Archive for September, 2013

Prayer for Economic Hostage-Taking

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

 

We hold in our hearts this hour all the people in our neighborhoods,

and in our world,

who are struggling to get by;

searching for a job that seems to never land;

who are wondering where the next meal will come from;

who are looking for a roof to cover their head for one more night.

If we are in relative comfort, teach us not to forget the pressing needs of our neighbors,

that we have a role in lifting one another up,

knowing that we are who we are due to all the people that have helped us along life’s path.

If we are aching to find a way through to another day,

remind us that a way can be found,

that hope is a value to strive for,

to keep reaching out,

to keep letting in.

As our nation waits before the theatrics of politics to settle,

where financial risk is far too lightly threatened,

help our leaders to regain perspective.

May our ideologies,

not become postures,

that endanger the well-being of those most at risk in our communities.

Teach us to be nimble where we are stiff,

Open where are closed,

and to lean toward love when our hearts are hard.

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Moving Forward

This sermon was first preached at the UU Fellowship in Huntington, NY. It looks at the meaning of denomination and tradition in light of being a member of community over time.

When we bought our new house, we were given a gift from our Realtor – it was a kit for a bat house. You see, I have a real problem with mosquitos. If there’s a porch full of people at night, I’ll get more bites than everyone around me combined. And each one, within a day, will swell up to the size of quarters. Of course, the people who never get bit will always ask me why I’m freaking out, or doing the funny dance every five seconds (fruitlessly, shooing away mosquitos), or why exactly do I have to wear THAT much citronella.

It’s a cute wooden rectangular box that hangs above our shed in our backyard. The dark paint warms it up in the day – which bats need, and it’s high enough so that they’ll find it and like it. With bats able to eat 500 insects per hour – each – we’re very eager for new residents.

But that’s not likely to happen. We’ve since learned that it takes on average 6-7 years for a new family of bats to find one of these bat houses. We’re still holding out hope that we’ll beat the averages, and a family will move in sooner. So in the meantime, full or not, we’ll care for our empty shed-based home for the future.

This is in part, why I so strongly support denominational involvement. Our seats may be full here, but there are future religious homes that offer a saving progressive message that need to be planted, cared for, and supported; and we can’t do it all by ourselves. And there’s always the reality that some of our efforts will lie quiet for a time, and someone needs to be able to steward them in the fallow times. Someone was there for us when we grew our religious home in Huntington, and we must be ready to return the favor down the line.

We’ve talked about Community all month as our theme. I’ve preached on how we discern our call in terms of the people around us. How we make amends and rebuild right relationships when we have fallen astray. And this morning we’ll move from the local and the social to the bigger picture. The role of community across time and generations.

The Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed (UU) once noted that, “The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.” Whatever we do on our own, is inherently limited. Time will bring our individual actions to an end. Even the lasting effect we have on another can diminish if it goes no further. That’s where tradition, in its largest sense, carries us further. As a community of communities, our ways, patterns and practices can continue on.

But as Morrison-Reed says, it’s not just about us. In fact, the broadest traditions are almost the opposite of us. “…For alone our vision is too narrow…”. And we join religion to enable a wider view and a longer memory. That we might contribute to the tapestry of life through the high points and the low points. So that when we are too weak, we may share our strength with enough people that we become strong. And we are strong again for it. That is what denominationalism can mean.

For some of us, we are converts from another tradition. Others may be life-long UU’s who have never dipped their foot in the larger denominational work. Some may still be carrying scars from a tradition where the word “denomination” meant to them “calcified hierarchy.” Others may be at a place where they come here for this community and don’t identify with our wider faith. I suggest now that one of the challenges of membership is to appreciate the purpose and positive impact our tradition holds for all of us. This house of hope wouldn’t be here without it.

