Archive for August, 2013

Seasons in Our Lives

This sermon was preached at the UU Fellowship of Huntington on Sunday, August 25th, 2013. It looks at how our lives are in constant transition and how that can be a source of strength for our community.

You can view the youtube video here.  Unfortunately, due to a technical glitch, the last 15 seconds were not recorded. The text though can be found below.

I’ve been reflecting a lot this Summer about being immersed in a season of change in my life. I hear our congregation talking about all the transitions going on for our community as well. Some of the stories are energizing and sustaining; some of the stories speak of slowing down; some have suffered losses in their family or continue to wrestle with health concerns that don’t seem to go away; while others are celebrating new beginnings with college, or school, or work. Each of these are happening all the time. On any given day, look around and you’ll see a little bit of sorrow and joy in each of our faces. Although sometimes it’s hard to notice if the person doesn’t want you to see the vulnerability.

We often talk about the Springtime of our life being childhood, and the Winter being our elder years. In some basic ways, the metaphor has merit on its own, but I’m not sure it goes deep enough. Reincarnation aside, Winter inevitably turns to Spring – and I have yet to meet anyone who’s successfully turned back the clock to childhood. It’s more helpful if we consider the seasons in each time of our life. However old we are, there are always beginnings and endings. There are always times of excitement and exhaustion. We can be renewed by Spring, or we can be reflective in the Winter. This can happen through the course of the day, but over the arc of our lives it’s most visible in hindsight. We see it most clearly when we turn a new leaf in our story.

What does it look and feel like as we turn to our next leaf in our own lives and the life of this congregation? Ask yourself right now –What season are we in, at this moment, in your own life? What season is our congregation in?  What transmutes within us as we take on the long view of a million or more such turns in the life of a soul or a community of souls?

Is the turning of a new leaf a page unread, the dying of Autumn, a Spring time resurrection, or just the bending of our soul toward the motion of the sun?

Change happens. And will continue to, for a very long time. Someone comes along and hears a thing, or a phrase, or a way of living, or a tradition. She thinks it’s meaningful, and helpful, but has a new use for it. She takes it and runs with it; hopefully bringing the idea a new life and a new direction. She makes it meaningful and relevant to her generation or to a new time. All of that’s critical in the life of a community or a person. Times change and so do needs and outlooks. But an idea or a ritual or a tradition came from somewhere and had a meaning and a value all its own. It grew out from a place of shared values of another people or another time. It can be a snapshot of a generation or a family. Where it goes and grows toward is just as important as where it came from – what soil it was rooted in. An idea or practice can grow ignorant of its foundation, but will be more rich and certainly stronger for the knowing.

What season we’re in will often influence how we react to the intrepid new leader or idea. Maybe more importantly, how we feel about the season we’re in will influence our response as well. Are you in a dry time of your life? Will new pathways offer renewal and a turning to Spring? Or are you feeling bitter and willing to allow the coldness to wither new openings? Or are you in a time of reflection in your life where it’s not yet time for new beginnings?

What happens when the ideas one generation runs with are more sacred or more sensitive than a simple time change – like when our shared “Centers meal” happens during the month? What if it involves a lifetime of work, or a value that formed your youth? We know how hard this can be for everyone involved when new inspirations set off a struggle of values. “But we had that in our family for generations?” or “But I grew up with children in worship with us – for the entire service.” or “For me social justice work is really about…” (and I’ll let you fill in that blank knowing that it will be different for almost every one of us.) We can all imagine the pain that can quickly sprout from these instances.

I found some helpful advice to reframe the discussion in a book called,

“From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older” by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi. It’s a book about aging, and eldering. In a chapter about mentoring he writes,

“Think of a canal lock that fills and empties, allowing boats to rise or descend to different levels. Because the elder is at a higher level of experience than the younger colleague, mentoring enables the water to move from one level to another through spiritual intimacy. In this exchange, communication is always a two-way process that mutually benefits both parties. The elder has more life experience and wisdom, so naturally the higher seeks its own level by flowing into the lower. At the same time, the mentee, having more vitality, naturally rejuvenates and invigorates the elder with energy and an influx of fresh ideas. Without this exchange, the elder may remain locked in the past. With their penchant for experimentation and their forward-looking mentality, young people give elders the gift of encountering the present and anticipating the future. What mentees receive, says Maurice Friedman, professor emeritus of religious studies, philosophy, and comparative literature at San Diego State University, is a readiness to bridge the past and the future.”[1]

