hear there is this thing called snowflakes.  I haven’t seen them yet but I have been assured I will see them, and each one of those is unique.  Enough water together can power a hydro electric energy plant.  We think of a river flowing freely and fluid but often rivers are defined by and define the land surrounding them and rivers then flow to the ocean, where each droplet of water is still separate but also becomes part of same oneness of the greater ocean.  Children as well, are defined by and define the  communities they live in. They are each unique individuals, and they become part of our community and all of humanity. With the droplet of water we honor that uniqueness, and the joining of that uniqueness to all of creation,  and we honor life itself.   
In Luke – Ch 18:verse 17 – Jesus says, “It is little children that heaven on earth belongs. Truly I tell you whoever does not experience the world as a little child, will never experience heaven on earth.” See how children looks at and experiences the world, always learning, laughing when they are happy, crying when they are hurt.  Expressing their honest emotions and feelings, and when they learn to speak expressing their honest thoughts in words always genuine, until they are taught otherwise by life...
now of course when they get older,  sometimes those expressions come out as screams, yelling and defiance.  Look at this and try and emulate that same genuine expression of thoughts and feelings. But with our years of experience, let us express them with a mindful reasoned dialogue.  Too often I think children are told not to yell, told to be quiet, the message they receive is not to express their thoughts and feeling differently, but  to deny their thoughts and feelings.  You know when a child screams during the service, I don’t take it as a sign that they dont like my sermon.  We rarely have any idea why they crying. But that is the only way they know how to express themselves.  That is why I don’t mind babies crying during service.  They are part of our community.  And they need to be made, and their parents need to be made to feel that they are truly accepted into our community.    And they should be welcomed and supported by all, because we who attend here together as members are covenanted with each other, to stand with each other and to love each other, even if a baby is crying, even if we don’t always agree with each other, even if we don’t always like what the minister says all the time.  Because it is about we, not I, It is about how we agree to be together…it is about loving each other even through difficulties, and holding that love, that caring for others, in their joy and in their pain…for that is what families should do.  That is what a loving beloved community does. 
Eboo Patel is an American Born Muslim who spoke this week at Augustana College on Inter-Faith Leadership.  I was moved by something he wrote in his book Acts of Faith at the beginning of his religious awakening about his lack of religious community.  “What is community but a group of people who have some claim over you, and what is a tradition but a set of stories and principles and rules handed down over hundreds or thousands of years that each new generation has to wrestle with? And talking to his then Jewish Girfriend he states You have these principles you talk about, and this community that watches out for you, and even when it feels suffocating, at least you know they care for you.  I have none of that. I just have some things that Im interested in and a bunch of groups I come in and out of.  But I could leave them at any time, and they wouldn’t know I was gone?”
            I try to remind people that we do have a long tradition, the tradition of religious freedom, that has existed since the time of the beginnings of humanity, that at times has been surpressed but always rises up, as it did during the times of Jesus and then Unitarianism formally in the 1500s during the protestant reformation.  And we are blessed to live in a country that allows our religious freedom to continue to evolve as our understanding of the universe evolves, as our circumstances evolve.  But the key to what he wrote is to know that you are cared for., that you will be missed if you are gone, but also that requires us to care for the others, for us to miss others when they are not here. We don’t say you have to like everybody, but we do ask that you love everybody.  I know that is not as easy as it sounds.  But worthwhile things, like what we have here,  like building a truly beloved community rarely is easy.
I know some of you have expressed to me in a mindful reasoned dialogue the question as to why we repeat the same opening words each week and give a litany of who is welcome here.  And I assume if there are some of you who are asking this then there are others who are thinking it, and I want you to know why I do this.  There are two reasons.  The first is in the name that you will see on the order of service.  I call it our affirmation. These are not creeds, no requirement for membership. But there is a power in naming who we are and what we stand for.  A constant reminder, A constant touchstone to bring us back to the core of what brings us together and the community we truly hope to be. So that even when at times it may become suffocating, we are brought back to and lift up why we are a member of this community, why we have committed to and covenanted with each other.  To repeat it so that it seeps in and becomes second nature to us.   
