Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gratitude and Giving Back

I preached this sermon on Sunday Nov. 27.  It was an all ages service and our start for Guest at Your Table to benefit the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.   The sermon was preached in two parts.


Gratitude, to give thanks, an attitude of gratitude. There is no shortage of discussion about gratitude, counting our blessings, particularly during November.  It is a foundational spiritual practice to first be aware of the blessings of our lives and then to take the time to give thanks for them.

Throughout the month of November a number of friends on Facebook posted things they were grateful for.  Some missed a few days and then would catch up.  Each day I have read posts of gratitude – for family, work, friends, colleagues.   For many it was a spiritual discipline, each day reflecting on their blessings and posting them on-line.  It is not as easy a spiritual discipline as one might think, once one has given thanks for family, friends, food etc.  After a few days, it requires digging deeper, reflecting longer and getting creative.  Yesterday one person posted “thankful for the practice of patience.”

Harder still is giving thanks for things that are hard, illness, death, loss.  Finding blessings in the midst of loss maintains hope, hope that not all is lost, that the wheel will turn again, that life truly does go on. In the midst of despair, giving thanks can keep hope alive.  Giving thanks for the illness, loss, suffering takes time, self-reflection and an acceptance that loss and grief are parts of life. That loss and suffering are not strange, alien states that one should seek to avoid at all costs but rather that loss is woven into the very fabric of life.

Martin Luther King Jr. knew about loss and suffering.  He was born at home because his mother refused to have her children born in a segregated hospital.   He lived in a segregated neighborhood.  He attended segregated schools.  He knew the pain of racism.

This is not to promote a “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” superficial coating over suffering. Rather, it is seeing hope in the midst of despair, the small speck of light in the darkness, cultivating the trust that whatever it is that we are enduring now is a part of life and that life will endure.

The practice of gratitude, particularly if we are to practice gratitude even when we are hurting, when there is loss and grief, will require discipline.  It is easy to stop the practice of gratitude when things get busy, when things get hard.   So begin a year-round practice of gratitude. If you do not already have a practice of grace or blessing before meals, begin one.  Take the practice of going around the table to say what we are grateful and make it a daily practice.

In fact let us begin right now. Please take just a moment to reflect on one thing that you are grateful for … we will pause for just one moment of silence. Then when I ring the bell, please turn to one person and tell that person what you are thankful for in this moment.

Let us begin….

Giving Back

Beginning a regular practice of gratitude is a core spiritual practice.  Reflecting on what we have been given, sustains hope and faith through hard times and loss.  Yet stopping with being grateful without giving back is insufficient.   Sometimes it takes an encounter with scarcity to appreciate what we have. Yet if all we do is say, “I am so glad that is not me and I am so grateful for all I have” and the suffering of others does not move us to act then it is empty and insufficient. It is just a platitude.

Gratitude is the first step to moving beyond ourselves and living life with the knowledge that our lives are bound up together.  Gratitude for what we have that we did not earn, that we did not make, that we could not have imagined – like sunsets, the colors of leaves in fall, like our very bodies and the air we breathe.  All of these things we have been given … they are gifts freely given.

As Unitarian Universalists we begin by affirming that each has inherent and worth and dignity and end by recognizing that we are bound together in creation.  What affects one of us, affects all of us.

In the midst of suffering, loss, gross inequality, hunger, war, poverty, it is not enough to say “thank you for my blessings.”  Our gratitude must be the starting point for service.  

Martin Luther King Jr. says it this way “Everybody can be great.  Because anybody can serve.  … You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.”

You only need a heart full of grace to serve.  Each of us can serve and each of us can make a difference in the lives of others.  Each of us, young, old, child, adult can serve. Each of us has gifts to share.  We serve each other by offering a smile, a hug or simply asking the question “how are you” and really stopping to hear the answer.  Serving each other is not just about serving those people out there somewhere.  Serving each other begins with the care we give each other.

We as a faith community practice service.  Each week the FISH wagon sits in the entry way of this building and each week we are invited to bring food for our neighbors in need.  In addition to our collecting food for FISH, one month each year, members give their time sorting and repairing clothes.  Each December we collect socks and underwear.  As a community we serve together.  FISH is just one example of how this faith community seeks to make a difference and there are many ways we can give back, to serve, to make the world a better place.

