Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Gospel According to Biff

Many years ago, I read the book Lamb, The Gospel according to Biff, who was Jesus childhood friend. I remember literally at the same time laughing out loud and finding deep meaning in the book.  Usually those two don’t always go together so when it happens I pay attention.  Of course the backdrop to the story are the gospels stories of Jesus of Nazereth in the Christian Scriptures.  This book imagines what it was like to grow up as Jesus friend and what happened during those formative years between the ages of 12 when in the gospel of Luke he is talking with the rabbis in the temple and the age of 30 when again in the gospel of Luke it states he starts his ministry. 
Biff is Raised from the dead and locked into a hotel room by the Angel Raziel who has commanded he write a new gospel that the world is waiting for.  The angel is not portrayed in the best of lights. He becomes infatuated with Spiderman and considers asking God if he can become Spiderman.  Raziel sits around watching soap operas and WWF wrestling all day, thinking they are real to the point where Biff complains the angel guards the remote control like it’s the arc of the covenant.   But in truth the angel doesn’t want Biff to be influenced by modern day interpretations of Jesus. I think that is an interesting point.  Even if you are not Christian it is hard not to to be influenced about what people think about Jesus of Nazereth.  Biff however being ever resourceful finds the Gideon Bible in the drawer, and points out inconsistencies but really is constantly wondering why he is not mentioned in the stories.
So first let me say that this imagining of what Jesus was like in his early years and the lost years is not a new phenomenon.  We know that as early as the second century, there is mention of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which tells stories of Jesus doing magical things as a child.  Lamb for the most part seems to focus on the positive ones such as smashing the heads of lizards and then bringing them back to life. In the infancy gospels of Thomas there are stories of bringing clay pigeons to life, but also of Jesus striking other children dead if they crossed him in some way. Some dark stuff. But this book is more humorous than dark.
The infancy gospels show though that even back then, people saw the disparities in the gospels and in good Jewish Midrash tradition imagined what might have been.  
Much of the book Lamb focuses on the Lost Years of Jesus between the age of 12 and 30 and follows the 19th and 20th century imaginings of some academics and mystics that Jesus travelled to India and China.  Lamb, throughout their journey, focuses on the relationship between Biff and his best friend Joshua. (the Hebrew name for jesus).
I must warn you if you decide to get the book it is a bit crude.  Biff has a constant fascination with sex.  He works hard but to no avail trying to convince Joshua to keep adultery out of the list of sins.
Josh at the very least is curious about sex, and required Biff to sleep with prostitutes and then explain how it feels to him.  After explaining sex to Joshua Joshua replies,
 “But that doesn’t seem right. Why would the Lord make sin feel good, then condemn humans for it.
Biff replies: Wouldn’t it be funny if you weren’t the messiah? I mean if you abstained from knowing a woman your whole life, only to find out that you were just a minor prophet?
Or when Biff and Joshua are in India and while Joshua is studying yoga with a Hindu Master,  Biff is studying the Kama Sutra which is an ancient Hindu Text on human sexuality –
In talking about the kama sutra with Josh, he asks  “are you sure it doesn’t bother you talking about this stuff when you’ll never be allowed to do it?  No Josh replys…its interesting.  It doesn’t bother you when I talk about heaven, does it?
It goes on, “Mankind, I suppose is designed to run on to be motivated by temptation. If progress is a virtue, then this is our greatest gift. For what is curiosity if not intellectual temptation. what progress is there without curiosity.”
To me this is a point the book and I believe one of the points the gospels bring front and center.  Being curious is a good trait.  Not accepting tradition on face value, not confusing ritual with truth and meaning, but merely pointing towards it.  Sort of like pointing to the stars but everyone is looking at the finger that is pointing. Jesus in his day, broke with the tradition of his culture. Whether it was the food laws, or healing on the Sabbath, or being with the unclean, the lepers, the tax collectors, the Romans. He looked at his religion in a new way.  We who come together here, have come to look at the world and religion in a new way, to look at Jesus of Nazereth in a new way, not in the ritualistic way of Christianity’s finger, as the only way, but to what the story of his life actually points to. 
And what it points to is the ethic of love. One of the things I also love about this book is that it portrays Mary Magdalene as a strong person who is a leader in Jesus’ Ministry.  On meeting Mary Magdalane as a child Biff speaks of little boy love, “it seems the cleanest pain I’ve known. Love without desire, or conditions, or limits. A pure and radiant glow in the heart that could make me giddy and sad and glorious all at once.  Biff goes on to laments “that Joshua taught us that we should not hate, a lesson that he was never able to master, along with geometry.”
But radical love was the message Jesus gave to us in the gospels, as highlighted in Luke Ch 6.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again, Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Good lessons all.  And I want you to keep that thought of love and giving in your hearts and minds, as we take our offering today. 

Part II
The crux of the story is the journey that Biff and Joshua take to find the three wise men in hope of finding Joshua’s purpose in life. The trip takes them to Afghanistan, China, and then India. It is interesting how the writer weaves the stories to show how each tradition informed Joshua in his future ministry. In Afghanistan he finds Balazaar who taught them the wisdom of Taoism.
“The three jewels of the Tao are compassion, moderation and humility. Compassion leads to courage, moderation leads to generosity and humility leads to leadership.”  It is easy to see how this connects to Jesus Ministry. 
They then set off to China to find Gasper who is a Buddhist Monk.  As they approach the great wall of china Biff of course complains and wonders how long could the wall be, lets go around it.  A month later they find themselves returning to the same gate. . Joshua states
“ A wall is the defense of a country that values inaction. A wall imprisons the people of a country as much as it protects them.  One can’t be free without action. Change comes with action.  There is no such thing as a conservative hero. You have to let tradition fall sometimes. You have to take action, you have to eat bacon.” 
Of course Biff pushes Joshua that as messiah he will need a stronger message than its ok to eat bacon. But it starts with Bacon. It starts small and builds.
So I ask you, what walls have you built up to keep danger out of your life.  Often to avoid emotional pain we build walls to keep others from hurting us, but when we build walls, we also keep out the positive emotions. We are more willing to avoid pain than to experience pleasure.  What action are you committed to make change in your life, to make change in your relationships, and in this Congregation.   Its time to break down some walls and create change and to risk pain, so that we may experience love.

