Posts Tagged Graduation
I was talking with a few folks in our community a couple of weeks back about growing up, changing times and how we all have someone in our lives who will always see us as the same person they knew so many years ago. You all know the phenomenon. You’ve got a sibling who will always see you as the controlling type. Or you have a daughter who will always see you as the annoying mom. Maybe you’re the happy type and some friends have a hard time recognizing when you’re in pain. Who here has parents who still see them as mostly irresponsible and totally uptight? Who here has children who still think their parents haven’t a clue?
We have two competing myths in our society. “If you dream big enough, you can change everything in your life.” The second pops up in dating advice when things go sour, “No one ever really changes.” We sometimes flip back and forth between those two when we want to hear a different answer. Both are true in their own way, or we wouldn’t repeat them as much as we do. But both are also not quite right.
For the first – dreaming big enough – think about school. If you work hard enough you can get into a great school, and a whole lot of opportunities can open up for you. But sometimes dreaming big isn’t about getting into the great school, it’s about stepping away for a time from how things are usually done. It can be about taking the time away from the crazy pace and reflecting on the life you want to make. What is it these days – starting in 7th grade or 8th grade – that NYC students take regents that determine what schools they’ll be allowed to enter? And by 16 you’ve got pressure to decide what you’ll study as an adult – if you take the path of college – that may or may not determine your first career. If you dream big enough, you can change everything in your life… just make sure that you start planning it by the time you’re 12.
To our Seniors graduating High School this year, as an adult you can always decide to do things differently. Sometimes you’ll have repercussions for the choice you make though. Here’s a secret I’m going to let you in on right now. Even if when the time comes to make that kind of life-changing decision, you decide not to do things differently, there are still repercussions. That’s the great lesson of adulthood – you can’t get away from it. You can change your major 7 times like I did, and still be fine. You can drop out of college, like I did, and pick up the pieces later. Or you can delay college, and take the time to figure out what you need to do without the pressure of high cost tuition till you know what your heart wants. And your heart may change over time – in fact it likely will.
That’s the part of cliche dating advice, “No one ever really changes,” that’s a bit off. A lot of people actually change quite a bit over time. We just don’t always see it over the short-term. It’s why some of us will always be seen as the controlling sibling, or the clueless parent, or the irresponsible child. Changing bits at a time are often hard to see, and families tend toward stasis – acting the way we always acted – having the same fights we’ve always had. Does that happen also in congregational life?
With adulthood, there’s a chance to change some of that, and yet we often change less than we could. When we move out of the house (for the first time) the world feels so different. When we return home for the first time – everything feels like it hasn’t changed a bit, but it all feels so strange. It feels like our childhood home could fit in one of those glass snow globes, and we’re a stranger looking in from the outside, able to shake out the memories but not go back inside.
For those of us who have been driving already, maybe for a while – do you remember that first time you got into a car and drove away from home? Even if it was just for the afternoon? What did that feel like to you? I remember this incredible sense of freedom – even though I knew I needed to go back home that day. Things were somehow different. I had more control over my life. Entering adulthood is like that feeling. But as time goes on, that feeling disappears. Maybe major changes, like shifting careers, or moving to the City or away from it, or graduating from college, might trigger the feeling again. But for the most part, over time those feelings are forgotten.
I think that forgetting is part of why we start to believe that people don’t change, or that we can’t change. We fall into our habits, or take on responsibilities, or feel real obligations, and change becomes harder and harder with greater and greater repercussions. But remember – repercussions happen whether we change or not. We just need to choose or accept which repercussions we can learn to live with.
