Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Identiy Crises

        There has been much written and spoken about over the past year in the UU World and online about what is our UU Identity?  Should it change, Can it change, and if the answer is yes how can it change and what should it change into. The President of the UUA, Rev. Peter Morales recently came out and stated that “we have long defined ourselves as an association of congregations. We need to think of ourselves as a religious movement” Well as I was pondering these thoughts, walking towards the kitchen to get a cup of tea, I passed by the television where the TV was showing an interview by Diane Sawyer with the Physicist Steven Hawking and Sawyer asked “is there a way to reconcile religion and science”, And Hawking replied, "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works." Now first I would be curious as to the science behind why I just happened decide to get a cup of tea at that point and just happened to be walking at that moment in time to hear that statement on the television that peaked my interest. Was this just mere coincidence, random occurrence, or maybe it was the synchronicity of the universe working to help me better understand my UU Identity.  
          First, I would argue that religion and science are not in competition with each other, where one has to win and one has to lose.  Steven Hawking in answering this question takes a very narrow view of religion.  As I have spoken of before the word religion comes from the Latin “to bind together”. Religion to me is how people come together to deal with both the known and the unknown in the world and in their lives.
           The known would be how to live in this world with the facts that we are aware of in our everyday life.  From the very basic, How do get food and shelter for our families to how should we share resources equitably,  How do we peacefully co-exist with all others.  What do we consider just and fair?  Hawking as well as many other scientists seem to feel that science can give us answers.  I would argue that science gives us tools to use to find answers. Yes science has given us the ability to cure diseases which allows us to live longer.  However it doesn’t help us to appreciate our life or teach us how to live our life. It doesn’t help us answer the question how do we find meaning and purpose in life. We have the capability now through technological innovation to feed everyone in the world.  But it doesn’t explain why if that is so, why so many people starve to death every day in this world. Science has harnessed the power of the atom, but it hasn’t taught us how to prevent its use from causing self- destruction of the humanity.  Science doesn’t teach us how can we find hope in the face of such challenges, or how we can learn to forgive ourselves and others when tragedy occurs. These Questions, I look to religion to guide us.
       Then there is the unknown.  The questions that have no answers.  It is the question that Steven Hawking himself desperately wants to know the answer to.  He asked “Why does the universe exist? Why is there something as opposed to nothing”.  To which I would add “why does Humanity exist, why are we here in this place at this time?  And I will take that down from the macro view of human life to the micro and particular view.  Why are we here today joined together in this community. Why do you come together week after week to join together?  If we can answer that question, we can find our identity as a congregation, and as a religion as a whole. 
         Within that question lies one of the answers.  We ask questions, We don’t come here with pre-ordained answers neatly wrapped in box.  We come here to engage the unknown, to be informed by each other, to learn, to grow, to be challenged, to change to reach our highest potential as human beings. We undertake our fourth principle “The free and responsible search for truth and meaning” with a sincere devoutness.   While reading Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism without Beliefs, I was moved when he states “the term agnosticism in the larger culture has come to mean  “I do not want to know” versus the reality that agnosticism  means “I don’t know” but he goes on to call agnosticism a “passionate I don’t know that confronts the enormity of having been born instead of reaching for the consolation of a belief.” 
         We come here not only to help each other to answer those questions about the known and unknown, but to create a community that walks together in the ambiguity that maybe we will never know the answers to these questions. To share in the joys and sorrows of each others lives, to hold each other accountable to our highest selves, and to help lift each other up when we do not reach them.  And I would argue that there are many others who are yearning to find such a community.

So I encourage you to live out in all your actions the religious mission in all your actions which is for this congregation to

create a vibrant, welcoming, diverse church family
embraces individual searches for meaning
devotes itself to community good.

