Saturday, January 27, 2018

"Old Haunts"

Old Haunts By Jay Wolin
Drove through the old neighborhood today
Stopped by my old haunts
And they are haunted
With memories both good and bad
Memories of growth
Memories of pain
Memories of love
Memories of loss
I must remember
That is all they are
Just memories
That formed who I am
Today
It is good to see old friends
And see where their lives led
And see where my life led me from
And see where our lives are today
For better and worse
So busy going forward
I forget to look back
The past seems more distant
Like a dream I once dreamed
But it was all real
All the friends, foes, guides and interlopers
All the achievements, failures, adventures and missteps
All the wonder, struggle, joy and fear
I can’t put it behind me
I won’t put it behind me
I carry them all with me
Haunted by
What was
What could have been
What still could be.
And all I have is
What is
Today

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mindful Meandering at the Institute

I have been given a chance to see the impermanence of things and that the changing of life is possible. I feel I have seen a blip in the Matrix. I have walked these halls of the Innisbrook resort before. Then it was business and golf. Now it is with ministerial collegiality and learning. As I see the old white golf members with leathery skin sitting around drinking scotch and talking about their golf game and business deals,  I see the direction I was headed in life and the direction I once wanted in life. Now here I sit in this same place, same building but with different people and a different life. A life that might not have been. I have been given a chance to see a different me, one made possible by opening my heart. Everything is the same but me and the people I surround myself with. And that has made all the difference. Who can say what was right? Perhaps I should have just gone on to make a lot of money and donate it to my Congregation?  Who can say which would have helped more. So I let it go. We make our choices and we live with the consequences, both good and bad. In truth I was always terrible at golf and I don’t drink anymore. Now, I listen, learn, love and try to share what wisdom I have found/find in this world with others. It is a new fuller life, one that might not have been if not for Unitarian Universalism.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Come Dream a Dream with Me - Hope

