This prayer was given at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, NY on 9/21/14. Blessings to the many protestors in NYC today!
Spirit of Change, God of Many Names, Mother of Love,
As world leaders come together once more this week in NYC,
to discuss the future of our planet in light of the growing climate crisis,
we ask for them to be blessed with insight,
thinking of new ways to affect change in a world that needs it so desperately;
to be blessed with perseverance,
to navigate nations gridlocked by ignorance and greed,
and to be blessed with hope,
not to give up before the enormity of it all.
For humanity has faced countless challenges over the generations,
and we have the capacity to to face this as well.
May our people learn to value conservation
more than we value convenience;
to value truth over ease;
and compassion for a world where we are not the only inhabitants.
We are grateful for the many marchers in NYC this week,
bringing awareness to another critical moment in human history.
We offer blessings to each,
whether they have traveled on a train from Long Island,
or a bus from Portland.
May the spirit of renewal and consciousness you gift our world with this hour,
be in turn,
a blessing to us all.
We pause this hour, before the turning of the season,
from Summer days filled with warmth and shine,
to Autumn hours of crispness and cool.
May the turning of the wheel of the year be for
knowing that our lives move ever onward.
Joy that had passed will return,
and sorrow that seems like it never will end,
will some day fade away.
May our hearts be open
to the cycles of love and loss,
and know the grace of peace,
in the turning.
This updated sermon was preached at the UU Fellowship in Huntington on 9/14/14 and explores the intersection of violence and gender. It reflects on cases of Domestic Violence (Rice and NFL), sexual assault and rape (Columbia University and Steubenville)
“When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing; I wish I was home; I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing.” These words open up the song Home from the musical The Wiz. It’s a powerful song from a woman who has come far in her own story. In this version of the rewrite of the classic, “Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy is extremely introverted, she has, as Aunt Em teases her, “never been south of 125th street”, and refuses to move out and on with her life.
“When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing.” It’s a myth of family, of home, of our roots, that love – and all these things – are neatly intertwined. It’s a myth that’s sometime’s true, like in the case of Dorothy, and sometimes hurtful. But the heart of the message is that there’s a point in our lives where we do need to move on – as introverted or as closed-off as we might be – and leave our homes – or leave our families – for something new. Sometimes we choose to do this, and sometime this chooses us.
There are those moments in life where we look around and see all the crazy, madness that seems to surround us. The Wiz, or the Wizard of Oz, hold mean witches and flying monkeys to portray this. In the real world we leave home and have to face real humans with real hate in their speech, or their actions, or their lack of actions. We craft the fantastical to help us understand, or to accept, or to distance ourselves from the very normal, the very real.
I have in mind this morning, the flying monkeys of this age, the fields of poppies that put us to sleep – this week, this month, this year – seem to me tied to our internalized and public sense of shame. The young Dorothy’s of this generation travel down roads, seemingly alone at first, where through no fault of their own they become targets of violence and denigration. We all know so many cases of this. Each is a more recent version of another, with other lives affected.
I am reminded of a Columbia University student, named Emma. “On the first day of her sophomore year at Columbia University, Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm room. Despite two other allegations of rape against the same attacker, Columbia University has dismissed all three cases. Horrified that her attacker is still a student at Columbia University, Emma is using performance art and her senior thesis [to send a message.] Two years after the alleged assault, [Emma], a visual-arts major, has made a promise to carry her mattress around campus every day as part of her senior thesis. It is, she says, a symbol of the burden sexual-assault survivors carry with them every day.” Not long after she begun her thesis, others in the community began helping her carry her mattress to her next class. She didn’t have to bear the burden alone. It’s in speaking up, sharing our stories, where we invite others to share in our journey and ease our suffering.
Or of the case of domestic abuse by Ray Rice of his girlfriend (whose name I will not mention because she has publicly said that all the specific attention has caused her more pain). He did not deny the claims, and was caught on video, yet it took the NFL weeks to suspend him, and not until the public was outraged by the viral video that was released. And more and more stories of other cases of domestic abuse being swept under the rug in the NFL to protect the male players at the expense of the women on the sidelines.
Both of these stories are visible this month. We could look back a year, to the case of rape, in Steubenville, Ohio. Where two teen boys targeted another drunk girl at a party. She too could represent every Dorothy, although every story is different. There are horrors that will challenge the victim for years that we can’t just wave away. But there are also horrors that we as a society will continue to perpetuate that make me suspect the idea of the safe home, where love’s overflowing. Following the conviction of the boys last year, some news coverage took a disturbing route. CNN largely focused on the effect the conviction will have on the boys who were found guilty. The media showed – on loop – the heartfelt apologies one of the victimizers gave. The coverage lent a tone of heroism to the boy’s apology.
