Sermon Reprints

SUNDAY, MAY 6:  “Mending Our Broken Chalice”

Prepared by Rev. Olivia Holmes

“The Strength that Defines Us” By Rayla D. Mattson.   Rayla Mattson is the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Society of Hartford, CT.

What I do with my hair shouldn’t affect how I’m treated or perceived, but unfortunately it does.   —journalist Christiana Amarachi Mbakwe

My son was five when he announced that he would no longer cut his hair. He hated going through the whole process. He also liked his hair and was done. I agreed; I, too, was done fighting with him about haircuts. As time went on, I marveled at the beauty of his hair and the way his curls frame his face.

Soon the questions started about why his hair was so long, and comments about how I was “confusing” him by not cutting it. I ignored it all.

Then the bullying started. At first it was a few people calling him a girl. We would correct them and move on. Then it became vicious enough to send him home from school in tears, the teachers all saying What did you expect? and that if I want people to see my son as a boy, then he should look like one.

My heart broke the day he stood in the bathroom crying. He handed me a pair of scissors and told me to just cut it. He was done and he was tired. I told him how beautiful his hair was and how sad I would be to see him cut it. When I asked him why he grew his hair, he said he felt things through it. He said it connected him to his indigenous heritage that he could not claim officially. He said that sometimes it was his hiding place. But he was tired of being teased and tired of being called a girl when he wanted to be called a boy.

So I found pictures of indigenous men with long hair, and asked him what he saw in the pictures. He said he saw strength and pride; fierceness and sadness. I asked if he thought these men were teased over their hair. And he said no, but that if they were, they probably wouldn’t care. I told my son that the strength he saw in those men was the same strength I saw in him.

My son is now fourteen, almost six feet tall, and has facial hair. His hair is still amazing. He pulls it up in a messy bun and no longer lets me comb and brush it. He still gets questions about cutting it. He’s been called gay and Trans and queer. None of which offends. He sees it as a compliment. He endured the bullying and now stands strong. Not because he has long hair, but because he didn’t let others define what being a man or male meant to him.

 

“Black Joy”  by Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson     Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, in Bridgehampton, New York.

Joy Unspeakable

is not silent,

it moans, hums, and bends

to the rhythm of a dancing universe….

 

For our free African ancestors,

joy unspeakable is drum talk…

 

For enslaved Africans during the

Middle Passage,

joy unspeakable is the surprise

of living one more day…

 

For Africans in bondage

in the Americas,

joy unspeakable is the moment of

mystical encounter

when God tiptoes into the hush arbor…

 

Joy unspeakable is humming

“how I got over”

After swimming safely

to the other shore of a swollen Ohio river

when you know that you can’t swim.

—Barbara A. Holmes     (used with the author’s permission)

When theologian Barbara A. Holmes talks about “joy unspeakable,” she’s talking specifically about how the contemplative practices of the Black church have sustained Black people in America through suffering and survival. More than referring to a particular church or denomination, this experience is collective and transhistorical. It’s also a different expression of Black religion than I’m expected to exhibit, as a Black woman.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had a particular mode of black worship projected onto me: the more charismatic modes of Black worship that we’re so familiar with—the shout, the stomp, the song. That particular style of Black worship sometimes strikes me as a caricature of joy—a shallow stereotype. I see this in the expectation that more “black” worship will bring more lively singing, more rhythmic clapping, more energetic worship. I see this in the anxiety that more “black” worship will bring more lively singing, more rhythmic clapping, more energetic worship. The shout. The stomp. The song.

But this caricature—this stereotype—is a narrow sliver of the complexity and the richness of black spirituality and black worship.

The modes of black spirituality that are most powerful, nourishing and nurturing for me aren’t the stomp, shout or song. Instead, I think of the rock, the sway, the bend, the moan, the hum. And I think of these things done in community. I marvel that in the midst of sadness and sorrow, in the midst of feeling the effects of generations of trauma wrought by racism and white supremacy, we can still find joy with each other. We are finding joy in each other.

I call it Black Joy because I am Black and it is the joy that I have been familiar with my whole life. It is the joy that I have learned from Black people. It is the joy created through our collective healing — our laying down of burdens, to be picked up and shared by our people, our community. This is not joy in spite of suffering — a mask put on to hide pain, an armor put on to push through pain. This is an embrace, holding and soothing us in our suffering. This Black Joy, is joy created through our being together. This Black Joy reminds me that I am not alone, that trouble don’t last always, that I am held and carried forward by a power beyond what I can comprehend.

I call it Black Joy, but I want to offer it—to the extent that it is mine to offer—to this faith. One of my gifts to Unitarian Universalism is the suggestion that joy is ours. We are the people who commit to justice, equity, and compassion. We are the people who aspire to world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We are the people who affirm our interdependence with each other and the universe itself. I want to challenge Unitarian Universalism and Unitarian Universalists to claim Joy.

Unitarian Universalist Joy will require a different way of imagining ourselves and a different way of being with each other. Claiming the possibility of Unitarian Universalist joy requires making space for the surprise that Holmes describes. Claiming the possibility of Unitarian Universalist joy requires slowing down to hear the talk of the drum—pausing to move to the rhythms of the drum. Unitarian Universalist joy requires opening to the possibility of the mystical encounter. Unitarian Universalist joy requires embodying this faith differently than many of us are accustomed to.

 

“Missing Voices” By Connie Simon     Connie is an intern at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, PA.  She will complete her studies for the UU ministry this month.

When I started attending a UU church, I was excited by the promise of worship that would draw from the arts, science, nature, literature and a multitude of voices. Indeed, some of the voices that Unitarian Universalists hear in worship each week belong to Thoreau, Emerson, Ballou, and others. Their words are beautiful, but they come from a culture and experience that’s foreign to me. When do I get to hear voices from my culture? I quickly learned that, other than the same few quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas,” it wasn’t gonna happen. I sit attentively and listen with my head to “their” voices while my heart longs to hear more of “our” voices.

I am a Black Woman. When I look around on Sunday morning, I don’t see many people who look like me. In most of the congregations I visit, I don’t see anybody who looks like me. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t hear voices of people who share my experience. But it still hurts. I want to hear voices that tell the struggle of living under the weight of oppression in this culture of White Supremacy. I want to hear stories of trying to stay afloat in the water we swim in. I want to hear voices of Living While Black in America.

I don’t hear those voices in UU churches so I have to supplement my worship by reading black theologians like Anthony Pinn and Monica Coleman. I read Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and my favorite poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Though not a Unitarian or a Universalist, Dunbar chronicled the African American experience in the years following the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved Africans — a time of opportunities for blacks as we migrated north in droves seeking employment and education but also a time of continuing segregation, racism and oppression.

Dunbar acknowledged this tension in his writing. We hear him long for joy and prosperity while at the same time knowing that the system would conspire to keep true happiness just beyond his grasp. “A pint of joy to a peck of trouble and never a laugh but the moans come double; and that is life!” Still, he was a champion of social justice, believing that God has sympathy for the plight of the oppressed and that his grace will be bestowed not on those “who soar, but they who plod their rugged way, unhelped to God.”