When Joshua and Biff finally find the Monastery they are forced to wait three days in the freezing cold before they are allowed entry.  This is an old Buddhist tradition to ensure the sincerity of the questioner.  However Joshua sees this differently and states
“When Im in charge, if someone knocks, they will be able to come in. Making someone who is seeking comfort stand out in the cold is a crock of rancid yak butter.”
Thus the tradition of radical welcoming became a part of Jesus’ ministry. They spend the next number of years practicing meditation and martial arts to discipline and focus their thoughts. 
“Sitting was what we did. To learn to sit, to be still and hear the music of the universe. Was why we had come halfway around the world, evidently. To let go of ego, not individuality. You drill us every day in the same movements, we practice the same brush strokes over and over, we chant the same mantras, why? So that these actions will become natural, spontaneous, without being diluted by thought.  Compassion is the same way. Love is not something you think about. It is a state in which you dwell” 
Think about what it would mean to dwell in a state of love. To have love in your heart, mind, soul and actions for everyone you meet.  To actually recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person. 
Now Biff is continually lamenting about the cold weather.
“Why couldn’t you just go to the rabbis and learn to be the messiah like everyone else.  Do you remember any snow in the story of Moses? No Did the Lord appear to Moses in the form of a snow bank? I don’t think so. Did Elijah ascend to heaven on a chariot of ice> Nope. Did Daniel come forth unharmed from a blizzard? No Our people are about fire, Joshua, not ice. I don’t remember any snow in all the Torah. “   
So it is an interesting juxtaposition, how do we a people of history, a people of hope for the future stay in the present moment. How do we transcend our past, our conditioning to become who we are meant to be. This is challenge which Biff recognizes,
“It’s hard for me, a Jew to stay in the moment. Without the past where is the dread. And without guilt and dread, who am I?” 
This is how we are conditioned.  Who are you? Who are you without all the baggage of the past.  Who are you, how do you act, how do you want to act right now, in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.  We must break free of our fears. We must forgive ourselves and others of our trespasses. As activist Bryan Stephenson said,   Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done."
And so upon these realizations of living in a state of compassion and love, they head off to India to find what they need to learn from the third wise man, who is Yogi. On their way they experience the death cult of Kali, where the wealthy sacrifice the poor and the people  have accepted their lot in life in hope of being reborn into a higher caste.  Joshua realizes that just as it is not right to condemn anyone due to the caste they were born in, so too was it not right to condemn someone whether they were gentile or jew and thus imagines why Jesus opens his ministry to all.  “To bring God to everyone, asks Biff.   At least after a nap,” responds Joshua.
Their last bit of knowledge is learning from the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita the Hindu sacred texts. “Those who sees in me all things, and all things in me, is never far from me, and I am never far from them” The independent web of existence of which we are all a part of.  That the spark of the divine resides within each of us.  That we just need to find that spark within us and realize there is something eternal in  everyone.  May it be so.




Friday, November 27, 2015

What Am I Thankful For

As we approach the Thanksgiving Holiday we are often asked to reflect on what we are thankful for. I have many things that I am thankful for, first and foremost I am thankful that my grandparents who were refugees from the brutal pogroms in Lithuania in the early 1900s were allowed into this country.  I am constantly reminded of this when I see our government trying to deny any refugees of the Syrian civil war into our country.   This past week legislators from both major political parties essentially voted against allowing any refugees in. 
We have heard recently a lot of angry rhetoric from politicians about registering and monitoring Muslim Americans.
I have to admit much like the reading,  I found myself getting angry.  But I had to catch myself.  Why was I getting angry.  It is one thing to work for and advocate for something, but to see anger rise up in me I knew there was something more.  So I stopped and thought about it and went back to read something Zen teacher Joan Halifax wrote
“There is so much anger being expressed by so many. one of the things I have learned about anger is that it is directly related to feelings of helplessness. This tendency can be based on deep issues related to survival. And this does not justify anger......... Anger is a  corrosive emotion that has negative effects on one's health and the well being of others.”
Now I think I understand why those opposed to the refugees have feelings of helplessness.  Despite our best efforts we do sometimes feel helpless to prevent terrorism. We as a country seem more willing to accept domestic terrorism, often by white Christian men,  much more than we are willing to accept foreign terrorism. I have never seen the same uproar about violence in the name of Christianity.  But never the less terrorism is a real fear and I want to name it and acknowledge that I think it is our sense of helplessness to prevent it that leads many to desire security at the expense of all our other values.  But why did I feel anger?  Why did I feel helpless? 
I was Angry that we as a country seem to never learn the lessons of our history, such as in World War II when we denied entrance into America for German Jews in some cases using the same fear mongering that we hear today. (PPT)  In one case in 1939 almost 1,000 Jews were in our port in Florida on the MS St. Louis and were turned away to be returned to Europe where many ended up dyeing in the Holocaust.  I am angry when I hear people say that the Syrians should stay and fight for their own country.   (PPT). This is a before and after shot of neighborhood in what was once the third largest city in Syria, Homs.  There is no place to stay.  There are only places to die. 
These refugees are willing to take dangerous journeys leaving every possession behind, to be in a place where they know no one, and for the most part cant speak the language.  For someone to do this, it means they have no other options.  And when our elected officials took that vote to turn them away, it seemed to me we as a country had lost our way, and I was forced to face for the umpteenth time that the values that I wish for the people of our country, the values that this religion have instilled within me,  are not actually the values that are always acted upon by the people of our country. 
I can speak of many values such as compassion, and justice among them but the value I want to focus on today is that of welcoming the stranger, a value that is stressed in both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and which are being ignored, this value ingrained in our Country’s culture with such meaning as exemplified in the words of the poem “The New Colossus” which was spoken at unveiling of the Statue of Liberty and now engraved on a plaque there
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The New Colossus. The old colossus refers to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world from ancient Greece. We were the new wonder of the world because we as country were daring a brave new experiment, an experiment that actually welcomed the stranger.  No longer wed to ancient traditions, or ancient ways.  But believing that everyone, everyone, even the wretched refuse were welcome if they yearned to breathe free. That every person has value.  That every person has rights, not just royalty, not just the powerful.  And that experiment worked.
These are the same values that Unitarian Universalism promotes. Not wed to ancient ways but looking at the world in new ways. Not just for the powerful, but as well for those who are marginalized, not just for us, but for others as well who are yearning for religious freedom. We became a great nation, because we welcomed the stranger who yearns to be free. We became a religion because we rejected the ancient ways.  If we get stuck as a nation or as a religion in the way things always were, things will pass us by and we will die.   I think of the business Kodak, who could never adapt to the changing society and the digital age, and their stubborn refusal to adapt led them to bankruptcy.  We must as a nation, as a Religion, and as individuals be willing to change if we are to stay vital.
Unitarian Universalism particularly is built for this, and whether it is around new theological ideas, Abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights movement in the 1960s, Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, BGLQT rights, and now Syrian Refugees, we have been out in front, because we welcome the new, we know we need to be changed by the new, we know we will be renewed by the new. And so I was renewed.  You know the good thing about emotions is that we can learn to be aware of them and how we react to them and how to adapt them. Because the truth is we are not helpless. So we need to keep speaking to our values, and acting on our values.
Lifting people up when they fall to despair, and giving courage to those who are overcome with fear, giving hope to those who fall into hopelessness, and reminding each other week after week after week, that we are not helpless and that each one of us can make a difference. 