Candy Crowley of CNN asked, “What’s the lasting effect though on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape essentially?” Or reporter Poppy Harlow said, “It was incredibly emotional, it was difficult for anyone in there to watch those boys break down,” Harlow said. “[It was] also difficult, of course, for the victim’s family.” Or CNN legal contributor Paul Callan noting, “There’s always that moment of just — lives are destroyed. But in terms of what happens now, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law. That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.” It may haunt them for the rest of their lives, but I can’t remember the perpetuators’ names a year later, but I’m sure the victims will never forget.
I watched these reports over and over. Trying to see the space where it became about the health and wholeness of the girl who was hurt. Or about how society doesn’t know how to handle the aftermath of harm. Or how the courts are doing their best to make clear that rape is rape. But all I see is sympathy for the lives of the victimizers that are destroyed by their actions. As if being labeled for life a sex offender – for the simple reason of being a sex offender – was a serious grievance done to these boys. Or protecting a star football player is more important to the bottom line, than the safety of a woman trying to keep her home a place of safety. Or honoring the word of several Columbia University women who all have made the same allegations, who are only trying to learn in school.
“Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back there; now that I have some direction. It would sure be nice to be back home; where there’s love and affection.” We all have to deal with hard times in our lives. Some of us, too many of us, need to face times of incredible pain. In those moments we wish to be able to turn back to a place of safety, of affection, of simplicity where we can regain our footing; and immerse ourselves in a sense of nurture. To return to our center in light of all that we have to face and all that we have learned. Journalism like this with CNN, or with those common lessons that teach women how to prevent harm to themselves rather that instilling in people the drive not to harm. The public sense of culpability errs on the side of how she could have prevented this rather than on why he should have known better. And to be true to the world, the victims are not always women – but it so often happens this way.
Our theology of Universalism asks of us to strive for a place of openness, of compassion for those that cause harm. Holding hatred, or malice helps no one, and harms most of all ourselves. It can grip our hearts, and make us forget to love freely, to live deeply, to hope when we need to so desperately. —- I appreciate the compassion in the journalists’ from CNN’s coverage. —- I criticize the focus. Many lives were ruined as they say – but some lives bear the brunt of their own mistakes – and that guilt, that shame, should not fall upon the victims in our world.
“Suddenly my world has changed it’s face, but I still know where I’m going. I have had my mind spun around in space, and yet I’ve watched it growing,” Dorothy continues on singing. Our childhood sense of normal, of safety, of home will go away – and return – throughout our lives. But we can find a compass to steer by; we can know where we’re going despite all that feels like it’s been thrown at us. In fact, it takes each of us returning to our compasses to see the way.
Common sense tells us that victims might be wise to learn how to avoid, as best we can, future harm – but the onus is not on them. The crime is not ours. The partners in so many homes throughout our country who are survivors of violence – may sometimes be stuck in a trap – but they are not the source of that trap. For some of us in this room – this is a given. For some of us in this room – they have learned this truth the hard way. For some of us in this room – we desperately need to hear it – right now. Our culture of shame is a collective trip we buy into, and it requires collective action to let go. We have to lovingly remind ourselves, time and again, that we ought not feel shame for the actions of others – that is for them to bear. It is for us to find our direction again in our own lives.
“If you’re list’ning God, please don’t make it hard to know if we should believe in the things that we see. Tell us, should we run away. Should we try and stay, or would it be better just to let things be?” Dorothy asks pleadingly. This question – right here – might be the heart of the message. The culture of shame we have built as a nation – around women, their bodies, and who gets to decide what – is not to be believed. It is as false as can be. We have fabricated an insane politic that lifts up personal freedom while simultaneously legislating corporate control of one gender’s identity – sometimes with as much emotional impact as other forms of actual assault. Our media blithely discusses “about women” in a way that men would be shocked should we ever do the same to us fellows. For the men in the room – try to imagine any form of legislation that would ever affect us where a panel of women sit and decide what we do with our bodies? Would that feel merely intellectual, or political, or would it feel invasive? Try to imagine a situation where we were the victim of sexual assault and where the news would take the side of the perpetrator or focus on how unfortunate it is that the perpetrator’s life is now ruined. I could not imagine this – at all. It would be seen as horrific, shocking. It would not be read as as simple statistic; a norm to be expected.
