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"  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/11/opinion/sunday/bruni-tim-tebows-gospel-of-optimism.html  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