Hopefully, we’re all familiar with canals and locks otherwise this quote’s going to be a tough one…. It speaks to movement, back and forth. The interchange keeps the water fresh and refreshed. Wisdom lifts us all up while itself needing new life to stay fresh. I like it because it also depicts how we’re all in the same system of locks. It’s not a struggle or fight between one generation and the preceding, but rather a long river flowing from one age to another – interconnected, interspersed, and continuously reliant upon one another to move its vessels and cargo from their source to their destination. Each new decade being another lock that can open up incredible potential to face the world as it is – with all its challenges, changes and new experiences. The rabbi finishes this thought with this line, “The twenty-first century is nothing but questions that we’ve never heard before. In the fire of a mentoring relationship, young people develop a readiness to meet new, unforeseen situations in ways that carry life forward.”[2] It seems to me that we’re invited to appreciate the value our elders have, with their longer view, in collaboration with the contemporary age’s great translators – our newest generations – the Gen Xers who are now in their 30s and 40s (when did that happen!?) and the Millennials who now range from those graduating high school to folks in their very early thirties. (I feel like we just coined the phrase Millennial the other day, and in a few short years we’ll start hearing what our current teens’ and grade schooler’s generation will be named.)

If mentoring relationships can be a collaboration of minds and spirits; realizing that both benefit from the connection; that both grow from the interchange; then how renewed – how inspired – can a religious community be as groups of people learn, interact, exchange and connect? We can readily think of the benefits of this in the realm of the technical and professional. The details and the proclivities make sense in congregational mentoring relationships that involve architectural students, or financial expertise, or master teachers. These are all wonderful opportunities, but they are ones that we can often access in the secular world as well. As a religious community, our central commodity, our competitive advantage is in the realm of values. We’re also a rare opportunity to explore values, ethics, and theology in a communal- and self-reflective way. And this is wherein our community saves lives and renews dreams.

Mentoring values is an art. It’s integral to the process of eldering. I have the suspicion that eldering is not so much about learning more stuff and knowing how to do more things and better. I expect it’s less about expertise. Eldering is coming to grips with the reality of the brevity of life. An appreciation for how precious and delicate we all are; that life ultimately is more about the questions of value than the details. The “whys” that lead to who we become overshadow the “hows” and “how tos” of daily living. Eldering is living from a place of this kind of knowing and seeking to mentor from that locale. The “longer view” speaking to the clarity of those of us whose sight might be more acute. If values are the central act of religious community, and I believe it is, then this is the greatest gift our elders can offer – both to the wider community and to themselves.

Now what is this “longer view?” I don’t believe it’s simply a factor of duration, although that does help to wizen all of us. One truth the book “Age-ing to Sage-ing” speaks to is that the failings and disappointments that sometimes feel like catastrophes may in fact be the doorways to new opportunities. The new, the fresh, the next great thing sometimes can’t come about without something else ending. The longer view reminds us that “not all that is bad,” is actually bad, in the long run. Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi writes, “When you are young and vulnerable, you see the world as either for or against you, and this view is reinforced when people do hurtful things or betray you. When you are old (of) age and climb the platform of broader understanding, you can reexamine and contemplate your foundational views of the world and recontextualize what happened to you from a more objective, less impulse-driven philosophical position. In this way, you do not have to remain imprisoned in your earlier conclusions about life.[3]” I find that it comes down to what stories we tell about our lives – what stories come out in the moment, and which ones paint a decade or a generation. When we’ve experienced less, we may be more prone to fixating on how difficult, or downright awful, an encounter might seem. But in the longer view, most of these stories seem to open up more doorways than we can possibly imagine.

When I was in my early twenties, I was working in Information Technology. I had a solid job supervising a 24/7 computer Helpdesk; with what was then my longest term relationship, little debt and more vacation time than I could possibly use. That was a story I told for several years. But most of it was really a trap for me. I had taken that job as an opportunity to get professional experience right out of college and save up enough money to actually go into non-profit work. The truth is that I was never going to leave that job unless it became a horrible place to work. One new Vice-President later, and suddenly so many qualified, capable and expert colleagues left; many of us emotional wrecks in his wake. I could find no place of compassion or care for this particular VP. I could not find a way to “story” that experience in the affirmative. In the blink of a few months, I was miserable and needed a way out, and couldn’t see the silver lining at the end of the road. Looking back with that longer view, without that Dilbert-esque VP, I simply would not be where I am today. Back then, I honestly couldn’t imagine this new world at all.

