Friday, December 26, 2014

Book Review – Gilead

This book had been recommended by a number of Ministers I respect, so I picked up a copy and read it over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  It was one of two fiction books I have read this year.  With reading so much for sermon preparation in mind, I tend to read more theological/religous oriented books.  I can count on both hands the number of fiction books I have read since entering Ministry. (for the record, prior to ministry I was an avid fiction reader, particularly fond of the spy and science fiction genres. I am commited to reading more fiction in my life!!)   So now when I do read fiction, I really want to make sure it is going to be something I will enjoy!! 

Gilead is a pullitzer prize winner by Marilynne Robinson.  Set in a rural Iowa it is a dieing Ministers reflection on his life and his vocation to be shared in later years with his young child.  Although the book flows well it has a few slow patches.  Just like our lives have a few slow patches.  It is a thoughtful book.  I think it would be more appreciated by ministers who might see a bit of themselves, or probably moreso a commonality of feelings about the vocation itself.   I also think it is appealing to people who live in a rural environement.  The protagonist says “And I knew what hope it was. It was just that kind the place was meant to encourage, that a harmless life could be lived here unmolested.”  And yet, we know that no place provides a harmless life. And such a place creates a homogenous environment that is not safe for outsiders.  Still we all seek at least metaphorically or a state of mind that is harmless.  The story told the beauty of doing the small thing just for the sake of doing it and recognizing the beauty in that.  It also touches on the balance of staying in a safe place and going beyond it. How sometimes we have to leave to become who we were meant to be, or to create a new vision for ourselves.  Yet ultimately we have to find a place we can call home.   The book did not sugarcoat ministry by any means.  It showed the challenges, uncertainties and struggles of it.  It also showed the wonder and fulfillment of ministry. After providing care to someone he’d known as a child the protagonist said “Id have gone through seminary and ordination an all the years interveing for that one moment” I think every minister can relate to that. 

If you like action books, this one is not for you.  But if you like to see a slice of life of rural minister it is a balm.  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Eve Homily - What Is A Shepherd To Do?

I try to imagine how it must have been for the shepherds.  Spending most of their days alone away from the rest of society.  Considered even a lower class than peasants.  In this story these improbable characters are asked by angels to be witness of the birth of Jesus.  The angel doesn’t demand they see Jesus, he just tells them of Jesus birth and where Jesus will be in Bethlehem.  The Shepherds then had to choose to decide whether to make that journey. 
Just as we each day have to decide whether we are going to partake in a religious and spiritual journey or practice.  You see Bethlehem is a state a mind.
As in our earlier reading about the shepherds, we can find wonder anywhere, wherever we are.  We don’t have to travel great distances to sandy beaches or mountain retreats. We can find wonder wherever we are in every action we take.
So why shepherds?   Of the four gospels, there are stories of Jesus birth in only two of them and both are quite different.  In Matthew it is 3 wise men, foreigners who are the witness.  In Luke it is the local Shepherds as witness.  In our previous story I found it interesting to think of the shepherds and the wise men meeting up together in Bethlehem. I always had thought of it as either the wise men or the shepherds. But Bethlehem is a state of mind where all people are welcome.  
I think there are two reasons Luke includes the Shepherds.  One, is a practical one, in that the writers wanted to connect the motif of the story of Jesus, the hoped for future king to a past Jewish King, King David, who had himself been a Shepherd. But secondly, and I think more importantly, it is to put an emphasis on Jesus Ministry with the marginalized people in society. Compared to Matthews Gospel, Luke’s Gospel is much more focused on the wealthy individual’s obligation to the poor, the outcasts, and the marginalized.   

Here are just a few examples, again found only in Luke. Ch 3 vs 11 John the Baptizer urges that “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” and in the beatitudes, Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “blessed are you who hunger for righteousness” but in Luke he says, “Blessed are you who are poor” “Blessed are you who are hungry now.”  Also in Luke, At the home of a Pharisee, Jesus advises: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (14: 13). The list goes on and on.
Luke wants to set the image that wonders are available and revealed to everyone, the marginalized as well as the powerful.   As our Unitarian Universalist first principle state we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.   That is the message I think this story is trying to emphasize.  Shepherds matter as much as anyone.  I am left wondering what happened to the Shepherds (or even the wise men for that matter.) They are never heard from again in any of the Biblical stories.  They were clearly changed by their experience.
I thought there is one telling line at the end of the reading.  “The Shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”  This line shows me that we are asked to compare our beliefs with our experiences in the world.  They didn’t just take the angels word for it.  They investigated, they took their religious journey and found their experience to agree with the idea put forth by the angel.  It was at that point they found their authenticity.  We must find what is authentic for each of us, we must each take our journey and find where it leads us, to where we find that wholeness  where experience and belief meet. When that happens. maybe we become angels for others on their journey.
And I wish for all of you what Zechariah father of John the Baptist wished for his son in Luke Ch 1 vs 76
“And you will be called the prophet of the Most High
for you will go to prepare the way,
to give knowledge of salvation to people, through forgiveness,
By tender mercies, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

So may it be for us
To prepare a way for peace on earth, through our actions walking in this world.
With wisdom and forgiveness and mercy
Bringing light to all we encounter with all we do.
May we find wonder, whether it be going in search of it in a far off place
Or staying close to home to be with those in our care.
And may we see everyone who in need who we can help as those in our care.
May we all be shepherds and angels, and may we welcome all shepherds, angels and lambs into our lives. May we stay in that Bethlehem state of mind. In search of wonder. May it be so.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Newsroom – Series Review a 7 out of 10 on the JWO Scale.