A second reason is that each week we often have visitors who attend our services.  That is a very hard thing to do for many people.  They are coming from other religious backgrounds that did not fulfill their spiritual needs or have had no religious upbringing.  It is hard to enter a new community.  I think we do a wonderful job of welcoming new people, (and new people let us know if this true – be in dialogue with us about that)…but we also have to let new people know they are every bit as welcome into our community as those who have been her a long time.  They need to know that their voice will be heard and listened to, that they will be cared for, that they will be loved, and in turn, we expect the same from them. For ours is not a passive religion that rests on laurels, or rests on its history.  But a religion that looks forward, ever unfolding based on new experiences and new knowledge and how to deal with the world in its current context and culture, not a context and culture of over two thousand years ago.   
And so it should be with our congregation.  A sharing of wisdom from all, old and new. Based on our current context in our current culture, not one of a distant past.   We have much to learn from each other.  There are some of you who have been here forty, fifty years, who have raised children here, and there are many people who are newer here, some with partners, some single, some with children, some without.  Some old, some young…. All Souls are welcome here.  All Souls are loved here.  All Souls can be a part of our family.
For all parents, but particularly the parents, families and friends of the children who were dedicated here today, I want to share my personal joy for each of you, for the unknown and wonder you are experiencing and will continue to experience. Embrace it!!  Celebrate it!!  Enjoy every moment of it, Enjoy the journey and know we will journey with you.  Know that you are part of our family as well.
May it be so

Monday, November 21, 2011

Text to Sermon Nov. 20th - With a Grateful Heart

When I was in the business world, I would sign all my letters and emails Sincerely, Jay Wolin….because I wanted to express that I was sincere, not that I always was, although I tried to be.   So as I pursued ministry, I started watching and studying what ministers did. This was the kind of thing that I would do when I was learning anything new. I would study what other business people did.  I think this is a good lesson for anything we take on in life, whether it be a new career, a new hobby, social activism, or ministry, find out what successful people in the field have done and tailor it to your own unique style and circumstances.   I noticed many Ministers used very creative signature lines, some using quotes,  I actually took a lot of time discerning this question.  That may speak a little to obsessiveness on my part, but this is something that is some ways defines the essence of who I am.   So I thought how do I want to be defined?  I wanted to be intentional and authentic.  If there was one virtue, one statement to express the essence of my being to others, what would it be.  A good question for each of us to think about.  So if you ever received an email from me you know I chose the phrase with a grateful heart.  Now I have to be honest, I don’t always have a grateful heart, but it is what I aspire to be and do every day.
And since I write a multitude of emails every day, this is always in front of me, always staring at me, always challenging me….and before I send out an email, I look at the line and ask myself, did I write this email with a grateful heart.  Am I a living with a grateful heart.  And not just with gratitude.  Not just an intellectual understanding of being thankful, but being grateful in the core of my being, in the life force that flows through all my body.   Like a constant affirmation and reminder, naming my intention of how I want to be in the world
Of course gratefulness requires us to look at the world with a relative lens.   Often it is only with the perspective of time and of accumulating experience that we can appreciate gratitude.  Such as when I was growing up, I really didn’t like where I was growing up, but as I went out into the world, I learned there were a lot worse conditions I could have been in. And I realized what major advantages I had living where I did. But at the time I didn’t appreciate what I had. Now I appreciate what it took for my family just to be in the position to live where we lived. Now I have learned to appreciate just having a roof over my head however minimal it may be.  It is not something we should ever take for granted.  As we know there are many right here in town without a roof over their heads.
Another example would be growing up, I thought my sister was very pushy…and I didn’t appreciate her… many years later, I still think she’s pushy, but I appreciate having two siblings who has shared a lifetime of experiences with me, who know me as no one else does and looked out for me and  people I know I can always count on in a time of need.  It is important for us to look back over time to see how our perceptions change and to bring that awareness into the present moment to examine our current perceptions and assumptions about our current experiences.  I cant always control my circumstances, but I can control how I react to them and how I let them affect me. 
As an example, when I am driving and someone cuts me off, I always like to imagine they are rushing to the hospital because they just found out their mother was ill.  Now when my son is in the car, he imagines something less altruistic, and responds with anger often.  But the truth is we don’t really know.  But instead of becoming angry I become grateful, grateful that they didn’t hit me, grateful that I don’t have anything causing me to be nearly so anxious as that person, and that in turn makes me less anxious.  And when I am late for a meeting, I have learned, that it is far healthier for me not stress over it and rush to where I am going, risking my safety, a speeding ticket, and my stress levels. 
