Posts Tagged Hunger
#35 Small Group Ministry Session Written by Rev. Jude Geiger, MRE, First Unitarian, Brooklyn - Based on the sermon, “Where the Desert Meets the Sea” preached by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons at First UU on 3/3/13. This session explores the role of heroes in our lives. The sermon it’s based upon is found here: http://www.fuub.org/home/clergy/sermons/?sermon_id=104
Welcome & Opening Chalice Lighting (Please read aloud) excerpt from the sermon by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons
‘“We are each the joining of two worlds.” We stand at the place where the desert meets the sea. We stand at the place where absolute absence intersects absolute presence. And as much as we hunger to declare ourselves just one or the other, the fact is that we have a dual nature. We are dust and ashes and at the same time for our sake the world was created.”
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: Excerpts from Rev. Ana’s sermon.
“This is what I call our desert consciousness. Dust, ashes, sand, rock. Our consciousness of ourselves as defined, like a desert, by what we lack. It’s an ethic of scarcity and humility. Like a desert, where you can see the bones of everything that came before baked white in the sun, it’s a vision of our mortality. We become like the human Jesus who was said to have prayed in the desert for 40 days, preparing for his own suffering and death. If you’ve ever been in a desert at night, you may remember the feeling – the visceral feeling of clinging to a dry planet that’s spinning through outer space. From the perspective of desert consciousness, we are decidedly not God, we are small and vulnerable and utterly dependent on the universe for every breath we take.”
“This is what I call ocean consciousness. Wavelike, surging, abundant energy, teeming with life. It’s the consciousness of ourselves defined by what we have and all that we are, rather than by what we lack. It’s a vision of grandeur, even of ourselves as the substrate that supports a thousand life forms. In ocean consciousness, humans are heroic. It is the awareness of our God-self, like the ocean that will always be crashing on the shore, impervious, immortal, and infinite.”
Discussion Questions: We often make heroes of the people who excel in what Rev. Ana would call Ocean or Desert consciousness. Extreme success or extreme sacrifice. Why do we choose to look up to the people we choose? Who are your personal heroes? Who are the ones you might be afraid to admit you admire? What do these choices say about ourselves? Do you feel more drawn to the Desert or the Ocean? Where have you found that balance, and where have you fallen short?
Closing: (please read aloud ) Serenity Prayer
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This sermon was first preached at the First UU Congregation of Brooklyn, NY on 11/18/12.
In this season of Thanksgiving we hear so many competing stories of gratitude and self-interest; of plentitude and scarcity. My home back in Manhattan, hard hit by the Hurricane, is completely back to normal while neighbors in the Rockaways and Staten Island are still without gas, heat, or power – or even a home. The makers of Twinkies is going bankrupt, and chief executives are blaming Union pay as the reason – even though they gave senior managers and executives 300% pay increases while simultaneously declaring bankruptcy. We’re rapidly coming up to Black Friday – the day where Americans go crazy buying things we don’t have after spending 24 hours expressing gratitude for the things we already do have. Petitions have been sent to the White House from almost every state (including New York) seeking to secede from the Union in response to the re-election of President Obama — not getting what we want, some of us want to take our cookies and go home. Whereas, prior to the election, many a liberal considered moving to Canada should things go differently. (mmm hmm.. that’s right.. I heard you…).
What are we doing? Collectively, I mean? Has the spiritual center of our country fallen away? Or have we just strayed from the path? Where exactly did we give up our identities as Citizens for the role of Consumers? Where did politics shift from differing philosophies to differing identities? I can’t answer all these in the space of a sermon, but combined they resonate with an existential angst that frames the scope of our spiritual short-comings as a people. Whether there’s an actual need – like those in crisis in the Rockaways and Staten Island, or there’s a perceived crisis – “they got the last widget on sale at the store,” there’s a question of a balance that’s off. Collectively, we’ve lost our center, we’ve lost perspective, and we have to find our way back.