I like many probably saw the video below some time ago on Facebook.  Last night I watched the final episode of the 3rd Season and I thought this episode really was well written and really ties up a lot of loose ends. Then I read today it is the series finale and well that makes a lot of sense.  Although the show had some ups and downs, Overall I liked the show.  I liked the witty banty between all the characters. This was a great ensemble cast of performers (Sam Waterson, Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortenson, Dev Patel, Oliva Munn and many more)  I like that it references Don Quixote often. I liked how it showed the transformation of people from the status quo to struggling to become principled people. I liked their  “mission to civilize”  Mostly I liked how it showed how our News has become entertainment.  I notice this more and more everynight when I watch national news.  Yes I do want to be kept up on pop culture in America, but there are other ways to do that than the nightly news.  I want to watch the news for news.  Its why I still read the NY Times every morning.  As Thomas Jefferson said “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government;”  A good show, with good acting, with good writing, and a good message. Worth catching on re-runs if you haven’t seen it.   

In his speech why America is not the greatest country in the world the lead character states:
"It sure used to be… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Liviing with Hope

Although next week I will talk about the plethora of Winter Holidays that abound, this week I thought I would share from our Christian Sources the Holiday of Advent. It is celebrated the four Sundays prior to Christmas.  For Christian traditionalists it is the celebrating the  birth of Jesus, and awaiting with hope for the return of the Messiah. A hoped for better future through divine intervention.  More progressive Christians use this time of year to look within to better understand their relationship with Jesus and to think about what the meaning of Jesus is in their daily lives.  How does this holiday have some meaning for us as Unitarian Universalists. For those of us who fiind meaning in the teachings of Jesus it can be a time set aside to reflect on those teachings.  As well,  I think it is always good for people to stop and think about our relationships.  To stop and think about what we think about our place in the Universe and what future we hope for.  We are often so busy doing, that we don’t stop to remember why we are doing it.
So in this busy time of year especially in this busy time of year I encourage you to stop and take some moments to think about your future.  It is good to be reminded about the values of hope, patience and resiliency. Its good to take time to read from your sacred text, whatever that text may be.  It is a holiday of waiting, waiting for a better future, waiting for change.  Although I think if you asked most children it is about waiting for gifts. It reminds me of the play “Waiting for Godot” where the characters spend their bleak purposeless life waiting for a visitor that never comes. I say better to go and engage the unknown. However it is my hope to lift the holiday to transcend mere gift giving but rather to give people hope. 
I think it is interesting that in the four Christian Gospels the word hope only appears 3 times and two of those times in a negative way.  The word hope appears in the Book of Acts and the writings of the Apostle Paul, after the death of Jesus.  After the fall, after the failed Jewish Revolution, after the death of for some of them their friend and for others their spiritual leader. When hoped for change did not happen that is when hope is needed most. .  The word faith is used often in the scriptures, but hope is different from faith. Faith is belief in the unknown, hope is belief in something that we can experience.   Our Unitarian Universalist Religion inspires us to imagine a world with peace liberty and justice for all. But just waiting is a passive hope.  Hope requires Patience and Perseverance but it requires action as well. Joanna Macy in her book “Active Hope writes
“The word hope has two different meanings.  The first involves hopefulness, where our preferred outcome seems reasonably likely to happen.  If we require this kind of hope before we commit ourselves to an action our response gets blocked in areas where we don’t rate our chances too high. The second meaning is about desire. What we would like to have happen in our world. The future we hope for, the kind of world we long for so much it hurts.  It is the kind of hope that starts our journey. It is what we do with this hope that really makes the difference.  Passive hope is about waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire.  Active hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. “
Unitarian Universalism believes that humanity is an active participant in creation.  That what we do here in this world matters for better and for worse. Things at times can seem challenging. But we don’t have to wait for some cataclysmic event to happen in our world to change the way our world is.  One of our strengths of humanity is the power of our imagination for a better future.  It is not enough only to imagine, but imagining is where it starts. That is the faith I have….that we have ability to change.  The ability to change ourselves, and how we live in the world, and thus by doing so, we can change the world. But it is not easy.  I often say “if it was easy anyone could do it. And anything worth doing requires hard work.” 

Brene Brown author and research professor of social work states
“the new cultural belief that everything should be fun, fast, and easy is inconsistent with hopeful thinking. It also sets us up for hopelessness. When we experience something that is difficult and requires significant time and effort, we are quick to think, This is supposed to be easy; it's not worth the effort, or, This should be easier: it's only hard and slow because I'm not good at it. Hopeful self-talk sounds more like, This is tough, but I can do it.” 

How though in the face of insurmountable obstacles do we have hope.  I want to share with you this short clip from the movie Matrix Revolutions.  For those who are unfamiliar with it, the protagonist Mr. Anderson becomes aware that his entire existence is all in his imagination through a computer program called the matrix.  He frees himself, but the computers are overpowering. It is ironic, because in the plot of the film, the computer program gives the humans hope of freedom as a way of keeping humans engaged. Without hope for something better humans rejected the programming.  As if hope was integral to our way of being. 
And with each generation, the computers would crush the human rebellion, only to allow a new one build up.  But still humanity persisted. 

(Show Matrix Revolutions Clip.)

