Archive for May, 2012

The Art of Peace

    Happy Mothers’ Day to all our mothers, and to all those hoping to some day be mothers. Since Fathers’ Day is rarely celebrated here in the Summer months, let me extend the same to all our dads, and dads-to-be. And for those of us who are mourning our parents, may we hold them in our hearts this hour so that the memories that are good may echo on in our own living actions.

By a show of hands, who hear has noticed that I’m preaching from the floor this morning? (Oh good, most of you. I must be doing something right so far.) I’ll be preaching from the lectern this morning because I’ll be moving around a bit more than usual, and the high pulpit doesn’t have much room to move about.

As some of you may already know, before there were Hallmark cards, Mothers’ Day was started as a day of peace. It was a political activist call for Mothers to stand united to call for the return of their sons and daughters home from war. It’s grown into a secular holiday that celebrates motherhood, but it’s rooted in a peace movement.

A peace movement may seem a bit quieter these days than it did generations ago, but it’s no less important. As I remind us from time to time, my generation, and the generation that came before me and the generation that’s coming after me, have never really known a time when the U.S. wasn’t at war. Even if it might seem to most of us that war doesn’t really affect us. Some of us have family that are abroad, or have friends who have died in war. I personally haven’t felt that loss close to home, although I do have family serving in the military right now. For most of us who don’t know anyone serving in active duty, war is a thing that’s far away, or just in video games. We don’t have to put ourselves at risk. We don’t have to ration butter like they did in World War II. We don’t have to risk being drafted by the military against our will, like folks had to in the Vietnam War.

For many of us, we can kind of forget about it. And that’s a sad thing. It’s not sad because we’re not really affected. It’s sad because some Americans are very, very affected, but most of us don’t have to share that burden. A few people are asked to accept huge risks to their safety and quality of life, while most of us don’t have to shoulder anything at all. It’s sad because it makes it easy to think war’s not that big of a deal, when it’s a huge deal for a few people. It makes me wonder if bringing back the draft weren’t a good idea after all – at least everyone would realize that war might affect them, and maybe we would go to war less frequently or with more reservation. I do recognize that sometimes defending ourselves is necessary. By less frequently – I mean – “not being at war all the time.”

          Now, I’m not going to solve the problem of war and peace in the following 10 minutes, but I would like us to look at the idea of peace in a possibly different way. I think there’s kind of an art to it. I remember a Buddhist proverb that says, “If you want peace, smile.” I recall that the first time I heard that I thought the Buddhist teacher was a little crazy, and probably minimizing the idea of peace. I’ve come to see it a little differently. Let’s do a quick experiment. Everyone here – try something with me for just 10 seconds. On the count of 3, smile. And not a half-hearted smirk. I want a real, full-blown, smile. Pretend your happy – just for 10 seconds. Ok, ready… 1…. 2… 3…. :::smile:::

Alright everyone, you can stop smiling now. If you need to go back to frowning, feel free. Although you may want to bask in the waves of niceness coming off everyone for a few more minutes first. Did anything bad just happen? Did anyone break out into a fight? No, good. By a show of hands, did anyone actually feel better, you know, happy?

That’s what the Buddhists are getting at. With some rare exceptions, if you smile, a sense of peace does break forth. I learned this smiling trick had some real-world work applications too. In a former career, I ran a computer helpdesk for 5 years. I would tell my staff that the more someone on the other end of the phone was driving them crazy, the more they should force themselves to smile. It’s hard to sound mean while you smile. I’m sure you can do it, but it’s tougher. … (smiling) “When you say that your computer crashed, and you went to your email, and then nothing happened… what sort of nothing actually happened…?”

So where does the “art” piece come in that I mentioned? Let me tell you the story of Vashti and “the Dot” by Peter. H. Reynolds.

… “She handed him a piece of paper and said, ‘show me.’… and now.. ‘please …. sign it.’” I think that’s where the art comes in when we’re talking about crafting peace in our lives. It’s not about being perfect, or doing it all, or having all the answers. It’s not always about diplomacy, or bigger muscles, or smarter brains. Sometimes it’s about being willing to make our mark, even when we can just muster a smirk on our faces. It’s about play, and experimentation. But it’s also about being willing to “sign it.” To put our name, or our commitments, to the things we care most about.

You notice how Vashti realized that she wasn’t the only person who could learn how to make art? I love this story because it reminds us that even when she’s kind of the hero of the tale because she learns to be an artist, she extends that gift upon someone else. She finds another classmate who was feeling all down because he was really bad at drawing a straight line (a fellow after my own artistic heart – a ruler doesn’t always help me either. In fact, I asked my partner to help me with the straight lines that were pre-drawn on our canvas for this morning’s story. Yes, sometimes’ I’m that bad.) So she finds that other classmate, and Vashti inspires him to bring about his own talent, to make his mark, and to sign his name onto what he just crafted.

That’s the art of peace. It’s about coming to accept we can do whatever small thing we can do – even if it’s just making our mark in a small way at one time and place. Then owning our efforts for what they are. And most importantly, helping to inspire another person after us to be creative in their own way.