This is the identity you promote, and I encourage you live that identity so that we appear authentic to all who we come in contact with.  Since it has been over 5 years since it was created, next year we hope to re-visit this mission and see if it should be re-affirmed or whether it needs to be changed to better reflect who we are today.
         Hawking also went on to say that “science will win because it works”.  Well sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.  We really don’t know. Clearly science had a hard time last year with the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico and with Japan’s Nuclear Reactor. But the question is, will the consequence of that failed science lead us to a move towards alternative renewable fuel sources that do respect the interdependent web of which we are apart. For one of the benefits of science is that it should become self-correcting as evidence and observation either supports or disputes an experiment.  Hopefully we wont all be dead by then.And it is also true that the question you start out with, will direct what answers you find, and as well the cultural predilections of the observer which often factor into the results of experiments. As an example, in the early 20th Century there were many scientific studies of brain size that “proved” racial inequalities that were subsequently discredited.  The “science” of Eugenics in the twentieth century promoted the idea that humanity could improve and evolve through social engineering of the population.  In the United States this took on a particularly virulent form.  Many states passed Eugenics laws that forbade marriage between certain groups of people.  It also allowed the state to sterilize those whom they considered “undesirables”  This was based on the notion that criminality and poverty were hereditary. And it was accepted because it was a “scientific” fact.  Facts we now know that were completely culturally biased and not based on science. 
          There are many who feel that the increase in acceptance of Eugenics in America accelerated as labor unions gained more power due to the increasing number of immigrants needed as a result of industrialization.  I think we see again today how forces today in our society rise up against immigration. We should be using our hearts as well as our heads to determine how we reach our highest ideals, and to consciously think about how we as a human society want to structure ourselves.  
            Of the religious authority that Hawking spoke of.  I would look to our UU sources.   I think it is not coincidence that our first source of authority lifts up our direct experience of humans.   However conclusions that people make about observed facts are highly influenced by their perspective. 
             And it is easy to come up with false conclusions from reason or from lack of complete facts.  “Story of plant managers”. -   Manager A comes in and runs his machines 24 hours a day, and never shuts them down for repair.  His productivity goes up and he is promoted.  Manager B is then hired to replace him.  The machines due to lack of repair the machines break down, so Manager B has to shut down the machines for repair due to breakage in the machine.  Manager B is fired for lack of productivity. Facts without context are misleading. I point all this out about science and observation, not because I am anti-science.  No I am quite happy that someone invented vaccines and Lipitor, so I will live longer, and I am quite happy I do not have to go out hunting for my dinner tonight, that I can just stop at Hyvee on the way home. 
            I point this out to show that scientific conclusions are influenced by culture and perspective.  This is why it is critically important to gain perspective of other people, cultures and ways of living. This is why it is important to engage deeply with each other and others who may be different from us, especially when we disagree, so we can gain as much wisdom as we can from different perspective.   We can not only eliminate some terrible misconceptions that lead to terrible conclusions, but we can learn of different ways of being, we can learn different knowledge that can add to a collective wisdom that will help us answer those unanswerable questions.
             Our UU identity is shaped by our willingness to be open to and challenged by new ideas, new teachings, and then to be self reflective and when necessary to become self corrective.  UU continues to build on knowledge that it gains over time. We are constantly challenging that which are deeply held truths, as new information makes itself available. What was once a certain truth became obsolete.  UU religion keeps looking for new ways to understand the mystery of the universe.  We build on what we know and we continue to be willing to open to new learning and new revelation. 
              We are not only open to new knowledge and turning it into wisdom, but we are willing to do something about it, we are willing to put that wisdom into action.  In fact our religion and its history informs us that it is our moral imperative to do so. To change ourselves, to change our community, to change the world.   With the onset of technological communication advances it is the world is already changing rapidly.  Shall we sit idly by and watch from the sidelines or will we jump in and try and have an impact on the outcome of humanity.
              How does your experience as a UU inform your life and your actions in the world.  For I believe our identity is our lived identity.  Not what we write on a website, Not what we think, but how we act in the world.  I would go another step and ask, How would you like your experiences in this religious community to inform your life and your actions in this world.  And when you answer that question, you can create your identity, by building the world you dream about.  So my conclusion to the original question posed is that yes not only can UU identity change, but that our identity is that we must change, and we must be intentional about changing to not only answer the changing questions and conditions of the universe, but also to discover the questions we should be asking.  May it be so.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Its an Agape Sort of Love