In case you didn’t hear the last line the character says because I choose to.  In the end working with other computers  he sacrifices himself which causes the bad computer to explode and he saves humanity.  So yes, even though despite the hardship, despite long odds, despite common sense telling us to sell out, or give up because its too hard,  we can choose another way. We can choose.  Yes we often like the status quo.  It gives us comfort.  But comfort never leads to or creates change. 
I read a great analogy of this about the creation of a pearl inside an oyster.  When sand gets into the oyster irritating it, the oyster secretes a substance to defend itself.  That substance is what creates the beautiful pearl.  So yes, I encourage you to get irritated at racial injustice, get frustrated at the lack of peace in the world, to become  exasperated with the lack of action on climate change.  Let that irritation, frustration, exasperation lead us to act and to create a beautiful pearl of a world. Let is lead us to make some different choices if we hope to have a better future for our descendants seven generations from now.  And some of those choices will require sacrifice on our part.  A willingness to risk the comfortable and the convenient, A willingness to risk the status quo, a willingness to enlargen our circle, a willingness to be innovative, and try something new, something different.  That is why we found our way here together.  Let us not stop here. Let us not accept good as good enough.   Brene Brown in the same book went on to say:
“We develop a hopeful mind-set when we understand that some worthy endeavors will be difficult and time consuming and not enjoyable at all.. If we want to cultivate hopefulness, we have to be willing to be flexible and demonstrate perseverance.
Not every goal will look and feel the same. Tolerance for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self are the heart of hope.”
What gives us hope?  Well I have to say It is easier to look back on a life and see the road travelled, to see the accomplishments achieved, to see the lives touched.  To see the hurdles we have overcome, the mountains we have scaled, the races we have run.  We recognize the shortcuts we may have taken, the opportunities lost. It is easier to look back and see the long view and that allows me to take the long view looking forward.  It may not be something that will be in my lifetime.
Just as the builders of York Catherdral, which purportedly took over 250 years, or Stonehenge or the Great Wall of China (who really knows how long), all of these projects lasted over multiple lifetimes.  Each generation did their part and each generation does their part to create a better future even if it doesn’t change or become apparent in their lifetime. But we have to do our part to build that future. It is easier to look back and know that change comes slowly, that love at first sight needs to be constantly worked at, and that it is always worth the short term sacrifice to make the long term gain.  It is not always so easy to see that looking forward. 
Sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning can seem a challenge.  When I think about all the things I have to do just to get ready in the morning.  If I count them all up there are probably 100 things I do before I walk out the door. (list a few things)  But I look at it as one thing.  “Getting ready to leave the house.” I try to remember that when I am starting some new venture.  Planning is important, but it is also important to always focus on what the hoped for outcome is.   For us as a Congregation, we have our mission to guide us.  To create a vibrant welcoming diverse church family which embraces individual searches for meaning and devotes itself to the community good.”  Everything we do as a Congregation should be guided by that.  And there are many different people who have many different ideas about how to get there.  So we will try some things and some will work and some will not, but we will keep trying because we know where we are headed.  And we know one other thing. We are in this together and that Love will guide us.
I saw the movie Interstellar this weekend.  I don’t know about the science underpinning the movie, but it gave me a couple of different perspectives of how our actions affect our future.  So I recommend it.  There was a point in the movie where the characters were faced with a tough decision.  One made a choice with pure utilitarian rationale. The other was guided by love. The character who makes their choice by love says 
“So listen to me when I say love isn't something that we invented. It's observable. Powerful. It has to mean something. Maybe it means something more - something we can't yet understand. Maybe it's some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can't consciously perceive. Love is the one thing that we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can't understand it. “

Think about it.  We love those who may live far away, we still love those who may have passed away, and yes I love my descendants who are not even born yet. Love transcends time and space.  Let us make our choices, with our limited knowledge, not on some utilitarian equation, but rather based on love. With every word we utter, we every step we take, with every action we initiate, let them all be guided in the ethic of love, love for ourselves, love for others and love for the earth itself.  For I believe our lives are the exact opposite of what the computer in the Matrix says.  Our lives do have meaning and purpose. We are fighting for something more than our survival, we are fighting for our freedom, for truth, for justice and mostly for love.  May we have the patience and resiliency to see it through.  May we have hope.  May it be so. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Circle of Life

When I was young, whenever I would ask my grandfather how he was he would say to me, Jay every day above ground is a good day.  He was someone who overcame many challenges in life, travelling to the United States as a child, despite many setbacks, he had five heart attacks in his life, this was before Lipitor,  his first heart attack cost him his business, but he always had this positive attitude thankful for whatever he had.  One day I asked him why he was always so happy, and he scrunched up his face, peered at me for a few seconds and then said “Jay, no one gets out alive” and then he laughed his hearty laugh and gave me a bagel.   
             Now I later found out that was a line from a Doors song by Jim Morrison, which left me wondering, did my grandfather listen to the Doors?  Or possibly did Jim Morrison talk to my grandfather.  Either way, I think that one sentence is the cause of all religious thought.  That we are sentient beings who are self aware of our eventual death.  We live with the knowledge we are going to die. Religions have since time immemorial tried to help humanity deal with this reality.   
Whether it is through Jewish Ethical Laws, or Christian belief in Jesus, or our Universalist heritage of a loving God or Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, religions and religious thought bring people together to help people live a finite existence in an infinite universe.  I want you to focus on the phrase bring people together.  For I believe that in and of itself is the point of religion.  To allow us to reach beyond ourselves, beyond our own egos, beyond our own perceptions and to join with others to explore the meaning and unwinding of our lives.  Our Unitarian Universalists’ principles calls us to live with Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
In a diverse world, in a pluralistic community, our theology is a this world theology, a relational theology that calls us to be compassionate in all our actions in this world.  Every moment of our lives is full of change, from our first breathe to our last.  The picture on the front of the order of service is a copy of calligraphy by Thict Nhat Hanh.  It is a circle with the words breathe and smile.   Thict Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who is the founder of the order of interbeing.  In many of his writings he encourages people to live with mindfulness and he even encourages people to smile as part of their meditation practice. 
The circle is a universal symbol of eternity. The circle is without beginning or end. It is the symbol of the sun, the earth, wholeness, and harmony. If the circle is wholeness what is inside it is life itself.  Thich Nhat Hanh says “During the time I draw the circle, I realize too that this hand of mine contains the hands of my father, mother and ancestors. So my father, mother, ancestors and teachers are doing the circle with me. And since we are doing the circle together, there is no self, no separate self. So drawing a circle, you can get an insight of anatta or no-self.”  No Self is realization of what I would call the interdependence of all existence.   
If only life was as simple as breathe and smile.  Sometimes that is all we require.  To step back and breathe and to see the world the way it is versus how we imagine it to be. To see ourselves the way we are, as opposed to how others or even we imagine ourselves to be. During our mindfulness meditation practice on Tuesdays as I encourage people to focus on their breath, I tell them when you hear other noises such as a car horn, don’t think “oh that car horn is interrupting me, but to just acknowledge it for what it is,oh that is a car horn, and return to the breath. The thoughts in our minds create stories instead of focusing on what something really is.
When we are feeling anxious we tend to hold our breath. 
So just breathe, and try to recognize things for what they are.  Now to smile is an acknowledgement of our inability to control the universe, and to smile is sometimes all we can do with what sometimes appears to be arbitrary weaving of our path in the world.  We can also smile at the simple beauties that we find all around us.  Smiling can actually be healthy for us.  Just the act of smiling, even if we don’t mean it, can bring happiness to us and others around us.  Charles Darwin was one of the first to suggest that the act of smiling can makes us feel good as opposed to being merely the consequence of feeling good. 
Lets try it out, Look at the person next to you and smile and see if the smile is returned. Its nice to see smiling faces.   Surprisingly to me, there has been extensive medical and academic studies on smiling.  Studies have shown that Smiling can help reduce the level of stress-enhancing hormones and increase the level of mood-enhancing hormones in our body. Smiling can lead to longer life spans. So I encourage you to smile.  But we live in a complex world.  In all the chances and changes of life we can often find ourselves struggling and suffering with loss.  When we have grief,  sometimes the encouragement to smile is not enough or might even seem a bit trite.
We come together in community, and within community we learn to walk with others in navigating our grief.  It is not always about solving problems.  Sometimes it is just our presence in someone’s life, a recognition for others that they are not alone that helps them through their struggles.    Each person deals with grief differently.  Grief however is a natural response to loss.  By loss I do not mean just the death of a loved one. That is of course a major loss, but loss can come from any type of transition, Loss of certainty, from changing jobs or relationships, loss of familiarity from moving to a new city, loss of comfort from changing religions.  
              Each of us in our lives has had some sort of unique loss.  Each of us feels and deals with those losses in a very unique way.  I think that is an important point to remember.  How does the song go.  “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, Nobody knows my sorrow”.  Think about yourselves.  No one can understand your unique circumstances. And yet how do we reconcile this uniqueness with the concept of no-self.  It is because we see ourselves as separate from the whole, we do not see ourselves in the circle.   I want you to consider that when thinking of the wounds that others have that need to be healed. 
Let us come into the Circle. Let us spend our time healing our wounds, and walking with each other and lifting each other up as we fall, and helping each other reach to become their best selves.  It was with this in mind that we created the Pastoral Associates Program.  Unitarian Universalism doesn’t offer you an easy religious answer that tells you everything will be allright in the end.  What we do offer is relationship.  A relationship with others to walk with you. To be with you, to listen to you.  To care for you.  It is our commitment to caring that is at the core of our community. 
Often people try to deny and ignore their grief which often that leads to negative emotions boiling over and being displayed in other unhealthy ways.  So I invite you, if you have had a loss of some sort to contact me or Alice or Lucia and let a Pastoral Associate walk with you on your journey.  If there is someone you are worried about, or someone you haven’t seen in a while, let us know.   When I originally imagined this service, I was imagining the Disney movie The Lion King.  At the beginning of the movie all the different animals come together to see the new baby lion that was just born.  That is how I imagine us, all coming together to be a part of the most important aspects of each others lives. From birth to death, with joys and sorrows,  we come together in the circle of life.  Breathe, Smile.  May it be so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Lament for Racial Justice

