Begin With the Children

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The story is told about an incident that happened in a courtroom in New York City during the thirties, when America was in the grip of the great Depression. The judge on the bench was hearing a complaint against a woman charged with stealing. She pleaded that her daughter was sick, and her grandchildren were starving. Their father had abandoned the family. There was no help. But the shopkeeper, whose food had been stolen, refused to drop the charge. He insisted that an example be made of the poor old woman, as a deterrent to others. He in fact suggested that she ought to pull herself up by her own bootstraps, try a little harder, America is the land of opportunity after all.

The judge sighed. He was most reluctant to pass judgment on the woman, yet he had no alternative. “I’m sorry,” he turned to her. “But I cannot make any exceptions. The law is the law. I sentence you to a fine of ten dollars, and if you cannot pay I must send you to jail for ten days.”

The woman was gripped by terror. Who would take care of her kids? No one… But even as he was passing sentence, the judge, moved by compassion, was reaching into his pocket for the money to pay off the ten-dollar fine. He took off his hat, tossed the ten-dollar bill into it, and then addressed the crowd: “I am also going to impose a fifty cent fine on every person here present in this courtroom, for living in a city and a nation where a person has to steal bread to save her daughter and her grandchildren from starvation.” Then to the bailiff he said: “Please collect the fines in this hat, and pass them across to the defendant.”

And so the accused went home that day from the courtroom with forty-seven dollars and fifty cents – fifty cents of which had been paid by the shame-faced grocery shopkeeper who had brought the initial charge against her and, beyond that, had the temerity to lecture her.

As she left the courtroom, the gathering of petty criminals and New York policemen gave the judge a standing ovation. (Adapted from One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World)

**

I want to be the voice of the judge to you today, as we pray for the children

who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who don’t have rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.
(from a poem by Ina J. Hughes)

Leave No Child Behind is the vision of the Children’s Defense Fund, and that resonates so powerfully with our worship theme of the month of hospitality. Leave No Child Behind, and be sure to invite them to the table too, where what’s being served is DIGNITY, respect for all people and respect especially for those who are the most vulnerable among us. The most vulnerable and yet, paradoxically, the most powerful too, for “children are one third of our population and all of our future.” (Source: Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981). As Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we won’t have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

Begin with the children. Let’s not make the invitation to the dignity table an afterthought. Let’s not make them last on the list.

But we do make them last. This is what the judge from the story knows.

One reason is moralism. The moralism of the shopkeeper, with his “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” philosophy. Of course we want people to have character. Of course we want people to have enterprise. But let’s not fool ourselves. “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is often nothing but rationalization for just looking away.

You may know of the work of Princeton University psychology professor, Susan Fiske. She has found that when research subjects hooked up to neuro-imaging machines look at photos of the poor and homeless, their brains often react as if they are seeing things, not people. No wonder the response to poverty is so often not sympathy but revulsion, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly style. And no wonder the response to government programs that fall short of effectiveness is so ruthless, because, after all, our hard-earned money has just been wasted on a bunch of things, not people.

The shopkeeper who feels victimized loves to criticize and second guess. Writer Tressie McMillan Cottom nails it on the head. “At the heart of [all] the incredulous statements about the poor decisions poor people make is a belief that we would never be like them. We would know better. We would know to save our money, eschew status symbols, cut coupons, practice puritanical sacrifice to amass a million dollars. […] What we forget, if we ever know, is that what we know now about status and wealth creation and sacrifice are predicated on who we are, i.e. not poor. If you change the conditions of your not-poor status, you change everything you know as a result of being a not-poor. You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. […] Then, and only then, will you understand…”

This is why hospitality is so important to Leave No Child Behind. “Hospitality,” says religion writer Henri Nouwen, “is the virtue which allows us to break through the narrowness of our own fears and to open our houses to the stranger, with the intuition that salvation comes to us in the form of a tired traveler.”

We need to break through the narrowness of the shopkeeper’s moralism. Almost 700,000 children here in Georgia depend on that. That’s almost 30% of all the children in this state. Their monsters are real.

And it’s happening. The video from a moment ago features pictures of Promise the Children volunteers from UUCA and other area churches whose hearts are big with hospitality. Listen to this story told by UUCA member Ron Davis:

Six years ago or so Beth [that’s Ron’s wife] and I, along with several others from UUCA, ran the “Explorers’ Club,” an after school enrichment program for academically advanced third graders. Now Landon was the brightest of a bright crew, but he had a problem: an inability to contain his enthusiasm. When I would ask a question, Landon would not only raise his hand; he was very likely to run around the room shouting or to try to hop up on the desk.

The heroes of this tale are Bill Otherson and Link Roberts, both gentlemen of mature years who have since moved away from Atlanta to spend their latter years with family elsewhere. Link and Bill did a fine job as virtual grandfathers. Their particular job was to sit next to Landon and to keep him on task–to make sure that his enthusiasm and talent were channeled productively.

By the end of the year Landon was reading everything in sight, and operating far above grade level. Link–not one to lavish undue praise–thought Landon was probably a genius. I think he was right.

Beth asked Landon if we would see him again the following year. “No,” he responded, “I have moved every year of my life, and at the end of this school year we’re moving again.”

Several things here. First, what Ron and Beth and Bill and Link did made a difference. They loved Landon, and Landon loved them. Love is salvation. Although in this case, salvation did not come in the form of a tired traveler but an enthusiastic kid shouting at the top of his lungs. I talk to Ron and Beth and they literally light up when sharing their stories. That’s the light of life, the light of the Spirit of Life. It’s happening for them and for their kids….

But then there’s the reality that Landon moves every year of his life. No doubt it has to do with his family situation, which is compromised by poverty. Made unstable, made chaotic. And I pray that Landon, wherever he went, found others like Ron and Beth and Bill and Link to love him and support him in his journey.

