Posts Tagged Golden Calf

Mixed Messages

This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 10/21/18 and looks at the perversion of the Christian message in contemporary America.

 

When I was in seminary, I lived next door to Riverside Church, the great Protestant Catherdral of America. It was on the corner of Columbia University and Harlem. One year, the Dalai Lama was touring the US and was stopping to speak at Riverside church. Many of us seminarians were invited into the worship service. For weeks we prepped art supplies for this gorgeous service. The Dalai Lama was preaching on interfaith solidarity and compassion. And we were crafting the large and long giant fishes – in designs and styles from every world religion. For you see, the fish is an image that is almost universally sacred to every world faith in some way. The service began with drumming, and dozens and dozens of us marching in with those giant fish on long poles with streamers behind – swimming into and through the giant catherdal. Ritually, we were trying to describe that that which is universal in faith, is essential to faith. What we all have in common, is what is central to the spirit. That which is universal is essential.Remember that image, and we’ll come back to it soon.

“And the people bowed and prayed. To the neon god they made. And the sign flashed out its warning. In the words that it was forming. And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls. And tenement halls.” (Paul Simon)

I’m a child of the 70’s and 80’s. Neon was synonymous with excitement; it was also a good stand-in for vice, excess, danger. Sometimes it meant greed. I remember the first time I went to Las Vegas for a work conference, back when I was still in Info Tech, there was a point when I was strolling around that I had to leave one of the major street intersections; the neon and flashing lights were so much more extreme than even Times Square, my vision couldn’t handle all the dazzle, and I was worried I was going to pass out. Now that Times Square is all giant LED screens, I’m not sure if the generations after me will see “Neon” that way. It might just come across as “cheap,” in the sense of the cheaper alternative to LED. But for “The Sound of Silence” and Simon and Garfunkle, and for this kid of the 70s and 80s, the man-made gods were Neon.

“The Sound of Silence” is the modern retelling of the Golden Calf story; where gold was melted into a false god that was worshipped. The commandments were tossed aside, And the people bowed and prayed… The oldest stories are new again, and again. And the prophets of old, and the prophets of today, are found in the margins, among the underserved; the carpenters, the orphans, the graffiti artists, and in public housing. They probably won’t have flashy signs drawing attention to them; the bright lights often are trying to dazzle us to look the other way – away from the prophets that are forging a new, and healthier path.

Religion is often divided, and despite all the interfaith work of recent decades, it continues to be a tremendous source for divisiveness. It’s that fact, that pushes so many spiritual people away from organized religion. Add to that, the very reality of golden calves, and neon gods, there is a real threat we need to come to account with, and figure out how to manage – as religious people. I’ll begin with my own home, and move out from there. Today we will look at the painful tension, or the disconnect between our expressed values, and how our national religious and civic actions often play out. The mixed messages between what we say and what we do; what we believe and how we practice.

My household is essentially an interfaith one. I identify strongly as a U.U., and a theist, who’s rooted in the narrative traditions of Judaism and Christianity. I have my own meditation practice informed by Buddhist teachers over the years, but it’s the stories in the Bible that I grew up on, that really hit home for me when they’re unpacked in meaningful ways. My husband, left what he experienced as a too homophobic fundamentalist Christian worldview and has found a rich spiritual home in Neo-Paganism. (His family, thankfully, is super loving and great people – and often read my sermons – so if you’re reading this – love you Diane)!

But Christianity doesn’t still speak to my husband. It’s safe to say that we’re coming from a different place when we talk about the value of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. He legitimately sees the bad, and the stark, and has had enough. And I see all that stuff too, and I react differently; I say that’s not real Christianity. Social conservatism doesn’t get to rewrite millennia of Christian teachings because they don’t align with today’s American cultural Christianity. I’ll remind us again, that Fundamentalism as we know it has only been around since the 1950s, and didn’t really gain serious traction until the 1970s. …Neon gods….