The acute clarity of the short-term vision brings the pain and difficulty vividly to the forefront. As the Rabbi says, “When you are young and vulnerable, you see the world as either for or against you, and this view is reinforced when people do hurtful things or betray you.” And we don’t need to actually be young to still see the world this way; but it is the shorter view. I had a teacher once in Human Development point out accurately, “We are all the ages we have ever been.” It’s probably the most useful fact I’ve ever learned in 22 years of school. You don’t have to be young to act like a baby. Every developmental stage we’ve ever gone through stays with us and occasionally pops back up. But as we grow older, there are new vantage points. We can choose to revision all that has come before us and see it in the bigger picture – and still – we don’t need to be old to realize this truth about life. Doorways forever open and close, but the ones we walk through were necessary to get to where we’re going. We can always choose differently, excepting the realm of death, but the new destination will never be the same.

Our elders among us can help remind us of this truth; they can help steer us back on the path of moderation, compassion and forgiveness – ever reminding us that our family and our religious community matter more for how well it strives to support us than it seeks to always agree with us. Our longest-term members (regardless of age) have seen a congregation of shared values living out the past thirty plus years. We pass on our values in light of the changing seasons, and activities, and habits, and styles. There is an essence to the life and spirit of this congregation that can be felt and can be lived, but words would rarely suffice. It is the task of “eldering” to witness this transition; to strive to crack it open for the next generation to partake and to be enlivened by this sacramental work; for the transmission of communal spirit is a sacred endeavor. In the awareness of the precariousness of life and the appreciation for endings that enliven our beginnings we come to know the time of our lives. We honor the best of ourselves by blessing the sanctity of the lives we share in community. In doing so we become a blessing ourselves to the world around us.

Sometimes the season we’re in in our lives isn’t going to shift neatly to the next, or turn back to an earlier time. Sometimes when we live out ourselves fully, and honestly, we can help another person make a profound choice toward wholeness – wherever they are in their path – whichever season. I’m thinking in particular right now of the story in Georgia this past week, and the hero Antoinette Tuff. A young gunman comes into a school to kill. He’s mentally ill. He’s off his medication. He’s ready to die. He sees no reason to keep on living. Ms. Tuff just starts talking to him. She talks about her life. She talks about her losses and disappointments. She treats him like a human being at a time that most of us wouldn’t even be able to think straight for fear. She has prayer in heart – and she simply relates.

In a later interview she would go on to say, “I loved him right then. I didn’t know him, but I loved him.” In an absurd moment of risk, she was fully human, fully, and honestly, herself. She remained open to her assailant’s humanity. She was mindful of the danger to the children in her protection. And she would later say that she gives it all to God – that she’s no hero. And the young man stopped and said, “I didn’t take my meds today.”… And all those children lived. Where we are in our lives matters profoundly. How we remain open to the people around us can be life-saving. Being centered when we’re terrified, reminds us that there is a deep well in our souls that is ever waiting to be drunk. Tending our relations – friend and stranger alike – changes the world we live in. All is connected – always.

….

At the start of this sermon I asked two questions. “What does it look and feel like as we turn to our next leaf in our own lives and the life of this congregation? And what transmutes within us as we take on the long view of a million or more such turns in the life of a soul or a community of souls?” I cannot answer the first for any of us. But I can ask all of us to be open to accepting a new look and a new feel to the next page of our communal story, for the leaf must now turn. For the second question, I hope that for each of us we learn from the perpetual transition in our communal story. May it remind us that in our own lives each new challenge or adversity is for but a time – and it might just be something that opens a new path that is wondrous all in its own. With each new step, something may pass away as the Autumn leaves; something may finally birth anew as our current Springtime demands; and sometimes the change is nothing more and nothing less than our souls bending toward the motion of that perpetual light which transcends and imbues all life.

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[1] “From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older” by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. p192-193; 1995.

[2] Ibid. p. 193.

[3] Ibid. p.97

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Prayer for the March on Washington 50 year anniversary

Spirit of Endurance, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,

We pause to honor this hour the struggle of justice-seeking people throughout our land, and our world.

