Archive for January, 2012
Let us gather as a community,
Centered in compassion,
Vigilant in the human spirit,
And stirred by a fierce unrest:
To make whole which is broken,
To accept the truth in love,
And to be humble before this living world.
Gather this hour knowing there is yet another possibility before you,
The way is not yet written.
May we craft this story together.
We gather this morning
as a community of hope,
as a place of peace,
and a home of possibility.
May our spirits be lifted,
our minds be opened,
and our hearts be outward-reaching.
In the life of a congregation,
each of us give it meaning,
give it life, give it purpose.
May we too find meaning,
life and purpose
in our freely giving.
Spirit of Hope, God of Striving, That which stirs our compassion,
in our race toward equality, help us to pick up the baton from those who have come before.
Let our dreams of a more just world be born anew in this age,
may the everyday stories of prejudice and discrimination,
enter into the light of day and be known for what they are -
– stories of fear and hatred bringing harm to the health of our communities.
May all amongst us come to hear demagogues, spouting racism, homophobia or sexism, for the clanging noise that it is;
And let us not stumble by following them down their divisive pathways.
God of Love, may your message be written upon the tablets of our hearts,
so that our quest for a compassionate world will be at our core.
Teach us to celebrate the everyday stories of success, of gratitude, of neighborly living as well.
Remind us that the world is not only stark, but vivid.
To celebrate the contemporary notion that diversity is a value to be sought after,
To celebrate most of our children living in peace with those who come from different cultures and religions.
To celebrate the glass ceiling beginning to show its cracks,
and the Redlining beginning to blur at the edges,
and marriage finally being properly honored in our state.
Knowing that we have a far way to go.
May we never be lost to dread from all that is ailing in this world,
And never forget the successes before us.
May we hold the bitter and the sweet in hand,
so that in our actions we remember where we have come from,
what is before us, and that the work of the world is ever for us to do,
and in our doing – may we share freely that work with those around us.
May the light of love be ever vigilant in our hearts and deeds. #chaliceout
This sermon was first preached on May 10th, 2009 for Mothers’ Day. It’s not your typical Hallmark card.
Happy Mothers’ Day! … I make this brave assertion with some trepidation though. I never know what to presume from days fraught with such weighty expectations. We’ve navigated the complex family systems annual gauntlet of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover and Easter and can see the light at the end of the tunnel that is Memorial Day weekend. And then wham! May has yet another potentially awkward-sit-down-for-a-big-meal holiday too! And this one I somehow have responsibility for.
I long for the simple days where my relationship with mom shifted between wonderful and fitful, based solely on how tired or hungry either one of us were. Depending on what lens I use, that ended somewhere between five years old and twenty eight. Although, I’m suspicious that these patterns still undergird all of our conversations.
I’ve never been truly satisfied with Hallmark’s extensive series of suggestions on how to adequately express one’s gratitude for being brought into this world; in my case raised well with more opportunities than either of my parents have seen, while honestly lifting up the tensions, challenges, and short-comings along the way. I’m more inclined toward humorous cards like the Snoopy one that reads, “You’re the glue that keeps this family together, That’s a nice way of saying you’re stuck with us! …” because it’s at least accurate. But it doesn’t capture the entirety. The curve of my smirk holds appreciation for a mom who staved off the costs of childcare by going to work nights after dad came home so I would never be alone, yet who was absent at my ordination this year. I imagine that we have as many equally varied stories this morning as we have people here today. I know some of these stories are memories of our mothers who since have died, or the joy of being a new mother.
Our reading this morning is another such story, from the mindset of a mother of five, who was contemplating divorce and navigating rehabilitation from cancer. It’s an intense story of cascading difficulties that far exceeds the everyday. Yet, many of us will know people facing similar and sudden challenges. Some of those people will be us. Everyday. …
I know many of us have Tim Barger, fellow congregant and UU seminarian, in our prayers as he recovers and rehabilitates from sudden spinal surgery in Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, in Philadelphia. I am not myself in conversation with Tim, but the frequent Facebook updates, comments and discussions are looking up. Some of us may be thinking of Marge Odessky, who’s memorial was last Sunday. I could see from the many who shared their stories of Marge, that she showed us how one could be a mother to many in this congregation who are not her children.
I can barely imagine what it would be like to be faced with the prospect this anonymous mother was challenged by. Challenged is probably not even the right word; what she was threatened with. Able to deal well enough with the daily stories of relationships, children, work and community service, this mother reflects, in the extreme, the tentative nature of our security.
