Monday, February 17, 2014

Embracing Winter

This is my sermon from this past Sunday, Feb. 16 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Texts:  Sissy Duckling by Harvey Firestein
"First Snow" by Mary Oliver

I suspect that many of you are like me, you are really ready for this long cold winter to be over!  In fact I suspect that many of you also are more spring, summer and fall people than winter people.  There are winter people.  They love the cold. They love snow.  They fully embrace the cold, icy beauty of winter and most of those people, that I know any way, do not live in places like the Outer Banks or even Williamsburg, VA!
I struggle each year with winter. I often say that winter is the price I pay to enjoy gorgeous springs, warm summers and the glory of fall!  I do not like being cold or the short days.  Maybe it has to do with spending eight and half years of my childhood in southern California with a pool and every day of summer was hot and sunny.  I swam every day; played outside every evening until dark. Summer is my favorite season – I love the sun, how warm it is and in particular warm summer nights!  Love going outside in the evening still in summer clothes, no jacket required, the sun is down and yet is gloriously warm without the burning heat of the sun.  To me that is simply amazing!  Not to mention the beauty of fireflies or lightening bugs depending on where you are from!

In the last few years, however, I have tried to embrace and see the gifts of winter.  What beauty might be found in winter?  If winter is analogy for our lives, what beauty can I find in the winters of my life journey?
So let’s begin by looking at the beauty found in nature.  I love the world after a blanket of snow covers the ground – particularly if I am not moving or needing to be somewhere and can just embrace enjoying the world blanketed in white.  Williamsburg covered in snow is a beauty to behold.  There is a silence as Mary Oliver describes in her poem that comes with the snow.  The world seems to have hushed.  You almost want to whisper in order not to disturb the silence.

So maybe the first gift of winter is to embrace silence. In our society noise everywhere – everywhere we go we are inundated with the sounds of people and music. Winter invites us into silence; the kind of hushed silence that comes with the blanket of snow.  The kind of silence that comes at the beach in the winter, when the sound of frolicking and playing at the beach has stilled; when all one hears is the crashing of the waves along the beach!  There is a hush there too as one can stand at the shore and watch and listen as the waves build up and come crashing in and then slowly recede back again.  How often do you spend in silence just listening to the sounds around you?  How often does this community of UUCOB embrace silence?  Sitting together in silence is powerful.  Sitting and listening to each other breathe.  Sitting with our thoughts and feelings, the silence then is not simply the absence of sound. It is a silence filled with possibility; filled with a different sort of community.  Mary Oliver tells us that the answers to the swirling questions, comes in the silence!

Parker Palmer talks about the clarity of winter (Let Your Life Speak).  The bareness of the trees allows us to see them standing singly, grounded in the earth, each one distinct from the other.  There is a starkness there.  We miss the green leaves, the beauty of the leaves and flowers.  The grass is brown and bare.  Palmer reminds us that winter is a season of rest and renewal, a time when nature dials it down to renew itself.  Another analogy is the cycle of the moon.  We have just experienced the beauty and grandeur of the full moon and now its descent to darkness begins.  When the moon is not visible, it allows the stars to appear that much brighter. There is a beautiful folk tale that speaks of the moon growing big and then growing tired and needing to get smaller to rest in order to grow bright once more.

The stark clarity of the winters of our lives is both beautiful and terrifying.  When we have lost a person we have loved, their absence is deeply and painfully felt. At first, the very memories of the person are filled with the pain of loss and grief.  Yet there is a way, in time, that the memories come to be a blessing, a reminder that those we love live on in our hearts and minds.

