Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Earth Day or as my mother said "What do you think you own Con Edison?"

     When I was young, my parents would always yell at me to shut the lights out when I left a room.  My mother would always say, do you think you own Con Edison, which was the local utility.  Now I was an industrious lad, and by the age of 10 or 11 I had my own paper route, and I washed floors for local business for cash (clearly there was not much worry in my neighborhood about child labor laws.) Anyway when I saved up enough money, I asked my grandfather to buy me a share of Con Edison.  You can guess where this is going.  After I received the certificate, I went around the house turning on all the lights, just waiting for the moment. And it didn’t take too long, and my mother said, do you think you own Con Edison.  Well as a matter of fact, I do!! And I proudly showed off my stock certificate.  Lets just say that things did not go as I had planned that day. 
      I have spoken before about having grown up in The Bronx with its concrete streets, buildings and attitudes. But sometimes within such an urban environment is when you learn to appreciate the things you don’t have.   Every piece of green space became a sacred space.  I would be remiss if I didn’t speak about the green spaces in my life growing up. 
       I was fortunate to have lived near literally one the greatest zoos in the world, The Bronx Zoo.  I would quite often spend afternoons, not in the zoo, but in its surrounding park, where the Bronx River flowed and there was a little waterfall.  We also had a world renown botanical gardens, and I have vivid memories of falling asleep on a blanket staring up at the stars as the Metropolitan Opera would give a free summer performance every year there. 
      We often are looking for intellectual reasons why we should be environmentally sensitive. Society is looking for cold hard facts that are logical that point to proof that we as humans are damaging the environment. But Nature in and of itself moves us on an emotional level.  Nature can be the common ground for all people, it is something we all can understand, no matter what background we have. Who is not moved by the sun rise and sunset, or by a waterfall, taking a deep breath of clear air, or staring at the stars at night? We must maintain this wonderful gift of nature that we have been given. Also Nature tends to follow a causal, logical process.  If you sow, you will reap.  If you pollute, you will destroy.  I believe an ecological theology will lead the next century as more and more devastation to our physical planet becomes apparent.  Our societies will break down if we do not care for and love the planet.  We cannot wait for the next great invention to save the earth.  We must start to understand that it is in our best interest, to live our lives in harmony with the planet and not look at it as a resource to be plundered.  If an interdependent environmental theology does not become our leading theology, we will not only lose the beauty and wonder of nature but will become extinct. 
     So today we celebrate Earth Day. What does it really mean to us. There are many to whom this symbolizes the impassioned need for our society to wake up and change how we live in the world in order to preserve the world for future generations.  We as a congregation are pursuing the Green Sanctuary designation within the Unitarian Universalist Association.  That is an outward expression of what our internal values are.  The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism calls us to have respect for the inter-dependent web of existence of which we are apart.  Our congregational vision asks us to be a vibrant welcoming thriving congregation that among other things encourages responsibility for the earth and its creatures. If these are to be more than just mere words on a piece of paper,   which is printed on the back of your order of service by the way, and on our website, we need to live them out in our lives. 
       For our values to be congruent with our actions we will need to embrace a new paradigm of living.  How can we go on living the way we live knowing what we know. How can we continue to pollute and destroy our planet knowing that our descendants will still need to live on it. We dream of garden of Eden.  But if we would just wake up, we would realize we are in Eden and we are destroying it. This world has such a diverse and beautiful eco-system.  It in some mysterious way is built to sustain itself.  But this is the theological question.  Is it built to sustain itself as a whole versus to sustain the human species? Is the human species created in a way to survive or is it just another species among many within the larger ecosystem.  So let us look at the traits that gives us the best chance to survive as a species.  I believe that cognitive thinking is certainly an evolutionary process that has developed for our species that can lead us into the future.  I think we are so used to looking at things short term that we say within the last 100 years look at how bad things have been how can we be progressing.  But lets look at life over a thousand year period or a hundred thousand year period.   Of course evolution is about what survives, and what traits are needed to survive as a species. 
      My belief is that our species will learn that by working together we are more likely to survive.  Sadly it may take a calamity to make us realize this. Maybe it will take 100 calamities to realize this.  Hopefully we wont all be dead before we realize this.  Maybe it will take another 1,000 or 100,000 years.  But we have to start somewhere. That is what religion points us to….to a future that is better. But not a future in a far off mystical land but a future in this land.  But not better in the standard of living sense, but better in the human condition sense, a better understanding of our place in the universe .  Will only people who can withstand pollution or nuclear waste survive like in all these apocalyptical zombie movies? 