Part II  
How do we maintain our values in a constantly changing world with seemingly daily tragedies?  We must constantly bring ourselves back and keep in the present moment our values. Some religious people might call that a vow, we might use the phrase covenant. Or as we say at the beginning of every service, a commitment to asking our values to shape our actions.  I am thankful that I found Unitarian Universalism that asks me to make a commitment.  Unitarian Universalism is not an easy religion that gives us easy answers. But by making a commitment  I have become a better human being, and have learned to look beyond myself and my only my own needs.  
Unitarian Theologian James Luther Adams said: “By your groups you shall be known.”   Let us all be known beyond just ourselves individually. One practice to help us think in this way is to think about what we are thankful for. For when we are thankful we are thanking someone or something else, not ourselves. So although I started the first reflection with this, I of course went off on a tangent. So now let me share with you some of the things I am thankful for in my life.  I have learned over the years to be thankful for many things, small and large.  I am thankful that I wake up each day and (well first I am thankful that I do wake up each day, so just being thankful for life), and when I do wake up, I am thankful I have no idea what the day has in store for me.  I make my lists and my plans, but it never works out quite the way I planned it. And I have learned over the years that it is better not to try to control that but rather to just go with the flow and accept the unexpected.  I say I am thankful for that, because it keeps me awake to wonder, it keeps me awake to the possibilities that still may happen.  We never know where our day will lead us, but we can keep moving forward taking one step in front of another together building the world we dream about. 
So I am thankful, thankful that I have the opportunity to serve this Congregation, this institution. I am thankful for the trust you place in me.  I honor that trust and will do everything within my power to help us achieve the Congregational Vision and Mission.  I am thankful for Unitarian Universalism which gave me the opportunity and the means to explore my spiritual and religious life which has changed my life for the better which led me to finding my purpose in life. I am thankful for all the volunteers who make this Congregational possible. (list various committees and teams)   I am thankful and in awe of the caring acts I see in this congregation as we learn to care for each other, others in the world and the earth itself.  I am thankful for all the teachers I have had in my life.  Some in school, some in the larger world, in fact everyone I have met including each of you have been my teacher.  I truly believe that we learn from each other, and I am thankful that I have such good people as companions for my journey. 
I am thankful for friends who have seen me through the dark nights of my soul and accept me for who I am in all the changes in my life. I am thankful to the family in which I raised as they helped shape me into who I am today. In a year of losses I am particularly thankful for my brother and sister who I know we will always be there for each other.  I am thankful for my wife Jan who knows how to make me laugh, and knows when I need a shove and who gives me the space to explore new horizons even if they are not her horizons.  I am thankful for my children and grandchild who inspire me to be a better person and who brighten my every day.

Thankful, Thankful, Thankful.  It is really very easy to be thankful.  We get to choose this. As a way of choosing thankfulness as way of life, each night before I go to bed, I think of three things I am thankful for.  It is a spiritual practice that has served me well.  Sometimes it is conceptual like appreciating that I have heat in my house, when I know there are others in this city who do not even have a place to live. Sometimes it is very specific like yesterday when my neighbor plowed out my driveway, I was very thankful for that.  The truth is acts of kindness can be contagious. Acts of kindness can be a reminder of the commitments we have made of how we want to act, Acts of kindness can be a call to us of how the world can and should be. Acts of kindness become an armor for the onslaught of negativity we are faced with in our world, Acts of kindness can inspire all of us to be kind. So let us remember to be kind. In words and in deeds, Let us greet the day with thankfulness for what we have. May it be so

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bhagavad Gita

Being a part of the Unitarian Universalist Association our Congregation affirms and promotes  multiples sources of wisdom that inform our living tradition.  The third source is wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life; This year as a way to honor this source, I am exploring the sacred texts of various world religions both in Service and as part of our Adult Enrichment Programming the first two Monday Evenings of each month.  The Bhagavad Gita is a sacred text of Hinduism. It is important to understand first that Hindu is a word that is used to describe a wide variety of religious customs and practices which originated in India.  In fact the word Hindu, is derived from the words Indus River and its original use was geographical. Other cultures and then particularly the British who colonized India used it as a term to describe the various local Indian religious practices which were not Muslim.  Hinduism became more widespread in the United States after Swami Vivekananda 
addressed the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893 and spent two years touring  the United States. 
There are many but the three most popular and well known sacred texts of Hinduism are the Vedas, particularly the Rig Veda, the Upanishads and The Bhagavad Gita.
Yet approximately a half century before Vivekananda came to the United States, the Unitarian Transcendentalists were reading the Bhagavad Gita.
Ralph Waldo Emerson  wrote in 1845
I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”

And Henry David Thoreau wrote
“In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvad-Gita, The reader is nowhere raised into and sustained in a higher, purer or rarer region of thought than in the Bhagavad Gita   and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial;  Beside it even our Shakespeare seems sometimes youthfully green."

The Bhagavad Gita is a relatively short book approximately 200 pages that is part of a longer narrative called the Mahabharata that chronicles a war between two lines within a royal family. One line the Pandavas are portrayed as exemplars of virtue, led by the Prince Arjuna.  The Bhagavad Gita is story of Arjuna who on the eve of a battle that he knows will leave many dead including relatives on both sides questions his own desire to fight.  Chapter 1 ends with
“Arjuna sank down into the chariot and dropped his arrows and bow, his mind heavy with grief.”
The remaining 17 chapters of the book is a discussion between Arjuna and his Chariot Driver Krishna who turns out is God Incarnate.   The topics include the discussion of duty, non attachment to results, the importance of gaining knowledge over ancient rituals, renunciation of sense pleasures, the Self, freedom, Devotion, God, the separation of the transient and permanent in life, the difference between the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness, this just some among other deeply spiritual and religious questions. Questions that can relate to anyone’s life journey, which ultimately tries to answer our most pressing question of how we should we live our lives.
So of course I find it interesting that a book whose backstory is about one’s duty to fight in a war can create such profound meaning. And in truth, the deeper lessons of the book are sometimes contradictory to this this call to duty. It is said Mahatma Gandhi, the 20th Century Indian activist for peaceful resistance against British Colonialism walked around with a copy of the Gita with him. Gandhi wrote
When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see no ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagavad Gita and find a verse to comfort me, and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meaning from it every day” 

The outward battle in the book, can speak to us as a metaphor for inward  battle we each face everyday. The inward battle of our soul for authenticity, the battle of comfort versus conscience, the battle of compassion over fatigue, the battle of ego versus selflessness, the battle of action over inaction the battle of fragmentation versus wholeness.  
For any text to be sacred, we must address it with reverence, and we must find how its words can speak truth to us in our time, in our lives. I found it interesting that in this story God comes in the form of a chariot driver. The driver guides the journey into battle, directs us to that inner battlefield.  So I ask you to consider what is it that drives you, and guides you. Is it ego, success? Fame? Fortune? Selflessness, righteousness? caring? justice? Whatever drives you, that is your God.  Another Hindu Sacred Text, the Katha Upanishad, uses the image of a chariot and charioteer as a metaphor for dealing with our senses.
It states,
The body is the chariot itself,
The discriminating intellect as charioteer,
And the mind as reins.
The senses, say the wise, are the horses;
When one lacks discrimination
And their mind is undisciplined, the senses
Run hither and thither like wild horses.
But they obey the rein like trained horses
When one has discrimination and has made
The mind one-pointed.”