For Dunbar, the struggle was real. One hundred years later, hearing Dunbar express his frustration and give voice to the contradictions of our existence as African Americans encourages me and nourishes my soul. His voice speaks to my heart. He knows my pain and understands my sadness, my fear and my rage. He understands the tears I cry as I pray for strength to get through another day in this world. He gives voice to my deep faith that real change is coming someday. He didn’t see it in his lifetime and I might not see it in mine, but I have to keep believing it’s possible.

That’s the message many African Americans long to hear in church. I know that’s what I need to hear every now and then. Will it ever happen? Or will we always have to go “outside” to hear our voices? If that’s the case, maybe there’s no place for us in Unitarian Universalism. The thought of leaving is painful — but so is being in a faith that ignores our voices.

 

Moving beyond ‘whites only’ UU theology     Embracing theists is essential to the cultural and spiritual health of Unitarian Universalism.      DeReau Farrar 6/19/2017

DeReau K. Farrar is director of music at First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon, and a member of the board and conference planning committee of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network. Before moving to Portland in 2016, he served UU congregations in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, California, led an interfaith community gospel choir, and worked as a freelance music director, vocal contractor, consultant, and arranger. He worked on HBO’s All the Way (2016) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017).

It is no secret that a dominant voice in contemporary Unitarian Universalism is one that believes the existence of any God is irrational. For many, even entertaining the possibility by mentioning God in Unitarian Universalist worship is downright offensive. We are, after all, “smarter” than that.

The function of reason as a means by which Unitarian Universalists process possibilities is an extremely important characteristic of the faith, and has been so since at least the nineteenth century, when Transcendentalism swept through New England and forever changed the course of liberal religious thought in America. It is this function of reason that now calls us to see that of course people of color, women, immigrants, queer people, genderqueer people, poor people, and refugees deserve the same rights and opportunities as educated, middle-class, cisgender, straight, white men.

Scientifically speaking, though we are all different, we are all equal. It is science that persuades us to advocate for the care and protection of our earth home, securing its healthy existence for generations ahead. The use of reason is critical to Unitarian Universalism.

However, I wonder if by stopping there we are falling short of our broader calling. Are we not also called to be both perfectly inclusive and respectful of others’ searches for and expressions of truth and meaning?

To put it rather bluntly, atheism is a White Thing. That is not to say that there are no atheists of color. We all know at least one. At least, those of us who know people of color do. But, for the most part, atheism lives fairly solidly within “white space.” A 2014 Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study (the same study that reminded Unitarian Universalists of its 78 percent whiteness) shows that 78 percent of American adults who claim to be atheists are white. Further, 11 percent of white American adults say they do not believe in God, compared to 2 percent of black adults and 6 percent of Latino adults.

I contend that people of color have, by and large, clung to their beliefs in God, in whatever form, not because they are insufficiently educated, but because it is God who has given them the strength to endure, resist, and—in some small ways—overcome systems of racism and white supremacy, in the myriad ways it has persisted, for centuries. It takes a certain amount of freedom and privilege to denounce the existence of God. It is, therefore, not realistic for groups of people who have been conditioned to believe they have limited self-worth to suddenly be expected to rely upon their own human potential for success.

For them, a belief in an illogical and supernatural God is absolutely reasonable—because the notion that their races have survived to this point is itself supernatural, even illogical. As far as they are concerned, they trust in the miracle-working God that helped to bring the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity—the God who continues that same miracle work today. The mysteries around the resilience of peoples of color can probably be explained away by scientific terms, but that does not serve to edify people of color, nor does it serve to empower them, despite what we might feel about education.

“Empiricism,” as a term, has been co-opted by scientific purists in recent times, but does it not point toward that which we have witnessed as much as that which we have proven? In this way, one could argue that God exists in the ways oppressed peoples have experienced the impact of God in their lives, whatever that ultimately means for them.

For these reasons, I believe any movement in Unitarian Universalism to make God unwelcome in our sanctuaries is effectively akin to posting “Whites Only” signs on our doors. If we are serious about being inclusive and racially diverse, we are going to have to stop the sometimes violent God-hating in our places of worship. As long as society unjustly favors white lives, people of color will need to lean upon their gods for strength, endurance, and peace of heart. It is our duty, if we mean what we say about pluralism, and if we indeed affirm the first, second, third, fourth, and sixth Principles, to provide a warm home for them, where they can fully express their spiritual selves without being judged or marginalized.

This is not to say that our congregations need to go back to claiming the singularly Christian identity of our faith’s parents. No, our congregations need only to recognize and embrace the concept that, as intentional pluralists, theism is already as much a part of our identity as atheism and agnosticism. Further, this does not aim to ignore the fact that many Unitarian Universalists are living with real trauma related to their spiritual pasts and previous relationships with theistic people and/or institutions. I imagine this pain might make it difficult for those people to relate to theists and welcome them fully into Unitarian Universalist fellowship.

It will take real humility for them to see and accept that many theists need Unitarian Universalism just as much as any religious atheist might. And, I would argue that Unitarian Universalism needs theists just as much—especially at a time such as now, when so much is at stake, and we are being brought to face our own shortcomings around racial inclusion and justice.

 

SUNDAY, APRIL 22:  “Five Things I Learned by Crashing My Bicycle Really Hard”

Prepared by Rabbi Amy Loewenthal

Unending Love                                                                   -Rabbi Rami Shapiro

We are loved by an unending love.

We are embraced by arms that find us even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us even when we are too embittered to hear.

We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us even when we are too weak for meeting.

We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled,
Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;

We are loved by an unending love.

All the World is a Very Narrow Bridge    -Words: Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav      Music: Baruch Chait

All the world is a very narrow bridge.  The main thing is to not be afraid.

Kol Ha Olam Kulo

Gesher Tzar M’od, Gesher Tzar M’od, Gesher Tzar M’od

Kol Ha Olam Kulo

Gesher Tzar M’od, Gesher Tzar M’od.

 

V’Ha-Ikar, V’Ha-Ikar

Lo L’fachayd, Lo L’fachayd K’lal

V’Ha-Ikar, V’Ha-Ikar

Lo L’fachayd K’lal.

 

SUNDAY, APRIL 8:       Juggling

Prepared by Rev. Olivia Holmes

 

Life is like juggling;  and it seems to me juggling has these 3 lessons to teach us about how to approach life:

It takes practice to get it right

It’s OK to drop the ball sometimes, especially if you haven’t yet learned how to catch it

properly.

And when you get discouraged, because you try and try and try and can’t really see that

you’re getting anywhere, it’s OK to ask a friend to help.  Actually, it’s a really

good idea to ask a friend to help..

 

A very dear friend of mine died a couple of years ago now.  His name was Gary Helmig.  He was a sailor, an engineer, and a profoundly brainy brain with at least 5 or 6 answers he’d thoroughly researched for any question you might have under or beyond the sun.  I knew Gary and Nancy, his beloved wife of some 47 years, because I was also a sailor, a racing sailor, in fact, as was Gary.  We raced out of the Cedar Point Yacht Club in Westport, Ct., of which I am proud to say I have been the honorary chaplain for more than 25 years now.

