Wedding Day

Wedding Day UUCA

Wedding Day at UUCA was a holy time. Together with other Atlanta-area Unitarian Universalist ministers, I officiated the marriage ceremony of six same-sex couples. What follows is the script that I wrote for the beautiful occasion.

OPENING WORDS Rev. Makar

It is written that the greatest of all things—the most wonderful experience in the world—is love. Into your lives has entered a deep and nurturing love, and you have asked us as Unitarian Universalist ministers to help you celebrate and affirm that love by joining you together in marriage.

The ceremony in which we are all now participating is a bold, even revolutionary act. Even as the Supreme Court has recognized the validity and worth of the marriages that we are today celebrating and affirming, many are still openly or covertly hostile to LGBTQ couples who decide to commit their lives to one another. We pray for their hearts. We pray that the same kind of love that brings us here today breaks open their hearts, and brings them to a greater sense of the possibilities of life.

The journey of true equality and justice is ongoing. More work is to be done. But we will not let the continuing need to save the world interfere with our purpose here and now of savoring this amazing, sweet moment.

With Melissa Etheridge, we say today:

Mother, tell your children
Be quick, you must be strong
Life is full of wonder
Love is never wrong
Remember how they taught you
How much of it was fear
Refuse to hand it down
The legacy stops here

Let us prepare our spirits for rejoicing! Let us do that with bubbles, and I’m going to ask the LGBTQ folks among us to blow some bubbles…. Just a little bit—-just a preview of the BIG bubble blast waiting for us at the end of the service, when we’ll all get to it…

[bubbles]

We give thanks for all those who have shared love and wisdom with us, and have renewed our faith in the power of love, which holds us and nurtures us and makes us one in spite of time, death, and the space between the stars.

We light this chalice with reverence for that spirit of love and wholeness.

CHALICE LIGHTING

Chalice to be lit by Joetta Prost and Kathy Shell

PRAYER Rev. Taddeo

Let us pray.

Spirit of Life, God of Love….

We pray for the couples in this room,
those whose marriage vows made elsewhere now have national recognition
and those who will be entering into sacred matrimony, in our midst.
May they live according to their promises, each to the other.
May they create a marriage that is filled with joy and tenderness.

Inspire them to enter into the deepest mysteries and wonders of love
and therein create a safe haven in their hearts for each other.
Strengthen them to know the peace
that comes from truly being received
and known and accepted by another.

May their love for each other
enrich them as individuals
and provide a safe and loving environment
for the family they are creating through this union.
We pray that they find the balance and harmony
of their individuality and their shared life.
Guide them and bless them, Beloved,
that they may know that there is nothing more priceless
than the gift of loving one another
as they journey through life side by side.

We also know that they do not love in a vacuum.
Let their love be strong in a world that can at times feel unsafe.
Soften the hearts of those who misunderstand, or lack compassion, or hate.
Be with this nation as it journeys towards greater equality and justice.
Let each of hearing these words find ways to be the change we wish to see….

Spirit of Life, God of Love, we feel your presence in this room, in our hearts.
Bless these couples to be married today.
We also ask for a blessing of renewal and devotion
for those already married or in committed relationships.
May we comfort each other with our love today and every day.

God bless us all.

Amen….

REMEMBRANCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Rev. Teague

At this time, we honor the memory of all those leaders and heroes
who have made moments like this possible.
Heros like Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon
Harvey Milk
Sylvia Rivera
Bayard Rustin
Harry Hay—
Heros of the larger movement in quest of equality and justice
like the 200 courageous same-sex couples and their families – the plaintiffs in cases all over the country – who stood up for marriage equality and played a defining role in the historic Supreme Court decision on the freedom to marry.

We take a moment of silence now in honor of them….

[pause]

We also take this moment to remember and honor
The heros we have known close at hand,
Family and friends who have nurtured us
And helped bring us to this moment in time…
We take another moment of silence to honor them…

[pause]

These are the ones who have taught us how to love.
These are the ones who have planted a seed of courage, and hope, and faith.
We go forward in our lives with gratitude.

RESPONSIVE READING Rev. Keller

Minister: And now, please join me for the responsive reading in your order of service.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.

Congregation: And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

Minister: If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Congregation: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth.

Minister: It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. Prophecies will come to an end. Tongues will cease. Knowledge will come to an end. We know in part, we prophesy in part. But when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

Congregation: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child;

Minister: When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Now, we see in a mirror, in a riddle.

Congregation: Then we will see face to face. Now I know in part. Then I will know fully.

Minister: Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.

HYMN

“Standing on the Side of Love”

READING Rev. Davis

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has written:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

It is so ordered, and therefore–we are here celebrating!

MUSIC

HOMILY Rev. Makar

Love is not some accident we fall into.
If we learn to grow in love, then there is the possibility
that our tomorrows will be even more joyous and more life-nourishing and inspiring.
Love has the capacity for that magic.
Perhaps only love has such capacity.

We are saying YES to love today, and as we do so,
we listen carefully to the wisdom of the Bible writer
who spoke about gifts of the spirit
in our responsive reading from a moment ago.
Faith, hope, and love.

Marriage is indeed an act of FAITH.
To enter into union with another requires trust and confidence,
in yourself, and in your beloved.
The risk is that of vulnerability.
The risk is letting the other glimpse you in your humanity.
There is no guarantee that being married will make your lives easier;
marriage is often very complicated,
and being married requires that you accept significant responsibilities.
There is no guarantee that marriage will make your lives happier;
when you open your heart to trust and love,
worries and sorrows may come in through the same door.

This is why the commitment to marriage must also be made in HOPE.
Hope is a great gift, if you don’t get it mixed up with romantic wishful thinking.
Hope has nothing to do with the romantic assumption
that once you are married, the two of you will live happily ever after.
A wise married couple once said:
“Marriage does not work automatically at all, it has to be learned.
Just as it is difficult to be civilized,
so it is difficult to be married.” (Muriel and A. Powell Davies)
And the poet Ranier Maria Rilke once wrote to a friend:
“To love is good too–love being difficult.
For one human being to love another,
that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks,
the ultimate, the last test and proof,
the work for which all other is but preparation.“

Hope is what encourages us to cheerfully take up this most difficult path,
because we believe in where it’s going,
and perhaps, because we value the challenge and the joy of the journey as well.
IF all the couples here today believe that life is inherently good,
that we experience life more deeply and fully
when we can share our experience and understanding of life
with a loved and trusted partner,
THEN it makes sense to open your heart and soul to another in love and trust.
You are carrying the kind of hope that can sustain a marriage.

LOVE is the third, and the greatest gift, that the Bible writer recommends to us.
The kind of love which sustains a marriage
is a way of purposefully responding to, and believing in,
the inherent and sacred goodness that is woven through all of life,
that is kindled in each human spirit,
and which you make accessible to your partner in marriage.
Such love is rooted in mutual respect,
for each of you is created in the image of God.

As spouses, you will each have, and will continue to have, different ideas,
different hopes, and interests, different strengths, different needs.
You are each enriched, not diminished, by the different insights and perspectives
you bring to one another.
The blessing and strength of your marriage will unfold
as you grow in understanding of yourselves and of each other,
so that you can nourish each other’s true growing.
Allow your love to stimulate and challenge each other
and enlarge each other’s world.
Attend to those things that nourish and sustain your love for one another
and for life.

So may your lives, ever nourished by the gifts of faith, hope, and love,
be a blessing to all others whose lives touch yours.

DECLARATION OF SUPPORT Rev. Thickstun

I ask those of you who have gathered here today this: do you who know and care for these couples give them your blessings now as they enter into marriage, and do you promise (in the days and years ahead) to give them your deepest love, understanding, and support during both good times and bad?

If so, say “We do.”

(Congregation responds in unison)

READING Rev. Rogers

A reading from Rabindranath Tagore:

It is for the union of you and me
that there is light in the sky.
It is for the union of you and me
that the earth is decked in dusky green.

It is for the union of you and me
that night sits motionless with the world in her
arms;
dawn appears opening the eastern door
with sweet murmurs in her voice.

The boat of hope sails along on the currents of
eternity towards that union,
flowers of the ages are being gathered together
for its welcoming ritual.

It is for the union of you and me
that this heart of mine, in the garb of a bride,
has proceeded from birth to birth
upon the surface of this ever-turning world
to choose the Beloved.

MARRIAGE VOWS Rev. Makar

And now it is time to say the vows that will affirm your love. Please take each other’s hands and face each other. Listen carefully, listen soulfully, and in the end, I will ask each of you separately to affirm your vows with a single YES.

Will you have each other as equal partners?
Will you share with each other your love, honesty, caring and trust?
Will you keep each other warm and close with affection and kindness?
Will you seek to make your marriage a committed relationship in which you can each grow independently at the same time you grow together as a couple and share the many adventures of life?
Will you promise each other your heart, your mind, and your body to honor and cherish each other from this day forward?