I have been out of the pulpit the past two weeks, and there have been some deep sorrows in the larger world, and I am sorry I was not here to speak about it.  There have been multiple instances where people of color have been killed by white police officers without repercussion.   I feel a deep sorrow for  Michael Brown and his family who was shot dead in the street in Ferguson Mo.  I have a deep sorrow for the loss of 12 year old Tamar Rice in Cleveland who while playing with a toy gun, was shot by a policeman within two seconds upon that officer’s arrival on the scene.  Clearly a preventable death based on fear. 
Lastly the most blatant, this week authorities in New York, did not press charges in the death of Eric Garner, which was filmed, and from the video clear, that he was attacked by police using an illegal chokehold. Again, certainly a preventable death. The truth is there are many many many more, but these are just the most egregious that make the news.I am not here today to argue the facts of each of these cases, some are complex, some seem more simple to me, and I will talk more about theses issues and the issue of systemic racism in January. 
Today though,  I am here to share a lament with you.
I lament for the lives that were cut short needlessly,
I lament for a government that feels the best way to work with the community is to become a
            police state with military weapons.  
I lament a system that lacks transparency and accountability. For this there is a deep sorrow in
            the loss of our freedoms in light of all these tactics.   
I lament a system that starts with the assumption of fear and guilt upon meeting people of color.  
I lament the system where poor people are in an environment that offers few opportunities.
I lament the system that in light of all of this, continues to gut public education which will allow
            even less opportunity.
I lament the system that sometimes leaves no other recourse but violence.  Martin Luther King wrote “When there is a rock hard intransigence or sophisticated manipulation that mocks the empty handed petitioner, rage replaces reasons”  
Now I grew up in a neighborhood in New York City which police officer’s lived and it was a very racially charged environment.  Most of the officers I knew were good people trying to do a difficult dangerous job as best as they could. When my neighbors house was being robbed in the middle of the day, I was right outside when the robber tried to escape, so we put out a call in the neighborhood, Soon doors in the neighborhood opened and officers came running,  chasing and capturing the intruder.  I remember this clear as day from my childhood.  Parents telling us to get inside, as we continued to chase the robber around the neighborhood through back yards and fences. In fact, the police saved the intruders’ life at the hands of my neighbor who was more than a little pissed off when he caught him.  So I am not here to vilify police officers. There are many many good caring police officers.  But that does not excuse bad policing when it happens. And I can tell you that throughout our country many people of color do not feel safe and secure when they encounter police.
I have a deep sorrow, a sorrow for our country that seems to be waking up to the disparity of power and wealth and opportunity, and instead of seeking justice, many in our country continue to live in fear and impose oppression against that which they fear. Now I know the Quad Cities is not New York, Cleveland, or St. Louis. I think that’s why many of us like it here.  But we are not without our own  faults.  I encourage you to read the profiling report compiled by the Davenport Civil Rights Commission.  We must remember what affects the world affects us. Let us not blind ourselves to world around us.  We as a nation have deep wounds that still needs to be healed,
it is the wound of slavery,
the wound of Jim Crow,
the wound of discrimination,
the wound of racial profiling
the wound of consistent harassment of people of color,
the wound  of the school to prison pipeline,
the wound of poverty,
it is an open wound of ongoing racism that has become systemic in our society, and if we do not heal this wound, if we do not heal each other, that wound will fester and grow, and destroy us all.  We can not hide from this. Let us continue to educate ourselves, let us continually listen to what our brothers and sisters of color have to say about the circumstances of their lives, which trust me, most of us cannot even imagine, And let us be allies to people of color in their struggle for peace liberty and justice. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What I Am Thankful For

