Thursday, November 27, 2014

Celebrating Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!  It seemed appropriate to post my sermon from this past Sunday, November 23, 2014 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.  May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Story for All Ages: The First Thanksgiving, adapted and drawn from this piece from National Geographic.
Reading: Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Oct. 3, 1865

Celebrating Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday.  As a child I believed with my whole heart the image of Native Americans and Pilgrims sitting down to a wonderful feast, celebrating cooperation and friendship.  I was taught little about the settlements at Roanoke and Jamestown.  It seemed to me that American history began with the Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims.  My understanding of the relationship between the colonists and Native Americans was also rather simplistic that did not encompass the genocide inflicted on the Native people of this land by the Colonists.

Now my understanding is much more complex. Yes there was a Fall Feast with Pilgrims and Native Americans. There was cooperation for many years until the Colonists decided they did not want to cooperate any longer and wanted full scale control of the land.  In our reading for today we learn that the agreement between Wampanoag  and the English settlers for mutual support and defense, lasted only for one generation.  Many Native Americans in New England and other places refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving and instead gather together to remember and grieve the broken promises and those who lives were lost.  A powerful reminder that Thanksgiving is complicated filled with both celebration and grieving.

It was for this sermon that I first read Abraham’s Lincoln Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. Funny how that while I knew well the story of Pilgrims and Native Americans, I knew little or nothing about Lincoln and Thanksgiving.  So Lincoln offers this Thanksgiving Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War which will not end for another two years.  It was a woman, Sarah Joespha Hale, who began advocating for a national day of Thanksgiving after discovering the 1621 fall festival labeled as the first Thanksgiving back in 1846.  Lincoln actually declared two Thanksgivings, one in August of 1863 following the battle Gettysburg and the second for General Blessings in November of 1863.

Here in the midst of much suffering on both sides of the Civil War – with young people dying, with families pitted against each other and the unity of the country at stake, Lincoln calls us on to stop and give thanks.  He acknowledges all that there is to be grateful for – bountiful fields, riches from the land such as coal and precious gems and a growing population despite the loss of life on the battlefield. He makes clear that resources that could be used to further peaceful industry are going to war.  He calls upon people not just to remember that is not ultimately themselves that created this bounty but rather to remember that these gifts come from God.  He called for Americans to be humble and thankful.  Secondly he called for people to remember those suffering the most during the war – widows, orphans, mourners and suffers due to the war.  It was not just to be a day of thanks but also a day of penitence, a day to remember what injury we had inflicted on others.  He wrote “And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

This afternoon I will be preaching at the Ecumenical Thanksgiving service and the Hebrew Scripture reading is from Deuteronomy. The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Jewish Torah.  It is a record Moses’ final instructions to the people of Israel as he won’t be leading the people into their entry into the Promised Land.  In this particular reading from Chapter 8, Moses instructs the people that the purpose of their wandering in the desert for forty years was a test of their faith and faithfulness. It was to humble them and prepare them for the abundance that awaited them in this new land.  They had known hunger and eaten Manna – a new food to them.  Moses tells us that their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. In short God had provided for them during the wilderness and now finally long promised and long awaited here was the Promised Land.

One cannot help but draw parallels between the Israelites and all the various peoples who ventured forth to find a “new to them” land.  The English, French, Dutch and Spanish all found their way to this North American continent.  They wrote letters home describing the riches.  See if any of these descriptions sound familiar as I read the description from Deuteronomy of the land the Israelites are about to enter “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.”  Who would not want to enter such a land?  Who after a long journey of searching would not want all of this?  Does this not resonate with the letters the colonists wrote back to England, France and Spain about the abundance of the land on this new to them continent?

Lincoln, like Moses, warns the people to not become arrogant, to not forget that they are not self-forming and self-creating, to remain humble, to remember that all of this bounty is a gift.  Moses reminds the Israelites to remember where they came from – for the Israelites, they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. Lincoln reminds the people to give thanks to God for all their blessings.