Some will chide that Unitarian Universalism is anything but an “organized” religion. It’s a joke I’ve never really thought held much water. I’m a product of our organization. My training, my mentors, the financial support I’ve received, the professional groups that I can rely on to help in times of particular challenge. The assistance this congregation received in its back-to-back clergy and educator searches. The connections in times of sabbaticals. All the dynamic programming our youth enjoy at the regional level through conferences, retreats, workshops, and the list goes on. The curricula we use, the national justice campaigns we learn and serve, and the list goes on and on. We will often joke we’re not organized because it lets us off the hook. If we’re not organized, then nothing is demanded of us. And too often, we don’t want anything demanded of us…. Whatever our preference though, do remember … religion does make demands of us. In fact,… it’s good for our spirits that it does.

On our own, we can fall into complacency, self-aggrandizement, and even prejudice. On our own, we are not held accountable. One of the most important lessons I learned in seminary is that we are always accountable for our actions, our faith, our behavior. Community calls us back into accountability, even on the days we’d prefer it not. And that’s good for our souls. We are not meant to live as isolated creatures. It is not good for us to always be let off the hook, even if from time to time letting something drop is a healthy thing. The world is not a series of low-bar reality TV shows with no relevance. On our own, we can start to think that way, and we need to be guided – back on path – from time to time.

What we can accomplish is also so much more as a tradition.  A few years back I attended one of the ministers’ gatherings at our denomination’s General Assembly. In this particular worship service, there were two sermons delivered. One from a minister in their 25th year of ministry, and the second was a minister in their 50th year of ministry. The 50 year minister happened to be the Rev. Clark Olsen. Rev. Olsen was the minister of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarians at the time of the Selma civil rights march in 1965, when he survived an attack that fatally injured another white minister, the Rev. James J. Reeb; this happening not a month after the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black civil rights activist – the reason for the march. I found his talk incredibly moving and remarkably humble. I always imagined the folks who marched on Selma in this otherworldly light for being the folks that stood up for their convictions, the people who had no other place left to go so they went and stood up for themselves, who stood up for basic humanity in each of us – and certainly they were the ones that were far ahead of the common view of the times – with some giving their lives.

I marveled though at how everyday the decision was for this minister. He spoke about how he almost didn’t even go. He wanted to, but the money wasn’t there to make the travel across the country. Then one of his congregants donated the money for Clark Olsen to travel and stand for their congregation. It gave him the opportunity to stand witness, and to be there for the last moments of his colleague and friend’s life. But I don’t even know the name of the congregant that made that possible. I don’t even know their name.

Hearing this part of the story, the part that’s not shared in the history books, helped me to see the broader and deeper connections all our actions make in the work of justice in our world. It transformed it from a history lesson about certain heroes and martyrs, to one about the everyday work of building community. It certainly takes both kinds of justice work, but it reminded me that we each have a part to play. It made the impossible seem a little more probable to my mind and my heart. It’s not about a handful of people. Justice is the turning toward committed action with a concerted effort. It’s the spirit of what we often call Right Relations applied to neighborhoods, and to schools, and to court systems. And it takes all of us, in small ways and in large ways, to bring that about. It’s not reserved for a handful of heroes, but reliant upon our very everyday strivings – together. Alone, our everyday strivings sometimes plant seeds – and that’s a great thing. But together we can more productively garden our plantings into something that’s meaningful, sustainable, and makes a more lasting impact.

I’d like to end our sermon by returning to the message of our Buddhist parable this morning of the monk who sat in a tree. “This is my question. Tell me monk, what is it that all the wise ones have taught? Can you tell me the most important thing the Buddha ever said? … finally “This is your answer governor. Don’t do bad things. Always do good things. That’s what all the Buddhas taught.”