There is such a sense of emptiness that many of us experience. Sometimes it’s severe and obvious. Depression, addiction, a break-up, the loss of a loved one. All are ways that we legitimately feel less whole. They’re not easy to fix, and we’re off-kilter to say the very least. Sometimes it’s fickle, and small. ‘I just bought that new iPhone and two weeks later they announce the latest model is about to come out.’ (Not that that’s happened to me before…. twice.)
Our Hunger Communion this morning ritualizes this challenge. Representing the world, some of us get all the bread we want, and others are grabbing a nibble. Taken out of the metaphor, some of us are eating for survival and some of us are eating to excess – and this truth is a spiritual crisis. The goal must be shifted away from survival and excess and to a discipline of eating for fullness.
Our reading by Thich Nhat Hanh this morning prays, “…let us fill our hearts with our own compassion – towards ourselves and towards all living beings.” He asks for us to fill ourselves, not with things, or desires, or excess but with compassion. It can sound like an airy-fairy wish that’s easy to make. But if we go deeper, it’s neither silly nor easy. There are clear, concrete ways in which our excesses cause, directly and indirectly, the strife others must face. Anyone that has lost their home to Hurricane Sandy, appreciates the depth of crisis our planet faces regarding Global Warming. National commuting choices, manufacturing choices, waste disposal choices all have direct and indirect impacts on anyone living near a coast. Our eating habits, and our food transportation systems, impact hunger in the world. We have all the land we need to produce all the food we need to feed all the people in the world. And yet souls go hungry. Some of this is tied the economics of supply, stocks, and transit. Some of this is tied to huge proportions of land being devoted to animal stock – something far more taxing on land usage than fruits and vegetables. What we choose to eat, adding up with all the choices of all the other people around us, impacts world hunger.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s prayer is not easy either. If you’re a huge meat eater, reducing your intake is probably not something you really want to do. If you have a family of 5, taking the subway rather than a car to church in the morning, is probably not convenient. And returning high real estate value coastline to its original use – marshland and swamp – is clearly not going to happen.
But religiously, focusing on filling our hearts with compassion – for ourselves and all living things – is the spiritual answer to the crisis. That mixed with the responsible search for truth. If we know what needs to be done, and compassion is at the heart of our actions, the rest will follow.
Knowing our priorities, however, is a huge challenge in eating for fullness – not eating for excess or for survival. I want to share with you an old story that found its way back as a meme on Facebook this week.
“A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’
The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff.
‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn. Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand. One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.” Now, I imagine that beer could be replaced with coffee or tea if you’re so inclined, but I know you get the meaning.
When our lives become fixated on the small stuff, the iPhones, the tiny grievances of strangers, the hunger for more, then our jars are filled with dross. They may be filled, but they are not full. All the little things still can find their way, but fullness comes when we craft the space for the more important things in our lives first. When we don’t allow work to take precedence over our family and friends. When we pause to enjoy our home, and not just to use it as nightly hotel. When we set our priorities for religious community, raising our children, making connections with those from other generations and serving the world’s needs from our place of giftedness. These golf balls all make the jar full – first.
For some of us, this will fit hand to glove. For others, family and community are places where we’ve known pain. I have a favorite line from the Marge Piercy poem, “To Have Without Holding.” “Learning to love differently is hard, love with the hands wide open, love with the doors banging on their hinges, the cupboard unlocked, the wind roaring and whimpering in the rooms rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds that thwack like rubber bands in an open palm.” Filling our hearts with compassion, means this too. It sometimes means pain. Living our lives with an openness of reach; with the wind making crazy all through our lives; with the sting of the rubber band – is uncomfortable. And it is necessary. Openness is sometimes a discipline.
The love, the sting, the possibility, the self-restraint, the attention to those we care for, the hands wide open – can all be expressions of eating for fullness. Apathy, scarcity, gluttony, vocational distractions, grasping – can all be expressions of eating for excess. Intuitively, we know how they feel different. And each of us are known for both at different points in our lives.
