Friday, December 09, 2016


Reading - Cure vs. Healing – Fred Recklau
Cure may occur without healing; healing may occur without cure.
Cure alters what is; healing offers what might be.
Cure is an act; healing is a process.
Cure seeks to change reality; healing embraces reality.
Cure takes charge; healing takes time.
Cure avoids grief; healing assumes grief.
Cure speaks; healing listens.

          It is good to be back. For those who might be new here. I have been on a 3 month health sabbatical.  During this time, I received Radiation and Chemotherapy treatment for tongue cancer which also spread to my lymph nodes.  After the treatments, I have spent the last six weeks allowing my body to start healing from the treatments.  I have found that healing is a process, which is why the reading Cure vs. Healing was so meaningful to me. I admit, when I started this process, I was (and to some degree of course still am) focused on the cure part of the equation. And rightfully so, it is not an either or proposition.
I am lucky, in that I have a good prognosis for my illness. Yet still I live with uncertainty. I will not know if the treatments were successful until the end of January. It looks good, but I live with uncertainty, and I have to live with it, I don’t have a choice. How I deal with that uncertainty and the uncertainty of every day in the future when I feel an ache or pain wondering if it may be a reoccurrence. To face this uncertainty means that
Healing embraces reality.
I have to admit the two months I was in treatment were the hardest two months of my life.  I ended up in the hospital three times with a high fever. The pain and discomfort from the treatments were cumulative and at times all I could do was lay up curled in a ball waiting for the pain to pass, or more so waiting for medicines to kick in that would allow me to endure it.  Endure, that is probably the best word to describe the experience. I had to keep in the back of my mind that it might be months even years before I was better. Although I lived in the present moment I tried to remember that in other times, I had endured other pains, and had come out at the end healed.  Healing takes time. Pulling from those memories helped me endure the difficult times. 
And although I didn’t see most of you during this time of healing, you were with me in spirit.  During the treatment I stayed in Iowa City at a residence on the hospital grounds called the Hope Lodge (sort of a Ronald McDonald House for adults). The staff used to joke with me that I won the award every day for most mail received.  The outpouring of cards and good wishes were so overwhelming that it carried me on days I could not carry myself.  There was one card that I received that gave me a great laugh, It said “There’s a Bible Verse that would be perfect right now, too bad you have heathens for friends”. Each card I received had a heartfelt note that made that invisible thread visible to me and reminded me that I was cared for and loved and missed by many. And that feeling was mutual.  What I learned about healing, is that although some of it is silent and internal, it is a reminder that I am held by family and friends and Congregants and that healing can be facilitated by a community. Sometimes with invisible threads, sometimes with the admonition from my brother to keep eating, sometimes with the joke from my son, sometimes with a visit of friends, sometime with the encouragement of others who have walked this path before me, sometimes just with the well timed soft gentle caress from my wife Jan, all of these things and much more helped me through this time
While I am healing from the treatments another lesson I learned was patience.  I had endured the treatments and now I expected to be better. I cant explain to you how hard it is for me to sit and watch daytime television. I watched a lot of Netflix but I yearned to do something productive.  I started taking walks twice a day in my neighborhood.  I started reading spiritual books for as long as I could without losing focus, but sometimes I just had to lay my head down and endure.
Now I know not everyone has a good prognosis though, and in truth as I said, I do not know yet if I am cured.  Yet I know I am healing.  When I was in treatment, as I was enduring, all of life’s big questions come to the forefront.  I have to admit, although I never asked myself the why me question from an existential standpoint, I did look at my lifestyle and ask could I have done something different to prevent this, so as to try to prevent it in the future.  The Committee on Ministry at the Congregation which does my annual review for the past three years each year had the same strong recommendation to improve my ministry. 
The UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee upon granting me final fellowship a number of years ago offered the same recommendation.  That recommendation was to do a better job of self care for myself.  I have always been a type A person going full speed.  I have a vocation I love, so of course I want to spend as much time at it as I can, I care about all the people here and want to make as much time for as many people as I can.
But what I have discerned is that I have to take better care of myself physically and spiritually.  I have to actually take my day off and not go to meetings, I have to not accept every invitation to join every group I am invited to, I have to spend my writing day writing my sermon so I am not up late Saturday night writing.  I have to spend part of every day practicing my spiritual practice so I can be fully present when I am with you.  I am not saying if I had done these things I would not have gotten sick, but to heal myself, I must start doing these things. I want to be clear, no one at the Congregation ever pressured me not to do these things, this is completely on me. This was a hard way to wake me up to this lesson, but it was an important lesson. Healing listens and healing acts on what others are telling me, and listens and act on what my inner voice is telling me my body and spirit need.  In the dark hour of the night, when those deep questions arose, I was more certain than ever that I had made the right decision to go into ministry, that I had made the right decision to come to Iowa, (which by the way has a nearby hospital that is nationally known to specialize in the type of cancer I have) to I made the right decision to accept the call to this Congregation, A loving, caring, supportive Congregation, that held me up when I could not hold myself up. May these invisible threads hold us together always.