Victims of physical violence often internalize the blame – in part because we as a society say that we’re always able to have done something to prevent it – so when we didn’t prevent it we search for why we didn’t prevent it. We do this as kids when we’re hurt as kids. When we’re bullied as teens we draw the lines to why it’s really our fault, even though we hate the bully. And we carry that with us for the rest of our lives. As adults we’ve often convinced ourselves that we are able to accomplish so much so if this happens to us, we should have been able to stop it. And we’re trapped. We’re centered in our sense of shame. We seek to find blame – and while pointing anger toward those who are guilty, secretly – inside – deep down – we believe the lie that it’s about us. We echo the lie our culture tells us to believe.
Central to our faith is the conviction of worth. Our first principle is not a simple belief statement that solely means we’re all inherently worthy. It does mean that too. We have worth – we have human value. It also means that we are tasked with committing ourselves to the discipline of fostering and uncovering the worth in each of us. Shame buries our sense of worth. Shame teaches us to limit who matters and by how much they are allowed to matter. The discipline of worth calls us to challenge anything that diminishes the human spirit.
“And I’ve learned that we must look inside our hearts to find a world full of love. Like yours; like me; like home…”. Dorothy blesses us with those closing words. We can turn this around. We are the people we have been waiting for. In all its complexity, all its difficulty – this world full of hurt is also a world full of love. Our hearts that are broken, also carry within them a love that is full whether we have forgotten it or not. In recognizing the careful messages we as a people have crafted around blame, shame, and power we can unlock the fullness of our hearts once more. We have to start by recognizing the messages for what they are. We either see them, or we live by them – and we can’t live by the culture of shame – not truly.
Spirit of Renewal, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,
Remind this hour of all the places and people in our lives that give us reasons for gratitude;
for the spaces of quiet awe,
that teach us grace and beauty exist in this world without striving or doing,
that simply being is a gift to be valued,
and we are all valued.
We are grateful for the touchstones in our lives that help us to feel whole,
when we feel lost or empty.
Teach us to remember the joyous when we are lost in the painful,
and remind us of the times we have felt lost,
when it’s hard to be compassionate to another’s difficulty.
As a new school year begins,
we reflect on another year past,
another summer slipping away.
May the warmth and the rest,
wherever it was found,
stay with us,
along with the memories.
Help us to take a breath,
keep their fondness near to our hearts,
and begin the work and the study of another year,
with gratitude and purpose.
As a community coming together in strength,
after a summer of work, of travels, of hobbies and projects,
we recommit to our mission of nurturing our spirits in community,
in caring for one another and ourselves,
and helping to heal the corners of the world in which we dwell.
Intro to Water Communion:
following Water Bearer story (http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/windows/session5/sessionplan/stories/143528.shtml)
(“We all have our own unique flaws. We are all cracked pots. In God’s great web of life, nothing goes to waste. Don’t be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty. Know that in our weakness we find our strength.)
At different times in our lives we are each the well crafted vase, or the leaky bucket, and sometimes we may even bear the water for the fields in our lives. Today’s service honors this human truth. At times we feel broken, at times we feel whole, and at times we do the heavy lifting so that others may be cared for; knowing that every garden that is nurtured is one that will fill with beauty and substance for the days ahead. We are not alone, and we are not an island.
In a few moments, all will be invited to bring water to any of our stations. In this act of pouring water, we symbolize the places in our lives that nourish our spirits, that we find holy, or those places that have transformed us in meaningful ways. As you come forward we’ll pour water in each station simultaneously. I invite you to speak aloud the water’s source as you pour. Many voices will speak at once. As others wait to come forward, our choir will lead us in a chant. This is not a time where we each become the focus of our actions, but rather a time where the community acts as one, in movement and in song.
Following the service we will take some of the water out to our Memorial Garden and bless the ground with the places that have nourished our spirits. We’ll save some of the water, boil and purify it, and use it throughout the year for the child dedications that happen. In that way, we are blessing our newest members to the congregation with the places that have fed us over the years! [If the water you have in mind is obviously not clean, I invite you to use water that is symbolic of that place so that we don’t make our intrepid volunteers’ jobs of cleansing the water all the more hard.)
