Archive for April, 2012
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.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,
We pause this morning to take a breath before the great change that is before us,
for the changes that are stunning, that are obvious,
that bring us excitement, and joy,
and those that stagger us, that carry with them fear, and trembling.
We pause before those changes that come to us unbidden, and unknown.
In every moment the world grows into new directions
that are both clear and hazy.
We recognize that our vision helps us only so far,
that our expectations have but limited relevance,
and that our dreams only frame what is possible.
Gather this community together this hour,
May every candle lit, hold witness to our hopes and silences;
hold witness to the love that is before us,
and the stories that have brought us this far.
Our community is beginning its next step along the path of ministry.
May the walking be for gladness, and possibility;
May our ministry together be for healing and transformation;
And may we have the strength to continue down this road together,
with Your Spirit of Peace.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names and One Transforming and Abundant Love,
Quicken our spirits to possibility this Easter morning.
May the hope of this season stir our hearts to compassion and forbearance,
Humbled before this great story of life in the face of suffering,
We remember all those lives who have been taught to endure.
All those people who suffer under adversity.
May we never become complacent to the grief of our neighbor,
May we come to understand the role we have in the strife of this world,
And find the courage of our convictions to transform our lives and our ways.
For those who struggle in silence – we pray:
May we not become consumed in self-doubt,
May we lift up the burden of self-blame,
and find a path forward in love.
We hold up the challenges of this family holiday,
Celebrating with those of us surrounded by loving family,
Mourning with those who are grieving the loss of someone dear,
And honoring the reality that many of us struggle with love and frustration over awkward family meals,
Knowing that sometimes the meal is not even to be had.
God of Love, may we this Easter, come back to our center,
And find in our lives a sense of abundance,
Where we feel broken,
A sense of compassion where we were cold,
And know a message of hope when we are lost.
This short homily was preached on Good Friday, at the First Unitarian Congregation of Brooklyn on 4/6/12.
Our text is a difficult one today. Jesus stands before the worldly powers, – the chief priests, the elders, the scribes and even the face of the Roman authority in occupiedIsrael. It’s a text that is often confused in the retelling, laying blame upon the hands of Jews for the death of another Jew. To be fair, some of the gospel writers had the politics of the day in mind. They needed to convince a Roman world, that it was not to blame for the death of the Messiah.
Spiritually, we can also look at it as a testament to the audacity of life in the face of power. Theologian Delores Williams writes, “”Jesus did not come to redeem humans by showing them God’s ‘love’ manifested in the death of God’s innocent child on a cross erected by cruel, imperialistic, patriarchal power. Rather… the spirit of God in Jesus came to show humans life – to show redemption through a perfect ministerial vision of righting relations between the body (individual and community), mind (of humans and of tradition) and spirit.” I feel this is the spirit of the Christian path that most strongly lives on in our Unitarian Universalist communities. How do we live a life of meaning, amidst all the world’s struggles around wealth, authority, and consumption? How do we build up communities when nations sometimes seek to divide and control? Which traditions hold us up and which traditions hold us back? Does a life of spirit have meaning to us any longer, and what does it feel like if it does?
The world of the bible is in some ways very similar to ours. It speaks of a people trying to survive within radically changing times. We are blessed here not to suffer under an imperial power, but many around us know the curse of poverty, or the imbalance in a stratifying economy, or the lack of equitable access to opportunities. Religion is changing, family structures are changing, how we view security, safety and information are all matters in flux. And today we focus in on the life of a prophet who reminded us there was a right way to live. In fact, his students were known as “followers of the way.” In this path, we’re asked not only to love our neighbor as our self. Not only to forgive 70 times 70. But to lift up the poor, to steer away from worldly power, and that some things in life are not only worth dying for, but are worth living for.
It is his life, and his path, that we remember tonight.