Like the story of Pilgrims and Native Americans, the story of the Israelites and the Promised Land is a complicated one. A story that continues today in both lands as Native Americans continue to suffer in this land of plenty and war continues in Israel as well.  All of us would do well to be humble and penitent as well as grateful.

So as we go into this week let us give thanks for the many blessings in our lives, in our families and in our community. May we enjoy time with friends and family.  May the food, storytelling and laughter be abundant.  May we stop and take a moment to give thanks.

Let us also remember those who are suffering – those who will be working to serve the ever growing hunger of consumerism rather than being with their families, those who are working to continue to keep us safe, to put out the fires, to care for the ill and the dying.  Let us remember those who are hungry in body and hungry in spirit, those who are alone, those alienated from family, those who are without homes, those who are grieving, suffering in body and spirit.

Do not let suffering diminish our own gratitude but rather deepen and fire our commitment to do our part to heal this hurting world.  Let us hold the paradox – hold the complexity. Even within our own lives let us hold the paradox of abundance and want.  Some of us may be celebrating a first holiday without a beloved friend or family member, others may be far away from children or parents and yet may their love and memory fill our hearts.  Let us commit ourselves to doing our part to heal this world.  May we work for a community where there is a little less suffering, fewer people alone, fewer people hungry in body and spirit.  Let us give thanks for the ability to make a difference so that this land becomes a bountiful and abundant place for all of life – human, plant and animal.

May it be so!

Monday, November 24, 2014

God's Love is for All

I preached this sermon at the Community Wide Thanksgiving Service. This ecumenical service was sponsored by the Dare County Ministerial Association and took place at Outer Banks Presbyterian Church.

Deuteronomy 8: 7-18
For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Luke 17: 11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Sermon: God's Love is for All
“And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”  These words come from Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.  These words resonate with the words of Moses from our reading from Deuteronomy. Moses reminds the people to remain humble, to remain faithful to the covenant.  They are as relevant today as they were in 1863.

Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Torah.   It is book that chronicles all of Moses instruction and teaching as the Israelite people are about to enter the Promised Land.  Just before the passage we read, Moses tells the people that God tested them in the wilderness, provided for them that even their clothes did not wear out nor their feet swell, during that entire forty year journey.  
This beautiful description of a land filled with abundance, with flowing water, plenty of fertile land and that none should be hungry, none will be in want.  I cannot help but think of the early explorers and settlers from England, France, and Spain who arrived on this new to them land, praising its abundance.  What must it had been like for those first English explorers landing at Roanoke Island seeing the beauty of this place for the first time?  Do you remember your first time to the Outer Banks?  Do you remember how you fell in love with this place?  I am a newcomer to this island and the first thing I say to anyone about this place is how beautiful it is, how breathtaking and awe inspiring.  

How much more the promise of a new land must have felt to the Israelites?  They had suffered under slavery, they had traveled for forty years in the wilderness suffering hunger, lived on a diet of Manna - a new food to them that must have gotten very tiring after a while.  How good it must have been to hear the promise of a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing. A land where you will lack nothing – Moses addressing the whole of the people of Israel and promising that not one of them would go hungry, that all would have not just enough, but abundance.

Moses also reminds the people that this abundance is not of their own making. He realizes that once they are comfortable in their fine homes with their crops and livestock that they may begin to think that what all of this is of their own making.  They will come to believe that they did it themselves and forget that they did not.  Moses reminds the people to be humble, to be grateful and to serve God, keeping God’s commandments.  What also strikes me in this passage is that the promise of abundance is made to all of the Israelite people – not a select few, not a few of the tribes but not the others – the promise of bread, figs, olive and honey is given to all of the people of Israel.  God’s love and care is abundant, freely given. 