We just have to begin with the children. We have to find a way. “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” said the great Frederick Douglass. Let’s get proactive. Prevention, not after-the-fact crisis care….

And we heard that from President Obama in his State of the Union address from earlier this year. Here’s what the White House says about his Early Learning Initiative:

Expanding access to high quality early childhood education is among the smartest investments that we can make. Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life—when the human brain is forming—represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social, and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and in life.

Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—will provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a foundation for school success. These programs also generate a significant return on investment for society; numerous economic studies have documented a rate of return of $7 or more on each dollar invested through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults.

President Obama’s comprehensive early learning agenda invests in and strengthens early childhood education, care, and development for our nation’s youngest learners. It helps to prevent achievement gaps before they start, and invests from an early age in children as our most critical national resource.

And that’s the word from the White House.

But here is something else that the judge from the story knows. He knows the law is the law, and he knows that politics is politics.

Just how do you think Obama’s opposition in Congress viewed his Early Learning Initiative?

There’s a lot of shopkeepers in Congress, a lot of scolds.

And there’s also a lot of folks whose economic priorities honestly differ. Tax breaks for the wealthy, to generate more wealth that will trickle down to the rest of society? Or continuing support for social programs that care for the most vulnerable among us? We do not have an infinite supply of dollars. It’s true. As my Dad constantly used to tell me, “Money doesn’t grow on trees!!!!”

One thing I would say at this point is that there is a vast difference between being wealthy and being a wealth generator. Just because you have a luxury home or a yacht does NOT mean you are a jobs creator. Economic conservatives are rushing to pass a tax break for the owners of luxury homes and yachts to the tune of billions of dollars—and I’m like, What?

The other thing I would say is that this Unitarian Universalist is getting ready to quote something magnificent and powerful from the leader of the entire Catholic universe, Pope Francis. That’s right. Listen to what the Pope said last November:

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

Now that’s right
You got to say it, Pope
You got to preach it!

Meanwhile, the children are still waiting. The children we are praying for.

Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being
(Ina J. Hughes)

The judge knows that there’s plenty of shopkeepers out there whose moralism makes them turn their faces away.

The judge knows that the law is the law and that politics are politics, meaning that the right thing to do is not necessarily going to get done, it won’t necessarily get in the budget.

But here’s something else the judge knows. He knows that he doesn’t have to wait for the world to change for him to change. He pays the ten-dollar fine. And he let’s everyone within earshot know that it is absolutely unacceptable that we live in a society in which a person has to steal bread to save her daughter and her grandchildren from starvation.

It’s absolutely unacceptable, that Georgia to the 6th highest childhood poverty rate in the U.S.

It’s absolutely unacceptable, that an average of four children died each day from child abuse and neglect, and 80% of these victims are children younger than four years of age.

We have to fine ourselves, and pay that fine.

It’s absolutely unacceptable, that 28.8 percent of Georgia children live in food insecure households.

It’s absolutely unacceptable, that 66% percent of fourth graders are not proficient in reading.

It’s absolutely unacceptable, that 7,200 people in the state of Georgia purchase a child for sex each month, and the sellers prey on a child’s vulnerabilities, most notably hunger.

Absolutely unacceptable!

We have to pay the fine.
We can’t wait for some budget to pass a severely divided Congress.
We can’t wait for the shopkeepers among us to have a change of heart.
We can’t wait.

And we don’t have to. We just don’t have to.
Start with your vote. Vote your values.
Start with your volunteerism. Love one another.
Start with your dollars. The federal budget may be a highly compromised document, but your family budget doesn’t have to be. Spend from your highest self. Spend like your conscience tells you to.

Don’t wait!
Don’t wait!
Leave No Child Behind.

**
**

The video referred to in the sermon

Why We March

The video shown before the sermon is Walt Disney’s 1939 version of The Ugly Duckling.  

Why We March

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. She has said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstances. The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura written by someone (Dr. James Kauffman) who’s looking for some more guidance….

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,

Jim

**

Why do we march?

In part because of the ignorance of people like Dr. Laura, who dispense God’s Law in a way that takes LGBTQ folks straight to shame. Shame that is the feeling you are an ugly duckling at the core; that whatever it was your duck parents had hoped for, it wasn’t you; that love and life are happening somewhere else but all that’s happening for you is loneliness and tears.

The great writer and humanist Isaac Asimov once said about the Dr. Lauras among us: “it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes.” Then Isaac Asimov says: “I personally resent it bitterly.”

The only problem is, when you are in your shame, it’s hard to access your resentment which is all about self-defense. You just feel your soul being eaten alive. You just feel worthless. You just feel silenced. “Shame,” says writer Kirsty Eager, “isn’t a quiet grey cloud, shame is a drowning man who claws his way on top of you, scratching and tearing your skin, pushing you under the surface.”

That’s what you feel in your shame: the drowning man about to take you under….

**

Why do we march?

Because of the facts about shame. How to heal it.

One of the very best Ted talks I ever heard came from scholar and emotional intelligence researcher Brene Brown. “Here’s the bottom line with shame,” she says. “The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” By keeping quiet, Brown says your shame will grow exponentially. “It will creep into every corner and crevice of your life,” she says. “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”

So now I want you to do something for me. I want you to summon up the ugly duckling feeling inside you. This is scary to do if you are doing it truly, because it takes you to the brink of feeling destroyed, feeling like a nothing, like you are suffocating, like you are being burned alive. It’s horrible…

But I want you to go there anyhow. Summon up the ugly duckling in you—and give it voice. Like this:

Now: all together!

**

Why do we march?

We march because “Shame depends on me buying into the belief that I’m alone,” but marching proves that belief false (Brene Brown).