With Valentines Day approaching,  the thought of love is in the air.  Its all over the air as in the airwaves with advertisements to buy things for those we love.  A number of years back I tried to take a new tact with my wife.  I told her everyday should be Valentines Day, so  we don’t need to buy flowers at exaggerated prices, and go out to fancy dinners to prove our love for each other.  She then got that look in her eye, that I knew I was in trouble and she asked me quite wryly what other days of the year had I gotten her flowers?  OK, so she had a point there. But the next year a few weeks before Valentines Day, I had been planning this all year,  I bought her a dozen roses and sent them to her office (at about a third of the price as it would be on Valentines day).  Then she asked me why I was getting her flowers.  Had I done something wrong that I needed to be forgiven for.   Then I reminded her of her comment the year before about Valentines Day being any day.  She gave me this funny kind of look, that sort of look that comes from being with someone in a very long relationship, that kind of look, that you know what they are thinking…..the kind of look that says are you insane bringing up something I said a year ago and do you really expect to win this dialogue? (ok she didt use the word dialogue).   
Love.  Such an esoteric topic.  Poets and writers have written about it forever.  Everyone has their own take on it.  First love, love at first sight, Eternal Love, From the movie Love Story where the character says “Love is never having to say your sorry”, or many others who say that love is always having to say your sorry.  But Valentines Day has become a commercial holiday that speaks to a romantic love, or what the Greeks would call EROS. But there are other types of love that are spoken of throughout history and as part of religious understanding.  In the Jewish and Christian Scriptures the word Love appears well over 500 times. 
But as with all translations there are many different nuances to how a word is translated.  This is complicated even further in that scriptures were often translated for different communities at different times, some were written in Aramaic, some in Hebrew and some in Greek. Some we know have been changed over time from version to version, some on purpose, some accidently.  So it is important to look deeply at words. Words even with the best of intentions, can be hurtful and misunderstood.  From the Greek we usually speak of three types of love. 
            In addition to Eros, there is Philia which is the love of Friendship and Agape which in the Christian Scriptures is used as more of an unconditional self sacrificing love with no conditions.  In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus says
“You have heard that it was said You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” 
Pray for those who abuse you?  I have always struggled with this concept. 
Yet I am reminded by what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “God says I have love everyone, it’s a good thing God doesn’t say I have to like them”  He was always very clear that the love he put forward this agape love was not love of an affectionate sense.  But an unconditional love within ones own heart with the hope of appealing to the enemies heart and conscience. He was interested and I quote “in the creation of a society where all people will believe together as brothers and sisters and every person will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.”  For the truth is if we hate our enemy, we let hatred into our hearts, and it affects us, it consumes us, it eats us up.  Loving our enemy is also about forgiveness, about letting go of our hatred, about owning and controlling our emotions. Let us look at loving our enemy as way to self reflection and self knowledge. So we can look at loving our enemy is as much about loving ourselves. Helping us reach our highest selves and our highest potential.
There is another biblical term for love that rarely gets addressed.  It is the Hebrew word Hesed . 