If so, then will one partner in the couple say clearly and proudly YES

And now, will the other partner in the couple say clearly and proudly YES

RINGS/TOKENS Rev. Makar

At this time, all our couples are invited to come down to the floor. A minister will join you as you exchange rings or tokens of love and affection with each other. the minister will also offer up a private blessing on your union.

DECLARATION Rev. Makar

And now, will the congregation stand:

By the authority of Life Itself
and the state of Georgia
and the Constitution of the United States of America

By the authority of the day given to us to live
and the cycle of seasons through which our lives must pass

By the authority of the love of friends that honors and supports this loving relationship and the hurts and pain through which your lives have passed alone,

By the authority of the long and sometimes lonely struggle of our people for the freedom to love,
and by the delight and hope you have found in each other

We declare you to be married and proclaim it holy and good.
In the eyes of God and of humanity.
let all respect the threshold of your home.

Let the congregation say, AMEN.

Please be seated…

BENEDICTION Rev. Makar

“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter to the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there is no loneliness for you, now there is no more loneliness. Now you are two persons but there is only one life before you. Go now to your dwelling place, to enter into the days of your togetherness, and may your days be good and long upon the earth.” (Apache prayer)

KISS AND PRESENTATION Rev. Makar

May the couples now seal their unions with a kiss.

Let me read aloud the names of the couple, say final words, and then I will ask you to raise the roof with shouts of joy and cheer—and also EVERYONE blow your bubbles….

[Names]

Family and friends, we present to you the Spirit of Love and Wholeness. It shines in the faces and forms of these children of God you see before you.

[Blow bubbles and invite the congregation to join along!]

RECESSIONAL

Lessons from The Little Prince

Antoine_de_Saint_Exup_ry_12

Once upon a time there was a famous writer named Antoine de Saint-Exupery whose country was being devoured by war and he fled to America, and there he felt helpless and lonely. Besides this, he was struggling with his marriage and also with the memory of the near-fatal crash of his airplane years earlier in the Sahara desert. A friend of his noticed his unhappiness and the agitation that seemed to possess him entirely, and she suggested that perhaps he consider writing a children’s story. Maybe that would help.

And so:

Littleprincesword4

Once upon a time there was a sweet little person—a little prince—who lived far away from our planet, on an asteroid. There, in the depths of space, he was very clear about several things. One of them was the quiet pleasure of looking at the sunset, which, given the size of his asteroid, he could enjoy as many times as he liked.

He was clear on that, and he was also very clear on the need for what might be called planetary hygiene. “They sleep deep in the heart of the earth’s darkness,” the little prince says of seeds, “and some one among them is seized with the desire to awaken. Then this little seed will stretch itself and begin—timidly at first—to push a charming little sprig inoffensively upward toward the sun. If it is only a sprout of radish or the sprig of a rose-bush, one would let it grow wherever it might wish. But when it is a bad plant, one must destroy it as soon as possible, the very first instant that one recognizes it.” Note the tone of urgency here. It’s because the bad plant he’s talking about is the baobab, which “is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces…” It is “a question of discipline,” he says. “When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care.”

No wonder the issue of the sheep was so pressing to him. Sheep eat the shoots, sheep are part of the discipline….

baobab tree

The little prince was very clear on some things. But on other things: not so much. One day a seed sprouted and it was unlike any other small sprouts on his planet. At first he worried that perhaps it was a new kind of baobab, but it wasn’t. She was a rose. She was stunning in her loveliness. “Oh, how beautiful you are,” breathed the little prince when she bloomed. Her fragrance perfumed his entire planet. But she did not feel solid in herself. She did not feel her beauty as an intrinsic part of her. That insecurity led her to play games with the little prince, and it frustrated him. It disturbed him. He did not know how to love her, even though he wanted to, and he was so unhappy….

the_little_prince_and_his_rose_by_lulii13omg1

That is why he left his asteroid. That is what spurred him on to take a journey into the unknown…

And the first leg of it involved encounter after encounter with people he ended up not liking. At all.

One was a narcissist. Everybody else became an extension of his own self-centered personal drama. It was outrageous to him if people did things that he didn’t like, because how dare they spoil his plans? That other people have an actual independent existence—he just couldn’t imagine that.

Then there was the businessman, and the little prince disturbed his furious counting because naturally the little prince wanted to know exactly what it was he was counting so furiously but the businessman didn’t care, all that mattered was owning it, whatever it was, and knowing how many.

Then there was the lamplighter, whose life was reduced to utter absurdity because the orders he was given years before no longer made any sense to his radically changed world but he refused to deviate from them because “orders are orders.” It did not matter how miserable the orders made things. “Orders are orders.”

The little prince met these people and others as well, and every time, he went away saying something along the lines of “The grown-ups are very strange,” or “They always need to have things explained,” or “They are like that. One must not hold it against them.”

What this leg of the little prince’s journey did for him is add greater clarity to his life. He was already very clear about the value of sunsets and planetary hygiene, and now he was clear on the kind of person he couldn’t admire, which is the person whose life has been utterly taken over by some kind of narrow purpose. Something has taken firm root inside them, and what was once a whole round personality has been split into pieces and now compulsively mistakes what is inessential for what is essential.

They have become less-than-human, inhumane.

All of this is trying to shine a light into the shadow places of our lives. We know people who act exactly like narcissists and businessmen and lamplighters. We have been to their asteroids too.

There is a reason why The Little Prince story is the 3rd most-translated book in the world and one of the best-selling books ever published….

**
**

When The Little Prince was published in 1943, people didn’t get it. They were flummoxed. It was a children’s story they were expecting, which for them meant something sweet and simple addressed to a certain chronological age. Yet here was a story that spoke to the youth in adults, even as it spoke to children. It was multilayered and nuanced and disturbing at times and full of the struggle and pain Saint-Exupery was feeling….

Perhaps this is exactly parallel to the opening discussion of the book, where the narrator speaks of his Drawing Number One, which was that of a boa constrictor which had swallowed an elephant whole, and he’d show the picture to grown-ups, and all they’d see is what they were prepared to see, which was a picture of a big hat that tended to flop to one side.

The Little Prince is like Drawing Number One. The essential stuff is invisible to the naked eye. You have to read it with your imagination and your heart.

For example, the baobab seeds. “Children,” says the book, “Watch out for the baobabs!” “It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots.”

Concern about this is what motivates the little prince’s very first words: “If you please—draw me a sheep…” Sheep eat the baobab shoots.

But why this intense and unrelenting insistence on planetary hygiene?

It’s Saint-Exupery’s way of touching on the great tragedy of his era. Nazism sweeping over Europe, and his beloved country of France falling so quickly in the form of the Vichy state and the Occupation. This sort of this happens because people are of a certain type. They are strange grown-ups. They are narcissists, or businessmen, or lamplighters. They have lost something essential that would cause them to resist evil. Instead, they don’t blink an eye at it. Something tragic has happened to their minds and hearts. A baobab seed has sprouted there. Not so much a physical seed as a spiritual one.

Consider Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi who was responsible for transporting millions of Jews to the death camps. He was a major organizer of the Holocaust and yet he was not fanatical, he was not bloodthirsty, his was not mentally ill, anti-Semitism was not a choice but just something that he grew up with and carried forward as a part of his heritage. He had little more on his mind than following orders. Orders are orders. Making the trains run on time was his priority and it didn’t matter whose lives he made miserable.

What a strange grown-up. Remarkably similar to the lamplighter character…

He didn’t pluck out the baobab seed sprouting in his heart. There was no sheep to chew it up. The sweet child he had once been: gone.

I think it can be safely said: every character that the little prince encounters on an asteroid can be seen as someone whose heart has been ripped apart.

Now, a quick side note: the final version of The Little Prince is miniscule compared to the initial draft which was hundreds of pages. If you go to the Morgan Library in Manhattan, you can see how the draft pages are covered with fine lines of handwriting, and much has been crossed out. There are pages where only a single sentence stands out because every other word has been scribbled through. Most of what he wrote never made the final cut.

When I came to learn this—and specifically, when I came to learn that Saint-Exupery had put many more asteroids and many more strange characters into the draft version of the story than we meet up with in the final, it got me thinking…. There’s a lot of people today that would make perfect asteroid inhabitants whose hearts are ripped up. And we are not so different from the little prince, in the way we might encounter them and then walk away, remarking on how strange the grown-ups are….