      Or will we change how we live in the world, so that natural selection chooses in a different manner.   This is our eternity….our vision of the future, that the choices we make will create the world that we dream about,  that will create the world where natural selection for survival will be compassion, that the natural selection for survival will be empathy, the natural selection for survival will be cooperation.  Let us live our lives in that manner. Not competing for resources, but sharing them, not hoarding our wisdom, but sharing it. And by sharing of ourselves, we free others to share themselves.   By trusting we build trust with others. We can overcome cynicism with acts of love.
      In my life I have found manifestations of love in the arts and so I was thrilled when Adult Religious Education offered to do a reading of The Chekov play the Cherry Orchard.  This play is complex and tells the story of a changing society. A society where those who were once enslaved are now taking power.  It talks about personal tragedy and how such tragedy often impacts our ability to deal with the world. It talks about how inherited wealth can lead to debilitation of one’s spirit and ones ability to act in the world.  It speaks to our idealization of the past and our struggle to adapt to changing times. It also talks about forgetting the nature of who we are and what we can do.  It talks about the dangers of ignoring our present condition. 
       And although this all may seem negative, it allow us to see our human condition and examine it cognitively and hopefully by becoming aware of it, adapt it.   Just as they did in the play we as a society often don’t adapt until it is far too late.  I am more familiar with the Gulf of New Orleans than the Mississippi River, but I am sure some of the questions are the same.  Why weren’t the levees built to withstand a hurricane in Louisiana, or why did we allow development of the wetlands, that if left intact, would have prevented or at least lessened damage from flooding, why did we build houses in places where we know it is going to flood. Which raises the question, can we really protect ourselves from nature. 
       Can we impact nature for better or worse.  Our religion tells us, but more importantly, our experiences of cause and effect, and our intuition tell us we are interdependent with the universe so the answer is we can choose to impact the world or we can choose to ignore it and let the inevitably of our inaction of what we know will happen happen.  The thing that struck me the most about the cherry orchard was that they viewed it as a wonderful memory of time gone by, a time of innocence before loss, a picturesque view of what once was, not looking at what could still yet be.  They had forgotten who they were and what their purpose in life was. 
         They were waiting to die and living their life as pleasantly as they could until the end came taking no responsibility for their fate or the fate of the cherry orchard.  It is telling that in the play they talk about having lost the recipe for cherry jam, a jam which they could have then sold if they used the orchards for the purpose for which they were created, to create cherries.   Nature for nature’s purpose, not for human’s purpose.  We are just a part of nature.  If we work in conjunction with it we will all prosper, if we ignore it, if we try to make it into something it is not, if we forget to tend to it, both nature and humanity will be destroyed just as it was in this play. 
         So let us think about what is our nature and what is the nature of the land we are on.  It was once Prairie where a diverse ecosystem loomed.  Now I have to admit, being new to the Midwest, I have had to do a little research on what Prairies are.  So quoting from my research, The Prairie is an ecosystem mostly of grasses and flowering plants that creates an ecosystem where life is interdependent upon each other. The prairie is an intricate web, with more of its living mass below ground than we can see above ground.” 
        And in talking to some of our members who have restored prairie as we have also done in a small way on our congregations grounds,  I was interested to find out about the need to burn the prairie  to rejuvenate and strengthen the prairie.  Growing up, burning things was always considered a bad thing.  So again I investigated.  Again quoting from my research, “As prairie plants grow, Two-thirds of the living portion of the prairie is below ground in a deep root system.  As fire burns the Prairie, it burns the dead material from the top of the plants, returning its' nutrients to the earth. Fire eliminates most plants that have shallow roots and can't survive fire. Prairie plants then re-sprout from its deep roots”  This made me think about the Cherry Orchard in a very different way.  Metaphorically, chopping the down the cherry trees was also symbolic of our need to chop down our own preconceived notions about what our place in the universe is, to chop down our delusions, to chop down the things that inhibit us from moving forward, and doing what must be done.  But then we need to ask ourselves, What are our deep roots that will come to be reborn yet stronger. Let us grow those roots now  Let us burn away our indifference, and let us grow our deep roots by consciously thinking about what kind of people we want to be. 