Homily Part II
Sometimes it is easier to see what healing is needed for oneself, and in today’s political atmosphere it is harder to see how to heal a country or even our larger community. No matter what side of the political divide you are on, it is clear there is a deep divide.  I know this past election has left many feeling fearful.  Particularly people who belong to racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and as well as my BGLQT siblings.  Remember you are not alone. Remember what I said earlier that healing happens within communities. Make sure you stay connected to your community.  When the fear becomes overwhelming remember to gather with others who love you and will stand with you.  I don’t know what the future holds. The future is always unclear, and if we are not awake the present is unclear.  We live in fear of an uncertain future, but in truth it was always uncertain, we just didn’t accept that. It is better that we live with an uncertain future though than wallow in fear. We must live, not wallow. We must take time to grieve what could have been, and then go on living. We will have to endure some hardship, but we must have faith that the pendulum will swing. We have to be there to push the pendulum forward. 
That is the point though, it is we, not any one person individually. We were not awake to the present because we were not in relationship with so many people who feel isolated. When people feel isolated and fearful, they will join any group that accepts them or any person that speaks to their fear. We often did not speak to others fears, we just condemned them. I found it interesting that I saw so many interviews with people who supported the president elect, who said “he tells it like it is” or “he is plain spoken” and they could look past his indiscretions because at least they believed what he said. I don’t understand it, but that is what I heard. And so I ask, Do we tell it like it is? When people come into our Congregation on Sunday morning, are we even there to greet them, welcome them, hear them, build relationships with them. Do they sense an authenticity about many of us and about our mission. Do we share with them the loving saving message of our religion? I hear that from so many of you. How has this religion saved you. You need to share that with others. We do that by showing up and building relationships.
Especially now in this time of great uncertainty we need to show up for building our community and reaching out to others who are so in need of our community. We do this in all of our communal actions here.
Like our welcome team serving during coffee hour nourishes the people, like our ushers and greeters you are welcoming a long lost family member home, Like the adult and children’s religious education team, the spiritual practices team and source teams who help us build our soul with their programs, like our building and grounds team, art team and sexton who allow us to come together marvel at and have beauty in our lives when we are physically here. Like our pastoral care team that shows up when someone needs a ride somewhere, or a meal or just needs a friendly ear to talk to. Like our social justice programs who show us constantly what it means to bear witness to injustice and work to making our community and the world a more just place.  Even and I say especially the stewardship team (which we are still looking for people), these people build the foundation that allow all these others activities to happen here and for generations to come. All of these actions are healing.  Let us make sure when any person but especially a new person shows up here they see our values at work. My point is, to build the beloved community, we need you, we need you here. This is where relationships are built. In the day to day work of building community.
Just like with my illness, I endure the harshness, and I do a little more each day to make me stronger, and as I am able, I reach out to others. I focus on healing. That is what we must do. We may have to endure some hard times with policies not of our liking. Each day we must do things that make us stronger, each day we must do things to reach out to others and build relationships and each day we must work on healing and building up this fragile community, country and world. Let our values permeate the world. Let us live our values. 
I often quote the Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker who wrote that “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
Clearly the arc is not linear, so it needs us to share our vision of the moral universe and to push the pendulum. And it wont be easy.  I recently saw a post on Facebook from a youth group where the teacher used this quote and explained “that just like in the Civil Rights movements there were set backs, we will have them, but so did Luke Skywalker, and Odysseus, and Katniss Everdeen did,  and you have to go through the hard stuff to create a more perfect union and get to the happy ending.” We need to remember that in other times, we have endured other pains, and had come out at the end healed, maybe not in one’s lifetime, but due to the lifetime of work of committed people. It is through commitment that we build the roots that will give us strength to see through the hard times, that will sustain us when the harsh wind blows, that will give us hope in a time of uncertainty. 
So I invite you to come together to go through the hard stuff, but in the midst of building our roots, let our wings be set free, let us not lose sight of the beauty in the world, and in our lives, and in our community.  Let us look for the beauty in each person and let us let our beauty shine forth. I have seen it in you, I know you have it, it is healing me. I invite you to go out and heal each other and others with the same love you showed me.  May it be so.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Part I
There are times in the history of our civilization when there are great changes.  We think of our advancement as linear, but really it is more fits and starts. I think some of us can see that in our own lives as well, the ebb and flow, the hills and valleys, the asymmetrical changes that happen. Often changes happen during times of crisis. Usually at such times, religion as well undergoes, and perhaps in some ways lead and in other ways adapts to the changes that are occurring.  I believe with the advent of technology we as a society are at the beginning of such time now.  Looking backwards we see the time of the Renaissance coinciding with the Protestant reformation and the printing press. A time when the human consciousness was awakened.  
            Moving even farther back into history we see an amazing time called the Axial Age from approximately 8th to 5th Century BCE.  It was during this time that many great thinkers and new religious thoughts emerged.  In Hinduism, the Upanishads were written as a reaction to the loss of belief in the older Vedanta traditions, In Judaism it is believed this is when the Torah was actually put into writing and was deeply influenced by Zoroastrianism concepts of good and evil.
It was the time of the great Greek Philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. It was the time of Buddha in India. It is amazing that in such a short time span, in different parts of the world, so many unique thinkers and religions emerged.  It was as if  human consciousness was dawning.  And in China at during the axial age, two new streams of thought were being developed, Daoism and Confucianism. 
This was a time when there was tremendous unrest and civil wars in China.  These two religions or philosophies took two very different approaches to the problems of the day.  Confucianism set down specific rules for a society to follow. It is ethics based, focused on justice with the goal of creating harmony within a family, a community and a country.  Daoism takes a different path.  In fact Daoism is translated simply as the Path. Or the Way. Very similar to the Greek word logos used in the Christian Scriptures.  The Way, from a time before time, or as the Upanishads stated wisdom beyond wisdom, or as Paul’s letter to the Philippians “the peace that passes understanding.” As the first verse which I read earlier speaks to the Dao that can be told is not the eternal Dao.  As if I were to point my finger and say look at the beautiful color of the leaves.  The writing is my finger. We are meant to experience what the book is pointing to. Yet to pass on wisdom requires us to write things down. 
And so it was with Daoism.  The Dao De Ching is the sacred text of Daoism.  It is 81 verses that has been translated more than any other book except The Bible. The story goes, the book was written by Lao Tzu.  The translation of the name Lao Tzu is old man or wise man or honored one. Although there is no actual proof of his existence, tradition says he was a Librarian at the imperial court, and at an elderly age he decided to leave China due to ongoing civil war.  It is said when he left the gates of the city, the gateman asked him to write down his philosophy, which became the Dao De Ching.  De means virtue or human goodness. Ching means Classic. So Dao Te Ching means the Classic path to virtue.  
Daoism originated in more of a rural and mountainous region of China and has its roots in the Shamanistic tradition where truth is found in nature and in our nature, not by laws created by humans. It is why for many centuries there was conflict between the Confucians and Daoists, which left Daoism suppressed.  As a Unitarian Universalist Daosim look to nature resonated with me.  It is both a look inward and outward.  It is why the symbol of the ying yang is so prevalent in Daoism. (PPT)