Let us end this service with where we began. The Hunger Communion bread that we shared this morning was baked by our families at our Fall Retreat at Murray Grove, the birthplace of Universalism in the US. When they started the bread baking they began it with a prayer. The prayer ended with these simple words, “May we treat this blessing as the gift that it is. And may we have fun along the way!”
Fullness is a blessing, a gift, and a cause for joy along the way. Whether we have much, or have little, fullness is just as near to us.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names & One Transforming & Abundant Love,
We bear witness this hour to the many hungers of the world.
Our neighbors, both near and far, who are in desperate need of life sustaining food and water.
We are humbled before our relative plenty, where others are in such need.
Stoke in us a passion for healing this pain.
Help us to find new ways, to change the small things we can,
in our own lives,
So that the lives of others may be improved.
At this national time of Thanksgiving, we recognize that in some ways,
Our abundance comes at the price of others.
May the politics of our nation move away from reactive military action,
And toward proactive international aid.
May we win the hearts of the world through medicine and education,
And the hearts of our streets through community investment and workforce development.
We know that hunger comes in other clothes,
The desire for more, the quest for power, a sense of isolation.
God of Grace, ease the pain of discord in our hearts,
Let us be satisfied with a warm home,
Teach us to not seek to rule those around us,
In name or in deed,
And remind us that there are ever hands reaching toward us,
Waiting for us to reach back,
We are never alone.
#25 Small Group Ministry Session on “An Awe So Quiet” from our Hunger Communion
Written by Rev. Jude Geiger, MRE, First Unitarian, Brooklyn
Based on a Sermon by Rev. Holly Horn preached at First UU on 11/20/11 found here: http://www.fuub.org/home/clergy/sermons/?sermon_id=51
Welcome & Opening Chalice Lighting Please read aloud — By Jacob Trapp #725
Simply to be, and to let things be as they speak wordlessly from the mystery of what they are.
Simply to say a silent yet to the hillside flowers, to the trees we walk under.
To pass from one person to another a morsel of bread, an answering yes, this is the simplest, the quietest, of sacraments.
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: “Why Not a Star” by Margaret Gooding from Singing the Living Tradition
They told me that when Jesus was born a star appeared in the heavens above the place where the young child lay. When I was very young I had no trouble believing wondrous things; I believed in the star. It was a wonderful miracle, part of a long ago story, foretelling an uncommon life. They told me a super nova appeared in the heavens in its dying burst of fire. When I was older and believed in science and reason I believed the story of the star explained. But I found I was unwilling to give up the star, fitting symbol for the birth of one whose uncommon life has been long remembered. The star explained became the star understood, for Jesus, for Buddha, for Zarathustra. Why not a star? Some bright star shines somewhere in the heavens each time a child is born. Who knows what it may foretell? Who knows what uncommon life may yet again unfold, if we but give it a chance?
In this holiday season how does gratitude play out in your spirit and in your lives? Does the message of gift-giving turn into consumerism? How so? How do you let yourself take a sabbath over the holidays? Are you able to or are the holidays exhausting from obligations? Where do you find the “awe so quiet” at this time of year?
Closing: By Hosea Balou #705 from Singing the Living Tradition
If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury, but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any good. Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.
Toward the end of October, I joined over 150 other religious educators for a week of service and learning in New Orleans during our annual liberal religious educators’ Fall conference. We broke up into groups of 15 or 20 to spend a day working in the fields, gardening, weeding, sorting books for kids who have few or none, among many other projects. We spent days in classes on music, local culture, personal stories. We explored angles of racism and classism. We learned how youth and adults collaborated to affect change. We witnessed how individuals from all financial backgrounds worked together to heal the corners of the blocks in which they dwelled. We went down primarily to serve, to help make things better down there; and we came away realizing “down there” had a lot to offer us to help out “back home.”
