Archive for October, 2015

Living Into Today

This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 10/25/15. It reflects on pop culture’s fascination with “Back to the Future” Day on October 21st and what that teaches us about change.

If you watch the late night talk show circuit, or read Facebook, or follow the stories that get covered over and over again on the internet, then you might have heard something this week about the old movie, “Back to the Future 2.” In the movie, they famously traveled forward in time 30 years to the date, October 21st, 2015. That was this week. The movie studio put out a promo with the character, Doc. Brown, coming out and telling us the future is what we make of it. One of the late night talk shows even got the actors Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox to reenact one of the scenes – as if they were finally arriving into the future, in the middle of the talk show.

The running jokes have all been centered around what did the screenplay of that movie get right, and which predictions were wrong. No, we don’t have any flying cars, and the hover-boards we have aren’t really hover-boards. Cars don’t run on trash, and thankfully our fashion sense is 30 years better than what the fashionistas of the 1980’s would imagine – for example, no, few of us are wearing spaghetti strainers as hats. Oddly, they did predict a red-headed casino owner would be seeking power.

It’s a classic 1990’s science fiction movie, but also rather typical for 80’s campiness, so the movie itself isn’t all that deep, though still fun. I have been struck though by all the folks who have gleefully sought out the comparisons to today’s world. Or one notable tweet that chided us, ‘if we wanted to have hover boards and flying cars by 2015, we should have elected leaders who would better fund science.’  Ouch.

I began to wonder if we had a script that was supposed to happen, that we all forgot about, until the day of the play. My fellow former theater folk here may have had that anxiety dream once or twice. I’ve noticed since we crossed the millennial threshold, the big blockbusters have, for the most part, stopped putting dates on the screen for things that happen in the future. But I did marvel at how dates (like today – 2015) used to sound so far fetched and futuristic. I imagine if you grew up earlier than the 1970s, 2015 sounds even more out there. How did we get here? Where did we go right, and where did we go wrong?

I think most of us recognize, most of the time, that there’s no real script. We do our best and take one step at a time through the years. Life is a mixture of joy, and challenge, hope and grief. Some of us have it easier, and some of us have it harder, but none of us live without stress. That being said, I think most of us also fool ourselves into living like there is a script. It sounds different for each of us. Maybe yours is the standard american dream – graduate from school, get a job, find a spouse, have children, and own a home. It’s a good script to have. It only becomes a problem when we think we should follow it, but life doesn’t match it. Maybe school isn’t for you. Or these days, jobs change far more frequently than they used to. My dad retired after working at the same company for almost 50 years. That kind of security doesn’t really happen anymore.

Or maybe you’re not looking to get married, or to get married again. Or children aren’t in your future for social, biological, or economic reasons. When family doesn’t look like the way we were raised to imagine it, it can be the source of great pain. I know that grief is real and legitimate; it’s good to acknowledge it if it’s a source of pain for you. But I find for myself, that I have to check where is the real sense of loss for me, and where I’m feeling loss from not following that imaginary script. We all deviate from it, but we don’t all have to feel bad when we do.

Or maybe you’ve lived that script and enjoyed the fullness of it, and are now wondering, what next? What does retirement mean for me? Do I become less busy, or more? When I move to be closer to the grandkids, what will become of my long time friends that have meant so much to me? I think this is the hidden secret about the classic script. Even when it’s full, and realized and meaningful, it doesn’t always offer the answers we may crave. At some point, we take a turn, and need to figure it out on our own or with our loved ones. So I’m cautious of scripts. They may be a good framework for goals, but they aren’t full of a lot of answers. I wonder how often we follow those scripts thinking they’ll have answers….