The day of Gary’s memorial service, his widow, Nancy, and their children  and grandchildren and I scattered his ashes out on the race course we all sailed on for many, many years, and then we held his memorial service and celebration of life at the club.

One of the people who was asked by Gary’s family to speak was a man named Stephen Warner.  He was Gary’s roommate at college.  At MIT.

Gary and Stephen were at MIT during the race for space; the Russians had launched sputnik, and the United States was afraid it was falling behind.  An active call went out to recruit more young men into the engineering field…and to reach out to a diverse population.

Stephen was brought up on a farm in Indiana.  He told us that all through school he never had any homework to do.  He suggested it was because the teachers didn’t really trust the children to be able to keep their textbooks clean, or to bring them back to school.  So when Stephen got to MIT, he had no practice in doing homework at all.

But as a farm boy from Indiana, he did fit nicely into the diversity spectrum.

So every night, when Gary was hard at work studying in their room, or in the library, Stephen was out discovering the wonder of girls and beer and Cambridge or Boston.  And then, of course, it was the day before the first chemistry exam, and Stephen was totally unprepared.  So Gary tutored him.  Gary tutored him for over 3 hours that evening and Stephen ended up passing the test with a C minus, which was good enough for him.

And the very next night, he was out discovering the joys of the larger world again while Gary studied and studied and studied.  Then, a couple of weeks later, it was time for the first physics test.  Again, Stephen was totally unprepared.  Again, Gary tutored him for hours and hours.  Again Stephen passed the test; just barely.  This happened 2 or 3 more times before the idea of studying finally got through to Stephen; and when he finally began practicing the fine art of studying, he did just fine at MIT.

 

Life, like Juggling, takes practice.

Another speaker at Gary’s service was the Commodore of the club, Commodore John Cooke.

Now you need to understand that my friend Gary served on the Board of Governors at the club for many years, as did John Cooke.  And Gary had very passionate opinions about how the club was managed, particularly regarding club finances.  So John Cook told us, in his remarks at Gary’s memorial service, that he though Gary was a pain in the neck and a bully.  John Cooke did not like having to deal with Gary.  He told us so.  But he went on to tell us that when he complained to another Governor about his feelings for Gary, the other Governor suggested John call Gary up and tell him directly.

So John did exactly that.  He called Gary up and said, “Gary, Hello.  This is John Cooke, and I’m calling to tell you I think you’re a bully.  Let’s get together over breakfast and talk about it.”  So they did.  And before they’d gotten halfway through that breakfast John had begun to discover how much more there was to Gary than just his strong opinions.  Gary was a deep thinker and completely devoted to the well-being of the whole club and all its members.  And John said to us, gathered at Gary’s memorial service, “It was Gary who taught me that it’s OK to drop the ball, which is what I had done in forming an opinion of him based only on our superficial relationship.”  We became good friends.  And for years after that, he signed all his emails to me, “the bully.”  I learned how to be a better friend because of what Gary taught me.

 

In life, as in juggling, it’s ok to drop the ball; all of us are always learning.

A third speaker at the service was Gary’s son, Tim.  He told a story of a near tragedy at sea during the grueling Vineyard race many years ago.  The race is 238 miles long, from Stamford, Ct., out Long Island Sound, around the Buzzard’s Bay light tower, around Block Island and back again.  It starts on Friday night, and if your boat is fast, it ends on Sunday afternoon.  If there’s no wind, you could finish sometime on Labor Day Monday.

The Helmigs were racing on Gary’s 40 foot sloop, Garnet, and it was a dastardly black and nasty night as they approached the Buzzard’s Bay light.  The wind was blowing somewhere around 45 knots, or 50 miles an hour,  right on the nose of the boat.  The seas were up around six to 10 feet and the boat was taking a terrible pounding.

It was 2 o’clock in the morning.  They were sailing under a double-reefed main and a storm jib.  Suddenly, the #2 jib, which had been lashed to the rail on the foredeck, broke loose; taking a couple of stanchions and lengths of lifeline into the water with it, a serious drag on boat speed.

Now sailors, back then, were notoriously cavalier about wearing safety harnesses or life jackets in terrible weather.  So Gary, with no safety protection, raced forward to try to either get the jib back on board or cut it loose.

A great wave lifted the boat high in the air, then dropped it with a slam into the trough, and Gary was overboard, no harness, no life jacket, at 2 o’clock in the morning in 6 to 10-foot seas.  There was only one thing Gary could do; and he did it.  He lifted himself as high as he could in the water, reaching his arms as high above his head as he possibly could, leaning as hard as he could toward the boat.  Two crewmembers had inched forward, and were able to grab Gary’s arms and haul him back aboard the boat.

 

In life, as in juggling, when the situation gets discouraging or downright dangerous, not to mention life-threatening, it’s OK to reach out for help.

So the years passed, and little Olga grew up.  She learned many things over the years, but she never learned to juggle.  Then one day, as she was beginning to think about retirement, she thought to herself, Ahhh, if I were retired, I’d have time to become a great juggler.  And she got so excited by this idea that she went right out and bought a book…”Juggling for Dummies” which came with 3 juggling balls.

She asked a friend to read the instructions for her while she practiced the lesson.  Her friend, D’Vorah, was happy to oblige.

D’Vorah:  Lesson #1:  Take the three juggling balls out of their protective sack and just hold them.  Feel their weight, their heft.  Look at their beauty.  Let them get comfortable in your hands. <Pause>  When you are sure you are comfortable just holding the balls, go ahead and throw them up in the air…and let them fall to the ground.  That’s right, just let them fall.

<Pause>Now do it again…and again…and again.  When you’re utterly sick and tired of Lesson #1, you may proceed to Lesson #2.

D’Vorah:  Life is a lot like juggling.  It takes a lot of practice to do it well.  It’s OK to drop the ball.  And when you get discouraged or worried or scared, it’s ok to ask a friend to help.

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SUNDAY, MARCH 11:       Of Course You’re Afraid

Prepared by Rev Patrick McLaughlin

 

Call to Worship         Forged in the Fire of Our Coming Together by Gretchen Haley

What’s going to happen? / Will everything be ok? / What can I do? In these days we find ourselves, too often, Stuck with these questions on repeat: What’s going to happen? / Will everything be ok? /What can I do?

We grasp at signs and markers, articles of news and analysis, Facebook memes and forwarded emails As if the new zodiac Capable of forecasting all that life may yet bring our way As if we could prepare As if life had ever made any promises of making sense, or turning out the way we’d thought As if we are not also actors in this still unfolding story

For this hour we gather To surrender to the mystery To release ourselves from the needing to know The yearning to have it all already figured out And also the burden of believing we either have all the control, or none

Here in our song and our silence Our stories and our sharing We make space for a new breath, a new healing, a new possibility To take root That is courage forged in the fire of our coming together and felt in the spirit that comes alive in this act of faith: that we believe still, a new world is possible That we are creating it, already, here, and now

Come, let us worship together.

