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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.

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!

Last Sunday I quoted briefly from an Alice Walker poem; this week it turned up in the Panhala poetry feed. Here it is: Expect Nothing.

Michael Durall wrote The Almost Church Revitalized, which has been a major part of our board’s revisioning and revitalization process. Because of that book our board members are thinking differently about who they are and what we as a congregation are doing. It has been transformative. He writes here in the UU World about the private vs. public church, and how the spiritual and religious worlds are changing. What do you think?

We in the UU church believe that the sacred word can be found anywhere, and that it is everywhere. Roger Ebert’s essay on food, drink, and conversation–and what it has been like to lose them–is a stunning example of the everyday religious.

Apparently, churches are churches, and theology doesn’t really change things. Here’s a wonderful article from the Christian Century about church dynamics and perceptions. If we keep the big picture in view, the moments of struggle will be easier to overcome.

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