As the Jewish Scriptures speak to covenantal relationships this word also speaks of a covenantal Love. It is sometimes translated into English as mercy, righteousness or loving kindness.  The word is used only in cases where there is some recognized tie between the parties concerned. In the Jewish Scriptures it is usually used to show either the mutual love between God and the Israelites or the mutual love the Israelites should have between themselves.  They are in covenant with each other.  Even when one fails to live up to their end of the covenant, there is still a requirement for love.
Throughout the scriptures there is a steady, persistent refusal to abandon anyone in the community.  Even in the book of Job when Job is abandoned by his friends, he says “a friend owes loyalty to one who fails” in this case the word hesed is described as loyalty….and in the book of Hosea, he prophesizes, “I desires goodness, not sacrifice” and tells the Israelites “to sow righteousness for yourselves and reap the fruits of goodness”. These are the essential meanings of the Hebrew word which is translated loving-kindness. To keep your covenants, to do good. To be righteous with each other, even when we fail. 
This same line of thought is repeated in the poem by the Sufi Mystic Rumi Come Come Whoever you are, which is a hymn in our hymnal.  But the line from the poem that is left out of the hymn is Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times, come yet again come. We are not perfect human beings, we make mistakes, but we will still need to love each other. For that is what it means to be a beloved community.  To love each other even through our mistakes. A love that lifts each other up to be our highest best self.  But this is not a sacrificial love like agape….for the scripture that Jesus is referring to when he says love your neighbor like yourself, is from the book of Leviticus.
Now there is not a lot in Leviticus that I find helpful this day and age, but I think there is a clue here to what Jesus is saying.  Leviticus says You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself . But the difference between the Jewish and Christian scriptures is that in Leviticus, the sentence before that one that says,  “Reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.” What this tells me is that as part of that loving covenant it is our responsibility to address our challenges with those we are in covenant with, and work through our challenges, for that is what makes us a loving community. 
Not ignoring, but facing our challenges, overcoming our challenges, and loving,  forgiving and engaging each other in real dialogue throughout our relationship.
This concept of a theology of love has a long history on the Universalist side of our Unitarian Universalist heritage.   In America Universalism grew significantly when John Murray came to America in 1770, so I want to share with you his story.  John Murray was a successful Methodist Minister in England,  He was married and had a child. Life was good. Then, suddenly, as fragile as life can be everything changed very quickly. John Murray’s wife and their son became sick and died.
Murray was excommunicated from his church for preaching Universalism, he lost all his money, and was put in jail because he could not pay his bills. When someone bailed him out of jail, he decided to give up religion and to start anew in America. And from here we get one of my favorite Universalist stories.   John Murray was sailing to New York but the ship he was on blew off course and got stuck on a sandbar in New Jersey.  Sounds like the beginning of a storyline for the tv show Jersey Shore.  Anyway, Murray gets off the boat to find supplies and happens upon the farm of Thomas Potter.
Now Thomas Potter had built a church and was waiting for a minister to preach about a loving God. For the truth is at that time in America, many were followers of Calvinism which believed in the depravity of humanity, and pre-destination of the soul. So Potter is looking for a Universalist Minister, and Murray who had previously preached a Universalist message,  his boat just happens to land by Potters Farm….Hmmm, coincidence, providence, or myth? I leave it to you to decide but I will say, that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.  Well, Murray demurred, but Potter was insistent, so they agreed that if the wind didn’t blow them out to sea, he would return the next day to preach.  And guess what, the wind didn’t blow them out to sea, and John Murray started his Universalist preaching career in America. Murray’s most often repeated words are:
 “Go out into the highways and byways of America, your new country. Give the people, blanketed with a decaying Calvinism, something of your new vision. You may have but a small light, uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not hell but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach kindness and everlasting love" 
John Murray’s lesson is a good lesson in perseverance and redemption, despite setbacks, despite trauma, he kept his integrity in his vision of hope and love alive and allowed himself to be open to circumstances as they arose, to change the course of his life, and in doing so he changed the course of so many others lives.  And we continue that tradition today
The UUA has created a wonderful program to speak to this type of love.  It is called the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign.  Now I do want to raise up that my differently abled friends are somewhat offended by the title Standing on the side of Love, as they cannot Stand, so they find the name offensive. I say this not to be critical, but just to acknowledge again how words we use, meant with the best of intentions can be hurtful to others. But even my differently abled friends as I do agree with the Standing on the side of Love Core campaign, which states, and I will quote from their website. “Both love and fear are rising up in our nation.  We stand on the side of love’s power.  We want to harness love’s power to stop oppression, exclusion, and violence.”
The Power of Love,  it can move mountains, it can change the course of an empire, it can change the heart of a human being. 
Let every day be Valentines Day, let every day be standing on the side of love day. Let love not only be in the air, but let it be in our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls.  We don’t have to buy flowers, we just have to act with love in our hearts for others, we just have to care more for people, to empathize with others who may be or think differently than we do.  Yes, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, But as important between ourselves, a covenanted people, to help each other, to learn from each other, to be righteous with each other, to show mercy with each other, for that is what it means to love each other, and isn’t that what we want for each other, isn’t that  a message that so many people in the larger community are thirsting for, the power of love. It is within our power.   May it be so. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

