April 2010


prayer from April 18 service, as requested:

May we get out of our own way today;
may we see where we are needed
know where we are planted
and go there
and go there and go there
deep into the heart of the bramble and the thicket
into the unknown and the uncharted;
may our passions take us
where no one has gone before
because somebody has to;
may our overwhelming love and curiosity
bring us tears of surprise and joy and laughter
and sorrow
yes, sorrow,
when it is needed.
May we know our own needs
so that we can meet them
so that we are humbled by our need
and by the abundance of this fine universe
and of our friends
and of strangers
so that we may know how many prayers are answered
how many miracles are before us
each day
every day
and trust that if we work and play and live
deeply as exactly who we are
we will emerge whole, not unscathed,
but more beautiful for the wrinkles and lines and scars
that have shaped us.
May we know that we are blessed
may we know that we are powerful
may we know that we are loved.

amen.

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The peace sermon from Sunday, April 18. First reading was from http://tandik.wordpress.com about Puppy Piles.

**

It’s amazing what we’ll sing about and what we won’t; every year I go looking for hymns about gratitude that aren’t about God, hymns about generosity and abundance, and hymns about struggle with very little success. But every time I speak about peace, I know I can relax. We’ve got peace covered. In fact, we could do an entire service in peace music. In fact, from Peace, Salaam, Shalom; to Peace Is (Fred Small) to Shalom Havarim to Vine and Fig Tree to Let There Be Peace On Earth, we could even sing for an hour and never pick up our hymnals.
Peace is easy. Peace is something we can all agree on. Who would argue that peace is bad? We seek inner peace; we seek outer peace. We strive for nuclear disarmament. Swords into plougshares. Meditation and peace flags and our sixth principle: the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Peace is better than fighting, peace is better than war.

And if, as Einstein said, we cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war, then as we value our safety and our sanity, perhaps we had better start working on something else instead. Like peace.

I recently watched a video that had gone viral on Facebook, of Thich Nhat Hanh speaking about a forgiveness meditation that they have developed and used at Plum Village, the monastery where he makes his home. It is a very simple meditation to reduce anger and build compassion for one’s parents. Begin by breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in, and breathing out. The meditation is this:
breathing in, I see myself as a five year old child;
breathing out, I embrace myself as a five year old child.

Breathing in, I see my father as a five year old boy;
breathing out, I smile at my father as a five year old boy.

**

breathing in, I see myself as a five year old child;
breathing out, I embrace myself as a five year old child.

Breathing in, I see my father as a five year old boy;
breathing out, I smile at my father as a five year old boy.

**
forgiveness is one way to approach peace. Letting go is a part of peace.

For humans, peace is a transient state. We find peace, and then we become agitated; we find peace, and then we grow angry; we find peace, and then we feel hurt; we find peace, and then we are fearful; we find peace, and then we fall in love; we find peace, and then we become motivated. Perpetual peace for most of us is not something we can tolerate. We find peace in the resting places between the other experiences of our lives, as part of our lives, but not as the primary way of living.

This does not mean that we should give up seeking peace, either within ourselves or in our world; it simply means we must not feel that we have failed simply because we do not achieve peace all the time. Peace is not the only way of right being, although it is one of them.

And peace does not come readily from sitting still. In fact, sitting still is one of the hardest ways to achieve peace. We have this image of the monk or nun sitting in meditation for eight or ten hours a day, utterly motionless, but this is a matter of practice, focus, concentration. This is when they have devoted their whole being to the work. The natural paths to peace for we who live in the outer world are outer paths. Peace comes naturally from intensity–who has not seen the deep, contented sleep of a child or a dog after they have played all day in the sun and the grass? Peace from sitting is an advanced thing; we who are beginners and hobbyists and activists are most peaceful after we have been active: we can most easily find peace by working hard, doing our best, putting ourselves into something outside ourselves. Then, like the child, we will sleep un-haunted.