So if you look at these two text’s example of a charioteer, you have God as a discriminating intellect.  Not just intellect, but a discriminating intellect. Sort of the responsible part in our principle of “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. An intellect that allows us to stay focused on where we are heading, and why we are headed there. Whether it be how we act in our personal life, how we act as a Congregation focused on implementing our vision and mission,  or in how we act in the larger world bringing justice, equity and compassion in all our endeavors.   We can never know the ultimate outcome of our actions, so it is that we act, and how we act that matters.
I think of what has happened just in the last few days with the attacks in France. I think about how some can look at any world religious scriptures and see how that can lead them toward actions of violence or peace. I am sure every bomber thought it was their duty to do what they did.  I do not claim to know what the right response is. I am not here even to tell you everything is going to be all right. Particularly in times of tragedy we come together to explore and express our shared values and to hold up the light in our hearts that brings us hope for better future for everyone, and remind ourselves to give thanks for what we have.
Unitarian Universalism has a long history of acting on our values. And we must act, we must fight based on our inner values. We must use a discerning intellect. That is what the Gita tells me.  The depth of my understanding tells me that killing innocent people, in the name of any religion or any country even our own is abhorrent. The Quran itself states “killing just 1 innocent soul is like killing the whole of humanity!”  And if we have the power to save the innocent we are impelled to do so. That is what my values tell me. What are your values? What can we do here in the Quad Cities? We can fight with love and compassion and with caring trying to create the community and the world we hope to see. And it is a fight. If we are silent, If we are inactive then hatred and violence will win. So I implore you to fight for your values. 
One small way we can act is to support the Syrian refugees who are trying to escape oppression. December 5th at the Waterfront Convention Center there is an interfaith effort to pack food for families in refugee camps.  The Gita in Chapter 17 tells us “Charity given to the worthy without any expectations, for the sake of the act itself, this kind of charity is Sattvic (or divine).: And so I ask you now to be divine, as we act to help our community become more compassionate and caring as we take our offering

Part II
I was particularly moved by the phrase in the reading “As unnecessary as a well is to a village on the banks of a river, so unnecessary are all scripture to someone who has seen the truth” This speaks to and connects with our belief that revelation is ongoing and we learn from our direct experiences in the world. Yet on a deeper both literal and metaphorical level, how often do we not appreciate the river, allowing pollution to destroy the very source that gives us life, in a yearning for some material gain or sensual pleasure. How often do we not even see the river that is right in front of us.
How often do we not trust our instinct and as I like to say go around the block to get next door while the thing that needs to be done doesn’t get done.  How often do we spend time and energy creating a back up plan, just in case, or in an attempt to satisfy everyone, instead of being fully committed to what we believe we need to do. Often it is fear of failure that leads us to turn away from the things that feed us in life. I was recently reminded of how we can delude ourselves with fear and deny what we know is true for ourselves at the core of our nature.
Someone who used to work for me and I haven’t spoken to since I left the business world many years ago sent me an email with the Title Lifeboats.  He wanted to thank me for advice I had given him about starting his own business.  And I gave him the advice that someone once gave me.  And this is true for starting a business or really any other endeavor we are going to undertake.  I told him cut away all the lifeboats.  That may seem counter intuitive.  But when we start any endeavor and take action it is inevitable that something will go wrong at some point.  And if there is a life boat, you will jump in it for safety.  If you don’t have a lifeboat, you will be forced to figure out a way to solve the problem.  Now it is possible you will drown. That is the fearful part.  But if you want to build something, whatever it is you want to build, a relationship, a vocation, a beloved community, you have to be fully committed to it to have it become reality. Or as the Gita would say Single minded. 
It is good for our souls to devote ourselves to the things that have meaning for us. It is what makes us whole. But we must look deep within ourselves and see the river flowing within us. We must not allow society to condition us to act in a certain way, a way that is harder and a way that is not natural to who we are as individuals and who we are as human beings. 
Sometimes not taking chances, inaction, not listening to that still small voice may seem safer, but in the long run it also disconnects us from our true nature, and pollutes the source of our very life. And the more we get disconnected from anything, the less we care about it and the more we abuse it. So turn around, and jump in the river, play in the river, drink from the river before it becomes too polluted.  Connect with the river. Connect with the river of life Connect with others and become part of the river of life, living fully into your true self. May it be so.


Monday, November 02, 2015

Ancestry

Ancestry is a tricky thing.  Many people feel loss and grief over the loss of ancestors, Many other people have complicated relationships with their ancestors.  Others have no idea who their biological ancestors are. Yet we cannot deny that without our biological ancestors, we would not be here.  If for nothing else, we should be thankful for that. For some of us there is feeling or need to carry on in some family tradition. For others there is a need to break with family tradition that is dysfunctional.  And despite all of it, we get to choose. Sometimes there are consequences to going outside the communal traditions, and in such cases we are required to find or create a new community.    I originally come from the Jewish Tradition that is rich in religious tradition and ancestry. It is interesting that myself and my two siblings all married people outside the Jewish Tradition. When the oldest of us, my brother first got married, I remember my grandfather tearing his shirt and considered him as dead.  By the time I got married, they were just happy I got married and moved out of the house.  And after the birth of his first great grandchild he reconciled with my brother.  So time and circumstances can change tradition if we have thecourage to risk the consequences.
This reminded me of the movie fiddler on the roof,  which is a great show and movie. It depicts a Jewish Family in Russia in 1905 where the main character Tevye speaks of tradition as a way of finding balance that allows him to know who he is. Throughout the movie his tradition is challenged by his daughters who seek more autonomy than was traditionally allowed, The oldest one not wanting to use a matchmaker and to choose her own spouse, the second daughter not even asking his permission, for marriage and then the youngest one marrying outside his religion.  (PPT)  Even Tevye admits, he has no idea how the traditions got started. And each time he saw the love within his daughters eyes, and he broke with tradition.  Even with his youngest daughter, whom he initially rejects (in the scene showed), he later in the movie when his entire life is being thrown into chaos, he seeks reconcilement with her.  In chaos, it is not traditions that give us balance, it is love. In some cases tradition gives  people control, so it is understandable why Tevye losing control over who his daughters married struggled. And he struggled and he overcame.  
And so should we struggle and overcome the traditions that give us control and if we do we will grow with love. For love is not something that is controlled. Love can be boundless. It can transcend time and space.  It is why we remember those we love. So that we can remember what it feels like to love. So we can connect that love that once was with a love that still can be, and it can be a love that is passed on to others while we are alive.   My family’s tradition is to break traditions.  So it should have been no surprise that I found my way to Unitarian Universalism whose tradition is about breaking tradition, whose tradition is to question the status quo and look within and to learn from experience to find our way in the world instead of accepting wisdom of the ancestors.  To look for answers in more than one book and to understand that even the secular can be sacred if treated with reverence.

But we also seem to be very  willing and very quick to denigrate and abandon the ancestors because their wisdom in no longer our wisdom.  We forget that sometimes they could only be who they could be.  And because they were who they were, in some instances  it allowed us to become who we are.    And so this time of year, in this cycle of seasons, let us learn to not only live in harmony with nature,  but to live in harmony with each other, and to learn to find balance between the wisdom of the past, our wisdom of the present and the acceptance that the wisdom of the future is unknown to us now.  Let us recognize that our ancestors are the foundations that we build our lives on top of.  Let us look at it as a gift that we have received and let us build something meaningful. May it be so. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Giving Hope For The Future