Chalice Lighting by Michael Tino

The flaming chalice was first used by the Unitarian Service Committee as a symbol of life-saving refuge for people fleeing persecution in Europe.

As we light this chalice, we invoke the love that called people to put their lives at risk to save others. May we be vessels of life-saving welcome.

Reading   Litany Against Fear (from Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune)

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain

Reading   Give Voice to Mourning by Lindasusan Ulrich

Give voice to sorrow and fear — the wracking sobs at family betraying family the shock at the chasm separating neighbors “What will you do in the days ahead?” one asked. “Hide in an attic,” another replied, her eyes as wide and dark as Anne Frank’s. Already the assaults on bodies have launched Already hatred has been emboldened Already graffiti has defaced stone walls Already harassment of the “Other” has begun When someone announces they’re coming for you, your worry doesn’t spring from paranoia. It’s based on the evidence of history.

Give voice to denial and bargaining — the claustrophobic panic, desperate for a way out, clinging to any path that might alter the outcome “Where we live we’ll be okay,” one says. “Who do you mean by ‘we’?” another asks. You suppress the disorienting sense that you’ve fallen into the opening of a dystopian novel, calming yourself that everything must turn out okay because the narrator is alive to recount the tale, ignoring the blankness of the next page.

Give voice to anger and rage — that truth and kindness mattered so little that vitriol poisoned the community well “They will try to use your goodness against you,” one said. “And rely on your reasonableness to accept the unacceptable,” another added. Retain your goodness and your reason but always keep sight of the larger picture and the deeper values calling to you. Let your passion for justice burn but not consume.

Give voice to acceptance and hope — this is where we are this is our new reality “For some,” said one, “the world we awoke to on November 9th was not much different than the one we’d been living in.” “Except,” said another, “that more people were woke to it.” Already organizing is taking place Already creativity and solidarity are sending out tendrils Already resistance and resilience are storing themselves up Already signs of love are picking up speed When someone announces they’re coming for you, you find your people you find your fearlessness and you don’t let go.

Prayer   A Prayer for Desert Times by Margaret A Keip

The journeys of our lives are never fully charted. There come to each of us deserts to cross—barren stretches—where the green edge on the horizon may be our destination, or an oasis on our way, or a mirage that beckons only to leave us lost.

When fear grips the heart, or despair bows the head, may we bend as heart and head lead us down to touch the ground beneath our feet. May we scoop some sand into our hands and receive what the sand would teach us:

It holds the warmth of the sun when the sun has left our sight, as it holds the cool of the night when the stars have faded. Hidden among its grains are tiny seeds, at rest and waiting, dormant yet undefeated.

Desert flowers. They endure. Moistened by our tears and by the rains which come to end even the longest drought, they send down roots and they bloom.

May we believe in those seeds, and in the seeds within us. May we remember in our dry seasons that we, too, are desert flowers. Amen.

Sermon: Of Course You Fear

You fear.
Of course you fear.
Everyone experiences fear.
The great horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft, observed “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
The oldest and strongest human emotion is fear.
It’s so old that it’s not just a human emotion. It’s not even a mammalian emotion. Every animal seems to experience fear, and there’s some evidence that plants may as well.
It’s our first reaction to being threatened, or imagining that we’re being, threatened. Or that we might be being threatened. We all feel it. It is hard-wired into our brains, deep back in those ancestral structures. Which means it takes over, it takes precedence over more newfangled brain functions like thought and reasoning.
Fear used to — and still sometimes does — help get us out of the way of real danger. We see an oncoming car and get out of the way. We read or hear about an approaching hurricane and we leave the area, or get to secure shelter on higher ground. Fear is not evil or bad. It’s an emotional reaction that has been very, very successful, from an evolutionary perspective. Those with no fear got weeded out early; certainly long, long before our ancestors crawled onto the land.
But that was a long time ago.
Most of our fears are irrational or grossly misplaced. After reading a Stephen King novel, we’re afraid of the dark. Or of hotel rooms in Maine. Psychologists treat us for fears of dogs, cats, too many people, or being alone. Of being in small spaces or of being in wide open ones. Of heights. Of germs. Of the number 13.
Personally, I don’t like heights. Now I can justify my mild (I like to think it’s mild) acrophobia by pointing out that falling is dangerous. You don’t even need height for that to be true; a fall while walking can result in a broken bone. (See me rationalizing here?) Now add some height to that and the danger just multiplies. Gravity is like some lion hiding in the grass, just waiting…. Get up to the rooftop for some reason, and that’s really dangerous. That fall could kill you.
Well, it could.
But people work on rooftops every day and it’s not on the list of the most dangerous things we do. Simply being alive is dangerous. We could be hit by an asteroid. But few of us spend time worrying about that.
And I know my fear isn’t really at a normal, reasonable level. It’s not just caution.
How do I know that?
Well, I’m uncomfortable on a very steep slope or cliff, or heck, the ground could give way and I’d fall and get hurt. But I can deal with that. Put me at that same height on a building and I’m more uncomfortable getting anywhere near the edge. People built that.
Rationally, I know that people engineered that — that it was designed; it was built with materials that can carry more than my weight, with a huge safety margin too. But that doesn’t change how I feel. Fear isn’t about math and reason and facts. Fear has taken off and is down the block and around the corner before you can marshal your facts. Lalalalala, it can’t hear you, and doesn’t want to; it says it’s too busy saving your life. Never mind that the spider you’re running from is a daddy longlegs that can’t hurt you.
Now all this is NOT to say that there are not very real reasons for some people to be wary — even fearful — about some things. I have Black friends who’ve posted about their personal experiences with police; they have reasons for being afraid when a police officer approaches them. And it doesn’t matter how good and fair that cop happens to be this time. There are people who’ve been bitten by dogs and are afraid of them, and it doesn’t matter that most dogs are nice and friendly. Those people still have real experiences that make being a bit afraid of a dog justifiable. And still, having tools to take control of fear is useful. It’s useful for everyone.

But the fact that fear can so easily grab us and control us makes fear very useful, for some. Sometimes it’s used as a tool to intimidate us, to make us back down. And if used — shaped and directed — people can use fear to aim and control us. Trigger our instinctual wariness of the unknown, the unfamiliar, the other, and they can shut down our thinking and direct our behavior.

If — when — they trigger our fear, they’ve shut down our ability think clearly. They are in control.

We see this in our politics, going back generations.

They are dirty, disease-carrying immigrants from a backward country, with a strange and dangerous religion. We shouldn’t let them in, we should throw them out, and we should watch those who are in this country very closely — and not allow them to vote until they’ve been here for many years, and can pass some sort of tests to prove that they’re civilized like the rest of us.

Hear all the fear triggers in those words?

Do you think that that was about brown-skinned Muslims from Syria? Today it could be.