As we come upon the holiday season, and it seems too often that it comes on just like big blur of commercials to buy things, we should always take time to remember the actual purpose of the season.  Not just to get some days off of work, and sit back and eat and relax and watch movies and sports.  That is nice don’t get me wrong. I will be sitting on a beach in Florida over Thanksgiving if things go according to plan. And I am grateful for that. But in fact, the formalization of the holiday as a National Holiday makes our commercialization of it somewhat ironic.  It is true George Washington made a proclamation to celebrate Thanksgiving 
"as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”  
Sadly not the safety and happiness of everyone, most certainly not the Slaves.   Over the subsequent years many states enacted laws making it a legal holiday. In some states it was celebrated in October, in others it was celebrated in January. It was one woman, Sarah J. Hale who for 17years advocated obsessively to make it a National Holiday.  
As a side note, Hale is best known for writing the poem “Mary had a little lamb”  Hale said.
“it would be better to have the day so fixed by the expression of public sentiment that no discord would be possible, but, from Maine to Mexico,  from Plymouth Rock to Sunset Sea, the hymn of thanksgiving should be simultaneously raised, as the pledge of friendship in the enjoyment of God’s blessings during the year.“
She was inexhaustible, writing op-eds, editorials in her magazines, speaking to politicians, using every political connection she had to encourage five Presidents,  before her dream became a reality.  So first I want to say, it goes to show what one person with perseverance and persistence can accomplish. Secondly, I wonder what else she could have accomplished with all that energy.  President Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War in 1863 issued the Proclamation making Thanksgiving a National Holiday stating
“rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.  It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, ….care for all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” 

Now this was during the civil war and I imagine Lincoln was trying to find something to bring people together.  In our current context of the holiday I was surprised that by his call for Thanksgiving to be a time of justice,  to care for the widows orphans mourners and sufferers.   This holiday was a call for a healing and a binding the wounded not being stampeded waiting outside WalMart and wrapping of the presents.  That is what we needed then as a country.  We were torn apart.  In 1941Franklin Roosevelt changed it from the last Thursday to the fourth Thursday with the intentional hope that it would help the economy.  Perhaps that is what we needed then in our country, coming out of a long economic depression and entering WWII.   So that was then, this is now.  Let us consciously think about what it is we need as a country.   There are times I feel we are still torn apart as a country.  We have reached a tipping point where the arc of justice is tipping towards justice and the last vestiges of a time of segregation and discrimination and  polarization are pulling as hard as they can to drag us back to a time when power was less distributed and a time when people felt powerless.  The truth is that is what Sarah Hale shows us.  The most committed wins.  Nothing is a given.
On this day when some among you have committed to become members of this Congregation I think it is important to speak of commitment.  (First I say that all who are here today with the weather the way it is, are truly committed!!)  What are we committed to.  In the new member class I ask prospective members as I do all members to be committed to regular attendance, to serve the congregation, to serve the larger community, to develop their religious life, to generosity, and to be in right relationship with other members.  Of course everyone comes to this Congregation with different reasons and in different contexts. I know different people are on different parts of the path of their life journey and their religious journey.  But no matter where we are on our journey, let us not be complacent.  Let us not be complacent in the world at large or in our religious lives.  I think about what I just said, “The most committed wins”  and I think wins what?  Is life a game to be won, a puzzle to be solved, or as Einstein would say,  a mystery to be explored.  Whatever your answer, whatever your path, wherever you are on the path, I encourage you to do everything you do with a sense of  as Lincoln said, that will lead to peace harmony tranquility and Union. 
And as we come upon this Thanksgiving holiday, I ask you to look within yourself and ask yourself  are you doing all you can with sense of Thanksgiving and praise.  That’s not always an easy thing to do.  It is easy to get discouraged in the world today, amidst political attack ads and challenges to our world that at times can seem overwhelming.  In the face of all this, we must act in ways that tilt the scale toward justice. It is easy to succumb to the onslaught of bad news, but we mustn’t forget that there is much good going on in the world as well. So we must be sure to put the good in front of us as well, so that the good can become and remain a part of our being. 
I see the good being lived out in this Congregation all the time. It is why we must replenish our souls, it is why we come back here week after week, it is why our principles call us to build up our religious and spiritual lives. We do this so that we can learn, no, remember our best true selves. And we can do this with the practice of living our lives with a concept of disciplined gratitude in all that we do and making gratitude a part of our very being.  I think that is what this holiday calls us to do.    On Facebook recently I have seen a number of friends participating in a Gratitude Practice. They are asked each day to post what they are grateful for.  I encourage you to try this. 
If you are on facebook, I have set up an event on our Congregational Facebook page for you to join and to post what you are grateful for.  Its easy to do, but I also ask, even if you aren’t on Facebook or choose not to share to do this for yourself.  After the first couple of days of listing easy ones, such as I am alive, or I have food to eat or for my partner who cooks me an apple pie on my birthday.  On those days, especially on those days when you are struggling, struggling with someone, or something, whether it be a relationship or your health, or the heater breaking down, on those days, I ask you to look at the things you are struggling with and see what you can find to be grateful for. 
Now I am not asking you to live in what I would call comparative gratitude.  By this I mean understanding our relative position to others in the world.  I was thinking about this when I watched a recent sixty minutes episode of the Lost Boys of Sudan.  These boys some as young as 7 years old after their villages were destroyed walked from Sudan to Ethiopia where they were expelled from only to walk to Kenya where then some 2,000 made their way to America.  These children came here and hadn’t known what electricity was, what a fork and knife let alone tv was.  And they are jubilant to be here, and now after 12 or 13 years, many are succeeding greatly, others struggling to adapt.  I was moved when one of the boys said he felt they were kept alive to be witness to what had happened in their homeland. So it is easy to look at them and become very grateful for what we have.   But comparative gratefulness tends to only lead us to feelings of guilt as opposed to gratefulness.  It is too easy to shut ourselves off from the world around us and become insular and by so doing we lose our perspective. We must be engaged in the world to maintain gratefulness. And comparative gratefulness can come from looking at ourselves, and seeing how we have changed and even improved.  I see this in our country in the area of race relations.  We have improved since slavery and Jim Crow, but being grateful for such a comparison can lead us to become complacent and lessen our commitment for how far we still have to go. Yes it is better, we have even elected an African American President,  but we are have not gone far enough.  I am not grateful for the state of our race relations when a young person of color can still be gunned down while surrendering to police.  I am grateful that we can have a dialogue about it, I am grateful that we can be witness to it, I am grateful that we will not rest until justice prevails and the pendulum has passed the tipping point.   So how do we live in a constant state of gratefulness? 
For if we should not be grateful in comparison to others, or in comparison to our past, we must be grateful for what we have in the here and now.  University of Houston research professor BrenĂ© Brown said, "I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness -- it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude."  There have actually been scientific studies that show that the more you express thanks, the happier you are.”  Robert A. Emmons, a PhD and professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis studies have shown that Gratitude magnifies positive emotions and can block negative toxic emotions.
His studies also show that people who practice gratitude are more stress resistant and have a higher sense of self worth.  But I want to point out what I think we often confuse when thinking about gratitude.  We often think only about us, about how we feel.  That is being grateful. 
What I also speak to you about today is not just being grateful, but how do we show gratitude. How do we act with gratefulness in the world when sometimes we feel the world does not deserve it.  How do we in the face of our own challenges reach out to help the orphan, the widow, the mourners.  To live with gratefulness in our heart and live our life with gratefulness in our actions is truly to understand as our opening hymn says that  all life is a gift.  For all that is our life, the joy, the sorrow, the work, the resting, let us come together, and build the common good. That is how we show gratitude. Have an intentionally happy and grateful Thanksgiving.  May it be so.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Einstein's Religion