There is another way that we as a faith community, reach out in giving to others.  Each year, we here at WUU and many other Unitarian Universalist congregations participate in Guest at Your Table.  Nan and I are going to tell you about Guest at Your Table

Nan:  What is Guest at Your Table?

Margaret:  Hold up the box

Nan: That is a box not a guest.

Margaret:  Yes this is the Guest at Your Table box.  I invite each family, to take the box home.  I invite you to put the box at a place where you will see it every day – like your dining room table.  When you eat at the table you can look at the pictures and learn about the people on the box.

Nan:  Where do I find the stories of the people?

Margaret:   I also invite you to take this book home, called Stories of Hope.  The stories go with the pictures on the box.  I invite you to the practice of reading a story from the book and putting some money in the box.

Nan:  Money in the box?  Why do I put money in the box?

Margaret: The money in the box will be used to help the people on the box and others in their communities.

Nan:  How?

Margaret:  The money will go to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. They work in our country and all around the world helping people have clean water, good food.  They help people who have had a terrible disaster where they live – like an earthquake or flood and the Service Committee helps those communities recover.  They also work on things like a right to clean water, dignified work, education, shelter.

Nan:  So how is the money going to get from the box on my table to the Service Committee?

Margaret:  You will bring the box back to WUU on January 8. We will collect everyone’s boxes.  Then all the money will be counted and sent to the UU Service Committee. Our money will be combined with the money from all the other UU Congregations to help around the world.

Nan:  So let me make sure I get this. I take the box home.  I put it on my table.  I learn about the people on the box.  I put my money in the box.  Then I bring the box back here on January 8. Then all the money from all of us goes to the Service Committee.

Margaret:  Exactly.  And that is another way that each of us can give back. We can give what we have and that gets combined with what others give and we can make the world a more just place.

"Everybody can be great.  Because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Encounter with Martin Luther King Jr.

This was the story for all ages I shared this past Sunday, Nov. 27 in a service called Gratitude and Giving Back.

This summer my family and I traveled to Atlanta and while we were there we went to the King Center.  The King Center includes the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the childhood home of Martin and his siblings.

The house is a 2-story house in a neighbor that was all African-American. It included families that were middle-class like the King family and families that were working class.  It is the home that Martin Luther King’s grandparents lived in and raised their children.  Martin, his sister and brother were all born in this home.  Martin’s grandmother lived with them.

As you tour the home you realize that Martin Luther King Jr. was not some superhuman person. He, just like each of us he had gifts and failings.  He and his brother used to terrorize their sister and they destroyed all her dolls.  Martin would hide out when it was his turn to the do the dishes – he didn’t think boys should have to do the dishes.

Yet what also struck me was the daily practices in the King family.  At a time when children were to be “seen and not heard,” in the King family you were to come to the dinner table with 2 things.  One was you were to have memorized a Bible verse that you could recite at the table.  The second is that each child was expected to have read the news and know something about current events.  Over dinner, the family would talk about current events and the children were expected to be part of the conversation.

Martin Luther King Jr. had much to be grateful for -  a loving family, a roof over his head and food on the table.  He had a family that expected him and his brother and sister to be full participants in family meals.  At each meal they gave thanks for their blessings, and then each member of that family, not just Martin, lived in service to the world.  Out of their blessings, they gave of themselves in service – striving to make things better for others.

Going through the house, hearing stories about Martin Luther King Jr.’s family gave me a deeper sense of appreciation of this man who gave so much to all of us.  He, failings and all, is an example of a life lived in service to others, sustained by a deep faith and the love of family.  He had a deep sense of gratitude for life and out of that, he devoted his life to serving others.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2011

Here are my closing words to last Sunday's Transgender Day of Remembrance service at the College of William and Mary.

It would be easy now to be overwhelmed and helpless; so many lives and so many young lives taken far too soon, taken because of misunderstanding and hate. Lives taken because they were different, viewed as outside the mainstream, challenging binary notions of gender and challenging heterosexist assumptions. Not all who were killed necessarily identified themselves as transgender, some were killed because assumptions were made based on appearance.