But all those things were said about Irish immigrants, some 175 years ago. People with names like mine — or Rev. Michael’s. People who often had the whitest skins imaginable weren’t deemed white. Because whiteness really has very little to do with skin color. It has to do with defining who is inside the tribe, and who is outside; with who is a dangerous outsider, and who is not. It has to do with controlling people’s fears, to the benefit of those in power (or those who want to be in power).

So we need to recognize the triggers. We need to notice when people are asking us to fear the other, to fear for our lives, and our safety, and well-being — or the safety and well-being of our children, or our families. Those are frequently used triggers to make you stop thinking and start fearing.

It is that moment, before fear settles in, when we have to stop and consider. This is what that litany against fear is for. It is a practice — which means you have to practice, because it won’t just leap to you when you’re in need if you don’t practice it.

“I will face my fear.”

Fear wants us to run when it’s invoked. No looking and thinking. When it cries “RUN!!!” we have to refuse, stop, and look. Face it.

Me, I look at the movie screen or TV screen with that insane glass-bottomed balcony that people are walking out onto, with a hundred-foot drop below it. (I shake my head; I want to look away.)

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death.”

I take a deep breath or two. Or three. I refuse to let my mind shut down. That glass is, I remind myself, wildly over-engineered. It’s probably (I looked this up) up to a foot thick. They build glass dancefloors and corridor floors. In fact, I walked across a glass-floored skyway last year in Columbus, Ohio. Repeatedly. So did lots of other people.

Did I like it?

No, I hated it. But I did it.

What kind of idiot builds a walkway of glass? Some kind of sadist, I’m sure. But it works, and has worked for thousands of people, and probably for many years. It wasn’t really dangerous.

But my fear didn’t change. I never stepped out onto it without being aware of it. But having taken that breath and thought about already, I knew it was just fear speaking, not reason.

Fear was lying to me.

I stepped out, and walked.

“I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”

Fear doesn’t just go away. You have to face it and deal with it.

“And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I walked. I’ve looked back at the experience and the fear, and there was truly nothing there.”

I know that many people don’t really even think about it when they see such a glass floor or balcony. They just walk out on it.

I could listen to the whisper of fear saying “They’re crazy, they’re stupid.” Or I could listen to its more cunning whisper, “They’re so brave.” Because of course, they’re clearly not allowing it to affect them at all.

Both of those are lies fear tells us. They’re not crazy. The glass is perfectly safe.

And they’re not being brave. They’re not thinking about it at all, most of the time. The difference is that they don’t have a fear reaction to the height, because there’s no good reason for it. For them it might instead be the tiny spider that’s scuttling across the walkway that would make them fear for their lives. Or the black man coming the other way. Or the woman wearing a hijab.

They’re not being brave. They’re just walking. There’s no courage involved.

Courage requires fear. Courage requires fear.

Courage is acting the way you need to in the face of that fear, against the headwind of fear.

Courage is letting the fear pass over you and through you and doing what needs to be done anyway. Fear plus appropriate action anyway is courage. Fear may be appropriate. There may be real danger. For a soldier running out to grab a wounded comrade while under fire, fear is entirely reasonable. If you didn’t feel any fear, it would mean something was wrong with you. Courage is doing it anyway. It might be that you’ve trained for this, that you’ve practiced facing fear, that you’ve had training that helped you learn how to act and act quickly and appropriately under those conditions. And that doesn’t mean you don’t feel any fear. It just means that you’ve practiced.

And so the litany.  “I will not fear.”

Fear, get back into your cave. You’re not going to run the show right now.

“I will face my fear.”

Whatever it is, I’m not letting the fight/flight reaction take charge.

“Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death.”

Fear obliterates the things that we affirm, the things we hold up as important and valuable. It tries to override our deepest principles, with a not-thought-out claim to be protecting our lives. Only that’s often wrong. It’s just a little spider. That glass floor is thick, solid, and strong. And it invites us to die while remaining alive. There are things people do because there are worse things than dying. And there are people alive who wish desperately that they had overcome their fear and done what they know was right, and knew then, but were overcome by fear.

Practicing the litany gives you a tool to hold onto when fear is triggering. If you know the words, you can start them to yourself when you feel fear — or when you notice someone is calling on you to fear.

Look for and listen to the people who seem already to be living and functioning in this space, without fear. Perhaps they woke to it only a little before you, or perhaps they have been there for their whole lives, already aware of the madness of this particular fear going on around them. Listen. They may have advice; wisdom to share. Remember your highest values and ideals and remain true to them — see when they counsel you to be courageous, to acknowledge your fear and to act against it anyway. Stay in solidarity with those who are not succumbing to fear. Together, perhaps you can save even the terrified; we are stronger together.

And may you remember to lean down and touch the earth, find the dry sand that whispers secrets to you with every tiny grain, of resilience and perseverance, of hidden stores of moisture and hope, of seeds held quiet, awaiting the passing of the storm, or the long-awaited fall of rain.

May we not give into our fears.

May you not give in to your fears, but master them. May it be so.

Benediction/Closing Words

Wayne Arneson offers us this;

Take courage friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage. For deep down, there is another truth: you are not alone.

Do not give into fear. Take courage.

You are not alone.

Take the bold step to face your fear. Bravely facing your fears, go from here as bearers and sharers of a tradition that tells us that there is always room at the table, that all people and all beings are kin and are welcome — and there is a love that binds us all together, and which will never let us go. May we here all be vessels of life-saving light and welcome.

Go in peace, and be makers of that peace.

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SUNDAY, MARCH 4 :  Three Words That May Change Our Lives

Centering Words, Words for the Offering, Prayer, Benediction

Prepared by Rev. Olivia Holmes

 

Centering Words, A Litany of Restoration,                       Marjorie Bowens-Wheatl

If, recognizing the interdependence of all life,

we strive to build community,

the strength we gather will be our salvation.

If you are black and I am white,

IT WILL NOT MATTER.

If you are female and I am male,

IT WILL NOT MATTER.

If you are older and I am younger,

IT WILL NOT MATTER.

If you are liberal and I am conservative,

IT WILL NOT MATTER.

If you are straight and I am gay,

IT WILL NOT MATTER.

If you are Christian and I am Jewish [or atheist or something else]

IT WILL NOT MATTER.

If we join our spirits as [the compassionate people of this sacred community],

the pain of our aloneness will be lessened…and that does matter.

THAT DOES MATTER

In this spirit, we build [sacred community ourselves, together,] and move

toward restoration.

Words of Gratitude for the Offerings Give

On behalf of all of us, every single one who cares for and works for the hopes and dreams of this congregation, I say thank you.  Thank you for your generosity, for your presence, for your commitment.

Prayer, “Gentleness in Living” (adapted)                                         by Rev. Richard Gilbert
Be gentle with one another…
It is a cry from the lives of people battered
By thoughtless words and brutal deeds;

Who of us can look inside another and know what is there

of hope and hurt, or promise and pain?

Who can know from what far places each has come

or to what far places each may hope to go?

Our lives are like fragile eggs.

They crack and the substance escapes.

Handle with care!

Handle with exceedingly tender care,

for there are human beings within,

human beings as vulnerable as we are,

who feel as we feel,

who hurt as we hurt.

