Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sermon August 21st - Food Glorious Food

Food Glorious food August 21st 2011 – Rev. Jay Wolin

Food is Love!! I heard this phrase throughout my lifetime in my house growing up. Eating together was a sacred event. Dinner was often the one time when the family was always together. No matter what I was doing, I had to be home in time for dinner. My father would leave work and often have to return after dinner. I think much of this was due to my family’s experiences during the depression in the 1930s, when food was not so plentiful, and so therefore food just for the sake of sustenance was celebrated and revered. Of course I think dinner might have been even more sacred if someone in my birth family was a better cook. In the Orlando congregational cookbook, I put down my mothers’ special recipe, the telephone number for the Chinese Takeout restaurant.

Eating Chinese spare ribs is made all the more ironic as my grandparents on my father’s side were orthodox Jews. This means they did not eat pork. They followed the Jewish Kosher food laws, so they did not (and myself when I visited them) eat meat and dairy at the same meal. Also they had to have separate plates on which to eat meat and dairy so the two foods could not possibly mix. I always found these rules strange, so I studied the original source of the dietary laws, which originates from the book of Leviticus, Chapter 11. It has very specific rules about what foods can and cannot be eaten. Animals that have no true hoofs or do not chew the cud, specifically naming camels, pigs, and something that I believe is akin to a porcupine as unclean to eat. It lists fish that do not have fins and scales were unclean to eat, a variety of birds of prey, all insects, and specifically locusts, as unclean

After reading the chapter 11 my initial reaction was that the prohibition on eating certain types of animals was a health issue. This seemed like a logical conclusion to me. Others believe that it was done as a way to intentionally segregate the Jewish people from assimilation with their neighbors, Others believe it had to do with maintaining order throughout the universe. We will never really know this and I think the question we need to ask is, is it relevant to our lives now. The more I read about religious dietary laws, the more I think about the Buddhist practice of mindful eating. I believe the dietary laws certainly force people to be mindful at least about what they are eating.

It makes them stop and consciously think. Once you are on a path of mindfulness, in one area of life, it makes you a more mindful person in general. I believe being in that mindful mindset is a way to allow one to know themselves better and to put oneself in touch with the all of existence. This can lead to a sense of peacefulness and acceptance of others who are different. I am not suggesting that the Jewish priests were studying Buddhism, but I am suggesting that maybe mindful eating and mindfulness in general are practices that may be universal to human and spiritual fulfillment, and the dietary laws were the way the Jewish people learned to practice mindfulness

Thinking about it, food is an integral part of religious life throughout the world. In Judaism, On Yom Kippur the Jewish High Holidays one is required to fast for 24 hours. During Passover, the meal is actually part of the Seder service and for a week you are not allowed to eat leavened bread.. In Catholicism in the United States, there is to be abstinence of meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent, with Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for all those over 18. Of course food is involved as part of the Christian ritual of communion. The third major western religion, Islam we are now in the month of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims are to fast during the daylight hours. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islamic faith. They will wake up before dawn to eat a big meal, and then as soon as the sun sets, the family gathers together for a large meal. Again to allow them to be mindful and grateful for what they have

And lets think about Unitarian Unviersalism. How much food is apart of our culture. In the short time I have been here, I see we celebrate often with potlucks, not just with ourselves, but also as a way of including the larger community such as we had last weekend as we broke break with members from the refugee community. And always we are conscious of those with different eating lifestyles and provide vegetarian/vegan offerings at such occasions.

Many members here are active in the Community Sustainable Agriculture Movement, Many Members here work with Church’s United serving a community meal to those in need and as we heard this morning the Crop Walk for Hunger. If you would like to get involved with that, please let me know. We have a tradition of having Labor Day cookouts, and Thanksgiving dinners for people to celebrate together. And in this as in almost every Unitarian Universalist congregation I am aware of Coffee Hour is a major part of our communal life together. It is the one time when the most of us are together at one time. It is the first time we will have the opportunity to meet with and get to know first time guests to our congregation. It is a weekly celebration of our existence as a congregation together. And such a time should be celebrated with a sense of joy. So please if you ever feel the spirit move you to bring food for coffee hour, you don’t need to ask permission, just follow that spirit. And if the spirit moves you to clean up, even if the spirit doesn’t move you to clean up, you don’t have to ask permission, at the end of coffee hour, please help clean up!!