Growing up is like a scene from “Mission Impossible” (I’m thinking the old T.V. show and not the snazzy recent movies – but that’s just because I’m of-a-certain-age.) Some mysterious figure comes up to you, hands you an otherwise impossible assignment, and pretends like you have a choice in the matter. Then all record of what you have to accomplish goes up in a puff of smoke and fire, and you’re left picking up the pieces. For the most part, everything will work out as well as it could for an otherwise impossible set-up. You just have to figure a way with the cards that you have been dealt, with the team that you have. Or in the words of the great UU Philosopher-Theologian, Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” (from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)
But there’s another flip to all of this. Growing up is not just about you. If you can change, make big choices in life, see and live in a new way – then the people around you can do the same as well. When you find yourself saying, “why won’t Mom realize that I’ve grown up, that I’m an adult now,” …and believe me you will find yourself saying that very soon… look for how you’re treating Mom or Dad the way you always have. If they’re treating you the same as usual, you’re probably also stuck doing the same. As an only child I can’t say from personal experience that it’s worse among siblings, but I’ve seen many friends who’s sibling rivalry or sibling friendship grow only more intense over time. It’s a great trick in the work-world as well. It’s why people give the advice, “Start as you mean to continue.” Because whatever way you begin, is often how people will expect, or even demand, you to be around them. It takes a long time to change your patterns, and folks often take an even longer time to recognize the newness in your habits and styles. Just keep at it, and your world will eventually catch up.
This sermon was originally preached at First UU in Brooklyn, NY on June 6th, 2010. We were celebrating the Bridging of one of our High School youth into adulthood.
This morning we celebrate our annual service of Bridging. Recognizing the massive life transitions for one of our children becoming an adult, Unitarian Universalists celebrate in ritual what is a sacred occurrence. A childhood of scraped knees, stressed out test taking and more head colds than anyone but a parent can truly appreciate, sacred is the most apt word I can find to name that moment that all this led up to. That moment that will in turn yield to a lifetime more. But before this moment, there was our first conversation together. We heard it a little bit ago from Dawn’s reading of the excerpt from the Little Prince.
“‘Come and play with me,’ the little price proposed…. ‘I can’t play with you,’ the fox said. ‘I’m not tamed.’” You may not recall ever asking this Olivia, you were likely too young remember. But I imagine you can hear the same question asked back at you from our youngest children, one of which shares the pew with you most Sundays. Our children ask us, the whole congregation, the whole Unitarian Universalist faith, to “come play with (them.)” To share in joy, and silliness, in chalice lightings and play-do. They come to us, asking to be in relationship with us, only they use the word “play” instead the big and fancy ones; but it means the same thing in the long run.
And the congregation responds, “I can’t play with you… I’m not tamed.” It takes years to tame us. “You have to be very patient,” the fox answered. “First you’ll sit down a little ways away from me, over there, in the grass. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye, and you won’t say anything. Language is the source of misunderstandings. But day by day, you’ll be able to sit a little closer…”. Countless Sundays teaching us through snack times reminding us of your needs, and the infants’ cries in worship reminding us to take solace in one another for the goings will not always be smooth. Over the years, our children and youth call us back to relevance for them. Requesting a worship service that at least has a time set aside for them, with the dream that someday it’ll all make just enough sense. You’ve taught us to offer an education that speaks to where you are, what you might become and gives you the capacity to make the life decisions you’ll need to make.
Not all foxes out there learn to do this, but this one has been tamed enough, I feel, to realize our role. Our role is to be tamed, or as the fox puts it, “to create ties.” We’re here to help bring more of our world into community with one another. We’re here to learn to forge real connections with the people near to us; and to develop a sense of compassion for those not in our sight. And we recognize that it takes a long time and a great deal of patience.
And sometimes there’s a parting of ways. ‘And when the time to leave was near: “Ah!” the fox said. “I shall weep.” (but) “I get something,” the fox said, “because of the color of the wheat.” Then he added, “Go look at the roses again. You’ll understand that yours is the only rose in all the world.”’ Olivia, the color of the wheat in the field is different now for our meeting. Wherever you travel, remember that you’ve been here. Remember that we’re more than a place with people who tend toward a progressive view in life. When you start college know that not all liberals you’ll meet will think like us, and some conservatives you’ll encounter may actually. We’re not the sum of our beliefs and opinions. Unitarian Universalism, this congregation and our relationship is a way of living, of acting and interacting. It’s religious and it’s cultural in differing ways.