We march because “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive” (Brene Brown).

One more step
One more word
One more prayer
One more song, we march because “Each time a person stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope” (Robert Kennedy).

We ugly ducklings, we’re gonna go out there and find us thousands of other ugly ducklings, and we’re going to make horrible quacking sounds and it’s going to be great–

(Don’t let a little rain make you stay away—last I heard ducks float)–

It’s going to be ripples of hope all over the place, spreading outwards, making a difference….

Difference that is happening right now … difference that we’ve been seeing most notably in the courts of this land. Back in June of 2013, the Supreme Court in its United States vs. Windsor ruling struck down the heart of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Since that ruling: more than 40 federal and state courts around the country have struck down state bans on same-sex marriage. Now, just this past week, the Supreme Court declined to hear any petitions for reviewing the marriage equality cases from Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Virginia

and so marriage equality is the law of the land in those five states

and can you feel the energy building? Can you feel it?

North Carolina makes it 29 states where marriage equality is a reality, and even more are on the way!

Let me hear you ugly ducklings quack!

Quack even louder to let Georgia know what’s coming for it…

We march because we are making history

We march because we stand on the side of love

We march because I don’t care what the Dr. Laura’s of the world say, wherever there is justice and the struggle for justice, that is where we find God.

We march because we need to know the truth, we need to feel it in our bodies, we need to see it and hear it and it’s not something we can do for ourselves in isolation all alone, we can’t think our way there, we can’t cogitate our way there, we have to get out of our heads and get out there, be among other people, see their faces of empathy and understanding, hear the cheers, it’s got to be

One more step
One more word
One more prayer
One more song

That’s what it’s got to be

and then something will happen
it’s amazing

the truth will come upon us
the truth which heals us
the truth which gives us courage to keep on keeping on

Do you want to know what that truth is?
Want to know?

This: we aren’t ugly ducklings after all
never have been
there’s more to the story
doesn’t matter how deep in your shame you might be feeling
there’s more to the story
it’s just the truth
the beautiful, blessed, gracious truth

We are swans
That’s who we are

THAT’S why we march!

Soul Foodie

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Part 1

Hospitality. What comes to mind when you hear that word? What’s your definition?

Here’s one that comes from Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”

Congregations like ours try our hardest to create such a space of hospitality whatever the particular activity or event might be, but especially and above all in the experience of worship. And so we might sing

Come, come, whoever you are

or we might sing

We’re gonna sit at the welcome table!
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days hallelujah!

You can hear the stirrings of creation right in the sound of these songs—creating the free space that Henri Nouwen talks about, the free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend because it feels friendly, it sounds friendly, no one’s not invited, there’s a spot for everybody at the table, it’s time to sit down and eat…

But now I want to share with you something I found in our congregation’s archives, a letter from 40 years ago, sent to our Membership Chairman back in 1974….

Dear Mr. Chairman,

I wish to withdraw my membership from the UU Congregation of Atlanta.

Having been a member of the congregation since 1925—I do this with great regret.

But I believe that a church should be somewhat spiritual and inspirational. Not an organization so completely devoted to the development of the arts—music, drama, etc., civic responsibilities and entertainment.

Your current program of “Jazz and Poetry” for Sunday morning service illustrates my feeling for what this church now stands for. And I cannot, with conscience, completely adhere to such a program.

Sincerely,

Mrs. J. V. Rogers

As you can imagine, not a fun letter to receive… Here’s someone who’s been a lifetime guest at the welcome table, but there’s been changes (no doubt well-intentioned) and now, all of a sudden, she feels like a stranger. Things used to feel friendly, but no longer…

Do you hear Mrs. Rogers’ big feelings? She wanted marshmallows but got mushrooms instead…

Has that ever happened to you?

Now ESP is yet something else that ministers are not taught in seminary, so I can’t parapsychologically divine what was going on in Mrs. Rogers’ mind. This is always the way it is with complaints, 40 years ago or today. Unless we avoid gossip and abide by our congregational covenant, unless there is face-to-face conversation with the people who are directly involved (and only them), unless they are willing to be vulnerable with each other—UNLESS all these things happen, we can’t know the deeper issues that may in fact be the REAL reasons for the disaffection. We just can’t get to the root of the discomfort.

But I will say this: that Mrs. Rogers’ surface complaint brings to mind two different worship styles that cut across race and class and educational background and ability and on and on, that we do well to bring awareness to, as we think about what our worship is like today and how well it evokes that “welcome table” hospitality feeling….

The first of these styles is suggested by the silent meditation of a moment ago. A space that is emotionally toned-down and introverted, a space that protects your solitude even as you sit in a sanctuary with hundreds of others. What’s happening inside you stays inside you. The music therefore tends to be classical music, the sermon tends to be highly cerebral, the language and rituals feel traditional and spacious, and there is no clapping. THIS is what spirituality feels like. Inspiration happens like THIS.

But then there’s a second style, suggested by the “We Pray” musical meditation we also heard a moment ago. This second style is emotionally amped-up, not toned down. If the first style is “wintry,” then the second style is “summery.” Summer-time: meaning that what you’re feeling inside goes outside and people see it because you ARE clapping, you are swaying, you are standing, you are saying AMEN and SAY IT PREACHER, you are getting carried away. The preaching and the music and everything else in this style of service is meant to immerse you in a holistic, mind-heart-body experience, and it’s intense, and THIS is what spirituality feels like. Inspiration happens like THIS.

I suspect that the congregation, back in 1974, was trying to incorporate summery elements (jazz and poetry) into its worship, but that was a culture shift Mrs. Rogers could not abide. She was firmly in the wintry spirituality camp. Wintry spirituality is the only real kind. Don’t give me any of that summery stuff because it feels like shallow entertainment, it feels fake. So Mrs. Rogers wanted out. “I cannot, with conscience,” she says, “completely adhere to such a program.”

