First Pandemic Shelter in Place Worship Service March 22, 2020
Purim Multigenerational Worship March 24, 2019
Sermon 1-21-2018, Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church
I need to take a moment of quiet reflection after that song, Living Years. Some of you may be affected by the song and the reading, similar to how I am, from when someone close to us has died, when that happens sooner than we expected, and we haven’t said the things we wanted OR needed to say. (Silence) I forgive myself and others, and begin again in love
Today’s sermon, service, is the winner of the annual service auction entry for a congregant to choose the topic for the minister. The subject of the service, Disagreeing without Being Disagreeable, was chosen by Larry Loomis-Price. There’s one line in the anthem we just heard, that I think really speaks to what Larry wanted. It is - We all talk a different language, talking in defense.
He gave me an example of how people can communicate poorly and defensively with each other. He told me about an incident that had bothered him greatly. He was walking IN a crosswalk, when an oncoming car didn’t slow down, honked at him, and he feared for his life – it was that close. His immediate reaction was speaking not a different language in defense, but a universal language in offense. He wanted to give the universal hand language with the middle finger, yet knew he could be in greater danger if he did that.
In preparation for this sermon, I’ve been noticing my body language in those situations, where I feel moved to use that universal hand language. Yes, your minister is very human, and has those impulses. I notice a sharp inhale or exhale of breath, lemon tart face pucker, and a tenseness in my upper body, as I want to throw out my hand and finger. I’ve been practicing changing my breath gently, to the opposite exhale or inhale, and gently opening my hand out and up, then when I can use both hands, bringing them into prayer position, bowing my head, saying namaste. Namaste – I behold the light, the divine in you, as I behold it in myself. Then I move my hands over my heart, and take a gently cleansing inhale or exhale breath, extending thoughts of love and acceptance. Realizing, accepting, I do not know what the ’offending’ person’s situation is, like the man and children on the train in our earlier reading.
I invite you to try it. If it feels too weird to you to shoot the finger in church, make a fist. Then open and soften your hand, bring both hands into prayer position, then over your heart, and take a deep breath in and out. Or out and in. Say Namaste. Now if you’re willing, turn towards someone, make eye contact, and do those same motions to each other. And once more to someone else?
In full disclosure here, I mostly feel that way about those in high places of our government whom I feel are abusing their power in our government. I’ll just quote the original words of 19th Unitarian Minister and social activist Theodore Parker, words that President Lincoln used, but leaving out one very important word - all. Government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.
I recently read another wise quote by Pres. Lincoln - Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?
This is where I pray our government, and us as individuals, can move forward – toward destroying our ‘enemies’ with friendship, with kindness. The divide - in our country, with our friends and neighbors and families - is huge. The lines are tightly drawn, us and them, enemy and friend, MSNBC and Fox, Democrat and Republican, and we are certainly most often disagreeable in our disagreements.
That’s when I think of the widower and his children on the train. When I think of this great city during Harvey. No matter your job, your degrees, whether you were receiving government assistance as chip or social security or DACA or huge tax breaks - everyone helped each other survive – either literally bodily rescuing, repairing, feeding – or in heartfelt concern and prayers and financial donations.
And then, there’s the other side, the other story, that is too often becoming the everyday side and story. I saw the movie The Post last weekend. It gave me courage for people who are brave enough to take on the US government to expose the truth, to do the right thing. In researching for this sermon, I found an article by a current Washington Post writer Philip Kennicott, who spoke of crying when hearing these other stories, from the other side, far from the generosity of spirit.
What a hospital chief described as “a failure of basic compassion and empathy”, is a story about four hospital guards taking a patient who had been discharged but had not left, taking her outside and leaving her there. In freezing temperature, with her wearing only a hospital gown and hospital socks. No ID, no phone. Someone saw this travesty happen, recorded it, posted it on facebook, called 911 and stayed with the woman until she was readmitted to the hospital. Her mother was called, and said her daughter suffered from mental illness and had been missing for two weeks. How could hospital personnel order her discharge and the guards do that?
Kennicott says they, we, short-circuit our capacity for empathy and make us doubt the goodness of most of the people in this country. That moral and civic corruption is tearing away at our instincts to be kind, to welcome, protect and provide. Instead we go to those baser instincts of who is the other, so there’s an us and them. He asks us to go back to the dinner table test.
What will you accept in hateful speech and still stay at the dinner table? Will you stare off in the distance, laugh nervously and change the subject, excuse yourself to the bathroom? Or speak up to the offender, and say, that language, that remark is unacceptable, and either the person making it or the person speaking up will leave. What moral climate will we tolerate? Is inhumane indifference an option?
Church, religious affiliation is one of the greatest dividers. Many religious people, and especially some of my ministerial colleagues, are so attached to their interpretation of the Word, of holy texts, that they cannot find common ground with other religious people, or anyone who doesn’t follow their creed.
Then there are UUs who debate what should be done with all the injustice in the world.
The most recent edition of the UU World, which you can access online, had as its feature article
“Six leaders reflect on activism and religious identity in a racially and politically charged era.”
One of the ministers Rev. Robin Bartlett answered the question “Do you have to be an activist to be a UU?” with one word. No. YYEETT -
Rev. Bartlett serves a midsized and thriving Christian UU church that is federated with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches USA out in rural Sterling, Massachusetts. Ever heard of that much affiliation? They are the only Christian church in town, so they also have political diversity. They have progressive Christians; a large percentage of recovering Catholics; atheists and agnostics; and folks who believe that there is no way to be saved except through the blood of Jesus Christ. They have liberal Christians who believe in a metaphorical resurrection, and Biblical literalists who aren’t sure if they believe in evolution. This kind of theological diversity is not for everyone. Ya think?
Rev. Bartlett says, and I agree, that we are far more likely to say that the reason we join a church is to surround ourselves with “like-minded people,” than we are apt to say we joined a church to worship a God who unites us across difference. They live that ‘magic’ formula – that Relationship-building has been the most effective way of getting involved in the community. They partner with an Islamic Center to deliver food to Muslim refugees every week.
They host conversations on race across the political spectrum, conversations on being LGBTQ and Christian, conversations with the police about community policing. They have practiced listening for understanding, not agreement.
This engagement with one another and their neighbors has increased their political activism for the first time in the congregation’s history.
Rev. Bartlett says the most effective way of putting one’s faith into practice through advocacy and witness is to have a coherent mission and a coherent theology. Their church’s mission is simple: We gather in the spirit of Jesus, and commit to create heaven on earth. Heaven on earth
Their theology is also simple: we believe God is Love. These two central pieces of their identity call them to action.
This is the good news of Universalism, the scandal of Universalism: we must continually choose to expand our concept of Love until it is as wasteful, extravagant, and as God-sized as we can make it. We must flex our heart muscles not only to include the least, the last, the lost, but also to include whomever we are currently referring to as “snowflake” or “deplorable” instead of God’s name for all of us, which is “Beloved.” We must love one another without stopping to inquire whether we are worthy.
Let us find where we can agree, that there is common ground at the basis of many religions - we are all holy, divine, children of God, however we define God, and the common ground where we know scientifically that we all come from the same stardust of the big bang. May we see the holy in each other.
Anywhere But Here! UU Church of Cherry Hill 2014
When Failure Finds Us, UU Church of Cherry Hill 2013