Yet this is not the time to be helpless or hopeless. It does not honor these lives that were lost for us to get lost in our own hopelessness. In the words of Dorothy Day, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.”

Yes too much work to do. Work to break down stereotypes and rigid assumptions about gender. We need to work toward a time when everyone is free to be who they are, to express their gender identity without fear of violence, losing their jobs or being treated less than. Each of us can do this work by first living our own lives with as much authenticity as possible. Each of us can do this work by challenging rigid notions of gender and expression.

Each of us can work for the day when we will gather together for one final Transgender Day of Remembrance Service and there will be no new names to read. The day when we will gather one final time to say “We remember, we never forgot;” a day to celebrate a time when no one need live in fear of violence, a day when we can all be just who we are.

May it be so.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

99% Rally at William and Mary

Today I spoke at a 99% Rally at the College of William and Mary.

Here is what I said.

Good afternoon I am Margaret Sequeira and I am grateful that I was asked to speak here today.  While I hold many roles and relationships within Williamsburg and the College, I want to be clear that I speak today only for myself and not for any organization or group. I begin there because so much of the Occupy movement has been about individuals coming together in community to speak up.  If you read the mainstream press about the Occupy movement it is driving them crazy that there is no single leader, there is no spokesperson – no one who speaks for the whole.

This is not comfortable for us – we who long for clear leadership and clear lines of authority are confused by this.

Yet I stand before you not just a person by herself, I stand before you intimately and intrinsically intertwined in a complex web of relationships.  I think the Occupy movement calls each of us to live into the paradox that we are both individuals, with individual needs and abilities and that we are not just individuals – that our lives are tied up with others.

I am a Unitarian Universalist and in my faith tradition we are bound in covenant by 7 principles (don’t worry I am not going into all 7 – just 2).  The first is to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of the individual and the 7th is to affirm the interdependent web of creation of which we are all a part. This captures well this paradox – the paradox of being an individual and that we are part of complex web of relationship and creation.  One of my favorite signs from the Occupy Movement is one that read “My wellbeing is tied up with yours.”

The Occupy Movement has been critiqued for not being focused enough, clear enough with concrete demands and policy changes.  It is critiqued because it is out of step with our usual political organizing with leaders and talking points.  It is trying to capture a diversity – that yes it is about the economy and how the greed of a very few controls both our economy and our government and it is also about racism, sexism, and heterosexism.  It is about how if one is not wealthy, not white, not male, not straight, not able bodied, not able to pull oneself up by one’s boot straps – then one deserves whatever less than status one may find oneself in.

You see the Occupy movement is so threatening because it seeks to tell the truth to expose one big lie – the lie is that here in America anyone can be anything they chose to be – with enough hard work, if you play by the rules, if you do what is expected than you can succeed – you might even be president one day.  We love our stories of quote unquote self-made individuals who pulled themselves up and made an immensely successful life for themselves.  This myth of America – that anyone can be anything is very powerful and for that story/that myth to be challenged in anyway is a profound threat to way we see ourselves as a nation.

Yet many know for a fact that this story of America is a false one.  That too often people are too dark skinned, have too much of an accent, are too poor, are the wrong gender, are too queer – and no there will not be success there.  Part of the lie is that those who are successful do it on their own – they don’t need a handout or help for anyone.  “They are self-made.”  Yet none of us is self-made.  Human beings are communal beings – we thrive only in the midst of our relationships.  And if you listen closely enough to our quote unquote self made people – there are numerous people who helped them along the way, gave them a chance, opened a door.

The Occupy movement is speaking the truth loudly – the truth that a very few control most of the wealth and income, that playing by rules does not mean that one will thrive, that one can do it on ones own, that the 1% earned their wealth on their own and not through inheritance, government programs that have benefited certain people and not others, economic policies and programs are set up for the benefit of the few and not the many.  Speaking the truth is a risky business – one only need look to many of our religious and spiritual leaders to see that rarely do people want to hear the truth – Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, Oscar Romero to name a very few.  Speaking the truth means to risk violence, to risk outcast, to risk death.  Speaking the truth, whether it is our own personal truth or speaking a social truth is to be daring.  Occupy invites each of us to speak our own truth, to speak truth to power.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” was spoken by Lilla Watson an Indigenous Australian or Murri visual artist, activist and academic working in the field of Women’s issues and Aboriginal epistemology.  Occupy is not asking anyone to help them..they are speaking the truth that our individual liberation, our well-being is bound up together.  We are not just individuals who thrive or fail on our own … we are connected individuals whose wellbeing, whose liberation is woven together.