And of course in our American Culture that is the religion of Football, Super Bowl Sunday being its highest holiday, the Super Bowl is the largest day of the year for takeout food where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year.

So my point in all of this, is to make present to us that we have a deep relationship with food. It has become much more than mere sustenance for us. It has become part of our culture to utilize food as a way of expressing ourselves and our emotions. We have been blessed with an abundance of food here in America and often we take it for granted. I think food has always been a part of the religious rituals of humanity specifically to remind us not take food for granted. The three main Western religious traditions often focus on the denial of food through fasting or food laws as a spiritual practice. I always found this fascinating. Why deny yourself food when we have plenty of it. How does this help us.

I have actually maintained the tradition of fasting on Yom Kippur. Not for historic religious reasons, but because I have found it to be a centering practice in my life. What I find most revealing about it is that it points to the mind body disconnection I often have about food. When I fast, I become conscious about food. What I become most conscious about is really how little food I really NEED to eat during the day. It is in the breaking of our daily habits that we can see things in a new objective light. Another way I have experienced a way to think of food differently is through the intentional practice of mindful eating.

When I have been on Meditation retreats, we would eat in silence and focus on the act of eating. Part of the practice of mindful eating is to chew the food until it was mush in our mouth, taking in and noticing all the tastes, smells and texture of the food throughout the process. Sort of like when I was young and imagine many of you as well, and our parents would tell us to chew 20 times before swallowing. We didn’t realize that our parents were Zen Masters training us. There are many nutritionists who believe that the saliva created in the mouth from chewing helps with the digestive process. When you are consciously thinking about food, you start to realize how certain foods you eat affects the body and mind. It makes sense that if you put healthy things in your body, you will often feel healthier. I would ask you to think about how you feel after you eat. Take note of how much energy you have after eating certain kinds and quantities of meals and think about if you like how that feels. There is a new movie Forks over Knifes that has just come out. Its premise is that as a whole, the food choices we make lead to many of the illness’ that we humans face today.

I have to say, I had this come home to me many years ago when I went to my doctor and received cholesterol reading that was off the charts. Prior to that I hadn’t given much thought to what I ate. I knew I had put on a few too many pounds, some of which I still have, but you know, when mortality faces you, you tend to become more mindful. I suggest you don’t need to wait. I took medicine that reduced my cholesterol significantly and quickly, but I knew I would have to change my eating habits if wanted to live an active and healthy life. So I did what I normally would do in such a situation, I studied, I talked with others, I experimented with different foods to see what worked for me, for my body, for my life, and I encourage you do the same for yourselves, but it is not just for me or you. As we are interdependent with all things, everything we do impacts others and the world around us.

When I started eating a mostly vegetarian diet, and when I say mostly vegetarianism, I always think of the Outback steak house commercial, where the actor says, “Im the kind of vegetarian that eats meat”. I have often said I am a vegetarian, but I eat fish. There actually is a word for that - pescatarian, but most people don’t know that word, so I just say, I am a vegetarian that eats fish. But I think this Outback commercial brings out a good point. Our American Culture seems to always ask for an all or nothing attitude. That if I am to be a Vegetarian I must eat every single meal as such. And if I don’t, then I have somehow failed and upset the cosmic balance of the universe.

If you choose to eat vegetarian or vegan every day, if you choose to make that your food choice or your spiritual practice, I do think that is truly remarkable and wonderful and something we should all aspire to. And in truth I am in awe of people who can do that with the onslaught of a media and society that tells us to act otherwise. Because It does take conscious thought about where to get your food, and how to prepare it. And it is truly living out our values in the world. However I would encourage all of us, even if we are not willing to make that commitment, to at least move to find more balance in our eating habits. For myself I find that about 50% of meals are vegan, and 90% are vegetarian, but that leaves about 10% of my meals or 10 a month to be with some sort of meat. And I do consider fish meat. You can start small, maybe by going a day or two without meat and see how it feels. What do you have to lose?

So to get back to where I started this train of thought of the interdependence of our actions,, when I started a vegetarian diet, this impacted much more than just myself, it impacted the people in my family, the grocery store I shopped in, or didn’t shop in, it created a sort of ridicule from people who don’t understand why or don’t agree with my food choices. And sometimes that ridicule goes the other way as well.