“And in the naked light I saw. Ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never share. And no one dared. Disturb the sound of silence.”(Paul Simon)

I want to look back to the beginning of Christian teachings, and we’ll move our way forward to the events of this past week; I’m especially horrified over the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government. Aside from the nightmare, that is our current administration’s unwillingness to do anything about an American Permenant Resident, and a journalist with the Washington Post, being murdered on foreign soil, we have also heard from Christian evangelists doubling now as murder apologists. Pat Robertson, the prominent televangelist, to paraphrase, ‘said that it wasn’t worth jeopardizing our alliance with Saudi Arabia over one life; it wasn’t worth billions of dollars, over one life.’ If you haven’t read about the details, I will not traumatize anyone now. And all the pundits are busy talking without speaking, as they try to spin this other than what it clearly is. I’ll leave it to you to read more about it if you so feel called. But today, we’ll try to sort out how we’ve gotten to the point where such a perverse perspective could be considered Christian. And maybe along the way, for those of us who are scarred by false religiosity, we might find a way back to reclaiming religion for ourselves. I’m increasingly believing that religious people have this internal work to do. For many of us, we’ve allowed American cultural Christianity to be understood as realChristianity. American cultural Christianity is a neon god; that’s all, and that’s dangerous.

It is in this spirit that I’d like us to consider the basics of the teachings of Jesus right now. Whether you see Jesus as God, or a prophet or a teacher – his wisdom has crafted this world we inhabit – and that wisdom is what I’m speaking to right now. His words often get lost behind denominationalism, politics, culture and doctrine. I deeply value his parables. Stories are a beautiful way to convey a teaching without sounding like you’re teaching. But they can leave a lot of room for interpretation. So let’s focus on the five very clear messages he gave that were not coached in parable, or metaphor, or narrative. Here they go and they’re easy to remember: feed the hungry; clothe the naked; care for the sick; visit those in prison; and shelter the homeless. As Unitarian Universalists, this teaching is central to our history of social service and social reform – it would be good to write those words on our hearts.

Very little of what Jesus ever said wasn’t cloaked in some varied meaning, so it seems to me that when he says something clearly, it’s probably extra-important. But its clarity should be seen as central to Christian practice and identity. Whatever speaks directly to its opposite is leading us toward neon gods.

The liberal and progressive wings of religion in America seem to have given ground to radical, right wing, extreme American cultural Christianity and convinced itself that those on the fringe are actually the center and those of us who maintain that compassion is central to religion are the crazy radicals. It’s simply not true. What I call the basic Christian spirit, or the basic religious spirit, they would call class warfare. And we remember, That which is universal is essential.Every world faith shares those five basic teachings of Jesus; that which is essential can notbe called class warfare.

So where does that leave us? How do we move on from here?

Religiously speaking – social transformation needs to begin from a place of compassion. We need to be centered in our lives, in our selves, in our motivations. We need to find the truth in those simple teachings of Jesus I began with. Teachings that are foundational to Christianity, birthed and rooted in Judaism, and remarkably found in all world faiths. Caring for the poor or naked is not a specifically Christian message. It’s a religious message. It’s a compassionate message. And to make it a reality, a spiritual mindset must be found – that community should transcend ego. That we are better together, than apart. That the kingdom of heaven is found in our midst – and Jesus meant – inall our midst.Bowing to our ego, bowing to neon gods is easy. Compassion and conviction are hard. Let’s find a way to take the hard path.

Some of us may choose to join the marches and protests across the nation. Some of us may feel that the economic system as it is, is mostly ok. I know that for some of us the debate could take days, and for others the answer’s already a given. Speaking in religious terms though, our country produces enough goods to feed the hungry; clothe the naked; care for the sick; shelter the homeless, and yes even visit those in prison. But we don’t. We’ve missed the mark. We have all that we need to have in order to make the mark. And as the…People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening… continue on, whole swaths of us are fed false teachings of scarcity, of fearing the stranger, of hating our neighbor. We can do better; we are graced with the original blessing of life, and that is magnificant. We can be magnificent to one another. It is our work, all our work, to undo the false teachings of scarcity, of fear, of hate. That’s the religious call. Shatter the golden calf, turn toward the graffiti artists, and tenement halls, and hear the needs of the people, all the people.