Part I
           Why Einstein?  We often look at the writings of or about or attributed to religious leaders such as Jesus, Buddha,and Moses or more modern day prophets such as Gandhi, King as an example.   But Why Albert Einstein?  Why would we look to Einstein for religious guidance?  Although I grew up within ½ mile of the Albert Einstein medical center in The Bronx,  and he was a sort of Jewish super hero to young Jews in America.  Someone my mother always pointed to if I made a smart aleck comment “So what you think Youre Einstein” But I don’t want to assume everyone knows who he is.  (PPT)  Many are probably familiar with his picture which is used often in popular culture. 
For you math geeks out there, you can see he was born on March 14th or Pie Day which may or may not have been a foretelling. For you non math geeks out there, don’t worry about it.  Einstein was raised in a non traditional Jewish Household. He actually attended Catholic school as a youngster, and at the same time  was trained privately in the customs and culture of Judaism.  While  working as a patent clerk, he came up with his formalized theory of relativity, which to this day is still the foundation of modern physics.  In 1999, leading physicists voted Einstein the "greatest physicist ever", and he was named person of the Century by Time Magazine. 
It makes me think of that ad “he is the most interesting man in the world” but instead– “ he is the most brilliant man in the world”  So why listen to what he has to say about religion. Well first he wrote and spoke often about his religious beliefs. In this country where there has been such a divide between religion and science when the smartest man in the world addresses that issue, we just might learn something. It is a strange phenomenon to me that in the world today society seems to denigrate intelligence, and as most orthodox religious traditions disdain critical thinking,  we as Unitarian Universalists welcome, no not just welcome, we intentionally state that we should “heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and be warned against idolatries of the mind and spirit;”  We have a long history of scientists in our tradition. Michael Servetus who was killed in the 16th Century for writing the book “on the errors of the Trinity” was the person credited with discovering the blood circulatory system.  Rev. Joseph Preistly, one of the founders of Unitarianism in Britain, was a scientist credited with discovering oxygen.  Priestly in the early 19th century said, : “Let us examine everything with the greatest freedom, without any regard to consequences.  Let us sow the seeds of truth” Well I would offer we most definityly should consider the consequences of any action we take.
We still have to take wisdom into our context, but even if what Einstein has to say doesn’t help us, it can add to our search for truth and meaning.  Einstein actually wrote his own Religious Credo statement which I will share an excerpt with you this morning:  
My Credo (written in 1932 approximately a year before he left Germany for the United States which occurred just before Hitler seized power in Germany.)
“Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here, involuntarily and uninvited, for a short stay, without knowing the why and the wherefore. In our daily lives we feel only that humans are here for the sake of others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own. I am often troubled by the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings, and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them.  I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Humans can do what they want, but they cannot will what they will,' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper. I have never coveted affluence and luxury and even despise them a good deal. My passion for social justice has often brought me into conflict with people, as has my aversion to any obligation and dependence I did not regard as absolutely necessary. I have a high regard for the individual and an insuperable distaste for violence and fanaticism. All these motives have made me a passionate pacifist and antimilitarist. I am against any chauvinism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious.  Social equality and economic protection of the individual have always seemed to me the important communal aims of the state. The most beautiful and deepest experience a human can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavor in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is."
And as we humbly try to create the image of the lofty structure of this Congregation as part of the structure of the larger community and part of the structure of the larger Universe itself, we gather with the same wonder and with the same passion for social justice that Einstein did. 
Einstein believed in a very deterministic Universe with causality.  (PPT) And so it is in the cause of a functioning Congregation and  the cause of a Just society, we take our weekly offering.  After the plate has passed you, we invite you to come down to light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your personal life.  Let this sacred time begin.