40 years later, the two worship cultures (summery and wintry) are still around, and they still clash. But is polarization inevitable, in which one culture sees the other as fake and they want nothing to do with each other? Or can we find a way to be MULTIcultural? Can we sit at the same worship table and still be friends, and keep on making new friends?

Part 2

Worship for Unitarian Universalists: I define it as placing ourselves in tune with positive feelings and forces like music and words and rituals and they fill our senses, they give us something specific and concrete to feel and to think, they move us, they inspire us, we are reminded of our best selves, we are changed for the better….

That’s why worship can never be like reading a menu. Not enough positive feeling and force in that. We’re coming to this worship table today with knife and fork in hand, napkin on lap or tucked into collar. We’re hungry. We want something concrete to feel and to think, we want to be moved and inspired. We want all of it.

But it’s not going to be enough just to hear our Seven Principles and Six Sources read. Reading the menu of our faith can for sure pique interest, but it won’t satisfy the sharpness of our spiritual hungers. You can’t fool hunger. We want Unitarian Universalist soul food. That’s what we want!

But now, what if some of us are, spiritually speaking, hungry for a big steak, and others of us are vegetarian and the very thought of steak grosses us out?

I mean, it would be great if we were all omnivores in our spiritual tastes. We’d all just eat anything. But in reality, I think that some of us are like carnivores, and some of us are like vegetarians. We can disagree about the specifics of what we prefer in worship THAT much, even as we completely agree on the Big Picture of our faith.

So when we come into this space, and worship sensations wash over us, that’s when our diversity over specifics gets challenging. What if the songs we sing contain meat, or the prayer that’s prayed, or the sermon that’s preached? Good for the carnivores, but what about the vegetarians? The vegetarians just can’t take such soul food into their mouths. They just can’t!

Take a certain three letter word, “God.” Some of us (the meat eaters) need to hear this word, else worship is a shallow experience. It’s like being promised a juicy hamburger but where’s the beef? “God” serves as a trigger word that reminds us there’s something bigger than our individual egos. Say the word and it activates the life force deep within, gets it flowing through our conscious lives. Exactly what that word means can be all over the map, but that’s ok, we’re Unitarian Universalists! But at bottom we know that the human personality responds to poetry and symbol and story. Good things get unlocked and released. A word like “God” can do that.

That’s the meat eaters among us. But, you know, not everyone in this space prefers meat. The vegetarians among us feel deep suspicion towards that three letter word and see it as a sign of intellectual dishonesty if not laziness. Yes, liberal theologians might have been working overtime throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to rehabilitate it, to make it useable for scientific, rational people, but we still balk. All the old, traditional connotations that have caused so much trouble aren’t going away. And don’t tell us that we should see such words as just emotional poetry. There’s lots of other poetry we can draw on, that comes with far less baggage….

So that’s the snapshot of who’s sitting around our Unitarian Universalist worship table. Carnivores and vegetarians.

Does that dish have meat in it? Does it?

There’s a whole history behind this you should know. As theologically diverse as we seem now, it was not always that way. In the 1950s we had achieved the vegetarian kind of consensus, and it lasted throughout the 1970s and even into the early 1980s. The consensus was patterned after the Humanist Manifesto of 1933, signed by thirty-four Unitarian ministers and academics (and one Universalist). “We are convinced,” said the signers, “that the time has passed for theism…. Religious institutions, their ritualistic forms, ecclesiastical methods and communal activities must be reconstituted as rapidly as experience allows in order to function effectively in the modern world.” This is what the Manifesto said. Build a religion that “would not be shaken, even if the thought of God were outgrown” (Rev. Curtis Reese). And while, in 1933, this was a hotly contested idea in our congregations and churches, by the 1950s it had become a core ethic. God really wasn’t talked about—it was meat. We didn’t use words like “worship” or “sermons” or “faith” either because they also smacked of meat. But then, in the 1980s, when our national membership numbers saw a staggering 40% decline, leaders realized that we had become too theologically narrow. They called for a greater hospitality to religious diversity—not just vegetables any longer. Meat too. Thus in 1985 came the Purposes and Principles, which talked explicitly about how we are a Living Tradition with many sources besides humanism, including mystical traditions, world religions, our parent traditions of Judaism and Christianity, the words and deeds of prophetic men and women, and earth-based spirituality. With all of these sources, spirituality-talk and God-talk (also Goddess-talk) couldn’t help but come rushing back into our congregations and churches. And with it, trouble at the table.

Does that dish have meat in it? Does it?

Now one solution some of our congregations have hit on is this: toferky. You know, tofu that’s made up to taste like turkey. Worship has tofurkey music, tofurkey language, tofurkey atmosphere. Minimize cultural differences of any kind—wintry vs. summery spirituality, vegetarian vs. carnivore. Minimize all that. Make things generic enough to offend no one.

What do you think? Is that the kind of soul food we want to serve up?

Do you think it’s possible to create multicultural worship that offends no one?

Part 3

Several Sundays ago I was out of the pulpit, and that released me to be with our Interfaith Habitat for Humanity house build, organized by the excellent Ernie and Priscilla Guyton. I had been asked to say a few introductory words about Unitarian Universalism, so I did. Here’s a bit of what I said.

I talked about how Unitarian Universalism’s open-arms embrace of religious diversity can be viewed as an outgrowth of its historical origins in Christianity. The words “Unitarian” and “Universalist” appear in Christian history from the very beginning, and the words of Jesus and the Bible have always been powerful among us.

Then I pointed out a Biblical passage of particular power for us: Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Written by Paul, this language reminds us about how Jesus would repeatedly break religious laws in inviting exactly the wrong kind of people to sit as his table and eat with him (rabble rouser that he was). It was Jesus’ way of saying that everyone has inherent worth and dignity, not just some, and this affirmation has become our Unitarian Universalist First Principle.

