Archive for November, 2014

Prayer for Ferguson, Thanksgiving, Loss at a Time of Gratitude

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, Source of Hope,

We pause this hour, in witness to the many feelings we hold in light of the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Some are grateful for family and friends close at hand,

for the warmth of home, and a table set full with food.

May we remember these joys in the hard times that come to all of us.

Some are struggling with illness, in body or in spirit,

tired from the weary journey,

season after season;

may we find strength from those around us,

and not lose hope,

so that our hours may still be filled with the preciousness of life.

Some are mourning the loss of a beloved family member, or a friend.

Help us to grieve, for grieve we must.

Help us to honor their life, and to carry on their memory,

so that their presence may live on through our actions and our love,

ever stirring the world for their touch upon it.

We also recognize the pain that has struck our nation this year,

whose Spirit has moved over our land once more,

a sense of injustice for black male youth,

before the power of institutions, and courts,

and the rage of privilege against those with little power.

We pray for the people of Ferguson,

who have lost another child on their streets,

whose police force will need to discern a way forward in a now impossible crisis,

for the national guard who must face rioters,

and for the protestors who must manage their pain and sorrow and civic duty,

while being falsely blamed for the rioting of others,

others who are full of rage in the face of a long history of violence against our black neighbors.

Teach us not to, ever and always, blame the victim first.

Help us to find ways not to repeat this story over and over,

as we have throughout the decades.

May we stay uncomfortable, stay heartbroken, stay in a place of loss,

long enough to commit to helping to affect change and healing.

May we not allow the story of Ferguson to be forgotten by the next sound byte.

May we remember long enough to allow love, and wisdom,

to find a home in our courts and on our streets.

We know that real solutions are not easy;

they require effort,

they require reflection,

and they require change over complacency and disinterest.

Just because the path may be difficult,

is no reason to continue to do nothing.

Black lives matter.


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Turning Toward

This sermon was first preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, NY on 11/16/14. It looks at the role of curiosity, intention and attention in building positive, lasting relationships. A special emphasis is placed on the role of autocorrect in our lives.

When I was a kid, I learned to type on a typewriter. We were still taught with the old machines that required white out for errors, or if you were really lucky, you had a typewriter with correction tape. It would allow you to backup over errors and cover them up as you went. My spelling was much better then. You had to know what you were typing, so it took effort and intention. When I finally shifting to writing on a computer, small spelling errors were fine. The programs would highlight the mistakes to fix. And then a decade or so later, you might not even have to make the changes yourself; the program knew what you were trying to type, and made them for you.

I have a very mild form of dyslexia. When I pay attention, I don’t have any real issues. When I’m going through something fast, I misread much more frequently. I’ve always been an avid reader, but when I was younger I was lucky if I could read 30 pages an hour. It wasn’t until college that I realized something was going on, hearing many of my peers reading twice that rate. After a little bit of research, I realized that folks with mild forms of dyslexia often have this trouble with slower reading. I looked into some techniques to try to correct it. For me, it was the ruler. If you lay the ruler out along a line, you can train your eye where you read; and for some reason it seemed to help with the small errors of flipping letters that would cause me to have to reread whole paragraphs from time to time. With intention, my reading speed doubled for most things.

But when I’m texting or trying to send a post on Facebook, you would think I have no clue where letters ought to be in words in the English language. I get sloppy. I’m not paying attention. And the worst of my letter flipping comes to the forefront. Because most of the time, our modern technology corrects most of the mistakes appropriately, I don’t have much reason to focus and I make more errors. My most recent, and possibly my favorite autocorrect error occurred this week. I was sending a note to my fiancé that I was finally starting on my sermon. (We try to keep each other abreast when I’m home working vs when I’m home and free.) Autocorrect let Brian know that I was, in fact, finally starting on my “demon.” We got a small laugh out of it – the way any of us do when we commiserate on work that needs to be done in our jobs. But it wasn’t actually true – or I should say I don’t see the writing process as a chore or a burden or, well, a demon. I typically enjoy it, even if it’s sometimes frustratingly elusive. Autocorrect reminds me that when I let my intention slip, not only what I see may be incorrect, but what I say may be wrong too.

Intention or attention, are the two ways that most of us get in trouble in life or in our relationships. We let our focus slip and then we fill in the gaps with assumptions, opinions or stories that aren’t real. Or we communicate poorly and others fill in the gaps for themselves in the same short-hand fashion. When I was a lay member of the All Souls Church in NYC, one of the ministers (now the church’s Senior Minister), Rev. Galen Guengrich preached on the topic of iPod people. For those of you too young to remember the iPod (yes, technology is moving that fast) it was a device like your smart phone that only play music. (I know, how boring.) He talked about how one morning he realized, as he was walking down the street, that the world of human interaction in NYC had dramatically declined. All of a sudden everyone was deaf to one another and mindlessly going too and fro listening to their devices. iPod people. (And again, for those too young to have seen it the first time around or on later dvd, “Pod people” is a movie reference to an alien invasion that caused zombie like reactions from humans.) I would amend his story to say with the advent of smart phones, pedestrians in NYC are now deaf and blind as they aren’t even looking up to see where they’re going, and I have a few bruises to prove it.