For example, the TV news anchor. On his asteroid, we encounter him wearing a shiny suit, sporting a $200 haircut, and he’s lily white. He’s reflecting on the shooting last week at Emanuel A.M.E. Church. “It’s more likely,” he says, “a matter of rising hostility against Christians in this country because of our biblical views. A sick act by someone who was mentally ill. That’s what we really have here. Why are people talking about a hate crime, or even terrorism? That’s crazy liberal talk. Besides,” the TV news anchor says, “no less than the entire Wall Street Journal editorial board agrees. Here’s what they had to say (and the news anchor pulls out the paper and reads): ‘Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists. What causes young men such as Dylann Roof to erupt in homicidal rage is a problem that defies explanation beyond the reality that evil still stalks humanity. It is no small solace that in committing such an act today, he stands alone.’ That’s what the editorial says. It’s the act of a lone shooter, in other words. Not racism. Racism no longer exists.”

That’s the TV news anchor on his asteroid. How strange the grown-ups are.

Or consider yet another asteroid inhabitant. He is a Supreme Court Justice. We encounter him shrouded in his black justice robes, and he’s frowning. His colleagues—the majority of them—just did something that has changed the course of American history. A watershed moment in all our lives. Marriage equality. Love wins. But this is his rebuttal. He says, “[H]uman dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. […] The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.” This is what the Supreme Court Justice says.

And it is astonishing logic. Of course human dignity is innate, but it can most certainly be prevented from flourishing by inequitable policies. People are vulnerable; brutality gets underneath the skin. How possibly can the Supreme Court Justice, whose own personal heritage bears the scars of slavery, demonstrate such thorough tone-deafness towards another people who cry out against oppression?

So many baobab seeds sprouting, even in this time of triumph. So many strange, strange grown-ups.

Even as we celebrate, we must continue the work. Planetary hygiene. Spiritual hygiene.

Where is a sheep when you need one?

**
**

We are now at a critical point in The Little Prince story. He has encountered plenty of strange asteroid characters through his journey, and now he has come to our earth. There, he happens upon a garden full of roses. Listen:

“Who are you?” he demanded, thunderstruck.

“We are roses,” the roses said.

And he was overcome with sadness. His flower had told him that she was the only one of her kind in all the universe. And here were five thousand of them, all alike, in one single garden!

[To himself he said,]”I thought that I was rich, with a flower that was unique in all the world; and all I had was a common rose… that doesn’t make me a very great prince…”

And he lay down in the grass and cried.

This is when the story goes to an even deeper level. Because this is where it’s fully revealed: evidence of a baobab seed growing in the little prince’s own heart, growing towards the point where it would rip apart his capacity to love. Now, we have seen how great a critic he is towards the grown-ups, and why not? It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. So, how completely ironic that Saint-Exupery would reveal the little prince to be a kind of grown-up in his own right. The kind of grown-up who is overwhelmed by all the beautiful people in the world and can’t seem to rest in the love of one beautiful person. Or, to shift metaphors, the kind of grown-up who is homeless because gorgeous house after gorgeous house entrances them and they can’t commit to living in any one in particular.

Do you know grown-ups like this?

Saint-Exupery was certainly one of these, thus his struggles in his marriage. “I was too young to know how to love her,” the little prince says, and Saint-Exupery says it with him, and maybe we do as well. He had not yet learned the lesson that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

This is the insight that no baobab seed can survive.

And this is the insight that the fox gives him. Sheep merely eat, but foxes are wise. Listen:

“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”

“I am a fox,” said the fox.

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”

“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”

“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.

But, after some thought, he added:

“What does that mean– ‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower… I think that she has tamed me…”

Some time after this, the little prince returns to the garden of roses, and listen to what he has to say:

“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he [says to the roses]. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you– the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.”

The spiritual baobab seed wants to rip apart our capacity for love, but the medicine that the fox gives the little prince is the insight that establishing ties with another being—the taming process—changes everything. A concrete example: the proportion of Americans who reported knowing someone gay increased from 25 percent in 1985 to 74 percent in 2000, and the percentage is even higher today, and you have to know, this has been a major factor in our achievement of marriage equality in this nation. Knowing gay people strongly predicts support for gay rights. Knowing people of a different color and culture predicts support for antiracism and multiculturalism. Friendship makes for justice.

The result of taming and being tamed, at whatever level of life, cannot be overestimated. You know whose you are. There are people you really would die for. “My life is very monotonous,” says the fox:

“I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”

Listen to that: “I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…” Everything serves to remind you of the one who’s tamed you. Whenever I eat pretzel M&M’s or make grilled cheese sandwiches, the presence of a loved one is summoned up for me, and it is wonderful, the sun has indeed come to shine in my life. The whole world carries signs of the ones you love. Monotony is replaced by richness. The whole world becomes personalized with the ones you love. It does not matter that passersby can’t see what you see. The richness of your life is still valid and real. You are seeing with the eyes of the heart. What is essential is invisible to the physical eye.

“Grown-ups are mushrooms,” says the little prince. Thanks to the fox, he will escape this fate. Now he knows what love means. Now he can return to his rose and he can do so with clarity. Now he is completely clear. Now he can go home.

And this is the children’s story that the famous writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, once upon a time, when his country was being devoured by war, and he was an expat in America, feeling helpless and lonely. This is the story he wrote, once upon a time, to process his near-disastrous airplane crash in the Sahara and the way his marriage was also crashing. He took his friend’s advice. Write a children’s story.

Did it help? Does it help?

I think it did. I think it does.

This Historic Day…

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has written:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

It is so ordered, and therefore–let the “pop-up” weddings commence!

Here are some pictures of me on the Fulton County Courthouse Steps today, June 26, officiating at the wedding of people who love each other and want that love to be consecrated through marriage.

Pop up marriage 6

Pop up marriage 5

Pop Up Marriage 1

pop up marriage 10

Beauty of the Butterfly: Letter to Maya Angelou

Dear Maya,

How strange it will seem to my hearers and readers that I am writing a letter to one who can never literally receive it. You died just a little over a year ago.

And yet, you seem very much alive to me. Once you said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” But you have always been frank about your changes, across a span of almost 90 years, and I have loved reading about them. So powerful and poignant. How deeply and frequently you’ve moved me to laughter and tears.

mayaangelou

I do believe your spirit lives on—I do believe that the death of anyone’s body is best compared to a fatally damaged TV set which can no longer transmit the vital signal anymore, even though the vital signal is still around and in the air. Others in my Beloved Community will see things differently. But one thing we can all agree on is how the influence of your seven autobiographies and books of essays and poetry and plays and movies and TV shows (in addition to everything else!) has been nothing less than part of the world’s endless creation. You’ve set your mark upon us. Your immortality is your influence, and it goes on and on, like starshine.

It has reached straight into my heart, in ways small and large.

Here’s one of the small ways.

In your amazing book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, you remember the Rev. Howard Thomas who was the presiding church elder over an area of Arkansas which included the town you grew up in, Stamps. He’d come to Stamps every three months to stay in your home, and when your paternal grandmother (whom you called Momma because you grew up with her) opened the door to him, first thing he’d do was spread his arms and call out for you and your brother Bailey, saying “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” He wanted a hug.

Suffer the little children indeed. You thought he was ugly and fat, and that he “laughed like a hog with the colic.” You thought his arms were awful. You didn’t want a hug. But your Momma made you.

Just like my Baba made me. HIS name was Ivan, and I had no clue what he did or what his purpose was, just that he was a dear friend of the family from way back. He’d always come over when he’d heard that my family had made the long trek from Northern Alberta to spend time in Edmonton to visit. His face was shiny and flabby and his breath smelled like onions and he spoke very haltingly and, strangest of all, his forehead (near the scalp) featured a quarter-sized caved-in part that no one ever mentioned, ever, but it was so obvious something was wrong that I wanted to shout. He’d look at me with his bug eyes and hold out his octopus arms for a hug and I just wanted to run, but Baba made me go to him, sit on his lap, and he would squeeze me and go heh heh heh and I would laugh out of embarrassment and then finally it was over and he’d release me from his tentacles and I booked it out of there, to everyone’s vast amusement.

Adults think children are simpletons, tabula rasa, but Maya, you remind us that it’s completely otherwise. Children have their own thoughts to think, they are already complicated little worlds. And to them, the motives and behaviors of adults can be incomprehensible at times….

But the main point is that you have brought me back to the memory. It feels like something long lost in me has been found, and that feels so good, even if it but a small memory about a particularly weird moment.

On the other hand, you tell stories that find no echo in my own world, and they break my heart wide open….

Many of the stories are about the harshness of Southern life and the experience of blackness as told from the inside, and you were one of the first to ever share like this…

“Another day was over,” you say. “In the soft dark the cotton truck slipped the pickers out and roared out of the yard with a sound like a giant’s fart. The workers stepped around in circles for a few seconds as if they had found themselves unexpectedly in an unfamiliar place. Their minds sagged. In [my Momma’s merchandise store] the men’s faces were the most painful to watch, but I seemed to have no choice. When they tried to smile to carry off their tiredness as if it was nothing, the body [told a different story.] Their shoulders drooped even as they laughed, and when they put their hands on their hips in a show of jauntiness, the palms slipped the thighs as if the pants were waxed. […] The women’s feet had swollen the discarded men’s shoes they wore, and they washed their arms at the well to dislodge dirt and splinters that had accrued to them as part of the day’s pickings. I thought them all hateful to have allowed themselves to be worked like oxen, and even more shameful to try to pretend that things were not as bad as they were.”