And I try to become grateful for even having a car to drive in, for there was a time when I didn’t have a car.  I become grateful that I have a meeting to go to. I become grateful that I am optimistic that the person I am meeting will forgive my lateness.  The truth is medical study after medical study has shown that gratefulness leads to, less stress, to better health, and to more happiness. Now I am not Pollyannaish, and I know that person who cut me off, probably isn’t going to the hospital, but I don’t know their life, what led them to that point, that caused them to do that….and I try to remember that there was probably once in my life when I accidently cut someone off…..and I become grateful that I did not hurt someone else. 
We can choose how we react.  Do we react with anger or do we react with love in our heart, do we react from a place of gratefulness for what we do have and reminder of our own imperfect selves. Are we the carrot, the egg or the coffee. 
 We heard Ann talk about Guest at your table boxes from the UUSC.  If you read the booklet included with the box, it is a reminder of how blessed we are and how the challenges we face often pale in comparison to people in other parts of the world. Sometimes we like to think this is because we are exceptional, but in fact, we were blessed recipients of a land with excessive fertile soil, and limited population. An indigenous population that we deposed from those lands. 
It is of course ironic that the Thanksgiving Holiday, we retell with the story of how the indigenous peoples of this country helped us survive at our early beginnings in this country and how this holiday celebrates our sharing a meal together with them.  This is not to say that all of our ancestors, many who came here long after those events, and even long after slavery had been outlawed, didn’t work very hard to achieve what they did. But let us remember to be grateful for the opportunities we had that so many other here and in the world didn’t have, let us be grateful for having the opportunity to live the way we choose, when so many were not allowed to live the lifestyle they were living before Europeans arrived. Let us be grateful.
What gratefulness does for us is lead us to the realization of the interdependence all things.  It leads us to reject the myth of pure self sufficiency. If I am grateful for something else, I am connected to something else.  And self sufficiency is a myth.  No one does it on their own.  Thich Nhat Hanh I think expresses this wonderfully in his writings called “The heart of understanding” He states
Please look at this piece of paper, without the clouds in the sky, this piece of paper could not exist.  Without a cloud, there will be no rain, without rain, the trees cannot grow, and without trees we cannot make paper.  The cloud is essential for the paper to exist.  If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.  If we look into this sheet of paper deeply, we can see the sunshine in it.  If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow.  In fact, nothing can grow.  Even we cannot grow without sunshine..  And so we know that the sunshine is also this sheet of paper.  And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper, and we see the wheat.  We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper.  And the logger’s father and mother are in it too.   When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.” (And I would add that the person who typed the words, the person who made the computer it was typed on…. The person who taught that person to read and write….also are a part of this piece of paper.  Certainly we all have a part in and are responsible for our own actions, but no one does it alone.  I thought about this last week at a memorial service when someone said something to remind me of the Orson Wells quote, “we are born alone, we live alone, we die alone, Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.” I always found that a strange line.
Certainly we have an inner world, some things that we don’t share with others, but at birth is the one time we are undeniably not alone, we are physically connected to another human being. Last week one of our long time members passed away….she was not alone, she had her husband by her side, her many friends from this congregation by her side constantly with them caring for them in the last months of her life.  In fact I would say Welles got it completely wrong, I believe that we try to create the illusion that we are alone, People in our society often do everything they can to isolate themselves from others. Look for every possible reason to hate and be hurt by others….
And it is this feeling and belief of alienation that we are separate from other things that allows us to look at other things and beings as commodities, as something other than ourselves. Realizing our interdependence, with all of existence, forces us into a more emotional and intimate relationship with existence…it requires us to be authentic, to lower our boundaries, to risk pain, to care about others and ultimately if I am interdependent with you, if I harm you, I harm myself.  If I help you,  I help myself.     We don’t have to be alone… We can open our hearts to others. We can open our minds to new ways of being and doing things. It is in breaking this illusion of aloneness that we will realize the  universality of all things and all people. 
So how do we create a sense of gratitude, how do we create this sense of oneness.  I believe the key to doing this is to have a spiritual practice.  I feel having a spiritual practice to be so important because It requires intentionality. And once we learn the discipline of intentionality in one area of our life, we can apply it to other areas of our life.  Intentionality in our actions, intentionality in our thoughts, intentionality in our speech, and most important intentionality in our relationships with others.  Now I know when we think of spiritual practices we think of a monk doing meditation in a monastery.  Now I will be the first to tell you that meditation has been a powerful spiritual practice for me. 