Yin is associated with the feminine, Yang the masculine, Yin the dark, Yang the light, Yin the moon, Yang the sun, Yin the soft, Yang the hard, Yin receptive, Yang the dynamic, Yin the valley, and Yang the mountain.  According to the Dao the goal is to keep the yin and yang in balance. To keep our lives in balance.  To balance  times of action with times of quiet and meditation to balance the masculine and feminine within ourselves, to balance intellect and intuition, to balance the left hemisphere of our brain and our right hemisphere, to balance our spiritual practice with our commitment to social justice.
And when we lose our balance, not only do we go out of balance but the world becomes out of balance.  The Dao asks us to use effortless action in all that we do.  We might use the phrase going with the flow, or the Buddhists might use the phrase living in the present moment.  But effortless action also means being efficient with time and energy, not doing too much or too little.   I read one explanation of using too much energy as trying to make corn grow by pulling on the stalks.  You have to let things take its natural course. 
I think about this when I am writing my sermon.  Often if I get stuck, I stop and take a walk around the block or watch ½ hour television show and then come back to it with a fresh perspective.  I recently read Natalie Goldberg’s book “’writing down the Bones” where she suggest you write for 20 minutes whatever is in your head, never lifting your pen from the paper, even if you are writing “I cant think of what to write” as a way to bring out our thoughts from our unconscious mind, and that if we do not filter ourselves (at least in our writing) we will find our true selves. 
It is the same with intuitive thinking. It is not about being impulsive but rather trusting our deepest intuitive nature. And the more we do this the easier it gets. What may appear as effortlessness to the outside world also doesn’t just happen by magic.  Yes we each have natural inclinations in some areas and not others, but practice is needed to create great effortlessness. I think of Malcom’s Gladwells observation that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something and those that do it will reach excellence compared to those that don’t. 
If you don’t have a natural talent in something, although you can improve with practice and reach your potential,  you will not reach excellence in that given area, but natural talent alone without practice will also leave you short of reaching your potential and excellence. The Dao also asks us to live lives of simplicity not using more then we need and giving away our excess.
As Verse 81 of the Dao De Ching states
“The wise one has no possession. The more she does for others the happier she is. The more she gives to others the wealthier she is.” In the spirt of practicing giving and generosity,  we will now take our morning offering.