You tell this story, and then you tell another. How your Momma, on pain of punishment, had taught you and your brother Bailey to be impeccable in the way you addressed your elders and your betters. Show respect. Don’t bring shame on your parents and your family. But as for what you have called “powhitetrash”: they’d call your Momma by her first name, despite the fact that she owned the very land they lived on! “If there was any justice in the world,” you say in Caged Bird, “God should strike them dumb at once!” But God never did. God just watched, when one time a group of these powhitetrash girls came to your front door and your strong proud Momma was there and they surrounded her with mocking laughter and tongues stuck out and crossed eyes and all your Momma did was hum church hymns, never looked at those girls, just kept humming tunes to Jesus. You were watching it all from inside the house, and you say, “I wanted to throw a handful of black pepper in their faces, to throw lye on them, to scream that they were dirty, scummy peckerwoods, but I knew I was as clearly imprisoned behind the scene as the actors outside were confined to their roles.”

You tell these stories, Maya, that break my heart wide open.

And this one too, which is not so much about Black Southern life as it is about the kind of personal tragedy that could happen to anyone, Black or white, poor or rich.

It happened when you were eight years old. Your biological mother, who had sent you to live with your grandmother, wanted you back. So you went to live with her in St. Louis, but it lasted only a short time because you were raped by your mom’s boyfriend and, when word got out, he was killed. “I thought I had caused his death,” you say, “because I told his name to the family. Out of guilt, I stopped talking to everyone except Bailey. I decided that my voice was so powerful that it could kill people, but it could not harm my brother because we loved each other so much.”

You stayed mute for almost five years.

Maya, Maya.

young-maya-angelou-crpd

Several years ago, one of my colleagues (Rev. Wayne Robinson) was lucky enough to have met you at a writer’s conference in Santa Barbara. He says you were a powerful presence. Six feet tall, strong deep voice, a force to be reckoned with. There at the conference, you were sharing some of the same stories I’m bringing up here, stories of abuse, poverty, racism and sexism. When you finished, you opened the floor for questions and my colleague asked, “Ms. Angelou, how did you go through all of that without becoming bitter and angry?” And you answered, “Oh young man, you’ve confused two very different things. I’m still angry—very angry—at the kind of things that happened to me and are still happening to too many others. But my anger is part of the drive I have to change things. But I’m not bitter, for bitterness is corrosive. Bitterness doesn’t motivate you to try to do something to change the wrong. It causes you to sit and stew, and let the bitterness eat away at your soul. I’m not bitter,” you said. “But I’m angry, yes.”

“My mission in life,” you have said, “is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

And then in a poem, you sing,

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya, how did you learn to be phenomenal like this? When the harshness of your life constantly threatened to crush you, what gave you the reach in your arms, the span of your step, the curl of your lips?

Tell me about the changes that made you into a butterfly….

Perhaps we are back to the ancient nature vs. nurture question. How much of your resilience is something you were simply born with, and how much of it came from aspects of your environment… Definitely in Caged Bird you make the Ubuntu principle plain, that “I am because we are.”

Oh, you could have grown so bitter, but here’s something your grandmother would do for you, at least twice a year. She would see a whiner, a complainer come down the hill. And she would call you in to the store. She’d say, “Sister, Sister, come out here.” The man or woman would come into the store, and my grandmother would ask, “How you feel today?” “Ah, Sister Henderson, I tell you I just hate the winter. It makes my face crack and my shins burn.” And Momma’d just say, “Uh-huh,” and then look at you. And as soon as the person would leave, your grandmother would say, “Sister, come here.” You’d stand right in front of her. She’d say, “There are people all over the world who went to sleep last night who did not wake again. Their beds have become their cooling boards, their blankets have become their winding sheets. They would give anything for just five minutes of what she was complaining about.”

Maya, you could have grown so bitter. But people like your Momma didn’t want your soul to get lost. You were a phenomenal woman because they were phenomenal for you.

Same goes for your biological mom. Now, you would agree heartily she was a terrible mother for young children. She had abandoned you and your brother—simple as that. But you distinguish between two kinds of parents. “There is the person who can be a great parent of small children,” you say. “They dress the children in these sweet little things with bows in their hair and beads on their shoestrings and nice, lovely little socks. But when those same children get to be 14 or 15, the parents don’t know what to say to them as they grow breasts and testosterone hits the boy.”

That’s exactly when your mother stepped up. When you became a young adult. And she was phenomenal for you then. You tell the story of the time she found out you were pregnant. You were just 17. I can’t imagine a more vulnerable moment, where everything depends on what is said next. And what she said next was, “All right. Run me a bath, please.” In your family, that was really a very nice thing for somebody to ask you to do. And in all your life, she had asked this of you only two or three times. So you ran her a bath and then she invited you in the bathroom. She sat down in the bathtub. She asked you, “Do you love the boy?” You said no. “Does he love you?” You said no. “Well, there’s no point in ruining three lives. We’re going to have us a baby.”

Your mother—who was so bad in your early years—came through with flying colors in your later ones. You have said that throughout her life she liberated you. Liberated you constantly. Respected you, respected what you tried to do, believed in you.

Phenomenal woman.

And so you became phenomenal yourself. Beautiful butterfly. In a life of many high points, perhaps the highest was in 1993 when you recited your poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. And this is part of what you said:

History despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Maya, we need these words now. So much going on to make us bitter. The harshness of life. The racism, the sexism, the poverty, the abuse which still goes on today. But help us face it all with courage. Help us be angry in a way that burns for a better world for all. Clean anger, not dirty with resentment.

Help us to be angry like that.

Lift up our eyes upon
The day breaking for us.
Give birth again
To the dream.

History despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Let our mission in life be yours: not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

For myself, I know I can’t be a phenomenal woman, but let me be a phenomenal man.

“Here on the pulse of this new day,” you write,

You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Good morning to you Maya. Good morning, beautiful butterfly. Good morning, always, always…

Sincerely, and with much love,

Anthony

Building the World We Dream About

Last week I’m driving on 285 towards my home in Dunwoody and I see a police car on the far right flash on its strobe lights, launch itself into the stream of traffic, hone in on a car, lock on. The unhappy car slows to a stop, and just as I’m passing by (thanking my lucky stars I’m not him), I see that the driver is a young black man, maybe 25 years old. Instantly: surge of anger. Anger towards a country in which I really can’t be sure why that man was stopped—whether it was for a truly legitimate reason or just because he was driving while black. Anger, too, because the rest of us just kept to our lanes, eyes forward, minds focused on our private destinations and oblivious to the common good and how injustice to one never fails to be injustice to all…

It’s the poem by William Butler Yeats coming alive:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Obviously on 285 all of us in our cars were going too fast to stop; to stop on a dime would be disastrous. But it struck me as a symbol of general disengagement while things are falling part and the center’s not holding. People keeping to their lanes and nothing else matters. People keeping to their narrow lives and no one else matters.

We need passionate intensity not from the worst but from the best.

We need that passionate intensity right now, in the face of injustices of all kinds.

The ceremony of innocence is being drowned.

**

There is a word that comes from the Akan people of Ghana: SANKOFA. Often it is symbolized by a bird that turns around and reaches for the egg on its back, so as to bring it forward. Sankofa means we take what’s good from the past and bring it into our present, because it will heal us. It will show us the way.

Sankofa

And so today we reach back to the Transcendentalists. In our spiritual tradition, passionate intensity comes from them, who were instigators of what historians call the American Renaissance. People like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody, Bronson Alcott, James Freeman Clarke, Theodore Parker, and, of course, Henry David Thoreau. It was the 1830s and 1840s, and they too felt that the ceremony of innocence was being drowned. In their day it was the full-blown institution of slavery, despite the unequivocal human rights affirmation of the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” America declared this against England, saw itself as taking the moral high ground, but guess which one of them would abolish slavery first? England, in 1834. As for America? In the 1840s, it would find itself fighting an illegal war—the Mexican-American War—in order to EXPAND slavery.

Shameful.

