Posts Tagged welcome

Belonging

This family-friendly homily was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 9/10/17 on the completion of our renovated grounds, parking lot, and improved accessibility. This was preached the morning that Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida.

This is a complicated day. Many of us have enjoyed a Summer of beaches, and woods, and travel, and breaks from work and school. Some of us have caught up with family, and others have lost someone very dear to their hearts. Dozens of us spent a joy filled week together at our annual summer camp – Fahs – out on the east end of the north fork (you’ll see a bunch of us in pink shirts today to better spread the word so that all who want to come know about it.) We’re enjoying a mild Summer weekend, that feels like a warm Fall day. While last week, we saw so many suffer in southern Texas from one of the worst storms in their history. And this weekend, the Caribbean and Florida are enduring one of the worst storms in living memory. (Hurricane Irma is hitting ground as we sit here now; and we hold out hope for the best, while so many people prepare for the worst. My Facebook feed was full of many friends sharing stories of driving or flying to saftey over the weekend, while others are choosing to stay put and board up their windows.)

…And here, at our Fellowship, we are celebrating the rebuilding of our grounds – something that was 37 years in the making. A few weeks ago, I was telling a story about long Summer days, and my favorite memory from childhood – the time when my parents moved into their (still to this day) home, and the neighborhood kids welcomed me out to go play at the playground across the street. Oddly enough, I just made the connection that that memory, was from 37 years ago too. I was making new friends, in a new neighborhood, and about to enter Kindergarten, and around the same time, Mary Jane and others, were having the first conversations imagining something new. (What are some of the other names we remember who first helped the dream of this building – for those who were around then – can we remember them now?)

First things first, and the sanctuary we’re in now was built. It would see so many weddings, and memorials, child dedications, and coming of age services. This room would also house our cold weather shelter for migrant men, and art concerts, and town halls, and on and on. And our grounds are also used to grow food for the town’s pantry – we’re aiming for 1000 pounds of fresh produce this year. And at the end of next month, we’ll host a Saturday long training on accompaniment in this space (Oct 28), for any who would like to help support immigrants being called to court – to help determine whether they get to belong here in our nation, or if we turn our backs as a people.

What does belonging mean to you? When was the first time you felt like you belonged somewhere? When I got invited to the playground at 4 years of age, I felt like I was going to belong. Over time, I’ve learned that it wasn’t always going to be easy, or nice; people weren’t always going to be kind, but in some ways, I imagined that neighborhood was always going to be mine to go back to – if I wanted. Where do you belong; where do you most fit in? At home with your family? Is this Fellowship a place where you feel you belong? I hope we can make it feel that way if it doesn’t yet – sometimes it takes time. For the folks dressed up with Fahs shirts today – is that a place where you know you belong? I’ve been to that camp three times now; and as a gay man, I’ve got to say how much I appreciate a place where our religious community crafts a place of belonging for all our kids – lifting up the value of their diversity. Too often, our nation tells our kids they need to change who they were born as, to learn to belong, and I’m honored to take part in a camp that teaches our kids they belong for who they are. That’s a life saving ministry we offer. Don’t ever forget that. If all we ever did, was create shelter for migrant workers during the cold weather months, grow food for the hungry during the growing season, and create a space for our kids to grow up knowing they have value and worth for who they are, that would be enough.

But we do so much more. When you’re wrestling with whether to get out of bed and come to Fellowship, or stay in comfort and catch up with the Sunday Times, remember that we create places of belonging, in our corner of the world. For our children and youth – we’re going to try to create a little bit of Fahs Summer Camp all year long – a chance for kids of all ages to learn together on Sunday mornings. For those familiar, think of the Circle Groups at camp. For those less familiar, it’s a chance for all ages to work together. So many of us live our days mostly interacting with people about our same age. First graders are with first graders, and 12th graders are with 12th graders. It stretches a bit in college, and maybe a little bit more in the work world, but usually not a lot more. Religious community is a place of belonging where we get to stitch together more and more people – to know one another and to grow together. To accomplish dreams 37 years in the making, across the generations.