But central to this is our commitment to walking together, even when we’re apart. In a recent conversation on this topic, a UU colleague of mine from Ohio, Ellen Carvill-Ziemer, suggested that I point out that although our twenties (that are fast approaching for you) are generally filled with wonder, and promise – they can be a rough time as well. You’re likely to find yourself wrestling with meaning and purpose in the world as you change towns, schools, work and careers. You’ll have to sift through thousands of conflicting messages, and we’re not likely to have given you all the answers. The fox reminds us of his secret that speaks directly to this. “Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. That which is essential is invisible to the eye.” Facts and details give way before relationship. I’m personally glad for this point. I was raised up in a faith that gave me the impression that it had given me all the answers and when I came to the realization that that was far from the truth, I felt a bit lost. I found myself searching and I found myself in this faith.
Ellen’s reminder though is a good one. This faith and this congregation and this community of friends and family will remain. When you feel backed into a corner, give us a call, or a post on our Facebook walls. (My text is even posted to my info tab – please use it.) Walk into a local congregation, or join a campus ministry in your area. (And if there isn’t a campus ministry let me know you’d like a hand and maybe I can help you start one. We’ve done it at NYU and we’re starting another at Pratt in the fall.) The answers may still be just as elusive, but we’ve never been in the business of answers – we’ve been in the business of building a bigger and closer neighborhood. You may have gotten into the habit of thinking this congregation is about this location. Almost all of our activities center around this beautiful home. But when you’re further away, don’t feel like this is gone. Because it’s really, really not.
I know that might be hard to believe. Some of us know you pretty well, some very well, and it’ll feel like a lot of folks barely know you at all. “…Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass. Since she’s the one I sheltered behind a screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three for butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.” You know, when I first read the Little Prince as a High School French student I totally missed all the important bits like these because I was so focused on learning the words. This makes so much more sense in English. This message is completely true. I joined my first congregation, the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, when I was 19 years old. I was a young adult convert and was there for only three years; albeit three very full years. Thirteen years later, should I ever run into anyone from those days anywhere in this country, whether it’s off the coast of New Hampshire on an island, or a convention center in the middle of Utah, they come up to me with a smile on their face and look that says, “you’re one of ours.” They fully believe that my ordination is a positive mark on their record. And they’re probably right. There’s something to the Little Prince’s and the Fox’s notion of the rose you water and the wheat field that’s full of memory. As long as we’re here, we will be proud of you in your successes and ever available in your hardship. I say all this to convince you of my sincerity when I say, “reach out to us whenever you need.”
We take seriously the fox’s last injunction. “People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose…” “I’m responsible for my rose…” the little prince repeated, in order to remember. This is where the running metaphor gets tricky. Who exactly is the rose? We all are. You’re part of the congregation and you have both cared for us as this rose in your years of attention and commitment, in the caring you’ve given as a youth to our youngest children, in all the stories that took place before I myself got here. You’re also the rose. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned and you can imagine, we likewise feel responsible for you. Even as you graduate from our Religious Education program, let us continue to be responsible for each other.
“Where shall we adventure, today that we’re afloat, Wary of the weather and steering by a star?” this quote from the R.L Stevenson poem, Pirate Story our offertory was based upon, draws our wonder to the path ahead for all of us. There’s likely a big part of you that’s done with everything the high school years have come to mean. There’s likely a big part of all of us that are done with everything that the “insert your life-stage of choice here” has come to mean. We’re afloat, a bit weary for the tides and storms, and feel like we’ve come this way by doing mathematics in the dark of night, with nary a compass or sextant at hand. And yet this is also the beauty of a faith without neat, clean answers. We get to travel, with an ancient star as our guide, finding direction as best we can interpret with the tools we’ve been given. With a sense of wonder and a knowing that the story may never truly end. This adventure demands the “we” Stevenson’s poem calls our attention to. We never adventure alone, we always and only do it in relation. So, Olivia, where shall we adventure?