Other than the “American Dream” that I’ve just talked about, there’s another kind of tradition that we often adhere too. I call it, “The way we’ve always done things.” I think this script is probably as guilty, if not more so, of being the source of everyday smaller sufferings for those who otherwise have everything they need. It’s the kind of pain that happens when the only thing that’s “bad” that happens, is that an event, or an action, or a schedule is different than it would have been in the past – and we experience pain. Often, the new event or schedule is just as good, or near as good, or possibly even better – but it doesn’t matter; we’re off script from how things have always been done – so it triggers pain in us. Not real injury, or real grief, or real loss; it triggers imaginary suffering. I say imaginary suffering, because the only pain we’re experiencing is in our heads and not in the actual world.

Some of us may be wondering if I’m being a little unfair to tradition, or not giving tradition it’s fair voice. First, know that many Traditions (with a capital T) have history and meaning and purpose that are valued by communities, and I see that too. We honor holy days and holidays in our religious community for this reason. Likewise, memorial services, weddings and child dedications often are at the top of my priorities. So yes, tradition can be vital and life-saving and affirming. Second, rest easy; tradition always has it’s fair voice. It’s probably the loudest thing any of us ever hear. I think that’s the case, because traditions (with a lower case t) can also pretend-shield us from our daily struggles tied to change.

Why do we face change with such fear and trepidation? In hindsight, it’s probably obvious, but we do it time and time again, and in the moment forget, so it’s important to repeat. We’re growing older, or the world is less secure than I once imagined, or I’ve had enough grief in my life lately – those are all thoughts that are real and true and important to acknowledge. But sometimes, we try to avoid acknowledging change by lifting up the shield of tradition. It’s as if we imagine – if this other thing stays the same, everything else will as well. … but it doesn’t. Life is change. Life is newness, and letting go; day after day. And that’s beautiful and that’s hard. But change is here to stay; tradition or no tradition.

What would we be like if we were a people of letting go in the face of scripts and tradition? Can we be a little easier on ourselves when things don’t turn out as planned? Even if they really don’t turn out as planned can we still go easier on ourselves over it? Can we learn to assess and judge where we are in our lives without needing to compare it to our neighbor, or to our childhood and child-like dreams? When the day comes, if it hasn’t already, when you feel like your religious community wasn’t perfect in some way – can we be patient enough to remember that that’s an eternal truth for human community – we don’t do perfect? That’s probably a tradition with a capital T that we can not change – maybe the only one.

When your Sunday school teacher forgets a kid’s name, or your minister is not all things to all people, or the choir member finally someday misses a note (I know that hasn’t happened ever), or a Board president doesn’t see things exactly your way – can we learn to let go and let live? Can we live into the next today, and not stay stuck in the time of disagreement or disappointment? Many religious communities face this challenge, and it’s a normal thing to wrestle with. I’ve shared this with our Board, and I think it might be helpful for more of us to hear it, so I’ll share it here too. People don’t come here to be happy, and our purpose is not to make everyone happy. If happiness were the main goal, religion would have died out a long time ago, and with it, religious communities. When we fixate on holding onto how things once were, we increase our own suffering. Happiness may be an end result of our search, but striving to be happy usually ends in suffering. We cling for what was, or we grasp for what might be. Neither grant the genie’s wish.

Religious communities, in all our imperfections and our awkward dance between tradition and change, seek not to grant happiness, but to offer hope. That through all the turmoil and the hardship, we can remember the times of solace and joy. That change also brings us out of places of suffering. This pain we feel will someday go away. That the loss of a loved one, does not steal from us the times we shared together; that we are forever changed for knowing them, and the world is so too changed for our passing through. We give hope that this all means something. And it does. When I’ve known times of hardship, religious community has helped me ground myself and find my direction anew – before all the change and all the turmoil. But through that change, something new came about. And we’re living in that something new today.

Can we find hope in letting go? Can we make room for what may come by learning to let be what once was? When we toss the proverbial stone into the waters, hoping it will skip, will we go with it clutching till we soak ourselves, or will we let it sail on it’s own, free of our steering hand?