We have all that we need to have in order to make the mark, and yet we don’t. I have no magic wand that will remedy this. I have no ear of presidents, or prophets to resolve this. But I do have your ear, and we do have each other. As the powers and principalities would see us unnervered, distraught, in despair, and disorganized – I challenge each of us to tackle just one of these five issues for a start. Between all of us, we’ll probably cover all of them in some way. What kind of clothing work do we do? Some of us donate to shelters. I know we collect bags and bags of clothes every year – for veteran’s groups, for our Men’s Shelter as we learn of needs. Can we institutionalize this outside of the cold weather months? I’ve asked this before, and I’ll ask us again, would one of us be willing to step forward and help manage this the other 6 months a year?

Do we feed the hungry? We run a cold-weather shelter; and we collect food for the town pantry during the cold-weather months. And we grow vegetables during the warm weather months. This feels like a central part of our collective life here, and we should be proud of what we do. Who are our leaders in this work here – raise your hand. If you would like to learn more, seek them out in coffee hour. We are not powerless.

And we do shelter the homeless; our Fellowship was a leading force in building the Huntington response to the tragic death of one homeless man in the winter over 15 years ago. With the cold-weather months coming upon us, there are opportunities to still volunteer. Joan P. and Mary S. are leads in this effort and it does take all of us. If you are one of our monthly managers, raise your hand – If you would like to learn more, seek them out in coffee hour. We are not powerless.

You could imagine me saying the same for caring for the sick, or visiting those in prison. We have a vibrant Pastoral Care team that helps me in visiting those who are sick, and helping along the way. Will our pastoral care associates who are present please raise your hands. If you would like to learn more, seek them out in coffee hour. We are not powerless.

I personally would add an addendum to visiting those in prison – it would sound something like, “Reduce the need and reliance on prisons.” That would be a ministry true. I think where we most closely succeed here is our work starting the Rapid Response Network in this part of Long Island, where folks accompany detained immigrants going to court; to strive to witness what they face, and to help honor their humanity during a difficult time in their life – a time that our nation makes unnecessarily difficult. If you would like to join in that work – reach out to our Social Justice committee, and they can connect you. Who here is involved with the Rapid Response Network, please raise your hands. If you would like to learn more, seek them out in coffee hour. We are not powerless.

 

These five basic teachings of Jesus are at risk in the modern US, and we can be of help. We each have to make our own value-based decisions in life. In the push and pull of the mixed messages of consumerism versus spirituality, we get to choose to what we will bow our heads and pray. And in these days of increasing bends toward the harsh realities of fascism, do not allow yourself to succumb to feeling powerless. Remember that that which is universal is essential.Stay true to the common sense spiritual teachings we all know to be true. Do not believe the lie that compassion is on the fringe, and fear and scarcity are in the center. Progressive faith, diverse faith, compassionate faith, is essential and true. Let us diligently lead by relentlessly fostering the ties and connections we can that are before us, and find strength, and find power, in that solidarity.

 

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An American Anti-Christ

This sermon calls for a return to the basics of the teaching message of Jesus, and discusses how his wisdom has been co-opted for political ends. The Occupy Wall Street movement is centrally reflected upon in this podcast. It was first preached on October 9th, 2011 at the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Brooklyn, NY.

About two months ago, my partner Brian and I were driving in a rental car from Montreal to Quebec. Our French is not good enough beyond the simplest reading of signs and menus, so our heads were swimming with all the language in the air. As a reprieve, we turned the car radio to a local English-speaking station. It sounded to me like their version of NPR. But maybe all Canadian radio features informed reporting and thoughtful discourse on social issues. We heard a foreign take on events in the U.S. from the Tea Party to the environment; from Islam to Christianity. And it was around the topic of Christianity where we stopped listening to the radio and started into a heated discussion about the merits of religion in the U.S.