But interestingly, as more and more people are adopting healthier food choices, more and more stores and farmers are becoming accommodating. Just walking into local supermarkets, the selection of organic foods has grown significantly over the past few years. What we demand, as consumers will become a reality. What we consume, food producers will supply us. Despite being inundated with advertisements for unhealthy food, if we choose healthy sustainable food choices, society will adapt to it and one day during the Super Bowl we may see advertisements of people eating locally grown fresh produce and grilled tofu instead of candy bars and BBQ spare ribs.

We the people, can change our eating habits, we can change our selves, and by doing so, by being a model, we the people can change the culture and create a sustainable world for all people. Unitarian Universalism in a recently passed statement of conscience titled “Ethical Eating” calls us to “strive to choose foods that minimize harm and are protective of the environment, consumers, farmers, and all those involved in the food production and distribution.” And although we have no creed or authority that require us to follow such recommendations, we are asked to use all our faculties, the faculties of the heart and mind, reason and reverence, to think about the issues raised.

These are issues that are important to many in Unitarian Universalism and in our own congregation. The four main issues addressed due to our food production system, are the concern for our environment, Human Health, the humane treatment of animals, and the fair treatment of food and farm workers. So I ask you first to read the Statement of Conscience and the consciously think about it, and maybe even engage in dialogue about it and then maybe consider a little experimentation in changing your food choices. As an association, we are very good with dialogue. You can go online and watch the dialogue leading up to the vote by the congregations of our association as to whether to adopt this statement of conscience. What I found important about this process is that it does allow us to hear about other individuals circumstances and perceptions that may be different from our own. So I ask you to think about it, and to discuss how you feel about it and whether you can and should apply it to your life. Ultimately it comes down to a personal choice or circumstances that are unique to each of us. Food has always been and will continue to be a large part of communal life. Let our actions never end dialogue, but let us seek to educate each other, let our actions never judge another, but to learn from one another’s experiences, and let our actions never condemn another, but rather to inspire each other. May it be so.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sermon August 14th - Meaning and Myth

When I was young boy, we would sit around the dinner table talking about the events of the world. Being the youngest of three children it was hard to get a word in edge wise. But the thing is at the table you had to support your point of view, so when they asked me why I believed something, or what the source of my opinion was, I would say well so and so told me. And without question the immediate response I would receive from my parents was “believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see” As a youth, I thought that wow, this is a cynical approach to life.

Looking back on it as an adult I can see what they were really doing was creating a dialogue with me to deal with the age old question of how do we find truth, truth about ourselves and truth about the world around us. Do we find truth through the stories of the ancestors or must truth come from within, must truth come from direct personal experience.

What does Unitarian Universalism say about this. Our princples call us to make a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. This speaks to the idea which is the cornerstone of what we believe, that we must not believe things just because historically others believed it. We may be searching for universal truths long there but misunderstood or for new truths yet unearthed.

But it is our Unitarian Universalist Sources, that indicates where we find our wisdom from: When our two association consolidated back in 1961 they had a short list of principles and purposes. Our bylaws due to our very specific non creedal nature require us as an association to re-evaluate our principles at least every 15years. In 1985 during one of these re-evaluation, we separated out the principles from the sources

If you will indulge me I think it is always good to name our sources now and then

1) 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;

2) Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and

structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

3) Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

4) Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as

ourselves;

5) Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and

warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

And then the last one that was added in 1995.

6) Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

So you can see it is a mixed bag. The first and sixth sources (Direct experience of that transcending mystery and living in harmony with the rythms of nature seem to be speaking to gaining wisdom through direct experience, 3 of the other sources speak to gaining wisdom from historical precedent and the Humanist source asks us to use reason and science as a sort of check on all the information we collect. I think what this shows is that we take a balanced pluralistic approach to how wisdom is obtained.

Now as a simple example when a child is walking towards a hot stove, we tell a child not to touch the stove. That seems like a very natural thing to do. I of course as a child, who felt the need to experience everything directly never listened to this, touched the stove and through direct experience learned about pain. However now this person who told me that I shouldn’t touch the stove had a little more stature in my mind. I experienced that the wisdom they had was congruent with my experiences. Their wisdom had proven true. Often, then we leap to the notion that if they are true about one thing, they are true about all things. And that is where discernment comes in.