To our Transcendentalist ancestors, it really did feel like the center wasn’t holding and things were falling apart. Economic meltdown that rivals our more recent Great Recession frayed the fabric of society, and so did the radical changes spurred on by technological and economic innovation. Before 1830, everything had been primarily local, from one’s sense of identity to working conditions and the manufacture of goods. It took time for messages to go from point A to point B. It took time to get anywhere. But all this came to an end. The invention of the telegraph allowed for news to cross far distances instantly. Then there was the railroad, newly built tracks crisscrossing the land, bringing with it a new sense of national identity. Also new economic opportunity, allowing sons and daughters to leave home to find wage-earning jobs in the cities or in the also new textile mills of New England. Leading to the transient population in cities rising at an alarming rate. Unregulated working conditions becoming worse and worse, even as more and more money was being made. Old ways lost, one by one. Old traditions and comforts and securities lost, and new ways needed to be found…

Transcendentalism comes out chaos like this. THIS is the reason for their passionate intensity. Everything was at stake.

And so: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” Thoreau said that. Unless the sleeper wakes up, there can be no morning, just a perpetual midnight of ethical schizophrenia and materialism and social confusion. The sleeper must awaken to the abundant truths and powers of the soul. This is how we become free in our minds and hearts even if we find ourselves surrounded with unfreedom on all sides. This is what powers us to do the right thing in an unethical age of slavery and warmongering; this is what keeps us poised and flowing when everything around us feels disorienting and strange. There is a dawning day that we can experience here and now—we can join the sun in its new morning—but only if the sleeper wakes up.

**

Another way of saying this is, Only if a person learns how to live deliberately. “I wished to live deliberately,” says Thoreau, in language that sings, “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear….” In an immoral, confusing age, he had to get clear on who he was, and whose he was. Identity was the solution. And to achieve that, on July 4, 1845, he went to Walden Pond to more fully immerse himself in the cycles and rhythms of the natural world. “I feel,” he says, “that I draw nearest to understanding the great secret of my life in my closest intercourse with nature.” But Walden was just on the edge of the town of Concord, meaning that Thoreau wasn’t completely isolated and immersed in wilderness. So an equally important part of his Walden experience was conversation with folks back in Concord like Emerson, which would allow him to share and integrate his discoveries in nature—put the pieces together, see what is implied about his sense of self and identity, his relationships, and larger social conditions. The Transcendentalism of our spiritual ancestors was never isolationism. Retreats to nature were always preludes to rich conversations with soul friends, and always, the aim was getting clear on WHO we are and WHOSE we are.

Thoreaus_quote_near_his_cabin_site,_Walden_Pond

One thing Thoreau learned from his Walden experience was to simplify. “Simplify, simplify,” he says. Part of this means refusing to fill yourself up with things that feel urgent but are in fact draining and demoralizing, so that you end up having no room for that which truly vitalizes. Refuse to endlessly ruminate on experiences of futility and cruelty and loneliness and disappointment so that there’s no room for anything else. Refuse to be like the shortsighted man in a museum who studies Van Gogh’s Starry Night or some other take-your-breath-away painting from two inches away, and intellectually he has clearly and accurately identified 12 different kinds of blobs of color and 7 different shapes, but he can’t see the whole thing, he misses out on the big picture, he is starving for meaning and purpose. Our lives, says Thoreau, are “frittered away by detail.” We live too up-close to things, shortsighted, and this is a form of spiritual sleepwalking. But to simplify is to make room for abundance. It is to empty ourselves of the nonessential, so that we can be filled with the essential.

Walden taught him this, and it also taught him to aspire. “We must,” Thoreau says, “learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” “That man,” he says, “who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.” As I think on what this means, a story comes to mind from the work of Abraham Maslow, founder of humanistic psychology and one of the founders of transpersonal psychology. I’ve shared this story before but it’s provocative enough to share again and again and again. Maslow’s focus was on self-actualization or, as we Unitarian Universalists might say, people giving full expression to the worth and dignity that is inherently theirs. In the course of his studies, he determined that self-actualizing people very naturally have spiritual experiences—profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, during which a person feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet a part of the world; more aware of truth, justice, harmony, and goodness. But now here is the story. When Maslow’s students began to talk to each other about their peak experiences, they began having them all the time. It was as if the simple act of being reminded of their existence was enough to make them happen. Talking and thinking about moments of people being saved every day makes it more likely that we will have such moments ourselves. Conversely, if we do not talk and think about such things, we may block their happening.

Thus we are to aspire, says Thoreau. Talking about God evokes God energy. Talking about heaven brings heaven closer. Hold fast to an infinite expectation of the dawn, hold it close, since (as he says), it “does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.” It goes with us, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. When facing some kind of scarcity in life, you say to yourself like a mantra, over and over, “I trust that everything I need is inside me and near me, and it will become available to me as I need it.” If our lives are frittered away by detail, this will seem like a load of baloney, and nonsense. But in reality it is the largest thing imaginable, a hope, a peace, a vision of Life Abundant, and it requires us to prepare tremendous room in our hearts. We must prepare the way to receive it.

Simplify, so we can aspire.

**

I want to go back to 285, my experience on that road last week. Back to my anger as I passed that young man and wondered if this was yet another instance of driving while black. Back to my anger as I saw all the other cars speeding forward in their narrow lanes towards self-centered ends, uncaring towards what was happening in plain sight. Back to my horrible vision which is so well captured by the words of the poet:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I am grateful to say that this was not the whole story. Because I was in one of those other cars speeding forward, and I saw what was happening, and I cared. I proved the poet wrong. I had conviction. I was full of passionate intensity.

And this was so because I belonged to a Beloved Community that would allow nothing less from me.

It wasn’t always so. Unitarian Universalism used to be something that I left behind when my car exited the church parking lot. I had grown up isolationist and it was a hard habit to break. A sad habit, because it’s what made me and makes so many of us lonely. The words of Carl Jung come to mind: “Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself….” I was unable to communicate what was important to me, and therefore I was unknown to others and unknown to myself. I was lonely.

But Unitarian Universalism has always been persistent. It wanted only one thing from me, and it wants only one thing from all of us: to live into the truth of who we are. To be ourselves, to live deliberately.

All the sermons, all the music, all the service groups and projects, all the fun and fellowship, all the special events: all of it is like Walden to our souls. A 21st century version.

Especially when it asks us to give.

I realized this the other day when I was preparing a talk for the volunteers who are part of our Year-Round Stewardship process. By now you have all received a snail mail letter describing the details. The congregation divided up into twelve “Generosity Circles,” one for each month of the year. Folks in each generosity circle being informed about what’s going on at UUCA and what our aspirations are, and also being thanked for greening this place with their dollars. But what I said to the volunteers was not so much about technical details but about the why, the meaning behind it all. I talked about how problems in the larger world are problems here in our midst. Our UUCA community is not hermetically sealed off. So what makes this place so valuable is that here in Beloved Community we seek to be the change we wish to see in the world. If we can’t find solutions in Beloved Community, then where?

That’s why we aspire to be an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural institution. If Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, well, we need to turn that right around and it starts here. Healing starts here, and we can take that healing everywhere else we go.

Another problem in the larger world is that of too many alternatives, too many choices, too many ways to spend our money, too many things to give to. It’s confusing, it’s disorienting, and in fact way too often we are dupes of the merely good enough. We choose or we buy the merely mediocre and that’s what takes up room in our lives. That’s what it looks like for a life to be frittered away…

But Beloved Community, I said to those stewardship volunteers, is part of the solution. Don’t feel bad about calling people and reminding them that it’s their month to review their pledge. Don’t feel bad about sharing the awesome things going on at UUCA and asking people to consider upping their pledge. Don’t feel bad! Because what you’re doing is helping people solve the problem of too many choices. The only way to solve that is people getting clear on who they are. That’s what stewardship conversations are fundamentally about. Who am I? Whose am I? Do we see ourselves as the inheritors of what others, like Thoreau, have built up? Are we committed to passing this on to our friends and family and children and grandchildren? Are we committed to building the world be dream about?

What we have right here are some of the basics of Transcendentalism. Conversation helping us to simplify, to get down to the essentials. Simplifying so that there’s room to aspire. So don’t feel bad about making the call. And I’m saying this to all of us: don’t be taken aback when you receive such a call. Of course talking about money is uncomfortable, but that’s because we’re not necessarily clear on our values, and the effort to get clear feels like struggling through muck, mud threatening to suck our boots off. That doesn’t feel good. But understand what’s trying to happen. Beloved Community is doing a good thing. Beloved Community is trying to help you get clear on who you are and what really counts for you, and this clarity will help you everywhere you go, way beyond the walls of this place.

We are being the change we wish to see in the world.

We need the best people to have convictions.

We need the best people passionately intense.

It happens here, in this 21st century version of Walden, which will never settle for less. Through the power of our combined efforts, we need to make sure we live in a country where, if someone is pulled over by the police, we can know with confidence it’s for reasonable cause, and reasonable cause only.

Future generations rely on the good we accomplish now, even as, like the Sakofa bird, we reach back to our spiritual ancestors and receive from them a blessing for the present.