I’ll close with a return to where we began; “Back to the Future.” Time travels a cute, albeit fascinating, sci-fi idea. We can’t hop into a fancy car or a spinning blue box and travel backwards or forwards in time to the past or the future. But each of us, every single day, travel into the past or wonder about the future. When we cling whole cloth to the old, or to tradition, or make contingent our happiness about things yet to be – we travel in time. We live a life that once was, or a life that may never be. But in both cases, we cease living our one precious life. We may not be able to choose or change certain things about our lives – sometimes pains and grief may not be wished away – but we can choose to live our life. Living into today – saying “no” to our minds’ ceaseless drive to send us forwards or backwards in time -is a precious act of faith. Faith that this moment, this life, is here and sacred and worthy of living. It begins today, again and again.



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Prayer for Renewal in Autumn

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

As the fullness of Autumn returns to us,

and the trees turn bright with reds, and oranges, and yellows,

help us to find places where our hearts can lighten, or brighten,

in letting go of what once was.

We often grieve what has passed before us;

and grieving is often the only right emotion to feel before great loss or suffering;

But too often we grieve the small things,

never letting them fall away,

or turn into something new.

May we find the wisdom of the brighter path,

with a lighter load to carry;

knowing that for so many things,

our burdens are too often cherished worries never released.

Mother of Renewal, stir in our hearts the willingness to accept a new day,

and the courage to welcome it with open arms and loving eyes.

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Homily: Making Anger Your Friend

This family friendly homily was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntingon on 10/11/15. It looks at Anger, Bullying and National Coming Out Day.

We have a dog and a cat – Lola and Toby. They’re best of friends and we often refer to them as brother and sister. But they usually have completely opposite reactions to a ton of things. Take for instance strangers. Our dog may have a few moments of growling – and some raised fur on her back – toward newcomers to our home, before acting like the stranger has been a long time friend that she’s missed forever! And when she’s on walks, you can frequently hear me say, “Lola, no, you can’t sniff every single person!”

Our cat is the opposite. If someone comes over, she evaporates into thin air. Some of you have heard me lament on Facebook that our cat has gone missing. We wind up walking the neighborhood for hours trying to find her after exhausting all hidden corners in the house. We are completely sure she got out. We finally figured out what was happening. Toby, our cat, wanted to get away so badly from the strangers invading her home that she would sprint up to the second floor of the house, go up to the attic crawl space and then – and I swear this is true – he would open the sliding wooden door with his paw; go into the crawl space.. and I still swear this is also true – he would then proceed to close the attic door behind him. This is a sliding wooden door that we have trouble opening; but the cat can do it on his own. (My cat knows what he doesn’t like, and he knows how to handle it.)

I think we all share those reactions from time to time. When something happens that angers us, or upsets our balance, we can have moments where we growl and bristle and then let it go and come back to our normal selves. Or we can have such a strong reaction that we go hide in some corner and close the door tight – with the lights out – and pretend we’re not home. Anger can do that to us. We often talk about how anger is a bad thing; that it turns us into something, or someone, we’re not. Like the classic Hulk from the comics and movies – “Hulk Smash!” That kind of anger. But as our story earlier taught, sometimes it’s better to sit with our anger and recognize it for what it is. Then it won’t take over. But when we fight with it, or ignore it, or pretend it’s not there, we can keep acting in ways that aren’t really how we want to behave.

Feeling anger isn’t bad. It’s a feeling. We’re all entitled to feel how we’re going to feel. But it’s what we do with it that matters. Does anger turn us mean? Or does it energize us to act to fix a wrong in the world? Does the anger build up your sense of being right? Or does it bend you toward compassion for others around you? Those are the big questions to ask when you’re trying to figure out it if it’s time to let go of anger or to keep it in the room for a little while longer. And we can sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we’re acting from the good place of anger, when we’re really just being mean; but the people around us usually know the truth. So sitting with it – as the story went – learning to make it your friend, can be a great way to be honest with ourselves.