The reference to dotted lines in the earlier reading reminded me of when I was a young child, I loved to play the game connect the dots. There was something satisfying to completing something that is uncompleted.  Often it was easy to see what the outline of the dots created (PPT) (although to be honest when we lived in Florida, my children would not have known what this was) but sometimes they are more like a Rorschach test where only after making the connections does it become apparent what the picture is.  Life is a lot like that.
Trying to connect the dots to figure out how to make things work out. To make things whole,  to complete the vision within our minds.   We sometimes know generally what our hoped for outcome is, but it doesn’t really come to fruition until we connect with others and the world and make it happen. I think of our Social Justice Team’s Restorative Justice project trying to create a mental health court in Scott County. (story of how our Mass Incarceration Social Justice Project got here – education – connecting with the community and finding out their needs) Members of our Congregation connected with Quad Cities Interfaith, multiple congregations, judges, prosecutors, providers of mental health care, and other mental health advocates among others on our path towards trying to make it a reality.  A lot of hard work, but something that we could never do alone. 
I always look for these connections and pay attention to when and where they happen.  I recently felt these sense of connection when I preparing for this service.  Each year the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee sends us these boxes called Guest at your table. (We hope you will utilize them – I always empty my pockets of change every night before dinner as a reminder to be thankful that I have food to eat – or you can just write a check to UUSC or go online at uusc.org to donate)  The boxes come with something called stories of hope.
What I like about these stories of hope is that they focus on something that has already come to fruition.  Stories that give hope to others that what we are working towards is possible. Stories that show in the midst of tragedy, hope is possible, if people of courage step forward.  There are two stories I want to focus on.  The first one is of Catherine Chvany and Alexander Strasser (PPT). This one is particularly touches my heart, and is connected in a small way to this Congregation.  Catherine and Alexander were Jewish children who escaped Nazi Europe during WWII with the help of the Unitarian Service Committee.  
I’ve mentioned it before, one of this Congregation’s  previous ministers, Waitstill Sharp, left his position as a parish minister and he and his wife went to Europe during WWII acting clandestinely to save these and many other children as part  of the work of the Unitarian Service Committee. This is how UUSC was started. Saving children in crisis.  I want you to think about that. How many of us would go today to Syria, let alone the Mexican American Border to help refugees trying to escape certain death in their home countries.   
I was re-connected to this story during my mentoring and tutoring as part of the The Social Justice Teams At Risk Youth program.  It is a program for youth in a lock up facility at the Annie Whittenmeyer Complex.  Many of these youth are very smart and perceptive but often come from an unstable family situations. One of the books assigned to them to read was Sarah’s Key.  It is the story based in 1941 France when French police rounded up 13,000 Jews including 4,000 children as young as the age of 4 to be sent to Auschwitz to die. It told the story of how neighbors turned in neighbors, and how Jewish homes were looted and taken over by their fellow country people once they were sent away.   Also not to be forgotten is the story of a family who takes in the protagonist of the book and shelters her at risk to their own lives. In a letter Sarah writes Zakhor, Al Tichkah – Remember,  Never forget. 
Yet to be honest, this story of the French rounding up their neighbors was one that is not taught in French Schools let alone American Schools. It is easy to forget what we do not know. So we must become informed.  And although we may say well that is Europe we would not do that here. I want to remind you of two things. First, we could have saved many more Jews from the Nazi’s ovens but we refused to take them in. 
And second, it did and does happen here in America.  It came to light recently that certain schoolbooks called Africans who were enslaved workers, not slaves. It is very easy to forget the long history of what we have done to our neighbors. People we identified as others just as many French considered the Jews others. Indigenous People whose land we conquered, African lives stolen into Slavery that propelled wealth to many in this country. Child labor which was common in this country until labor abuses became so widespread that the people connected with each other and worked and sacrificed to create change. 
So just like the French, in our history, right in front of our eyes, people living amongst us, sent away, killed, enslaved.  And we could say well that was a long time ago.  But I will tell you that for the last 30 years, we have been arresting and imprisoning a disproportionately large number of young adults of color for minor non violent offenses.  Just as Jews were forced to live in ghettos, this mass incarceration has led to ghettos where the cycle of poverty are continuing due to the breaking up of the family and economic distress caused by incarceration, and the cutting back of resources and opportunities for poor people of color.
And just like the Jews, when they are arrested for drugs, we loot them by taking away their assets and their homes.  That actually is the law in this country, just as it was the law in 1942 France. Just as slavery was the law, just as segregation and discrimination was the law prior to the 1960s.  Today, we are locking up parents and children, our neighbors, people who have lived in this country for years, we are taking them out of their homes and placing them in detention centers. Merely because the parent was not born in this country. It’s the law. Its legal. Locking up innocent children is legal in this country. 
These people came here just as my grandparents came to America fleeing persecution, hoping for a better life, but then we changed the law to make it illegal and by so doing we are condemning people to prison and death.  We sit here and allow this to happen. Which is why I want to focus on the second story of hope. (PPT) Lilian (the same name as my immigrant grandmother) and her 8 year old son Jose who were trying to escape the violence in Honduras and were arrested and put in a private detention center for ten months.
(quoting from the brochure)
“Ten months of inadequate medical care and malnutrition.
Ten months of abuse and the ever-present threat of solitary confinement in the “cold room.
” Ten months of living with the fear of sexual assault by the guards.
Ten months of treatment so unconscionable it provoked at least one suicide attempt by a
fellow prisoner and drove Lilian and other women to go on a hunger strike.
Ten months of wondering whether she’d lost all hope for her son’s future.”
There was a sense of hopelessness. But UUSC entered the picture and partnered with a non profit legal organization that helps refugees and now Lilian and her son are living with family members in New York. With knowledge, with courage, we can act to help people change the course of their lives and that is what the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee does. They provide active and sustainable help to people in crisis.  And by so doing we create through actions hope to the seemingly hopeless.
And such hope builds upon itself.  For once we and others see it happening, it gives us hope that we can do something to help.  Hope is not some blind optimism where we close our eyes to the world’s problem and wish upon a star. No Hope is a theological premise based on our inner sense of compassion for other human beings, our awareness of our capacity to heal others, and our faith that even knowing our history, we can learn from it and not turn away the next time they come for our neighbors. 
And when we ask who is our neighbor, it is the youth at Whittenmeyer, it is the single parent from south Chicago,  it is the family in Hondurus, it is the Syrian refugees.

They are all our neighbors, we are all one, we just need to connect the dots.  Let us not close our eyes to suffering.  Although the journey may be hard Let us take one more step on the way to creating hope in our lives and in the lives of others. Though our own lives may be troubled, let us connect with and walk one more step in another’s shoes. Though the heart may be fearful, let us take one more step and be harbingers of a new better day for all humanity.   May it be so. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What does it Mean To Be A People of Ancestry?

            History has been an important part of my ancestry. My whole life I was raised to remember the sacrifices that generations upon generations of my family had made so I could be here today with the opportunities I had. I was taught to never forget.  When I was young that seemed like such a large burden and its weight almost crushed me.  As I grew older, I did not use the word burden because of its negative connotation. But I recognized with awe and appreciation the responsibility I have to live my life fully with meaning and in my own way of expressing it.  I think we sometimes feel that in order to honor someone we have to follow in their footsteps or do things exactly like they did it.  Personally and Religiously, I am from a family of tradition breakers. The fact that my family came to America was a break from their own tradition.  My grandfather going to public school vs. religious school was a break from family tradition. My parents retiring early and travelling the country in an RV in their retirement was tradition breaking.  My becoming a Minister was a break in tradition (and sanity in some of their minds).  My life is built on the ancestral foundations of ethical principles, daring explorations (personally, professionally and religiously) and a commitment to justice.  I hope to build upon those foundations.
We honor our ancestors because without them we would not physically be here with the opportunity to do whatever it is that we are called to do. But not all our ancestors are familial.  Sometimes our ancestors are those who help us understand why we are here and what we are called to do. I think of the people who over the years created and sustained Unitarian Universalism, and this Congregation as my ancestors as well.  Without them, all of them, good bad or indifferent, I would not be with you here today.  I also think of as ancestors, all the many wise people across the millenniums whose wisdom and actions have helped inform my life and my values.  When I think of all the events over the history of time that had to happen to lead me to where I am today it is almost unimaginable to fathom.