As we get older we then start to learn that not everything our wisdom givers have told us agrees with our experiences in the world and we have what is called cognitive dissonance. This is a natural progression. The world has changed since our wisdom keepers lived. Circumstances have changed. So how do we gain wisdom that will help us deal with the challenges we have in the world today. One way is to integrate myths with our experiences in the world.

We do live in an age of science and logic, and there is a belief that all answers of the universe could be unlocked with just a little more knowledge. But knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what to do with knowledge. We now have harnessed the power of the atom, which could conceivably be used to do much good in the world, but also it could destroy us. Wisdom should help show us the difference. We have the technology and ability to feed the entire world yet even today we here of thousands of people dying of famine in East Africa, and I assure you there are children in these Quad Cities that go hungry every night. Wisdom should help guide us on not only how but why we should prevent this. We have knowledge that there are tremendous changes happening in the climate on our planet. Wisdom should help transform how we live our lives to adapt to this reality.

For wisdom to be valid it must be something that can be adapted to changing realities. If we cannot find a way to do this, we will have to experience suffering ourselves over and over again before we realize the need to alleviate the suffering of others and the suffering of our planet. We use myths to help us deal with our suffering that we do experience. But myths can also help us realize what is deep within our beating heart and inspire us to pursue what it is that makes us who we truly are individually and as a community. But we do have to be careful. Myths can also serve a purpose to support injustice. Myths about the superiority of one group over another has led to countless atrocities in the name of supposed truth. So just like with knowledge, Myths can be used for good and bad.

I have found myths to be indispensable in life. We use them to see ourselves as we would like to be. A way to aspire to something or somewhere that is far off in the future. What is it that keeps us going when the path is dark, and the way unclear, when the choice is uncertain. What drives us to achieve. Why search for the unknown, why seek meaning in things. Why not just sit in our rooms alone and close our eyes to the injustice around us. I say we do because we know, somewhere in the deepest parts of our soul that we can reach a higher potential, that we are capable as a species of coming together and shining the light of justice throughout the world.

In fact we have only evolved as a species when we have cooperated with each other. This is true going back to when we were single cell organisms that came together to create multiple cell organisms. Intuitively and scientifically we know this. But sometimes our experiences in the world create some cognitive dissonance for us. We hear of war, of famine, of poverty, and we say what can we do? This is when we need to be reminded, often through myth, to make present to us what we know can be true We need to be reminded that we as human beings are capable of creating a compassionate and just world., we as human beings need to pursue with good intentions but more

important with good actions to do the good that needs to be done.

The myths of yesterday may not have meaning to us today, or maybe we have to give them a different context. The question is do they help to point us in the right direction. Do they remind us where not to touch the hot stove, or what mountain to climb or what path to choose or even that we need to choose a path. And do not let us think that Unitarian Universalists are beyond myth. We have our myths. On the universalist side, we love to point to the myth of John Murray, how his ship was blown ashore by a storm and landed near the farm of Thomas Potter. And as it turns out Potter had built a chapel and was waiting for a minister who would come to preach Universalism. Coincidence, Synchronicity of the Universe, Myth? You decide and does it matter?

On our Unitarian side, we often point to Emerson, Thoreau, Theodore Parker and the other Transcendentalist as our forebearers, but when we shine the light of truth, we realize that we as a religion pushed these people out of our religion. I love Parker who said when he was asked to leave the UU Ministry by the association of ministers, “I will leave only if you admit that you have no right to throw me out.” But we look to these transcendentalists and include them as our history because we now realize that their wisdom, their search for truth, bringing in new knowledge and wisdom from other world religions and new scientific ideas are part of how we want to be today, so we look for stories that help point us towards what we want to raise up within us

I think often what troubles us is that we confuse myth with facts and knowledge. Myths are the stories we tell to translate facts and knowledge into wisdom for our current time. And rituals are a way to remind us of this wisdom and to make it always present in our lives. We have many rituals here, although we may not think of them as such. Lighting and extinguishing the chalice, offerings, coffee hour. All of these serve the purpose to keep present in our mind important aspects of our life, religion and our time together.