Part II
I first encountered the Dao in my twenties in the early part of my spiritual journey. It was quite esoteric then.  I was searching and searching trying to find my place in the world, trying to figure everything out, knowing I was unhappy doing what I was doing, realizing I did not fit neatly into the box that was made for me, The Dao spoke to me. Verse 20 says
“Stop thinking, and end your problems
What is the difference between yes and no
What is the difference between success and failure
Must you value what others value?
Avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous
Other people are excited,
As though they were at a parade
I alone don’t care
I alone am expressionless
Like an infant before it can smile
Other people have what they need
I alone possess nothing
I alone drift about
Like someone without a home
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty
Other people are bright
I alone am dark
Other people are sharp
I alone am dull
Other people have purpose
I alone don’t know
I drift like a wave on the ocean
I blow as aimless as the wind
I am different from ordinary people”

So maybe you can see why I liked this as a young adult.  Being counter cultural, undirected, drifting, I found a text that said, it is ok not to have your whole life planned out for you at this point. I think that is good advice at any age.  It is ok to not accept the norms of society. It is ok to be different. We don’t have to fit into other peoples expectations of us. I don’t have to get caught up in the latest and greatest bandwagon that everyone is joining.  And when it says my mind is empty, it means my mind is open, open to new ideas, open to new ways of thinking, and open to new ways of being.
In some ways the text can be challenging as well. There are some parts of the text that read like a manual for libertarianism.  It rails against rules and government interference with our lives.  It assumes humans given its freedom will rise up to our best selves. We should allow the world and our lives to take their natural course.  When we try to control the events of the world, we face unintended consequences.  
In verse 57 it states
“Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.
The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.
Therefore the wise person says:
I let go of the law, and people become honest.
I let go of economics, and people become prosperous.”

Well we know when this country had prohibition of alcohol, we had a significant increase in crime.  We see the same outcome with the War on Drugs which has devastated our Communities of Color and in addition continues to treat drug use with punishment instead of caring and treatment. I am not sure about this verses laissez faire attitude towards economics.  In our history we have seen society correct itself when we have excess, but commerce often goes to excess.  Daoists seems to idealize the self sufficient farmer. Yet we know 2,500 years removed from its writings, in our global world economy, with large urban centers, this is not likely to come about. But we can and must be more aware of how we create food, how we distribute food and how we care for the earth or the earth will govern us out of existence.
Lastly I will share with verse 74.
“If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren't afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can't achieve.
Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter's place.
When you handle the master carpenter's tools,
chances are that you'll cut your hand.”