May this movement encourage us all to re-engage as public citizens.  Citizens that speak our own truth and risk speaking truth to power and thus transforming our country to be a more just, more thriving place for all.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Is it Real?

One of my favorite scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is near the end when Harry converses with Dumbledore in the train station. At the end of their conversation, Harry asks "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"  and Dumbledore replies "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?" (Rowling, 723)

All too often we distrust our own experience and the things that happen in our heads.  As Unitarian Universalists, in particular, we want things that can be proven, verified by outside research.  Yet faith requires trust and it requires trusting and believing in that which may not be proven. There is a place for that which can be verified, including our own experiences, and yet when we dismiss all that cannot be proven, the world becomes a much smaller and less interesting place.

Also what does it say when we so readily dismiss our experiences and those things that happen in our heads? From an early age we drive imagination and creativity from our children, teaching them to distrust what happens in their heads.

Yet faith and justice require imagination.  In order to transform the world, we have to be able to imagine a world that does not yet exist.  Faith requires trust in that which cannot be proven - like love.  Hope requires a trust that may defy current circumstances, a faith that things can be different and better despite all the evidence to the contrary.

So we both need to check our what happens in our heads with others, with verifiable facts and yet we also need to hold that what happens in our heads should not automatically be dismissed as unreal.  We need to re-learn to trust ourselves and our own knowledge. For as Dumbledore challenges us - why does it mean it isn't real?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Same Sex Marriage in NY .. Anything to be Concerned About?

So I am pleased that same sex marriage passed in New York.  Yet I also want to add the caveats that I don't believe that mirroring the heterosexual paradigm should be the be all and end all of rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer persons. As young queer people have told us, marriage is all well and good but they are more worried about surviving middle school and high school and whether or not their parents will throw them out of the house.

Yet my concern here is about the religion exemption clause that is part of the same sex marriage bill in New York, has been part of the proposed legislation in California and is in the newly passed civil union bill in Rhode Island.  On the surface these seem innocuous ... a bone to those on the right who suddenly think that just because civil marriage is allowed for same sex couples that clergy and faith communities might somehow have to participate in these marriages even if it is against their teachings.  After all what is the harm to put these clauses in if it makes people feel better and they will vote the right way?

First no clergy person or faith community is under any obligation, ever to perform a civil marriage - any marriage between any people.  In fact religious communities can marry or not marry whoever they choose although not all those marriages may be recognized by the state as valid civil marriages. Such has been the state of same-sex couples whose faith communities, like Unitarian Universalism, have long been blessing their unions.  There is no need for these clauses because faith communities and clergy people have a choice to bless or not bless any union.

So what is the concern?  Well maybe I am just a bit paranoid but as the saying goes just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.  I am concerned that in putting these clauses in these bills we are one still saying that same sex unions are not as worthy as heterosexual ones and that some how faith communities need extra protection from the LGBTQ community.  Again it feeds the notion that LGBTQ people, their relationships, their families and their lives pose some sort of threat.

Secondly we have seen how the right and in particular the religious right never just let go of these fights even when they lose in the public square.  Let's take contraception and abortion rights.  The right knows it may not be able to undue Roe vs Wade but they can make it difficult if not impossible for a person to access contraceptives and abortions. Let's look at conscience clauses for pharmacists.  Let's look at Kansas and Virginia that are using health and safety regulations to close clinics and make it more difficult for women to access reproductive health services. How might these clauses be used to further limit the rights of same sex couples to get married and to access full rights and responsibilities that come with civil marriage?  Will hospitals be allowed to claim a religious exemption and not let a same sex spouse visit their sick loved one?  Will cemeteries be allowed to deny same sex couples buying a joint plot?  Will various non-profit and other organizations be able to claim a religious exemption from offering benefits to same sex spouses because of these clauses?  And just like with abortion rights, I would not be at all surprised that courts would go along with these exemptions.