Knowing peace when it comes is also a choice. If we are so consumed by the pressures and intensities of our lives that we cannot recognize peace when we have it, then we will never enjoy the experience of peace itself. We will never see that we have peace. Having the peace may be sufficient, if we are able to release ego enough to detach from peace as a goal. But as long as peace is a goal, we must step outside the experience of life enough to observe ourselves and then we can know that we have achieved our goal. Ultimately we must release peace as a goal in order to have the experience of peace as a reality. As long as it is a goal we will be engaged in striving for it, holding onto it, preventing ourselves from losing it. This level of attachment will keep us from true peace.

These things, also, keep us from peace: judgment; anger; fear; anticipation.

Judgment is our way of determining what is right and wrong for others. We struggle so mightily to find what is right and wrong for ourselves that it can only bring agitation when we turn that attention outside of ourselves. We are much more powerful in the world when we are curious, when we are engaged in asking questions and working together to solve problems. If, when we hear something that someone has done, we decide immediately that they meant to cause us harm, we have disrupted our own peace. If instead we decide that they meant to contribute to our well-being, we can ask gently for deeper understanding of their heart. Then and only then will we be on the path to living peace.

Anticipation is the other side of dissatisfaction; it is our hearts reaching for that which is not. But it is more than longing, it includes expectation. Because we are human, because we are alive, some expectation, some longing, some hope is right. We must not sit so deeply in peace or our quest for peace that we fail to live. In Someplace to Be Flying, urban fantasy writer Charles DeLint has created a character older than anybody who has the fate of the world in his hands but has gone so deep into meditation and depression that he is no longer even paying attention; the world is tearing itself apart and he doesn’t know and can’t be roused to care.
This is abdication. This is irresponsibility and reckless abandon. This is not peace.

And so it comes to this: how much peace should we claim? When we have realized the paths to peace, then we must consider the ramifications of using them. At what cost, peace? At what price does it come? If it costs your own life, is it worth it? If it costs the life of your child? Your community? Is it worth sacrificing art? New ideas? Your own dignity? Someone else’s?

Peace is not something that can be bought, nor is it something that happens by accident; it is a choice; it is claiming power. There is nothing wimpy or easy about peace. Peace is what we do when we want it badly enough to change ourselves and our environment for the better so that it can happen.

Peace is about being relaxed. We can get to peace two ways: either we make the world entirely like us, or we get comfortable with being uncomfortable, with encountering things that are different.

Our outer wars are a distraction from inner war. When we’ve tried as hard as we can, we can sleep the sleep of the justified; often we create situations where we can fight hard so we can achieve peace by the relatively easy means of struggle followed by rest rest, rather than by the more difficult path of sitting with–and changing–the truth of ourselves.

But in the midst of the upheaval that is that kind of change, we can become tired. We can wear ourselves right out, always trying to be what we aren’t yet or aren’t now or aren’t already, striving and working and transforming and being transformed. We can lose our spirit, lose our hope, strip down to skin and exhausted bone. Even in the middle of it all, we need peace. We need both–the rest and the renewal. It’s easy to feel like perfection is the only way to peace, the only way to rest–but it isn’t. Every hiker stops for water, rest, a handful of nuts and raisins. It’s not cheating; it’s part of the path. If a hiker believes that the only right way to hike is to be in constant motion, then even the resting is stressful, freighted by judgment. If another hiker passes, what if they think I’m lazy? What if they think I’m out of shape? I knew someone once who would not stop and walk their bicycle if a car was passing, because what if the driver thinks I’m a wimp?

I pointed out that the driver is .driving. And besides, who cares? Does it make the ride less wonderful if someone you’ve never met thinks you should have been riding instead of walking when they drove by?

So much of peace is about perception; what we believe to be true, and what we believe others believe, can cause a volcano just as real for us as the one in Iceland, grounding high-flying dreams like European air traffic. But unlike the digestive rumblings of our planet, we can reframe what is happening around us; we can change how we hold the reality we are given. If we believe that life is a zero-sum game, that for every winner there must be a loser, then fear reigns supreme. Everything that is not what we want becomes a threat. Border wars start that way: there is only so much land; if it isn’t yours then it can be mine. The Crusades worked like that, too–everyone in the world is either with us or against us. People are pawns to be moved in this giant game of chess.