Right, hopefully we all learn this by the time we’re three years old, and we all spend the rest of our lives learning to forget that. It would be convenient – it would be easy – to say that religion and denomination aren’t really important. All we have to do is remember what we learned when we’re three. Yeah, that’s all we have to do – and the world shows us countless examples of people forgetting the basics. Religion can be the source of the problem or the source of the solution. I challenge us to join this faith as part of the solution. Not joining it solely because we want to find like-minded people who confirm and reinforce our values. Not joining it solely to have another way to make friends when we’re lonely. Not joining it solely because we’re trying to find our way in the world. I challenge us to join this faith – or rejoin this faith – to be held accountable. We are never always going to be right. We are never always going to be able to face the challenges of the world on our own. We will not always remember what is right and good in every situation. Legacy of justice-making requires the baton to be passed from one hand to another across the ages. We can’t hold onto it and still expect to win the race – and we can’t pass it along by ourselves. And remembering what we all learned at the age of 3 is clearly one of the toughest challenges life has to offer. So let’s tackle and re-tackle that lesson together. May we hold one another in our arms – accountable – with hope in our hearts, and love on our lips.

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Sermon: Atonement When We’re Already Forgiven

This sermon was first preached on the Sunday following Yom Kippur at the UU Fellowship of Huntington, NY on Sept 15th, 2013. It talks about atonement, forgiveness, and Universalism. To view the Youtube Video of the sermon click here.

It finally happened. I knew the day would come when I would use a complete sentence to title one of my sermons. “Atonement, when you’re already forgiven.” It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it. (Please forgive me.)

This weekend is the close of Yom Kippur, a High Holy Day in the Jewish liturgical calendar. It follows 10 days after the start of the New Year – otherwise known as Rosh Hashanah. For those 10 days, the Book of Life is once more open and we have the opportunity to make amends for all the wrongs we have done in the past year. We are obligated to seek out those we have wronged and sincerely ask for forgiveness by doing what is in our power to make things right once more. In Judaism, it’s a religious task. No one other than the person we have wronged can exonerate us. It’s a heavy task sometimes to make things right.

It’s funny. We all make mistakes in life. (Well, let me check that first. By a show of hands, who here has never made a mistake?) And yet, even though we all know that we all make mistakes, it’s often so hard to ask for forgiveness. Our ego gets in the way. For sure, the ego hides behind a few of its guises: Guilt, Shame, Apathy and it’s nastiest form, Self-Righteousness – otherwise known as “He-Who-Is-Never-Wrong.”

Yom Kippur teaches us that the ego can’t be allowed to get in the way. !It’s the Book of Life that’s open for 10 days people! You don’t want to ignore that! For some it means, a bodily resurrection when God will remake the world. For others, it’s heard as a call to Heaven. For some, it’s a reminder that we are here now – alive – and we might as well try to enjoy it. The grudges in the world can be too heavy to carry forever, so we should allow ourselves to put them down eventually.

And then there’s the other half of Yom Kippur that’s the real kicker. If someone has come to you, and sincerely tried to make amends, you are obligated to accept the apology. That’s right – during this time we are religiously commanded to finally and forever let it drop. …

I’m not sure which is harder – to ask for forgiveness, or to let the matter go when someone finally asks. I guess that depends on each of us. For some, one is harder, and for others it’s the other. And if you don’t let it drop, then the burden is now on you, the one who had been wronged. Because now you are doing the wronging.

Practically speaking, it’s good advice. We can’t live our lives forever in the moment of injury or harm. We all know we all make errors, so we should be gracious when others do the same things we are guilty of. But religiously, this holiday teaches us to move past what was, engage with the pain and the remorse, and keep on moving forward. Life does not tarry in yesterday, but we too often do. Think about it – when we hold onto grudges, months past the offense, despite the person seeking to make amends, it’s not really about the instance – it’s about our ego. My friends, life is not about our ego.

I’m mostly talking about the small to moderate stuff that needs to be forgiven. The stuff that most of us will encounter frequently over our lives. The kid who cut in front of you in a lunch line. The time she told you off. Your loved one who forgot to call you on your birthday. The guy that lied. The argument that would just not go away. The great wrongs in this world – that involve blood, real trauma, serious abuse – are more complicated. Some of us have dealt with those as well, but hopefully they are not everyday. We should not allow the everyday frustrations to feel like the great, deep wrongs in the world. They should not be treated the same. You know you’re doing that when you start using phrases to describe the smaller stuff like, “Never in my life have I ever been so offended.” Or “now this is really personal.” When you find yourself speaking like that, stop yourself. You’re really talking more about yourself than the other person.