Let’s build the world we dream about, starting right here!

You are the best, so be passionately intense!

Be passionately intense!

A House Which Becomes a Home

I want to tell you about a meeting that happened recently at UUCA. Five people and myself in the conference room, meeting with the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Director of Ministerial Transitions, the Rev. Keith Kron. He came all the way from Headquarters in Boston, because it was important. We were talking about our next settled Associate Minister, the person who will succeed Rev. Thickstun and hopefully stay for years, stay with us and grow with us for a good long while.

With me in the room: people all well-respected in this congregation, representative of key diversities relevant to the nature of the position, and keenly committed to our vibrancy: Rebecca Kaye, Chair of the Children’s Ministry Team and also a Lay Minister. Tony Stringer, Lay Minister and member of UUCA’s Inclusivity Ministry called EnterCulture. Mary Ann Oakley, Lead Lay Minister and Chair of the recent Long Range Plan Task Force. Karen Martin, current Board member and a go-to lay leader in our Religious Exploration program for something like 15 years. Lyn Conley, two-term Board President, who likes to call herself a “church lady” and what it means is that her heart is big for this place and she knows practically everything and still has a sense of humor. All these people, which I called together to partner with me in the search (because I’m not going to do it alone, top-down—not my style); all these awesome people, me, and Keith Kron in the room, and the room is buzzing, we are energized, we are talking possibilities, we are filling up the whiteboard with lists and charts and arrows, we are talking timeline, we are talking what needs to happen now, what needs to happen next, as we enter into this exciting time of search.

Exciting especially because of the kind of minister for whom we go in search: The Associate Minister of Lifelong Learning and Growth. The express purpose of the job is to “hold and fulfill the vision of a congregation that nurtures people’s spiritual health, growth, and healing from cradle to grave.” This language is from the formal job description, and here’s a little more: “The Minister of Lifelong Learning and Growth is fully conversant in the psychological, developmental, interpersonal, and spiritual issues and challenges of people across the lifespan. Based on this, the Associate Minister works with staff and volunteers in sustaining and enhancing our Pastoral Care and Religious Exploration programs which, combined, support people’s wellness and wholeness in holistic, integrated, and innovative fashion.”

That’s a lot of words. I know it. But they are also aspiring words which leap up off the page and become a vision in our minds. A compelling vision. A vision of our collective future and where it’s taking us, why it’s so important we go, why we want to do all we can to make it happen.

That’s what I want to talk about today. The vision. The spirit of Unitarian Universalism alive and well and stirring among us.

One place we can feel that Spirit is in our UUCA Ends Statements and Long Range Plan Aspirations (which are both readily available on UUCA.org). Through such statements, the congregation has spoken. What it sees this Unitarian Universalist community creating in Atlanta. And as your Senior Minister, I’m listening very carefully.

A vibrant faith community for spiritual seekers that worship together, embracing lifelong religious learning and respecting different spiritual journeys.

A loving community that provides support and care for others through both the best and the most difficult of times.

A safe and welcoming community where all are valued.

Children and youth, centered in the values of our religious community and nurtured in love, who are compassionate leaders in seeking justice and peace.

That’s not all of the UUCA Ends Statements, but these are the ones that the work of the Minister of Lifelong Learning and Growth is most in alignment with, most in sync with. The very name of the position borrows from the language of the first Ends statement: “A vibrant faith community for spiritual seekers that worship together, embracing lifelong religious learning…”

Your Senior Minister is listening. Also to a more recent expression of the wisdom and will of this congregation: the Vision 2016 Long Range Plan. “We will be among the most engaging and enriching congregations in Atlanta,” says the first of four main aspirations; and underneath it, we have several more specific goals areas including these:

EXTENDING educational offerings for congregants and the larger community;

NURTURING fellowship among congregants and providing pastoral care; and

OFFERING opportunities and experiences that nurture the spiritual growth of each congregant.

Again and again, I am hearing the hope for—the commitment to—people’s spiritual health, growth, and healing. Again and again, I hear how we want the span of this to be lifelong, from cradle to grave.

And so comes the basic vision for the Minister of Lifelong Learning and Growth. It comes from us.

So we should not be surprised when I say that, like the overachievers we tend to be, this position will shine a bright light on some places where the escalator is broken, and we need to get off and move on to something better. It’s going to challenge us to be bold.

Here’s what I mean.

Take the “cradle to grave” focus of the position. It flies in the face of what the current pattern in UU congregations is, says Karen Bellavance-Grace, the 2013 Fahs Fellow for Innovation in Multigenerational Faith Formation. Some of you might have come out to hear her speak when our Interim Director of Religious Exploration, Mr. Barb Greve, invited her to Atlanta. I was there. She’s one of the wisest and most respected voices in Religious Exploration today, and she said, “Our curricula and Religious Education ministries have been largely created and supported with a goal of helping children and youth grow into Unitarian Universalist adults. At the same time, we know that an excellent indicator of youth and young adult religiosity is the consistent religious practice of their parents.” Which would imply that, at the very least, for the sake of the kids, we want our adults to be on the religious exploration journey too. But we are not set up for that, not really. Says Karen Bellevance-Grace, “Most of the explicit Adult Faith Formation opportunities favor a traditional teach/learn paradigm, and privilege academic learning styles and preferences. By and large, we have not treated the faith formation of parents and other adults with the same priority as the faith formation of children and youth.”

I am particularly struck by how Karen Bellevance-Grace puts her finger on the “traditional teach/learn” paradigm of our usual adult religious exploration fare. In other words, adult RE classes are very often structured like graduate school seminars. This is exactly what another UU leader, concerned about the state of adult faith formation in our movement, picks up on: the Rev. Christine Robinson, Senior Minister of the UU Congregation of Albuquerque, a sister large congregation. Listen to what she says: “We have to help people understand that the tools of college debate teams and scientific laboratories are fine for those enterprises, but they are problematic around matters of faith and spirit. It’s hard enough to put the largely wordless spiritual life into words. The shy, wild soul doesn’t respond well to being chased, questioned, hounded, and there is still too much scorn in our discourse about faith.” Isn’t that interesting? How can we create adult learning spaces that are more welcoming to the shy, wild soul? If we did better at that, would more adults participate more regularly?

It’s critical that they do. Most if not all of us know the procedure on an airplane. If it’s a time of distress and the oxygen masks appear, adults need to put their masks on before helping children or others in their care. If the caregiver runs out of oxygen, he or she cannot assist others. If the caregiver is exhausted, hungry, anxious, or spiritually empty and depleted, they suffer and the children suffer.

This is just one reason why the “cradle to grave” vision is key. Religious exploration programs that focus mainly on the children and youth aren’t effective. But the tendency is nevertheless to focus just on the children and youth. Adults don’t think it’s relevant to them. The programming for adults is not where it needs to be.

It’s just like the video.

We’re on the escalator, things seem to be moving on and up.

But then we come across the statistic of the high percentage of adults who grew up Unitarian Universalist but eventually left because they didn’t feel Unitarian Universalism in their heart and soul…

That’s when the escalator goes GLNK!

“Whoa,” we say, “that’s not good”

We say, “Oh, I don’t need this! I’m already late”

We say, “Anybody out there!”

“Somebody!”

“Hello!”

“There are two people stuck on the escalator, and we need help. Now, would somebody please do something!”

Well, we are doing something. We’re getting off that stuck escalator. The Associate Minister of Lifelong Learning and Growth is going to be a part of the solution, with the focus on “cradle to grave.” Lifespan. Challenging the sense that adults don’t need to be integrally involved as learners themselves. Increasing the different kinds of opportunity for being involved; ensuring that it’s easy to get involved; ensuring care for our shy, wild souls.

The elevator is stuck, and we need to get off.

Here’s another stuck place. Keeping Pastoral Care and Religious Exploration programs separate, siloed off from each other.

Now to me, conceptually, that makes no sense. To me, Pastoral Care is about spiritual health in the crisis care mode, whereas Religious Exploration is also about spiritual health, but in the prevention mode. What I have in mind here is the public health model, which the Centers for Disease Control folks in the room will immediately get. Religious exploration is about growing in Unitarian Universalist faith which is about growing in spiritual resilience which is ultimately about the prevention of pastoral care crises, as far as possible. Don’t wait until you’re sick to seek help. Far less expensive, far less trouble, to practice all the good things that keep your soul healthy and resistant to all the yucky spiritual bacteria out there. That’s what our Religious Exploration programs are doing when they support our natural spiritual feelings and teach us how to celebrate our lives and help us understand our religious heritage and help us develop and act on our values and help us affirm our differences and help us affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all. They help us. They naturally partner with Pastoral Care programs, which cover the other side of things, when we’re not feeling so good, and we need crisis care.