Alternatively; alternatively we can know that someone can be a Christian AND a pagan; that we can hold land in common; that the song about the Magic Penny is true–love is something if you give it away you end up having more. That’s one of the long-arc lessons of ministry, because I get to love you–all of you. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. And whether there are a hundred or a thousand of you, I still love each one of you, every one. It’s not even-exchange commerce; I don’t sell you my love in exchange for yours. I love you because I love you, end of sentence. Ministry is inherently a lesson in abundance, in the opposite of scarcity, in the wealth of possibility and community. It is easier to love you than not; it would be work for me to tear my heart away from this community and the people who compose it. And the beauty of being here, of being Unitarian Universalist, is that anyone–everyone–here can decide if and when you are ready to take it on. You can decide to look into the eyes of these people who are your people and see what you find.

And what you will find, if you look softly and deeply enough, is “Hey, I know you. You’re just like me.” Let’s try it.

Turn to the person beside you. Offer them your hand if you’re comfortable. Sandwich your hands so you each are holding one of the other’s hands in two of yours. Make eye contact. Breathe in together. Breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Keep looking at each other. See the eyes; the crinkles at the corners, the joy, the hesitation, the shyness. Feel your heart open; feel your breath deepen, feel your face soften. Let that little smile tug at the corners of your mouth. Hey I know you. You’re just like me.

Take a moment to feel it. Breathe one more time, close your eyes, and let go. Sit with it for a minute. Open your eyes when you’re ready, or just sit with them closed.

We have our differences, but our humanity is shared; it is the same. We are all one people.

Peace is knowing that.

Peace is living that.

Blessed be and amen.

May I be anything but passive
by what means I do not know
may I be strong
may I be kind
may I be wise beyond these 34-and-eleven-twelfths
because lord knows
(not that there is one)
(or maybe so)
I need it.
May I be inspired and embracing
may I get out of the way
may I see the way
that I might travel it
and so doing
point it out to others
who may be lost
or maybe are found
by someone
(if there is someone
which I doubt
not that it matters)
but most of all
may it not matter
one iota
where we find our collective wisdom
and our collective strength
may our joint compassion
and passion for the world rise up
from within us
may we rise up from within us
fired up
or tired out
or a little of both
it’s time to go save the world
may we know that we were born
every one of us
to do
that.
Starting here.
Starting now.
That.
Just that.

One of the spiritual practices I return to often is a gratitude practice. List 50 things that I’m grateful for, every morning. It can repeat from day to day. It can be anything. The point is, 50 things. The point is, a few minutes spent in gratitude.

Today I am grateful for
the sun
the love I receive
spring
my able-body
my able-mind
freedom
the sweetness of dogs
the leaping-greenly spirits of trees
my connection to the earth
my sense of the holy in the world
years of experience in youth group in church
hugs
touch
sex and sexuality
the roof over my head
the food that I eat
the embrace of loving community
my wise and generous colleagues
fresh-baked things
good healthcare
skilled professionals
clean water
clean air
flowers
good surprises
the tastes of things
warm clothes
my tech skills
my educations, all of them
the gods of my Hindu heritage
my mixed background
that I don’t live in a war zone
chocolate (fair trade)
art and artists
creativity
hope
joy
compost
plants that grow on nothing
claws of kittens
fur of kittens
the passage of time
spices
airplanes
walking in the woods
candles
chalices
ritual
the internet
generosity

fifty things. What are yours?

I posted this over at UUCE’s page on Facebook but let’s try it here, too. If you have an idea, post it in the comments. Let’s get this ball rolling!

***
There are three ways a church gets money: we bring it in by rentals, investments, and other uses of existing resources; we receive it from our members as gifts, donations, bequests, and pledges; or we earn it together.