"What Dreams May Come" - Text to my Sermon February 5th 2012

The title of the sermon today is taken from the 1998 movie, “What Dreams May Come” starring Robin Williams.  I wouldn’t call it the greatest movie I have seen, but I really admired its cinematography.    It is a story of man who dies and how he experiences heaven and hell.  The artwork on the front of the order of service, is part of a beautiful landscape Robin Williams character creates in his heaven. Now I am not here to discuss the theological construct of Heaven and Hell, that will have to wait until a future time.  But what this movie lifted up for me is how through our lives and what we do with our lives, we can create heaven or hell right here right now. 
Towards the end of the movie, Robin Williams is trying to extricate his wife from Hell, and a wizened old character in the movie who is Robin William Mentor tells him “The real hell is your life gone wrong, and about how difficult it is to escape he also says, We see what we want to see”  How often is that true, that when our best laid plans go off track. And we lose the resiliency to keep moving forward. We see events and the world only from our own narrow frame of reference and we block out other possibilities of how our lives could be different, or how the world could be different.  But it can be different. We can transform our selves, our way of thinking and the world itself. 
In this movie, Robin Williams tries to save his wife, merely by his willingness to be with her while she suffered.  By being in relationship with others, by being willing to see the world through the eyes of another person, by willing to be empathetic with other human beings we can help ourselves and others. We help ourselves, by giving of ourselves, and not just out of a need to ameliorate some feeling of good fortune, but out of an innate love for other human beings and a love for the existence itself.  And one last quote from the movie when everyone doubted his ability to save his wife, Robin Williams character states “The stuff they call impossible is just the stuff they haven’t seen before  How true.  So often when I would go into a new organization, any organization, whether it be religious or business, I would always ask people why they are doing things the way they are doing things, and I preface their answer by saying that they cannot say that is the way its always been done. There may be a good reason we always done something the same way, but let us make sure that with each action we take, we should think about how it serves our mission and vision today.    How is it serving our congregation today and our congregation in the future. Just because something hasn’t been done before, doesn’t make it impossible. 
We should look at everything we do with fresh eyes, with open eyes, with everyone’s eye’s and not just our own,  to help widen our vision.  We choose what we choose to see.  Let us choose to see a broader vision, a bolder vision for what we can be as humans and as a congregation.   Let us use our imagination and imagine what it would be like to live in beloved community, and then let us go forth together and not just imagine but to build that beloved community, one thought at a time, one relationship at a time, one action at a time.  
So what are you dreaming about for our congregation?  What can you imagine?  A world class music program where visiting musicians from all over the world will want to come here and play for us. I can tell you I have already experienced here in my 6 months some world class music.   Maybe a UU theatre group that is putting on original performances about socially conscious topics.  We have just started our social justice ministry within the congregation.  Maybe this ministry will continue to grow and become so active that  one day, when there is a justice issue in the Quad Cities, the community leaders will call us and ask what do the Unitarian Universalists think about this?    And when I attend social justice events in our community, they are heavily populated with members of our congregation.
In this coming year you will be hearing more about our Green Sanctuary program, and maybe we can become the community leader in environmental issues which I think in the coming years will be one of the most important issues for global sustainability.  We can be a gathering place for young adults to explore new and different theological ideas. We can be a religious learning center for all ages, for not only our congregation but the larger neighborhood community, nurturing and mentoring all people allowing them to reach their fullest potential.
Do we look at ourselves as just a small outpost, an oasis in the desert, or are we that shining light on the hill, a light that can draw others to us, so that all can journey together in the light of truth, the warmth of love and the fire of commitment, can we lead the way to creating an integrated Quad Cities community so that the values we stand for are integrated into the larger community life.    Let us be a voice of reason, a voice of love, a voice of religious freedom that can be heard from all the corners of the Quad Cities.  But these cant be my dreams for you, they have to be your dreams.  It cant be done without you.
And this is the key reason we are doing a one on one stewardship campaign this year.  We want to hear from you.  We want to hear about your hopes and dreams for the congregation. We want to make it as easy as possible for you to share those.  Last weekend we had over 40 people go through a visiting steward training.  Now there are some people who are just naturally outgoing and this is easy.  But for many it is a risk.  It is not always so easy to call someone you may not know and ask them to get together to discuss stewardship with you.
So I ask you to be welcoming to your visiting steward, and secondly I ask you to look at this stewardship visit as an opportunity to make connections with a fellow member.  I want to share with you a story about the first time I was visited by a visiting steward.  It was only a few years after I joined my Orlando Florida Congregation.  I had at that time, some personal issues that had caused me to drift from Congregational activity.  But this steward who I knew only tangentially at the time called me for a stewardship visit.  They  listened to my congregational story and journey, made me aware of a new program called connection circles, and invited me back into active relationship with my congregation.  Well connections circles changed my life, this steward became a good family friend, and well what can I say, the rest is history as I am now here as your minister. Now I am not saying accepting a stewardship visit will have that same profound effect on your life as it did on mine, but I am just saying and asking you to, take the risk of accepting the call and the visit if for no other reason than to make a connection with another member of the congregation.
I know there are many people for whom money is an uncomfortable topic.  That is yet another reason that we have decided to have one on one stewardship visits. We want to be able to give you the opportunity in a safe environment to ask stewards questions about the stewardship materials you received, and the suggested fair share giving guide. So at this point I would like to recognize all of those individuals who have agreed to be visiting stewards, if you are a visiting steward could you please stand up and stay standing for a moment. At this point I would like everybody to look into your order of services and open up the insert that says covenant between visiting stewards and the congregations.