With the wonder of my existence in mind, perhaps the perspective of burden and responsibility need to change.  Perhaps this history, this ancestry is a gift and blessing that I have received.  Just like flipping on a light switch, thinking of it as a gift lights up my heart and mind and lightens the weight on my shoulders.  What am I going to do with this precious gift of a life that only I could experience.  What are you going to do with your precious gift of life that only you can experience and that led you to read this article? May it be something meaningful.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Enemies by Maxim Gorky

I just finished re-reading this play for the first time after seeing in some off-off Broadway production over 30 years ago. It tells the story of Russia on the brink of revolution in 1906 as capsulated in the tension of a strike by workers at a textile factory(?) owned by the wealthier class.  Although it spoke specifically about class warfare vs. race issues, I think the play still makes some fundamental points that are relative to the tensions in our society  today. 
            What struck me about the play was that its reference to enemies was not so much between the classes (although that is implied) but among the wealthy class.  One of the wealthy class laments how the workers are united and trust each other. She goes on to say “We live like enemies, believing in nothing, bound together by nothing, each for ourselves” This  speaks to me of our ongoing culture of competitiveness and our constant worry and need to maintain our advantage in the world.  This to me is one reason why we come together in religious community. To be bound together (the actual meaning of the word  religion) to determine what we believe about the big questions of life. And so it raises the question for me, what do we really believe in regarding justice? Are we committed to it? My religious journey has led me here. But if we are not bound together in this, and bound together with the communities in need, then in the end it is just a self serving  position to make us feel better about ourselves and more comfortable in our place in power. If we really believe in justice we must be willing to commit and to sacrifice.
 In the play there is a young wealthy liberal Nadya who is revolutionary.  The older wealthy people find her insufferable and na├»ve, but the workers themselves do not bring themselves to trust her either. As she is questioning her place in society, the stoic actress Tattiana says  “If your going to ask yourself questions, you’ll end up a revolutionary.. and founder in that hurricane “ Nadya replies “One must be something, one simply must. One cant live ones life gaping at everything and not understanding anything” Its true, if we question the status quo, we must become revolutionaries. In small and large ways.  Just by becoming Unitarian Universalists, we are questioning the status quo of our religious society.  Why do we stop there?  It also shows the need to support our youth and young adults in their journeys so they will have the courage to find their own way and not left vacillating between boomer morals and the reality they experience in the world that differs with those.
 The play clearly shows the privileged class’ lack of self awareness in addition to their lack of awareness of the workers experiences.  There is the bias that workers are different and have a lack of sophistication. It shows the juxtaposition of the co-managers of the plant, one a hard conservative who believes the workers need to be kept in their place and the liberal who would like to accommodate the workers,  but can never see the workers as partners or equals (even to sit and have tea with). In the end those in power utilized government power to quell the strikers.
            I think the differentiation between conservative and liberal wealthy is intriguing and speaks to human nature. The conservative wife says “I like everybody to be well defined, I like to know what a person’s after. I think people who don’t know exactly what they want are dangerous, not to be trusted” This speaks to the most basic question of how we deal with uncertainty. Are we so willing to maintain  certainty that we are willing to limit ourselves and harm others?  Or are we willing to risk the certain for the possibility of living a meaningful life where our actions match our values.   
            The play also showed that the workers were just as morally ambiguous in utilizing power by sacrificing an innocent worker for the great good and murdering the conservative manager of the plant.. It is a reminder to me that it is not our intentions, but our actions that need to be held up to our values. In the end, we know that Stalin came to power and pitted workers against each other creating fear and distrust amongst each other. Our country as well has also used race as a way to divide the common interests of all poor and working class people.  We must be  wary of those in power separating people via competing oppressions.  We don’t all have to be friends, but we most certainly must not be enemies.  And if we have the courage we will use our power  to shape a more just future.               
            I just received an email from someone thanking me for advice I gave them many years ago when he was thinking of starting his own business. The advice I gave (which I once received from someone) was to cut off all the lifeboats.  For if you run in to trouble,  (and you most certainly will run into trouble at some point.)  you will jump in the lifeboat. But if you have no lifeboats, you will be forced to figure out a way to make it through the trouble. In other words, we must go all in, in whatever endeavor we are pursuing and pursue it with everything we have.   I am glad I picked up this play to read.  It obviously got me thinking!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Let Go Or Be Dragged

The postlude today will be Let it Be by the Beatles.  I have to admit growing up although I liked the Beatles but I really hated this song.  I was sort of the anti-let it be person, I didn’t want to let anything be. I didn’t want to react to the violence that happened in my community with let it be. I didn’t want to react to the hopelessness and despair in the hearts of people with just let it be. I didn’t want to react to what was being given to me as religious truth that I disagreed with and to just let it be.    This was the 1970s and I was as many of you know more of a Bruce Springsteen kind of guy anyway.
In Springsteen’s song Jungleland he wrote what I took to be a little diss of the Beatles in which he stated (sung)
“Outside The streets on fire in a real death waltz
Between what flesh and what’s fantasy
And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all
They just sit around and let it all be.”
This was written at a time of urban decay and when there were diminishing public services, increasing poverty, heightened racial tensions, and the beginnings of the War on Drugs.  Events that all seem to reappearing in our society today.

