Wednesday, March 29, 2006

One of these is not like the other

Thanks for the email. Seems that my humor has confused and confounded. Not the last time, I'm sure. One of the '10 things I believe' posted below is something I don't really believe. I wrote it as a total funny, the rest are half funnies. It's been a long winter here in my world, and I sometimes reach.

like this, my current favorite joke:

What does a 500 pound mouse say?

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.

See, reaching. Anyway those of you who know me and those of you who don't -- which ones' the totally not true one? Taking bets now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

10 things I believe without much evidence

Tip o' the hat to This Girl Remembers for tagging us all here.
For me, this category of "things I believe" is much ado about contradictions.

1. There's no such thing as ghosts. Except for that one I saw that one time.
2. There's no such thing as TV preacher style Faith Healing, but in little ways, like how I can usually make people's hiccups stop, (which, really at this exact moment might be more about what you have to believe without much evidence) we can intervene in the solid world around us.
3. The world is connected and interconnected in a bzillion ways, and it is when sitting on a large rock by the ocean or holding a baby that it's easiest to believe.
4. All those people who say that in their previous lifetime they were the Queen of Sheba, or an "Indian Princess"-- they weren't.
5. In another dimension, me, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, and Rosie O'Donnell are best friends.
6. When I was a kid I thought I saw a UFO, but it was only deer poachers.
7. There is hope for salvation for George W. but it would cost him more than he's willing to spend.
8. I can't sell my books at a tag/garage sale, because all my intelligence and wit are stored in them and I must have them near me at all times or the stuff will leak out of my brain.
9. I regularly believe that this time I can shovel/mow the lawn without hurting my back because I'll be extra careful.
10. The correct way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is to put peanut butter on a piece of (gluten-free) bread, then, as you eat it from a corner, put dabs of jelly on one bite at a time with the knife going in and out of the jar of jam so no one else wants to eat out of it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Walk Together, Don't You Get Weary: Notes on Community

Sermon delivered Mar 5 '06 at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence.

The title of this talk this morning is taken from an old slave spiritual. “Walk Together Children, don’t you grow weary.”

“Don’t you grow weary.” It seems like such a ridiculous thing to say. I’m sure some of the first slaves who sang this song thought so; perhaps Civil Rights Marchers who sang it a hundred years later wondered at the truth of the message.

And we, we are living in our own time when we cannot help but be uneasy and weary, bone tired and teeth grindingly frustrated. Our national politics are governed by people who hide information, lie, cheat, and give their friends big contracts. Our state is governed by a carpetbagger who is quiet about his grandfather’s two wives, and now proudly opposes monogamous gay marriage. We are members of a democracy whose people choose, again and again, not to vote; who abdicate our choices when we have them. Is it any wonder that we grow weary?

But this is not a sermon about the danger our national democracy is in. It’s a sermon about community – in particular, this community of faith, this richly and intentionally religious community of people who rely on one another for support and energy, for comfort and impetus. Where other people may choose to leave the search for Deep Questions for another day, not engage in an active search at all, or release their own authority over their own answers to another, we choose to attend to the Big Questions together.

We are faith-ful people, by which I mean we have faith in one another – we are oriented toward trust and commitment – toward the active and intentional cherishing of one another, our children, and our world. We risk together and take “healthy urgent action that transform[s] fear into beauty.” We are democratic and committed, in terms of our approach to those Big Questions, as well as in terms of the mundane internal decisions of how to be together, not mundane as humdrum or boring – they matter deeply - but mundane in terms of how much work and information and dialogue go into each commonplace decision we make. In a Society of 450 members and 180 young people, all decisions involve people and committees and policies all sewn together by the faithful-ness of how we live our communal lives.

Deborah Levering, RE Program Consultant for our Clara Barton District, told me last week that professional staff, lay leadership and membership of all of our congregations are exhausted. I’m fairly certain she wasn’t just trying to make me feel better; she said that as a combination of the state of the world, the nation, and the complex nature of our families’ personal and social lives, our congregations are full of exhausted, bone weary people.

