This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 9/7/14.
I grew up watching a lot of TV. Cartoons after school, the best ones were on Saturday morning. But when I was very young, before I went to grade school, I got to watch some of the old black and white shows my parents grew up watching. They were on during the day. Remarkably, many of the shows from the 1940s and 1950s were still on Nickelodeon until 1999. One of them was called Lassie. It was about a really smart dog on a farm. This collie would help out everyone on the farm, and although she couldn’t talk, always seemed to be able to communicate if someone was in trouble or need. “What, Lassie, the cows are out of the pen?” “ What, Lassie, a kid is lost?” Possibly the most famous or most well retold was, “What, Lassie, Timmy fell down a well?” I was never sure how the family always seemed to know what Lassie was saying, but I still liked the show. I imagine some of us here have really fond memories of it as a kid, or maybe even as an adult watching it with our kids.
But I’ve recently learned through the wonders of social media, that the line most of us may attribute to the kid’s show “Lassie,” was never said. “What, Lassie, Timmy fell down a well?” Timmy never fell down any well. The only person to ever get trapped in a well on that show was the collie, Lassie, herself. The helper needed help. But in the retelling, people time and time again, assume the caregiver is always the caregiver. The one who saves, always saves. It’s like we can’t ever be broken, or cracked.
Remember the story of the Waterbearer from earlier in the service? Sometimes we can get really focused on the cracks in our vases or buckets, that we don’t see where they can be of value – or how they may help us or the people around us – or how they play into the bigger world around us. By a show of hands, who here often feels like they have to be perfect – to have to cracks – to never let any water spill. Ok, look around (that’s a lot of hands.) Ok, put your hands down. Who here expects the people around them to be perfect all the time, to never show their cracks, to never let any water spill? We all know some people who seem harder on others than themselves, but that seems to be less common, plus we never know what’s really going on inside their heads, maybe they’re really quietly rough on themselves.
Why are we normally so much harder on ourselves than we are on others? We can beat ourselves up real well. Why? Some of it is about our ego. We hold up our sense of self-worth so high, that any mistake we make that makes that picture of greatness less than perfect, is something we focus on again and again until we can erase it so our ego looks shiny again. I doubt many of us think or feel this way on purpose, it just happens. That’s kind of a faith in our ego, or our false sense of perfection. And that’s something that our principles teach us against.
What does our first principle say? (Inherent worth and dignity of every person, and some may say every being. In our classrooms we often just say, “everyone is important.”) Do we all agree with our first principle (can I get some nods, hands, amen’s, or even hear-hears!) Well, I’m going to ask us all to have a little faith in that first principle. Sometimes, that’s what religion is about – trusting in a teaching or a value even when you might be having a hard time seeing it or feeling it. Just because you’ve lost faith in your worth despite our imperfections, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because the kid at the next table during lunch hour is being mean to you, doesn’t mean they’re right. When people are mean to you for little reason, it’s normally much more about them than it is about you. And this religion teaches us that we have value, we have worth, despite our little cracks, or our mistakes, and especially regardless of what the mean bully (of any age) may tell us. People are always going to share their opinions, but they’re not always going to be right.
So sometimes Lassie is in the well, sometimes the caregiver needs help. Sometimes, we’re not perfect (usually in fact), and sometimes our cracks help something else grow like in the case of the water bearer. When we feel rough, or bruised, or tired – where are those places that feed our inner wells? Where’s the water come from that the water bearer is carrying? Many of us brought water forward earlier symbolizing the places in our lives that nourish us. How do we build those wells in our lives? How do we make sure they’re close to home?
Think about those places in your lives that feed you. What is it about them? Is it the community or friends? Is it the scenery? Is it a sense of peace, or ease, or just a place where you have no responsibilities? Maybe it’s the sense of history? Some of us may have brought water from our local summer camp, Fahs. If it’s anything like another camp I’ve gone to for years, Star Island (cue the slide change) (six miles off the coast of New Hampshire) I bet it’s a place where people are acting their best selves; it feels safe; there’s chances for fun, for challenging yourself, for growing up, a chance to rest, – it’s probably a beautiful spot too.
All these things nourish ourselves. Rest, good people acting well, safety, fun, challenge, growth and beauty. Getting away, traveling to places like this, are definitely important and worth doing. Sometimes we just need to get out of the routine of the every day to get back to ourselves; to see the world anew. But the truth is, those wells that nourish our spirits, are in our backyards too. The garden house that feeds our vegetables, and encourages our puppy “Lola” to play, leap and get muddy, is a well too. And not just for her. Sometimes allowing the silly into our lives may not be efficient, or clean, but it can remind us to have fun. That it’s not all about being serious, or diligent, or working hard. The muddy dog, wet from the garden hose foolery, is the very image of turning that-which-is-a chore into something rejuvenating – something nourishing – even if it means that maybe the puppy can’t come inside anytime soon. I can hear my fiancé say, “Lola is not allowed on the couch!”
The trick, or the challenge is to allow those places like Star Island or Fahs Summer Camp to be allowed into our lives the rest of the year in small ways. To look at the routine in new ways and turn it into something different. I recall as a kid hating Sundays in the Winter. All that was on TV was golf (ugh) and it was too cold to play outside, and we didn’t have computers when I was young (gasp), and I was an only child. The very image of boredom! Now a-days, with job, school, and volunteer efforts taking us in so many directions, I wish for boring days at home! It’s how you look at it. Boring isn’t always such a bad thing, and sometimes it’s good for us to learn how to be a little bored and comfortable with it.
There’s often the drive to pretend all those places of nourishment are far away, or only available at another time. In the Winter we hate the cold and in the Summer we hate the heat and humidity. We wait all year for a great vacation (if we can afford the travel) pining for the warm beach, and finally when it comes, by the end of the week or two we’re sometimes pining for home. They’re all normal reactions, but they’re all a little crazy too, right? Building those wells that nourish us, wherever or whenever we are, is the religious practice. Universalism teaches us that wherever else Heaven may be, Heaven is also on Earth, here and now. We only need to be open to seeing or feeling it. To not saying that Heaven is some place else that I have to wait to get to. Fahs Camp and Star Island are awesome places, with a community we love to spend time with. And that community, in large part, is literally here too – all year long. For the lovers of Fahs (we have something like 60-80 from our community there every year), (and I look forward to finally getting there next Summer for at least a few days), for the Fahs lovers, I challenge you to bring Fahs here as much as you can. To be your best self in this community, as this community has been its best self at Fahs. To make this Home a bit of the places of paradise you’ve found elsewhere. It’s already here; even if we can’t always see it.
And one last reminder, especially for those that aren’t yet convinced that it’s ok to be silly from time to time, or playful with our garden hoses. Eventually, we’ll all dry off. Even the muddy puppy, will be clean again. And let back in on the couch.