Our household is essentially an interfaith one. I identify strongly as a U.U., and a theist, who’s rooted in the narrative traditions of Judaism and Christianity. I have my own meditation practice informed by Buddhist teachers over the years, but it’s the stories in the Bible that I grew up on that really hit home for me when they’re unpacked in meaningful ways. My partner Brian, left – no scratch that – ran away screaming from a homophobic fundamentalist Christian upbringing and has found a rich spiritual home in Neo-Paganism. Soooo… it’s safe to say that we’re coming from a different place when we talk about the value of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. And when a foreign station adds into the mix the politics of the American sphere, where religion starts and ends can become a bit less clear.

We had an intense moment that was punctuated by my statement, “But that’s not really Christianity! Social conservatism doesn’t get to rewrite millennia of Christian teachings because they don’t align with today’s American cultural christianity. Fundamentalism as we know it has only been around since the 1950s, and didn’t really gain serious traction until the 1970s.”

This sermon is largely about how we’ve gone astray from the basics of religion with an aim to help us refocus. It is in this spirit that I’d like us to consider the basics of the teachings of Jesus right now. Whether you see Jesus as God, or a prophet or a teacher – his wisdom has crafted this world we inhabit – and that wisdom is what I’m speaking to right now. His words often get lost behind denominationalism, politics, culture and doctrine. I deeply value his parables. Stories are a beautiful way to convey a teaching without sounding like you’re teaching. But they can leave a lot of room for interpretation. So let’s focus on the five very clear messages he gave that were not coached in parable, or metaphor, or narrative. Here they go and they’re easy to remember: feed the hungry; clothe the naked; care for the sick; visit those in prison; and shelter the homeless. Very little of what Jesus ever said wasn’t cloaked in some varied meaning, so it seems to me that when he says something clearly, it’s probably extra-important. Or maybe just really obvious. But its clarity should be seen as central to Christian practice and identity. Whatever speaks directly to its opposite could be said to be anti-Christian – or against the Christian spirit – or maybe more starkly, Anti-Christ.

Now I’m not one to subscribe to apocalyptic prophesies, or a literal reading of Christian Revelations. I don’t believe in an actual anti-christ as depicted in the horrific imaginations of the “Left Behind” series. Harold Camping, the modern day prophet of Revelations, the man who caused fear and trembling amongst tens of thousands this past May 21st, was the brainchild of wayward prophecies that cause anxiety and terror around the end of the world. I believe he came to the conclusion that May was the wrong date and it’s somewhere in October or November. I have no respect for that kind of religious sensationalism and see it only as harmful and negligent.

I want to try unpacking this concept in a more responsible way. If I were to take a turn at imagining an anti-christ, I believe that the anti-christ of today would be someone, or maybe some movements, that successfully convinced us that up was down, right was left, that sky was ocean, and false was true. It would be a teaching that convinced us that Jesus said the opposite of what he actually said. That we shouldn’t feed the hungry; clothe the naked; care for the sick; visit those in prison; or shelter the homeless. It might sound something like this: 1) Those on Welfare deserved their fate and should simply go out and find a job. Then their families won’t go hungry. 2) It’s fine to have folks work long hours, for poor pay, in unhealthy conditions so long as the designer clothes they make reach lucrative markets – oh, and they do not get access to those designer clothes themselves. 3) Healthcare is not a right. It should be tied to employment. And you should be allowed to opt out. 4) Prison systems are designed to be punitive, not redemptive. The more full they are, the more efficient they remain. Go prison industrial complex! 5) Luxury housing is better for the tax base. Affordable Housing is middle class welfare. Section 8 housing credits are expiring all around us as a sign of the healthier economy – look, people just want to move back in, so we don’t have to fund the poor to live here now that the neighborhoods are getting cleaned up.