The streets were on fire.  Literally, during the 1977 World Series, with Howard Cosell announcing the game (PPT) the camera pans to the surrounding neighborhood of Yankee Stadium and it shows buildings burning, and Cosell in his calm nasal voice says “Ladies and Gentlemen, it appears the Bronx is burning.” And when people live in a chaotic environment they want to determine what is real and what is illusion.  We tend to view the world only through the lens of our own experiences.  So it is important for our lives and yes even for the life of the Congregation to be able to step back and look at our experiences and see what is driving our decisions. I didn’t want to just sit back and let it be. I wanted to change the circumstances of my life and I did. Or I should say the circumstances of my life gave me the opportunity to see the world in a different way. And each time that happened I had to let go. To let go of old beliefs, of old biases, and of old ways of being.  And yes there is loss that comes along with that.  Loss is a part of life. In order to grow sometimes we have to lose something.  Sometimes we lose supposed friends when we decide to change how we are going to live our life. Sometimes we lose our jobs when we choose not to be silent about unethical behavior, sometimes we even have to lose our way in order to find our way. Sometimes we don’t know how it is going to turn out.
I wrote about this in my newsletter article this month about when I bungee jumped. The idea seemed good on the way up. But when I had to pull the pin in order to jump, I hesitated. I Knew it would be embarrassing to not go through with it, but I am ok with embarrassment.  It was the unknown of what would happen once I pulled the pin. I imagined the ropes would not work and I would plummet to my death. It was fear that was holding me back. I had to trust that it would work out. And  once I pulled that pin, I had such an exhilarating feeling. A feeling of freedom.
I love the picture of the trapeze artist. (PPT), because unlike the bungee jump which I did myself, the trapeze artist in this picture has to trust their fellow jumper. They know they cant get to the other side without leaving their trapeze and they have to trust that the other person will catch them when they jump. And unlike the bungee jump in which I was strapped with a cord, the trapeze jumper for a short time is in the air, in the void, in the in between of letting go of something certain but limiting and leaping toward something new. Sometimes we have to let go before we find the new thing, and in that in between time we have to have faith that the new trapeze will show up and we will be caught.  That can induce fear and paralysis, but if we have the courage to explore the unknown, that in between time can be a time of wonder and growth and transformation. As French Author and Nobel Literature prize winner Andre Gide (sheed) wrote “One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.”
We are a community of seekers. We explore new understandings and new ways of being as new information becomes available to us. And new information is always available with each new experience we have.  And yet despite being progressive theologically we are very conservative and resistant o organizational change.  Sometimes when you are in community and you are committed to a community, in order to grow we have to let go of longing for how things always were, whether that be how many services we have, or a certain kind of music or a certain way of operating. And by letting go, we can find new ways of being that we never could have realized, and more importantly we allow others to find their way in our community. 
And so the title of the service comes from a zen proverb let go or be dragged. Change is going to happen. It is inevitable. The question is are you going to embrace it, and support it, or are you going be dragged kicking and screaming, and if we are dragged we slow down the inevitable. If we are dragged we slow down and possibly damage the possibility of what could be. If we are dragged, we will drag down others with us and prevent them and us from realizing their true best selves. 
So let go of the trapeze, and live in that land of uncertainty and let us as well be on the other end of the trapeze ready to catch each other, and to make room for each other so everyone can find their way. And so I wondered as I came upon this service, could I let go. Could I let go of my old interpretation of the song Let It Be. And I did. In the lyrics it says “when the broken hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be”  In fact throughout the song there is a constant refrain, “there will be an answer.” I always took it to mean that the answer was let it be. But as I listen to the song today, I hear, there is hope, there will be an answer some day, that when we all come together, (for we are all in some way broken hearted) when we come together through all the differences and darkness and uncertainty, that day we will find our way,  that day we will shine in the darkness, and take that leap of faith on the trapeze and give ourselves the opportunity to let our best future be.  On that day we will let it be.
To let our best future be, we need to think and act strategically with a long term vision.
 One group of people in our organization has exemplified this. Our grounds team have been stewards over the land we sit on and as well worked with other teams in our Congregation to help our Congregation towards fulfilling its mission.  I would like to invite up _________and _______ who will be sharing and showing our appreciation  for those who work on the grounds.

Part II
So for those who do not have children or grandchildren and may not be familiar with the song we just heard, that was Let It Go from the Disney Movie Frozen. I say that because if you lived around children the last two years it was impossible not to have heard this song. The storyline includes of course to no surprise to anyone who has watched Disney movies, the death of the lead characters parents. I find it very curious if not disturbing that this is a common thread throughout many Disney movies. But also like many Disney movies the story has a great message. 
The main character Elsa has special powers and can makes snow and ice.
When she is young and innocent she is free and creative with these powers, but early on she accidently hurts her sister with them and for a long time she thereafter stayed alone in her castle and stopped using them for fear of her inability to control them and possibly hurt someone. Of course as circumstances happen she is forced into the public eye and her fears did lead her to lose control.  So the first message of the movie is not that we should control our power but we should control our fears. When we act with fear, we tend to make poor decisions. As I spoke a couple of weeks ago, fear is a real emotion and we should acknowledge that, and there are things to fear.  But that is different that acting from a place of fear.  By denying our fear we make it manifest itself in negative ways.  By acknowledging it and even welcoming it, we can walk with our fear and not let it paralyze us.
Like most mythic hero journeys the protagonist after denying their call must leave home to find their true nature and their destiny.  When Elsa is outed as someone with this power she ends up leaving and embracing her power and letting go of her previous fears. 
As the song said 
“It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through”
But in truth Elsa has traded one form of isolation for another.  She has embraced her powers but still isolates herself from others for fear of hurting them.  Yet it is her very absence that actually hurts others.  She comes to learn that only through being open with others and with an unselfish love can we thaw an eternal winter and make a break through. 
I think this story is a good metaphor for Congregation Life as well. Because we often each have our own spiritual journey, it is easy to isolate ourselves from others who are on different paths.  But I want to say that just like Elsa, despite each of your awesome and unique powers, when you are absent from our presence that hurts us as a Congregation.  We have started to see what we can do. We are testing our limits, but like Elsa we need to break through the doors that hold us back. For as Elsa also says love is an open door.  Doors are a great metaphor used often in this movie.  The doors to the Castle are closed when she is in hiding, and in the end when she witnesses an unselfish act of love she states the doors will stay open forever.
That is how I feel about our Congregation.  Our doors need to be open to whoever wants to explore the big questions of life and wants to covenant and be a part of our community. We provide many opportunities for people to embrace their individual search for meaning as our mission calls for. But as I said earlier at some point we must come together and be together. 
If we truly believe that our doors are open and we welcome people with loving hearts then we have to be here to love them when they show up. And we actually have to love them when they show up. I do not use that word love lightly.  I know that is not always an easy thing to do. To go beyond yourself, to look beyond one’s own parochial interests, to walk with others on their path even if it is not our own. So I am asking you whenever you can,  to show up, to show up with love in your hearts for everyone who walks in here and to show up with love in your hearts in every interaction that you have. When we let go of the trapeze, let us be here to catch each other. Whatever it is that is holding you back from being your best self, let it go.
“Here we stand,  In the light of day”
lighting a new way for us into a better tomorrow.  Let us let go of our fears and be free to create not destroy, let us let go of ties that hold us back and let us discover our untapped potential and let us let go of the trapeze and greet the unknown with love.
Let it be.