And then I went on to say that over time, in the 19th and 20th centuries, Unitarian Universalists felt called to make the language of Galatians 3:28 even more open and inclusive—to say, “There is neither gay nor straight, there is neither Christian nor Buddhist, there is neither atheist nor theist, there is neither black or white and on and on, but all are one in the Spirit of Life and Love.” That’s why today we should be seen as post-Christian or more-than-Christian because we draw from many sources, we take truth from wherever truth may come.

That’s a bit of what I said, there at the Habitat build. And now the point I want to make here is that this openness and inclusivity we’re called to is not an end for us. It’s not the be all and end all. It’s a means to an end. We grapple with all the challenges diversity raises—wintry vs. summery, meat-eaters vs. vegetarians—because when we are sitting around the same table (when we can do that) the Spirit of Life is there is abundance. The Spirit of Life is whatever brings hope and renewal, it’s a sense of connection and a sense of aliveness. It’s whatever keeps people from dropping out. It’s whatever keeps people showing up with an open heart. That’s the Spirit of Life, and all our struggles with our differences have value only to the degree that they are removing stumbling blocks from people plugging in and experiencing a Spirit that frees and renews.

That’s why we want to create a free space in our worship where the stranger can enter and become a friend and no one becomes an enemy. That’s why hospitality matters.

I don’t think the tofurkey solution is going to work for us. Frankly, any kind of strategy that has as its number #1 priority “make everybody happy” feels wrong to me. Nothing can do that; there is no such silver bullet strategy; the majority of the work of happiness is in fact something we each as individuals do. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Jesus himself might be preaching from this pulpit, but what if you take mortal offense at the fact his dress is inappropriate? He’s wearing sandals! His outfit is muddy! Disrespectful! Who does he think he is?

The way forward, as I see it, is a combination of intentional worship planning and then the personal discipline each one brings to the table.

Start with the worship planning. It’s always been my commitment to creating worship that tries to be adequate to our Six Sources and to the multiple cultures of this community. So, over the course of a single 75 minute service, here’s what we might experience at our worship table. An opening song, a call to worship, and a meditation that is completely vegetarian-friendly. The sermon may contain some meat. There might be a song our choir sings that also contains meat. But, over the course of a single service, we’ve tried to diversify the dishes, because we know that the hungers are diverse, and urgent. It’s an ongoing learning curve. We’re learning.

And then, over the course weeks and months, there’s going to services that are more summery and others which are going to be more wintry. Again, not minimization, not tofurkey, but services that give you something to savor, services that are each unique and tasty. Some services you just want to get up and clap. Some services where that would be completely inappropriate. Let the tone—summery or wintry—be your guide.

As for what each of us can bring to the table: “table manners” that make for greater hospitality and less chances that anyone goes from feeling like a friend to an enemy: here’s a couple:

1. If it’s served up, you don’t have to eat it. We need to remember this one if, for example, we’re strictly vegetarian and we’ve been served up plenty of vegetables but it just so happens that the meditation of the day put a piece of meat on our plate. Please, don’t let it taint your entire experience. Don’t allow that. Just use your fork and nudge it over to the side. Keep in mind that others around the table need it to feel fed. Make peace with your dislike as part of your big picture commitment to UUCA’s overall diversity.

2. Your turn is coming. Let me tell you, when your religion draws from Six Sources, you’ve got a world of material to work with. It’s fantastic! But you can’t get to all of it in a single service or even a single year. If you feel like your particular passion hasn’t come up in worship, ask me. We might have done a year-long sermon series on it just before you arrived, but you wouldn’t know that, so naturally you’re wondering why you’re not hearing much about it. But on the other hand, maybe not. So ask anyway. I’m always wanting to hear about your passions. I love you guys and we are building Beloved Community together.

Finally:

3. Try it. OK, so we’ve just served up a dish that looks really weird. Is it meat? Is it vegetable? Can’t tell…. Smells different. Huh.

Try it anyhow.

Give it a chance—you might just like it.

Charge to the Minister: The Rev. Duncan Teague

(At ordination services in a Unitarian Universalist setting, it is traditional for an older minister to offer mentoring advice to the one who is just starting their career. Thus the “Charge to the Minister” message.)

American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron writes about a time when she was invited to co-teach with the eldest son of HER teacher—evidently a very great honor. But no one made it clear what her actual status was at the event. “Sometimes,” she says, “I was treated as a big deal who should come in through a special door and sit in a special seat. Then I’d think, ‘Okay, I’m a big deal.’ I’d start running with that idea and come up with big-deal notions about how things should be. 
Then I’d get the message, ‘Oh, no, no, no. You should just sit on the floor and mix with everybody and be one of the crowd.’ Okay. So now the message was that I should just be ordinary, not set myself up or be the teacher. But as soon as I was getting comfortable with being humble, I would be asked to do something special that only big deals did. This,” writes Pema Chodron, “was a painful experience because I was always being insulted and humiliated by my own expectations. As soon as I was sure how it should be, so I could feel secure, I would get a message that it should be the other way. Finally,” she says, “I said to the Sakyong, ‘This is really hurting. I just don’t know who I’m supposed to be,’ and he said, ‘Well, you have to learn to be big and small at the same time.’

Welcome, Duncan, to professional ministry.

We have to learn how to be big and small at the same time.

There is so much to learn, because the work is THAT hard.