Our monthly theme is Community, and this Holy Day also has a communal aspect to it. Atonement and Forgiveness are enacted and accepted by individuals, but the repercussions are felt by the community as much as the people doing the asking and giving. Any community whose members can’t make amends, is a weaker community for it. Our spirits will collectively tarry in yesterday; our work will be dragged down by repeating the injury over and over; our purpose will veer away from what our aim was as we continue to rehash or bitterly fight through old wars. We will not be here. We’ll stay back there. No community can thrive in that place. Like our wisdom story earlier with all the townsfolk carrying all the grudges of the world on their backs, we can’t live like that – not truly.

It’s part of why we’re a covenantal faith. Our groups and committees set covenants at the start of each year that we return to when trouble arises. We commit to promises on how we’ll engage, how we’ll support one another, and how we’ll disagree. We don’t break our covenant when we slip up, we break our covenant when we walk away. (As an aside – I again invite you all to consider joining one of many Covenant Circles that will begin on Sunday afternoons following Coffee Hour where each dedicated group will reflect on a sermon from the past month. Our Transitional DRE, Austen, is organizing the groups. You can email her to register, or I believe there’s an on-line link in the weekly e-Flash to register that way as well. It’s a once a month commitment for a year, and then next year we’ll shuffle together new groups so that more and more people have low-key ways to get to know one another outside of the sometimes noisy social hall. But contact Austen soon so that we can get the groups started! And if the youth group is interested as well, I can offer the sessions I’ll write to you as well. I know there’s a conflict in time otherwise.) Covenant is the practice of community.

Our choir anthem this morning[1], by Gloria Gaither, talks about living as one who’s been forgiven. “I walk with joy to know my debts are paid.” Her song is talking about the bliss her faith in God grants her. Yom Kippur encourages a similar view. We can go through all the motions of making amends, and never actually be forgiven by others for our actions. But we’re free. The Book of Life is open at this time. Another’s bitterness over the daily little wrongs in life has no authority over our lives. Nor should we ever expect our own bitterness to command another’s spirit. We don’t answer to each other’s ego, we walk with joy to another song.

Early Universalists believed strongly in another line of her song – “I walk with joy to know my debts are paid.” One of the earliest tag-lines of Universalism was “Rest Assured.” In an age where American Christianity was awash with fire and brimstone preachers, our evangelical Universalist forebears would fill massive tent revivals preaching the word of Universal salvation. An all-loving God could condemn no one to everlasting pain and torment. Our debts were already paid. It didn’t mean that we didn’t sin, or make errors. It didn’t mean that we didn’t have to make amends for our actions. It meant that the slate would be clean come Judgment day. For those of us who don’t believe in Heaven, or an afterlife of some type, the Universalists also applied this belief to daily living. The old joke went something like this, ‘The Universalists tried to get along with everyone on Earth because they expected to have to see them again after they died.’ It’s a bit snarky, but it is some practical advice. You might as well try to get along. We can’t move onto the deeper work in this world of justice-making if we can’t figure out how to do the basics first. To live, and to let live. To make amends, and to forgive. If God forgives all, -who are we – not to do the same. And if you believe God is just an ideal, it doesn’t really change the message. We ought to be striving to live up to our ideals, right?

Universalism teaches us that we’re already forgiven. It doesn’t teach us that we don’t need to still atone for our mistakes, for our small daily sins against ourselves and our neighbors. As our responsive reading calls us – we begin again in love. Love is the foundation of this faith, and it’s a spiritual discipline as well. When you find yourself rolling your eyes at all the “love is enough” language in the world that suggests it’s all so easy to feel – and give – and wipe our hands of a problem as if it were nothing – think again. Love is a practice that requires effort and constancy. Every time you hold onto a grudge past its expiration date, you have lost faith in the virtue of love. The ego that cries in the corner becomes louder than the bliss of walking in this world. Ask yourself, which would you rather carry? The backpack of grudges, or a heart of joy? It seems a foolish choice, but one we all make over and over again in our lives.