Maybe it is time to fully separate religious and civil marriage. After all why are religious leaders allowed to act as officers of the state in this instance?  Maybe we need to require all couples to have a civil marriage ceremony and then they can choose whether or not to have a religious one. Let's separate civil marriage and religious marriage.

Let us render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto the Holy what is Holy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Last weekend I went with my family to see The Adjustment Bureau.  What an amazing movie and it is packed full of great theological questions.

Questions like is there a plan for each of our lives?  If so what is my role in that plan?  Do I have choice?  What is the role of chance?  Do we have free will?  What is the nature of the creator of the plan - the chairman?  Is it the chairman's intention only to enforce his/her/its version of the plan?  What is the relationship between humanity and the plan and creator of the plan? 

This film would make for a great discussion.  I hope to invite my campus group to see it and discuss it. I have recommended it to my high school youth group. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

All You Need Is Love

Well it is has been a long time since I have posted. Now that spring has come maybe I can be resolved to return to my weekly posting!

I'll begin with my sermon from March 13, 2011. 

Call to Worship

All You Need Is Love, Love is All You need” sing the Beatles.  As I reflected on a sermon title and topic for today I could not get the Beatles song out of my head and hence our title for today’s service. 

It may seem simplistic and na├»ve to say “All You Need is Love.”  All one needs to do is pick up the newspaper and see the news coming from all parts of the globe and think we need a lot more than love.  Yet do we?  Certainly we need more than saying or singing the words.  What if our actions are grounded in love; if our response to life and the events of the world is grounded in love – then what?  What if we lived seriously into loving our neighbors as ourselves – both here in our families, friends and communities and in the larger community?  Then might it be true that all we need is love?

Come let us explore the questions together! Come let us worship together!


“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” Familiar words to many of us followed by the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.  So familiar in fact that often we just gloss over the story, thinking we know what it means, so familiar that it is hard to engage with it and find something new.

This story was most likely first a story told orally as people who remembered Jesus and his teachings, shared them with those who had not known him.  Eventually the story came to be written down and it comes to us a thousand plus years later.  We read it not its original language of Greek, but in English. We read it not from the original writings because of course they don’t exist.  To understand the story we must reinterpret in our own time, through the lens of a thousand years of readings, copies, translations.  We must have things explained to us that would have been obvious to the followers of Jesus or even for the early hearers of this story who lived in first Century Palestine, under the rule of the Roman Empire.  For the audience in the story, the lawyer who asks the question, the followers of Jesus that were listening, the Samaritan as hero would have been the twist, the unexpected plot turn.  It was the Samaritan, the despised one, the one not to be interacted with, that did the right thing, who behaved in accordance to the law – the one that loved his neighbor as himself.  For us so many centuries later, in a different context, a different world, we miss the twist.  We must have it explained to us.

Because we read the story, not in Ancient Greek but in English we miss the subtleties of language. The Greeks had many different words for that which we translate as love.  There is agape which refers to sacrificial love or it can also be used to express the love of a good meal, a feeling of being content or holding another in high regard.  Agape is not based as much on the personal relationship but rather a general affection. It is the love found in the book of Corinthians which tells us that love is patient and kind and slow to anger.  Eros is passionate love, sensual desire and longing.  It can also be used to talk about knowledge of beauty and truth when it is not attached to physical attraction to another but rather to the spiritual quest.  Phila is the love found in friendship and family and includes loyalty to friends and family and community.  In this context the Greek word is “agape” that general regard, holding in high esteem and self-giving love that is the love Jesus commands.

There are many interpretations of this story and the command to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Martin Luther King Jr. used this story to talk about not just helping the man who was robbed but rather to transforming the road itself so that the dangers on the road were no more. He called us to transform the road, to offer not just charity to the victims of violence and oppression but rather an end to violence and oppression – so that never again would anyone be robbed and beaten and left to die. One can focus on the importance of first loving oneself, of holding oneself in high esteem in order to be able to love others.  It can also be interpreted to talk about our obligation to assist others in need, even those who we might regard as our enemies.