Blurring the lines between down there, and back home, was a main goal of the planning team for the annual conference. They were challenging us. They were asking us not to feel hearts full of charity, overflowing; but rather to experience solidarity at our core with the struggles of our fellow neighbors on this spinning orb we call home. The communities in New Orleans were asking us to come down and lend a hand, and in return, they’d show us their ways of making things better so that we could bring home the tools they’ve crafted, sharpened to excellence, and put to good use. We can serve with them, and in return, they’ll serve with us.
The personal transformation asked of us by this ethical stance, is central to Unitarian Universalist theology. I can recall the words of a mentor of mine, the late Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, previous Senior Minister of All Souls in NYC, who was known to teach that “we spring from a common source (Unitarianism) and that we share a common destiny (Universalism) and that both source and destiny are grounded in love.” I love that message. It feels very simple to say that we all spring from this living world, and we all share this road, this walk together. But it’s just as easy to forget this truth in our daily lives.
It’s just as easy to say we’re somehow better, or somehow above, the plight of others. It’s easy to come into a place of struggle and feel superior in our charity. It’s easy to impart our wisdom to a friend or family member who can’t seem to get their dating life, or their career, or their educational path together. Ok – with a show of hands, who here has ever given advice to a friend about how poorly they were managing their dating, or work, or school life? Now keep those hands up, if you weren’t able to follow your own advice. (mmm hmmm!)
We can laugh at ourselves (hopefully) for these foibles and everyday follies. But those are the little ways every day we commit acts of charity that lift ourselves up, without opening ourselves to the learning potential of mutuality, or solidarity. They’re some of the tricks we use to forget that we all spring from one common source and share one common destiny. Acts of solidarity, the moments we seek to serve while learning from those we aid, remind us of the truth of our origins and the nature and direction of our shared path. They humble us, and in our humility we come to realize how amazing this gift of life truly is. The big acts of service, of traveling across this country to help heal our brokenness, need to transform the little every day brokenness in our own lives, or we missed half the point and the wholeness of the message.
One of the lessons we learned in New Orleans, is that the community couldn’t do it alone. Individuals needed to work together. Non-profits, and congregations needed to work together. Congregational walls needed to open up to let more in and create collaborative opportunities. How much of that do we do locally? Do we work well with our fellow congregations in NYC? Where do we intersect with community groups in our neighborhood and our small town of Brooklyn? In some ways we excel, like the awesome reality of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that meets every Wednesday in our downstairs Chapel, and in some ways we have room for growth. But we have a good deal to learn from our Louisiana neighbors.
We’re trying to do more of this in the months to come. For example, many of you may know that our Senior High Youth group will be traveling to New Orleans the week preceding Easter to have a week of service and learning. Following the good modeling of the groups in New Orleans, we’ve reached out to our neighbors in Staten Island. Our Staten Island UU youth group will be traveling with us; they’ll be fund-raising with us; and we’ll be getting to know one another more and more over the year to come. In fact, about 15 of us spent an evening full of pasta and conversation just two nights ago thanks to the delicious cooking of Becky Huffman and Paul Eisemann. Their youth group, Religious Education chair and Senior Minister came to visit us in the first of many steps toward building community. I sincerely hope and pray that this will be a real opportunity for our two congregations to get to know one another better. I know our Weaving the Fabric of Diversity committee is also seeking to expand their collaborations with our sister congregation, and I commend them for their work.
Solidarity, unlike charity, demands we seek personal transformation. In the words from some of his seminal work, cultural ethicist, Michael Jackson writes, “As I, turn up the collar on my favorite winter coat this wind is blowin’ my mind I see the kids in the street, with not enough to eat who am I, to be blind? Pretending not to see their needs… I’m starting with the man in the mirror I’m asking him to change his ways and no message could have been any clearer if you wanna make the world a better place…”. The metaphor of the mirror is the clearest symbol of what solidarity demands of us; and what solidarity offers us. We’re not going find more food for kids in the street if we don’t look to our own ways, attitudes, and perceptions first and foremost.