The song ends, “I’ve been so loved, that I’ll risk loving too.” We have all been loved in our lives. Early Universalism teaches us that we are not so small that God won’t love us. Even when we forget, we have been loved by family, or friends, or the family that we choose on our own, knowing it might be all we have. But we are still loved. That love we have felt demands us to pay it forward. Atonement is an act of love. So too is forgiveness. And on this High Holy Day, we are already forgiven; or as Dorothy in the Wiz sings, “… I’ve learned that we must look inside our hearts to find, a world full of love like yours and mine.” So friends, look inside your hearts this hour. Live, and let live. And most importantly, let it go… so that you can let community into your lives; so that you can allow love to set the path of your days, so that this place can be allowed to be the ideal we dream it to be. And …Rest Assured. …

Hymn #323 Break Not the Circle


[1] A rendition of Gloria Gaither’s song “I then shall live

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Sermon: How Are You Called?

This sermon preached on 9/8/13 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington looks at our religious foundations for our call in life and how that informs how we can live into the world. It also calls for peace in a time of war; exploring the horrors that continue in Syria.

This morning’s culinary story is one of my favorite folk tales[1]. It’s been told and retold in many different cultures – hence all the different pictures we used in the telling. It’s the classic story of feeling like we have nothing, when in truth we already have everything we could possibly need. The trick is remembering we have it together – we don’t have it alone.

Sometimes in life, we want to make soup, and we don’t have all the ingredients. Playing well with others can bring out the best in what we can accomplish as a community; you might have the onions, and I just might have a plate of pressed tofu ready to add. But that’s just the surface of the story. Sometimes the thing we bring to the banquet, is the thing we’re not aware we have to offer. The traveling stranger comes into town, asks for nourishment from the community and the community says at first – “Sorry, we don’t have that here.” They say that at a time when they clearly do have it to share. I don’t think folks are being greedy or miserly; I think they just don’t realize what they have. And we have a lot, together.

What’s the hidden thing you have in your kitchen cabinet waiting to share with this congregation? Sometimes it’s a thing that you can do to help. For those looking for small ways to contribute, Sue McGovern will be helping leaders connect with people looking to help with smaller projects. The things that need to be done, but don’t require huge commitments. Sometimes though, the hidden thing in our kitchen cabinet isn’t a thing to do. Sometimes it’s what we bring to the table simply by being ourselves.

I want to focus more on that latter type of gift we all can share. Religiously, it’s our call or calls in life. …Our purpose for being; our gift to the people around us; our talent that fits the world’s needs – here and now. What is your purpose? What is your call?

I was reading an article the other day that was written with the intention of helping 20-somethings figure out what were the key things they should do before they turn 30. It had some bits of wisdom, and some bits of trite as well. One point that stuck out was more about life purpose. Basically – what stirs your heart? And if you’re not doing it, why aren’t you doing it? The second half of that question is probably impossible to answer. If something brings us joy – why wouldn’t we be following it? And yet, we often don’t. But the initial question – what stirs our heart – is all too often all too difficult to answer in our contemporary age.

Folk under 45 were raised by Sesame Street. A true gift to society in many ways and yet it trained us to be engaged with something 30 seconds at a time. Folk over 50 were raised with role models who tended to take one job at an early age, and followed the career for most their lives. Stability is a wonderful thing, but it sets a pattern that encourages us not to roll the dice and follow our bliss. These are generalities for sure – and the people in between – in their late 40’s – may reflect either spectrum depending on a thousand different factors. But in both cases, the emphasis tends away from reflecting on our sustained purpose. The next best thing, or the eternal commitment,  distract us from our call; if we let them.

