This sermon was originally preached at First UU in Brooklyn on May 8th. It was a service that was originally intended to be a multigenerational (family/kid friendly) worship service honoring the original message of Mothers’ Day – World Peace. Then it fell on the Sunday following the death of Osama Bin Laden. This homily in three parts (including a ritual activity) was our way of wrestling with that death, the idea of peace, and parenthood knowing that kids of all ages would be present.
Peace Mosaic Reflection
What a week we’ve had. It was late on Sunday when my boyfriend, Brian, looked over from reading the e-news to say, “They killed Bin Ladin.” He was relieved, a long time NYC resident, Brian had been living here when the Trade Center came down. The non-profit he works for was in midtown at the time, and has since moved down to Wall Street. My first reaction was different. Ten years ago I watched the smoke from twelve miles away, and waited for some friends to come home from work. It put in motion my studying for the GRE’s, and the career change from Information Technology to Community Development and ultimately the ministry. On Sunday night though, I didn’t have an emotional response; I didn’t find a sense of closure – that door that was opened on 9/11 didn’t feel like it shut closed and I found myself still staring at that open door.
I was quiet, a little stunned, and left wondering what the news, the politicians, and the entertainment media would do now. I was left wondering what changed; what’s next; and most of all – why wasn’t I feeling anything. What does justice mean? What does peace at the end of a rifle mean? Look at how much we can accomplish and how little we can stop. It wasn’t till the next morning that I realized, “Oh my, I have to talk about this at a family friendly service about Mothers’ Day and Peace this Sunday.”
It’s an impossible topic; yet one that needs to be addressed since this saga in our nation’s (and planet’s) history continues to define and determine our policies, our priorities, and the generations being raised in its wake. And I rather not leave it to our entertainment media to teach it to our children. We can shy away from it, but the truth is – all of us – adults, teens, and children – see this constantly on TV, in print, and certainly on the internet. And right now, when I look at these sources of information, I largely hear a message that tells me that violence is the only answer to violence; that war is eternal; and that we can never be safe so stay on guard. I personally don’t agree with those three views. I pray to hear more people speak up to help break this cycle of war and violence who don’t sound to my ear as fringe themselves, or evangelical in their militant pacifism, or who don’t negate the genuine feelings of those that support the course our country is currently taking. But I don’t personally hear that yet.
I would love to say to all of us that there is a clear and easy answer to how we should feel in the wake of the news of the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist. But the truth is, that like it was for Brian and I, we’re all going to respond differently. And that’s ok. Some of us will find solace; and some of us will feel numb; and some of us will feel like we’ve only made things worse.; and some of us were born after 9/11 so we don’t fully understand everything that’s going on and will just feel confused; and some of us who were born after 9/11 never got to know a certain family member and from that loss don’t understand why anyone would feel conflicted at all. I believe all of these responses are valid and correct in their own ways. ‘Violence begets violence’ remains true… and… someone who has caused so much suffering in the world must be stopped. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama’s response to this, Everyone deserves our compassion and forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean we need to forget. Sometimes actions must be taken.
If I can take anything of value out of this latest chapter in this tragic story I would say that we can learn to accept each others’ different emotional, intellectual and spiritual responses – our hearts, heads and soul. I would say that we give each other room to honor our pain, or our relief, or our fear, or our satisfaction. That we hold each other in care; that we hold off from the judgmental cries we might see on Facebook status updates; that we talk about what this means with our families and friends. That we refrain from the easier next step of intellectually critiquing US Foreign Policy, and remain in the more difficult place of emotionally wrestling with what this means for our hopes of building a more vibrant and connected world community. I think most of us know how much easier it is to critique or judge a thing – and how much harder it is to make anew or build something from the fallout. The world needs a lot more of the rebuilding than the breaking down right now. Where do we choose to focus?
With this page turning, can we be inspired to change how we interact with the people sitting next to us in the pews this morning? Can we start with that? I swear, it is so easy to get lost in the rush of responsibilities, and homework, and deadlines, and budgets and annual meetings. It is so easy to forget that everything we need to build community – to craft peace – is right before us and we can’t see it for the details. I know I’m guilty of that daily, and I regret that I am not alone in that mistake.
As you can tell from the differences in the order of service this morning, or from the fact that I’m giving my sermon in a couple of parts, we’re moving the liturgy around in the hopes of helping to work through these feelings a little more. In a little while – during our time of prayer, meditation and reflection – we’re going to ask all of us to do a little bit of building up of our own. We’re crafting in service today a larger peace sign. It’ll be a mosaic made of small felt squares in colors the range of the rainbow. You may not know that our side aisle chapels each are dedicated to different purposes. The one on this side is dedicated to all the world religions. During our candle lighting later, we’ll use this chapel for its usual purpose. Our other chapel is dedicated to peace. It is there that we’ll gather after the prayer to choose our own piece of felt to add to our peace mosaic. In a little while I’ll explain the logistics of how we’ll all do this together, but for now I’d like you to reflect on two questions. With reverence, I ask you to consider what part of the picture can you add in your own life? What color do your efforts look like?