For our adults, our Director of Religious Education, Starr, is working on expanding and deepening our adult religious education opportunities. The number one reason people tell us they look for religious community is to get to know more community. Take a serious look at Starr’s small groups program. It’s the easiest way to connect with more and more people every month, without the chaos (or excitement) of coffee hour. And in the spirit of deepening connections with one another – something we’re perfectly situated for – we’re beginning a campaign to rename coffee hour to “Fellowship Hour.” It was a suggestion from our ministerial intern (Greta). By a show of hands, who here wants more things to do? Who here has quite-enough-already-on-their-plate-thank-you? Excellent – vibrant hand-raising on that latter question. Sunday is officially the break from “more-things-to-do.” After service, come for coffee and Fellowship, and leave the work and chores of your life behind for a couple of hours. Don’t run up to a Board member and share your complaint. Don’t get one more thing done for your committee. Do the stuff that feeds you. It’s ok to sign up for stuff with someone carrying around a clipboard, but don’t rush to start a new committee meeting while the coffee is getting poured. Get to know your friends a little better; and make sure to welcome one more stranger into your life – if you’re up for it. With all of my clerical power, I give you the permission to not-do-stuff during Fellowship hour unless it feeds your spirit, and replenishes your well. There is so much hard stuff going on in the world, and we need places of respite to breath, to connect, and to reimagine new ways. Let our fellowship be that place for you.

 

 

 

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The Mantis and the Frog

This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, NY on 9/13/15. It imagines how we can be a people of invitation.

 

 

I was swimming in a hotel pool over the Summer when a large Praying Mantis landed next to Brian and I, and she began flailing in the water. Brian went to try to push it to the edge, and I stopped him because I was worried it was going to make the insect more likely to drown. I went over to her, and put my hand under the Praying Mantis so that she could climb out. I took her over to the edge of the pool and gave her time to dry in the sun. Brian asked if I was sure this was a good idea, and I said that it was totally safe. Praying Mantis don’t bite humans, they just eat the things that do bite us.

For the next twenty or thirty minutes, the insect sat on my hand sunning herself, and drying. She diligently would clean off each of her 6 legs in her mandibles, eating the saltwater off while drying. She’d even stretch her back legs up over her head and put them in her mouth to clean up. It was fairly marvelous to watch! I’ve always loved Praying Mantis – and this was a super treat to watch. But as time was going by, my arm was starting to get tired, and I knew that she couldn’t stay there forever, so I tried to get her to jump from my hands to the plants that were near to the pools. But without going so far as to flick her off, she was not going to budge.

SO… I turned around to walk her back through the pool to the dry ground and head toward the hedges nearby. But when I turn around, I realized that every, and I mean every, person lounging by the pool was staring at me. Some with looks of confusion, some were smiling and others looked absolutely horrified by the idea that someone would have a giant Praying Mantis on their hand.

When I got out of the pool one person mentioned how absolutely brave I was, and better me than her. I tried to explain that they eat bugs, not humans, but that wasn’t going to convince her. Another guy said “that’s good luck.” I smiled and said, “yes, for the praying mantis, this was very good luck.” I finally got her to the hedges, and she eagerly jumped off and went on her merry way. I felt really good about what I did, and getting to watch the mantis up close was pretty awe-inspiring in its own way.

This memory reminds me of a folk tale some of you may have heard. I’ll share that now, and then we’ll talk about why all this matters.

(Tell story of the two frogs and the bucket.)

For the frogs, life and death came down to what view they held in their minds. Did they hold onto hope or give into fear and despair? Sometimes, when things are really rough, and we’re stuck in a tough situation, just treading water can be all we have to give, and all we need to do. When the world is throwing its worst at us, or we’re going through a rough depression, or the kids at school won’t stop being mean – in those times, we might feel really out of control and helpless. We can’t always change how we feel, or the randomness of bad luck, or how other people act, but we can choose to keep on trying to get through. Sometimes we have to do that for a long while. If you’re in one of those hard places right now – please – keep treading water. Reach out to us. Even if we can’t fix whatever it is, we’re here, and this community cares. And maybe, we can help you out of the place where you’re feeling like you’re drowning from the pressure.