So what’s the good place of anger? Today is National Coming Out Day. It’s the day when, those of us who are LGBT, intentionally encourage and support one another to be who we are. There was a time in our country when most of us who were LGBT, pretended we weren’t. There’s definitely a bunch who still pretend, and things are still not right or fair for all of us – especially for communities of color and for transfolk – but there are a lot of ways that it is better. And the movement toward being true to who we are was a part of that change for the better. Even in our progressive denomination, the first out LGBT clergy didn’t get ordained until the 1970’s. But here I am now, with this lovely rainbow stole that this congregation made for me.

I think anger helped me to come out. I know this is true for many of us in this room – kids, youth and adults – but I was bullied as a kid and as a teen. And you don’t have to be LGBT to bullied – so this definitely applies to all of us. When it’s happening, you can often fool yourself into thinking you’re the only person that is being bullied, or you mistakingly think that it’s your fault for being bullied. Or maybe you feel shame for being beaten up, so you don’t want to tell anyone. I know that was true for me. Shame taught me to even hide it from my parents; which was so silly and tragic because they could have helped me. If you’re being bullied, please tell your parents, or your teachers, or me or Starr. We can help make it stop. No one deserves to go through that.

It didn’t really stop until I learned to make anger my friend. I stopped listening to shame, and began taking the advice of anger. It taught me to go and get help – to speak out – to be who I was, and not to let other people shame me into continuing to be their outlet for their own insecurity. So sometimes, anger is really, really important, maybe even life-saving. In religious communities like here, we’re trying to learn together how to tell the difference and how to live better from it.

I think anger also taught me how, or maybe why, to be compassionate. When you’re being beaten up – either literally or figuratively – you sometimes figure out that it probably is just as bad – when that sort of thing happens to other people. I know that might seem like an obvious thing, but we only have to turn on the news to learn that a lot of people – even or maybe especially grown ups – haven’t figured that out yet. If something hurts us, a similar thing probably hurts the people around us. I don’t think I really became compassionate because someone told me to be; I think I learned that from anger.

One of the core teachings of Unitarian Universalism is this truth. We strive to be in relationship with the people around us; to be accountable to our neighbors. Being accountable is a big word that means we’re going to be real for each other, and we’re going to be honest with one another. Sometimes that means what I said earlier, that we have to sometimes check what our intentions are. Other times that means we have to treat our neighbor with the same respect we would want for ourselves. Some of us figure that out from the start; others learn it from going through difficult times; and some never quite get it. That, that right there, is a big part of why we can make things rougher for one another. But it’s also exactly why we can make our world so much better.

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Prayer for National Coming Out Day and Indigenous People’s Day

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

We come together at the end of another week,

some worn down by struggles of health, of home, or work.

Some missing a friend or a family member,

whose gone too soon;

others looking forward to a second chance,

or a new beginning,

with gratitude and excitement in our hearts.

May we be a community that makes space,

for the sharing of joys, and sorrows, angers and hopes,

with grace and forbearance;

knowing each of us are in a different place on the road before us.

In our nation’s life, we pause this holiday weekend, to remember the Native American lives lost from the European colonization on what is now our soil.

Teach us to remember our history.

Though we can not make amends for what has come before,

may we learn from those ways,

never to repeat them in our lives today.

May we develop new ways of relating to neighbor and stranger,

without violence, or coercion,

deceit or greed.

Mother of Grace, help us to find a sense of humility, where we have privilege,

and strength, where we face oppression.

In our struggles we may learn compassion,

and in our power, may we learn temperance.

On today, National Coming Out Day, help us to be ourselves,

may we find the courage to step out from our places of hiding,

and may we find there,

places of safety and refuge,

amidst the pain and the risk.

Where we may have ignorance or confusion in our hearts,

toward those who are different,

teach us kindness and patience,

rather than hatred or judgement.

As a community of faith,

may we be a safe harbor,

in a world that is often harsh toward difference.

Challenge us to use our presence,

as a healing force for justice and equity.

Knowing that although we have come far in the civil rights struggles of our times,

there are many people are still left behind,

and the work of building the beloved community,

is just as pressing, as ever before.

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