With just over half of our pledging units reporting, we have just under half of the money we need to raise this year. If you have not made your pledge, please, please, please do so! We have pledge cards at the church; if you can’t get to the church, please call/message/email Leela and she’ll make sure you get a card.

But the fact remains that in many cases, money is our limiting factor–the more money we have, the more we can do–and our goal this year really is the minimum amount we need to operate the church. In this economy there’s a chance that even with everyone giving as much as they possibly can, we won’t make our goal.

So we have two choices: we can roll over, play dead, and decide there’s nothing we can do about it.

Or we can make a concrete plan for how we’re going to make up the difference.

In past years we’ve had a generalized hope that we were going to fundraise. We did fundraise some, but never with any clear sense of whether we would reach our goal. If we’re going to perch our budget on fundraising at all, we really need to have a plan. We need events, dates, and a person to organize each thing.

So let’s start brainstorming. What are some ways we could raise money? Think wild. Think fun. Think interesting. We can edit later, so don’t bother critiquing what other people have to say. Right now, let’s get the ideas out there. Post your ideas in the comments and we’ll get started!

Triumph Takes a Village
Ellsworth, Maine
March 28 homily part III

Let’s bring everyone in
it takes a village and this is
palm Sunday
that Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem,
triumphant,
on the back of a donkey,
before it all fell apart, and then
came back together
in one short week.

we are all villagers
and we share this experience
of adversity, of triumph and fall,
and resurrection
it is part of the human experience
it is part of how we became human, the grief,
and the story of re-emergence is the story of our triumph

what makes it work,
what makes humanity work,
what makes this talon-and-fang-less existence work is our brains,
but not the way we think.
what makes it work is the village, the collective, the connections, the cooperation.

What makes it work
is that not only does it take a village
but we are capable of being that village.

When I do the new members class,
what comes up over and over
is that we don’t want to leave people out.
We know that what we want most is for everyone to be included,
and the very hardest times are when what is best for the group
is not including some individuals.

We tread frighteningly close to Machiavelli–
with whom getting the right results justifies any method you use to get them.

We won’t do just anything,
but as is often the case we are caught between fantasy and reality,
between what-would-be-nice
and what-actually-is.

It would have been nice if Congress could have been a bit more cooperative about health care reform.

But they weren’t.

We don’t have a national history of cooperation around civil rights. We’ve gone to war over it. We’ve dragged out dogs and fire hoses. We’ve made death threats.
Apparently we’re still making death threats.

Drawing boundaries–
saying that death threats are not acceptable,
that hate speech is beneath us,
that we expect everyone to meet basic standards of decency–
is not violence.

It’s not wrong.
And it makes the circle meaningful. It means that we have made some effort to be safer inside the village than outside. It means that we have created a place of welcome, of nurturing, of hope.

And now we want to share it. now we want to draw everyone in. Everyone who wants to be here and who will honor the space we have worked so hard to create is welcome. Our hope is that everyone will want to. Our dream is that our village will expand to hold the world, that our lives will become compelling examples of what can be when our values of respect and cooperation and transformation are widely held.
It takes a village. It takes a village to make a village, to keep it safe, to welcome and honor guests, to keep the circle strong, to share the love.

Our stewardship campaign is beginning. We are preparing for our future by raising the money we need to be in the world. There are some churches, some places, some institutions that rely heavily on one or two major donors. Everyone else can skate on their coattails, participate a little, but not worry too much about giving. Someone else has it covered. Someone else will take care of it.

That’s not how we do things around here. That’s not the Maine way. Whether we were born here or not, we’ve all got a bit of Maine about us–we’ve chosen to make this place home. And around here, everyone has to pull their weight. No one can survive around here long without kicking in. We carry stuff, we check on each other, we show up with food, we pull each other out of ditches. Just last weekend our own Zoe Weil got some homemade roadside assistance when three people offered to help after her car broke down. And I know that Zoe will stop for someone, or call someone, or get a door or watch a pet for someone.

