This sermon was first preached at the First UU congregation of Brooklyn on June 7th, 2009. It includes fond memories of being hit by a car, synchronicity and becoming an adult.
A week ago Tuesday, I got hit by a car. I was crossing Flatbush Avenue where it intersects Lafayette. I had looked both ways. I waited for the blinking walk sign. I had even counted to three before crossing, because the width of the avenue was frankly a little intimidating. Oh, and I wasn’t on the phone, or crossing between cars as some rumors have suggested. The driver was making a left turn onto Flatbush, so I really, really had the right of way.
Somehow I leapt onto the hood of the car and rolled with the impact. On Facebook I had to suffer folks making links ranging from ninjas to TJ Hooker (an 80‘s cop show with a lot of ridiculous car stunts.) I’m very grateful to be standing right now and to not have any broken or fractured bones. I’m almost more grateful Patrick won’t make me ascend to the high pulpit with my knee still bruised internally as it is. You may not know this, but those steps are tricky for me normally in my robe. I had fully expected to be borrowing that walking stick of Rev. Lathrop’s that Olive gifted to the congregation today. I’ll admit, I am a little disappointed that I don’t have the excuse to use it even for a little while now.
Many ministers, including myself, believe that the events that happen around us and our communities, have a tendency to be particularly relevant to what we say in our sermons. Whether it’s the action of the Spirit, or simply an expression of the broader trends we as a congregation face, they routinely are very apt. The happenstance of the walking stick gift only reinforces this belief of mine. It certainly opened my eyes to how difficult it is to travel even from room to room in our building. I knew the steps coming into the Sanctuary are tough for many, but I never noticed exactly how many rooms are only accessible by a few steps here or there.
So Luke – on this Bridging Sunday – I want you to know that I don’t exactly blame you for my run in with that wayward car; but I do fully expect you learn from it. My homily this morning will be a charge in light of this. I have three bits of advice, and one request:
First, do everything you feel you should, or need to, in order to take care of yourself. Whether that’s looking both ways in the street to avoid cars, or staying active in the gym or sports to care of your health, or keeping one day a week as a sabbath to rest from a very tough school schedule. Having received my first masters degree at NYU, I can honestly say that all three of things were very important components of my studies there. Take the time to figure out what your particular needs are, and allow yourself to attend to them. School will often seem like it’s trying to stop you from caring for the rest of yourself – don’t let it.
Now here comes the second bit of advice – when you do some or all of these things, know that it won’t always be enough. We’ll have our accidents and our lapses in health. People will always advise you on how you could have lived your life better. Sometimes they will be right, and sometimes it will just have been out of your control. It’s often hard to see the difference; and it’s usually a bit of both. Try to keep a sense of humor about it all as long as you can.
Resist the urge to think that bad things that happen to you necessarily have anything to do with you. It’s not always about you; even when it it’s hard to see how it’s not. Whether it’s the randomness of a wayward driver; or an extremely annoying professor whose grading system seems to change from week to week – and there will always be one; or the frustration of the role that luck plays in getting that next part on stage. Consider how rarely you make any personal decision based on the needs, actions, hopes, strivings or failings of everyone around you; and you can safely assume others will do so with as little frequency.
Lastly, after you get up off the ground from whatever it will be that will eventually knock you down, stay nimble and keep walking for as long as you can — despite the twitchiness. I’ll be honest, it’s been about two weeks since my accident, and I get so unnerved when I see a car take a turn even 5 miles over the speed limit. It’s natural, and I’m probably right to be concerned. But I encourage you (and myself) to not let the memory of the thing that scares us get in the way of our strivings. We all live by hope. Going to college is a time of a thousand new beginnings that breed possibility and growth. Move with and into them all as long as you can. More than anything, it’s what keeps us going.
I had said that I had three bits of advice for you and one request. Take care of yourself – really. Know that it won’t always be enough. And rely on hope to help you stay nimble. My request, is for you to remember your Unitarian Universalist identity. Know that we’re here. Know that we care. Make us what you need. There’s a myth that congregations are what they are, and never change to fit the needs of changing communities. The truth is that they’ll be able to speak new languages as long as they have members who are so fluent. If there’s something here that you need for us to be able to speak, be part of the conversation.
You may have already experienced this, or it might come up more frequently studying at a liberal school, but you’re going to find a lot of people in this City who share your progressive mindset; or who share your commitment to justice-making in the world; or who share your uncertainty about where the sacred begins and ends. And these people probably won’t identify as Unitarian Universalists. It might be an opportunity for discussion; or it might be a chance to show them our religious path that we oh so carefully keep locked and hidden away from others. But I want to caution you from thinking it means you’re not a Unitarian Universalist because they’re not.
We live in a culture where belief is equated with religiosity. I so rarely get the chance to use this word, so I will – I rebuke that notion. Belief is not what makes us religious — conviction and compassion are what make us religious. I see the challenge of faith to be one of how we orient our lives in the face of a broader reverence for being. When we say that life is sacred, we remember that it matters and it transcends us. My request for you, is to remember those values, and a respect for uncertainty that this faith continues to teach us all. As the words of our Bridging Litany read, “this is a transformative time.” Your relationship as an adult in this community will be different than it was as a child or a youth. This service and our tradition honors that transformation because life is sacred; because you have taught us so much in your years of religious education; because we are hopeful of the new paths we will all walk together. Luke – God bless you in your travels; we love you; and keep this faith.