The Logistical Bits
As we prepare to silently reflect and light candles in our chapel of world faiths, I invite those who would like to, to come forward as well and place a mosaic onto our peace sign. By doing so, you are not making a statement of support or critique of any policy, or procedure, or worldly decision, or critiquing our soldiers who are risking their lives for ours. Rather, you are agreeing to help build a little more peace in the corner of the world in which you live – at home, at the office, in this congregation – with family, with friends, with strangers. There’s no right color to choose, or right place to put it on the mosaic. As my local Park Slope arts and craft guru teaches me, we all have a natural instinct when it comes to colors. As a group we’ll naturally make it look great. We don’t have to overly think about it. We don’t have to form a committee to make it work. We don’t have to fret whether the next person will mess it up. It just takes our intention, our effort, and allowing ourselves to listen to our own heart – and it will all come out just fine. I invite now folks who feel so moved to come forward and light a candle in our one chapel and then head over to our other to place a mosaic. Some of you may choose to do the same thing in the reverse order. That’ll work out just fine as well. After several minutes, Bill Peek will lead our choir and the seated in singing the next hymn that’s printed in the order of service. Some of us will still be lighting candles or placing tiles. The words should be easy enough to join in singing whether or not you still have a hymnal in your hands. I welcome you now forward.
Our songs this morning – particularly our anthem and offertory – have this sense of time passing. That’s the phrase Bill Peek used, and I know he’s right on the mark. Some things may feel like forever, but they’re gone in a blink or look different on second glance. And yet, springtime returns every year at just about the same time. I asked Bill (our music director) if he thought the John Lennon song, Beautiful Boy could work today. I know it’s written from a dad to his son, and we’re celebrating Mothers’ Day; but I realize that we celebrate Mothers’ Day every year, and we don’t celebrate Fathers’ Day as such, it falling on our Juneteenth celebration. So for those dads out there, I hope this song gives you a little more space this year in the celebration.
The song has a particular meaning for me on this day though. “Out on the ocean sailing away, I can hardly wait, to see you come of age, but I guess we’ll both, just have to be patient, yes it’s a long way to go, but in the meantime, before you cross the street, take my hand, life is just what happens to you, while you’re busy making other plans.” Life is just what happens to you while you’re busy making others plans. That line of the song might be my motto this year. Thinking I was sailing away to a warm blue ocean on the other side of this continent, only to realize that my family situation, and my mother’s health, meant it was best if I stayed close rather than 3000 miles away. So many have asked this of me individually, so I’ll say to all of you now, my mom’s not in critical condition. She’s just learning to live into her next stage of life as she struggles with walking and other problems tied to mobility and heart health. And I guess my dad and I are trying to learn alongside her just as well. Knowing how private my mom is, it feels very weird even talking about this, but I know how much more strange it would be for our community if I were to remain entirely silent.
We grow up as kids waiting for the day to get out of the house and be on our own – to be adults. If we’re lucky, our parents are still around and we still want them in our lives. Then twenty or so years go by and all of a sudden you’re wondering whether being a bit closer isn’t the right way to go. We have an image of our moms as the one asking us to take their hand as we cross the street. As we get older though, there comes a time when we have to be grown up enough to ask the same thing of our parents. Maybe we should learn to take and ask for each other’s hands all along the way, and then maybe it won’t feel so weird should we let twenty years go by.
If you’re 15 right now and trying to imagine yourself holding your mom’s hand while you cross the street – seeing how strange it might feel, and knowing how other folks might look at you doing so being nearly an adult — try to fast forward a couple of decades and consider what it might feel like then. The awkwardness, I feel, are mirror images to one another; but just as many of us can recall our feelings and family frustrations from our teen years, I’m sure our teens can also get a glimpse of what the future might be through the images of our multigenerational community all around us. We can learn to take what moments we can as they arrive; ever trying to remember the mothers in our lives who have reminded us to “have no fear, (and that) the monsters are gone.” For those who have their mothers with them, strongly in their lives, we celebrate with you. For those who wish they had the chance to say one more thing to their mom, or their son or their daughter – we love you – and we’re just a hand’s length away when you need.
It’s in this spirit that our words from the Call to Worship this morning by the Unitarian Julia Ward Howe were crafted. It’s from the deep connection between child and mother, which the original Mothers’ Day Proclamation of peace was made in 1870. “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.” Howe helps us to see the big problem of war, through the baby steps of starting at home. It reminds me of the contemporary slogan, “Think Globally, Act Locally.” To find a world at peace, we must act in our families, in our friendships and all through our community. I have no idea how to solve all the violence and war in the world. When I try to think of how to work through all the conflicts of all the people in the world, I simply have no clue. No clue. But I can try to speak more compassionately with those around me. I can seek to apply the words of Dr. Hicks that are printed at the top of our order of service this morning. ?”Ask questions from the standpoint of curiosity, rather than arguing or debating another’s point of view.” For all of us who have ever asked the big questions like “Why is the sky blue?” – it’s with that spirit that Dr. Hicks words live in us. If you’ve ever had an argument with someone else, and you found yourself using the time where your opponent is speaking to formulate your response – not actually listening to them with more than one ear – Dr. Hicks is speaking to you. If we can’t find a way to listen with curiosity in our daily lives, we won’t craft world peace. We have to do it over the TV dinner if we ever hope to do it in the oil fields. World peace may be more complicated than that, but its first steps are that simple. Happy Mothers’ Day to all. May Julia Ward Howe’s dream come true in our lifetime.