Covenant Between the Congregation and Visiting Stewards

Stewards         We stand before you committed to doing our best to make our congregational dreams come true by asking each of you for your help in supporting the mission and vision of our congregation

Committed to the dreams and hopes of this congregation we accept the responsibility for turning those hopes and dreams into reality.

Stewards         We commit ourselves to preparing for each stewardship conversation by having already made our own financial commitment and becoming knowledgeable about the stewardship process.  We further commit ourselves to contacting each of you to set up a convenient time for our stewardship conversation, and we commit to arriving on time.

We commit ourselves to make time in our busy lives to have a stewardship conversation. We commit to prepare for the conversation by reflecting upon our relationship with the congregation and to engage the visiting steward in honest and direct conversation

Stewards         We commit ourselves to listen respectfully to your hopes and dreams for our congregation. We promise to keep private what should be private and pass along only that information that you have asked us to share

We commit ourselves to generosity of spirit and promise to make as generous a financial commitment to the best of our ability

Everyone         And together, we commit ourselves to enjoy each other’s company, to respect each other’s ideas, perceptions, and beliefs, and to have a good time while raising money to ensure the future health of our congregation.

Lets all give each other a round of applause for our willingness to do this sacred task. Yes the last covenant we read did talk about raising money.  Yes I understand when we speak of a financial commitment there is risk.  Risk of alienating someone who doesn’t want to hear about money in a religious service.  Risk of turning off people who have come from other traditions where there is a constant bombardment for requests for money for things that have nothing to do with the vision and mission of the congregation. 
And let us realize that every person is in a different circumstance.  We do not stand in judgment of anyone based on how much you pledge. We do not have minimum pledges.  Some people give out of their savings.  Some give out of current income.  Some have children and are saving for college, some have parents they are caring for.  We do not always know each others circumstances.  So we ask you to be generous, be as generous as you can.  Think of generosity as a spiritual  practice.   Think of generosity as something righteous.
Now I stand here before you today.  I have been your minister since August. And ours is a shared ministry, where we work together as a community to determine our vision and missions.  We do not get directives from a bishop, an ancient book or even from the Unitarian Universalist Association.  We all of us together work to make real the visions and missions of this congregation.  We work together, supporting and being supported by each other. We as a congregation and as a religion can do great things together, but we must come together if we are ever going to be a strong congregation. We can do more together than we can ever do alone.  So now is the time, the time to stand together. We have a strong foundation to build from.  The foundation of a long history in this community, a history of raising families together, a history of  offering liberal religious education, a history of working on important social justice issues.  Let us build from this foundation. 
Let us build that beloved community where all people are welcome, where all people will have the opportunity to connect with each other, where all people have the opportunity to participate, where all people have the opportunity to learn to love.  But to do this, we need you.  We need your participation, we need your leadership, we need your love, and we need your generosity. 
And so I stand before you today, not just as your minister, but today as a member of your congregation. Well almost a member.  I have signed the membership book and all that needs to be completed is for me to make a pledge and make a payment on that pledge.   I have spoken often to you on many issues about the need to model behavior.  Modeling behavior in how we act with each other, modeling behavior in how we live in the world.  And now I will speak to you about modeling behavior as to giving and generosity for me using the fair share model.  There is no secret as to what my compensation is, it is part of your budget.  Now I have committed to and I have filled out a pledge card here that pledges 5% of my compensation or $2,900 to the congregation.  I have also attached my automatic deduction form so that it can come out each month from my bank account. This is not an easy thing for me to do.  There will have to be some sacrifices made,  but I value this religion, and I value this congregation, its members, what its vision and mission is and could be if made real.  I value it as a significant part of my life and I want how I spend my money to be accordance with my values and in accordance with the most meaningful parts of my life. I ask of you to do the same.  May it be so.