In those times of loss that are about the loss of dreams, the loss of jobs, the consequences of choices made it can be hard to face the truth.  In those moments truth can become abundantly clear.  Parker Palmer in his discussion of winter talks about the advice to “get out into it.”  Here in the south, severe winter weather is so rare that the only thing to do is to stay inside, enjoy heat, a warm beverage and the fact that you have no other option but to stop.  Here winter weather is an invitation to rest.  Yet in other parts of the world where snow and cold temperatures are commonplace  -  people learn to get out into it!  They have the clothing, they know how to stay warm and they embrace going out into the weather.  Like Elmer, they learn to thrive in the winter!  My family during the big snow storm here,  got out the next day, shoveling and having a really fun snowball fight.  We got out into it! Palmer invites us to do the same with the winters in our lives.  Can we embrace the loss, our fears, our failures? Can we instead of running from them, dive deep into and through them? Like Elmer can we embrace our specialness even when it is not  understood, even by those closest to us?

Another way to say it comes from the poem “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte:
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

Whyte invites us not to fight the darkness but to embrace it, to enter it, to allow it to heal us.  Winter can have a similar affect. Can we embrace the cold, stark beauty of the season?  Can we dive into it? Embrace it!  It may not be the warm, amazing feeling of a warm summer night, yet it has its own beauty and its own lessons to teach.  Elmer and his father in our story embrace winter in the forest! They do what no other duck had done – survived winter in the forest!

Yet embracing our fears, diving deep into difficult emotions is not easy.  Diving deep to learn new truths about ourselves, to become more authentically ourselves is not easy.  In my own life, the seasons of winter, those times of loss, those times of challenge. Times when I have felt burnt out and lost.  They have also been times of deep awakening and learning.  Times that I have learned to own in new ways who I really am, to claim my own gifts and my own voice.  There are plenty of people to tell all of us who we “should” be and it takes action on our part to become who we truly are.  Like Elmer we can find our specialness, our uniqueness can cause us to feel lonely at times.

This congregation has been in a time of transition, a time of wandering.  Grieving the loss of a leader; learning to make it through without her guidance and voice.  Yet what has this taught you? What have you as a community learned about yourselves?

I can tell you what I have seen.  I have felt how deeply you value ministerial leadership.  I have seen it in the ways you have shared your stories with me.  You have shared your hopes and your dreams and yes your fears too. Fears that you are too small.  Fears that there are not enough people to do the work. Fears that there is not enough money to be the community you long to be.  I have heard the ways you feel like you don’t count or live up to the expectations out there; that somehow because you are not a mid-size or large congregation that you are then “less than.”  That somehow if you cannot demonstrate numerical growth then there must be something wrong with you.

Yet I see so much here.  First you are a truly welcoming group of people. I see your care and concern for one another. One of the gifts of your size is that you do all know one another.  You know what is going on in each other’s lives and you take the time to acknowledge it.  And it is not just about your pastoral care team – who are amazing by the way. It is all of you.  You enjoy each other and have fun together – the chocolate auction is a perfect example.  You know your story and you are proud of it!    For a congregation your size the fact that you have your own building and are not far from paying off the mortgage, have a part time minister and have been so active in the community of the Outer Banks is simply amazing.  Most other congregations your size are lay led and many are renting space. Many don’t even meet every Sunday.  There is much to celebrate here!  I will say it again, as I have traveled around Virginia in these last six weeks, you are well regarded out there.  I tell people I am here and I get such positive feedback about all of you both from lay people and my colleagues!

Yes you have concerns and fears – they are common fears. What is amazing is that your concerns about leadership and burn out, about finances are common across the board.  You feel it acutely because of your size.  What if you were to embrace those challenges? What if they became transformed from insurmountable obstacles to exciting challenges?  Like the slalom skiers – navigating the gates, can you see the obstacles as gates to be navigated, adding to the thrill of the work and not as obstacles impossible to overcome?  What if the obstacles became opportunities?