Today I would argue many of myths come from the arts. I would say it should be our seventh source. We know movies and books we read aren’t factually true, but they can bring us insight into how we came to be who and where we are, they can give us a picture of what type of future we can imagine for ourselves and , give us inspiration and hope that even in a time of great struggle, we can see a better future

For me when I thought about what myths, what stories, what sacred texts provided me with wisdom to use in my life, I was kind of shocked by what I came up with. Having graduated with a masters of divinity one might imagine my inclination would be certain scriptural passages. Or maybe because of my fascination with eastern philosophical thought, perhaps the sacred texts of Taoism, or the Gitas, or Upanishads might qualify. All of those, I do find meaningful, but No, my answer was none of those. My sacred texts, my myths growing up were comic books and movies. When I read these books when I was young they sparked my imagination to search for something more. I still to this day remember them vividly.

I will give you a few examples…I remember one particular comic – Ghost Rider –

He was the Son of Satan – I know that doesn’t sound particularly sacred but really it gets better…finally after years of torment, Ghost Rider finally met his father, Satan, upon meeting Satan, he realizes that Satan and God were one and same being. Wow, they never taught me that in Hebrew School!! Thus the concept of non duality in life was first introduced to me in this way. So whenever I get too sure of myself about anything, I try to raise this myth up to remind me that there is another side along the continuum of life I may not have considered

Another memorable character was known as the “ancient one” He was the sorcerer supreme and a mystic. Finally when his physical body died, he became “one with the universe” and could be seen in the trees and grass and the clouds. This was my first introduction to the inter-dependence of all things in life. As I got older I read a great book by Thict Nhat Hanh inter-being, that basically speaks to this very principle, but it is this comic that helps me visualize and imagine this concept.

Another favorite character and comic was Wolverine of the XMEN. First he was 5 ft 4 inches tall, since I was short of course I liked those short super heroes. Secondly he was a mutant. As a youth, I certainly at times felt like a mutant, so I could relate to that. In one particular comic his young protégé had been utterly defeated by their enemy both physically and mentally. She laid there in the snow begging for help. He looked at her and said – “you have to decide, do you want to live or die, its your choice. If you want to live get up and then he walked away” Looking back on this, I know this does not seem very compassionate or in line with our UU principles, but what this one page seered into my consciousness, what it raised from the depth of my soul was that how I live my life is my choice, how I deal with the world is my choice, when I encounter hard times whether I give up or fight on is my choice.

And lastly the one character/myth that has probably had the greatest impact on my life has been Yoda and the Star Wars trilogy. Star Wars despite its poor acting, very clearly re-tells the myth that has been told for millennium the myth of the hero journey, including leaving home, adventure, seeking wisdom, sacrifice and finally redemption. Yoda encapsulated the wise old mentor archetype with an eastern philosophical mindfulness and calmness, encouraging his pupil to face and integrate his shadow self in order to find wholeness.

Those are just some the myths that have carried me to this point that opened my mind, and allowed me open doors that I might not have otherwise opened. These were the stories I looked to in times of need because these were the stories that spoke to my inner consciousness.

We each have to find our own myths that can give us meaning to live in this crazy world. The question we have to ask ourselves is are these myths leading us to more wisdom about a way to live a better life, in a better world for all people. Do they add meaning to our life to allow us to deal with our suffering. Do they help create wholeness within us that allows our inner selves and our actions to be congruent with what we know our best potential can be. Do they open up the doors within our souls for us to realize our oneness with and connection with each other and the universe. Do they open up the door that helps us answer the questions that gnaw at us. Do they open up the door that leads to our fulfillment.

We must not confuse myth with fact but we can use myth, we can use wisdom of ages to release that which is deep within our DNA, that can be released to help us navigate our way in this world, Our myths may need to change over time as our circumstances and the world around us changes, but lets use them not as stories written in stone, but as a doorway to a deeper journey of exploration.

May it be so

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Sermon August 7th - Its the Vision Thing

Until I was five years old, I had a unique talent. Or what I as a four year old thought was a unique talent. I could have my eyeballs go in multiple directions at the same time, and even into my head so only the whites of my eyes were showing. After one too many demonstrations of this at the dinner table, and kindergarten looming my parents thought maybe I should see an eye docter. And so it was that at the age of 4 years old I had an operation to strengthen the muscles in my eyes. I remember clearly today as I am standing here in front of you, the moment I woke up from the operation. Everything was dark. I remained silent somewhat disoriented as I pondered whether I had lost my sight completely.