And there is an irony in that doing something solitary like meditation can lead to a greater ability to connect with others. But I  can also tell you that meditating with a group has been a much more powerful experience for me than meditating alone.  Intellectually that doesn’t make sense. Maybe there is a certain accountability of being with others, or maybe it is the psychic energy of those around me, but either way that has always been my experience. Spiritual practices do not have to be solitary acts though, they can be almost anything we do if we act with intention.  Other examples include spiritual body practices such as Tai Chi, and Yoga, creativity practices such as poetry writing, and other creative art work, practices such as gardening, knitting, cooking, even cleaning the house if done with intention and love should be considered a spiritual practice.  I have not achieved that level of awareness myself on that last one. 
But in regard to specifically making gratitude a spiritual practice, there are some very specific things that you can do. Every morning or evening you can journal or think about a list of things and people you are grateful for. You can use visual reminders, such as I do with my email, or writing a list of the things you are most grateful for and keep them in your wallet, and when things get stressful, pull it out and read it. Another important practice is to on a daily basis tell someone something you appreciate about them.  There is a power in the naming of something out loud.  And I know that there will be days, when the hard winds blow, and the body aches, and the bill collector calls, that you are just not going to feel like doing it. But I tell you it is important to do even if you are not feeling it, even if it means just going through the motions.  I know going through the motions can has a negative context, but as Aristotle said, We are what we repeatedly do. In more current times than Aristotle, Stephan Covey in his book 7 habits of highly successful people used the image of sharpening the saw…being grateful is not something we can just turn on and off, we must make it a practice, a part of our every day life, so that it comes naturally to us day in and day out.
So I do have a  grateful heart, and I am constantly practicing….I am grateful for many things.  First I want to say, I am grateful for auto-save on Microsoft Word. While writing this sermon, due to a sensitive mouse I accidently shut the file down, and after an anxious moment I was very grateful, I hadn’t lost the sermon. I am grateful. I am grateful to be here with you, to have this opportunity to minister with you. I am grateful to be able to work in the vocation  that I am passionate about and gives my life meaning. I know many people cant say that.  I am grateful.   And as I asked all of my Facebook friends what they were thankful for.
With the exception of one cousin who is seriously grateful for his xbox, I like most of the people who responded am grateful for my health, for my family and their health, for friends, congregations and a religion that sustains us as we journey through life, for the wonders of nature, and as another person’s note reminded me, something my grandfather would often say to me later in his life, When I would ask him how he was, he would respond, “Jay, Every day above ground is a good day.”  So yes, I am grateful for the mere existence of my life on this planet, and my awareness of it.  So be grateful, every moment, of every day, in every interaction you have. May it be so.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Service Nov. 13th - The Religious Imperative for Social Justice

The phrase social justice is bandied about quite often, and it means different things to different people.  So I would like to share with you a story that I think really explains it quite clearly.  I first heard this story when I was  a young man.  I had joined the Ethical Culture Society in New York, and similar to our Pathway to Membership class they had an introduction to Ethical Culture.  And this is the story they told me during my first class there, and it has stuck with me ever since.   One day a villager took a break from harvesting food and noticed a baby floating down the river toward the village. They couldn't believe Their eyes!  They jumped in the river and pulled the baby from the river.
The next day, they were keeping a closer eye on the river wondering if babies had always been floating down the river and they had never noticed.  This day they saw that there were two babies floating down the river.  They jumped in and pulled both out.  The next day there were four babies floating down the river and they realized they could not pull all four out by themselves, so they called a friend over to help get the four babies out of the river.  Each day the number of  babies floating down the river kept increasing.
          With so many babies they had to organize themselves.  Watchtowers were built on both sides of the shore and swimmers were coordinated to maintain shifts of rescue teams that maintained 24-hour surveillance of the river. They had one group of people for medical care, others to provide clothing, others to build housing.  They grew more food to feed all the babies.  Then one day another villager asked, "But where are all these babies coming from?""No one knows," said another villager. So the person said, “Lets organize a team to go upstream and find how who's throwing these babies in the river."  Not everyone was in agreement. "If we send someone up stream, we may not be able to catch all the babies coming down the river, or have people to cook and care for them so if we spend our time going upstream, some may die.  And we don’t even know if we can change what is up the river.  We should just worry about what we know. And so the ethical question that was posed to me and the entire group in the class was, would we sacrifice the life of some of the babies, in order to search for the unknown cause of the problem.  Should we go upstream?