She gives us a vision of a street corner where we all reflect on our lives to this point. At times still feeling like children, but with far many more responsibilities to bear. Working with children as I do, I often see the hearts of kids in the faces of grown adults. It makes me wonder how different we actually are, despite what we like to convince ourselves. I sometimes think that’s what makes it harder for some adults to relate to children – we’re not willing to admit how similar we still are.
I believe this mother offers a path of hope in the face of the absurd. I see how she teaches us both to be a little more insecure in our security, and to be more secure in our insecurity. The suddenness of her situation is the classic reminder of how precious health is, and how easy we go about forgetting just how delicate, and how little controllable, it is. How she rises to cope and prosper is remarkable. It’s also very ordinary.
She recalls, “Finally, I said to myself, ‘Well, here you are and there’s no place to go. It’s time you brought a little help into your life.’”
In twenty small words, this mom summed up the entirety of religion, of what it is to be human, the very heart of all the ministry we will ever do. Whatever our individual situation is, we too are standing with her on that street corner. For some of us, unlike our story’s narrator, our loved ones will in fact come down to meet us. Whether we stand alone or in the midst of dozens, the task of religion is to help us all to be willing to let others in.
In many ways, living in New York City sends out the opposite message. In the midst of millions, we try to stave off the stranger because it’s simply just too much to take all in at once. The irony of the City dweller is that many of us choose to live here because we seek the density, or the diversity, or the intensity of human connections and opportunities; and still we so often push against the depth of our human connectedness. Insecurity, shame, or a particular sense of propriety all serve to buttress our isolating walls. As Unitarian Universalists, this communal and covenantal faith seeks to help rebuild those ties that remind us of our human relatedness and our very human need.
Her little prayer, “that the Lord will send me someone to help me along the way on my subway journey every day… and that He’ll send someone that I can share my faith and my strength with too. Both things…”
is far from little. How healing a prayer this is! It acknowledges that we are in need of one another. It is full of hope. And it is within this need, that we recognize that we too have faith and strength to share. Some of us will struggle will the outward reach for help. Others will prefer to help as many as they can, so long as no one notices their own hidden needs. And there are those who can not see that they have anything to give. This prayer is medicinal for all of us who find any of these statements too close to home; whether you pray to God, or you change the words to reaffirm your relationship with the living world.
There’s another thread in her story that I feel we rarely lift up. So often we speak as though blindness equated with ignorance. Her parable of the birthday cake, and the blind boy who stopped being attracted to a girl when he was told she was unattractive is quite telling. “…When you begin to see with that inner eye, that inner eye everyone has, it all changes. Everyone is human, everyone is God’s child. Everyone is helpless, one way or another, and everyone is helpful too. We’re all here for each other….”
The bodies we are born into, or the circumstances that change them, are both limiting and instructive. This woman who lost her sight for a time learned to see people differently – and I would contend that from her writing she learned to see them more clearly. She has known the difference. These lessons are not limited to disabilities. Anyone who was less than popular in childhood or youth, was given a firm yet difficulty opportunity to extend the kindness to others that they did not receive. They have known the difference. Anyone who has experienced the injustice of oppression, whether it be because of gender, race, sexuality or gender expression, have a different lens in which to view the injustices perpetuated on others. They have known the difference. The list could be exhausting – class, wealth, weight, health, or education to name even more. “Everyone is helpless, one way or another, and everyone is helpful too…”. We remain helpless and unneeded only so long as we choose to pull back our hands. We are not alone.
There’s a poem by Jill-Beth Sweeney Schultheis that I find to be a powerful reminder of this message called “Fragility/Divinity.” It reads: “We are fragile. We are not broken. We are imperfect. We are not flawed. We are curious. We are not confused. We are vulnerable. We are not weak. We are of this earth, and yet the divine lives in us. When I feel as if I’m going to break, I am the most human. When I embrace my fragility, I let you into my imperfect world.” This is the liberal religious tradition of which we are a part. This is my faith. Fragility, imperfection, curiosity, and brokenness are what make us human. We are not weak because of these qualities – we are alive because of them.
Coming to terms with our insecurities deepens our security. Security, in the spiritual sense of the word, is not the ability to control our circumstances. It’s not what makes us safe; it’s what makes us whole. Security is achieved when we hold in tension the lessons of our first and seventh principles. The first principle is where we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person – and I should clarify that every person here does in fact include ourselves, but it is not limited to just ourselves. The seventh is where we appreciate how we stand in relation to the living world. We are all connected and interdependent. Held in tension with each other, these principles point toward a living web that can catch us when we are falling, and strengthen us as we build up community. As our anonymous mother tells us, “There are ups and downs, of course. You start blind and you reach out. Sometimes there’s nothing to hold onto, but you still reach. Then you learn to hold onto whatever you get. Then you find someone’s hand and you take it. Then you see you can reach and hold onto someone else.”