        Let us burn away our isolation and let us grow our deep roots in our caring and loving of each other, and not just  each other, but caring and loving of others who have yet walked in our doors.  Let us burn away our need to plunder nature but rather let us grow our deep roots in the work we do to live in harmony with the environment.  Let us be gentle with the earth, not just one day a year but every day, let us appreciate its wonder and beauty and sustenance so that its wonder can enrich us.  So we can recognize the Eden we live in.  I may no longer have a stake in Con Edison, But I do have a stake in this planet, and so do all of us, and our descendants. So let us make the changes that need to made, May we live out our principles and vision so that one day both our descendants and nature may experience the world we dream about.  May it be so.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No Cookies for a Week

     Drawing from the sources that inform Unitarian Universalism, I will share with you today the story of Passover.  It is the story that is re-told in Jewish households every year at what is called a Seder dinner.  Each year the family gathers to re-tell the history of the Hebrew people’s deliverance from slavery from Egypt. Its message, and its meaning though are universal.  It is the message of oppression, the message of the human desire of and struggle for freedom.  It is the message of privilege and power and how people can change their circumstances and how one person’s choices and actions can change the course of history. It is the message of self reflection, and how self reflection can help you change your life.  It is also the message of appreciativeness for what we do have in this world.  The appreciativeness is heard in the song we heard Dayenu, which is sung with gusto at every year at the Passover Seder. (If all you gave us was…it would have been enough) One of the rituals of Passover for Jewish people is to not eat leavened bread.  Now as a child, brought up in modern reform Jewish household, this seemed unjust to me.  No cookies for an entire week!!
       Yet this was a firm rule in my household, and as a dutiful child and out of complete fear that God would strike me dead, I did not eat leavened bread.  Then one year when I was in middle school, I was walking home, and really completely forgot it was Passover, I imagine today they would call that attention deficit disorder. So having forgotten it was Passover,  I stopped at the store on the way home and picked up some cookies.  By the time I turned onto my street, I was half way done with the package and that’s when it dawned on my that I had broken this sacred law.  Well, I stopped frozen in my tracks.  I had to figure out how to get rid of the evidence.  Of course I realized this would not escape God’s all seeing view, but I rationalized that God would know that in my heart it was an honest mistake, now on the other hand, I couldn’t count on such insight from my parents.  Well I found a neighbors garbage can and made sure there were no crumbs, and kept this transgression a secret, until now that is.  And then I realized, the heavens did not open, the earth did not quake, because of this, I only had to live with something much worse – my own guilty conscience. 
     Now despite deprivation of cookies, Passover has always been a sacred holiday for me.  Growing up as a child I looked forward each year to the Seder dinner we would have.  I think the anticipation of this was due to the fact that even as the youngest of three children I was able to participate in the service. So I guess that is a foreshadowing of what I am doing now. 
      Now when my grandfather who was an orthodox Jew, led the service when I was young, it was three hour service as he did every prayer and much of it was in Hebrew.  Fortunately there were breaks for eating in between, and I was even able to steal a sip of Maneshevitz wine every now and then.  When my father started leading the services the services became shorter and more and more in English.  Finally when I was older and led the service in my home and started including quotes from Thomas Jefferson my family knew something had irrevocably changed.  It changed, not for the worse though .  I would like to believe it evolved for the time, place and culture we were living in.  Of course all I remember is my father saying “if your grandfather was alive today, he would certainly die of a heart attack from this!!”
      The Passover story is based on the book of Exodus in the Hebrew scriptures.  Many of you may have seen the movie the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston which depicts this story.  Of course as usual with movies, the movie is never quite the same or as good as the book it originates from.  It is the story of the Jewish People who were enslaved by the Egyptians, and how they obtained their freedom and even more importantly what they did with that freedom. 
      It is the story of a peoples uneven journey from slavery to freedom that is full of doubt and searching, and ultimately it is a story of trying to find a way create a just society.  Justice is a difficult concept, and the book acknowledges this. As the story goes, The Pharoah of Egypt in fear of an uprising by the Jewish slaves issues an edict to  kill all male children upon birth.  One child, Moses is hidden and ends up being raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter.  Now in the movie, Moses is this mythic figure, but in the book, he is shown to be quite human. He kills and then hides the body of an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew.  Now instead of facing up to consequences of his actions, it states that Moses becomes frightened that he will be caught and killed by the Pharaoh, so he flees to the desert.  What is more telling to me is that in the next scene after he flees he comes to the defense of strangers who are not Hebrew.    This shows me that the story is meant to express the belief that there should be universal justice no matter whom it is perpetrated against.