Part II
Einstein spoke of three stages of religious development.  The first stage he called the primitive state of religion, one that is based on fear that arose due to ignorance of the natural world.  This came from human’s responses to such things as hunger,  illness, and natural disasters, even death,  that were beyond their comprehension.  The second stage of religious development Einstein called  the religion of morality.  It was “the social or moral conception of God,” which arises from the “desire for guidance, love, and support. ” This stage still adhered to an anthropomorphic conception of God. 
The third stage of religion Einstein called ““the cosmic religious feeling,” At this stage he states
“The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses them as a sort of prison, and they want to experience the universe as a single significant whole.” In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.”
Einstein had been taught to play the violin at the age of 5.  Throughout his life he had a fascination with music, often listening to it while he worked. He claimed it led him to breakthroughs in his thinking. As if the music allowed him to tap into the universal mind. He said “nowhere does mysticism find more complete expression than in music.”  I think we know this to be true.  It is why music is a part of most religious traditions.  Because it touches us in a way that words cannot explain.  It brings up within us emotions that logic builds walls around.  It lets us connect the depth of our soul and allows it to be in harmony with the universe. 
In 1930 Einstein had two meetings with the Indian philosopher and artist Rabindranath Tagore, where they discussed among other things, music, the nature of humanity and the universe.  Tagore said “When our universe is in harmony with Humanity, the eternal, we know it as truth, we feel it as beauty.”  Wheras Tagore could not see the Universe or the divine as separate from humanity, Einstein saw truth as independent of humanity.   It is the basic question of if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there does it make a noise. If we are not here to perceive the universe, does it exist? 
And although we may each perceive the universe differently, both Einstein and Tagore agreed that in our uncertainty, we are striving to reconcile our individual perception with some ultimate truth of reality. This to me as well is one of the underlying Questions that all religions ask.  
We don’t think of it this way, but science as well is very much faith based striving to reconcile theories with some ultimate truth of reality. Einstein had a vision of how the universe functioned and then he tried to prove it.  He didn’t just do some calculations that built upon each other and then one day the final equation gave him a revelation.  He had as deep a revelation as did any mystic. 
He then went on to prove it, or try to prove his vision’s authenticity through trial and error.  It was his faith in his vision of how the universe was structured, faith that the universe had a structure and was not just random accidents that drove his creative and scientific endeavors.  Einstein said
“science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. Our moral judgments, our sense of beauty, and religious instincts are “tributary forms in helping the reasoning faculty toward its highest achievements. Science, cannot teach human to be moral and “every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formulae must fail.” 
To show the disjuncture of science and ethics I point to Einstein’s own action in regard to the Atomic Bomb. Einstein was an ardent advocate for social justice and pacifism during his lifetime. And yet, he wrote a letter to President Roosevelt during World War II, encouraging him to develop what would become the atomic bomb.  Although he had very little to do with the creation of the bomb itself, this letter did accelerate the study of the technology that Einstein highlighted.   In November 1954, five months before his death, Einstein said,  "I made one great mistake in my life... when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification - the danger that the Germans would make them."  
There is the ultimate question of ethics. Justification for doing something that we believe is immoral.  How often are we faced with these types of decisions in our lives.  Does the end justify the means.  Or are the means an end in themselves.  Science cannot teach us this.  It is in our actions, in their morality, and if those actions are in harmony with the universe that we can experience this cosmic religion.  Science cannot teach us morality.  This is where religion must come in.  It is why our sources warn us against the idolatries of the mind as well as the spirit.  The idolatry of the mind is the rationalization of doing immoral acts. 
Unitarian Universalism calls us to have a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Even the smartest man in the world, is not always correct, even by his own admission.  And yet he still marched on, feeling connected to the universe, the universal whole of which we are all apart, acting for the betterment of humankind.  It is all any of us can do.  We do not know the ultimate causation of all of our actions.  We can only go forward in faith that with our right actions with right intent, we are coming together to create a world that is in harmony with how it was created to function. It is our faith that the universe is structured for justice to prevail and when it does we feel a  harmony in the universe and when it does not we feel the disharmony in the universe. It is our faith in how the universe is structured that keeps the mission and vision of our religion, our congregation, our lives, alive. (something about Theodore Parker and the arc of the universe bends towards justice, but we need to bend it) We test it constantly with experiments through trial and error. And we keep working at it until we get it right.  May all our actions lead us to the ultimate truth. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wrestling with God (The story of Jacob and Esau)

Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm” (sung)

That was a verse from a favorite Bob Dylan song of mine.  We all can use a little shelter from the storm.  What I love about the song is its looking back on life, and seeing how we change, and how our perception of ourself and our perception of the world has changed.  How we are always forming ourselves.  For some people, things seem to come easy.  Never for me.  I was one who always had to learn things the hard way.  I had to experience things for myself. I was the kind of child that when my mother told me not to touch the hot stove felt compelled to understand why.  In such instances, sometimes, direct experience is not always a virtue. Sometimes trusting others, those wiser than us can help.  I would argue, that even for those who we think it seems easy, it really isn’t.  I have been blessed in my life (even prior to being a minister) to being a trusted advisor to many people about their personal lives that they don’t share with the public at large.   I can assure you, no ones life is ever that easy.
            It is true, some people are more naturally gifted at some things and not others. And some people struggle with some things and not others things.  It is a gift to know what your natural talents are and then a further gift to have them nurtured.  And if we are lucky we can find  an environment that allows those natural talents to come to fruition.   I believe this is why we come together as human beings to form community and particularly religious community.  To create a safe caring environment so that we can learn how to live together as human beings.  To learn how to reach our potential as human beings.  
In a social media post that is making the rounds, Mike Rowe of the TV show Dirty Jobs recently spoke about advising people to not follow their passions.    I don’t agree with his premise, but the one thing he did point out was peoples lack of self awareness   He states “I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent – it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected. How is it that so many people are so blind to their own limitations” 
When our lack of self awareness collides with the reality of what the world says the standard should be, we struggle.  How else do we learn though.  How else do we learn what our abilities are?  Sometimes we have to touch the hot stove. 
It should be our goal to reach our full potential, not in comparison to others, but based on our particular abilities and circumstances.  I think about runners.  They are often comparing themselves against their personal best, or against others in their age range.  It is a documented fact that racing against other vs. alone improves our performance. The truth is often by participating with others, others can help us bring out the best that is within us. 
And we also have to remember, that sometimes our self awareness is in comparison to what is acceptable to society, not necessarily the self awareness of our abilities.  Can you imagine if an unknown Bob Dylan went on American Idol.  With his voice.  I think he would have been immediately rejected.   When our self awareness and the perception of others of us are in conflict, We have to either choose.  Choose to live within our reality and block out the rest of the world, or adapt to live within societal expectations, or struggle to create a new reality, a new life, a new world, with new values that shifts the rest of the world.
In the book and movie Cloud Atlas, the character Somni-451  states “I understand now that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so.We are so often blinded into conforming to expectations that we do not even think to climb higher and higher. We settle for where we are as good enough.  But it is not good enough.  We are accountable to ourselves, we are accountable to each other, and we are accountable to all sentient beings, that they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
There was time in this country that conventional wisdom said it was acceptable to own another human being, and Unitarian Universalists worked to break that boundary.  There was a time in this country that conventional wisdom said women couldn’t vote, but Unitarian Universalists worked to break that boundary.  There was a time not too long ago in this country that conventional wisdom said same gender couples could not marry and Unitarian Universalists worked and continue to work to break that boundary. And that wall is coming down state by state.  We know we can impact the world with our values, because we have already done so. 