The reality is that the job description calls for people who walk on water and turn water into wine, and unfortunately so many of our ministers buy into it because they are people-pleasers or perfectionists. The reality is that the job can be like that of parenting young children, and it takes 20 minutes to brush your teeth because you are interrupted constantly, and, quite apart from the amount of things you do, there is the actual weight of the worries you carry about what’s going on and how to hold everything together, worries that don’t go away when you are trying your best to take time off. The reality is that people can forget to thank you and let you know that they appreciate you, but they don’t forget to criticize you. They don’t forget to let you know when you fall short.

The work is THAT hard, Duncan.

And what I have to say to you today, as your pastor and your friend, is this: love and courage.

Those are your own words that I give back to you. Seven years ago, when we first met, I remember receiving an email from you, and in the signature line was that phrase: “Love and courage.”

I have since then stolen it for my own use. It says it all.

Love and courage.

Now part of that is remembering to distinguish between performance and presence.

I remember how, one time, someone in the receiving line after worship was telling me that they liked my sermon and then they mentioned the previous Sunday’s preacher, how that person did a great job, and then he said with a wink, “You better watch out! You may have competition…” I laughed, of course, but it also struck me as a very strange thing to say, and only later did I realize why. Because the relationship between a minister and the congregation that calls him or her is very much like that of a marriage. For him to have said what he did is like a spouse saying to his or her partner, “You see that guy over there, with the six pack abs and the Mercedes? You better shape up or else!”

That’s NOT for better or for worse, in sickness and in health…

People will say stuff like that, even ones who love you, because we live in a time where ministry is not well understood. They have never been to events like this one, when the meaning of ministry gets at least a little clearer. But, Duncan, YOU must know. YOU must know that your value to any congregation you serve is not so much about being better than other people as it is about you being vitally yourself and, out of this, living in relationship with a community of people who aspire to do the same. Sharing life together. Growing together. Knowing and being known.

There will always be better administrators, better fundraisers, better preachers, better pastoral caregivers, better somethings. The words of Desiderata say it perfectly: “always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself…” But what there can never be is another you. That’s what’s so rare and so precious. Your story. Your heart. Your presence. Plenty of people have seen it and cherish it and that’s why you are here today. They have seen the minister in you. You would not be here otherwise.

Our colleague John Burciaga once said, “In the chemistry or our remarkable calling, to be lovingly wrong is far better and more healing than to be lovelessly right.”

Throw away any expectation you need to walk on water and turn water into wine. Please don’t try to be Jesus. Be yourself.

Love and courage, Duncan.

Love and courage.

A second part of this involves giving yourself to the journey ahead.

You know how we Unitarian Universalists like to affirm our Fourth Principle of the free and responsible search for truth and meaning? Well guess what? Ministry is the Fourth Principle on steroids. Ministry will take you deep into this world and deep into yourself. You will meet the coolest people, from all walks of life, and get to serve with them in the creation of Beloved Community. You’ll also meet people who are more in the “extra-grace-required” category, and you just might learn the most from them. You will be opened up like you can’t possibly imagine, heart and soul.

So give yourself to that. It means that you can let go of any expectation of needing to have it all together right now. Of needing to know, right at the get-go, how to be big and small at the same time, or how to be yourself without reference to better or worse, or how to carry the weight of this work—how to do this work that can feel so intense and relentless and it IS like you are the parent of a young child and brushing your teeth can take 20 minutes because of all the interruptions…. Feeling like we need to know how to do all this, right at the get-go, can fill us with anxiety. But let that expectation go. It’s unrealistic. It insults us and humiliates us.

Let go, and let God.

Become curious. Let curiosity lift you. See where your path takes you. See what happens next. Let the suspense of it carry you forward. Every moment the Mystery of your life is unfolding. See where it is taking you. Everything is grist for the mill. All the joys, all the pains.

Let not-knowing take your hand and lead you forward. A great journey awaits, and there is room enough for all your learnings to unfold, in their right time. Let it happen, school of hard knocks-style or in the style of effortless ahas.

But let it happen.

Love and courage, Duncan.

Last thing I’ll say to you, my friend, is this: Be prepared to be ordained again and again.

Now I’m not talking about another event like this, again and again. (REALLY want to emphasize that, in case all the hard-working folks who put this together, including yourself, faint.)

What I mean is this. I want you to fast-forward yourself to the end of your ministry career. Look back. Duncan, what you will see is not pettiness, it’s not the paperwork.

What you will see is a host of faces.

Faces of people who took the mask they usually wear off, because they are with you. Faces of people who unburdened themselves of guilt, and hurt, and anger, and fear. Faces of children you dedicated, their beaming parents. Faces of people you married. Faces of family members whose loves ones you buried. Faces of people society hurts, and you spoke up for them, you spoke truth to power. You will remember all these faces. You will remember the emotions. You will remember.

And the substance of such memory—the essence—is the incredible profound precious privilege of ministry and what called you to it in the first place and how it really does matter, how we really do change lives. These are the moments that ordain us again and again.

In the midst of times, Duncan, when the job feels terrible—even then—something will happen and with crystal clarity you will be returned to your sense of call and it will renew you and restore you. Give you perspective. Give you hope.

This is not the last time you will be ordained, Duncan.

No matter what, love and courage to you, in the amazing journey ahead, in which you will be big and small and everything else in between. But you are enough, and more than enough. And you are not alone.

What Love Says

Ten years ago, I was ordained into the Unitarian Universalist ministry. In our religious tradition, it is the congregation that calls an individual out of the laity and into the company of the people we call Reverend. First Unitarian Church of Dallas did that for me. The speakers at the service included, among others, the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association at that time, the Rev. Bill Sinkford, and the Senior Minister of All Souls Church in Kansas City, the Rev. Kendyl Gibbons.