It’s almost comical if folks didn’t believe this while claiming religiosity. And this isn’t just my liberal UU take on it. My Christian friends and colleagues in the clergy, who range from UCC to evangelical to baptist, all agree that up is not down, right is not left, and the Christian message clearly states that people are here to help people – without judgment. The liberal and progressive wings of religion in America seem to have given ground to radical, right wing, extreme American cultural christianity and convinced itself that those on the fringe are actually the center and those of us who maintain that compassion is central to religion are the crazy radicals. It’s simply not true. If there were an Anti-Christ to Christianity it would be heard in the voices that spout Jesus was not for the poor, the oppressed, or the hungry. What I call the basic Christian spirit, or the basic religious spirit, they would call class warfare.

And to be clear – this doesn’t fall neatly on either side of the political aisle. When I say liberal or progressive, I only mean in social terms. Not political terms. It was a conservative in the White House that developed the robust housing program that buoyed the poor for 30 years until a conservative in the White House gutted Housing and Urban Development by the billions. And it was a liberal in the White House that changed how we understand welfare and Free Trade in the U.S. as we know it. As a minister I can’t speak to the politics, nor do I find politics to ever be clear cut or uniform. Each of us must make our own informed choices. This congregation is healthiest when we have members from all political parties – and know that we do. Dialogue makes us stronger. But as a minister, I can’t allow politics to redefine what religion has meant for millennia. It’s clear cut on this. We are the congregation of the loving hearts and the helping hands. We teach that to our children, and we need to live that as adults.

So where does that leave us? How do we move on from here? Just this week I was watching a 1975 classic movie with a few friends at my apartment called, “Network.” The premise was a prophetic look forward to the Murdoch and Fox news phenomenon – or one might say the same about the Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” phenomenon. In this movie, the news has stopped being the news, and it’s become a profit motive that sells the wares of an ideological elite. The movie is rightfully a classic, and seen as one of the 100 greatest movies of all time. There is a line toward the beginning where the news anchor, speaking as a wayward prophet for the American disgust-of-all-that-is, screams to his viewers to go out to their windows and doors, open them up, and scream over and over, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” He wants the American people to own up to their frustration and disgust with business as usual – with war, crime, pollution, and poverty. Centered in the NYC of the 1970s, we’re bracketed by war; dealing with the start or middle of the White Flight that gutted and burned NYC; with the impending fiscal default of the City – people were disgruntled, disenfranchised, losing hope, and, more importantly, losing faith in the path forward.

I see so many similarities with the protest movement we see and hear just across our river in Wall Street. Last weekend, Brian and I were taking a walk down the promenade and about the time when the arrests began happening on the Brooklyn Bridge, we could hear the loud cry from that far away. A movement that originally was said to only be in the hundreds, took a shift and became a movement of thousands and thousands. And not only in this city, but sprouting up in cities across the country. Within a span of days, social media became abuzz with the grassroots movement. Numerous of our congregants, friends of mine, and fellow UU colleagues have travelled out to Wall Street to protest. Many deride it for lack of clarity and focus. There’s a laundry list of things about the Occupy Wall Street movement for which it is critiqued into irrelevancy. And yet, all the critiques sound to my ear identical to those critiques of the early Tea Party movement. Some of you in the pews may be squirming at the comparison, but the truth is that the Tea Party became unbelievably relevant out of a sludge of irrelevancy because it was speaking to a primal disgust toward the system.

Rick Bruner, a member at First UU, is one of the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. He was recently telling me that he’s, “been surprised by the effect that the protest has had on [him].” His 23-year-old nephew, Patrick Bruner, has emerged as a prominent player in the whole movement, as one of the principal spokespersons for the protests. He is being widely quoted, including in NYT, WSJ, NPR and elsewhere.” Rick tells me that his nephew stayed with him for several weeks earlier in the summer, and they had a number of political conversations, and while Rick was once much more radical and idealistic in his political views, he kept getting frustrated with his nephew in their discussions for being a dreamer. As he’s aged he says that he supposes like many he’s “grown more cynical and jaded about the workings of the world.” A few months later, Rick was telling me that he was feeling a bit like he “… got schooled by his nephew.”