As we begin our ritual of water communion, our choir will lead us in chant. Once Richard and the choir teach and lead the song, we’ll invite folks to come forward to our stations, pour the water symbolic of the places that have nourished them over the year, and quietly speak their names as one pours.
This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 9/7/14.
I grew up watching a lot of TV. Cartoons after school, the best ones were on Saturday morning. But when I was very young, before I went to grade school, I got to watch some of the old black and white shows my parents grew up watching. They were on during the day. Remarkably, many of the shows from the 1940s and 1950s were still on Nickelodeon until 1999. One of them was called Lassie. It was about a really smart dog on a farm. This collie would help out everyone on the farm, and although she couldn’t talk, always seemed to be able to communicate if someone was in trouble or need. “What, Lassie, the cows are out of the pen?” “ What, Lassie, a kid is lost?” Possibly the most famous or most well retold was, “What, Lassie, Timmy fell down a well?” I was never sure how the family always seemed to know what Lassie was saying, but I still liked the show. I imagine some of us here have really fond memories of it as a kid, or maybe even as an adult watching it with our kids.
But I’ve recently learned through the wonders of social media, that the line most of us may attribute to the kid’s show “Lassie,” was never said. “What, Lassie, Timmy fell down a well?” Timmy never fell down any well. The only person to ever get trapped in a well on that show was the collie, Lassie, herself. The helper needed help. But in the retelling, people time and time again, assume the caregiver is always the caregiver. The one who saves, always saves. It’s like we can’t ever be broken, or cracked.
Remember the story of the Waterbearer from earlier in the service? Sometimes we can get really focused on the cracks in our vases or buckets, that we don’t see where they can be of value – or how they may help us or the people around us – or how they play into the bigger world around us. By a show of hands, who here often feels like they have to be perfect – to have to cracks – to never let any water spill. Ok, look around (that’s a lot of hands.) Ok, put your hands down. Who here expects the people around them to be perfect all the time, to never show their cracks, to never let any water spill? We all know some people who seem harder on others than themselves, but that seems to be less common, plus we never know what’s really going on inside their heads, maybe they’re really quietly rough on themselves.
Why are we normally so much harder on ourselves than we are on others? We can beat ourselves up real well. Why? Some of it is about our ego. We hold up our sense of self-worth so high, that any mistake we make that makes that picture of greatness less than perfect, is something we focus on again and again until we can erase it so our ego looks shiny again. I doubt many of us think or feel this way on purpose, it just happens. That’s kind of a faith in our ego, or our false sense of perfection. And that’s something that our principles teach us against.
What does our first principle say? (Inherent worth and dignity of every person, and some may say every being. In our classrooms we often just say, “everyone is important.”) Do we all agree with our first principle (can I get some nods, hands, amen’s, or even hear-hears!) Well, I’m going to ask us all to have a little faith in that first principle. Sometimes, that’s what religion is about - trusting in a teaching or a value even when you might be having a hard time seeing it or feeling it. Just because you’ve lost faith in your worth despite our imperfections, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because the kid at the next table during lunch hour is being mean to you, doesn’t mean they’re right. When people are mean to you for little reason, it’s normally much more about them than it is about you. And this religion teaches us that we have value, we have worth, despite our little cracks, or our mistakes, and especially regardless of what the mean bully (of any age) may tell us. People are always going to share their opinions, but they’re not always going to be right.
So sometimes Lassie is in the well, sometimes the caregiver needs help. Sometimes, we’re not perfect (usually in fact), and sometimes our cracks help something else grow like in the case of the water bearer. When we feel rough, or bruised, or tired – where are those places that feed our inner wells? Where’s the water come from that the water bearer is carrying? Many of us brought water forward earlier symbolizing the places in our lives that nourish us. How do we build those wells in our lives? How do we make sure they’re close to home?
Think about those places in your lives that feed you. What is it about them? Is it the community or friends? Is it the scenery? Is it a sense of peace, or ease, or just a place where you have no responsibilities? Maybe it’s the sense of history? Some of us may have brought water from our local summer camp, Fahs. If it’s anything like another camp I’ve gone to for years, Star Island (cue the slide change) (six miles off the coast of New Hampshire) I bet it’s a place where people are acting their best selves; it feels safe; there’s chances for fun, for challenging yourself, for growing up, a chance to rest, – it’s probably a beautiful spot too.