Fifty years since the Dream of Freedom was voiced so clearly,

We still know poverty,

we still know violence,

we still know oppression.

Help us to learn a new way;

To lift up the broken,

To care for the sick,

To feed the hungry,

To build roofs for each of our neighbors,

To love boldly.

May we brake the shackles of privilege,

That tarnish all our souls,

And harm the bodies of so many.

May we remember that in serving others,

We are saving ourselves as well;

For our collective wholeness is ever bound

In the wholeness of each of us.

God of Justice, we hold in our hearts this hour the spirit of democracy,

Knowing that whenever we silence one voice, our spirit goes quietly with it.

May our nation find a way to ensure each has a voice, and a vote;

That each may earn a living that respects the value of their work;

Teach us to extend our hands to help another up,

So that we may stand straight ourselves some day.

Open our vision to a dream that honors what is possible and what is right,

Not what is practical, or expedient, or convenient.

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Call To Worship: At the Ending of Summer

We gather at the ending of Summer,

Held together by a season of celebrations and sorrows,

To feel the joy of the everyday,

And to honor the pain of what might have been.

May we learn to live boldly,

Love freely,

And open ourselves to the song of life.

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Sermon: Our Stories

This sermon was preached at the UU Fellowship in Huntington, NY. It looks at how we can reclaim our public voice for social justice.

Our day has finally come! There’s a case right now before the Supreme Court that will rule on the nature of public prayer in civic settings. Specifically, it’s looking at the matter of opening government meetings with sectarian prayers. The local town claims that no bias toward any particular religion is being held despite the fact that almost every public prayer is led by Christian clergy. “In a friend-of-the-court brief filed (a week ago) Friday, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention told the Supreme Court that prohibiting Christian pastors from delivering a prayer to start official town meetings would effectively impose Unitarianism on the nation…. We shouldn’t have a state-sponsored Baptist church (they go on to say) but we shouldn’t have a state-sponsored Unitarian church either, and that’s what some are attempting.” [1] Our day has finally come.

When I read this, I should have cried, but I couldn’t help but laugh. Imagine it: The Unitarian Theocracy has come to power! The Southern Baptists are taking issue with a secular request not to mix civic duty with religious practices – a request that was based upon the fact that almost no non-Christian traditions were invited to the table – and are equating this with our Unitarian Universalist pluralistic attitude toward public faith. They’ve created a good story. The Southern Baptist Convention are adjusting the facts to suit their preferences. … Imposing Unitarianism… let’s rewrite that story. What would that actually sound like? (1) You will be open to diversity of opinion. (2) You will make room for multiple religious voices at the table (3) You will support, engage, and nurture the democratic process ensuring that all people have a right to vote, access to voting, while faithfully seeking to eliminate obstacles to full inclusion in the democratic process. (4) You will not confuse your desire for unlimited personal freedom to do whatever you want, as a legitimate example of a real limitation on your freedom (5) We are all in this together, so we might as well act like it.

(6) You will not impose your religious views on anyone else as a matter of government – except for every one of these rules of course – which require you to act against your personal and cultural faux-American, faux-Christian tradition of being bigoted toward anyone different. Now that’s my kind of theocracy!

But it’s not. It’s not a theocracy in any real sense. Personal freedoms are not lost to any real religious authority. Just like claiming one’s freedom of speech is impinged upon when mandatory prayer at the start of a civic activity is removed. Mandatory anything – by definition – is what a real loss of freedom looks like. But we’ve allowed ourselves – to take serious – twists in language that tie us up in knots. Freedom begins to mean – only my personal freedom. Theocracy begins to mean – I can no longer impose my religious views on others. East is West, and Up is Down. Science-Fiction authors have been writing about this for at least the last century. It’s why books like 1984 and A Brave New World continue to be required reading in High School. (I sure hope they are at least….)

In short – the Faux Cultural Christian Right in the U.S. is very adept at wielding propaganda. And we need to get better at re-telling the story as it actually is happening. And we need to re-learn how to do this retelling in the moment that doublespeak happens. Not a year later; not in the safety of our dinner tables; not solely on our Facebook walls. When it happens. In the moment.