It is only recently that I understood the power of re-framing.  Recently I had something come to pass that I had been dreading.  No one became ill, no one died.  It was just an event that I had not wanted to happen and it did. Like the winter storms of late – snow, ice, rain.  Yet it happened and in the end I was still here.  My family was together.  I was not alone.  It opened up new possibilities. When I saw this terrible thing not as a terrible thing but as an opportunity it shifted my energy and how I was able to deal with it. Suddenly I had the capacity to face it head on. Now that doesn't mean it was not hard, this is a not a Pollyanna, rose colored glasses, living in  denial approach, rather in choosing, intentionally to see opportunity and possibility, it changed it me and my approach to it.

What if instead of seeing your small size as a problem or hindrance, you saw it as a gift?  This does not exclude growth or welcoming new people – rather it is about embracing and loving who you are right now and who you are becoming! What if you saw your location in the Outer Banks, as a congregation with a seasonal component as the opportunity to minister to people in new and creative ways?  What gifts do you have to offer to those coming to the Outer Banks to vacation?  What opportunities might these summer visitors offer you in terms of ways to serve and ways to raise money?  How could you become a visible voice of liberal religious community to people coming from other places as well as those that live here year round? Perhaps a spiritual respite from busy lives?

As I continue to minister with all of you I will invite you to consider these questions.   What are your gifts?  How can obstacles become opportunities?  How can you embrace the gifts of winter, here at the beach?  I suspect that those of you who have lived here a long time already know the beauty of winters at the beach. Maybe for some of you, it has become your favorite time.  I look forward to learning from you to see the unique beauty of this end of winter time here at the Outer Banks!

So let’s learn to embrace winter together! Celebrate the quiet, see the gifts in small packages and prepare for the blooming of a new season.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A re-post with revisions! First Comes Love, Then Comes Justice

I preached this sermon this past Sunday at the UU Fellowship of the Peninsula. I had previously preached it back in 2010 so it has been updated and revised for a new congregation and a new year!  Enjoy!

First Comes Love, Then Comes Justice: 
Re-Imagining Love and Marriage
February 9, 2014

Text: excerpt from Carter Heyward's Our Passion for Justice
Story: Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein

I have to say as I begin this sermon that this is not an easy sermon to bring to you.  Not because I don’t have plenty to say on the topic – I have more than enough to say.  It is because I stand before you as a queer person, in a same-sex relationship for the last 20 years, who is legally married although that marriage is not recognized in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  It is almost too personal, too close to home.  Yet I hope this sermon is not a typical support of same-sex marriage, making the case that queer people and queer couples are just like everyone else and therefore deserving of their civil rights. It is my hope that I will raise some questions I don’t see being addressed in our current discourse on marriage or our popular culture’s notions of marriage.

I use the word queer for myself and to talk about the wide and diverse world of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.  It is not a word that is universally accepted and used.  I use it because it allows me to have my identity not limited to one particular box, one particular identity.  I use it as a member of this wide and diverse community, knowing that there is not universal agreement as to its usage.

Love and marriage are of course on our minds – how could they not be.  It is almost Valentine’s Day and same-sex marriage is definitely in the news – whether the recent cases here in Virginia, or Utah or Oklahoma.   Let us also not forget the attention on Russia during the Winter Olympics and Russia’s vehement anti-gay laws – banning even the discussion or symbols of LGBTQ equality.   Just this weekend the Justice Department announced that for federal programs and benefits married same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residence, will be treated the same as heterosexual couples. Screaming from television, radio, stores, and restaurants – everywhere we are hearing about love – hearts, chocolates, red, and pink are everywhere.  Then we also have the anti-Valentine’s celebration – mostly marking break-ups and betrayals, the loss of love, the absence of love, the horror of being single and alone on this particular holiday when the world seems to be made up of happy couples.  Yet what is wrong with this picture?  It tells us that we are all embarking on Noah’s Ark two by two.  One may ask what is so horrible and awful about being single?  Most of us rationally thinking about it would say that there is nothing horrible or awful about being single.  Yet our culture’s obsession with coupleness often sends the message that it is better to be in a relationship – any relationship – than to be single.