Since it is such a familiar story, we often see ourselves within it or identify with the characters.  I think for many of us we see ourselves as the Good Samaritan , or want to see ourselves that way.  We don’t want to be the priest or the Levite although we may when by ourselves admit that we are probably most likely to act as the priest or the Levite in our daily lives. Most of us if pushed would admit that we would not stop and care for the victim on the road.  We might use our cell phones and call 911, maybe we would even stay nearby making sure that help arrived.  Most of us also don’t want to be the man left on the road half-dead.  There is a clear winner in this story and that is the Good Samaritan – he is not a victim, he did the right thing, he is the hero of the story.  So Jesus tells us that it was the person on the margins, the Samaritan – despised by the Jewish people at the time – that did the right thing, not the honored and revered priest or Levite. 

We religious liberals, we who are committed to social justice and making the world a better place, see ourselves as loving the stranger.  We see how it is wrong to stereotype people, to practice racial profiling as is happening Congress right now as they hold hearings on Islamic extremism – a politely veiled way of saying that all those who are Muslim are suspect.  We may find it easy to say we love our Muslim neighbors.  We stand on the side of love with LGBTQ people, people who others would despise and condemn and we say we love our LGBTQ neighbors.

Yet might it be easier to love the stranger then it is to love those closer to home.  After all the Samaritan did not know the man who had been robbed. The man had given the Samaritan no reason not to like him.  Yet often even in our comfort zones we are confronted with “neighbors” who we find it very difficult to love.  How am I to love the person here at WUU that just drives me crazy?  Or even how am I to love my family members who hold such different values than me? 
We all have people in our lives that we can find challenging to love.  All you need is love might be easy to sing but not so easy to live.

This is where the story of the “Rabbi’s Gift” I think can help us.  I think the key to loving those, to holding in high regard the stranger and those who drive us crazy, is the notion of radical hospitality.  In the story, the Rabbi tells the Abbot that he does not know how to help his dying monastery but he knows the Messiah is among you.  The story then goes on to say how in this tight knit community, they don’t always like each other, they find it difficult to love, to stay in community.  We are told of brother Elred who is crotchety and Brother Philip who is a nobody.  How could either of them be the Messiah?.  And certainly I could not be Messiah followed by the prayer – please not me.  The Rabbi’s gift of course is that they see each other and themselves in a new way, in a new light.  In some versions of the story, set in a classroom rather than a monastery, the Rabbi says they can’t tell anyone that the Messiah is among them.  Of course each class is told the Messiah is among them.

What if I am the chosen one, the one sent to heal the world?  What if it is the person next to me?  If I look upon the world that we are each called to be a Messiah, to bring our gifts to save the world then how does it change how I look at it?  How does it change me to look at myself that way? 

Marianne Williamson speaks of this in her often quoted words from “Our Deepest Fear.” “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.” Our earliest Unitarian roots call us back to this – we are manifestations of the holy, of the Divine.  Ralph Waldo Emerson rejected the divinity of Jesus not just because it wasn’t rational, not just because it wasn’t Scriptural but because he believed it stripped Jesus of his essential message - that we are all children of God, we are the chosen ones, sent to heal the world, sent to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It let us off to hook  to say that Jesus was divine and therefore we certainly could not be expected to live the life that Jesus led.

Radical hospitality calls us to be curious and welcoming.  What if the next time we find ourselves finding it very hard to love the neighbor right next to us, we thought “what gifts does this person bring to the world, to this community, to my me, to my family?”  It does not necessarily mean we will like them but can we hold them in agape – in high regard?  Can we see the holy within them?

I recently had the experience of serving on a marriage panel at William and Mary.  The panel included one of the priests from St. Bede’s Catholic Church and I found myself filled with pre-judging and outright anger.  You see I had recently read about the Pope’s words against same-sex marriage and I didn’t know what it was going to be like to be on a panel on marriage with this Roman Catholic priest.  I found myself pre-judging and making all sorts of assumptions.  It is not that my anger at the Pope and his statements is not a righteous anger – I would even say it is a holy anger.  It is not, however, helpful to direct that anger toward this person.  It turned out to be fine and a lot of fun. I am not sure that we agreed on things but that was not important. What is important is that we were able to be at the table together.