I call this recent mindset “faux cultural christian right” because as a powerhouse, it’s only a recent phenomenon. It was birthed with the evangelical movements that grew post Billy Graham. Christianity in the U.S., as a political force, was primarily liberal until the 1950’s. In the 1820s-1840’s – the Unitarians controlled the New England court system. In 1850 the Universalists were the third largest denomination in America at 5 million members.  The Social Gospel movement of the 1920’s was mainstream Christianity and it was very liberal. Essentially, this movement said that Jesus taught us to care for the poor, so we should act like it. Even the Neo-Orthodox movement that rose out of the horrors of WWII, led by great theologians like Niebuhr and Bonhoeffer, were theologically conservative but socially progressive.

I call it faux and cultural Christianity, because its social message does not reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It’s a simple fact. You can’t find a lesson of hate, isolation or consumerism anywhere in the actual teachings of Jesus. Anywhere. He never said anything like it. One does not need to follow Jesus of course, but if you’re going to speak in his name, you ought to quote him right at least.

Just because the right wing of American Christianity is dominant in public debate for the past 40 or so years, and it’s only been 40 or so years, does not mean that they get to define Christianity, or religion for that matter. But that’s exactly what we allow to happen, when we indignantly sit in our disgust of barbaric views that foster bigotry, racism, homophobia and xenophobia…. And too often we just sit quietly…. As a religious people – we are not called to silence, we are called to voice. Our principles teach us that we have promised to act as though each person has dignity and worth, and to do so with equity and compassion. They tell us that acceptance, inclusion, and responsibility are spiritual matters. The promise we made when we joined this faith included taking democracy very seriously. It’s a sacrament of sorts for us. Because when the democratic process fails – dignity, worth, equity, and inclusion are all at risk. And we can not live the lie that we are alone in this world; that we have earned everything we have ever achieved by ourselves; that the earth does not need us, and we do not need it. The great lie tells us that we are an island unto ourselves, and that’s quite fine thank you very much. That’s not what our religion teaches us, and it’s not what it demands of us. Each of these principles demand a strong voice from us this day. And we need to re-learn to be very public about telling our story. Or we allow others to say Up is Down, and East is West. We become complicit. We become complicit.

Stories have power. They shape us. I want to share another story with you now. I grew up hearing stories about the March On Washington. As a child, this historic moment seemed immense, and far removed in time. Yet, it ingrained itself in my young conscience. Rev. King’s watershed speech galvanized an ethic that not only challenged the institutions of his time, but offered a path for the next generations to mature into. From this grounding, we as a people struggle, grow, and heal. He did so by re-telling the American story. He made The Dream bigger and more inclusive. He basically said – ‘you know all those things we said about freedom and equity – well let’s start meaning them.” And the work must continue.

August 24th marks the 50th anniversary of “The Great March.” Brian and I will be heading down to DC to join one of our largest congregations – All Souls, DC – in Standing on the Side of Love. Our weekly eFlash has more information on how to join. You can also follow that link to read the letter I wrote that the Standing on the Side of Love campaign sent out to the denomination on Thursday inviting us all to DC.

Wherever any of us are oppressed, we are all diminished. Whenever we remain complacent, we are complicit. When we are unmoved, our faith calls us back to a place of compassion. We are all our relations. We still have a dream. May the next generations be inspired by the course of our hearts. I hope to see you in DC at the end of this month and take part in the re-telling of our American Story for this generation.

Just like our nation, what we say about ourselves influences what we become as a faith community and as individuals. If we speak only about ourselves as a thoroughly-reasoned people, and not as an empathetic community, we will sound more intellectual than heart-centered. If we neglect our commitment to the public sector, the public sector will expect us to sputter quietly in the night. If we stew in our terminal uniqueness, we will sit alone at lunch hour.

What are the stories we need to retell in our own congregation? Where are we silent when we ought to speak up? What would reclaiming your commitment to voice in this Fellowship look like? Consider it. You may have different answers than I will, or the person next to you will. I’ll suggest a few, by starting with the most individual and working my way up.

When are you silent when you should speak up in this community? Sometimes folks gossip in life. Sometimes people are critical of one another behind each other’s backs. This happens in our families, in our classrooms, in our social circles and yes, in our religious home. It’s a fact of human interactions, and always continues. I challenge each of you to challenge it, when you witness it, with love and compassion. Not with finger pointing; not with a judgmental tone; without the classic “ah, gotcha!” You can say things like, “Well, Billy’s not here right now, maybe you can bring it up with them directly.” Or, “That’s not my experience of them.” When we’re guilty of guerilla tactics of critique we need to ask ourselves “Is this kind? Is this helpful? Is it even true?” I would further add – “Is this actually what we’re here to even do?” Gossip is the same as behind-the-scenes critique.