The mother in this story started out seeing herself as independent and she ended up seeing herself as interdependent. I struggle to see myself like she does.
The words from the African lullaby prayer we heard for our offertory are beautiful. “Oh God of the sunrise, as I have given of myself to my babe, wilt Thou watch over and protect him through the night. If he awaken when the sun greets the earth, he will grow to be a man and will take upon himself the responsibilities of a man in the world.” I pray that every day we awaken to this earth and this sun, may we each grow to be human. May we take upon ourselves the responsibilities of a people in this world. May we know that this stewardship entails a reaching outward and a letting in. That we hold ourselves up as we hold and lift one another. May we know that we are living into our responsibilities when we choose to live more fully with our neighbor; when we choose to open our hearts and lives to another. I pray that we can accept a sense of security that focuses less on control and more on relation. In so doing, may we all be surprised by a newfound joy, that can not be found on our own.
With every ending, may we carry with us the breadth of vision that has brought us to this place of possibility.
May the flame we kindle this hour spark a new hope in our lives, the strength to hope, and a compassion to make a difference. #chalicelight
#26 Small Group Ministry Session on “Mother Wove” from New Year’s Day
Written by Rev. Jude Geiger, MRE, First Unitarian,Brooklyn
Based on a Sermon by Rev. Jude preached at First UU on 1/1/12 found here: http://revwho.com/2012/01/01/mother-wove/
Welcome & Opening Chalice Lighting (Please read aloud) by Rev. Jude
Enter this year with a sense of new life. Enter this hour with the sense of possibility. May our days come to know gladness, May our dreams expand beyond our own vision, May our hearts open to those in need of our love, Even if they may simply be ourselves.
Statement of Purpose: To nurture our spirits and deepen our friendships.
Brief Check-In: Share your name and something you have left behind to be here.
Reading: A Prayer for a New Year by Rev. Jude
Spirit of New Beginnings, God of Endings, and Mother of Transforming and Abundant Love,
Gift us with a broader view. Grant us the courage to learn from the mistakes of the year past, To honor our travails, and love ourselves despite what we could not let go of. Help us to find a new sense of possibility in the coming year.
May we come to understand our journey as the series of changes that they are, and not as a cascade of doors banging closed. Not as limit and barrier, but as impermanence, openings, and hope. Remind us to take the time, in these longer nights, and shorter days to reflect on matters of the heart.
Stir in us intuitions of the spirit, and quiet our busy minds, So that we find more room, to live into our lives, and not our thoughts. Let us not dwell overlong in the musings of fear and worry, May we not fixate in the hells of “what if” and “if only.”
Mother of Hope, help us to focus on the Heaven in this world, that is within our power to create.
May we give gifts of service and care, compassion and forgiveness, and material things are needed, clothing and food when it is in our power to help.
May we make of this year a new year, not a return to the repetitions of the old. And may it be for gladness.
Where have you encountered the Holy in the past month? What images of the feminine divine do you find in your own life? Which are absent? What can you do, yourself, to reclaim them?
Closing: “Jewish Prayer” #507 from Singing the Living Tradition
Grant us the ability to find joy and strength, not in the strident call to arms, but in stretching out our arms to grasp our fellow creatures in the striving for justice and truth.
Spirit of New Beginnings, God of Endings,
and Mother of Transforming and Abundant Love,
Gift us with a broader view.
Grant us the courage to learn from the mistakes of the year past,
To honor our travails,
and love ourselves despite what we could not let go of.
Help us to find a new sense of possibility in the coming year.
May we come to understand our journey as the series of changes that they are,
and not as a cascade of doors banging closed.
Not as limit and barrier,
but as impermanence,
openings, and hope.
Remind us to take the time, in these longer nights, and shorter days
to reflect on matters of the heart.
Stir in us intuitions of the spirit,
and quiet our busy minds,
So that we find more room,
to live into our lives,
and not our thoughts.
Let us not dwell overlong in the musings of fear and worry,
May we not fixate in the hells of “what if” and “if only.”
Mother of Hope,
help us to focus on the Heaven in this world,
that is within our power to create.
May we give gifts of service and care,
compassion and forgiveness,
and material things are needed, clothing and food when it is in our power to help.
May we make of this year a new year,
not a return to the repetitions of the old.
And may it be for gladness.
This sermon was first preached at First UU in Brooklyn on New Year’s Day, 2012. It looks at Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Theodore Parker and the Feminine Divine.