So I want to share with the Biblical story of the Shawshank Redemption. Well my bible anyway.  It was a novella by Stephen King turned into an excellent movie in 1994. And shockingly to me, on the Internet Movie DataBase website (IMDB.com) it is actually ranked as the #1 movie of all time, even over Godfather and Godfather II. Sacrilege if you ask me…It is not even on my top 15 all time movie list. Sorry I had to get that out.  Having said that though, its story is a perfect illustration for my sermon today. First how many have seen the movie? 
Ok well I want to warn those of you who haven’t seen it, there will be some spoilers about it in the sermon. But lets be honest, if you have a television, this movie seems as if it is on television every single night of the week. The movie tells the story of two men in Shawshank prison (Picture of Dufrane and Red) one Andy Dufrane played by Tim Robbins who is wrongly convicted of killing his wife and her lover and Red played by Morgan Freeman who proudly admits, he is the only admittedly guilty man in the prison. Throughout the whole movie there is an ongoing juxtaposition about whether hope is a good thing. In this scene, Andy is just getting out of solitary confinement and explaining how he was able to survive it. (video – Hope can be a dangerous Thing)
First, I want to say I loved how Andy used music that was in his mind We sang earlier come sing a song with me that I might know your mind. Music in particular gets deeply embedded within our souls and our consciousness. There is a reason I have 5 versions of the song Hallelujah and 12 versions of Amazing Grace on my Playlist. Because for whatever reason, they help me remember that place deep within myself that gives me hope, that reminds me deep within myself, who I am, it reminds me deep within myself, that who I am is worthy. I don’t have a great voice, but I love singing. It is one of the things I have always loved about coming to worship is that I can sing full throated and no one ever asks me to be quiet. The only other place I can do that is in the shower. Really come watch when I try singing or dancing for that matter in the grocery store and see what happens. Its not pretty.
So we have to keep the song of our lives singing, in our minds and in hearts, but also hopefully in some ways small and even large in how we live our lives. The prison in this story is also a metaphor for our lives. Saying that reminded me of this scene from Herbie the Love Bug where the sentient car locks the character in the car. (video of Herbie the Love Bug – We are all in prison) Our minds are like a prison as we are often trapped into a mindset that things cant change. That things wont get better. But history does tell us otherwise. But we can also get comfortable with the way things are, sometimes when we are comfortable we forget that others are still struggling and that is a prison for us as well, walling ourselves off from the lives of others. We are in a prison when we are conditioned to believe that there is only one way to do things, only one way to be. We in our country are conditioned into a capitalist consumerist mentality, where we believe that we have to earn more and more money to get the latest and greatest of everything.
Now I am not opposed to new things, or people making money, but when we do it to the detriment of all else in our lives, our health, our happiness, our dreams, our purpose, our compassion for others and and our care for the environment, when we diminish these things  then we lose that music that is in our heart and mind. We accept compromise after compromise and with each compromise another piece of stone in the prison walls of our mind goes up until we become comfortable with it. In the movie Red said, “these walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized.”
This country supports a system that abuses its workers, denies health care to its citizens, systemically discriminates against people of color and pollutes the air and water we depend on.
And all too often, it all seems too big to change, too powerful to overcome. In the movie, the prison system grinds down the men with power and abuse, and the warden use corruption to enrich himself.  Red said, “Hope is a dangerous thing.” Because they didn’t want to be disappointed, believing it was hopeless. Hopelessness is hell, remembering Dante’s inferno and the sign entering hell. “abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Their helplessness prevented them risking anything. They had become conditioned to accept their fate. Just as many Americans have become conditioned to accept injustice. Bulgarian writer Maria Popova recently wrote “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naivete”
So yes hope is dangerous for us, because it requires us to face ourselves. It requires us to understand that we have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to our ancestors who for all their strengths and weaknesses, we would not be here without, we have a responsibility to our descendants.  I think it is natural to want something better for those who will follow us. 
I think we need to relook at what we mean by better though. Not just more money, or a bigger house but better fulfilling  opportunities, more and deeper connections, more and lasting peace, and more and endearing love.  
And that is why hope can also be dangerous to those in power. If people believe they can change things they will gain confidence and take actions that lead to change. When I was younger at one of my first jobs out of college, I used to play racketball with a colleague a few times a week. I would win every time we played. I thought he would stop playing after long streak of this so I let him win once. Ever after that he gained so much confidence just by winning once that he believed it was possible for him to win every game we played and he ended up being more competitive and winning more often. So sometimes just having hope can psychologically improve your chances to succeed. Now you might say, not everybody in the world is going to be nice like Jay and let me win….And yet, In my life I have been fortunate over the years to have been given opportunities to learn and succeed. And that encouraged me and why we should always look for how we can give others opportunities to succeed.
That is one of the great advantages of being part of a congregation. You have opportunities to lead and experiment and grow. Justice doesn’t always come easy and it doesn’t always come immediately. As the Moltman reading said earlier, hope requires  impatience, it requires unrest, it to be unsatisfied with the way things are. As Frederick Douglas said in An address on West India Emancipation 
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are (people) who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”
And along those lines in this movie comes Andy Dufrane who demanded that he be treated humanely, who worked within the corrupt system to change the prisoners lives for the better, to remind them of the beauty that is in life and over a period of 20 years  (PPT) using a rock hammer he slowly day by day, chipped a hole in the wall of his cell, escaped the prison, exposed the corruption, and found his way to a peaceful existence on the beach.
Two points about this. First, prior to his incarceration, he was a banker, He used those skills to survive in the prison, or perhaps to draw the metaphor even further, like matrix further, perhaps prison was the metaphor for his previous life. After his escape, he changed his existence.
He realized what was important in his life. He rebuilt his life based on his values and serving others, not oppressing others, living in harmony with nature, not destroying it, offering his friend a vision of transformation and an opportunity. In his own transformation and in transforming injustice,  he found redemption and he found inner peace.
The second important point in this escape narrative is that he knew he could not change his circumstances overnight. He took the long view. And each day he did something that led to his eventual freedom. He worked at it every day because he had hope that one day he would have the opportunity. And that is something each one of us can do. Every day. Whether it is taking five minutes to meditate, or to write a letter to a public servant or letter to the editor, or visit with a ailing member, there is something each of us can do every day to make our world and this world better.
In the movie the prisoners were so accustomed to their circumstances that they were afraid to leave the prison even when allowed and live in world where they didn’t understand the rules. And that is an important thing to understand. If you are going to change the outcome you have to understand the rules of the game and then you have to sometimes change the rules. Whether its first changing hearts and minds, or changing bylaws, or changing legislation, or changing presidents. You have to take action. You cant just wish it away. Facebook posts are important to spread information and for some that is all you can do, but like the person who never thought he could beat me at handball, don’t assume you cant do more.
Continue to work day after day to look for ways to challenge the status quo. The future is unknown to us. That is the point of hope. We can help make the future, we can with our actions, with our perseverance, and yes it will require some sacrifice, if we have hope, it requires us to believe that there will come a time when things are better. It may not be in our time, but hope requires of us a belief that somehow what we do now matters. So we have to do something.  And you can never know how it will play out in the long run. That is where faith comes in. If you look back in history over the span of any 100 year period, you could never have imagined what would have happened. And if you look back, you can see how a group of committed people became harbingers of change.
Throughout the movie, Andy’s hope infected the others.  Who knows what events today will shape and influence or inspire what someone sees and hears in the future. Certainly I have been inspired by others acts of courage and sacrifice, and clearly by this movie. So let us move forward knowing our future is uncertain, and let us dream about the future we dare to create and then let us dare to create it. Andy’s actions and escape from prison gave hope to others. He left a note for Red which Red found after his release from prison which said.  “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” So let us do good and may  our actions be our legacy that shall live on in eternity that 100 years from now people will look back on and recognize us as seeds of change.

Red upon his release from prison, after a short while of doing make work….finally decides that he will find his friend, that he will seek real freedom. Not just the prison of four walls, whether that be behind bars or in his small apartment with his small ideas of what still could be. And quoting Bob Dylan he says You either get busy living or you get busy dying. I encourage you to live, to sing, to dance, to dream. May it be so.