My story about the praying mantis was a bit different than the frogs. It wasn’t so much about the choice to hope or despair. I think about the fellow pool-goers nearby in the water, or reclining in their sun chairs, and how they chose to respond with fear, or loathing, or curiosity, or gratitude. How do we respond when we see someone arrive out of nowhere looking for help? Do we hunker down? Are we fearful? Do we extend a hand? We’re reflecting all of this month on what it would mean to be a people of invitation, and these questions are important questions when we find folks in need of welcome in our lives. It’s important to consider where we’re coming from, when we choose to act. I especially have this in mind this week, and we learn more and more about the struggle of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Europe looking for new homes that are safe and welcoming. We might be safely in our poolside lounge chairs right now, but there are still things we can do to help. For those of you old enough to vote, there’s a petition shared on our Fellowship’s Facebook page that asks our country to open our doors to more refugees than we’ve been allowing to come to safety on our shores. We do have the means; we just need to find our hearts again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “intentions” lately. What’s going on in our hearts and our minds when we choose to do the things we do? If we’re thinking about what it means to be a people of invitation, this kind of reflection also help us to be more welcoming – not just in theory but in practice. Our first story today, told by Starr, is one of those interesting cases where we’d probably say all those people pretending to bring something more than water for the feast didn’t mean poorly. They didn’t think their actions would matter, but when everyone skimped at the same time, there was a real problem. If everyone hadn’t skimped, only you or me, no one would have noticed. We’d probably walk away and say – “oh, I didn’t intend to ruin the feast, I just didn’t think it would make a difference.” That’s the funny thing about intentions; we can often be dishonest with ourselves and say we didn’t intend something bad, when however you look at it – the things we sometimes do don’t have a good outcome. Bringing only water to the potluck is probably not a good thing, right – but I’m sure each person “didn’t mean anything by it”…

Sometimes we can mean well, and even our actions on the surface could be viewed as positive, but they don’t match our real intentions. This is a bit trickier to be honest with ourselves about. I think it comes up the most when we’re feeling self-righteous; when we know we’re the only person who must be right and we act from that place of our heads or our egos. One of the signs – sometimes – is anger. Anger isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes it can be a natural response to great injustices. But I’m trying to teach myself, in my everyday moments, when I respond to something from a place of anger – when I’m feeling angry – I’m trying to teach myself to make sure I’m not acting to feed my anger or my self-righteousness first and foremost – rather than acting to fix the thing itself.

I think we all do this. Who here has ever been in an argument about something, that started out simply to correct or change something and then found themselves all worked up and arguing about the argument rather than the thing they wanted to fix? That’s usually a good marker for when we’re doing this. I don’t think any changes we make (for most things in life) will improve anything if we start from a place of anger. We’ll probably end in a place of anger too. This is especially true if we’re angry about small things. Anger is a natural response to the great wrongs in life, even if we may not want to give in to it, it’s a real and honest response. But when we get angry about the small things – we’re probably not really thinking about the thing anymore – and are more focused on ourselves and our wants and opinions – our head and our egos.

It’s sort of like that praying mantis from the start of my sermon. A whole lot of people had feelings about that insect drowning in the water; fear, curiosity, indifference. But the mantis was still drowning – whatever our opinions or thoughts or feelings. We can be the people that stay lounging in the sun indifferent, or we can get ourselves a little wet from time to time to do what needs to be done – and if we’re really lucky – we can do it with a sense of awe and gratitude. Let us begin this Fellowship year remembering the words our Sunday Schools often say – we are the Fellowship of the open mind, the loving heart and the helping hands.

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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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Call to Worship “We Are Not Our Own” – based on hymn #317

Let us be a house of welcome

knowing each of us comes here,

not our own,

formed by earth,

and the generations that came before;

may we welcome each other

as life as welcomed us into her home.

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