How do you know what your call is? For the bigger picture and how you live in the world outside of here, I’d suggest to find where your heart meets the world’s needs. The classic advice, right? But how does that connect with the everyday, or how you engage in this community? Ask yourself what you were thinking when you first came here; whether that was 30 years ago or just this morning. What were you looking for? What felt like it was missing? What were you hoping to engage with? What were you seeking to learn or experience? Has it changed over time? Are you still working with that today? Did you find it? Did you let yourself find it?

A thousand questions, and no clear answer, right? But there can be some clear answers in between. Our leadership is working on improving how we integrate newcomers or welcome the stranger asking for a bowl of soup that we know we have even if we may sometimes forget how to give it. And on the flip side, we sometimes need to own for ourselves what we commit to or haven’t really committed to in community. If you came here seeking community, have you allowed yourself to prioritize that? If you came here to ensure your children received quality religious education that values diversity and free-thinking, have you committed to prioritizing their attendance? If you come here to help make the world a better place; to deepen your engagement with the on-going work of social justice – are you still engaged?

There are so many reasons, and so many needs; it can be completely overwhelming. The world of production and consumerism clamors for our attention. The world of obligations and responsibilities fill our calendars. And the world of beauty, equity, and compassion wait quietly behind all the noise. It is always there – calling us. We can’t do it all, but we can be intentional about what hunger we do choose to nourish; and in community we can encounter so much more than alone. We can feed more hunger, here, when we know where the empty places are. We must be open to new ways. Mindful of where we feel the holes in our lives; knowing that at the core of life is a beauty that is always present, always ready to be seen.

We commissioned our teachers this morning for the ministry they offer our community. It’s one type of call that many of us hear – either within these walls, or for our professional teachers outside in our schools systems. Each of these teachers will commit to learning along with our children twice a month for the entirety of the religious education year. They will help raise our children and youth with progressive values; with compassion, a love for equity, and a yearning for justice in our world. They will strive to show our children that we are indeed a Fellowship of open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.

But each of us carries this burden in a way at times as well. Every word we share within earshot; how we engage with one another over coffee; how we prioritize and live out our values. We can raise our children to love mercy, but if we act in contrast to those values outside the classroom or congregation, we teach a confusing message. Sometimes our call in life comes from within. Sometimes our community calls us to live as better people, whose core is not grounded in the false idols of anxiety or fear or the petty frustrations. We too often worship those three small gods, and the beauty of the world is again lost to us for a time. Prioritize your values, and live so boldly that you nurture what stirs your heart, and defines your character.

Our call is not always about ourselves, or about our community. A nation can also be called to live its values. As a people, we can ground our actions in our values with consistency, not expediency – for expediency is the pathway to discarding morals. As a democratic nation ostensibly committed to world fellowship, I believe implicitly that we should strive relentlessly for peace. This congregation also dedicated itself as a peace site – building a permanent marker on our front viewed by all who enter. I fear that our nation is discarding its morals again this week in our likely response to Syria and Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Our likely actions value a Geneva Protocol around chemical weapons over the imminent risk inherent to a military strike for civilians.

A timeline might be helpful here to understand my thinking. In April 2011, we first heard that the Syrian army was firing upon civilian protestors. In September of 2012, cluster bombs were reported to be dropped on rebel-held towns causing incredible civilian causalities. In March of 2013 (six months ago), the UN concluded that fuel-air bombs were dropped on a town. By July of 2013 the death toll reached 100,000 people. This week in September we hear that chemical weapons were used. Now the White House is calling us to act, so that dictators know there will be repercussions for the use of chemical weapons.

I get it. I see that a world that ignores the use of chemical weapons is a world that will see massive civilian casualties in war time. That if we ignore this, the chance of chemical weapons getting in the hands of terrorists is a real threat. However, because of the advancement of military weapons, we already see that horror in our daily experience. 100,000 dead in Syria already. In our current and recent wars in the middle-east, we saw over another 100,000 civilians dead through our actions. That is the nature of modern warfare. Death is not reserved for the soldier, but the children and families. The old, the young, the unlucky.

