Tuesday, October 23, 2012


When we think of prophets today, we think of an unkempt homeless person with wild hair standing on a street corner yelling the world is coming to an end and that we should repent our sins.  Generally we think these people are in need of psychiatric medical attention and we turn our heads away and move on.  Although this is a common and in most cases a true perception of how many view prophecy, I would like to look beyond this view and see other perceptions of prophesy and how they can be very helpful to our lives and the world.  Western religious tradition is filled with the concept of prophetic thought.

Looking back in time to the Jewish Scriptures over half the number of books in the Jewish Scriptures are grouped under the Prophetic section.  Each of the stories are different, but there are recurring themes throughout. There is ongoing condemnation and threat of punishment for people who have betrayed the covenantal law of the Jewish people coupled with an ongoing assurance of redemption. There is also throughout the prophetic works an unending focus on justice.  Much of the Christian Scriptures are about the prophetic words of Jesus. And in Islam Muhammad is known as the Prophet. 

Now much of the prophetic writings were written with the goal of trying to understand why their lives had come to the point in history where they were and what they needed to do to improve their lives. This is true of all three traditions. In the Judaic tradition, after the death of King Solomon, the Jewish Kingdom split into two over various power struggles in approximately 922 BCE.  The Northern Kingdom was eventually overrun by the Assyrians in approximately 722BCE, and then the Southern Kingdom, which included Jerusalem, was defeated and most of its people deported by Babylonia in approximately 586BCE. Throughout this whole time period there were numerous political alliances amongst countries, assassinations of Jewish Kings and military coups.  Prophets gave advice to Leaders for and against alliances, whether to go to war or not to go to war.  Now it is generally believed that many of the Jewish Scriptures were written after the events actually occurred, so it is easier to be prophetic if you are writing historically. So if you would like to know who is going to win the world series ask me next month. Yet in the end the Jewish people were trying to explain why, if their God was all powerful, would God allow them to be destroyed and deported, and  more importantly they were also trying to give people a vision of hope for a better future and what rules people should live by to make this vision a reality.  Although we do not follow all the same covenantal laws of the Jewish Scriptures, we are a covenantal people, we live by the rule of law, we come together in community and decide what is acceptable and is not acceptable behavior.  The question is whose vision of the world will come to fruition.  Every day we can turn on the television or the radio and listen to people prognosticate what events will happen.  Who will win the presidential election in 2012; the pros and cons of DNA testing, what outrageous thing will Lady Gaga do next. 

In the book of Micah there is condemnation against prophets who shape their prophecy to gain favor and money from those in power. I think we all can think of many instances of this occurring. And it is a tempting option.  People have to put food on their table, people have to put a roof over their head, so they do what they need to survive for the moment.    But the lesson we should gain from prophetic writings is that for our long term survival, we need to speak against injustice, we need to speak out against the powerful with a different vision then they are proclaiming as the only truth.  We need to realize our own power.

Prophecy is not just about predicting the future blindly, but also about looking at the present state of circumstances and seeing what the consequences of our current actions will be.  Then we have to take actions.  We often hear the phrase self fulfilling prophecy for if we believe something is going to happen we will direct our mind to act to have that outcome.  Well that can be a good thing.  It all depends on what we direct our mind to do.

            So lets look at an examples of current day prophesy -  I prophesize that if we don’t do something to reduce greenhouse gases global warming will continue to get worse and we will have ecological devastation.  How many times have we heard this, how many scientists indicate this, how much of the artic has to disappear before we act on this prophesy…..and yet we still often hear the false prophets who tell us not to worry about this. Who say all the data is false, all our perceptions are false, that somehow we will find a solution, or that possibly this is the what is supposed to happen in the evolution of the world.  I guess all of that is possible, well not the data part…yet with every fiber of my being, with every synapse of mental activity within my brain, I believe we should do what we can now with the knowledge we have now to avoid ecological devastation.  We may learn more fifty years from now, but based on what we know now, we need reduce greenhouse gases.  And it truth, most people realize this.

We see this because there has been a strong demand for alternative fuel efficient autos, and auto makers are responding and making more fuel efficient autos.  Yet what really caused that demand?  The concern for the ozone layer?  For some maybe, for others it may have been the rising oil prices, and for others it may have been unrest in the middle east, and the realization that fuel independence or alternative fuels will lead the way to peace. 