     As is a recurrent theme in both the Jewish and Christian scriptures Moses goes to the wilderness. In the story, Moses sees the burning bush which tells him to free the Israelite people. To me the message of going to the wilderness is the message of self reflection.  Moses asks “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites”  The wilderness is the place we go when we have to face questions that plague us, the questions that no one else can help us with.  The questions that no one else can answer for us.  Who am I?  What is my purpose on this earth? 
We can have guides and teachers in this world, but at the end of the day, we have to look deep within ourselves, deep in the wilderness of our hearts and minds to find out who we truly are and what we stand for, and how we are going to live our life.  If we don’t consciously think about these things, we will just let the winds sweep us where it may.  Upon serious reflection, Moses knew he had to return to Egypt and to stand up to the Pharoah and to help people who were oppressed. 
Now historically there is no independent record or archeological evidence of these events happening.  It is a story that has been passed down in the oral tradition.   But the message of the story is clear.  Each and every individual has a purpose, and even one individual can make a significant difference to the outcome of the events of history in the world.  I often like to say that the story of the Exodus is the first story of an organized labor movement. People organizing themselves and taking control of their destinies.   And because of this people who were once slaves were given their freedom.  
But freedom is not easy.  Freedom is hard work. - we should work harder to develop and promote freedom, and there are ways to promote freedom without its imposition by force.  But freedom is hard work, especially religious freedom.  When you don’t have someone telling you what to do, telling you what you should or should not believe, you have to make decisions for yourself. In the story of Exodus the people became discouraged while wandering in the desert as life did not get easier. 
And that is what the remaining story of Exodus is about.  It is how a group of nomadic people wandering in the desert found their way.  It is a story of how they organized themselves and determined how they would live a just life and create a just society.  It is their story of the creation of their rules of law.  It is the story of how these laws were presented to the entire people, and it became the duty of everyone, not just leaders to study them.
It should be similar today.  It should be every person’s duty to understand how our government works, how our community works, not to just close our eyes, and turn our heads and leave it to someone else to figure out.  It is every persons obligation to not only learn about but more so to participate in community, but to actually engage in the world that needs to be done,  so that we can determine how our society should be organized, what we want to consider just in our society. This is true for our government and as well  for our congregation.  Ours is a shared ministry.  Let us not take this wonderful religion for granted.  
Unitarian Universalism doesn’t dictate to us what to believe but challenge us to define our religious values.  I ask you to learn about it, and consciously think about it and this congregation.   This congregation needs help from all of you to keep it going.  Your participation in this congregation is what keeps it vital, and not just your participation attending service but all the many other efforts that make this congregation the beacon that it is and can be in the future for the Quad Cities. Religious freedom is hard work and we need your help.
So I ask you to consider how you can participate in this congregation, so that the story of Unitarian Universalism can be heard far and wide, and so that religious freedom will remain strong in the Quad Cities now and into the future.  It is interesting to think that our present is the the far distant future for the Jews of the Exodus.  So it is interesting to think that there are still many Jews who do still follow these laws some 2,500 years later. So why are these laws meaningful today to us?  First, it should be a reminder of the impact that our actions today could have on our far distant future.  
Secondly, although the laws themselves may or may not be meaningful to us, remembering that we individually and collectively are free to choose our destiny is what is meaningful.  Freedom is about envisioning, consciously thinking about, and creating a just society for people in this time and this place in history.  We can look at this on both a micro and macro level. From the micro level we can and must look at our local communities, and on a macro level we can and we must look at all of humanity as our sixth principle calls us to “a goal of world community with peace liberty and justice for all.” 