Happy New Year everyone! My partner Brian and I rung in the new year watching fireworks inCentral Park. This a new tradition for us, our second year spending New Year’s Eve this way. I’ve lived within short distance of NYC my whole life, and the Times Square Ball has so overshadowed the night’s events that I only learned of the fireworks last New Year’s Eve. Check it out next year. It’s a wonderful way to ring in the New Year. With sound, light and cheer.
For the last couple of years, a group of congregants, all women, have put on a piece of sacred theater called “Mother Wove the Morning.” Originally a one woman show, Dawn Brekke and her cast adapted it to be an ensemble piece. It essentially explored the absence of a sense of womanhood, femininity or motherhood in the Western world’s experience of the divine. We often hear of the great Father in the Sky, but what of the Mother of All? The multicultural stories span the history of the world from the perspective of straight women seeking to wrestle with where their heavenly role model went and the effects that has had on the experience of women in their daily lives. They’ve even performed at another UU congregation, Shelter Rock. I do hope that the tradition continues, maybe even with new plays.
We heard two excerpts from the play this morning. The period piece on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the semi-comedic piece by Carol Lynn on the difficulties women face. Although this latter piece began with humor, it culminated with a mixture of the serious and the theological. She said, “And what I really believe about God is this: In the beginning, at the dawning of the first day, the Eternal One appeared as Two. Mother wove the morning, and Father made the evening–joyfully, together. Lovers, friends, partners, parents. Through them all things were born.” (end quote.) I personally see God as singular, although I do believe that God appears in myriad forms, hence the wide range of Revelations in this world. But I do agree that to succumb to the belief that God is gendered according to the sex historically with the most power, is a telling sign that something’s amiss. Even traditionalists get a bit queasy when you start pressing them on the genitalia of God as is male. Of course you don’t really mean that! But what do we mean?
I believe that historically, humanity meant exactly what the play surmised. To requote the Catholic Theologian, Mary Daly, “If God is male, then the male is God.” When theology codifies divinity within the gender binary, then power expands and contracts for the genders. In my opinion, that’s not the point of religion. Religion is here to expand our sense of awe in the universe. It’s here to deepen our commitment to compassion to those we share this world with. Religion is here to remind us that there is a depth to life that is worth divining.
The Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, of whom Elizabeth Cady Stanton both lifts up and chides in the play, speaks to this notion. “The only creed that true religion lays down, he claimed, ‘is the great truth which springs up spontaneously in the holy heart – there is a God.’ Parker admitted that true religion requires a form and carries a sanction, but only as attributes of Spirit-filled living. The only outward form that religion requires is divine living; true religion consists of ‘doing the best thing, in the best way, from the highest motives.’”
Getting to “Spirit-filled living” can be a tricky thing if we don’t know what it would mean; if we don’t have a Spirit-model in our lives; if we’re used to thinking in terms of creeds rather than intuitions. If we don’t believe in God, and think Spirit can only mean those things that refer to God. I think that’s the practical necessity behind gendering God in the first place. I remember as a Catholic child never quite understanding what the “Holy Spirit” was. Now as an adult I get that the Trinity can also help us to see the relationality of life – that the Holy is found in our midst, in our relationships.
Although I don’t see God as male and female as the play suggests, I do appreciate that the Mother/Father image in the play helps to show us that creation and inspiration comes from joint efforts; that life and Truth is a series of dualities; that love directs us outward; and that the Holy is not limited to one gendered expression.
Take this in consideration with another piece of Theodore Parker’s writing, and we come to a similar conclusion that was made in the play. “For Parker, (these) three innate primal truths were crucial to the possibility and phenomenon of religion: (1) the instinctive intuition of the divine creates consciousness of divine reality; (2) the instinctive intuition of moral right creates consciousness of the existence of a moral law that transcends human will; and (3) the intuition of the immortal ensures, ‘that the essential element of man, the principle of individuality, never dies.’” The first – intuition of the divine creates consciousness of the divine – directly speaks to Mary Daly’s quote. “If God is male, then the male is God.” If we intuit the Holy as male then our consciousness is changed. Expanding that intuition, expands our consciousness. It also leads into a healthier understanding of Parker’s second point around moral right that transcends human will. A morality that is informed, by a consciousness that perceives the holy value in more than one gender, is a safer morality for this world.