All these things nourish ourselves. Rest, good people acting well, safety, fun, challenge, growth and beauty. Getting away, traveling to places like this, are definitely important and worth doing. Sometimes we just need to get out of the routine of the every day to get back to ourselves; to see the world anew. But the truth is, those wells that nourish our spirits, are in our backyards too. The garden house that feeds our vegetables, and encourages our puppy “Lola” to play, leap and get muddy, is a well too. And not just for her. Sometimes allowing the silly into our lives may not be efficient, or clean, but it can remind us to have fun. That it’s not all about being serious, or diligent, or working hard. The muddy dog, wet from the garden hose foolery, is the very image of turning that-which-is-a chore into something rejuvenating – something nourishing – even if it means that maybe the puppy can’t come inside anytime soon. I can hear my fiancé say, “Lola is not allowed on the couch!”
The trick, or the challenge is to allow those places like Star Island or Fahs Summer Camp to be allowed into our lives the rest of the year in small ways. To look at the routine in new ways and turn it into something different. I recall as a kid hating Sundays in the Winter. All that was on TV was golf (ugh) and it was too cold to play outside, and we didn’t have computers when I was young (gasp), and I was an only child. The very image of boredom! Now a-days, with job, school, and volunteer efforts taking us in so many directions, I wish for boring days at home! It’s how you look at it. Boring isn’t always such a bad thing, and sometimes it’s good for us to learn how to be a little bored and comfortable with it.
There’s often the drive to pretend all those places of nourishment are far away, or only available at another time. In the Winter we hate the cold and in the Summer we hate the heat and humidity. We wait all year for a great vacation (if we can afford the travel) pining for the warm beach, and finally when it comes, by the end of the week or two we’re sometimes pining for home. They’re all normal reactions, but they’re all a little crazy too, right? Building those wells that nourish us, wherever or whenever we are, is the religious practice. Universalism teaches us that wherever else Heaven may be, Heaven is also on Earth, here and now. We only need to be open to seeing or feeling it. To not saying that Heaven is some place else that I have to wait to get to. Fahs Camp and Star Island are awesome places, with a community we love to spend time with. And that community, in large part, is literally here too – all year long. For the lovers of Fahs (we have something like 60-80 from our community there every year), (and I look forward to finally getting there next Summer for at least a few days), for the Fahs lovers, I challenge you to bring Fahs here as much as you can. To be your best self in this community, as this community has been its best self at Fahs. To make this Home a bit of the places of paradise you’ve found elsewhere. It’s already here; even if we can’t always see it.
And one last reminder, especially for those that aren’t yet convinced that it’s ok to be silly from time to time, or playful with our garden hoses. Eventually, we’ll all dry off. Even the muddy puppy, will be clean again. And let back in on the couch.
This prayer was given on Sunday, August 24th, 2014 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, NY.
Spirit of Hope, God of Many Names and One Transforming and Abundant Love,
Teach us that we are ever moving.
With each day passing, and every fresh start,
we are reminded that life doesn’t stay still in yesterday,
nor run to tomorrow,
but is with us, here;
in our pain, and in our joy.
Every success will lead to new challenges,
and every sorrow will someday pass.
In our times of sadness,
may this lesson give us hope when it’s hard to see past the gloom.
Even when we may fear change, or lament the end of something good,
so too does the law of change demand that hardship will some day end.
May we not lose sight of this, when the world seems closing in.
We pause to share our gratitude this week for the remarkable deepening of awareness and support of health concerns connected with ALS.
May this be a lasting change in consciousness,
and may it lead to a cure,
for all who suffer under pains of the nerves and muscles,
in any form. May they soon find relief.
So too our nation is awakened once more to the painful and paralyzing force that is racism.
Its burden weighs down a people, and makes it hard to move.
We pray for the people of Ferguson, MO this morning.
The citizens, the police, the protestors, the journalists.
We hold in our hearts especially Michael Brown who was fatally shot.
May those with power over life and death,
learn not to wield it so freely,
to hold life sacred.
May difference not be seen as scary.
And may we learn new ways to lift each of us up,
so that our system of poverty does not create places of such pain, division, and strife.
As our nation reflects on the violence in Ferguson,
help us not to split this into us vs them,
or the people versus all police.
We know that each person’s actions are their own responsibility,
and yet we have a culture that seems to repeat the same story of loss over and over.
Help us to tell a new story,
day by day.
We also offer a blessing to Starr, our new religious educator. May she grow in her ministry with us, and may our community learn from her wisdom. In the building of the Beloved Community, it takes many leaders and many learners. May her time with us be a gift to her to and to this community.