During our prayer this morning, we crafted a peace mosaic out of colored felt squares. Each was just one little bit of color, that on its own didn’t do much to create the symbol of peace on our flag. But when about 200 or so of us each made our own mark, it became a lot easier to make out the symbol of peace that was lying there waiting to show. For those of us who believe in God, we often see God’s presence in things like this. Individual acts of compassion or care, over time, seem to paint a pattern that’s hard to see if you only look at the one act. We all benefit from so many acts of kindness that have allowed us to live as we do, too many to see by themselves, and there is a sense for some of us that they’re leading to something more.

When we leave this worship, what can those marks of peace look like? Let’s hear some ideas, I’ll repeat them back if I can hear you so that we can all hear…. what can those marks of peace look like?

Those are all great. We can start even before we leave this room. Go back to that exercise we had earlier in the homily – the smiling one. Start there. Go up and speak with someone you don’t know – whether they’re new to us, or you’ve been ignoring them for 20 years. Take this day to deepen your connections with a friend or a stranger. It’s the foundation for peace.

It’s also the art for building a more effective ministry in this congregation. To paraphrase a colleague, “To be welcomed, is to be welcoming.” When we haven’t been reached out to, we can always be the one to reach out. I think of Vashti and her teacher. Vashti had no interest in making art. Her teacher didn’t accept Vashti’s lack of excitement for an answer, and kept meeting her halfway till she came along. Sometimes we all have to do that in community, or in our playgrounds, or our co-ops. When others aren’t meeting you where you are, sometimes you have to meet them where they are. There’s no rule for it, but there is an art to it.


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A Prayer for Mothers’ Day, 2012

Source of Life, Mother of Hope, and God of Many Names,

We pause this morning in our annual day of remembrance,

For all the parents in our lives who have helped us to grow to be

The people we have strived to be.

We know that within this room,

And within each of our hearts,

There’s a complicated mixture of joy, sadness, heartache and love,

When we think of the word “Mother.”

Where we have known moments of laughter and lightness,

We give thanks.

Where we have felt grief, and pain,

We offer up our silence…

Knowing that words can rarely help us along those difficult roads;

Only friendship, care, and honesty can.

May we remember the times in our childhood,

The small moments,

That shown beyond themselves.

May they offer peace, where there is conflict.

Remind us that every moment,

Holds within it the opportunity for motherhood,

For mentoring, for parenting,

for caring for the children around us,

and the child that is within every one of us,

no matter how old we may be.

We hold especially in our hearts this morning,

The families inNorth Carolina, who have been hurt by the hateful passage of Amendment 1, denying same-gendered couples their right to marry.

As a religious community, we stand in solidarity with Love;

That sacred embodiment of value, worth, and compassion,

That any two people would be blessed to every feel for one another.

May our communities come to mature,

to grow into a deeper sense of the spirit,

one filled generosity for those that are different than themselves,

so that all within our nation may come to feel respected,

and live lives of peace as they feel so called.

I invite the gathering to lift up aloud the names of people you wish to have held in prayer.

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This Hour of Fullness

Enter in to this hour of fullness,

Give your hearts to the silence and the song,

And may you find rest where you are weary,

Hope when you are searching,

And peace amidst the pace of our lives.

We make sacred this hour,

Through our commitment to gather.

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The Virtue of Character

The Virtue of Character

#30 Small Group Ministry Session Written by Rev. Jude Geiger, MRE, First Unitarian, Brooklyn – Based on the sermon, “The Real Dirt” preached by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons at First UU on 4/22/12 found here:

Welcome & Opening Chalice Lighting  (Please read aloud) #484 In Singing the Living Tradition by William Henry Channing

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.

Covenant Reflection

Reading: An Excerpt/Edit from the sermon, “The Real Dirt.”

The producers of the modern french fry seem to believe that nobody will appreciate the integrity of good soil or of the potato that grows unseen underground. Likewise, nobody will appreciate or even know if you do good unseen, underground. The social Capitalist, the voice that’s always running the cost/benefit analysis, argues with Jesus on this point, saying, “I mean, if you’re going to do a good deed anyway, why not get the benefit of having people know about it? If you give all your money away to charity and you do it anonymously, no one’s going to think you’re a good person, they’ll just think you’re poor.”

Here is where I disagree. From what I’ve observed, the deep truth of a person or thing eventually seeps out and becomes legible. No one can pretend to be something they are not forever. Any kind of façade that does not integrate with what’s behind it ultimately crumbles. Conversely, if you focus on being the person you are even in ways that are not visible to others, people will get it, even if they don’t know why.

Discussion Questions: Our founding American Unitarian minister, William Ellery Channing once said to a classmate, “In my view, religion is another name for happiness, and I am most cheerful when I am most religious.”[1] The larger context for this quote was a discussion around the notion of ‘making America a better country.’

How does Rev. Levy-Lyons’ notion of “the deep truth of a person” relate to your sense of character? Where are you in the continuum between the ‘social Capitalist’ and ‘Jesus?’ Can you share a story of a time when someone’s hidden character shined brightly? How did it move you? What about religious living brings you inner satisfaction, or happiness as Rev. Channing spoke of?

Closing:   (please read aloud – responsively if you have several copies) #568 “Connections are Made Slowly” by Marge Piercy In Singing the Living Tradition)



[1] “The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900,” Dorrien, Gary. P.15

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