Then my other senses took over, and I heard talking. Then someone realized I was awake. I was told to stay calm, and why is it that when someone tells you to stay calm, that your anxiety increases exponentially. What they meant was don’t move. And when I stopped moving, they slowly pulled the patches off my eyes. And the light was blinding at first as I had gotten used to the darkness…Then it was blurry and I could make out some shapes, then clarity came back to my vision and the first thing I saw was a stack of books next to my hospital bed. The top book I remember was Mary Poppins. Thus began my love affair with books and Julie Andrews. And although the operation was a success, it left me with some side effects.

The operation left me with monocular vision. So now you know my deep secret. This means I cannot enjoy a 3-D movie, and has left me with no depth perception. I have blamed this for years as the cause of the poor state of golf game. But truthfully, I never gave much thought to not having depth perception. Now when I am driving, my wife Jan gives it significant thought when I stop very close to the car in front of me. But somehow my brain just adapted to the change because I didn’t have a choice.

I learned to appreciate my vision in the literal sense when I was very young. I learned to appreciate all the little and large things that I could take in with my vision. Both the beauty and the tragedy that comprises life. The sights of flowers in bloom, and as often the case with me the site of my plant dieing, the sunrise and the sunset, the skyline of city, the majestic ocean, the burnt out buildings of the Bronx, and the flowing river that ran through the Bronx Zoo, the faces of others, smiling babies, grieving parents, cheering fans, the desperate look of the homeless person. I learned at a young age to notice things. When you lose your vision, and you think you may never have it again, when it returns we realize the importance of it. It is often only when we are in the dark that we learn to appreciate the light. And often when we are in the dark, we stop looking for the light or lose hope in finding it. But it is there.

We have to constantly reclaim it and let it shine on us and shine through us. Although we all have personal visions, so do we as a congregation have a vision and a mission that we can see ourselves through, to guide us to where and who we want to be. Sometimes the way might not always be clear, and when it isn’t this is something to point to, to guide us. For people who don’t know of us, it is a statement that can help them discern, if this congregation is in line with their religious and spiritual journey. I think every action we take as a congregation should be an act that fulfills the vision and mission of this congregation. And if it doesn’t, we should either re-consider the action or reconsider the vision and mission.

And I think it is a good idea to periodically reconsider the vision and mission as a matter of good policy. It has been five years since we created our current vision and mission. Since it was first written and voted on by the members of the congregation, we as individuals have changed, and we as a congregation have changed, we have had new members and Friends arrive since they were written, and of course the world within which we lived has changed. I am not saying that we need to change the vision and mission, but I am saying we should look to see if we have moved towards fulfilling it, and whether it still has meaning to us. If it doesn’t have meaning to us, if it is not how we live in our congregational lives, then they are just words on a paper and we will seem inauthentic to guests who visit us and to the larger community.

In our vision we write of being recognized by the community as a beacon on a hill. This phrase always reminds me of the old story about a communication between Canadian and United States authorities. It is a very foggy day at sea and the American Boat seeing the light of another boat in the distance on the same bearing as them sends a radio message

Americans Please divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision

Canadians Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision

Americans This is the captain of a US Navy Vessel, I say again, divert YOUR course

Canadians No, I say again, you divert YOUR course

Americans THIS IS THE UNITED STATES CARIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE ATLANTIC FLEET, WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS, AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE TAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP

Canadians This is a lighthouse, its your call

I do think this story has a number of important message. First, it is a message in how we communicate. Lets be upfront about who and what we are. The Canadians could have said up front they were a lighthouse and could have avoided a lot of angst for the people in the boats. Secondly, the hubris of power demanding it gets it way even though they may not be aware of all the circumstances. I think the message here is that we should be discerning and educate ourselves and others before making declarative statements. And lastly, how can we let ourselves be seen and known in the fog that is life. We are a bright shining light. And we are physically built on a hill. But many people have never heard of Unitarian Universalism. Many people may pass by and see us but have no idea who we are or what we stand for. Many people, just like the ship captain who mistook the light because his vision was blurred, don’t know or understand the light and love and freedom we bring to religion.