We are a village, and we live in villages, so we understand villages around here. No one expects someone else to just take care of it. We and our forebears built this community, we’ve raised this building, we’ve connected with each other, we’re doing good things in a good place, and we’re going to take good care of it: the building, the community, each other, and our future: the babies like Katie and Charlie, the children, the youth, and the people who haven’t gotten here yet because we haven’t found them and told them how much they’ll get from being here. We value what we’ve done, and we value where we’re going.

We have a long history of adversity and and equally long history of triumph: We opened our doors in 1835 but had to close them again due to financial difficulties. We recommenced in 1865, with somewhat more success. There were several times when the congregation was in dire financial straits but we recovered, and survived. In 1971 we moved from High Street to this location with a small congregation and a very part-time minister, and we began rebuilding again. Our presence–this presence here–is our living triumph. As we continue to strengthen, to interconnect, to draw people into our loving and beautiful village, we are offered by our very vision an historic challenge: we are changing our relationship with money. Rather than being controlled by it, we meet it on equal ground. It is not our adversary nor our benefactor–money is our partner. We are an abundant and robust financial community–a place where we have enough and give generously. Our congregational charitable giving this year has met our goal. Thanks to the generosity of the congregation and the dedicated leadership of past Stewardship chairs–most recently Evelyn Foster and Kay Wilkins–we have steadily increased our support for this congregation, this village. The more we do here, the more we know we can do, the more we know we are needed, the more we are connected, the stronger and more vibrant we are, the more people are welcomed in, the bigger the circle grows. We love one another here, and that love makes us strong. It makes us powerful. And it makes us generous. Love opens us up and challenges us and calls to us.

I found out this morning that my dear friend Darby has multiple sclerosis. She lives in Portland, Oregon. She has three kids, whom she has mostly raised on her own. The twins are somewhere around ten or eleven. Her daughter is older. She has a serious and dedicated girlfriend, and she has a loving community gathered around her. It’s not that she doesn’t have people. But when I found out, when I read her note on Facebook–because she couldn’t bear to tell the story over and over–I immediately wanted to do something. I don’t know what I can do. I have to trust her to tell me. She will tell me. She knows well that I can’t read her mind. But my love for her raises up a fierce wanting, an almost desperate wanting to .do. something–fly out there, wrap my arms around her, go for a long walk and listen, listen, listen. Meanwhile, I wrote her a reply. Meanwhile I told her I love her. Meanwhile I am here, and she knows that I am here.

And you know the other thing I wished for her? I wished she had a church. I wished that with every bone of my body. Because we are the places where people go to be connected, to be lifted up, to be in quiet prayer, to sing and dance and drum out the stuff of our lives, to sit in intimate circles and share, and to be stronger, to be wiser, to be more able to be our very best in the world because of all of the ways we are fed here.

We are drumming and making music and having discussions and hosting workshops. We are renting and sharing our space with violins and nursery school and twelve-step groups. We are having parties and sharing food and loving each others’ company. We are sitting in touchstone circles and informal groups and long-standing small groups, and we are holding each other and we are planning and plotting and we are growing our circle. We have so much. We are so much. We have a whole community: babies and old people and parents and people in love and people in grief and farmers and fishermen and retirees and teachers and social workers and librarians–we are a village. It takes a village, change starts with a village, a better world starts with a village, and we are that village. We are already that village. Let’s bring everyone in. A dollar a day will do it, a dollar a day more from each of us will get every person inside the circle. Save it or earn it, maybe you can do an extra something on the side, even just once, your own personal fundraising project for the church, so we can bring everyone into this circle, because we have such a gift, such a blessing here, It takes a village, and we are that village. We can do it. We are doing it. Let’s bring everyone in.

I’m deep in my sermon today, but I thought I’d share this post from Christine Kane, which asks, “Are you using the economy as an excuse?” It’s an interesting question: just when the need is greatest, what choice do we make?

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