Now the auto makers who prophesized this and built fuel efficient or alternative fuel cars have became very successful.  Why does it take war and increased gas prices or an ecological catastrophe such as the Fukushima Nuclear accident  to move us.  We need to be proactive, and think about the type of world we want our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren to live in, and not just our families, but all families on this planet.  We can and we must all be prophets.  We do not have to shout alone from the street corners, we can start in our communities, we can be firm in our beliefs and we can prophesize how we want the future to be, and we can all take actions that will lead to such a future.  It may sometimes seem that we are a small voice in the wilderness. But if that voice is the truth, people will recognize it.  And then it is up to everyone of us who hears it to continue to speak our truth as well and to live our truths.  Lets not wait for other peoples visions to self destruct before we take actions to implement our vision.  Lets speak our prophetic vision to the world so people realize there are alternative possibilities which include ending poverty, ending starvation, and living in a way that creates a sustainable environment. 

Let us build models of such communities with sustainable and safe agriculture and worker owned businesses, Let us build a model community where everyone’s gifts are welcomed and used in a way that builds beloved community.    We must prophesize this and take actions to make it real.  We will be challenged but we must carry on even in adversity, for if we know it to be true, we must keep speaking and acting so others can see the truth, and others will then make it their vision and their truth, and then as it spreads it will become a reality.  For so often what was once considered impossible or crazy is now considered common knowledge. In the scheme of human existence it was not long ago that everyone believed the world was flat and sun revolved around the earth. People actually were killed for proposing what we now today accept as this common fact. So we need to realize that what we start today over the arc of time can have lasting impact. And we have started acting in our own community.  Our religion is a prophetic religion.  Our principles call for us to create a community with peace liberty and justice for all.  Our vision as a Congregation calls for us to Support the social justice and social action initiatives in our congregation and the greater community.

Our social justice ministry team has worked hard over the last year to determine what needs in the community match our skills and passion.  We currently have three active teams, Youth at Risk, Immigration and Green Sanctuary, and we have a fourth one in formation dealing with BGLQT rights. We have partnered with community groups such as Quad Cities Interfaith, Quad Cities Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, Earth Keepers and the West Davenport Center. Another partner that I have personally been involved with, is Williams Middle School, where we are helping with English as a Second language, Mentoring and Tutoring.  It can be a simple thing.  Each week, in the afterschool program, I end up playing chess with one of the students.  Others are helping students just get organized and others helping with homework.  First let me say it can be humbling being beaten at chess by a middle school student. But secondly, without question, we are making a difference in the lives of these students, which is making a difference in the life of our larger community.  The only reason the school cannot expand the program is that we do not have enough volunteers.  So now is the time, we are asking for your help. We are asking for you to help this congregation to live out its vision and mission, that you, the members of the Congregation created.  This is our identity, who we say we are as a congregation.  So after the service, we will have members of the social justice ministry team downstairs to talk with you about what the teams are doing, and how you can be involved. Although we all have different circumstances, we have to ask ourselves what are we called to do as a Congregation.  When they say what do Unitarian Universalists stand for, let it be very clear through our actions as a Congregation what we stand for. We all have different gifts and we all can help in different ways. But what is it that will move us to offer these gifts.

In the movie “Life or something like it” that came out a number of years ago, Angela Jolie plays a self absorbed reporter who is doing a news story on a street prophet who happens to be a homeless person with wild hair.  Upon meeting him he predicts the score of the Seattle Seahawks football game that night.  She then asks him if she will get the big promotion she is up for.  He tells her no and that she is going to die in one week.  Well she doesn’t really start to worry until the Seahawks win by the exact score that the street prophet predicted. 

In that one week’s time, thinking she is going to die she reevaluates her life to determine what is important to her and she connects with the people that are important in her life.  Each of us can use a little prophesy in our congregational lives – by determining what is important to us here, what fulfills us here. To really connect with people here who are important to us.  In building trust with one another so that when we do speak, people know that it is non judgmental, that it is from our heart, and even if they don’t agree with us, they will always trust that our words, that our hopes and that our visions are our truth, and come from a place of goodness. 