The Beatles tells us that:
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you
in time - It's easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Finding Abundance Within - Worship Service Jan. 2, 2011

I thought I would post my reflections on abundance from the all ages worship service yesterday

Call to Worship   

Happy New Year to all of you!!!  

We begin the year by reflecting on abundance.  During the month of January here at Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists we will be reflecting as a faith community on what is abundance, how do we recognize it and how do we live into it and share it.  Abundance – not just enough but more than enough; abundance that feeling of at there is more than enough for me, for you, more than enough to share with everyone. 

Now it is said that we preach or teach best what we most need to learn and I am thinking this is very true for me about abundance.  Of course the danger of preaching on what one what one most needs to learn is that one is still learning and therefore knowing what to say, can be challenging. 

We live in a society that thrives on scarcity, the very opposite of abundance.  The very premise of our advertising and media is to make sure that we are never content with what we have for then there would be no need to buy anything.  I am reminded of the mirror of Erised, from the very first Harry Potter book. This mirror allows the person who gazes in it to see their deepest desire.  The inscription above the mirror reads I show not your face but your heart’s desire.  Albus Dumbledore tells us that the content or happy person would see only him or herself as they are in the mirror.  I think few of us would see only ourselves in the mirror.

It is hard when money or time or energy feels scarce, and most of us experience that kind of scarcity.  At times it is difficult to believe that it is enough just the way it is.  It is a nearly universal premise of religion that the abundance we seek is within us and that if we can’t find what we are searching for within, then we will certainly never find it without.  Easy to say and quote when things are going along well not so easy when things are not.

I know that too often I prey victim to that there is never enough money, or time or energy -  that all I see around me are undone tasks, and that life is just a whole series of problems.  Not much abundance there!

So what are we to do it?  How are we to appreciate what we have?  To believe that who we are and what we have to offer are enough?  That actually there is more than enough, that our true selves are exactly what is needed.  Come let us explore together the abundance within!!!

Believing We Are Enough    

Hosea Ballou preaches that God will save all people just as they are.  A radical notion in the Calvinist/Puritan society in which Ballou lived, that preached that only a very few would be saved.  A radical notion still in a world in which evangelical ministers stand on street corners shouting about how bad and terrible we are and that if we don’t come to believe as they believe then God will not love us, God will not save us.  A radical notion in light of advertisers that say only if we have this item, this trip, buy this program can we be enough, have enough. 

The Universalist message is a radical one, the holy, the Divine, the sacred is not just for a few special people but for everyone.  The message that God’s love is abundant – that there is more than enough for everyone  - everyone without exception.  An amazing notion that we are enough just as we are, what a gift, what an amazing gift.  A gift so big that we almost can’t grasp it – the fact that there is enough love in this world, that the holy loves so abundantly and so without exception, that there is enough for everyone!!!  There is even enough for me.  The holy does not require that we embark on long arduous self-improvement projects, spend endless hours in prayer and meditation, in self-discipline and in cleaning ourselves up.  All that is required is that we be ourselves, our authentic selves. That who we are and our unique gifts are all that is required.

The message of the Universalists is like the lesson of the Mirror of Erised. See the danger of the mirror is that people had gone mad sitting in front of thinking it was real, could it be real, if they just reached out a little further they could touch it and then maybe, just maybe it would be true.  Harry himself gets caught up in the yearning for his heart’s desire.  He nearly gets caught out of bed after hours, he doesn’t even realize that Dumbledore is the room with him because he is so caught up staring in the mirror – seeing the loving family that he never knew.  The message was not Harry’s heart’s desire, to know a loving family, where he belonged was not a legitimate, and even very good desire.   Yet the mirror showed him his parents, who are dead, and a reality that Harry can never have.  Dumbledore reminds Harry that no magic can bring back the dead. The lesson of the mirror of course is that when we are content within ourselves, then the mirror reflects that back to us.  The problem with not finding abundance within is that we find ourselves longing for a reality that we can’t have, a reality that isn’t possible.