Now I took this very literally when I lived in Florida and after a hurricane had blown a tree down in my front yard, my neighbor a very nice guy, asked me if I wanted to borrow his chainsaw. 
Now as I said before we all have natural inclinations, using a chainsaw is not one of mine.  Last week I spoke about the Buddhist concept of impermanence, and it is interesting to see the same line of thought in this verse. The most important thing to let go of in addition to the way things always were is to let go of our fear.  Fear that we will be alone. Fear that we will not be accepted, fear that we will not achieve what we hope to, or worse fear that we will.  This Congregation and humanity itself has such untapped potential, we have within us compassion, learning, justice, welcoming, I know this because I have seen this within you.
With these skills, practiced effortlessly, we can achieve anything, we can bend the arc of the universe, we can allow the world we dream about to come into being.  And so I ask you as you leave here today to think back from whence we came and how far we have come. If the Axial Age some 2,500 years ago was our consciousness dawning, and the Renaissance was our consciousness awakening, what will this next chapter in human evolution with technology lead to?  Will our consciousness be unleashed.  What would that mean for us as individuals and society? What kind of world will we usher in. May we find our best selves

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Encountering Grief

Part I
"At the time of the Buddha there lived a monk named Tissa.  Every morning he walked to the village and accepted whatever food people offered him.  After doing his chores he sat quietly in meditation, and in the evenings he recited prayers and studied.  One day tissa fell sick. His body was covered with open sores and the stench from the infection filled the room. At that time the Buddha happened ot visit the monastery. He heard that Tissa had been abandoned by his fellow monks. Who were repulsed by sight and smell of his sick body. The Buddha and his cousin, cared for Tissa and taught him so when he died soon after he was free in mind and body.  The monks bowed their heads in shame, Tears fell like rain from their eyes, Tissa was our friend, We should have helped him…after all we are monks.  The Buddha didn’t judge them, but reminded them, Monks your father and mother are not here to take care of you. If you do not help one another who will?  Later the Buddha told his followers to help the sick with boundless loving kindness compassion, joy and equanimity." Let us do likewise.

Grief is something everyone experiences.  When I thought about how I encountered grief, I found it came in different waves, and forms throughout my life. Often I think particularly when we are young, we think we are the only ones who experience grief.  Or as we get older we think our pain is unique, and no one can experience what we have experienced.  What I have found over my life is that everyone at some time in their life experiences deep and profound grief.  It is a natural response to loss in our lives.  Each person based on the context and history of their lives reacts differently to different types of grief at different times in their lives, but we all have it.  Victor Frankel, Holocaust Survivor in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” wrote

“Everything can be taken from us but the last of our freedoms, to choose one’s freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s course”

Grief in most cases involves a loss.  Some losses are abstract, such as missing the winning shot of a basketball game or breaking up with the love of your life.   Some grief is tangible, such as when someone we care deeply about is dieing or dies. Grief comes to us because we deeply care about something or someone.  IT is a natural outcome of losing something or someone.  No one I have known has reached full Buddha status and can have total equanimity when they lose something they care about.
I think of the many losses in my life.  Again some are more abstract, such as losing my innocence.  That happened as soon as I entered school and entered the Hobbesian world of the schoolyard. Some grief is short lived, and in some cases imagined. When I was 5 I remember vividly going in for an eye operation and waking up not being able to see, not realizing there were patches on my eyes. It was the thought of not seeing that made me suffer. I sat there awake a long time before I called out to anyone.  I was ten years old when after finishing a stickball game at the schoolyard, my friend and I discovered a junkie who had overdosed.  There was an ignorance and impotence in our actions.  I grieved my inaction in not helping him. At a young age I found grief was more transitory.  Something was there and then it was gone.  I never really had enough context to understand the scope of what it meant to lose something or someone.  This is why history can guide us in regard to grief and our resiliency to it. 
As I grew older, I grew a greater understanding of the context of time and loss, as ideas, things, and people I knew for longer periods of time moved and died, and then of course the realization of my own mortality and the fear that raised in me.  Even death has a sense of time and history. There was a time, when I thought I would die before my life even got started, then there was a time as I aged, that I worried that life would pass me by, and now in the third or maybe fourth act of my life, I don’t fear my death as much as I have in the past as I live my life as I chose to and always try to be my authentic self.
But now as I age, I realize that my own current actions and eventual death could leave others in grief. And so I try to act accordingly to open my heart to those I love holding nothing back. Death is something that always haunts us. Again I think timing matters. I had a friend who died suddenly from an undiscovered heart defect, when I was fifteen.  Here one day gone the next.  My father’s parents particularly my grandfather who was a major influence on me in my youth, died when I was in my teens, but they had moved and had been living in Florida for a number of years. So time and distance loosened those relationships.
The first real grieving for a tangible loss came when my grandmother came to live with us when I was in high school.  After a couple of years, she developed pancreatic cancer, and since my mother was a nurse our home became her hospice before any of us knew what that word meant, but for millennium families had been participating caring for their elderly. Whereas previously, I could walk away or look away from death, in this case I could not turn away and was forced to confront it.  I think distancing ourselves from grief, or trying to stave off death by extending life through mechanics would have diminished the experience for my grandmother and our family caring and loving her.
This once vibrant human being whose selflessness, socialist ideals and resilience in the face of hardship, who had a large impact on my life, I watched decline day by day, and saw her suffering day in and day out.  and as well I saw my mother’s attempts to alleviate her suffering, and I saw how that time impacted my mother. And lastly there was my realization that I was helpless to do anything about it.  When people are far away and die, I imagined to myself there was something I could have done to help, but here in front of me, I first realized, that really all I could offer was my presence. And I know in some way my being there that brought her some joy, and for me that experience deepened my connection to her and her ideals. 
And after my mother passed and her brother, my uncle, also a formative figure in my life, lay dying in the hospital, his adult children no where to be found, I sat vigil with him for four days just being a presence there so he knew he wasn’t alone in his final moments of lucidity. I waited until his children consented to let him go home so he could end his life.  Their grief was so deep they could not let him go, and in their pain, they could not see his deep pain.
That is what grief does to us.  It blinds us to the world around us and blinds us to the pain of others. One way to deal with grief is to realize that we are not alone in grief. We need to join others who might be suffering. By opening our hearts and trying to alleviate the suffering of others we allow space for healing to enter into us.  And we have to accept that what was broken and lost will never be put back together again in quite the same way. 
The Japanese, have a word, Kintsugi. It has a two fold meaning.  It is art form of repairing broken pottery.  But philosophically it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. We move forward step by step, not ignoring the past, but incorporating it into who we are, but we have to keep moving. I am reminded of the lines in Leonard Cohn’s song anthem
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in. 