With or without our devices, there’s a certain level of the “Pod people” phenomena that goes on in our daily living when we let our focus and our attention fall short. When we’re filling in the gaps that aren’t really there because of our lack of mindfulness, we’re creating a fantasy world to live in. Sometimes that’s fun, and sometimes that’s very frustrating. But a lot of arguments in our relationships, our home life, and our work life, come of it.

Last week there was a fascinating article in Business Insider that was looking at the scientific research around successful marriages. It compiled a series of studies over a long period of time that were ultimately able to predict the success of a marriage – at least in terms of duration. The more successful couples had a tendency to turn toward one another in moments of attempted connection. If one parter shared a story of success, the other would shift their attention and celebrate with them. If the story was about a frustration, they’d shift attention and share the burden or commiserate. Or even more innocuously, as the example went, if one partner were an avid bird lover and pointed out an unusual bird out the living room window, the other partner would stop what they were doing and look at it. The researche indicated that the act of showing curiosity, concern or interest, when one’s partner is trying to make a connection in any of these ways, is a huge indicator of an enduring relationship.

Openness, Mindfulness, Reverence. Our relationships thrive when we’re open, or curious, to what someone else is saying or trying to connect with. They endure when we mindfully turn toward the point of interest or connection and respond with attention. I often talk about reverence in terms of the holy, or the natural world around us. It can also pertain though to our human interactions. Relationships and people are a remarkable thing. When we take them for granted, the relationships wither, but so too do we. Having a healthy reverence for the people around us keeps us more human; keeps us more compassionate; keeps us more pleasant to be around. Think about it, do you want to be around people that act like you’re boring, or people that think you’re special, important or at least recognize your value and worth? The same probably goes for the people around you – they’re looking for the same from you. Reverence for those around us goes a long way toward building the world we dream about.

Let’s go back to my little autocorrect demon. Sometimes healthy curiosity applies to the things in our lives that cause us the small frustrations. Remember Issaac Newton from elementary school science? The parable goes that he was sitting under a tree and an apple fell on his head and he “discovered” gravity? What if Newton had that apple fall on his head and he simply responded to it with, “ugh, what an annoying apple!” The end. Where would we be? How much delayed would our scientific understanding be? How many other advances haven’t been made because someone turned to their proverbial falling apple and said, “ugh, how annoying!” When we approach the small frustrations of life as if they were a chore, we limit ourselves, we diminish our relationships and we probably don’t feel good either for it.

For just this week, try turning toward the small frustrations as if they weren’t little demons to begin working on. Pay attentions to the small moments where our partners, or kids, or parents are trying to make connections. Approach them all with a sense of curiosity – and see what happens. There are certainly places where this won’t help. And challenges in relationships that have existed for years will not likely go away overnight. And sometimes the small frustrations of work or school are part of a bigger picture of disfunction. But those exceptions don’t pervade everything in our lives. Most of us don’t walk around with rose-colored glasses, so it’s probably safe to put them on from time to time, rather than pretend we need to perpetually take them off.

Today though, we just welcomed 10 of our newest members to our Fellowship. They are committing to our community, and in part, to our community’s mission: In religious community we nurture our spirits through caring for one another and helping to heal the world. Curiosity can be central to a healthy expression of our spirit. If relationships strengthen from turning toward moments of connection with curiosity and interest, and if our mission is correct in asserting that our spirits our nurtured through care for one another, then that sense of openness to one another is both community building and soul-saving. We are more human for it. And it may be the very best way to help heal our world.

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Prayer for Welcome

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, Mother of Welcome,

Instill in us a sense of curiosity for the new,

for the stranger,

for what difference may come our way.

Open our hearts to diversity,

so that our comfort and our loves

may fall upon the whole expression of our varied humanity.

May the spirit of newness so too lift up our vision,

so that we come with open eyes and open mind,

to those who are familiar to us;

to the sameness we face every day,

in work or in school.

Teach us not to box in the people that we share our every-days with.

May we allow the well-know friend to grow and to change,

and may we be welcome, when the time comes, to shirk off our old coats,

and put on new ways and manners and habits and passions.

We are every growing, ever changing, ever learning souls.

If Love is the spirit of this house,

may it guide our minds to more open places when we have fallen for the trap

of knowing how things are, or must be – simply because that’s how they were.

In every new moment, we are gifted with the opportunity to welcome the new,

to welcome the stranger.

Sometime that new stranger is not a person, or a place, but the next moment.

May we be worthy hosts.

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