The movie “Network” that I spoke about had its own prophet. The news prophet knew that something must be done and it had to begin with a personal transformation. A transformation that would get the average person out of their chair, out of their door, and civically engaged. The character said that had to start with anger.

I don’t agree. I don’t believe it needs to start with anger. I believe that anything that begins with anger will likely end with anger, and I want no part of that. For me that would be another warning sign of messages spouted by modern day anti-christs. Don’t love thy neighbor – feel righteous fury against thy neighbor. Religiously speaking – social transformation needs to begin from a place of compassion. We need to be centered in our lives, in our selves, in our motivations. We need to find the truth in those simple teachings of Jesus I began with. Teachings that are foundational to Christianity, birthed and rooted in Judaism, and remarkably found in all world faiths. Caring for the poor or naked is not a specifically Christian message. It’s a religious message. It’s a compassionate message. And to make it a reality, a spiritual mindset must be found, not a politically angry one. Anger is easy. Compassion and conviction are hard. Let’s find a way to take the hard path. I believe these protests on Wall Street are so far non-violent ones. Maybe centered for some in frustration, they remain peaceful – well except for a rare few members of our police pepper spraying some protesters.

Some of us may choose to join the marches and protests across the river. Some of us may feel that the economic system as it is is mostly ok. I know that for some of us the debate could take days, and for others the answer’s already a given. For some the movement is amorphous and without meaning. For others, it’s very clear. CNN recently summed up the movement as follows, “They are suggesting that the fiscal operating system on which we are attempting to run our economy is no longer appropriate to the task. They mean to show that there is an inappropriate and correctable disconnect between the abundance America produces and the scarcity its markets manufacture.”[1]

Speaking in religious terms, our country produces enough goods to feed the hungry; clothe the naked; care for the sick; shelter the homeless, and yes even visit those in prison. But we don’t. We’ve missed the mark. We have all that we need to have in order to make the mark. Even now in a recession. And our imagined anti-christ is telling us it’s not our problem, we don’t have enough, and we couldn’t change it even if we wanted to. This mindset reminds me of one of the Jewish teachings in scripture. Moses is away to Mount Sinai to commune with God. The people are struggling with survival. And after a time they turn to worshiping a golden calf. When Moses returns, he destroys the calf as an idol of a false god; a god that mankind made. This story is about a turning away from the abundance and freedom God has given us and a return to living the values we already know. I mention this aside because this morning Judson Memorial Church, a progressive Christian church at Washington Square will be processing a golden calf in the shape of the Wall Street Bull down to Zuccotti Park at 2pm for an interfaith service. Some of you may be moved to join them. But I also mention this because we sometimes get stuck in thinking that one faith tradition holds a monopoly on a teaching.

We have all that we need to have in order to make the mark, and yet we don’t. I have no magic wand that will remedy this. I have no ear of presidents, or prophets to resolve this. But I do have your ear, and we do have each other. I challenge each of us to tackle just one of these five issues for a start. Between all of us, we’ll probably cover all of them in some way. What kind of clothing work does First UU do? Some of us donate to shelters: CHIPS, Ali Forney, Henrick-Martin and the Harvey Milk school all happened last congregational year. I know that literally scores of bags of clothes were collected between us all. That’s frankly incredible. Can we institutionalize this? Can we plan to do so outside of the Winter Holidays or special collections originated by our program of Small Group Ministries? Is there someone among us that would be willing to step forward to make sure that we’re always helping to clothe the naked? I learned on Friday that our member Mary Most began collecting clothing goods to deliver to the Occupy Wall Street site. So many there are not just protesting, or camping. They’re homeless.

Do we feed the hungry? Well, the answer is sort of. Some of us volunteer our time with food shelters. We do collect goods in the vestibule every Sunday to be sent to a food pantry. If you haven’t yet donated, please consider doing so. Every week we accept goods. Could we do more? Yes. Could we set up times where we travel as a group to a local soup kitchen to staff it? Could we join up with our sister congregation of All Souls which has their own kitchen that serves over 250 people every Monday night? Yes. Are there ways to collaborate with our other synagogues, mosques and churches in the area? Yes. Is there someone among us that would be willing to step forward…?