Our current cultural mores teach that the hardest part about love and marriage is finding that one perfect person.  Once of course the person is found, the perfect wedding day will commence and they ride off into the sunset perfectly happy and content.  It is all about the courtship, the beginning of new love.  Nothing about what happens after the cake is eaten, the last notes of music from the band have faded away, friends and families have gone home and the couple is left to figure out how to spend the rest of their days in wedded bliss.

Those of us who have been in a long-term relationship know that the real work, the hardest part is how to remain in one’s relationship after the initial bloom of romance fades.  As one blogger put it, there is no Hallmark card that says “I love you so much that I will endure you” and yet much of long-term committed relationship is learning to endure the other.  Learning to hang in there when it might be easier to walk way; learning to stay even when my personal needs for intimacy, connection and support are not being met – that is the work of long-term committed relationships, because even in the happiest, the most healthy of relationships there will be times when one or both will not be getting all or even some of their needs for intimacy, connection and support met.  Marriage requires commitment and some hard work.  Yet this commitment and hard work has its own joy and reward – one not often seen in the movies, television, or books.  Leo Tolstoy in one of his novellas, has his character describe this joy and reward this way “That day ended the romance of our marriage; the old feeling became a precious irrecoverable remembrance; but a new feeling of love for my children and the father of my children laid the foundation for a new life and a quite different happiness; and that life and happiness have lasted to the present time.” Commitment and endurance have their own joy and happiness that is often quieter and less visible than the exhilaration and giddiness of new love.

Our common messages about marriage and this extends into our work for marriage equality is that marriage and romantic love are the best and primary ways to meet our need for connection and intimacy; secondly, that it is up to individuals to find their one true love and figure out how to make it work; and, finally, love and marriage are individual rights and choices and the community, including faith community, has little or no role there.  If a marriage succeeds or fails it is the sole fault or responsibility of the couple.  I want to challenge these assumptions and say that our work for marriage equality, could if we gave it a chance, provide an opportunity for us to re-imagine love and marriage.   As Carter Heyward says in our reading, love is not just a sentimental feeling, that love makes justice, makes righteousness.  This notion is sorely lacking in our current cultural messages about marriage.  I also want to say it is missing from our faith communities – including our liberal Unitarian Universalist faith communities.

Our work for marriage equality is predicated on the notion that same-sex couples are just like heterosexual couples – that gay and lesbian couples just want the same things we all want – to be happily married – so let us open up civil marriage – and please note how clear we are that we are talking about civil marriage – to same sex couples – not to everyone but to same-sex couples.  Now on the one hand there is nothing wrong with this.  It makes good politics, it makes good bumper stickers like “Civil marriage is a Civil Right”.  But I also find it flawed and problematic.

For one thing it does nothing to challenge the inherent heterosexism in our culture or its obsession with coupleness as the primary and best means for meeting our relationship needs.  Is it really?  Is marriage truly the best way to meet to our needs for intimacy, sharing, support?  We put a lot of pressure on our romantic relationships and I think that is why so many of them end.  They just can’t support all the pressure we put on them – they are supposed to meet our needs for a best friend, someone to hang out with, someone to help pay the bills, live with, run a household with, raise children with, lover, partner, companion.  Whew..I am tired just thinking about it.

What if we removed some of this pressure from our romantic relationships?  What if we encouraged and modeled networks of relationships?  That people had not just spouses but friends and communities.  What if our faith communities became places that met some of these needs and supported life-partners as they worked to be partners and lovers who are building lives, homes and families?  Our faith communities could become antidotes to isolation, antidotes to having to do it all on one’s own.

Heterosexism, is the ism in our society that demands that we all conform to heterosexual norms  - opposite sex marriage, appropriate gender roles for men and women and valuing the nuclear family over all other family structures.  It is often hidden and unseen – much like racism and sexism.  It is not the fault of any one individual – it is a system.  It is a system that permeates into the personal aspects of our lives on a nearly daily basis.  How many forms do you fill out that ask if you are married or single? Every time I encounter a form that asks me if I am married or single I have to stop and think about my answer.  Who is asking?  Am I “allowed” to say that I am married?  When am I allowed to claim that identity?  When can’t I?  Simply granting me a civil marriage license has not ended the regular reminder that my relationship, my family is less than the idealized heterosexual nuclear family.

Yet our current debate over marriage equality does very little to disrupt notions of heterosexism  Our current marriage equality movement only asks that same sex couples be allowed to participate more fully in the heteronormative culture by granting those rights tied to civil marriage to same sex couples.  Now don’t get me wrong these rights are important and numerous.  These rights include tax filing, inheritance, hospital visitation, end of life decisions, burial. Truly life and death situations.  Yet I must ask why are these rights tied to marriage?

The marriage equality movement argues that lesbian and gay couples are just like and just want what everyone wants – heteronormative marriage.  Like in our story, it is allowing same sex couples to do things just like everybody else!  Really?  Is that really all queer people and queer couples want?  We want to be just like everyone else?  How limiting!  If the scope of our vision is only to have marriage equality, then our vision is too small.  It is not truly just. For a system that grants 1400 rights to people because they are married means that those rights and benefits are not available to those who are not married – queer or straight.  It continues to privilege one form of family over all other forms.  It also means that queer people and queer families have to make sure they act and look like straight people and not be “too outside” the norm.  Queer people are asked to sacrifice what makes them special in order to be safe, in order for some degree of acceptance.

I also am deeply trouble that our marriage equality debate has been limited to civil marriage.  Again this is a political strategy – the polls tell us it will play well with that average Jane or Joe out there who is ambivalent about this notion of extending heterosexual marriage to same-sex couples.  Don’t bring religion into it!  And we as a faith community, as a religion have bought into this hook, line and sinker.    I expect more. For my religious community, my liberal religious community – all of you and other Unitarian Universalists around the country have said – you are welcome here – you are seen here.  Yet the best we can fight for is civil marriage?  Let me tell you, I was married for twelve years before I had any civil marriage.  My marriage is not more “real” now because I have a civil marriage license than before.  We have been blessed with religious communities that have blessed and supported our relationship throughout our years together. If we are going to fight for marriage equality – than we must claim our place as people of faith who bless and sanctify the relationships of same-sex couples and families.  We must claim our religious voice!  So when you go to the courthouse in Newport News this week, go as people of faith!  Be proud that you are there as Unitarian Universalists!  Let people know that you can be a person of faith and queer person and queer ally!

And this comes back to how we as liberal religious people have bought into society’s notions of what marriage is and should be.  Oh we will host, bless and officiate at wedding ceremonies for same-sex and opposite sex couples.  We pride ourselves on our long history of doing so – and yes that is something to be proud of.  But rarely do we teach people in our faith community what a healthy relationship is or looks like, how to sustain in the long run and what role faith may have in their relationship.  Carter Heyward tells us that we are not automatic lovers of anything – ourselves, others, God.  We must chose to love and to chose and to chose wisely means there are things to learn about love.  Don’t we as a religious community have an obligation to teach about love?

Carter Heyward tells us that to love is to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives.  It is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family.”  What if a question for all couples is how will your love, your life together help heal a broken world?  What if we put justice into the mix?  How would that reframe our notions of love and marriage – if marriage was as much about justice as it is about love?  Now I am not proposing that we add more thing to the list our marriages are meant to carry – but how does it reframe marriage if justice is brought into the mix?

Well for one thing we cannot make justice on our own – justice making is community work.  We all need to know that we are not in it alone – couples and families need to know they are not it in alone.  Queer people and couples in particular, need to know that they are not alone – for in too many cases – families, friends and religious community vanishes when one utters the words “I am queer; I am gay; I am lesbian; I am bisexual; I am transgender.”  One of the gifts of the queer community is how it has created its own structures, organizations and families to support those who have lost so much by coming out.  What does the queer community have to teach about what makes a family? What do the same sex couples in our community have to teach us about how to create new models for intimacy?

As people of faith I call upon us to ask to the question what is marriage for?  Who is it for?  What if marriage was not the only way of creating a family? Again what about single people?  What about those who have no interest in marrying?  What about those who live together in long-term relationships but never marry – is their relationship less then?  What might they have to teach us?  What does it mean for us as a religious community to bless and affirm marriage?  Does our obligation end once the couple is off to the reception and have left our doors?  Is there something more?  What about those who want to form a family with more than two adults and some children?  What about blended families who chose to live together?  What about multiple generations in one household?  Or families that chose to live together communally?  What do these households have to teach us about commitment, marriage and family?  What about couples who do not have children?  Does justice demand that some of these federal and state benefits be extended to families beyond the nuclear family?

To make love is to make justice Carter Heyward tells us.  To make justice is to participate in the healing of a broken world.  This congregation and other Unitarian Univeralists have said that we are “Standing on the Side of Love.”  To stand on the side of love is to stand for justice and heal a broken world.  The Standing on the Side of Love campaign is not just about securing civil marriage for same sex couples but rather to stand for justice for all sorts of families who face injustice.  It is to stand for immigrant families facing deportation and separation.   It is to stand for families who struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

To stand on the side of love means our vision has to be bigger.  We have to re-imagine love and marriage for our own time.  We need to expand our notion of who or what is a family.

To stand on the side of love is to stand with queer people – people who do not fit into our normative notions of gender – who defy the gender binary.  It is to stand with queer youth who make up a disproportionate amount of the homeless youth population. It is to learn about the queer homeless youth here in Newport News and Hampton Roads who have few if any services. It is to stand with homeless families in our community who cannot on their own secure a safe and warm home for themselves and enough food to eat.  It is to demand an end to favoring heteronormative marriage over all other types of relationships.  It is time for love that goes beyond chocolate and hearts – but rather opens each of us to the suffering of the world and to do what we can to heal it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Listening for the Voice of Vocation

I preached this sermon for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks on January 26, 2014.  My two texts were the story "The Woodcarver" from The Way of Chuang Tzu and the first four minutes or so of the TEDx Talk "Hackschooling Makes Me Happy" by Logan LaPlante.

So I have spent a great deal of my life reflecting on vocation.  In college and beyond I began a life-long wrestling with the question “What is my vocation; what is it I am called to do?”  Now given that I have spent the majority of my career working for congregations or other faith based organizations, that I have attended three different seminaries (that is a story for another day) this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you.
After all isn’t vocation limited to those who are called into ministry?  When most people hear the word vocation or calling, they associate it with a religious vocation or calling – so being called into ministry and they associate it with a career.  This is fed by the language of our congregations. We speak of calling a minister (not hiring a minister).  Ministers say “I was called to the work” or “this congregation called me.”  So the language of our faith communities also underscores this notion of vocation being limited to those with a specific call to working in the world of religion and faith.

Yet as a young person growing up Roman Catholic, in a post-Vatican II church, the notion of vocation, the notion of calling was broader.  We talked about all people having a vocation, having a purpose to their life.  The notion that God called you to particular careers and ways of life and that was not just limited to the nuns and priests.  That left a deep impression on me and like I said I have spent a great deal of my life wrestling with the question “What am I called to do.”

Parker Palmer, Quaker, activist, educator, and author also wants to expand our notion of vocation.  For Palmer vocation is not limited to a religious calling and is really about discovering one’s authentic self, and living an authentic life.

My favorite Parker Palmer book is Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation and in this book Palmer explores what he has learned about vocation.

So let’s begin with the root of the word itself – vocation comes from the Latin word “vocare” which means “to call” and vox which means voice.  Now let’s take it deeper and see how Palmer defines vocation:  “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue.  It means a calling that I hear.  Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.  I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.”

At the heart of vocation is not what job or career one pursues, it is not an external voice, it is not limited to religion; the heart of vocation is living life, the whole life as one’s authentic self.  So while it may be that the values and one’s own identity will draw a person to one career rather than another, that is only one part of vocation, it is really about living authentically in all areas of one’s life.  Which means that if vocation is about living one’s authentic self, which must listened for and discovered, than there is no one moment alone that we say “this is my vocation” – this thing I do, this career, this job.  It is always evolving.  We are always being called and that means that what might be true for us at one stage of our life will not be true at another.  It is really about being and not as much about doing.

The hardest things I have wrestled with in terms of vocation have often been limited to what type of job or career I should pursue and the feeling that I had to get it right.  Or maybe as Logan pointed out I was answering question of What Do I Want to Be with What Do I want to Do. All too often what we are is answered by what we do.  As I was reflecting on this sermon and what I wanted to say, I finally realized that vocation is not about the job or career, although that is part of it, rather vocation is the way I bring my authentic self to all of my life – so that means how I interact in all areas – in my marriage, as a parent, as a friend, community member – all of me.  So when I think about what is my vocation, I realize that if I had to sum it up in just one word it would be teacher.  It is about a state of being – not what I am doing.  Whatever it is I am doing at any particular moment is really about being a teacher – seeking to understand, to create understanding.  This may make clear my affection for Parker Palmer for he too is a teacher, an educator.  Whether he is writing, speaking, or in fact teaching, he is a teacher.  Not always standing in front of the classroom as teacher but rather his particular gift is to teach.  What keeps unfolding is the ways he is called to live that gift in the world.

In my work as minister, I am a teacher.  I have told both the Board and the Program Committee this already. I am an educator so one of my first inquiries to both groups has been if they would be willing to do some learning together.  I am grateful that both are open to this idea.  Not completely surprising in our Unitarian Universalist context since as a group we highly value learning and education.  I am guessing that if I asked the room, there would be a number of teachers here – even if they have never taught in a classroom.
As a preacher, I am always trying to teach although not just facts or figures, not just heady learning but hopefully embodied learning. Learning that touches the heart as well as the head; learning that leaves the listener thinking and feeling. As a parent, my strongest and best moments are when I am teaching my daughter – cooking, baking, making my great-grandmother’s fudge which she passed directly on to me, sharing a book, going to a museum or historical site as a family where we learn together. In my life, I bring the gift of teaching and learning to all the aspects of my life – work, marriage, parenting, friendship, and community.

Recently it was finally made clear to me that one could still be true to one’s vocation, one’s authentic life regardless of one’s career through two articles that crossed my computer.  The first article was a piece written by a woman who finally had to set aside her dream of getting a PhD in literature and becoming a faculty member at a college or university.  In the article she had delayed her studies to pursue other things including marriage and a family and then she dived in and applied to a PhD program, got accepted along with a generous scholarship. It seemed her delayed dream, her delayed vocation was finally manifesting.  Yet she turned it down; not without sorrow or loss but in listening to all of her life she realized that this particular dream was not meant to be.  As our Woodcarver said, without the tree there would have been no bell stand – in this case the tree she needed was not found.  Hopefully she will find a way for this dream to manifest in new and unexpected ways.  Yet in the end she gave up the job of her dreams in order to pursue the life she had created.

The other article was a critique of the “do what you love” philosophy.  The critique was that it denigrates work. The whole notion of doing what you love means that work never feels like work.  The point of the article hit home for me.  As an educated person from an economically privileged background, I have had the luxury of choosing work that I love, in fact I was raised with the expectation that I would have work that I love and that would support me.  I have options because of my education, my skill, my networks and connections.  To say that everyone should do what they love is to denigrate those who don’t have the kinds of options that I have. When we say that low-wage service jobs are for high school and college students working their way to a better job; we deny the reality that many of those working in those jobs are not in their teens or young adult years, they rely on that job to make a living, to make life and to raise a family.  For most I would guess it is far from their dreams, far from what they love and in fact given the low status of these jobs in our culture, they are constantly reminded just how under and unvalued their work is. Of course, it could also be that some of those who are working in these jobs are also leaning into their ‘call’ but I acknowledge for myself and I sure for others … that we sometimes have a hard imagining  jobs that we would not particularly being something that one enjoys.

I made the mistake of reading the comments on one of these articles about the minimum wage and low paying jobs.  Over and over there was this judgment that if you are low-wage one should not be a parent, that no one is meant to stay in those jobs and to just go get the training to do something better – therefore no need for the minimum wage to be a living wage.  Yet who will work in the service sector, sanitation services, grow and pick the crops if all those people are only meant to have those jobs until they find “what they love and do that.”

Vocation is not about one’s job, vocation is listening to one’s true, authentic self, it is about listening beyond the “you should be this” or “this is what this type of person is or does” or everyone in our family has done X and you will carry it on.  Vocation should not be limited to those with education or privilege – every person should be able to live an authentic life.  That means one can pursue a job that is not what they love, what they dream to do and still live their vocation.  If each of us can learn to bring our authentic selves to whatever we do, then we are living our vocation – we are letting our lives speak.  Vocation is what the young Logan LaPlante is speaking of. It is about living in a way that creates health and happiness. None of the eight things that are said to create happiness involve having work that one loves – yet they all involve connecting with oneself, with others and the world.

Yet how do we learn to listen to our lives and let them speak?  For me it has involved lots of reading, time in silence, prayer, meditation.  It has also involved failure and hearing no.  In Palmer’s book one of the chapter’s is called “When the Way Closes.”  In this chapter Palmer recounts the story of going to talk to an older Quaker woman about his concern that he had still not found his right career vocation.  There is a Quaker expression that says “a way will open” and Palmer was hearing over and over again that “a way will open” yet nothing seemed to be happening.  I can deeply relate to this particular story – there is nothing like job hunting to make one impatient to have a way open!  The woman said to him, “I am a birthright Friend and in sixty-plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me. But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.”  Ah yes the way closing gives valuable and painful lessons.  Over the course of my life, not just recently, the way has often been revealed by what closed.  Letting your life speak, listening for the voice of your life, is not always easy and it is not pain-free.

So what about communities? Do communities have a vocation?  I would say yes.  In communities there are many different people, with different vocations, different needs and yet vocation is found in purpose, in mission.  Even within similar communities – like the 1,100 plus Unitarian Universalist congregations in our Association each will have a unique vocation – a unique voice to offer both within their own geographic communities and within our association.  Each will bring their own gifts and strengths.  Each will learn through ways closing.  There will be struggle. There will be joy. Yet each one’s journey is unique and each one will live out the message of Unitarian Universalism in a unique way.  Each one’s vocation will evolve and change over its history.

So what is the vocation of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks?  What is your unique voice here in the Outer Banks of North Carolina?  What gifts can you bring to this community?  What is it they need, that you have, that is unique, that is your place?  Who are your partners in the work?  What is your place, your unique place among other UU congregations?  What can you bring to our Association of Congregations?  Who are you as a congregation called to be?  Over the course of our time together, we will be exploring these questions.  When you understand your vocation, your unique way of being then the search for finding a minister to call, one whose own calling fits with yours will move forward

Whether for an individual or a community, the work of letting your life speak, the work of vocation is, at its heart, about bringing the uniqueness of you, of the group, to the world.  Another way to say it comes from Frederick Buechner “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It is, in the words of Logan LaPlante, about discovering what it takes for you to live a happy, healthy life!

Blessed Be!
May it be So!