I had asked Rev. Sinkford to preach my ordination sermon, which I felt was quite appropriate since I was the Golden Boy in his campaign to grow Unitarian Universalism. I had been hired straight out of seminary (in 2003) to be the Lead Minister in what was called the UUA’s Rapid-Start Large Church Project which was hugely controversial. Essentially, the idea was to understand and copy the success of Christian megachurches which had started at zero but had gone straight to thousands of people in under three years. Unitarian Universalism wanted to get in on the action too. And why not? What we have is amazing. But, it was becoming increasingly clear that our ways of starting congregations hadn’t been very effective. They very rarely grew beyond 75 people, and if they did grow beyond that, it took decades. Rev. Sinkford, together with his group of visionaries, raised a million dollars to fund the Rapid-Start Large Church Project, and they hired me to lead it. This wet-behind-the-ears, just-graduated-from-seminary, not-even-ordained-yet minister.

So Rev. Sinkford preached my ordination sermon, and I remember not one word of it.

What I DO remember are the words that the Rev. Kendyl Gibbons shared in her Charge to the Minister, which came later in the service. This is what she said in front of God and everybody:

My dear Anthony, I bring you the greetings, congratulations, and bemused sympathy of some 1,500 of your colleagues. Make no mistake—if it feels as though you have jumped into the deep end of our Association’s political swimming pool, it’s because that is exactly what you have done. The splash reverberates around the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association. Any number of more experienced swimmers than you, my friend, have come to grief in the riptides and undertows of this particular stretch of water. If you don’t yet think that you are in over your head, it’s because you haven’t fully grasped the reality of your situation. And yet, I promise you that for the most part, we wish you well. It is high time that our liberal religious community learned to do this kind of work, and to get it right.

How I wish I could have seen Sinkford’s face when she said all this! Maybe he smiled knowingly. Of course. He was the UUA President. He knew all about the deep ends of swimming pools.

Soon enough, I would too.

**

While I was mulling over the job offer for the UUA’s Rapid-Start Large Church Project, I came across this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back…

When I heard these words, it felt like it was Love speaking to my heart. I DID want to free what waits within me. I DID want it to flow from me like a river.

And what was it? What was there?

It started to come clear one day, when I was stuck in traffic. Later I wrote down my insight, and here is the journal entry:

I cut my finger—painful! Nothing else to do but clean it, keep it clean and protected. I kept on going back to it, looking at it—it was like a red smile on the tip of my index finger, so sore.

A watched pot never boils, though, so I tried to forget about it, and did eventually, and then, a couple days later, while driving, traffic at a standstill, I suddenly remembered it. What I discovered was that the red smile was faded, almost gone. My body was healing itself; it knew exactly what it was doing…

In that moment of standstill traffic, my mind shot forward, thought, If my body has this internal power for healing, why not my spirit? As a spiritual being having a human experience, is not my purpose to learn as much as I can, or better yet unlearn bad habits, so I don’t block this inner healing power and let it do its natural work?

In particular, as one called out into the professional ministry, is not my purpose to use all the ways and means and resources of my profession to do just this? To magnify the Spirit of Life that’s always already active in our lives and in our gathered communities of faith?

That’s what I wanted to flow from me like a river. This vision of what it means to be a spiritual being having a human experience. This vision of a natural power within and among us that spontaneously takes us in a Good Orderly Direction towards healing and wholeness. This vision of how a bunch of random individuals can become a true community that magnifies the vision, and feels it, and is changed by it, and is called to change the world because of it.

I wanted that to flow from me like a river….

I wanted it, even as I knew that the reality of congregations can often be completely otherwise, can be just like a game of Marco-Polo. We’re all in the swimming pool together, we’ve all closed our eyes, the professional minister (or someone) is IT, he or she calls out MARCO, he or she is trying to find the others, and the others call back POLO, and I know you know that the game is a version of tag, and the intended goal is for everyone to stay the heck away from the one who’s IT. That’s how it can be in our congregations, and that’s why they stay small in all the ways that count, if not in numbers then in spirit and creativity and generosity and joy. That’s why they stay small. Someone is calling out the vision of changing lives and the others just don’t allow themselves to get engaged, they think someone else will do it, they don’t see there’s no one else but them, they just swim the other way, no one wants to be IT. Congregations can be just like a game of Marco-Polo.

Sermon_marco polo

I knew it. But I still believed.

**

Ten years ago, my ministry began with the Rapid-Start Large Church Project. It felt insane. I had seven other potential job offers to choose from. I talked to everyone. Should I do this? It was so risky…. But lots of people said heck yes—you are exactly the right entrepreneurial leader for the job. One in particular also counseled me to be careful: the UUA is a repeat offender in the category of overpromising. The seminary professor I loved and respected above all sort of waffled in his counsel to me—and then, after I took the job, we lost contact, and I heard later that he felt that, by accepting the job, I had compromised myself. This broke my heart.

He had been the one who had taught me that the universe is such that it can take even our most flawed actions and turn them into some good. He had taught me that. How the wrong train can take us to the right station. He was the one.

We just do the best we can as we make our difficult decisions, and we face the consequences.

Life handed me the Rapid-Start Large Church Project, and with my beautiful staff and beautiful congregants I transformed that Project into a living Church, and I named it because it was my baby I gave birth to, and the name was Pathways.

When I spoke about my vision for Pathways, I always used BIG METAPHORS. The vision flowing from me like a river—the vision Love was whispering in my ear—could allow for nothing less.

So I am unsurprised as I look through my old sermons from the time and discover one in which I talk about “growing spiritual redwoods.” Some years back, I say, I had been traveling in California and found myself at Redwood National Park. I had heard things about redwood trees before, how they live an average of 600 years and some up to 2000 years. How, from something as small as a tomato seed, they can grow to heights of up to 370 feet and widths of 22 feet at the base. I had heard all this, but hearing and seeing are different things. The face-to-face reality blew me away. It was amazing. Humbling. Overwhelming. The hugeness of the redwood trees was sparking something huge within me, a song in the heart, coming from deep inside, answering back with a YES and a WOW and an AMEN.