Yet, weary as we may be, we choose to come to this place again and again, to walk into this building alone and walk out together. We are a community of people who love to eat and laugh and sing, a liberal religious community that is committed to free faith, religious pluralism, and justice. And we are beautiful.

We are beautiful together because of our differences of belief. We are life-long Unitarian Universalists. We are muscular mathematicians with a particularly scientific bent; we are proud tree-hugging Wiccans and Pagans. We are Jews and liberal Christians and Woman Christ feminists. We are agnostics who claim an ethical humanist belief system based on justice-making; we are people who find our personal belief systems affirmed in the practice of Buddhism or prayer or yoga, and more.

Although we sometimes pat ourselves on the back for walking together with such diversity, we’re not the first religious group to choose to do so.

The Jewish peoples have lived for over 3000 years with Hebrew Scriptures that posit not only different opinions on how to act or what to believe, but with completely different images of the divine. Unlike children raised with a UU religious education, I believed until I got to Seminary that that the 5 books of Moses were written by Moses, but they weren’t. They were put together by redactors, editors who selected stories and traditions according to their own beliefs. The editor scholars refer to as the Elohist source collected stories that told of a mean, grumpy and cranky Elohim G-d who bursts authoritatively from burning bushes and powerfully writes commands on stone tablets. The Yahwist source provides us with the image of the bubbly playful Yahweh G-d who told Abraham his 95 year old wife would have a baby, and whose god-feelings were hurt when she laughed at the idea.

It was when confronted with the academic and scholarly study of Hebrew and Christian scripture, with a liberationist and feminist perspective that I came to realize that I was theologically, but not necessarily institutionally, Unitarian Universalist. That realization had to do with my beliefs – my intellectual affirmation of the truth of something. As I studied and dialogued with my peers and professors – in class, in chapel, in the coffee shop, in the pub - I was able to claim new and dramatically different beliefs about the world. I left Seminary with a new belief system, but no community within which to continue my journey.

I came ridiculously late to the conscious realization that religious community is not simply about belief – about that intellectual affirmation of something – but also about faith – that orientation toward commitment and trust of one another. Religious life is about content and beliefs, community and faith. I’d done all my belief-crafting in the intentional and intense and sometimes intoxicating community that is Graduate School, and yet for many years after I believed my academic work to have been a purely intellectual exercise.

I honestly thought that I’d come to my new beliefs as an interaction between myself, a few hundred texts, a computer, a great library, and some incredible lectures. The community, I thought, was extra.

It would be several more years before I could, with Rev. Kate Tucker, say, "Our individual experiences [and beliefs], powerful as they are, need a language to live in. Our individual experiences, intense as they are, can still seem random, isolating, disconnected from the web of life. This is what religious community is for: to give us a language. To give us a way to see our experience within a larger pattern of meaning and beauty."

There is a story about an old woman who, upon leaving a subway car, realized she only had one glove. She turned back and saw its mate on the seat across the way. As she raced to retrieve it, the subway car doors began to close with the relentless intentionality of large machinery,

and in an instant,

she chose to throw the glove she had into the car.

This story struck me because as I heard it for the first time it didn’t even occur to me that there was an option other than folding her fist around the glove that she had and holding on to her anger and frustration at having lost the other. When I heard this story, my belief system immediately affirmed that she took right action. But my own internal dialogue had not been sufficient to lead me to think of that action on my own. I had to hear the whole story all the way through to the end. I had to spend time in a place where people told stories, I had to listen, and tell my own.

I rather doubt that this woman was born with this kind of generosity, or that her belief system alone informed her actions.

I think this action came out of the choices she made throughout her whole life. The people who inhabited her childhood, the people she surrounded herself with as an adult, the religious community she gathered to herself and cherished - all these together went into her decision to throw the glove into the car to meet its mate. All of these people, their beliefs and care and actions, influenced her as much as any textbook, intellectual exercise or meditation upon letting go she'd occupied her mind with.

I think she must have surrounded herself with people who challenged her to be her best self; people who were imperfect, people who were, perhaps, exhausted.

It is in community that each day, through our interactions one with another, that we make the small choices; how and when to speak, listen, ask or share; as we attend to the news and the details of our lives together, as we show up; these small choices are the mortar of community.