Part II
They say time heals all wounds.  I like the use of the word heals.  It doesn’t mean we don’t forget a wound, or the pain it caused.  Usually we have a scar that is there to constantly remind us of the wound.  We cannot change the past. But we can move forward, a little bit more wise, and maybe even little bit more compassionate towards others. We can be compassionate because we know how much it hurts and we want to comfort others who are in pain. We can be compassionate toward someone acting out because having felt pain, we can more easily realize that others are experiencing pain, so instead of getting defensive, we have the opportunity to be curious and give them an opportunity to share what is causing their pain.  When we are in grief we imagine many things, many things that may or may not be true about the past and the future.
One of the greatest benefits to me of my meditation practice is the realization that I am not my thoughts.  When I sit quietly, just breathing in and out, thoughts go racing around my head.  Things I have to do, conversations I imagine I might have, conversations I wish I had, then I stop, and remember to focus on my breath, and those thoughts just drift away.
And I realize those thoughts are not who I am but just thoughts.  But if I am not my thoughts then I have to face who I am at the core of my being.  In the realization of impermanence of my thoughts, I realize the impermanence of all things. And in the realization of the impermanence of all things, I learn compassion for myself and for others. When we realize the impermanence of life, we learn to value our life more, and we learn to value our time in this world.  If I value life, I realize I must take care of myself and others. And due to this I realize that compassion and caring requires action That is difficult to do when we are in the middle of grief.
Caring for others requires effort to bring ourselves out. We can walk with others on their journey, but ultimately we have to do the work ourselves. Roshi Joan Halifax recognizes  

“the effort to bring energy and commitment to everything we do.  Effort gives our practice depth, character, strength and resiliency.  Can we hang in there when the situation is hopeless? Can we return again and again to our intention?  Can we be wholehearted in the midst of a heartless world? How do we find wholeheartedness in a heartless world?”