Let us remember this concept of a City built on hill was proposed by Jesus in the Book of Matthew chapter 14 where he says

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.”

But then it goes on to say and this I think is an even more important statement

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.”

So I encourage you to shine your lights and your love, especially on the top of this hill let it shine, but not just on top of this hill, but to shine your light and your love in the community so that others may hear our liberating message, so that others may know and learn about this amazing religion. A religion with a welcoming, loving embrace where all people are welcome.

Let us share our light with others, and also, let us remember that sometimes, sometimes we are the ship’s captain, and we need to see more clearly and listen to the light that others have and to embrace that light to help guide us on the path that we are all walking together. In starting with a new minister I offer you a mirror to re-look at things with a second sight, to reaffirm our vision or maybe to see our vision in a new way, different than the past. Or to determine if the vision we once had is still a valid vision. As I begin my ministry here, I want us to remember that we have a shared ministry together. Unitarian Universalism as a religion is very unique in this way. This shared ministry is the foundation of our congregational polity.

This shared ministry is the work of the people in the many ministries of the congregation. Just in my short time here I have seen it. I see it in many of the activities that you do. I have seen it in the smiles of the children through our wonderful religious education ministry, by all the work of the staff and volunteers that make that hapen. I see it in the work that many of our members do at QCAD, I see it in the local food movement that is so active, I see it in the green sanctuary movement than many of you have talked to me about, which touches on just some of the many social justice ministries that so many of you are involved in. (Talk about social justice task force) I also see our shared ministry in the programs such as connection circles and adult religious education that do allow you to search for your individual truths as your mission calls you to do.

I see it in the caring of our members for each other, I see it in the fellowship that you create together. These are just a few of the moments where I experienced you living out the ministries of this congregation. I look forward to getting to know each of you and finding out what your passions are. What your hopes are for yourself, and for our community, and for the world. I look forward to finding out what the needs of the community are and hopefully we can match our passions and skills to where there is need. I want to hear about your struggles as well and remind you that you are not alone in your struggles. Ultimately it is my hope to walk side by side with you to continue to build the beloved community that can instill and fulfill our vision and mission

And that is my hope for our ministry together. That together we will build a beloved community. To do so first and foremost I think it is critical to create an open and safe environment to allow people to explore their religious journey in a creative and nonjudgmental atmosphere that will allow all to connect with and build deeper relationships with others and the world around us. This doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree with each other all the time. For ours is a pluralistic religion, where we look for wisdom from multiple sources.

But how we agree to act with one another is the covenantal nature that binds us together as a community To create a dialogue and not a debate where we not only speak our truth, but listen to others with the intent to understand and hear their truth with the assumption of the good intentions of others. Through transparency and accountability, we can engage each other and the larger community with creative dialogue and action. This will help us expand our relationships both within and outside our community. By creating such an environment, by being in right relationship with others, we are not only providing support for each other during the journey through life’s passages, we create a foundation that forms a commitment to something greater than ourselves.

We are capable of greatness, a greatness that will lift us up with wonder and awe for all the potential that is within us. I say this not because I know you all personally but because I believe it is there within every human being. The power of good, the power of love. Waiting to be released. Waiting to be awakened, waiting to be stirred. So let us focus on our vision. Let us ask ourselves Why does the congregation exist? What are we to do as a congregation? And I think as importantly How are we to be as a congregation?

As I did in my youth, when my eyes were going all over the place, we too can go through a process that will allow us to strengthen the focus on our actions. It may seem blurry at first, and we may not always be clear which way to go, but over time if we act with right intention and right action, we will find clarity. Just as I had to lose some abilities to gain focus, so to may we have to lose some things we have always done so we may fulfill our vision and mission. So I encourage you to think about our vision and mission in a way that lets us look at all things anew with focus towards living into its fulfillment. Let us reclaim our vision and mission.

As we move forward together I encourage you to engage each other with an open heart and open mind, and join in on this adventure and explore new ideas, and new ways of thinking and being and let your light and love shine brightly. And as the opening reading spoke to so eloquently, Let us summons our better selves, let us find our lostness, let us unite our fragments, let us heal our wounds, and let our muscles grow strong for the task.

May it be so.