The Jewish prophets trusted in their God Yahweh.  Prior to the destruction of Israel by the Babylonians, people believed that God actually resided in the temple.  After Jerusalem was invaded and the temple destroyed, people had to have a new vision of God, or in essence their concept of God had to evolve.  When we speak the truth to power we trust in the ultimate goodness of humanity. We trust that humanity will hear our voice and react. Maybe the connection of ultimate goodness is an evolution of God. 

So each of us must find it within ourselves first, we must find the words that are meaningful to us, the feelings that bring us wholeness, and the purpose that moves us to action, and then only then will we come together in community and connect with others who hear the same voice, and feel the same passion, and together our life’s purpose will be to speak those words together, and to do the work together to bring about peace, liberty and justice in this world. May it be so.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Radical Hospitality

The word radical brings up many different connotations for many different people.  I posed this question on Facebook and was surprised about how a number of you related this to Chemistry.  Such as the term free radicals that describes atomic or molecular species with unpaired electrons – (that one was pure Wikepedia quote by the way). The first thought/image  that comes into my mind when I hear the word radical is when Tommy Smith and John Carlos received their Gold and Silver medal for winning the 200 meter race in the 1968 Olympics.  Throughout the whole national anthem, They stood with black gloves on their hands which were raised in a fist high in the air. They stood on the podium, without shoes in black socks as well as a protest to poverty.    So my understanding of or image of radical was as a statement of defiance to power.  Also as a side note, something that is rarely mentioned about that incident, is that the silver medalist George Norman from Australia along with Smith and Carlos wore the OPHR armband standing for Olympic Project for Human Rights which was a group opposed to racism and particularly apartheid at that time.  So defiance can come in many forms, in many ways, by many people.  What made Smith and Carlos’s action radical to me was because it was an unexpected act in an unexpected place that received attention to the issue they were concerned about.
In more current times, the word radical has been used as more of a slang word for doing something really cool or something not tried before that tests the limits of our abilities.  I think of when my children were young and when skateboarder Tony Hawk, did a 900 degree aerial  flip on his skateboard my kids would go something like “that’s radicaaaal dude”  In religious terms, I think of the phrase radical in regard to the protestant reformation. In the early 16th Century German Martin Luther along with Ulrich Zwingli from Switzerland, disagreeing with some of the practices of the Catholic Church, formally broke away and thus started what we today call Protestant Reformation. 
             They didn’t  feel they were starting a new religion.  They believed they were reforming Catholicism to what they believed its original intent was.  The thing is once you let go of the rigidity of what then later becomes an orthodox position, and people explore truth for themselves, it will inevitably lead to other conclusions as to what the original or foundational beliefs of the religion is. Thus very quickly after the reformation many new religious groups formed, some of which disappeared and others whose ideas led to what we now would call the Mennonites, Baptists, brethren, and  Unitarians among others. All these new groups fell under the phrase the radical reformation.  I cant imagine Luther saying They’re raaaaadical dude. But they took the concept that Luther started and took it one step farther.  All thought they were reforming the Protestant religion which they themselves thought it was reforming Catholicism.  And that is the interesting thing about the word Radical.  Its etymology is from the word root.  It means getting to the root of an issue, what is essential, what is the origin of the issue, before it was corrupted, before it was fragmented, when it was once whole. So yes, in some ways to be radical is to reform what currently is, to find our wholeness.  Yes it sometimes requires us to try something we have never tried before to find out what we are truly capable of.  And  yes, sometimes it requires us to be defiant, defiant to a system that fragments our societies, that is just to some and unjust to others, defiant to current way of doing things just because that is the way it has always been done,  defiant to an idea that teaches fear and hate as opposed to acceptance and love. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “When you are right you cannot be too radical;”
So let us look at what could be meant by radical hospitality.  Let us look at what the root of our hospitality is. It is funny how the world works.  I had set my topic for today’s sermon over the summer, and then in September I started preparing for my Bible Study Class.  I wish I could say that I brilliantly planned the two to coincide, because I didn’t, but I have left myself open to recognize the synchronicity of the universe in all things.  This past week the class had a deep discussion about Matthew 5:33 which states “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.so that you may be children of God in heaven; for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same and if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore as your God is perfect.”
I think it is interesting that the word perfect is connected with love.  I have often said, perfection is the enemy of greatness.  Now back in New York there used to be a sportscaster named Warner Wolf who would always say excitedly, “lets gooooo the video tape” and I think of that and get that same excitement every time I think “lets go look at the translation” and in greek, the translation for the word perfect also means Whole or consisting of all its parts or in other words, inclusive.  Now we can look at this in two ways.  First lets reread this with the word inclusive.  Be inclusive as your God is inclusive.  And this makes sense in the context of what is being said in the text.  Not just your family, not just those who believe the same thing theological as you do, include everyone, love everyone. This text tells me Jesus was a pluralist. Our Universalist tradition speaks specifically to this theology of love where no one is condemned eternally. And in our current Unitarian Universalist pluralistic theology, this is essential to how we remain in relationship with each other despite our differences on specific theological issues.  This is the bedrock of Hospitality.  Welcoming others into a caring, loving, safe environment where they can explore and share their thoughts without being judged.  That to me is the Beloved Community we are building here.