The White House has indicated that these potential military strikes won’t change the direction of the civil war. That toppling Assad’s secular dictatorship would only cause more problems down the road knowing that with all the ethnic and religious subgroups vying for power in the rebellion, it’s impossible to know what will come next or how many decades it would take. This is just to send a message that chemical warfare is a horror.

I maintain that warfare is already that horrible. If 100,000 civilians have already died, we’re already in an age where we can’t walk into war without knowing it will bleed our humanity that much. I don’t see how violence – that expressly has no intent to stop violence, topple a regime, or bring people to safety – does anything more than beget further violence. We would not be committing to any of those goals. We would only be sending a short-term message that will have limited lasting effect – except of course for the permanent loss of life our military strikes would cause – both military deaths and if history is any indication – civilian deaths as well.

Some of the answers here are not fixes in the short-term – (not that a military strike, by the President’s own indication, would fix the situation anyway.) The longer term fixes involve applying pressure and diplomacy in many places. We can only build peace if our values are grounded in peace. Our national leadership does not appear to be grounded in the value of peace.

Our steps are many. The UN veto process for life-time members of the security council is as broken as our nation’s system of filibustering. Since that perpetuates inaction that allows murders to continue, we start by changing that.  Economic pressure can be more lasting than violence. Syria is heavily sanctioned already, but Assad’s assets have yet to be frozen. As a nation we can stop engaging in arms sales. We could track chemical sales of our allies and put pressure for those sales to stop. We need to change our perception of what acceptable violence is. We can’t even manage a reasonable national gun control policy when the overwhelming majority of citizens think we should restrict gun use more. Or as the noted public ethicist, Stephen Colbert, pithily says, “”The United States has no choice but to attack Syria because Dictator Bashar al-Assad is killing his own people with chemical weapons. Before he was just killing them with bullets. But, if America cared about shooting people, we’d be invading Chicago.” I fear we have allowed ourselves to be so desensitized that we’ve lost perspective; we’ve lost our grounding.

Problems of global crisis require broader solutions other than at the end of a missile. They also require us to root our changes in our convictions and to be honest with ourselves what our convictions are. We could begin funding less military and more development. Or as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “ A nation that year after year continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” We could change our tax code that encourage the accumulation of wealth for the very few. In 2007, 1% of our US population controlled 35% of our wealth. These are individuals that earn over $950,000 per year. In 2013, CNBC reported that the top 1% of  the global population controls 40% of the global wealth. Extreme poverty encourages strife. If you have nothing to lose, you have nothing to lose. It is possible to draw these lines. Everything does connect. It is never only one thing. And lastly, we could prioritize peace-based education practices globally now so generational shift begins. I invite you to write your senators and representative like I have and ask them to vote against a military strike in Syria. We do not need to be a nation in a perpetual state of war. We do not need to be a nation that perpetually sees the military solution as our primary tool in the toolbox. We do not need to be a nation that fails to engage in long-term solutions, but perpetually chooses long-term military engagements.

All of these changes will take time and conviction. If we’re not grounded in our values, if we’re not called at our core to strive toward peace, we will not know peace. There is no quick fix. There is no magic missile that will nurture peace.

This is what religious community is about. There is no quick fix for the problems of our world and all too often there is no quick fix for the serious challenges in our own personal lives. When we err on the side of expediency, some movement may happen in the direction we hope, but often the underlying problems will remain. Religious community asks us to – Discern our values – Find our purpose – And then learn to live our lives from that call. In some ways it’s easy, and in some ways it’s the lesson of a lifetime. I invite you all to join together in that search, and that most spiritual practice.

 

I invite you now to rise in body or in spirit and sing our closing hymn, #318, We Would Be One


[1] Stone Soup

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