But, again, this is not the way things are now. As far as I know, the two programs have never been led by the same person. What I’ve seen is that a great deal of the pastoral care for children, youth, and families has been provided within the RE program, whereas pastoral care for the rest of the congregation has happened through our Lay Ministry program. When Pat Kahn was our Director of Religious Exploration, just a little under three years ago, I saw her out there pastoring all the time. It just goes together. You can’t keep Pastoral Care and Religious Exploration separate.

So why not bring them together more intentionally, more intelligently? A Minister of Lifelong Learning and Growth represents an opportunity for UUCA to improve Pastoral Care support for its children, youth, and families while, at the same time, enriching its Religious Exploration programs by grounding them more fully in an understanding of the psychological, developmental, interpersonal, and spiritual issues and challenges people across the lifespan face.

When congregations don’t have that in place, people fall through the cracks. Listen to the voice of one person for whom this is true, as she speaks about her struggle with her Mom’s mental illness and how church didn’t help, made things harder. “My family,” she says, “has always been very involved in church … but we did not receive the help and support we needed…. Like other families, we were affected by stigma and a sense of shame that kept us mostly silent about our problems. And church leaders who wanted to help us, for the most part, didn’t know how to help. I don’t blame them for this; they must have been as confused and uncertain as most people are when it comes to mental illness. In my own experience, what churches have done wrong is mostly remain silent—just ignore mental illness altogether. As a young teenager, I would have been helped tremendously by discussion of mental illness within the church and even within the context of my youth group. My whole family would have benefited from extensions of friendship and offers to help when we were at our lowest. Instead, we felt pressure to pretend as if everything were fine and to put on our best face at church” (Amy Simpson)

Let me say it like this: Robin Williams is here among us, and are we able to love him and his family the way they all need? Of course we want to; but can we? Are staff configured in such a way to support programs and people who could provide real help? Religious Exploration programs are key places where the needs of the children and the family will be most evident, but do we have the kind of leadership and vision in place that can meet this need and so many others?

The escalator is stuck.

“Anybody out there!”

“Somebody!”

“Hello!”

And we’re answering back. Getting off, and moving on.

You know, when an escalator breaks down, it’s pretty clear what’s going on. But when things break down in more complex systems, or are close to breaking down, you don’t necessarily know. Frogs in slow-boiling kettles don’t know. The signs can seem ambiguous. Or we interpret them through biased lenses and bend the meaning in a way that satisfies our agenda but is not faithful to the truth. How else to explain the millions of people who have been witnessing the event of Ferguson, Missouri and they still don’t see the racism, they still don’t get it. How else to explain that?

Perhaps the most controversial claim coming from Karen Bellevance-Grace—that wise and respected voice in UU Religious Exploration circles—is that with the changing patterns of family life today, the amped up speed and stress and time crunch, we may need to reimagine in radical ways how we do Religious Exploration. What the programs will need to look like if they are to thrive.

The status quo is an experience focused around Sunday morning. In sheer terms of exposure time to classroom activities and discussions and crafts and whatever else is going on, we are talking a maximum of 30-40 touch points per year. Factor in absences for illness and other family obligations, and what our religious educators end up with is around 40 hours of opportunity, per year, to impact the spiritual growth and development of our children.

40 hours out of a total possible 5,110 waking hours per year.

Eight to eighteen-year-olds spend on average seven hours a day, seven days a week plugged in to their smart phones, the Internet, video games, TV, music, and other forms of media. That’s 2,555 hours per year.

The picture is this: 40 hours of dedicated soul-deepening experiences vs. 2,555 hours of who knows what.

Just that is enough to make us pause. Is the standard way of doing Religious Exploration like the stuck elevator? Is it?

Karen Bellevance-Grace says yes. She is by no means alone.

Listen to this—a rather extended quote but all good:

“We know from research,” she says, “that family religiosity can be a powerful predictor for youth to remain religious themselves as they enter adulthood. We know that Unitarian Universalists who come to our churches as adults have had little, if any, exposure to our religious education curricula, theology, or history. We know that a number of writers in the mainstream Christian community identify a focus on Family Ministry as one faithful response to 21st century realities. In light of all this, incorporating an intentional strengthening of family ministry seems a faithful direction to lean.”

“Family Ministry identifies the role of the church as a chief support in the spiritual development of congregants of all ages. With particular respect to children and youth, the congregation’s role is to provide support and partnership to parents, who own the primary responsibility for their children’s spiritual growth. It requires us to live into a belief that our religious education programs are supplemental faith formation programs and not intended to be the sole system of delivery.” And then she says, “Changing the Sunday School-centric model of religious education creates space for our churches and religious professionals to intentionally and explicitly equip parents to be their children’s first and most consistent religious educators all week long.“

The question essentially is: How do you make a house into a home?

How do you infuse bare walls and spaces it with love and hope and forgiveness and courage?

This is just not about parents. This is about all of us, trying to keep on showing up to our lives with an open heart, with continued curiosity and hopefulness no matter what. But we know that kids are going to struggle if the adults aren’t modeling this. Religion is a thing more caught than taught. So how do we support our parents in their awesome task? How to help them put the oxygen mask on themselves, first? The parents, who on average are with their kids 3000 hours each year, and so they have plenty more opportunity to influence their children than the 40 hours per year of church classes. So how can congregations like ours truly prove their relevance and worth by guiding and strengthening the adults for their awesome work?

I want us to collectively wonder about this. Is more of the same truly going to take us in the direction of UUCA’s Ends Statements and Long Range Plan priorities? Or does more of the same amount to staying put on the broken escalator?

Saying, “Anybody out there!”

“Somebody!”

“Hello!”

“There are two people stuck on the escalator, and we need help. Now, would somebody please do something!”

But WE are the somebody we’ve been waiting for…

All I know is that I see the Associate Minister of Lifelong Learning and Growth ministering with and among us as we figure out what’s next. What’s next, friends, is critical. We cannot afford a sagging, lagging, sappy, unhappy Religious Exploration program. In the wake of that, everything becomes saggy and laggy and sappy and unhappy.

So join me and join the Task Force I’m partnering with in our excitement and resolve. Stay tuned to our progress—we’re going to keep you regularly informed. And when stewardship time rolls around and you are asked to make your annual pledge, go above and beyond. We must be able to afford the best. You can’t build a bold and bright future on the cheap.

On of my favorite poets, Rumi, says,

Why do we stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Why indeed.

Let’s walk on through.

Instant Happiness

Pro Infirmis is a Swiss organization for people with disabilities, and as today’s video shows, part of their work is expanding a sense of acceptance in society for difference, as well as for self-acceptance in people who carry the weight of such differences. One has scoliosis, another is in a wheelchair, a third lacks a limb, and so on. All had mannequins made to perfectly reflect their body shape, which would then be displayed in a major department store on Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s main shopping street. Passers-by were intrigued, delighted—getting the message that there is no one ideal body shape, that all belong to our world, all have their own kind of beauty.

Lots of amazing moments in that video. In particular I’m thinking about the moment when each person returns to the warehouse to see the mannequin that mirrors his or her own body shape. The mannequins are hidden under a sheet. The person approaches, they circle, the sheet comes off, and can you just imagine what it must have felt like? Shock, astonishment, admiration. They had no idea. One of them says, “It’s special to see yourself like this, when you usually can’t look at yourself in the mirror.”

I watch this video, and it is instant happiness. I find myself taken to a place where I am more open and relaxed, I find myself more aware of the positive possibilities of life, and maybe you too. More beauty, more justice, more hope, more pleasure, more laughter, more love, more forgiveness, more energy, more creativity, more connection.

Happiness is a good orderly direction.

And the opportunities to go there instantly are endless. One reason why is because we each come to the present moment bearing a lifetime of experience. Then something in the moment happens—we smell a certain unforgettable smell or something tastes a certain way or feels a certain way or looks a certain way or sounds a certain way—and it’s like, eureka! You feel plugged in. You feel it all coming together.

The other day I was making a dinner of pork tenderloin, and while it was baking away in the oven, I was preparing a vegetable side dish of mirepoix which is a mixture of chopped celery, carrots, and onions. Mirepoix is often the flavor base for soups and stews and sauces but I like it just in itself. Colorful to look at and very tasty.

I like to start with sautéing the chopped onion, and here’s where the real story unfolds. In my frying pan, the little white cubes of onion deliciousness are sizzling away in butter and the heat causes a release of this most amazing aroma. Ohhhh it makes me happy. Instantly. Not just because the aroma tends to lift me several inches above the ground, but also because the smell takes me back to a time long ago. Doesn’t smell do that for us? This most powerful physical sense of ours? The smell takes me back to memories of my grandmother on my mom’s side. Baba cooking Christmas Eve dinner. She’s like Captain Kirk and her kitchen is the Starship Enterprise. In one memory scene, I’m just trying to stay out of everyone’s way. Baba is calmly issuing commands to her husband (my grandfather) and her daughters (my mother and my aunt). The actual dinner, when the house will be overrun with a horde of hungry people ready to gobble up traditional Ukrainian fare, is just hours away. She’s at the stove and I smell that lovely onion smell. I also see her flabby arms flapping away as she’s agitating whatever’s in the pan, and I am not seeing her through the cruel eyes of a society that will not let women rest unless they have a certain body shape. She is my Baba and I love that her flabby arms flap away as she stirs the pot. She is part of my family. I am part of her family. I belong.