Secondly, what is it that makes us whole?  A Unitarian view of the world where there is a unity within diversity, a oneness of all things.  How can we be whole, if there are others who are suffering, How can we be whole if there others out there who need to hear our message and have not found their way here.   How can we be whole if we have fear or have disdain in our hearts for another person.  Why do we fear people? Who is our enemy that Jesus speaks of? That is a really difficult question.  Who is our enemy?  In the process of becoming a minister, I had to fill out a slew of psychological tests, and one part was a long list of fill in the blank questions.  One of the questions said, the thing I fear most is (blank). It is kind of weird that of all the questions, I remember this one, but I remember  I answered the thing I fear most is someone with a loaded gun pointed at my head.  I don’t know if they were looking for something more esoteric or not, but my answer brings up the obvious that I feared dying of unnatural causes.  Who is our enemy?  Our enemy is within.  Our enemy is our fear.  Our enemy is our fear that because we are not perfect we cannot truly be loved, our enemy is our fear that because we are not perfect that we do not really belong, because we are different than what our society deems appropriate, because we think differently then what society deems appropriate.   Our enemy is our unwillingness to accept ourselves for who we are. What would it mean to be inclusive with ourselves?  To accept ourselves for all of who we are, imperfections and all and by doing so, we can learn to accept others for all of who they are with their imperfections.  Now acceptance is not resignation, acceptance does not mean we stop creating a just a compassionate world.  No just the opposite is true.  Acceptance of ourselves and others leads to compassion for ourselves and compassion towards others. 
But some would say, Jay, should I show compassion for a murderer, a rapist, should I show compassion for a Bin laden or the one I usually get, for a Hitler.  Those are good and difficult questions, But those are the wrong questions.  This would be a marvelous thing to have such compassion but let us start a little closer to home.  Let us start by having compassion for and loving each other, loving our family whether biological or chosen and loving our friends. Remember Jesus said, if you love those who love you, if you greet only your brothers and sisters.  Let us start there.  Let us start here.  Let us show compassion to and love everyone here first before we search for enemies abroad to love.  Are there people who walk in our doors who feel as if they don’t belong?  Members ask me why we repeat the litany every week in the opening words about who is welcome here.  And I tell them that litany is not for the person who has been here for 40 years.  It is for the person who is walking in here for the first time, so that they know at a minimum, what our base values are.  That is part of radical hospitality. For anyone who is walking in our doors is searching for something, they are searching for a truth they did not find elsewhere, they are searching for a Congregation that will inspire them, they are searching for a beloved community to belong where they will be accepted for who they are and what they are called to be. Unitarian Universalist Theologian James Luther Adams wrote, Church is where we get to practice what it means to be human.
Now I know in the past this congregation has gone through hard times, but you endure, because deep down, you know this is where you belong, you know this is where your values are respected and lived out. And you know it is in this place that you have the capacity to practice the theology of love.   I want to point out what a truly compassionate people you are.  I mentioned in our joys and sorrows about Margaret Skinner – well I didn’t mention that there are numerous members here who spend time with her, caring for her, advocating for her, truly this is the ideal of how we should be as a congregation.   But I know there are others in our congregation who are hurting as well.  Others who need our help as well. Are we spending time with them, are we helping them find jobs, are we driving them to the Congregation.  are we letting them know they are loved, that they belong. Now it is easier when it is someone you have known and respected for over 20 years. But if we are to be radically hospitable, we need to act that way towards all.  It can be a simple thing.  If there is someone who comes in, and you don’t know them.  Say hello, invite them downstairs for coffee and a bagel and sit and get to know them. For coffee hour is our communion. Breaking bread, not for some supernatural blessing, but breaking bread for building relationships with each other.  No person should ever have to go downstairs and have to sit alone.  Ever.
Each month we have a member share a powerful moment and often they include how welcomed and loved they felt when they first attended.  Let us act in a way now so that every visitor who walks in here now can look back on this time in the future and remember it as their powerful moment. So now I will challenge you.  I know we all have our normal tables that we have our coffee at with our long time friends.  I challenge you to go to coffee hour and sit with someone you don’t know.  Start a new friendship. Find out something about their lives.   I do not minimize what I am asking you. I know it is not easy.
But let us be radical, let us test our limits of hospitality, let us go to our core of our theology as to what it means to be hospitable, to be whole. Let us do that unexpected act at an unexpected time. This is a simple first step.   And then let us expand that radical hospitality to others we know in our lives who we think need to hear this message.  Invite them to join us. If you believe our religion has an important message, wouldn’t you want your friends and loved ones to experience it as well?  Lastly, I ask you to be open to others, others who may be a stranger within your midst, who may think differently than you, who may look different than you, may be of a different age, or culture. 
Be open to learning something new about another and about yourself.  For it is said that (Rebecca Parker?), “Revelations come to those who are radically hospitable to what they do not know”  May it be so.