Thursday, October 01, 2015

Invitation

When I think of the word invitation, the first thought that pops into my head revolves around being invited or not being invited to someone’s party.  When I was a child and had birthday parties, I remember my parents told me I could only invite so many friends.  Of course it is always an alienating feeling when we are not invited to something, even if we don’t want to go to it. And that should sensitize us to not wanting others to feel alienated.  But it is important now that we are adults to consciously think about who and what we invite into our lives.
I know this may sound strange, I always remember in stories around vampire there is ongoing motif that one must first invite a vampire into your house before they can come in. Once in, they can come and go. We see this in the classics like Bram Stroker’s Dracula, and more current movie/television shows like Lost Boys or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  In the vampire series True Blood there is the concept that you  can disinvite a vampire from your house.
I think this is interesting, especially in comparing it to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. In each of the Scriptures there is story after story of God inviting the Jewish people into covenant or people inviting Jesus into their homes.  When we tend to look beyond this world, to explain why there is suffering, and why there is such beauty, even when we are intentional in exploring this mystical strain of thought within, it is centered in invitation. 
I am not really sure what the vampire thing has to do with this other than that is what rose up in me when I started thinking about this topic. And I try to pay attention to what rises up in me, and encourage us all to that. To pay attention to what is happening in our minds and in our lives. Now vampires were not as popular when I was young as they are today.  I guess it goes in cycles.  But I remember when I taught youth religious education I would ask the youth why they had such a fascination with vampires and the answer was eternal life. That if they were vampires they would be powerful and could have eternity to figure things out.  So to me that was a call to make our youth feel empowered just as adults are empowered in our religion and it is something that is an important part of our youth religious education program. 
I do not believe that we invite trouble into our lives.  I think of life as a continuum, one in which we are always learning more and more about our experiences.  We tend to put labels on things and place judgements on things. Sometimes we have to based on our circumstances, to protect ourselves and those we care about,  but we should moving along and exploring the continuum and finding what is right for us. I remember when I was a teenager, my best friend and I would often get into trouble.  His parents were certain I was a bad influence on him, and my parents were certain he was a bad influence on me.  In truth we were just exploring our lives in the environment in which we lived, and we were trying to learn about ourselves and trying to grow and sometimes we made mistakes, and sometimes we paid for our mistakes, and sometimes not, but we should always learn from our mistakes and grow.  We should constantly be expanding our experiences and deepening our relationships with everyone and everything around us. 19th Century Unitarian Ralph Waldo Emerson in his Divinity School Address said and this is somewhat adapted
“The soul invites every human to expand to the full circle of the universe, and will have no preferences but those of love. You shall own the world; you shall dare, and live after the infinite Law that is in you, and in company with the infinite Beauty which heaven and earth reflect to you in all lovely forms;  The divine bards are the friends of my virtue, of my intellect of my strength. The time is coming when all humanity will see, that the gift of God to the soul is not a vaunting, overpowering, excluding sanctity, but a sweet, natural goodness, a goodness like thine and mine, and that so invites thine and mine to be and to grow.”
To be and to grow.  There is so much more to know about ourselves and about others.  Yes even ourselves.  To explore why we are like we are?  To explore why we think how we think.  Why we became searchers and finding a community that embraces that search.  And committing ourselves to a pluralistic multicultural vision of the world requires us to learn about others, so that we can find not only find the wholeness within ourselves but the wholeness with ourselves and others. 
I love the vision of an iceberg in how we view the world.  From most of what I could find at least on google, I admit this is a google fact almost 90% of icebergs are underwater and not visible from the surface.  (PPT).  Now think about yourself.  What % of who you are and what you believe is visible to yourself let alone others.  So much is below the surface.  Just as in this picture, norms, leadership styles, concepts of fairness, learning styles, body language, etiquette, all of these and many other social constructs are affected by where we lived, when we lived, with whom we lived with. The one that came to stark awareness for me when I was in seminary was the concept of time.  Now I was always raised with the strict rule that you should always be 20 minutes early to wherever you are going.  But one of my instructors was from a different culture, and in his culture, you waited until the last person showed up before you started no matter how late they were. This caused a lot of friction at first between us until we deepened our relationship and we were able to explain our frustrations with each other.  And how we breached this gap in cultural differences, was to create a covenant with each other.
Covenants are how we agree to be with each other despite our differences.  We as Unitarian Universalists are a covenanted people. Because of our pluralistic theology, because our search for truth, we may have many different ideas of how to be in religious community together. We come from many different cultural and religious backgrounds, and due to that we covenant with each other with love as our foundation.  We invite each other into dialogue, we invite each other into deeper relationship.  And that takes time and commitment to do so.   So I formally invite you do so. 
We had our new member ceremony today and in which we covenanted with each other to be open to each others unique gifts and perspectives.  In order to do that, I invite you and every other member no matter how long you have been here, I invite you into deeper relationship with the Congregation and with each other.  At this time in our Congregation, in addition to our ongoing programs we are starting three new programs to give you the opportunity to go deeper. This Thursday, we will be starting our year long monthly  Soul Matters Connection Circle to discuss this very topic of invitation, you can determine whether you want to discuss the vampire thing more or not…. the following Monday we will be starting our Sacred Texts exploration,  and then on Tuesday the Oct 13th Adult RE and Green Sanctuary programs will be leading a three week class on the Pope’s encyclical on the climate.  
There is much to learn, there is much to do.  But first we should again be reminded of Emerson’s call to be and to grow.  And so I invite you find some silence, some stillness and some space in your life to hear the invitation. The invitation that is calling to you and only you.  In our meditation group on Tuesday Nights, we sit for 20 minutes in silence.  And although we stay focused on our breath, it is natural that during that time things that are within us rise up within us. So invite you now to just take a minute or so of silence right now….and silently ask yourself, in the deep well of your soul, what is calling you.  Don’t judge it, don’t rationalize it, just listen for a moment. So if you are willing close your eyes and take a deep breath (silence)…..Now as we come out of the silence,  I encourage everyone this week to take the time to do some discernment and invite into your consciousness that “still small voice” within that is calling to you.  Listen to it. 
I invite you to be true to yourself, for it is only in being true to yourself that you can be authentic, and thereby be in authentic relationships.  When we connect our inner values and desires with our action in the world, we find authenticity leads to wholeness in our lives.  And when we invite authenticity in one part of our lives, it often translates into the many aspects of our lives.  Such authenticity leads to fulfillment.  So whatever it is that may raise up in your soul, I invite you to explore. Whether it be sorrow or joy. I invite you to touch the centre of your sorrow, for we each experience loss and sorrow in our lives.  Let us not suppress it.  Let us befriend it. Let us explore it.
Let us go deep underwater and understand that sorrow for it will always be a part of us and we need to learn how to live with it.  I invite you to dare greatly to meet your heart’s desire and find joy.  Even with the sorrow in life, we can find joy in every moment if we look for it.  Whether it be in the laugh of a child, the changing of the color of the leaves, the conversation with a old or new friend, or the Mets winning the National League Eastern Division.  Take comfort in every joy large and small.   I invite you to stand in the centre of the fire with me. This is an invitation to create a vibrant welcoming, diverse Congregation.
It is also an invitation to seek out injustice in the world.  It is easy to stick one’s head in the sand and lose ourselves in TV and sports and fiction. There is a time and place for everything in the world including those, but I invite you to participate in the world, not be a mere spectator.  If we are to grow as human beings as a Congregation, and as a society, and have our values lead the way,  it cannot be just for ourselves, it must be for others as well. When I was out at Fall Pride Festival this weekend with our LGBTQIA Social Justice Project, I was remembering a time when people due to their sexual orientation had to stay hidden, and were oppressed and suppressed  and I remember a time when people were left alone to die of AIDS.  And although there is still more work to be done and attitudes to change to create true equality, we now have marriage equality as the law and we have drag shows in LeClaire Park and we have openly Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Ministers in our Association leading Congregations things that were not possible for a long time. 
And it happened because somewhere a long time ago someone had a vision and asked why not. And Just like some today are uncomfortable with the Black Lives Matter Movement, 40 years ago people in our Congregations were just as uncomfortable with the emergence of the LGBTQIA movement.  But strong leadership and a commitment to our values led us to where we are today.  With that in mind I am also proud to be working with our members and newcomers from our racial justice project along with others in the community on creating a mental health court in Iowa as an alternative to prison.  When some people said no it couldn’t be done, we kept asking why not, and we kept at it, until now it seems like a possibility. 
But we cannot rest.  There is more to be done. And I invite you to do what needs to be done. Robert Kennedy said, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” I invite you to think about what are your dreams? For yourself, for the Congregation and for the World, and then I invite you to ask why not? I Invite you to create a clearing and to find where your passion and a great need in the Congregation or the world meet and take yourself there. It maters what you do. May it be so.