Sermon Part II
From Genesis Chapter 25 -  “And Rebekah wife of Isaac conceived and  the children struggled in her womb Two nations are in your womb, Two separate peoples shall issue from your body”  And they struggled.  The two children born in the story are Jacob and Esau with Jacob holding on to Esau’s foot as they were delivered.  It says “Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors, but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp.”   Traditionally in middle east culture the older son in this case Esau would receive the blessing and inheritance.  As their father Isaac neared death, Rebekah convinces Jacob to trick Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing and inheritance. 
After doing so, Jacob fears his older brother’s retaliation and flees, and when the older brother Esau finds out he says to his father “Have you but one blessing?  Bless me too”   Now Feminist theology tells us that it is the woman, the mother Rebekah who truly understands what God’s will is and that is why she does what she does.  But the story of Jacob and Esau is a confusing story and has many subplots that I wont get into today.  The supposed hero in the story uses deception to win the blessing.   Not the type of hero we expect in a sacred text. From a thirty thousand foot level, it was a mythic story to tell their descendants years later why these two tribes were separated.  But I also think it tells us much more. 
As Jacob flees, he has a dream of ladder between earth and heaven and in the Dream God says to Jacob “ Remember, I am with you; I will protet you wherever you go and will bring you back home”  Jacob goes to a relative of Issacs, Laban in another land, and that Laban deceives and cheats Jacob.  Jacob after being away for 20 years yearns to come home and to be released from Laban’s yoke.  He takes what he feels is his, and leaves.  He still fears what his brother will do to him, and hopes to bribe him Esau to gain his good favor. 
The night before Jacob is to meet Esau, Jacob wrestles with God, and after holding his own, God renames him Israel, “for you have struggled with God and human and have prevailed.” The next day, Jacob prostrates himself before Esau, reversing the blessing his father had given him, but Esau has forgiven him and welcomes him home.  Esau rejects Jacobs gifts, indicating he has had good fortune himself over the years.   Such a strange yet poignant story.   Sometimes the fears we have are imagined.    Sometimes we not only have to reconcile and be accountable for our past actions to those we harmed, sometimes we have to reconcile who we want to be with who we are and how we live in the world.
We are always in formation as human beings. We want to improve, we want to reach our potential, as individuals, as a community as a species.   To do so involves struggle.  It sometimes requires us, like Jacob to be willing to lose all we have gained.   So I ask you to consider what are the things you are struggling with?  What are you wrestling with. Its hard to step back in the present moment. But that is what we must do.   Think about how you will feel about it twenty years from now.  Let us learn from each experience we have, from every interaction we have. Sometimes in the midst of chaos and fear, in the midst of societal conventions it is hard to step back and look at things objectively.  But knowing this, we can be intentional.   Being a good human being, especially in the middle of chaos requires practice. 
Just like learning anything, like singing, the more you practice, the better you will get.  For some people it comes more naturally than others.  For others like Jacob, it is struggle and requires us to touch the hot stove before we learn.  But really, we should only have to touch the stove once to learn.  That is the endeavor for which we come together so that we can help bring out the best in each other.  I said earlier that Jacob was the supposed hero.  But in truth I think Esau is a hero of the story as well. 
Esau has changed and grown as a human being and has forgiven his brother.   He is not the vengeful hunter Jacob perceived him to be.  In fact he may never have been. We don’t really know that.  That may have just been the projected fears of Rebekah and Jacob due to their deception. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their own character.”  Deceptions force us far from home.  Only the truth, the truth about not only who we are, but who we want to be, can bring us home. Home is not a physical place, but it is here (point to heart)
Sometimes circumstances in our life tilt us in one direction or another, but we can transcend our circumstances if we can conceive that we can.  We are all in this together.  In the story, Jacob is born holding on to Esau’s foot.  The perception has always been that Jacob was trying to pull Esau down so that he could come out first.  But perhaps that perception is wrong.  Perhaps Esau was trying to pull Jacob up, telling him to hold on, so he wouldn’t be left behind.  The phrase climbing the ladder tends to have a material connotation in our society.  But let us imagine the dream of climbing the ladder brings us a greater understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.
Let us imagine the ladder is like Esaus toe, pulling us up out from our protective womb so that we can grow as human beings. Let us imagine that climbing the ladder leads to creating a heaven on earth for all people.  There is no easy fix, it will be a struggle, and when the rains come, and they will surely come as they always do in the cycles of life, and when we get stuck in the mud as often happens after a rain, remember to take shelter from the storm knowing you are loved, and remember,

If you stumble, we will help you
Even though the road is steep and rugged,
We are climbing higher and higher,
We are climbing on.
May  there be blessings enough for everyone.  
May it be so.