First is the recognition that it is not all heartless. This is story we just tell ourselves. What if everything we were ever taught was wrong.  Maybe our true nature is not a Hobbsian world of brutality and nastiness. Perhaps we have just been conditioned to believe that by a society that benefits from conflict.  Perhaps our true nature, is that of love, compassion and kindness, and that we need to re-condition our minds to remember that. And we recondition it through intentional spiritual practice.
I was moved recently by an interview Krista Tippett did with writer Rebecca Solnit. Solnit looked at hope from a historical perspective as well. Just as grief has a historical context to it, so does hope. When we look back over the course of time, actions taken by people did shift the course of history. We can see examples of people who have overcome grief, perhaps we can see examples when we ourselves have overcome grief. Or changed the world positively due to their grief.  Solnit recognizes that hope is tough. She states

“It’s tougher to be uncertain than certain. It’s tougher to take chances than to be safe. And so hope is often seen as weakness, because it’s vulnerable, but it takes strength to enter into that vulnerability of being open to the possibilities.”

We can see over the course of history how the world has changed. From abolition, to women’s suffrage, to civil rights to marriage equality. And within those larger movements are the stories of many many individuals who struggled, and lost and struggled and overcame, but they continued to struggle. Solnit goes on,

“sometimes we win, and that there are these openings, but an opening is just an opening. You have to go through it and make something happen. And you don’t always win, but if you try, you don’t always lose.”

So let us take heart, and open our hearts, and risk being vulnerable, knowing you are loved by all of us here. Knowing you are loved, that if you fail we will pick you up and travel with you, on a journey to healing your heart and soul. As the Buddha told his followers to help the sick with boundless loving kindness compassion, joy and equanimity, Let us do likewise. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Principles of Non Violence

Part I
        Each year on or about this time of Martin Luther King Jr. birthday I explore a different aspect of his life, death and ministry.  I thought this year I would go back to the beginning of his ministry and I read one of his earlier books, Stride toward freedom about when he first entered Ministry and his experience with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  King who had received his Phd from Boston University had received offers from Churches in NY and Massachusetts and 3 offers to teach at a University.But he accepted the call from Dexter Ave Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama,  which he called a “comparatively small church with a membership of around three hundred people”.  I wonder what the world today would be like if he had chosen Massachusetts or teaching over Montgomery.   I often think about how the choices we make in life sometimes put us in the place we need to be to fulfill the purpose we were meant to fulfill, put us in a place we needed to be at a particular time in our lives to meet the people we needed to meet to learn the things we needed to learn. 
        Martin Luther King was the person who was needed at that time in Montgomery when the opportunity to change our country  came about.  And everything that had happened previously in his life had prepared him for this moment, whether he realized it or not.  In the book King traces the development of his theory of non violence and his decision to strive against the systems of injustice on the streets, for he knew his intellectual pursuits of ministry could not be disconnected from the lives of the  people he ministered to.  In addition to scripture, ancient philosophers, Christian theologians and Gandhi, King was deeply influenced Unitarian Henry David Thoreau,  
In his autobiography King states

“During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau's essay On Civil Disobedience for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times. I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.
No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau's insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral person can patiently adjust to injustice.”