Life is too transient to be cruel with one another;

it is too short for thoughtlessness,

Too brief for hurting.

Life is long enough for caring,

it is lasting enough for sharing,

precious enough for love.

Be gentle with one another.

Benediction

Our order of service today speaks to us in these words:  compassion,

grace, generosity, kindness, courtesy, sympathy, goodness.  May all

these words be blessings in your life in all the days of the week to come.

May it be so.

SERMON:  3 Words that May Change Our Lives

Reflection:  3 words and Peter Yarrow

Back in 2016 I was invited to attend a benefit concert in Symphony Space in New York City.  For a $75 donation I could hear Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stukey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, sing for Operation Respect.  Operation Respect is a not-for-profit organization that Peter founded in 2000.  It happened this way:

In 1999, Peter and his daughter, Bethany, were at the 18-day Kerville Folk Festival in Texas when Bethany dragged Peter off to hear Mark Wills sing a song called “Don’t Laugh at Me.”  It was a song that changed both their lives, together.  Listen to some of the words they heard that day:

I’m a little boy with glasses,

the one they call a geek,

A little girl who never smiles,

‘cause I’ve got braces on my teeth,

and I know how it feels

to cry myself to sleep.

 

I’m that kid on every playground

who’s always chosen last,

a single teenage mother

tryin’ to overcome my past.

You don’t have to be my friend,

but is it too much to ask:

 

Don’t laugh at me

don’t call me names,

don’t get your pleasure from my pain.

In God’s eyes we’re all the same;

someday we’ll all have perfect wings,

don’t laugh at me.

Every single school day in this country some 160,000 children don’t go to school because they are afraid.  They are afraid they’ll be bullied, they are afraid they will be teased mercilessly.  They are afraid they will be beaten up.  They are afraid…they are afraid they will be shot.

Peter’s purpose in founding Operation Respect was to transform schools, camps, and other youth-serving organizations into safer, more respectful, bully-free environments for all children through curricula and songs that would inspire and teach the teachers as well as the children how to express their feelings constructively, how to resolve conflict peacefully, how to celebrate diversity, and how to engage with each other in a spirit of caring, compassion, and cooperation…words we cherish and, I believe, try to live each day here at KUUC.

It was called the Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum; and since the year 2000 over 180,000 copies of it have been distributed, free, all over the United States.  The lessons have been translated into Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Cantonese, and Ukrainian, to mention just a few.  Over 45,000 teachers have been trained to use the Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum.

Well, I was scheduled to preach in the Congregational Church in Temple in October that year, and I got so excited about what Peter Yarrow had done I decided this was what I would preach about.  Being a good, heady UU preacher, I searched for Peter on the internet.

There I learned that back in 1970 Peter Yarrow was convicted and served a term in prison for taking what was called, “improper liberties” with a 14-year old girl who came to his hotel room with her 17-year-old sister to get his autograph after a concert.  He did a terrible thing.  He went to prison for it.  He did his time.  He apologized.  He apologized to the girl, her sister, and her family.  He apologized publically.   In 1981 President Jimmy Carter gave him a presidential pardon.  And he went on to create and support Operation Rescue with earnings from his concerts.

A question for you, today, is whether you can forgive him.  Back in the fall of 2016 my question to myself was whether I could forgive him.  Peter, Paul and Mary were my heroes.  They were fighters for justice and compassion through their music.  I knew them.  I had sung with them in concert in Carnegie Hall.  I had been to Peter’s duplex on Central Park South for a benefit celebration for the New York Choral Society, in which I sang.

In the spirit of transparency I have to tell you that in the fall of 2016 I could not forgive Peter.  I was so upset I couldn’t preach this sermon, not then.  But I did save the words I had found to a song Peter wrote in 2007 called, “The Children Are Listening.”

The children are listening, the children are listening

If we say something cruel and harsh they will do the same.

The children are listening, the children are listening,

If they grow up to be bullies, we’ll have ourselves to blame.

 

Miracles can happen even on the darkest days

When we fear that all is lost and hope has gone astray

Sometimes we drop our weapons when the price we pay is too great

When the damage to the ones we love is greater than our hate.

 

Bigotry and hatred still hang heavy in the air

They poison children’s hearts and minds and leave them in despair.

But if we defeat these demons that have kept us so far apart,

Love and true forgiveness will begin to heal our hearts.

 

Well the healing won’t be easy because the pain we caused runs deep

The injury that we have sown we fear one day we’ll reap.

But if we plant the seeds of peace with one voice at last

If we join our hearts in peace and love; this painful time will pass.

 

The children are listening, the children are listening

If we say something cruel and harsh, they will do the same,

The children are listening, the children are listening

If they grow up to be bullies, we’ll have ourselves to blame.

At the Parkland, Florida, High School just last month.  14 students and 3 caring adults died at the hands of a not-yet-grown-up young man – using an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle…the same gun that was used to kill 27 innocent victims in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012.  In the 9 short weeks of this year, 2018 there have already been 12…12 school shootings in this country. 12 shootings, 48 people shot.  Just 18 survived.  30 died.  2018 is just 9 weeks old.  Since 2014 there have been 229 school shootings.  438 people – mostly children – have been shot in those school shootings.  138 were killed.  When is it time for the people to rise up, all of us, and say enough.  No, it is not acceptable to kill our children.

In 1980 a woman named Candy Lightner was a housewife and mother when a drunk driver with multiple DUIs on his record killed her 13-year-old daughter, Cari.  Just 3 days after the funeral, Candy stood in Cari’s bedroom and vowed to help prevent needless deaths like her daughter’s.  And that’s the story of the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD.  In 1980 more than 21,000 Americans were killed in auto accidents involving at least one driver impaired by alcohol.  Today that number has been decreased by half.  MADD is one of the most successful grassroots efforts of our time and still a very powerful lobbying force.  When is it time to rise up, all of us, and say enough?

I believe the answer to that question is still blowin’ in the wind.  Please rise in body or spirit and sing with me.

How many roads must a man walk down

before they call him a man?

Yes n’ how many seas must a white dove sail

before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly

before they’re forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,

the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

 

How many years must a mountain exist

before it is washed to the sea?

Yes n’ how many years can some people exist

before they’re allowed to be free?

Yes n’ how many times can we turn our heads

and pretend that we just don’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,

the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

 

How many times must we people look up

before we can see the sky?

Yes n’ how many ears must one human have

before we can hear people cry?

Yes n’ how many deaths will it take till we know

that too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,

the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,

the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Reflection:  3 Words for Now and for Us

How many of us think it’s time to do something?  Many of you know I wrote a prayer after the Parkland shooting.  I give Susan MacNeil, our excellent administrator, credit for inspiring me to write that prayer.  We read it together in church, and because of Susan MacNeil’s expertise and ability to get a press release out fast, it was published in the Keene Sentinel and the Monadnock Ledger.