With the communication and technology breakthroughs, we are all connected to one another and we need to recognize the common goals of all people and we need to work towards them in peaceful and just way.  As the saying goes, Think Globally, Act Locally. Because locally is where we can have the greatest impact and become a model for the greater world.  I believe Unitarian Universalism can be a guidepost to building such a world
The incident in my youth of eating the cookies did seed within me the question as to the purpose of ritual.  Ritual for rituals sake did not satisfy me.  But I do find that the ritual of retelling the Passover story every year – reminds us, calls us back, and is a touchstone to consciously thinking about freedom and justice.  It also is a reminder to us to appreciate what we do have, what has been given to us, what we have created for ourselves and to never take that for granted. It is a reminder that the work we do today could affect the future 2,500 years from now.  By recalling the hardships of the past it grounds us in the need to remember and appreciate what we do have. To remember that creating a just world is a process that is uneven, but with faith and hard work, it can be achieved.   In retrospect, giving up cookies for a week is small price to pay for such a lesson. – May it be so.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Transcendence

               When I was in seminary I was given an assignment to write in a journal among other things to journal about a plant under my care.  And although I know many of you are gardeners, and some of you are master gardeners,  having grown up in The Bronx in New York City, I had virtually no experience with gardening.  There was even an assumption by the professor that I had a plant.  So I went to my local garden store and asked the garden person to recommend the plant that was the hardest to kill.  Now at this point, I am thinking really what is the purpose of writing a journal for seminary about a plant.
               But as I found out that plant was a good metaphor for life, and my experience with it led me to a deeper awareness about myself.  So the first awareness was the most basic.  If you care for it  will grow and flourish and if you don’t it will die. So my second plant received the benefit of this teaching!! The same is true for ourselves.  As we better care for ourselves, so we will flourish.   Just as your plant needs water and other nutrients, your  Body, mind and Spirit need their water. The water of healthy eating and exercise, the water of knowledge and wisdom, the water of a faith that transforms you. 
               There is an old Cherokee story, one many of you I am sure have heard before, When the Grandfather teaching his grandson, tells him about a fight that is going on within him.  He says it is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is full of anger, envy, regret, greed, arrogance, resentment”The other is full of joy, peace, love, hope, kindness, benevolence,. The same fight is going on within you and inside every other person too.  The grandson thought about it for a  minute and then asked his grandfather, which wolf will win? “The old Cherokee simply replied, the one you feed”
               Now that is a very simplistic story. If only the world were so simple.  Often we are raised in a certain way, in a certain environment.  We are taught this is the way to do things, this is the way to treat people. We are told this is the way the world is, Life is not fair.  Some of this feeding comes from our actual experiences.  Many have bad experiences, or we are inundated watching terrible things on the news, which creates a fear within us and we try to protect ourselves. Then we feed ourselves internal stories that create assumptions about the world or a group of people as a way to protect ourselves and combat our fears
               But instead of protecting ourselves, our mind and spirits become filled with hate.   I think this is so clearly in place in the story of Trayvon Martin that has been in the news recently. For those who are not aware of this case, it is the story of African American teen who was walking home from a convenience store and was shot by someone who was an unofficial neighborhood watch person.  This story has a very personal connection to me.  The town where this happened is just a couple of towns over from where I lived in Florida. 
               And I remember clearly one night soon after we moved into our home, when I received a knock on the door at my house and a policeman was there and told me that someone had called them saying that someone who didn’t look like he belonged in the neighborhood was walking around the neighborhood and had come into my house. That person who came into my house was my son, who is Korean.  Looking back on this today I am thankful that the person who called it in, and obviously followed my son to my house, didn’t have a gun and didn’t confront my son. 
               But when I heard the Trayvon Martin story, I was brought back to that night and chilled because the words used by the neighborhood watch person when he called 911 were “there's a real suspicious guy, who looks like he's up to no good”  I would ask what is the basis for this suspicion, why is there fear of this individual human being just walking on the street. There were assumptions made because of the color of his skin and the clothes he was wearing.  Had he been wearing a three piece suit, I doubt he would have been shot.  But there were assumptions made due to a lifetime of being starved of the water of life and love. 
               I have heard people argue that people who rob convenience stores sometimes wear hoodies to help hide their identity.  That may be true.  Of course, but that does not translate that every person who wears a hoodie robs convenience stores.  That is a complete break with logic.  But it is not logic that was at work here.  There are assumptions, and these assumptions are driven by fears, fears fed, through limited experiences in life, through the media, and through being inculcated through self isolation and indifference.  Just as we have different flowers in the vase here, the world is full of different colors, different opinions, and different ways of being.
        So the question is how do we transcend these fears to find the truth.  How do we transcend the teachings or emotions of fear from the environment we have been indoctrinated with?  We get so much information it is hard to filter it all. 