Friday, October 12, 2012

The Company Men – a 7 out of 10 on the JayWo scale of movie ratings

The Company Men - A great cast in this 2010 movie including Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, and Kevin Costner among others.  It tells the story of a large company and upper executives who get laid off and how they deal with it.  I think it very importantly shows how people’s identity are very connected to their job, and their loss of that job leads the loss of their identity and a complete sense personal failure. One executive who is fired says “You know the worst part….My life ended and nobody noticed.”   It showed clearly how connected we become to material things.  Even at the end, one of the  protagonists says,  I like $5,000 hotel suites. (never been in one, but I imagine they are nice).  But ultimately he realizes that there is not enough compensation for the loss of the creation.  For the best part of the movie for me, was the concept of work being good for the soul, work being about creating something, and building something worthwhile.  Work, whether it be remodeling a house, or building a tanker ship, or building a company was given equal value.  This resonated for me as for most of my career that is how I felt.  I was always part of a management team building companies and now part of a great team building a Congregation.  The one major negative about the movie, is in the way most of the women are portrayed.  Not one executive was a woman, and the spouses of executives (with one exception – Ben Affleck;s spouse) were portrayed as materialistic, petty, and out of touch.  The one female character in the company that was of any substance was also sleeping with one of executives.  I think perpetuating these stereotypes just diminish the movie, and perhaps if it addressed a female executive, it could have been a deeper story.  But it did show how Business executives think, making decisions worried only about potential legalities and not ethics, and serving their own interests over the interests of the company, the employee and the greater community. Good issues to address.  Bottom line.  Worth seeing.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Info I Missed In History Class

For much of my adult life, I have been an over-achiever.  Because of that, it might surprise many that for much of my childhood I was considered an underachiever in school.  My personal experience with public education was that as long as I showed up, and didn’t create too much trouble, and even if I  occasionally didn’t show up,  I could easily skate by and obtain all A’s and only a few B’s.  I have to admit, that when I went to college, I realized for the first time how much I skated by and was forced to become an overachiever!! 