We can think of many examples in our own lives.  Maybe we believe that we would have enough if we just won the lottery and money was no longer a concern.  Maybe it is a lost opportunity from the past – if we had just taken that road instead of the one we did.  Maybe a person we lost touch with.  It is not that the desire is bad, it is when the desires fills us with a sense that of scarcity – a sense that our lives are incomplete, that we are incomplete, that we lose touch with that sense of abundance. 

The task of knowing who we are and that we are enough is the work of a lifetime. It is a process. 

I think it is something we know strongly at times and forget at others.  It comes and it goes.  We learn it and then we have to learn it again, in a newer, deeper way.  It is not that how we knew it before was wrong, we just know it differently. Like I said preaching on what we most need to learn, means that I am not sure whether or not we can continuously hold on to the knowledge of who we are and that who we are is enough.  I wonder if we need to keep learning it – learning it new ways and in new situations. I wonder if we don’t ever reach a place and say there “I know that I am enough.  I know that my gifts and my true self is exactly what this world needs.  I know that there is more than enough love to give and that I am a part of it.”  I think we learn it, then we learn it some more, we learn it this new way and that our whole lives become an unfolding of the abundance that is us. 

Living in Abundance   

How are we to live in abundance?  How can we more often tap into that abundance that exists within us?

Well earlier I said that the Divine does not require hours of meditation and prayer, arduous spiritual practices and that is true – the message of the Universalists is that we are loved just as we are and that God’s love is abundant - given freely to all without exception.  And spiritual practices that are continually arduous are probably not very conducive to cultivating one’s soul.  Not that spiritual practice shouldn’t be challenging – if it weren’t challenging it wouldn’t be a practice but like with any practice, it is more likely to be a productive one if we actually WANT to do it..even when we don’t.  For even with things we love – playing an instrument, writing, meditating, cooking..all require practice and we won’t always want to.  Meditation, prayer, time alone, worship in community, service, all of those are practices that can lead to us learning and living into that sense of abundance. They are all ways of reaching deep within ourselves, of connecting to our true, authentic selves, to the Divine within each of us.  The more we tap into that true self, the more we live out of that true self.

Many have learned about the abundance in their own lives by living in service with others. Please notice that I said with others and NOT to others. Service only TO others can actually lead to us only seeing scarcity and not abundance.  Too often in our service, we forget to be in relationship.  To serve with others, means that I recognize the abundance as well as the need in another. If all I see is another’s need, and not the abundance and I only seek to fill the need, then I may close myself off to what gifts that person has to give.  What needs that person may be able to fill.  When all we see are the problems, challenges, needs in others, just like when that is all we see in ourselves – than the world becomes a place of scarcity – a placed filled with problems to be solved.  We learn from each other.  We learn by serving and we learn by letting ourselves be served.  Then we can see the world as a place of abundance, as a place where there is more than enough for everyone.

It is easy to focus on the problems and I am not advocating that we stop paying attention.  I am saying let’s pay attention to how we pay attention – if we pay attention only to the problems and the lack of will and resources to fix them that is all we will see; if we only see through rose-colored glasses – refusing to see any problems, refusing to see that there is need anywhere than we live in very self-centered way – focused only on gratifying our own ego but if we see both the needs and abundance – then we can see that the abundance is there, that it exists everywhere and that we might even be able to see how to meet the needs from the abundance that already exists.

Living in Abundance means holding on those moments in our lives when we have experienced it – like in our meditation today.  Living in abundance means living and serving in relationship with others.  Living in abundance is remembering that our deepest needs and desires can never be filled by external things. It is remembering that the content person looks into the Mirror of Erised sees oneself as they are and knows that is enough.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What is religion if not ethics - Between the Lines - Illawarra Mercury

So this article was posted on Facebook. Religion and ethics have certainly been split apart over the years. Even in theological schools ethics is taught separately from theology - even in so far as ethics being one department or specialty area and theology another.

I do like the author's point about not choosing between the two. Also with the decline in ethical behavior any effort to help people live more ethical lives is welcome.

What is religion if not ethics - Between the Lines - Illawarra Mercury

Lots to think about for this New Year!