               So the answer to this question is something else I realized from my plant.  I educated myself about my plant and I payed attention to it and cared for it. Never having a plant before, I studied the basics about plants, I asked other people I knew who were gardeners about plants. But I also paid attention to my plant. I spent time with it each day. Was it growing? Did it seem dry and in need of water.  Was the pot it was in too small? Is it getting enough sun? And just in the same way I educated myself and paid attention to and cared for my plant, so  do we need to be educated about life and the world, to pay attention to and care for our body mind and spirit.   So I ask you, Are you taking the time to be quiet with yourself, to pay attention to yourself, and by this I do not mean in some narcissistic way, but to be aware of the feelings and assumptions inside of you, aware when you seem anxious, and what is causing your anxiety, to be aware when you have a strong emotional reaction and to find its root causes.  To be aware when that little voice inside you says this is not right, to step back and listen to that inner voice and understand it. And then to care for yourself.  We must know what it is that nourishes our body mind and spirit. For each of us it might be different. 
               But if we are to transcend our past, to transcend old ways of thinking, to be truly open to new ways of being and doing so that we can find wholeness within ourselves, so that we can work to create wholeness with the world. We must nourish ourselves. Sort of like they say when you go on an airplane, in case of emergency, and the oxygen mask comes down to put the mask on yourself before assisting others.
A was shocked at one point after about two months of caring for my plant that many of the colorful petals starting falling off. I thought I had done everything right, but still things didn’t seem like they were working out. And so it is in life, when even when we do everything right, due to things beyond our control, unimaginable things happen to us.  We look for answers.  Sometimes there are very specific causal effects of reaping and sowing in the world, but sometimes, nature just takes it course, without rhyme or reason.
And it is at these times when things seem to be dieing that we need each other, our family and friends our community to support each other during our trials as we transcend from one way of being, into another way of being.  But interestingly, within a few days, new petals had sprung from my plant.  For a while I left the dead petal in the plant holder with the plant.   It not only made me appreciate the living all the more, but it was a solid reminder of the inevitability and connection between life and death.
Sometimes we have to let a part of us die before we can live again.  We have to let go of old ideas that are holding us back, we have to let go of old ways of doing things so we can become something new. And then at some point the dead petals from my plant just became a part of the soil, and became one with the living growing plant.  And so it is with life. Our past is always a part of us, we cannot escape it, but we can either choose to let it define us, or we can choose build upon it, using the experiences we have had to create something new.
We need to feed ourselves, but it is not enough to just feed ourselves. For if we are all connected through the interdependent web of life.  How can we be whole if others around us are not fed.  To feed ourselves, to be whole,  we must feed others and allow them to find wholeness. I was reminded by one of our members this week of the parable of the long spoons that I think speaks to this point quite well.  I originally had heard this as the story about an Jewish Rabbi, but it is a story that is repeated in many religious traditions.
The Rabbi spoke of a dream he had where he visited both heaven and hell. He first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As he came closer, he understood their predicament. "Every person held a full spoon of food, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so they could not bend either elbow to bring the food to their mouth.
"Next the Rabbi went to visit Heaven. He was surprised to see the same setting he had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people  in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal. "As he came closer, he was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had their arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented them from bending their elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat?  "As he watched, a person picked up their spoon and dug it into the dish before them. Then they stretched across the table and fed the person across from them. The recipient of this kindness thanked them and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed their benefactor.  He suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.  
The Rabbi ran back to Hell to share this solution with the poor souls trapped there. He whispered in the ear of one starving person, "You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and they will surely return the favor and feed you." The person looked at the Rabbi and sneered "'You expect me to feed the detestable person sitting across the table?' said the person angrily. 'I would rather starve than give them the pleasure of eating!' We create our own Heaven and Hell right here
Let us feed each other, let us be sated with friendship, sated with beauty sated with love,  the love that comes from truly knowing each other, the love that comes from being with each other in both joy and sorrow, the love that comes from helping each other.  Let us transcend our fears and realize that all people, not just the people who are here today but the people who will be here twenty years from now, not just the people who are in this room today, but the people in the greater community, that all people need this love.
This to me is the story of Easter, not the story of an itinerant Jewish Rabbi who was executed 2 millennium ago, not the story of some cute little bunny rabbit, even if that is fun, but the story of people envisioning a new world, a new way of living, a new way of being in relationship with each other and with the world itself. Let us find that seed within ourselves, let us water and feed ourselves and let our lives and spirit blossom, and let us by our example help others find the seed of love within them so that one day every ones garden will be in bloom.

May it be so.