Now the latter two points -intuitions of moral right and the intuition of the immortal would greatly influence Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and help her to heal wounds inflicted by the fire and brimstone preaching of Charles Finney. (Incidentally, this is the primary reason for an extended look at a male Unitarian preacher on a Sunday devoted to the feminine divine.) Cady Stantongrew up in a conservative, upper class, Calvinist-Presbyterian household. Academic, Gary Dorrien writes that, (She) “was plagued by a morbid introspection that the family religion aggravated. The Cadys were serious Calvinists, God-fearing and morally upright, and she absorbed the element of fear in her youth.” In her home region of Troyin the 1830’s, “Charles Finney preached(ed) what came to be called the Great Troy Revival… Every day for six weeks young Elizabeth Cady listened to Finney with a mixture of half-believing fascination, moral compulsion, and dread…. His preaching seized Cady Stanton’s soul with fear of judgment, driving her to a nervous breakdown.” The migration of her spirituality from Calvinist to Unitarian Christian, via Parker, would lead her one day to say, “The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with any of the superstitions of the Christian religion.”
Out of context, her comment about Christian superstitions would sound incredibly derogatory. But the word “superstitions” was code at the time for what Parker referred to as the “transient.” Those beliefs and practices that were not centrally intuitions of the spirit; that were not central teachings of Christian compassion; that were not reflective of character over fear. Eternal damnation would be one such superstition. By her mid-thirties she would vocalize publicly that the inferiority of women was another such superstition.
Cady Stanton spent her first thirty years being heavily influenced by prominent figures, she would spent the rest of her life setting the stage for influencing the world on her own – and with the help of a small cadre of fellow leading women – at first Lucretia Mott who helped Cady Stanton come to prominence and later Susan B. Anthony who Cady Stanton passed forward the favor by helping to send to prominence. In our play we heard that “Mother Wove the Morning” – and in history we hear that Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped to weave a deeper sense of humanity.
With her famous “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions,” that were modeled after the Declaration of Independence, she began the Women’s Suffrage movement and lit a firestorm that only the media could fan to a roaring flame. She would notably write, “I say require of the state that we be given full citizenship and that it happen now. And I say require of the church the same thing, to acknowledge that man and woman were created in the image of God and given dominion over this earth, but none over each other. None over each other!”
In rapid response, “the Philadelphia Public Ledger and Daily Transcript declared: ‘A woman is nobody. A wife is everything. A pretty girl is equal to ten thousand men, and a mother is, next to God, all powerful.’ The ‘ladies of Philadelphia’ therefore resolved, ‘to maintain their rights as Wives, Belles, Virgins, and Mothers, and not as Women.’” It’s the kind of linguistic response we still hear today in the entertainment media. Opponents of Pro-Choice might say – “I retain the right to have my child” or opponents of Marriage Equality might say – “Everyone has the right to marry someone of the opposite sex” even in Healthcare Reform – “Everyone has access to healthcare, they just need to get a job.” They’re all language games that denude the meaning of the word “rights.” CadyStanton wrote with reason and a fair sense of indignation, and was responded to with a barrage of trite witticisms and societal fever. But sense, and instinctive intuitions of moral right would ultimately prevail – albeit not for a time.
The Public Ledger would bring us back full circle when they wrote, “and a mother is, next to God, all powerful.” A mother, next to God. We’re not likely say a father, next to God, is all powerful – because it would be a rare situation where we’d need to clarify the power of fathers. I think needing to say how powerful mothers of the time were, speaks more directly to how disempowered they actually were. Fathers were in, of and leading the world. Mothers were subject to their husbands at home. All notions of equality would have trouble being born, if we couldn’t even find equality over our breakfast tables.
If you’d like to go into closer historical detail of the time, I recommend a book by Gary Dorrien entitled, “The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900.” It’s a staple these days for UU seminarians. It paints a vivid picture of how Calvinist, Unitarian, and Transcendentalist thinking fostered an intellectual and emotional setting for Elizabeth Cady Stanton to help transform our culture. “… to acknowledge that man and woman were created in the image of God and given dominion over this earth, but none over each other.”
What I find most impressive about Cady Stanton is that she helped us to revision what motherhood could mean while she herself was a mother of seven children. She wasn’t a fringe radical, breaking from tradition. She was navigating all the difficult politics of marriage to a husband who himself was involved in the political sphere. She helped to argue for divorce for women, while remaining devoted to her vows. She struggled with the abolitionist movement, without herself having an equal say. Not to say that her path was superior to Susan B. Anthony’s path of the unmarried activist; but rather that she always remained firmly within the conventional system and sought to configure a new way. In essence, she became a role model for women much in the same way our play, Mother Wove the Morning, seeks to find the feminine divine so that all people have another image to live by.
As we begin this new year, I’ll ask you to reflect on a few questions. What images of the feminine divine do you find in your own life? Which are absent? What can you do, yourself, to reclaim them?