In my second semester in school I was lucky enough to have a teacher who instilled within me the love for learning for learning’s sake.  I would hope everyone has had or will have a teacher that does this for them.  She was by far the most demanding teacher I ever had. Learning isn’t always easy.  it makes us go to places we would rather not go, it makes us eliminate presumptions that support our view of the world.  It makes us stretch our mind to see the world in different ways.  This teacher challenged me and taught me to see the subtext and context of everything I was studying.  She taught me read in between the lines.  And it opened my eyes to education as being more than just some utilitarian bargain to gain knowledge to obtain a better position in the work world,  It taught me that education is way of life, a way of living in the world, to better understand not only the world around us but ourselves as well.

Now one of the things I skated by in high school was American History.  Although to be fair, I think much of what was taught was quite sanitized.  As William F Buckley so succinctly said, “history is the polemics of the victor”  And after hearing the same stories over and over again, we become conditioned to believe certain things as truths. Yet this teacher I spoke of implored us to separate myth from fact, accept myth for what it is, a story to teach us something, but to realize it is a myth and not a fact.  We can learn from both.  I was thinking of that as this coming Monday is the federal holiday Columbus Day.  Throughout my youth,  I was of course taught the classic poem that starts in fourteen hundred ninety two, (ok, who can say the next line with me)  Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.

It is deceptively simple.  We were taught that Columbus discovered America.  Having studied the facts, we know this to be untrue, in many ways, so we should look at why we created this myth.  We talk about America being discovered, we should be clear Columbus may not have even been the first European to discover America.  There is strong archaeological proof that people from Greenland/Iceland arrived here in approximately the 11th century.  And there is proof although not as strong of numerous other cultures including other European and African cultures visiting the Americas prior to Columbus.  

And of course the need for myth is because it is hard to say it was discovered when obviously there were many people already here.  We are often told that that Native Americans came across the Bering Straight through Alaska.  Now Native American scholars differ with this opinion, and feel it has been used and imbedded into our culture as a way to deny Native claims on land positioning our view of them as merely being the first immigrants to the land.  Either way they were here long before any Europeans “discovered” this country.  We continue learning the myth of the Native Americans being gentle hunter gathers who lived nomadic lives.  Although certainly this was true of some tribes, many as well developed farming communities.  But the myth persisted so as to keep in our unconscious that they didn’t have a right to the land because they didn’t stay in one place all the time.  We are not taught about  tribal democratic structures that were in place long before the Europeans arrived and long before enlightenment thinkers. We are not taught about the Cherokee Nation who actually assimilated into “American Culture” and were still forcibly removed from their lands. We were never taught about Chaco Canyon in the southwest united states where buildings built in the 11th century were aligned to capture the solar and lunar cycles requiring multiple generations of astronomical observations and centuries of skillfully coordinated construction.

We don’t hear about this often even today because the fact that they were performing advanced astronomical experiments would clash with our myths and thereby our justification for conquering their land.  When I was preparing to go to General Assembly last June, the annual gathering of Unitarian Universalist Congregations,  I knew it was going to be a special Justice General Assembly around the issue of immigration and the UUA provided advanced reading material to study.  One of the items was about a resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. 

Yet one more thing I missed in High School.  The Doctrine of Discovery was based on a Papal Bull (order from the Pope) written in 1455 which granted authority to Europeans to and I quote “ among other things free and ample faculty to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Muslims and pagans (meaning all non christians) and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery,” 

Even more shockingly to me I learned as I studied this was that the United States supreme court in 1823 used this Doctrine of Discovery as the foundational argument to disallow the sale of Native Land by Native Americans directly to settlers saying that it could only be sold to the United States Government indicating that it had inherited that right from the Europeans upon declaring independence.   So our government upon whose foundation was the separation of church and state used this religious doctrine as a means to deny Native Americans their land rights in this country.  What can we do.  We cant change the past we say.

Now there are some who have called for us to rename Christopher Columbus day to be Indigenous Peoples Day, and last year on Columbus Day the front page of the UUA website had a banner saying Happy Indigenous Peoples Day.  Having grown up in largely Italian Neighborhood, where somewhat ironically I actually went to Christopher Columbus High School,  I have found that most Italians I knew viewed this more as an Italian Heritage Day as opposed to a day venerating the  man Christopher Columbus. And non Italians were mostly just happy to have another day off from school and work.  