Sometimes in our circles we’re called to not remain silent for more serious matters. Someone in earshot makes a racist comment, or a homophobic comment. It could be in this building, or at work, or in home room at school. If we say nothing we are complicit. Anyone hurt by the comment will be further hurt by our silence. We don’t need to enter into an argument. We could just say aloud, “That’s not my view” or “We don’t appreciate hateful words like that here.” We need to make a spiritual practice of responding with compassion – in the moment. Not waiting till later. Not thinking it’s not our place. This is our home, and we make of it what we wish to see.

What about the bigger picture for our congregation and our community? What old stories need retelling? Are we actually broke? People believe in God now! No one believes in God now! Do we really want our parking lot to greet the bottom of our cars every time we enter or exit? Do more people really not want to take part in the leadership of this community? Are children welcome in our religious home? What does membership in our congregation mean? What is our purpose?

Many of these answers will take the better part of the next year to define and redefine. I have some impressions from the many conversations I’ve had already, and look forward to learning more from each of you. The Board began some of these reflections last Sunday with me in our 6 hour retreat after services, and the Board will be intentionally seeking more and more inclusion in the months to come. I can’t answer each of these questions for myself yet, but I would like to look at one right now.

…The Parking Lot… Everyone get comfortable in your chairs. Stretch if you need to. Take a deep breath. Really. Ok, you can keep breathing. I know this has been a challenge for somewhere between seasons and eons. Everyone has a different view about exactly what’s going on. The facts are three-fold: 1) We have a parking lot (can we all agree on that? by a show of hands, how many of us agree that’s true? ok, good.) 2) the parking lot needs to be repaired because cars have been driving on it and parking in it for a long time and the laws of physics and geology remain true even here on our sacred grounds and 3) repairs cost money. What appears to me to be the dominant story is that we are short money. We could probably get enough money to do basic repairs – assuming we can agree on what the word “basic” means – or we could agree on what the word “what” means for that matter. Some in the community weigh environmental concerns more highly than fiscal and are holding out for doing this in the ecological manner. Namely – semi-porous materials that help tremendously with drainage. And the dichotomy that’s created sounds like, “we’d be able to move forward if the environmentalists would just stop blocking the process.” I’ve heard this already, and it’s not the best way to phrase the situation.

We need a new story. We have groups here that are more ecologically minded. We have award-recognized conservationists in our midst and on our Board. We have others that are focused on community gardens to help with the problem of hunger in our community. We have others that specifically are called to upgrading our beloved building to Green Sanctuary status. And we have others who would love to see an eco-friendly driveway. And our religious principles – namely our 7th – tells us that all things are interdependent; that we are part of the world and the world is part of us. What if that became our new story?

What if we allowed the spirituality of environmental stewardship to be a real demand on our lives? There’s certainly the need. We have members who lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy. I remember being trapped in my 10th story NYC apartment with the East River in front of our door (Three avenues, the FDR and the East River Park further in than the East River should have been.) On July 22nd, while Brian and I were busy closing on our new home in Huntington, people were taking photos of The-Day-the-North-Pole-Became-A-Lake. Global Warming will continue if each of us continues to do what we’ve been doing. 99% of scientists agree. When was the last time 99% of people agreed on anything?

We all know the definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results. Some changes will be easy. Most of them will not be easy. The longer we wait, the more painful it will be. Yesterday was the time for action, but we’ll have to do with today.

As some of you know, I was an Urban Planner before I was a minister. I mostly worked in the area of affordable housing and health insurance outreach, but we all got trained in the basics of everything Planner-related. Like the ministry, Planners are a rare breed of specialized generalists. So with that background known, I say this, the environmental benefit of doing this right, is actually significant. It’s not a token act. It’s meaningful. It’s also good for our collective spirit.

In our social justice and social service work we come together well when we work toward ending homelessness and hunger. I believe we have a critical mass of drive and purpose to do this collective action with environmental stewardship as well. It’s certainly in our religious values. It certainly needs to be done. And we have a real opportunity for local, meaningful impact in an area that affects all of us generally – and an area that has affected some of us tremendously – at the price of our homes.