You could imagine me saying the same for caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, or visiting those in prison. I personally would add an addendum to visiting those in prison – it would sound something like, “Reduce the need and reliance on prisons.” That would be a ministry true. Do we have folks among us for whom this issue lights a spark? The world needs healing here as well. It is for all of us to step up.

When I visited Zuccotti Park, the center of the Occupy Wall Street protest, I experienced the human megaphone. Apparently, protesters are not allowed to use actual megaphones. So when one needs to speak so that all will hear, they say a line and wait for those closest around the speaker to repeat what they said as a group. The sound reverberates outward till folks further back repeat it again until all can hear. In this gentle act of human spirit, the voice of the silenced get repeated and passed on louder and louder. Standing in the place of love, where each human being helps the next be heard by all, leaves little room for the voice of an anti-christ to be heard.

I would like to end this morning’s sermon in a different way than usual. In a moment of solidarity with those who have no megaphone, those who have not the luxury of a high pulpit and ample sound system, I will end my sermon by coming down to the pews. In a moment I’ll turn off the lavaliere, and speak without electronic aid. I’ll ask, the risky request, that those in the front pews help us to experience the human megaphone within the walls of this historic church building. For those that are close that can hear me well, please repeat my words for those further back. Afterward those in the middle can repeat what they hear for those seated in the rearmost pews. We should hear two echoes.

‘We are the congregation of the open mind. We are the congregation of the loving hearts. We are the congregation of the helping hands. We teach this to our children. May we find ways to live this deeply as adults. It is a religious mission, to transform ourselves and our world, through acts of love and justice.’

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/05/opinion/rushkoff-occupy-wall-street/index.html – Brought to my attention by congregant Julie Bero

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Golden Calf vs Sacred Calf

I’ve been deeply moved by the NYC image of the Golden Calf that Judson Memorial Church has processed down past the Thompson Street Brunch crowd on Sunday afternoons in support of the Occupy Wall Street social movement. Rev. Michael Ellick and Rev. Donna Schaper’s interfaith leadership has been effective and powerful. The Golden Calf, the classic false idol of scriptures based in the Abrahamic Tradition reminds us that we’re not here to worship any economic system. It reminds us that religion and faith put human compassion before the call of the dollar. The story of Moses, Aaron and the people’s desire to rely on something familiar rather than the difficult path God put before them is one we can readily relate to. What other way is there but profit? Can we really rely on one another? Will there be enough when I can’t see the way forward?

At a recent interfaith press conference, Donna Schaper reminded us that the story ultimately has a shattered calf at the end of it – and we need to not shatter our calf. Violence has no place in this peace movement. Reflecting upon her words, I would add that our system doesn’t have to be shattered to be healed. Our reliance upon the way things have been done may need to be broken, but destruction isn’t the image we need to look toward. We need to find one of hope and abundance, because that’s the core of our challenge. And it can be the core of our solution.

I was reminded of another tradition’s image of the sacred calf at the press conference. In Hinduism, the cow is sacred. It’s a sign of life and abundance. It’s holy and an image of the divine. I’d like to suggest that we continue to use this image of the Golden Calf in the form of the Wall Street Bull, to remind us that the economic system that parses and funnels wealth against the stream to the few is a dead weight that only brings loss with it. We can also remember the Hindu notion of the sacred calf. The U.S. is a society with a tremendous dream, and an abundance of prosperity – even in the recession we now face. We can cease to pretend that hoarding wealth is our sacred national pastime. We can devise an economy – even a Capitalistic economy – that recognizes that we truly have more than we’re allowing all of us to share in. Approaching our imagination with solutions rooted in this abundance, we can rebuild a sense of hope and possibility for that way forward. It doesn’t have to be them vs us. As one protester wrote, “It’s not you vs. me. It’s we before me.”

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