I think it is interesting that of all the federal holidays that only two are named after individuals.  Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther King, Jr.  We have even denied Washington and Lincoln their own federal holiday by creating a generic President’s Day.  But Columbus and King. An interesting juxtaposition of individuals.  One who used violence and one who used non violence to achieve their ends. Now I am completely in support of creating an Indigenous Peoples Day, but perhaps there is reason to keep Columbus Day.  Let it be a stark reminder to us of how we came to be in this country. 

Let it shine in our face, both our powers of creation and destruction.  Let it be a reminder to us that the truth is not always so obvious. The truth as our fourth principle states requires a free and responsible search.

But what is truth, I have never had to actually testify in a courtroom, but I have watched the television show Law and Order over the years.  And, every time someone took the stand they would be asked - Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you god or the alternative, under penalties of perjury (I am not sure which is more compelling) The whole truth and nothing but the truth.  That is a fairly high standard, and assumptive that any person holds the whole truth. Maybe a person should say that I swear to tell the whole truth as I perceived and remember it.  Is there a truth or is there merely our perception of the truth. Like multiple eyewitness’ to an event, each has their own perception of it.  “The Innocence project “which is an organization that is dedicated to exonerating wrongly convicted individuals through DNA testing reports that “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing”  .What is the truth?  . 

I believe there are underlying truths to the universe, but we merely get a glimpse of it.  We see it a burning bush or a prophets words, in the structure of our DNA and in the pictures of the hubble telescope, we see merely glimpses, merely pieces of the whole. (Like the childrens story earlier) we need to still search for the missing pieces of truth.   And we must continue to search to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and to the innermost part of our soul.

Now I think my earliest memories of a free and responsible search for truth happened  while eating dinner with my family.  We would gather every night at the kitchen table and eat and discuss the news events of the day. Now during the late 60s and early 70s you can imagine that there were some raucous and controversial conversations.  Being the youngest of three children it was hard to get a word in edgewise.  And when I did get my two sense in, I knew I had to be prepared to back it up.  No rash and random  opinions were allowed at the kitchen table.  You had to have a well thought out position. If I didn’t I would be grilled and my opinion summarily dismissed. It was ok to have a differing opinion, but you had better be able to support it with facts and a well thought out argument.  This lesson alone was the foundation of my searching. 

It required me to be aware of the greater world and the facts within it..  And yet sometimes, my innocence could help as well.  I remember back I guess it was 1967, so I must have been about 8 years old, when Nixon was running against Humphrey for President, and a particular member of my family was supporting Nixon because Nixon claimed to have a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam and Humphrey would not commit to ending the war.  In my innocence, I said, well if he actually had a plan to end the war, why doesn’t he just tell us?  My argument didn’t win over the kitchen table that night, but of course hindsight has proved me correct. 

And I don’t know why but at family reunions, I just always feel the need to bring this story up.   This particular kitchen table experience taught me a number of lessons about searching for truth.  First, there are some truths can be discovered intuitively  without deep well reasoned arguments. Sometimes you just know in your gut something is right.   But another lesson I learned is that Being right doesn’t always mean what I think will be accepted as truth. I  remember watching one of the animated Madagascar movies (I think there are three or four of them now)

and in one scene the lion Alex wanting to inform the the pilot of damage to the plane and states "You have to listen to me." And the pilot who is a penguin replied in a bit of a snooty voice, "Ah, that is where you are wrong. I have to hear you because you won't shut up, but I do not have to listen." And then the plane crashed.

To find the truth sometimes we have to learn to listen to others, to be respectful to others. There is a story told by the Sioux tribe of a Christian missionary who told a group of Native American people the Genesis account of the creation of the earth and the creation  and then fall of humanity.  The Native peoples responded by recounting their creation story.  The missionary was appalled:  The Missionary said, What I delivered to you were sacred truths, but this that you tell me is mere fable and falsehood.  The Sioux leader gravely replied “My brother It seems that you have not been well grounded in the rules of civility  You saw that we who practice these rules, believed your stories; why then do you refuse to credit ours.”  What is the truth?