So staying downstream is what I would call social service, a direct rendering of service to those in need.  Going upstream as I like to call it, is what I would call Social Action, working for systemic change to the causes of injustice rather than just dealing with the symptoms.  This would involve, education, which in the story was even realizing that there were babies in the river.  How often are we not even aware of social justice issues in the world.  Social action could include  public witness which is a way to to make an injustice known to the entire public, such as the Occupy Movement has done so successfully.  Social Action would also include community organizing such as Quad Cities Interfaith does such a good job at, and working on changing the policies and systems that lead to injustice.  All of these actions both social service and social actions fall under the larger term social justice for me. 
          So I can tell you that not everyone in the room at that Ethical Culture class was in agreement on the answer to that question as to whether to sacrifice some babies lives. And I ask you in the week to come to ponder that question as well.  But no one said, just do nothing, no one said, just let all the babies float down the river.  If we truly believe in our Unitarian Universalist  Priniciples and our congregational mission and vision, if they are to be anything other than just words on a paper, then we cannot just turn away when we see sufferring.
            The inherent worth and dignity of each person, justice equity and compassion in human relations, the interdependent web of existence of which we are all apart should be something that we internalize into our being and externalize in our actions in the world. And we continue to explore to find that balance between the internal and external.  And we need to find the balance between Social Service and Social Action It is my hope to engage the congregation in social justice work.  For it is only by becoming engaged, by doing the work to alleviate and to change injustice, that we are changed as people.  The first source from which we draw inspiration is the “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;”  It is through direct experiences with others that we learn of others lives, and are changed by them, only by direct experience…Not the experience, of watching it on television, not the experience  of reading it in a book, but the direct experience of being with, sharing with and understanding someone who is different from us. Only then can we understand the wholeness and oneness of all existence.  We may express things culturally in a very different way, we may act in a different way due to the different circumstances of our upbringing, but I often say, if not but for the grace of the universe, there go I.  If I had grown up under different circumstances, in different places, with different parents, How different would I be.  So we explore and search for the sacred and the oneness of all things. 
I can tell you that for me I answered that question of whether to send someone upstream fairly quickly and it has always guided my religious and spiritual life. Although we don’t know what we will find by going upstream, but I was willing to sacrifice a few and take that chance, because without going upstream, we will never find a long term solution so that one day no babies will ever have to float down the river. So that one day there will be justice in the world for everyone.  Sacrifice. Often to achieve anything in this world requires sacrifice.  Sacrifice, of time, sacrifice of other things we might do with our time, sacrifice of money,  sacrifice of careers, sacrifice of ideas that have been long held.  I always like to ask myself,  is the path I am taking for the greater long term good? How would I want to be treated if I was in someone else’s shoes.  
So I constantly go upstream. Constantly challenge myself and others.   We out of our common humanity, cannot ignore the downstream, we cannot ignore the suffering, but if we never go upstream, the amount of suffering, will one day become unsustainable to care for until the situation implodes, and then many many more will suffer.  And if we do not upstream, how can we hope to change the people who are causing the suffering.  And this process also involves hope.  Do we really believe that we can make a difference.  Do we really believe that we can transform the way people live and think and act.  Do we really believe we can transform the world.  And as I said last week, we have to believe we can. And if we believe it then we have to act. 
            In regard to question of the need to act, as I mentioned before about public witness,  I have been thinking deeply about the Occupy Movement.  I attended  the rally in Davenport last month with many of you, and spoke at the rally to add my support.  And although I know many people would like the Occupy Movement to have more specific goals, they are there as a public witness to what they see as injustice, sharing ideas, and expressing their feeling of alienation from the political process.  If nothing else they have had this country talking about our values as a country, and as human beings.  As I said at the rally, this is ultimately a moral issue.  How do we treat people when they are down.  Do we kick them, or do we give them a helping hand to lift them up, Do we abandon them, or do we walk with them in their time of trial.   Now I have also seen a demonizing of business and businesspeople throughout this Occupy process . Not all business are evil. Capitalism has often provided the incentive for tremendous creativity and invention in this country.  I do believe there is a purpose for responsible capitalism.  The goal of most business’  though is to maximize profits. This however must be balanced by the common good of society.  Business’ has shown consistently throughout our history that they are unable to regulate themselves. Therefore the only recourse for the citizens is for the government to be a counter measure to business so as to protect the citizens from the excesses of business.  The pendulum in this country has continued to swing back and forth throughout its history.  We never seem to find a balance.