In this spirit of looking first to ourselves, the only people we can ever truly change, let’s reflect a little on our Hunger Communion this morning. I invite you to sit-up, feel yourselves in your body, open your hearts to the emotions that played across your mind during the communion portion of the service this morning. For those of you that had ample access to a nice loaf of bread, how did it feel to see the ample remainder upon the altar? Where did you feel pressure in your body when you turned to see most of the congregation struggling to share bits and scraps? For those of you receiving the opposite extreme, the absurdity of the 30 or 40 or 50 of you sharing one slice, where did the experience sit in your body? What arose in you when you saw someone else’s ample surplus sit upon our chancel? For those of you sitting somewhere in the middle, I challenge you not to make the mistake that the middle ground reflects the situation of the middle-class in the States. The vast majority of us in this room benefit as did the folks in the first three pews this morning. Even if we are relying upon food stamps, we have greater access to nourishment than most of our neighbors on this planet do. (And if you or your family are hungry this morning, come up to me after the service, and we’ll work together to change that. Many of us in the States and this city do go hungry every day.)
Knowing this, feeling this, experiencing this, what do we find in the mirror this morning? How does this annual ritual translate for us? From the safety and danger of this pulpit, I can not answer this question for any of you. We all need to come to that answer internally, but our religious community is a vessel for you to put those answers to practice. This religious home is a place of safety, of succor, where you can risk the glance into the mirror and take the first transformative steps. It’s what we’re all called to do here.
It’s common to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge before us. Helping one person out there, in a charitable way, is a concrete thing we can accomplish so we’re often, though regretfully not always, willing to do it. The guests at our table boxes signify several hundred concrete steps this congregation takes each year to affect noticeable change in the lives of people they touch. Escorting those boxes down to our religious education classes and introducing the plight of others into the awareness of our children and youth are another hundred or so concrete steps we take every year. Food is the focus of this morning’s Communion, but access to clothing, and shelter, and even moments of celebration for young children, are all interwoven in the broader fabric of poverty. Each thread connects to another. Our annual toy drive, our split the plate with Good Shepherd, our periodic days of repainting shelters for our Queer Youth, our clothing drive for Christian Help in Park Slope expand the list. Money, and time, and concern are necessary to affect moments of reprieve, and occasional nudges against systems of oppression the world over. And we as a religious community must do them, because I often fear I’m not sure who else would if ethical gatherings of individuals ceased this work. And yet, they’re not enough alone. Charity is not enough even if it is a necessary point of entry for many of us.
We ritualize the Hunger Communion to transform our hearts and spirits. The internal awareness and the internal transformation are great gifts of solidarity to end the crisis of Hunger. Some of us change our eating habits to reduce our impact. For some this will mean vegetarianism (like myself) or veganism – both diets that reduce reliance upon grain-intensive livestock. For others it will mean supporting Community Supported Agriculture, to reduce environmental impacts while funding local farmers who quite often donate surplus to those in need in our local community. For some, it will mean supporting Community Gardens that teach folks how to grow food, the value of nutrition, and increase access to fresh foods.
Many in this congregation donate funds to build micro-credit banks in Haiti to help combat systems of poverty that reduce women’s access to employment and entrepreneurialism – at their best, these banks are acts of solidarity that empower individuals to increase their own capacity to be self-subsistent. These banks presume, given a fair chance and equal access, people can stand on their own. I agree with that presumption.
And the list can go on and on. I invite you, no I challenge you. If something was stirred in you this morning, seek the ways in which you can affect the change in world you seek to know. Begin with yourself. Begin with the everyday habits. Transformation of this world beneath the glow of justice is possible and it begins at home. It is an act of solidarity over charity. This is the saving message of our Unitarian Universalist faith. There is a path worth living and walking; there is ever a potential for hope in the unfolding of the human spirit; we are loved and maintain the possibility to love; perfections and products are pale compensations for forgetting our connectedness in this awe-inspiring living world. It is my hope and my prayer this morning, that our service of Communion reminds us of the truth of our interconnectedness. And that this truth stirs within our blood such compassion that we are quickened to act.