Part II
     When King came to Montgomery he did not know what would unfold. Yet all of his experiences in life up until that point and the intellectual influences I spoke of earlier led King to develop his belief in the use of non violent resistance. In the book, he describes the six principles that guided his actions and I share them with you today.
The First principle
“non violent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. While the non violent resister is passive in the sense t hat they are not physically aggressive toward their opponent their mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade their opponent that they are wrong.
The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. ” 
This speaks to me to having the courage and the fortitude to stay engaged with those we disagree with, to stay the course, though it may be long, though we may be tired, and the way may not always seem clear, and at times we may doubt, but we must stay focused, for those who wish to oppress people, and wish to consume the earth are not letting up.  We need to inspire the imaginations of others and build coalitions of moral and religious people from all walks of life if we are to have a hope for justice. We must sustain ourselves through our community to lift ourselves and others up.
The second principle
“non violent resistance does not seek to to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win their friendship and understanding. Resistance is merely a means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation.”
     This is what we mean by the concept of beloved community. That we will one day all be reconciled.  I know this may seem impossible.  Yet looking back over 50 years to the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott compared to now, we as a society have changed.  We still have a long way to go, but we have changed.  We have seen in the past number of years rapid changes in attitude on LGBTQIA rights and now as law the legalization of marriage equality, and I am heartened when I think of the young adults today who show not only acceptance of difference, but embrace difference.  The fact that the forces of systemic injustice are rising up trying to limit change such as  through voter suppression, is a sign that change is happening and our values of love and diversity are wining. People can change.  We know this. We know we have changed. So if we know we can change, we know others can change as well.  We just have to help them see the way which brings us to Kings third principle which is
“the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil. The tension is between justice and injustice. We are out to defeat injustice and not white person’s who may be unjust” 
     People with power in our country often try to be divisive. We see many people today often acting against their own best interests. If we look back in American History to Bacon’s rebellion in 1676 when 1,000 colonists of all races and classes joined together to stand up to the Governor of Virginia we see that change can come when those oppressed work together toward a common goal.
But after the Bacon rebellion, the forces of power have since set up hierarchies of oppression and pitted group against group setting up competing oppressions to minimize the power of people. We must all join together for all who are oppressed. By joining together with those who share our moral values and acting WE – CAN – HAVE – POWER
The fourth principle is
“non violent resistance is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from opponent without striking back”     
     This is of course the essence of why it is called non violent resistance. 
And certainly it worked at times for Gandhi against the British in pre world war II India, and it certainly worked for King here in American during the civil rights movement.  I am not always sure this method would work with tyrants and dictators. Gandhi’s biographer suggested that Gandhi thought the Jewish people should have sacrificed themselves on the spot instead of being passively taken to concentration camps. And it is true that in some areas such as Denmark there was passive resistance against the Nazis to save Jews. But nine million people died at the hands of the Nazis and many more would have if not for armed intervention of the allies.  
     King calls unearned suffering redemptive saying “Things of fundamental importance to people are not secured by reason alone, but have to purchased with their suffering.”  I could do a whole sermon on that sentence alone.  But suffice it say we do learn through suffering.  Often our heart is opened up due to suffering, but I would like to imagine a world where we can love and gain meaning and secure justice without suffering.  You know, I will say this, It is much easier to reject non violence when you have the overwhelming power.  I think this is part of the resistance of white America to Racial Equality.  We fear giving up our power, because we cannot imagine that there will not be retaliation for all the evil we have perpetrated upon people of color over the history of this country.  It is only through love and forgiveness,  that we can find the breach in this intransigent challenge.  Let us watch a short video of Cornell West speak at last year’s Unitarian Universalist General Assembly.
"A tradition to love no matter what the situation."  
King speaks of this in his fifth principle which states
“non violent resistance avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit.”
King speaks of loving his enemy.  King wrote “it’s a good thing Jesus did not say like your enemies.”      King is speaking of agape love written about in Christian Scriptures.  He describes it as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all people.  It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative.”  How many of us respond that way in all their interactions?  I know I don’t. I try, god knows I try,  but I don’t always succeed.  But I have spent a lifetime learning and continue to learn and I know deep in my heart that responding to hatred with hatred only creates more hatred.  This was as true for the Hatfields and McCoys as it is in the Middle East, even in our Congregation, with people holding  hurts from times gone by.  So let us lay our hatred down, let us let go of all the things that burden us. Loving others doesn’t mean acquiescence. But let us consider what is needed for the greater good as opposed to our own personal good. Jesus in 1rst Corinthians as is often used in weddings says
“Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”  
     Rejoices in the truth. Even though it may hurt, love rejoices in the truth. I think there was an old Roy Orbison song love hurts, Well Truth like love as the song says “leaves wounds and marks on any heart not tough or strong enough to take a lot of pain.”  So we must be strong enough.  Martin Luther King Jr. asks us to face the truth about racism in America, about the pain it has caused so many people of color and even though it is 50 years later, his words still calls to us as our siblings of color are still suffering discrimination and bias.  We must open our eyes and see that the world is not colorblind, or even that the being colorblind is a beneficial thing at this point in history to look towards. 
As Robin DiAngelo, Director of Equity for Senior Services, Seattle tells us  "At one time, being “colorblind” was considered virtuous. It’s 'the result of an education – a training – that many of us have received, especially White Americans'  What we now know — because people of color have told us that it’s so — is that being “colorblind” isn’t helpful, and has even been harmful. However they identify, people of color wish to be seen for who they are, because race is central to their identity in a way that’s often not true for we who are white.”
   We can learn, and we must be intentional about learning.  We must choose to be on the side of justice.  Whenever we face uncertainty, or fear we must choose to have courage, whenever we face fatigue we must choose resiliance, whenever we face doubt, we must choose faith. For Kings  sixth principle is  
“non violent resistance is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice”
 As Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker said as often quoted by King “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”  Let us honor Martin Luther King Jr. not just on his birthday, but every day, putting our values into action, facing the world with courage,  with resilience, with love and choose to work for justice.   May it be so.