Sometimes we make good decisions informed by finances. And sometimes we allow money to make us forget our principles. When Brian and I walked into the VW dealership to lease a new car, we walked in with the express intention of leasing a hybrid. Somehow, the agent convinced us not to buy a hybrid. As a lease, we would never make back the money in gas that we would spend in getting a hybrid. Right now, it’s only cheaper if you drive a lot, and we won’t be driving a lot. It’s only small comfort that the mileage on the non-hybrid car is better mileage than I’ve ever had in my life. I went in to make a principled purchase and I walked out doing otherwise. I forgot my center. I hope we can find our center and make a principled decision. And although “no decision” – is a decision – it’s not going to stop the ground greeting the bottom of my new lease every time I enter or exit the parking lot.

Folks can respond – ‘well, where is the money going to come from?’ And I would respond, that’s the wrong first question. The right first few questions are – As a religious community, what’s the principled choice?  How will this energize us as a community? How will this define us? Who will join our community because of the potentially very public leadership we show? Will it help us find our voice? What story will we now be telling?

I have faith in this community. I believe we will actualize our center in the years to come; that we have a purpose and we will embody it with life. Because I believe in our story, I will be pledging 5% of my income as your minister to the works and ministry of this Fellowship. It will come directly out of my paycheck before I ever see it. I wish I could pledge more, but with the state of student loans in our country right now, and the crippling cost of seminary and graduate school debt, I simply can not at this time. But I want to make this choice, because it feels right. I want to contribute to our impact on the world in every way I can.

You see, the money will come, if our purpose is right. The money will not come if we focus on wondering where the money will come from. The money will come when we recognize that our religious community is saving lives as well as mending souls. We are helping to house the homeless – in this very sanctuary. We share in the responsibility of feeding the hungry in our community. We can tell our story as the people who show up to witness when advocacy for justice is required. We are literally saving lives, when a teen desperately needs to hear that they are whole, and sacred, just as they are – for who they love. We are literally saving lives, when we respect the choices people make with their bodies – even when the body they are born into doesn’t exactly match the body they feel they fit into. We are literally saving lives when we seek to change the tenor of public discourse. From all the horrifying news stories abounding we know all too well the public lynching trees are far from gone in our country. We have much work to do. We have a purpose. We are a saving faith, in a very literal sense. Go. Tell our story.

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Prayer: Our Stories

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names and One Transforming and Abundant Love,

Help us to come together this hour as a community of love, of vision, of hope.

Each of us carries with us a story worth knowing,

A lifetime of dreams and disappointments,

Fears, worries, and new beginnings.

Each burden we carry alone, weighs heavier on our spirit.

Teach us to not shoulder our stories alone;

To deepen our connections with our neighbors,

And their connections with ourselves.

May this religious home be a staging ground,

For the pilgrimage that is our life.

Comfort in times of exhaustion and weariness,

A source of challenge when we become complicit to the ills of the world,

And a warm circle to share our lives together.

Knowing that we will make of our home,

What we share with it.

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Chalice Lighting: Joy and Gladness

Gather our spirit, Open our Hearts,

Make room this hour for a new story,

Of possibility, of hope, of vision.

May the lighting of our chalice

Be for gladness where we are empty,

And joy where we were once dry.

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Prayer for New Beginnings and Weary Shoulders

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names and One Transforming and Abundant Love,

We pause before the start of a new year together,

conscious of the high hopes for the way forward,

expectations that will be met,

and those that surely will fall short.

May our hearts bend toward kindness in the face of new things,

may our words bear witness to our values,

and our hands remain open to welcoming what comes ahead.

May we not forget the years that brought us to this new ministry.

The people around us that have built up a community of caring;

and those that are now missing from our midst – for many reasons,

and so too the newcomer that only knows the fellowship from fresh eyes.

May we honor the generations that came before us,

appreciate the work that keeps our roof staying over our heads,

and our floor solid under our feet.

And may we also keep room for our mission – close to our heart,

Continue to teach us to create peace and justice,

To nurture compassion, and sustain beauty in this precious world.

Source of Hope, breathe your life into our lives.

Some of us celebrate a Summer of wonder and rest,

of seeing grandparents or grandchildren who live far away,

or enjoying beaches that are finally restored.

Others are tired from work that never seems to end,

or morning the loss of a dear friend, or the love of their life.

May we ever remember that in each of us are moments of joy and sorrow,

and teach us to care for the other, as best we can, in this light.

 

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