That’s when my message turned to the spiritual redwood within. The part in me that the YES and the WOW and the AMEN came from. The spiritual redwood within all people, or at least the seed of it, the seed that itches to burst open and grow, that ultimately wants nothing less than peace like a river, joy like a fountain, love like an ocean, pain like an arrow, tears like the raindrops, strength like a mountain. People are talking about the spiritual redwood within when they say, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” They are saying, “Enough with abstract dogma. Enough with complacency and country-club church. Enough with merely belonging. I am on a quest for a personal destiny and a higher calling. I hunger, I thirst, I yearn. I am restless and I need something that money can’t buy. There’s got to be something more than this. Life’s got to mean something more than this.”

We are all spiritual redwoods waiting to happen.

But it’s not a done deal, I go on to say. Without intentionality and resolve, it won’t happen. It won’t happen without a struggle. Because we have to keep our spiritual yearning on the right track. To make sure it’s not twisted or co-opted to serve destructive ends. For it surely can be. We’ve seen too many times recently how people’s hunger for more meaning and more life can, ironically, be transmuted into dealing out more death and more horror. People killing for God. For God, destroying whole lands and peoples and cultures, oppressing women, despising gays and lesbians and others. For God—freezing out the mind, putting away all questions and doubts, enforcing spirituality by formula….

From the very beginning, I knew that religion has always been a two-edged sword, like all the most important things in life. It’s why I always said to the people at Pathways that we need to do it right. Why bring into the world yet another Marco-Polo congregation, when there are already so many? Let’s dare greatly. Let’s dream boldly. Let’s create something truly beautiful and unique and needed for this time and this place. Let’s do THAT.

**

Now why am I bringing up ancient history? My ordination was ten years ago. Pathways was years ago. I have been your Senior Minister for seven years now, since 2007. My beautiful congregants for quite some time now have been and are you.

Well, for just this reason: I want you to know me. The experiences that have shaped me. Where my ministry is coming from.

When you look at me, I want you to see someone who has been nothing less than the Golden Boy of a denomination and then the bottom fell out. The goal of the Rapid-Start Large Church was for there to be an average of 465 attendees at worship after only six months of opening our doors. After 18 months of worship, there was to be an average of 808 folks every Sunday. Now, I was hired with the explicit message that we had never done something like this before, so my job was to discover the right approach through trial-and-error. (In fact, that’s why they felt ok about hiring me straight out of seminary—I hadn’t learned any bad habits yet.) But then, as in a classic bait and switch, when my discoveries weren’t yielding enough Sunday worship attendees fast enough, the denomination pulled its funding, no apologies. We were failures. Nothing mattered but numbers. If congregations can suffer bleeding chest wounds, Pathways did; and I was the MASH unit to put it back together and keep it going. When I went to the annual meeting of the UUA that year, I hung my head in shame while I slunk around the conference rooms and the hallways, painfully aware of all the people staring. I was *that* minister. The Golden Boy who was now just something smelly at the bottom of a shoe.

We all have our stories of adversity, stories of growing up. This is one of mine.

But when you look at me, I also want you to see how I still believe. A broken heart healed is even stronger than before. Tactics are one thing, but vision is something else entirely. We need to pay careful attention to tactics. We need to attend to systems and processes and nuts & bolts and spreadsheets and timelines. I know this in spades. But I also know that we need to do it only so that the vision can live. “If you want to build a ship,” says writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Let us long for the endless immensity. I believe.

Spiritual redwoods ARE just waiting to happen. A Spirit of Life natural power stirs within us RIGHT NOW and wants to spontaneously take us in a Good Orderly Direction towards healing and wholeness. A bunch of random individuals REALLY CAN become a true community that magnifies the vision, and feels it, and is changed by it, and is called to change the world because of it. A Marco-Polo way of doing things is NOT an inevitability.

Denominational politics suck. But as for Unitarian Universalism, our religious way? It is still the sweetest honey, it is still a path to beauty, it is still a gift to the world, and we need to keep inviting as many people as possible into this, so they can receive the gift too.

I still believe.

Someone once said that “any old fool can tear any sermon apart in seconds if they want to, so it must take an exceptionally committed fool to decide to write one.”

This here is one exceptionally committed fool.

Because what Love says is that we are the people, and now is the time.

sermon_forest-river

It’s Enough

It’s Enough
for Nancy

1.
Of course sunsets are beautiful
but then there is this one, on this beach:

no Hallmark abstraction,
not someone else’s story,

but real with colors so vivid
they press into your eyes,

they dazzle, they make you come alive,
you want more,

more and more,
but the earth keeps relentlessly turning,

it gets darker and darker
until the shadows overwhelm. Beauty flows

then goes. Hold on
and it’s like your fingers carefully trying

to cup precious water
which leaks out anyway….

2.
How do the things we can’t change
change us?

How do we endure
the constant burning

of missing what we love
impossible to carry forward from the past?

I paced the beach, ruminating, sad,
too upset to see the gorgeousness

unveiled behind me….
But then a finger tapped,

I turned to see an old man,
and with not one word

he gave me a tiny cracked shell
like a Zen koan answer….

In my hand: the sunset.
Enough, and more than enough.

Nov. 18 2012

sermon_long-bay-beach-sunset

Maybe this is what Spring feels like

leaf

Maybe this is what Spring feels like:
a sadness in the heart.

Steady summer is not here yet.
The skies turn from grey to blue and back
on a dime.

There is no easy release from Winter.
There is no clean break.

But sadness softens everything.
Sadness opens up the tough bud.
Sadness draws forth the green.

Sadness is a kind of resurrection,
though it doesn’t feel like it.