It is not enough to just be right,  it is as important to be in relationship with others so they will listen to you. So I have taken up using the phrase that I read somewhere probably on Facebook, I would rather be kind than right.   Every time I lead an Adult religious education class I use a covenant that includes the phrase Cultivate attentive listening. Listening to understand and suspending judgment.”  This is a critical mindset.   So often we have been so conditioned to believe we unconditionally have the ultimate truth, that we do not leave room for others views and other truths.  We all have different experiences, and context as to how and why we see the world the way we do.  We can learn from others by listening. 

Maybe it doesn’t change our mind, but maybe we can learn why others feel or believe the way they do.  What drives them? What are their fears? What are their hopes? What were their experiences? And by creating relationships maybe others will listen to us and understand why we believe what we believe.  Part of our social justice ministry team’s criteria for choosing projects is to do research by talking to people in the community and determining what they feel they need not just what we think their needs are.  We have built relationships with others in our larger community and not just heard but listened to them. 

In one such case they have asked us to help with their youth, and we have started to do this with our partnership with Williams Middle School mentoring and tutoring students. You can be a part of this work.  You should be a part of this work. And you can sign up in coffee hour. Perhaps you can the person who sparks the light of education in a child.  We cant change the past, but we can change the future. Our vision encourages us to be a beacon on a hill, but let us not only be a beacon on a hill, let us also be a beacon in the community, a beacon building relationships a beacon listening and working with others to search for the whole truth.  For we can not be whole unless everybody is whole. And if we can create an environment of listening in our lives, in our communities, and in our world, we can build those relationships with others and maybe just maybe, we can not only prevent this plane from crashing but we can fly it together to places that we only dream of. May it be so.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Love and Suffering

Everyone suffers.  That may seem like a strange start to a reflection on love, but to truly love, we have to be able to accept the existence of suffering because everyone will face it in their lives.  Maybe you have opened your heart to love, and been hurt. Maybe you have suffered the loss of someone you loved.  Maybe you have suffered a loss of the death of a family member, friend, or pet that you loved. Maybe you have never loved, but have been hurt in the countless other ways we are hurt in this world. Due to suffering, we sometimes lose our trust in the concept of a loving universe.  

Often we close our hearts due to this hurt and pain. And closing our heart closes it not just to our pain, but it also closes it to joy, and wonder as well. We end up fearing pain, and therefore don’t risk loving. Sometimes in avoiding pain, we suffocate our compassion and our awareness of the beauty all around us....sometimes that suffocation turns our sufferring inwards towards ourselves, sometimes the suffocating leaves us  gasping for air, and like a drowing person we take rash actions or flail wildly at all around us against the betrayal of our trust in a loving universe. 

And often we are not even aware that we shut down our capacity for love. But it is there within each one of us, this capacity to love. And sometimes, if we are lucky, we have something that sparks us, that wakes us up, that forces us to open our heart, as the Anais Nin quote in your order of service says “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." and we find a way that shows us despite our suffering,  we can love, in fact maybe because of our sufferring we can appreciate love all the more. 

As the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem say “Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack in everything,  That's how the light gets in.”  And by opening ourselves up and letting that light in, we become comfortable in our skin, We become one with the universe - we see our interdependence with all things and we see the potential for love in all things. In our brokenness we see our loving nature and the need for love.  we see love in  lyeing in the  green grass and while wandering in the desert. We see love in stars at night and in the waves of the oceans.  We see love in the sunrise and the sunset, in the eyes of a baby, and the eyes of the hospice patient. 

We see love as loving our neighbor as ourselves. We see love in all things. especially in ourselves. Our Universalist theology is a theology of love.  Of a loving universe. The concept of a loving universe does not mean that there is no suffering. It means that despite suffering we have the capacity to love. Realizing that we suffer also means we have loved something deeply otherwise our loss would not hurt.  In our suffering we can choose the way of anger, cynicism or despair, or we can choose to realize that we have the capacity to love deeply and to embrace that capacity to love deeply.

It is there for us. We just have to become aware of it, to be open to it all things. When we keep our hearts open, we risk pain, but we also open ourselves up to the wonder of the universe, we open our selves up to the possibilities in life, we open ourselves to see the world in a new way.   Life is short.  We never know what tomorrow will bring. Hurricanes can howl, the earth can quake, people get sick, so remember to live in the present moment and Act in a loving way, with a loving heart and be open to seeing love in all of creation.  May it be so.