Our Principles, these affirmations of our common values, don’t give us points of agreement of belief, but guarantee that we will disagree on that plane. We don’t have even the expectation of control over what others believe or think. We do have control over each small choice we make about how to act along the way. This is what the principles give us – a framework within which to judge, not others, but our own participation in the sacred work of community and justice-making.

Note to people reading this and not in the Great Hall: the children decorated 7 12x12x12 boxes with representations of the 7 UU Principles. These boxes were placed on either side of the pulpit, in the fashion of a bridge 1 thru 7, with 1 and 7 as foundations. They are colored with the ROYGBIV coloring which can be sampled here.

Unitarians are first-rate when it comes to pursuing a free and responsible search of truth and meaning – the stuff of beliefs. But that pursuit is our fourth principle, (here the green box,) and it rests completely on the other six and without them, it would topple.

Our foundational principles are the 1st and 7th, and they form the cornerstones of these bridges our children have made.

We often shorthand our first principle for our children as “Each person is Important.” Actually, the principle reads that we “covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Affirming and promoting someone’s dignity is much more difficult than simply respecting their difference of opinion, belief, or personal style. It’s more than speaking respectfully, it’s listening closely for understanding.

We make conscious choices about interacting with people with whom we disagree. When we affirm and promote someone’s dignity, we are vigilant about attending to their humanity. We here know that compassion and commitment always precedes correction. Gandhi said that behavior that berates or humiliates one’s opponent, in their presence or out of it, is violence. One knows non-violent conflict resolution – the only way to disagree while promoting someone’s dignity - because it leaves no taste of bitterness in the mouths of those involved. When we respect and promote the humanity of those with whom we disagree, we find it more and more difficult to resent them for not being, or believing, just like us.

In order to promote the worth and dignity of others, we assume good will. We do not question the sincerity or sanity of those with whom we disagree, but we cling as mightily as necessary to a faith in the goodness of another person’s intention while holding one another accountable for the consequences of our beliefs and actions.

And finally, we promote the worth and dignity of others and are open to their influence and willing to change. That is a hallmark of healthy, mature community: that members are open to true dialogue, to being influenced, and to the possibility that they may be changed because of the interaction.

Robert Karnan wrote, “Our task as a religious society… is to love one another in just relationship so that we make [the sacred] a reality and not a desperate dream or a painful despair. The love of God that is in the yearning of our hearts is the love we give away and the courage we hold fiercely within. It is in our ability to be a human community of peace and to do what is good and right. The quality of the love and goodness we expose from our sometimes reluctant hearts will change the world.”

We come together in this place on this day and others like it - to do the work of the Society, to worship, to be together - not simply to affirm our individual right to believe whatever we want, but because we recognize that the beauty of our community is shared values, principles, and action. Because we know that in walking together our burden is shared and our load lifted.

There is no magic to keep us from growing weary; we can count on weariness, because community is hard work. But we can also count on hope and inspiration, for community is that as well. In community we challenge and change each other and ourselves to more deeply understand our faith, until it informs even our smallest actions; as small as tossing a glove aside for the benefit of someone we will never meet. This faith calls us to join hands, even when our beliefs diverge dramatically. It is our best path, and as marvelous, weary, gloriously imperfect people, we choose to walk it together.


Oh walk together, children, don't you get weary,
Oh talk together, children, don't you get weary,
Oh sing together, children, don't you get weary,
There's a great camp-meeting in the Promised Land.

[1] Victoria Safford, “All that’s Past is Prologue” UUA General Assembly, 2001. available online at
[2] Karnan, Robert W. “Inclusive Evangelism,” in Salted With Fire, Unitarian Universalist Strategies for Growth, p. 145

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I so rarely preach, I'd love feedback

This is tomorrow's sermon. Feel free to comment today and help me tweak it. I appreciate the insights of UU bloggers (and others of my friends). You all are smart people whose opinions I respect. Also, how on earth do some of you blog and write sermons in the same week!?!

REMOVED the draft. Posted the final version above. Thanks for feedback, posted here as a comment, as well as private notes.