There’s more we can do, though.  On Saturday, March 24th, there’s going to be a rally right here on the square.  Hannah Landry, age 16, is organizing this rally as part of a national program called March for Our Lives.  The rally will be on the square; just steps from this sacred space,  from 10am to noon.  Hannah said that her inspiration to act came from seeing the activism of students at the high school in Florida.  She said, “They’re demanding change, and I felt that as a high school student I can’t just sit here and not carry their message.”  Hannah reminds us that dealing with active shooter drills can be mentally taxing, and students have to endure that fear and anxiety regularly.  Can we just sit here and let the children carry the message?  No, I don’t think we can do that.

The rally on the 24th is a show of solidarity with student activists and survivors of mass shootings across the country.  It is also a protest for stricter gun control.  Ask yourself, in the small still voice in your heart, whether you can stand at or sit in or roll to the square on the 24th in support of Hannah and her need to do something.  Wouldn’t that be one way we could express our commitment to building compassionate community?

Maybe we could organize an action team right here at KUUC to figure out what else we might do.  Maybe some could create banners for the 24th, banners that say KUUC wants all our children safe at school, or KUUC cares for all our children.  Maybe we could open our sanctuary doors on the 24th, and invite folk cold or tired by standing to come in and rest a spell, use the bathroom, have a cup of tea or coffee.  Maybe some could write music that inspires adults to action.  Maybe we could have a Black Lives Matter banner out front; or a new banner uplifting school safety for all our children.  Maybe we could join with other churches and the synagogue in Keene to keep our children from harm in all our houses of worship.  The possibilities are endless, so rest assured, we don’t have to do them all.  But if you, like I, feel compelled to do something, let’s organize our thoughts and do the one or two or three things we can do here in Keene, in the name of our faith, in expression of our mission.

This year, in January, I had another chance to sing with Peter, and with Noel Paul as well.  Sadly it was at the memorial service for Robert DeCormier, who was my conductor in the New York Choral Society and Peter, Paul & Mary’s artistic for many, many years.  Peter kissed me right there in the sanctuary of Grace Church in Rutland, as we all filed in to rehearse for the memorial service.  Then I saw that he was giving every single woman in the chorus a little buss on the cheek.  Peter’s old now, and he shakes with Parkinson’s Disease constantly; except when he’s singing.  And I realized in that sacred space that yes, it was time for me to forgive this man.  He had done his work or repentance and renewal.  It was time for me to do mine.

Peter’s daughter, Bethany, has written a new song in which I find hope.  It’s called Lift Us Up.

Lift us up

Make our stand

Let love triumph

In our land.

Lift us up

Make us strong,

Give us courage

To right the wrong.

America, our hopes and dreams are truly all at stake,

Let not the hate divide us, let not our spirit break.

Let not our courage falter, let not our bravery fail

Let unity bring victory, let love prevail.

Lift us up

Make our stand

Let love triumph

In our land.

Lift us up

Make us strong,

Give us courage

To right the wrong.

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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 25  –  Human Divinity: Our Connection to God 

Sermon and Service prepared by Judy Saunders

“Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Are we human beings having a spiritual experience, or spiritual beings having a human experience? Join us as we explore the relationship between Human and Divine, between God and Man.

Opening Words    by Margaret A Keip

As surely as we belong to the universe

we belong together.

We join here to transcend the isolated self,

to reconnect,

to know ourselves to be at home,

here on earth, under the stars,

linked with each other

Chalice Lighting    by Gregory David Miller

This fire is a reminder of the light within us all;

the yearning for freedom,

the longing for truth,

the flame of intuition,

the torch of conscience.

We dedicate this service to the remembrance of this Holy Light.

Story for All Ages     An old Hindu legend

I would like to invite the children to come up and sit closer, for I have a story to tell you.

According to an old Hindu legend…here was once a time when all human beings were gods, but they so abused their divinity that Brahma, the chief god, decided to take it away from them and hide it where it could never be found.

Where to hide their divinity was the question. So Brahma called a council of the gods to help him decide. “Let’s bury it deep in the earth,” said the gods. But Brahma answered, “No, that will not do because humans will dig into the earth and find it.” Then the gods said, “Let’s sink it in the deepest ocean.” But Brahma said, “No, not there, for they will learn to dive into the ocean and will find it.” Then the gods said, “Let’s take it to the top of the highest mountain and hide it there.” But once again Brahma replied, “No, that will not do either, because they will eventually climb every mountain and once again take up their divinity.”

Then the gods gave up and said, “We do not know where to hide it, because it seems that there is no place on earth or in the sea that human beings will not eventually reach.”  Brahma thought for a long time and then said, “Here is what we will do. We will hide their divinity deep in the center of their own being, for humans will never think to look for it there.”

All the gods agreed that this was the perfect hiding place, and the deed was done. And since that time humans have been going up and down the earth, digging, diving, climbing, and exploring–searching for something already within themselves.

Readings

“You are one thing only. You are a Divine Being. An all-powerful Creator. You are a Deity in jeans and a t-shirt, and within you dwells the infinite wisdom of the ages and the sacred creative force of All that is, will be and ever was.” ~ Anthon St. Maarten, Divine Living:   The Essential Guide To Your True Destiny 

I believe that the greatest truths of the universe don’t lie outside, in the study of the stars and the planets. They lie deep within us, in the magnificence of our heart, mind, and soul. Until we understand what is within, we can’t understand what is without.”    ~Anita Moorjani, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing

“The desire for connection with the Divine and our formless inner self is at the foundation of all desire for human connection.”     ~ Donna Goddar

Prayer/Meditation     by Matt Alspaugh

Breathe with me

Breathe with me—the breath of life

Inhale, Inspire, Inspiration,

Ruacḥ, Pneuma, Spiritus, the Holy Spirit

the many names for breath.

Breathe with me.

Know that with each breath we take in molecules of air

that were breathed by every person that ever lived.

Breathe with me,

and breathe the breath of Jesus, of Moses,

of Mohammed, of the Buddha.

Breathe with me,

and know that we are all interdependent,

that the spirit of life

flows through us all.

Breathe with me,

as we come together to do the holy work

of interconnection and relationship,

that our work here may be blessed.  Amen.

Sermon

As Unitarian Universalists, we pride ourselves on embracing all theologies.  Our seven principles reflect the primary teachings of a great many religions.  I sometimes feel, though, that in our efforts to speak to everyone, we end up speaking in vague generalities.  We rarely speak about specific religions here, choosing instead to discuss the more universal themes of all religion.  I think it is those specifics that add spice and flavor to our religious meals, brightening up an otherwise plain dish.  No, I don’t like every spice out there, but I can certainly still enjoy a meal with those spices anyway, especially if I feel confident that another meal will feature the spices I do like best.  And so in that vein, I am going to add some religious spice to our usual fare today.  I am going to talk about God.

I know that God has a lot of religious baggage attached to it.  I can think of no other word or concept in the English language that has so much emotion tied up in it.  Yes, I can almost see some of you twitching in your seats already.  As you probably noticed from previous announcements or the cover of your order of service, I decided to talk today about human divinity, and we can’t talk about divinity, without talking about God, or some variation thereof.  I want to tell you today about my personal belief that we are God.  We are one and the same.