The smell of sautéing onions is: I belong.

Instant happiness.

We’re talking about this today because it opens up the door to what I take to be the essence of any truly meaningful religious way: how it connects us to thoughts and behaviors and people and history and whatever other resources that help keep us fluid and flowing through all the changes and challenges of our lives. This is the direction we want to be going in. Staying curious, because every moment the Mystery unfolds. No matter what, never ceasing to show up with an open, compassionate heart because we don’t want to miss a thing.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Wings can be broken. But we can still learn to fly.

Let me tell you another story. It’s about the trench warfare of World War 1. Did you know that the emperors and generals who ordered their men to war in August 1914 thought in terms of weeks, not months, let alone years? “You will be home before the leaves have fallen off the trees,” said the German Kaiser to his troops in early August…. But he was wrong. The leaves would fall off the trees four times before the war would be done. Four times, four long years. The grinding, catastrophic, cruel years of World War I.

So there they are, the soldiers, in the cold, in the muck, mud sucking at their boots, miserable in trenches…. It’s Christmas Eve, the darkness of night surrounds them. And then suddenly, along various areas of the British-German front, it happens without forethought, without any central planning: love takes human form: Christmas trees go up, a spontaneous upsurge of singing: Silent Night, Oh Christmas Tree, O Come All Ye Faithful. Something other than cruelty and death and madness happening across No Man’s Land. Harmonizing! Harmony. All this happening independently, mind you, in various areas of the British-German front, as much as two-thirds of it, thousands of soldiers singing, each side singing to the other instead of shooting.

It led the soldiers to actually get out of the safety of their trenches, to finally meet face to face. The Christmas Truce of 1914. It’s one of the most remarkable incidents of World War I, perhaps in all of military history.

Now, one hundred years later, trench warfare of a sort is still with us. Today’s headlines scream

Israel Strikes Gaza After Militants Resume Rocket Fire
How Israel Brought Gaza to the Brink of Humanitarian Catastrophe
Lines in the Sand: Deadly Times in the West Bank and Gaza
Why Are the Arab Gulf Countries Silent on Gaza?
Everything You Need to Know About the Israel-Gaza Conflict

One thing we DO need to know is that this conflict is longstanding and messy beyond belief. In my detailed exploration of this from March 25, 2012 entitled “The Bronze Bull: Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” I wrote: “The solution is courage which is restraint in the presence of shrill voices from people and from the press and from leaders who perceive an enemy and push for a fight by any means necessary. The solution is a willingness to be genuinely curious about the supposed enemy, willingness to walk in their shoes for a time, willingness to start over, begin again. The solution is refusal to label this kind of empathizing as anti-Israel or anti-Palestinian.” That’s a piece of what I wrote then, and it is all so general. Nothing specific. Sounds good, but how to make it happen? How do we make it happen internationally when, right at home, we can be stuck in the trenches of our own private, individual wars? How to let go, how to forgive?

The Christmas Truce of 1914 comes as instant happiness to me, and maybe to you, because it suggests how even the most desperate situation can shift. Not in planned ways, nothing that is foreseen. But the possibility is always there. We never stop working towards a solution, for sure: but we also know that the world is a Mystery and there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. I know: nothing in this mere attitude can now directly prevent further deaths. But this does not mean it is impractical. Show me a statesman or stateswoman who is hopeless and I’ll show you a conflict that keeps grinding and grinding away.

Never let go of hope. Whatever helps us stay hopeful and engaged: give us more of that! Whatever helps us stay in the game.

Sometimes it’s just plain silliness. You may already be aware of the story told about Dr. King in the hours before he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. Do you know what he was doing? Pillow fight. Civil rights icons like Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy: smacking each other upside the head. Dr. King being smacked and smacking away.

The world must not be allowed to take our silliness away. Save the world, yes, but savor it too. Let your soul be large enough for both. That is our Unitarian Universalist spiritual way.

So go on out there and watch some cat videos on the interwebs.

One word: karaoke.

Have you heard about the new movie Guardians of the Galaxy? How many of you have already seen it? “I am Groot.”

Maybe you have Braves Fever, or Falcons Fever, or Fever for some other sports team. Go for it!
(For myself, I have crazy figure skating fever—don’t get me started!)

All of these things, and more: they get us excited, they get us laughing, they get us pumped up, they keep us sane in a world that can be way too heavy sometimes….

Consider yet another example of blessed silliness. Here are some foreign words with no direct English equivalent:

Kummerspeck (German):
It means, excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, it means “grief bacon.”

Shemomedjamo (Georgian):
When you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it. The word literally means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”

Tartle (Scots):
The word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Iktsuarpok (Inuit):
That feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re there yet.

Gigil (Filipino):
The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute.

Do you feel it? Instant happiness!

You know, silly doesn’t need a reason. But there’s still depths there to know. The foreign words name behaviors that come out of our fragility and humanity and remind me I am and none of us are divine beings and that the perfectionism of our cruel inner (and outer) critics completely misses the point of living. The word “human” shares the same root with humus, humility, humor. It fills me with relief: the insight that they all go together, and I’m a part of it, with all my grief bacon eating and the times I tartle and the moments when I want to gigil something.

It’s happiness. Instant.

Even more instant happiness can come from the ideas we choose to dwell on. Some ideas make us clench up inside, others make us relax. Let’s try an experiment with idea pairs: each idea in the pair should send you in different directions. Close your eyes, allow the words I am about to say to wash over you, and pay close attention to your physical reaction to them. Ready? Here we go:

Idea pair number one:
The unpleasant situation you are in right now will last forever.
Now redirect your focus on a different idea: this too shall pass.

Next idea pair:
You are completely and utterly alone in what you are experiencing.
And now to redirect: the way you are on has been travelled by others; you are NOT alone.

How’s it going? Are you experiencing how the different ideas send you in different energy directions?

Try this next idea pair:
When other people hurt me, they know exactly what they are doing. They have it all figured out. The impact of what they’ve done to me was something they actually calculated ahead of time down to the details and they still gave their actions the go-ahead. What they did had everything to do with me and nothing whatsoever to do with their own lack of awareness or issues or problems or whatever.
Now redirect: Other people have good intentions. It’s not personal.

Is it not a source of instant happiness to know that the ideas we habitually dwell on are ultimately up to us? That even our mental ruts can, with consistent mental effort and focus, be reshaped to reflect something more positive and more accurate and truthful about the real world we live in?

Several weeks ago, I attended the memorial service of a child who was just a little over one year old. She had been born with spinal muscular atrophy and it is a fatal genetic disease. From the moment the diagnosis was made, the parents knew that their child would never grow up. They would never have the “traditional” parenting experience.

Just imagine yourself in their shoes.

Before the actual memorial service started, when picture after picture of the child was being projected onto the screen in the sanctuary, I found myself thinking unworthy thoughts but insistent thoughts nonetheless. What good can come from such a flawed life? What value can there be in such a temporary relationship? In all the pictures, the child is just lying there. She was never able to use her limbs, as far as I know, or even move her head. A big tube snaking out of her nose, down and away. Machines, wires.

And then the memorial service began, and I heard some things. I heard her caretaker saying that she had one of the biggest personalities she’s ever known. Personality booming out of wide-open, very intelligent and aware eyes. Red cheeks and huge smiles and squeals of laughter. How she loved being outside. How she had “eyelashes reaching all the way up to heaven.”

This is what her parents had decided to do. They had decided to live life to the fullest while they had her. Her mother regularly painted her fingernails and toenails, always dressed her up beautifully. They took her all sorts of places. They took her to the swimming pool and gave her the delicious experience of being in the water. They took her to the aquarium to see the whales and the sea lions and the sharks. There were pictures from these trips, and some were taken from the child’s perspective, as a way of trying to get into her world and see it how she might be seeing it. They were curious. They cared.

Lots of pictures of cuddling, of holding her close, kissing her.

The parents said that they had never loved more deeply or been loved more deeply, than with this child who lived just a little over a year. And that was the substance of their nontraditional parenting experience.

I left the memorial service knowing that not everything truly valuable has to last forever, or even for a while.

I left that place knowing that not everything truly valuable needs to be without flaws or complications or shortcomings or endings.

I left that place knowing that life despite all is good, and that sweetness is everywhere, if we but have eyes to see it.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly.