Monday, September 29, 2014

How Do We Respond?

I preached this sermon on Sunday, September 28, 2014 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Story:  The Wind and the Flag, a Zen story
Readings: Selection of Readings

 “…And so I say to you today that I still stand for nonviolence. And I am still convinced that it is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for justice in this country.

And the other thing that I am concerned about is a better world. I’m concerned about justice. I’m concerned about brotherhood. I’m concerned about truth.

And when one is concerned about these, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder.

Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate. Darkness cannot put out violence. Only light can do that.

And so I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I am going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today.

I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love. I’m talking  about a strong, demanding love.

And I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want hate myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.

If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who has love has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

“All violence is injustice. Responding to violence with violence is injustice, not only to the other person but also to oneself.

Responding to violence with violence resolves nothing; it only escalates violence, anger and hatred.

It is only with compassion that we can embrace and disintegrate violence. This is true in relationships between individuals as well as in relationships between nations.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

“Each time a man or woman stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those tine ripples can build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Robert Kennedy

“We must rededicate ourselves to creating a society where differences are resolved without violence, where the mentally unstable do not have ready access to lethal force, where violence is not glorified, and where we can live, love, and work in safe places. Our task as a religious people committed to compassion and to peace is to show a better way.”
Peter Morales

“Love is the active, creative force that repairs life's injuries and brings new possibilities into being.

Love speaks out in the face of injustice and oppression, calling leaders to account when policies and practices are injuring people.

Love tends the wounds created by injustice and evil and offers compassion in the presence of life's suffering.

Love builds communities of inclusion and friendship that break through the boundaries of prejudice and enmity.
Love embraces the goodness of this world and seeks paradise on earth, a heaven of mutual respect.

Love generates life — from the first moment of conception of a child, to the last moment when love creates a way for those who have died to be remembered with gratitude and tenderness.

And in the deepest night, when our hearts are breaking, it is the discovery of a love that chooses unshakeable fidelity to our common humanity that renews us and redirects us to a life of generosity.”
Rebecca Parker

How Do We Respond?

So let us begin today with some statistics and facts:

  • One in three people in the U.S. knows someone who has been shot.
  • On average, 32 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 140 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room.
  • Every day on average, 51 people kill themselves with a firearm, and 45 people are shot or killed in an accident with a gun.
  • The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.
  • A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
  • More than one in five U.S. teenagers (ages 14 to 17) report having witnessed a shooting.
  • An average of eight children and teens under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.
  • American children die by guns 11 times as often as children in other high-income countries.
  • Youth (ages 0 to 19) in the most rural U.S. counties are as likely to die from a gunshot as those living in the most urban counties. Rural children die of more gun suicides and unintentional shooting deaths. Urban children die more often of gun homicides.
  • Firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death (after motor vehicle crashes) for young people ages 1-19 in the U.S.
  • In 2007, more pre-school-aged children (85) were killed by guns than police officers were killed in the line of duty.

The statistics are overwhelming and staggering.  Where do we find hope in this?  How are we to respond?

As I stated in my description of today’s service, I am not here to propose legislation or to advocate for a particular bill or that I even have many answers.  In the interest of being completely transparent in where I come from, I do not own a gun, I have never handled or fired a gun.  However, my wife was in the military and grew up hunting with multiple guns in her home on a farm in rural Virginia. I have my own deeply held opinions about gun regulation particularly for assault weapons, but today is not the day for that, today is a day to talk about how do we as a people of faith, as a religious community respond to the almost daily reports of gun violence in our society? Just this week we heard about three killed in Alabama, another person killed by a gun who was killing former co-workers in Oklahoma.  Those are just two the hit the news, how many others have been killed or injured this week due to guns?

In our story today the itinerant monk states that it is the mind that moves.  We need a collective moving of the minds.  We need to move beyond simple either/or solutions. Right now the debate comes down to that if one supports gun regulation then one is seeking to take guns away from lawful citizens and violating their constitutional rights and if one supports little or no regulation of guns than one is in line with early patriots in America and believes that mental health care and police enforcement should stop the unlawful use of guns. It seems the debate is all or nothing – either total non-regulation of guns or the taking away of all guns.  It is a false dichotomy.

Yet like so many other debates right now we seem to only see two extreme views.  Like the monks we are arguing if it is the wind or the flag.  We need a new way.

What do we as people of faith have to say about gun violence?  In our readings today, all call upon us to find another way, to meet violence not with more violence but with love, with compassion.  While we argue with words, people are dying and being irreparably harmed by violence.  We also have to acknowledge that all too often those most affected by gun violence are people of color and those who are poor or working class.  In response to the Sandy Hook shootings, over and over we heard “this doesn't happen here” which is really code for it doesn't happen in our white, middle class communities.  Somehow it makes it ok for it to happen in the cities of Chicago, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Oakland, Detroit.

I am sure it was also said at Virginia Tech, at UC Santa Barbara, at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.  Somehow if gun violence takes place in areas that are considered urban ghettos than somehow it is normal, expected and maybe on some level acceptable.  As people of faith who affirm the worth and dignity of every person, we must condemn violence wherever it occurs, whatever the color, gender, sexual orientation, class status and even the criminal history of who is the victim.  Meaning while we are glad that not more people were killed or injured in Oklahoma, we must mourn the loss of the person who was shot. He too was a person, he too has inherent worth and dignity. It does not mean that we condone his actions, it means we acknowledge his humanity. He too was someone’s son, maybe someone’s parent, friend, nephew, spouse.  He too mattered.

Our faith tradition first affirms the sacred worth and dignity of every person. In fact, in this country Unitarians rejected the inherent depravity of humanity held by the Puritans; they affirmed that human beings were all made in the image and likeness of the Divine.  Any response to gun violence must begin there – it must begin with the affirmation that every human life is sacred – all lives matter. Peter Morales, the current President of the Unitarian Universalist Association tells us in today’s reading “We must rededicate ourselves to creating a society where differences are resolved without violence, where the mentally unstable do not have ready access to lethal force, where violence is not glorified, and where we can live, love, and work in safe places. Our task as a religious people committed to compassion and to peace is to show a better way.”

This then is not just about whether and how guns should be regulated but a deeper conversation about addressing the overwhelming violence that is prevalent throughout our society, not to mention the world.

I will remind us now that we have begun another war as the United States leads a coalition of countries in air strikes in Iraq and Syria to counter the horrible terrorist violence of ISIS.  We are again responding to violence with violence.  I don’t know for certain if there is another way to respond, another way to stop this organization committed to wiping out anyone who doesn’t agree with their world view, and seems intent on inflicting terror wherever it goes, yet the words of Martin Luther King echo in my head and heart. “For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder.  Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate. Darkness cannot put out violence. Only light can do that.”

What light are we going to bring?  What can we here on the Outer Banks do about gun violence?  We can begin where we are with what we have.  We can bring an open mind and open heart.  We can listen not just with our ears but with our hearts.  We can put faces to those names, we can put the faces of people to those overwhelming statistics.

We can be a place of healing, where those who have been affected by gun violence can have a space for all they are feeling – anger, sadness, grief, fear. We can be a place where they can share their story and the stories of their loved ones.

We can also be a community that values discourse and diversity of opinion.  We can discuss gun regulation with an understanding that we will not all agree and that feelings may run deep and strong. We can agree that the enormous loss of life must end while holding a diversity of opinions about how best to do that.

We can ask ourselves, what drives my own opinions and motivations.  In understanding ourselves, we can then open ourselves to the viewpoints and world views of others.  I can learn from those who are concerned about increased gun regulation.  After all I do not now nor have I ever owned a gun. Would I see these issues differently if I was a hunter?  Would I see differently if I had a family member or friend killed or wounded by a gun?  Would I see the militarization of our police differently if I was African American?  How would I see it if I had family members in law enforcement?

As it is I view these issues through the eyes of a person of faith, who wants a world of justice and free from violence for all people.  I want a world free not just of gun violence, but all violence.  As John Lennon says I may be a dreamer but I am not the only one. If we give up and say it will never happen, then we cannot move forward. If before we begin, we give up and say “it is impossible, such a world could never be” then we close ourselves to our possibility.  As people of faith, standing on the tradition of affirming the worth and dignity of every human being, let us imagine, let us dream big. Let us imagine a world where these statistics I started with are a relic of the past.  Let us move our minds as the itinerant monk tells us to new possibilities including the possibility of justice, peace and love.

I close with a reminder of the words of Robert Kennedy “Each time a man or woman stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those tiny ripples can build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

May we send forth those ripples of hope!

Blessed Be!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ban Lazy

Just like Sheryl Sandberg wants to "Ban Bossy" I want to ban the use of the word lazy when it comes to talking about those who are unemployed, underemployed, living at minimum wage and otherwise economically struggling and impoverished.  Recently Speaker of the House John Boehner called the unemployed lazy.  He said  "People have this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” This from the man whose congressional members he leads voted to give themselves another seven weeks of vacation. Who exactly is exhibiting "lazy" here?

I grew up in a family that talked about "welfare queens" and those on food stamps buying steaks, and of course the ever popular belief that women on welfare just kept getting pregnant so they could get more money from the government.  Yes I was raised on a steady diet that the poor are poor because it is their fault, they waste money, and yes that they are lazy.  There is very little that is done to counteract this prevalent cultural belief. Even those who are Democrats, who support a strong safety net want to make sure there are plenty of safeguards so that "laziness" is not tolerated.  I have heard faith leaders talk about making sure "people don't scam the system" by going to faith community to faith community looking for assistance - because the feeling is that dealing with bureaucracy and asking repeatedly safeguards the system by stopping the 'lazy ones'.  I have heard talk about "needing to be good stewards" and "being accountable."  All of this assumes that to be lacking in financial resources is to be lazy, untrustworthy, a scam artist and basically out to take rather than work for a living.  So even from those who want a safety net and who support liberal economic policies still don't have a problem with systems that are invasive, that want to micromanage the lives of the poor and assure they are not "lazy." So even from supposed "allies" the poor are assumed to be less moral, less capable and more lazy than everyone else. We never seem to realize that when real people need real help ... they work every day at somehow keeping their family afloat while often holding down jobs that are demanding or exhausting but does not meet the needs and on top of that they have to constantly ask for help; battle suspicion, judgement and redtape; and try not to give up as one's spirit is crushed and one's self worth is questioned.

This is outrageous.  The idea that those that live everyday wondering how they are going to keep a roof over their heads, transportation and food on the table are lazy is indefensible, it is morally abhorrent. Yes I am sure you could find examples or hear people say "why should I work when I can collect a check?" How is that any different from the Wall Street Bankers who kept their bonuses while receiving a bail out from the government? They said they were entitled to them. That they had earned them despite sending the entire economy into a Depression not seen since 1929.  They are still successfully getting legislation that requires little or no oversight, certainly no intense, invasive investigation and certainly not examining whether or not they are "lazy."

I am one of those underemployed persons.  I have written here about the bone weariness that comes from the constant stress and worry about money.  It has been eye-opening and world-view changing to realize how much my family promoted lies about those who are poor. They are lies.  We can listen to the CEO of Panera who undertook the challenge of eating on a budget provided by food stamps. We can hear other stories of how people go from store to store looking for the best prices on food or who live in food deserts where there are no grocery stores. We can read about the woman who drove her reliable, fully paid for Mercedes to pick up her food stamps and what she learned about being unemployed and poor in the United States.  Maybe we could read about the "laziness" of the woman who worked four part-time jobs and at times slept in her car between jobs.  How she kept extra gas in her car so she wouldn't run out and be late to one of her jobs and was found dead in her car when the gas leaked.

If we are truly going to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all persons than we must ban "lazy." We must stop judging people by the size of their bank accounts, or lack thereof.  We must stop assuming that if you are struggling financially you are more likely to commit crime or try to rip someone off.  Shaming people never gets them motivated to do better.  Shaming people makes sure they hide even deeper in their shell, keeping their head down and just doing their very best to get through from day to day. Shame strips hope, strips dream, strips motivation.  All our punishing of the poor only drives people deeper into despair, deeper into hopelessness and deeper into poverty.  This deepens poverty beyond just the material but to a poverty of the soul. I have come to know that both can happen.

So let's ban lazy!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Water Communion

Water Communion is one of my favorite Unitarian Universalist worship services! What a privilege to lead the service this past Sunday, September 14 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Story:  The Cracked Pot
Music:  "Coming Home" by UU Rochester and "Blue Boat Home" by Peter Mayer

Water Communion

Water Communion is one of my favorite UU services – it is right there with flower communion.  I love how in so many congregations I have been involved with these two rituals serve as bookends to the year.  I love the blending of the waters and hearing all the places the water comes from.  Even more I love hearing just a little snapshot from people about how that water represents some change or transformation that has occurred in their lives.  For whether we were here all summer working or playing, whether we traveled far or not at all, summer can be a time of renewal maybe even a time of transformation.

For some you may come here and your water may represent joy at seeing family, visiting a new place, or a favorite place.  Maybe your water represents a new job or opportunity.  Maybe it is about an experience of awe.

For some of you the water may represent relief that a busy summer season is finally winding down and now a period of rest and recreation can begin.  Maybe the water is a symbol of refreshment while working hard on a hot summer day.  Maybe it is a refilling of the well with the abundance of summer work.

For others the water represents salty tears of loss; the death of a loved one, the loss of a dream or opportunity.  Maybe your water is filled with sadness, a deep sorrow.

We come together this morning and celebrate coming home again. Coming home again to this faith community where we celebrate our diversity of beliefs, where we care for one another in times of loss and sorrow, where we celebrate with one another in times of joy.  We blend our waters together, from places far and near, from sorrow, joy, rest, hard work, change and transformation.  Some of us are new here today and some of us have been coming for years.

Today we blend our water, water that essential element for life everywhere.  As we blend our water let us think of those for whom this life saving element is hard to come by.  For the women who walk many miles, like the water bearer in our story, to bring fresh water to their families.  For those in places within our own country who are suffering from drought and those places that are overrun with flood. Water is life and water can also destroy as this area knows all too well.  Water is powerful and strong, refreshing and sustaining.  It is filled with complexity and paradox.

So as we blend our water this morning, let us stop, let us take a moment to reflect on what it symbolizes to us in this moment.  Where are you in your life right now?  Does your water represent hope, change, new life?  Does your water represent joy?  Or does it represent sorrow or loss? Are you in search of healing and wholeness?  Are you in need of rest and renewal?  What are you bringing with you this morning?  How can this faith community accompany you where you are on the journey?

For me, this has been a year of profound change.  It has certainly not been easy with a change of jobs, a change of homes.  There has been loss and sadness.  There has been joy at new community, new friends, new and fulfilling work.  In many ways my own year reflects some of this community’s year. There has been the loss of Pat and a time of searching.  There has been a time of finding and welcoming.  Now this community continues its search.  You are being invited to ask deep questions, to reflect on who you have been, who you are and what you hope to become.  It is a time of dreaming and hoping.  Yet it is also a time of transition, a liminal time.  With hard work and hope, next year you will celebrate Water Communion with your new settled minister.  Another chapter will begin for this community.

Yet in this liminal time of change and transition, life continues on.  Worship happens each Sunday, the work of the Board and the committees moves forward.  The work of this community continues and people will continue to come and be welcomed and others will say goodbye.

So this Water Communion we invite it all. We invite all the water from near and far.  We blend it together and we will save some of it for those moments of ritual that happen through the year.  Some we will save for next year’s Water Communion.  Some we will give as gift to Janice who is leaving so she takes a tangible symbol of this community into her new life.  We blend it all together and we celebrate being together, we honor all of what we bring and we offer the invitation to find home here!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Faith and Community

I preached this sermon on Sunday August 24, 2014 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Story:  "A Church Divided" An interview with Rev. Howard Dana
Responsive Reading: "I Call That Church Free" by James Luther Adams

I call that church free which enters into covenant with the ultimate source of existence,

That sustaining and transforming power not made with human hands.

It binds together families and generations, protecting against the idolatry of any human claim to absolute truth or authority.

This covenant is the charter and responsibility and joy of worship in the face of death as well as life.

I call that church free which brings individuals into a caring, trusting fellowship,

That protects and nourishes their integrity and spiritual freedom; that yearns to belong to the church universal;

It is open to insight and conscience from every source, it bursts through rigid tradition, giving rise to new and living language, to new and broader fellowship.

It is a pilgrim church, a servant church, on an adventure of the spirit.

The goal is the prophethood and priesthood of all believers, the one for the liberty of prophesying, the other for the ministry of healing.

It aims to find unity in diversity under the promptings of the spirit “that bloweth where it listeth and maketh all things new.”

Faith and Community

So a couple of weeks ago I talked about faith and doubt.  I said that we need both faith and doubt – that we need enough faith to move forward, to take action and enough doubt to remain flexible and open to new possibilities.  That too little faith or to be overwhelmed with doubt can be paralyzing.  Today I want to talk about what it means to be a faith community. We talk about UUCOB as a community of faith. Yet what does it mean to be a community of faith when we do not necessarily share a common set of beliefs.  What is it that binds us together if it is not a set of shared beliefs? What is our shared faith?

James Luther Adams, Unitarian Universalist minister and theologian had much to say about the free church and its role.  For Adams it was voluntary associations, in particular the free church that was the antidote to fascism and hence the Holocaust.  It was in the context of the free church that human beings learned and practiced using their creativity to choose to act in ways that created justice and healing in the world.  James Luther Adams taught and ministered in the height of the humanist movement – often disagreeing with them.  He challenged them to think deeply and in one story one of the leading humanists said that “Adams believed in salvation by bibliography” and Adams replied “there is no such thing as the immaculate conception of an idea.”  While challenging  the Humanists, Adams also respected the diversity of beliefs within Unitarian Universalism.

For Adams wrestling with the Holocaust and the complicity of the German church with the Nazis called him to examine the characteristics of a faith community that would resist and oppose oppression rather than be complicit with it.

In our reading today, we hear what the characteristics of the free church according to Adams. It begins with covenant. I have spoken here often that Unitarian Universalists are bound together by the agreements they make with one another.  For Adams this covenant begins with the ultimate source of existence, with the Spirit of Life, God.  It is that which we cannot name, that sense of mystery that there is anything here rather not here.  It transcends any one person and even humanity itself and yet encompasses all of us.

This covenant binds us together in families, community and not just in the present but generation to generation. This covenant with the ultimate source of existence protects the world and humanity from the claim of absolute human authority or truth.  There are many people and groups that will claim they have absolute authority, absolute truth – like the Nazis.  For Adams this unexamined, uncritical faith is dangerous. It is what led to the silence and complicity of so many.  Over and over again we ask how could this happen?  How could we or they let this happen? It happens when we accept the absolute authority of another.  Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that it is not the hateful words of our enemies that will be remembered but the silence of friends.  Another way to say this is that the covenant protects the inherent worth and dignity of each person and the interdependent web of which each of us is a part.  It rejects that any one person is more worthy or less worthy than another.

The Free Church, the liberal faith community brings individuals together for caring and trusting fellowship.  Here we care for each other, we are in relationship with each other, we trust each other to share with each other, to be authentic with one another.  At our best we are also free to challenge and disagree with one another and yet remain in the dialogue. Like in our story this morning, it was not just a loyalty to conserve what they have or a loyalty to living out a future mission but a loyalty to each other, to assume the best of one another.  They may have disagreed about what decision would be best but they agreed to make this decision together and to remain together regardless of the outcome.

The free church protects and nourishes integrity and spiritual freedom and also yearns to be part of the church universal.  This is the free and responsible search for truth and the encouragement to our spiritual lives.  Here we cherish the freedom of the individual and yet also strive to be in community, to nourish and care for one another and to always call each other to deeper authenticity and integrity.  It is yearning to be part of something greater than ourselves, to search for truth, for meaning, to make sense of the world and our lives within it.

The free church, is open to insight and conscience from every source, bursts through rigid tradition.  For Unitarian Universalists everything contains the possibility for insight - the latest scientific breakthroughs, ancient sacred texts from all traditions, each other and those very different from us. It is critical that we remain open to new insight and revelation - not with uncritical, unthinking acceptance but with curiosity, authenticity.  It is a problem when we as UU's automatically reject something without examining whether or not it may have insight for us.  Another way of saying this is that revelation for Unitarian Universalists is never closed, never sealed. It is an affirmation that the Spirit, that life is always revealing new things. It is the affirmation of on-going creation, on-going evolution.

A pilgrim church, a servant church on an adventure of the spirit; we are on a journey and along the way we seek to serve. We are not just here for ourselves.  We are here to learn, to serve, to help heal our hurting world; it is to be both curious and humble.  It is to admit we don't have all the answers.

The goal is the prophethood and priesthood of all believers – we all have a responsibility to become prophets, to speak truth to power and a ministry of healing  - to bring comfort and consolation.  So many conditions in our world today demand us to be both prophets and priests - speaking truth and bringing healing.

I cannot help this morning but think of Ferguson, MO.  This situation is holding up a mirror to us, particularly those of us who are white. It is saying that racism is not done, we are not in a post-racial society. It demands that we as white people understand the privilege we possess just by virtue of being white. It demands, not that we reject or deny that privilege, but use that privilege, to acknowledge that privilege and stand up and say that not one more young black man should die, that black lives matter. Every 28 hours a black man is killed in the United States by police or vigilantes.  Every 28 hours!  While all eyes are focused on Michael Brown and Ferguson, there were three other shootings of unarmed black men in the same week.  Over and over it is the same story.  Can you imagine the outrage if white men were being killed by police or vigilantes at the rate of one every 28 hours?  What do we as faith community, we as the Unitarian Universalists of the Outer Banks have to say about Ferguson?  How are we called to respond?

It is here in the liberal faith community that we find our voice, we find the courage and community to speak up against injustice, oppression wherever we find it.  We do this knowing that the work is on-going and that we may not see it complete within our lifetime yet that is no excuse to sit down and do nothing.  It is here in nurturing this community that we go out and spread it to others.  It is not enough for our Unitarian Universalist congregations to simply exist for the enrichment of our own spirits! It is not enough - we must manifest our liberal faith in the world.  The world needs our voices, it needs us to speak up.  We are the ones we are waiting for, there is not someone else, there is not someone better. We must join with others, even with those we disagree - again being open to finding truth wherever it may be found.  It means each of us individually finding our own voice, our truth, our own sense of integrity and authenticity and bringing that together with others here to take it out there.  We are not alone.  We don't do this alone.  Adams writes that the free faith must take form - it must take form in order for belief to be formed and transformed over and over again. It must take form so it can act - so it can be a force for transformation in the world.  We practice being in right relation here, so we can be in right relation out there.

For Adams the free church, the free faith is where we learn to be authentic, to be in right relation. Like in the story of Harrisburg, they first had to be in right relation with each other before they could move forward.  Can you imagine if they had moved forward with buying that building, with entering a new community where they would have much to learn about their own privilege, to let go of what they thought they knew if they had not done that work of being in relationship with each other first?  There are too many examples of well meaning, people with good intentions wreaking havoc because they did not enter into a community with humility and curiosity - and instead came convinced of their own rightness, their own answers.  It reminds me of children on a playground who cry "but I didn't mean to do it" and yet they did, someone was hurt, someone was impacted regardless of what was intended.

It is my deep belief that Officer Wilson did not get up that morning intending to kill Michael Brown and yet Michael Brown is dead.  He will never go to college, his mother will bury him rather than celebrate another graduation.  Darren Wilson may not have intended to kill Michael Brown yet Michael Brown is dead.  What does our faith call us to do now?  What shall be our response to Officer Wilson? To Michael Brown's family?  To a community in Ferguson that is angry and hurting - that is outraged that another young life is gone? What do we as an overwhelmingly white faith community need to examine about our own privilege? Do we have the courage to look into the mirror that Ferguson holds up to us?  It is not the first time that this mirror has been held up - do we have the courage to look together - even if we don't necessarily like what we see there?

We live in a world that needs both prophets and priests. It needs voice to speak up, to say things are wrong, to say never again and take steps to make sure when we say it we mean it.  It needs healing. People are hurting and weeping and they need our compassion, our listening ears and loving hearts.

How are we here at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks becoming a place of priests and prophets?  How are we bringing both a prophetic voice of justice to our community and healing hands?  It is not enough to trust that it will all be ok – we are called to participate in making it ok – in making justice, in making a just and caring world.  We learn to do that here.

We are stronger together.  We come together in community because we know that we cannot do it alone.  Here we learn to live out our deepest values in the world. Here we find comfort when the hurt of the world and our own lives is just too much.  We find comfort and challenge so we can go back out and do the work.

May we continue to become the priests and prophets that this world so desperately needs.

May it be so!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

To Be Seen

As I am traveling home after visiting my family and friends, I am struck by how critical it is to be seen as you truly are and not as a projection.  I am so grateful to those friends and family members that see me, that make an effort to see me.  Those who want to know what is going on; not just the pretty, pleasant parts but the hard, sad parts too.  I hope that I too see them as they are and not as a projection.

I realized on this trip that with family it is too easy to fail to see each other and only see the person as who we want them to be or expect them to be or even as who they were before, failing to see the person they have become.  As a parent I was reminded again that our children are not simply new versions of us, they cannot fulfill our dreams, or be who we want/expect them to be.  Our children are persons in their own right with their own gifts and challenges, their own dreams and what is important to them may be different then what we hope or expect.  Our job as parents is to nurture and care for the person that they are, to nurture their discovery of their authentic selves.  That is challenging particularly since so many of us are still trying to figure out our own selves.

Yet what would our lives, our relationships, our world be like if we saw our primary work in this world as becoming our true selves and to help and let others do the same?  What if our primary roles as parents was to see our children as they are and guide them on the journey to become themselves and not some warped expectation or perception we have of them?  What would our educational institutions be like if they nurtured authenticity instead of conformity? What would our faith communities look like if we told the stories, shared the rituals knowing that the next generation would once again make them new again?  What about our economy, our government or society be like if we valued and nurtured people to be their true selves?

The first thing most parents do with their children is to gaze at them deeply, looking into their eyes as they gaze back at us.  I know for me I could not get enough of just looking and gazing at the miracle that is my daughter.  When do we stop doing that?  When does the pressure of life take away seeing them as they are?  Today I looked into my daughter's eyes and she looked back into mine and I am struck again by the miracle that she is.  She is and continues to become an amazing person. My prayer and my hope is that I continue to see her as she is, to encourage her to become herself and pursue her own dreams and goals.

I experienced during this visit the failure to be seen.  I felt again the feeling of not being valued for the person that I am because somehow I have failed to meet expectations.  I realize I cannot have that in my life, at least right now.  As I struggle with the various challenges in my life, I struggle with believing who I am is enough, is good, is valuable. I cannot have people around me who reinforce the lies depression tells me. That is a hard thing when some of those people are family.

Who truly sees you?  If you are a parent, when was the last time you gazed into the eyes of your child and just saw them, saw them as the miracle they are?  What about your spouse/partner/lover?  What about friends?  When have you looked in the mirror and truly saw the person there, the amazing, miraculous, made in the image of the holy that you are?  Experiment spending a day truly looking everyone in the eye.  You might just experience the holy in yourself and in each person you encounter.