Perhaps you have heard the popular saying that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. What are these two types of experience, and why does it matter which one we are having?  It is a matter of perspective.

I think we are well familiar with the human experience. We seek to provide for our material needs, such as food, safety, reproduction. These material needs are the same for us as for all other life forms. We have a physical body, and we need to care for it, or our physical experience will suffer.

The spiritual experience, however, has nothing to do with the physical body, and yet the needs are the same. We need food in the form of relationships, we need safety in the form of connecting with something greater than ourselves, we need to reproduce by contributing in a meaningful way to our society.  Part of the spiritual experience is to attempt to make sense of the human experience.  These are the needs of our spiritual body, and if they are not met, our spiritual experience will suffer.  I believe it is this disconnection that has led to the current epidemic of depression and anxiety, two sides of the same coin.

I was raised in a non-denominational Christian church, and was taught that we were separated from God when Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden. Jesus came along some 4000 years later and redeemed us by dying a horrible death. If we wanted to take advantage of that redemption, we had to be baptized, at which time the Holy Spirit would enter our bodies. This, therefore, was our connection to God.

I no longer believe this.  I now see the story of Adam and Eve as mythology, right along with Hercules, or Thor, or Finn MacCoul, or Osiris.  These are stories that we tell ourselves to explain what we cannot otherwise make sense of.  They are great stories, and have so much to teach us about ourselves, but I do not believe that they are historically accurate.  I would now call myself an animist, that is to say that I believe that every natural thing possesses a spirit, and that we all possess the same spirit, a Universal Spirit.

I first encountered the concept of human divinity when I was 21 years old. I was making huge changes in my life (getting divorced, rushing blindly into another overwhelming relationship before I could risk finding myself), and part of that was exposing myself to new religious ideas, since the ones I knew weren’t feeling true for me. I cannot recall nor find the passage anymore, but it was a simple concept: Humans are divine. We humans are not separate from God, but rather, we are God. This took me a very long time to wrap my head around. It was a seed that was planted then, but took many years to grow to anything resembling maturity.

A couple of years ago, I discovered the book Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch. It resonated with me to a profound degree. I’d like to read you a slightly abbreviated passage that helped solidify my personal concept of human divinity. The concept of the book is that Mr. Walsch is having a direct exchange with God, and in this particular section, God is explaining why humanity exists. Together they explore humans’ relationship to God, and why we are here in these physical bodies – how we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

* * *

“My divine purpose in dividing Me [This is God speaking, here] was to create sufficient parts of Me so that I could know Myself experientially. There is only one way for the Creator to know Itself experientially as the Creator, and that is to create. And so I gave to each of the countless parts of Me (to all of My spirit children) the same power to create which I have as the whole.

This is what your religions mean when they say that you were created in the “image and likeness of God.” This doesn’t mean, as some have suggested, that our physical bodies look alike (although God can adopt whatever physical form God chooses for a particular purpose). It does mean that our essence is the same. We are composed of the same stuff. We ARE the “same stuff”! With all the same properties and abilities – including the ability to create physical reality out of thin air.    (This is one of my favorite concepts to explore, but I will stay focused today, so maybe another time.

My purpose in creating you, My spiritual offspring, was for Me to know Myself as God. I have no way to do that save through you. Thus it can be said (and has been, many times) that My purpose for you is that you should know yourself as Me.

This seems so amazingly simple, yet it becomes very complex – because there is only one way for you to know yourself as Me, and that is for you first to know yourself as not Me.

Taken to ultimate logic, you cannot experience yourself as what you are until you’ve encountered what you are not. This is the purpose of the theory of relativity, and all physical life. It is by that which you are not that you yourself are defined.

Now in the case of the ultimate knowing – in the case of knowing yourself as the Creator – you cannot experience your Self as creator unless and until you create. And you cannot create yourself until you uncreate yourself. In a sense, you have to first “not be” in order to be

Of course, there is no way for you to not be who and what you are – you simply are that (pure, creative spirit), have been always, and always will be. So, you did the next best thing. You caused yourself to forget Who You Really Are.

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This is what I believe Christians refer to as the Fall of Man, or Original Sin.  There seems to be a lot of discussion about the word sin, which has almost as much baggage as the word God.  I read an article on a Jewish website explaining that the word sin has been mistranslated from its original meaning of “missing the mark, falling short, not reaching full potential.”  The teacher Osho says that sin is related to forgetfulness, and in a religious context, it means being unconscious or not being fully present as we create ourselves.

Every day we create ourselves through our thoughts and our actions.  We create ourselves with the words we choose, both aloud, and in the solitude of our own mind.  To paraphrase the popular poem, our thoughts create our words, our words create our actions, our actions create our habits, our habits create our character, and our character creates our destiny.

So we are simply bits of the universal whole that some call God that have taken shape as humans and chosen to forget that fact, with the ultimate goal of rediscovering it. The same holds true for all matter. Every animal, tree, flower, rock, mountain, stream, and ocean is a piece of God seeking to relate itself to other pieces of itself. Every star, every planet, every comet is another piece of God seeking to relate.

I have heard an analogy using the ocean to describe this. If you take a bucketful of water from the ocean, it is still ocean. We are just bucketfuls of ocean, with our souls (the divine part of us) as the water, and our bodies (the human part of us) as the bucket.

Okay, here is another way to look at it.

I think we all know that our physical bodies are composed of cells, each of which is a living entity in its own right. All of these cells work together in groups, retaining their individuality, but remaining part of the whole. We have skin cells, blood cells, nerve cells, muscle cells, liver cells, brain cells, kidney cells, and on and on. They compose our entire body.

Our souls are constructed much the same way. There is a Universal Soul, which we call God, Goddess, Source energy, Universal Love, or whatever is comfortable for you. Our personal souls are the “cells” that compose the Universal Soul. Just as our cells are differentiated into different organs, so too are our souls differentiated. We are human souls, but there are also animal souls, tree souls, flower souls, rock souls, mountain souls, stream souls, ocean souls, and so on. Collections of human organs make up a system, such as circulatory, nervous, or digestive, and collections of soul groups make up systems, too. The collection of souls on planet Earth make up the being that some call Gaia, sort of a universal soul for the Earth, but it is still part of the greater soul that is the Universe.

And so with this model, we can start to see that we are all one.  We are an interdependent web of life.  When we remember that we are all one, we live in harmony with each other and with our natural surroundings, and there is peace. When our cells live in harmony with each other, we have health. If, however, there is disharmony, such as when our immune system starts attacking our own organs, we have disease. Our entire body suffers for this. Likewise, when we disconnect from each other and from the natural world, we also suffer. It becomes a spiritual autoimmune disease.

Ever since we hid our divinity from ourselves, as we heard in the story read earlier, by causing ourselves to forget who we really are, we have been seeking it.  We have been trying to remember where we put it by searching mountains and oceans and the very bowels of the earth.  We simply need to look inward, to see ourselves as a section of the great fractal that is the Universal Soul.