            It just keeps swinging from one extreme of business run rampant (child labor, unsafe working conditions, no concern for the environment, fraudulent financial practices etc.) to the other extreme of regulations that have diminished business’ creativity and inventiveness.  We need to find a balance.  A balance where the workers rights and rewards and the needs of the greater society are balanced against and linked to business’ risks and rewards.  In our current climate of fear and recession, business’  were using this as an opportunity to take advantage of the workers and taxpayers of this country. 

As Theodore Parker, a Unitarian Minister in the 19th century said:
The idea that all people have unalienable rights; that in respect thereof, all people are created equal; and that government is to be established and sustained for the purpose of giving every person an opportunity for the enjoyment and development of all these unalienable rights. This idea demands, as the proximate organization thereof, a democracy, , a democracy, that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; 
Yes, I know you think that was Abraham Lincoln, but he took the statement from Parker.

            If we are to survive, we need to avoid excesses and find balance. I would say that is true in all areas of our life.   The pendulum has swung too far.  The Occupy movement I feel is the step to bring us back into balance, so that the voice of the people can be heard. This is why I will support the Occupy movement. To create a Government, by of and for the people, not a government by of and for the corporation.  The Occupy movement shows us that change can happen,  it has awakened something deep within the soul of this country for justice.  And because I believe in my heart that change can happen and we as a religious organization can act to make it happen, to awaken within ourselves and the larger community the need for compassion and justice. 
            This need is one reason that one of my first projects I decided to work on when I started here was to work on a social justice discernment for the congregation. We had a committed group of people who showed up week after week.  Committed to seeing that we as a congregation take on a social justice project as a congregation. I would like to ask if any of the people who attended the group would be willing to stand.   One important step we took was to create a Social Justice Council.  So if you are new here, and you want to know how to get involved, you can see one of these people, or see me.  We also looked to discern, what one topic we could work on.  We looked at eight proposals submitted. We viewed them based on four criteria, 1) what was the grounding of the topic in relation to our mission and vision and was it something the group and something that we felt the congregation could become passionate about.  2) we looked at what impact we could have on any problem.  Was there a definable goal and would it if we were successful have a positive impact on conditions  in the Quad Cities.  3) we asked was it a good fit for our group’s and the congregation’s strengths and resources and 4) what are our chances of success.  So after a 10 week period and a democratic iterative process the Social Justice Council has chosen the challenge of Teen Homelessness. 
            Research has already started as to the causes of the issue, and research into the resources in the community already working on the problem.  I encourage you to become engaged, to share your knowledge and wisdom in this area so we as a congregation can have direct experience in this area and help overcome this challenge to our community.  There is no limit to what we can do if we put our minds and hearts and bodies working together as one.  Let us improve lives in the Quad Cities, and by doing so, improve ourselves. 
Throughout human history people have been driven to explore ways to improve themselves.   I believe it is part of our evolutionary makeup.  There is something deep in the well of our being that makes us want to improve both individually and societally. To explore what is just and to fight injustice wherever it is found, both within and without.  It starts when we make that connection with the burning flame we have within, the thing that gives meaning to our life.  And even though I wasn’t a boy scout growing up, (either literally or figuratively) even I know when you have a regular campfire the fire needs to be tended to or it will go out.   So we keep working on this meaning making that we find within these walls as a way to keep the fire within burning strong and burning long.  And I encourage you to share that light.
To not just let it burn on the inside, or it will burn you up….but to let it out, to bring that light to others, and to combine it with the light of others as we work together to build a just and compassionate life and world. Come, come join us at the river, in the river, downstream, and upstream, help us transform the world and in doing so transform your world. It is through this work that we remember that we are a part of the greater whole, that we are interdependent to all that is, and that creates a wholeness within us. 
              And that to me, this creating wholeness is what the religious life should lead to.  A wholeness or oneness not only for ourselves with ourselves, but a wholeness/oneness between ourselves  and others, a wholeness/oneness  between ourselves  and the environment, A wholeness, a oneness with all of the universe.  May it be so.