So now let us turn to the reading from Luke.  Jesus is walking along the road and this group of ten lepers cries out to him for mercy.  They keep their distance as required by law. Leprosy is a terrible disease that causes severe physical discomfort and pain.  The skin is disfigured and painful. In Biblical times, lepers were required to live outside of cities as to not spread the condition.  It was a condition that resulted in both physical pain and social isolation, yet this group of ten calls out, asking for Jesus to have mercy on them.  They asked for mercy which for them would be rare and precious as they were feared and avoided by most.  Jesus sends them to the priest.  Along the way they are healed, the terrible pain and social isolation is to end.  It is the Samaritan, the foreigner, the despised one, the despised among the despised that comes back and offers thanks.  It is only at this point that Jesus asks any questions.  Were not all 10 healed?  Why is it only you the Samaritan that came to give thanks and praise?  

Again the message that God’s love is abundant, is for all – even the despised, even the despised of the despised.  Notice too that Jesus does not say well I am just going to un-heal those ungrateful 9.  The point of the story is that the unlikely one, the one outcast by humans that offers the thanks and praise. The point here, like in the story of the Good Samaritan is that God’s love cannot be boxed in, cannot be contained by human standards and judgments.

God’s love is universal, it is for each and every single person.  God’s love is so encompassing, so abundant, so generous that it exceeds all our human distinctions.  Jesus does not stop to ask what the lepers had done for themselves.  He doesn’t ask them to prove their worthiness, anymore than distinctions were made among the Israelites entering the Promised Land.

Lincoln in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation lists the many blessings in the land despite being in the midst of the Civil War.  The Civil War caused all sorts of hardship, pitting families against families and tore America literally apart.  Yet in the midst of this terrible moment, Lincoln lists many blessings – good crops, successful mining, peace with foreign nations and a growth of population. Lincoln also reminds the American people that our bounty and abundance come not from ourselves, is not self-generating but rather the gift of God. It is to God we need to be humble and offer thanks. It is a call to humility.  Lincoln also talks about the effects of the war on people from both sides … he calls for compassion for all not just those on the side of Union. How often in our country today, do we focus on the divisions rather than having compassion for all? How often do we believe that we have created our own success, our own abundance? How often do we turn our backs on those who we see as less than? Today, we celebrate the Thanksgiving that reminds us to reach across our differences and to offer gratitude for the abundance that we have been gifted in this place and time. We also grieve for those who lost their land, their freedom and their lives in the process of creating the country we know today. We remember that the giving part of Thanksgiving reminds us to give back especially to those who are considered the outcast.

On this Thanksgiving Holiday may we offer humble thanks for the gifts in our lives. May we remember the generosity and abundance of God’s love. Then out of that place of humility and gratitude, may we offer the abundant love of God to a world hurting and deeply in need of healing. May we offer the love of God which passes all understanding to each and every person we meet, including the despised one.  May we follow the life of Jesus who offered mercy, offered love, offered compassion to those who asked, without question, without hesitation.  In this spirit of God’s abundant love may we offer our humble thanks whether we are spending this holiday here in the Outer Banks or away from here. May we bring a spirit of humility to our homes, to our families, our community and our world.  The world needs our humble witness to the abundant power of God’s love! 

May it be so!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Religious and Spiritual Humility - Revisited

As I get ready to preach at an Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service this Sunday I thought this particular post from December 2013 would be appropriate.  I need to remember my own humility as I preach this Sunday afternoon!

In this season of travel and spending time with a diversity of family and friends I hope this post provides some helpful ways to embrace those who do not think and believe as we do.  In particular, with the rampant and frankly vile divisiveness in our politics right now, humility would go a long way to bring healing!

Hope you are having a wonderful Friday!

As always I welcome your comments and feedback!


Earlier this year I read this article on When White People Don't Know They're Being White.  The author is a white Christian and she talks about the importance of cultural humility rather than cultural competency. It is a place where people can make mistakes and keep learning.  As I was reflecting on the article, I thought about the need for humility in so many areas of life, but in particular I wanted to talk about Religious and Spiritual humility. 

As I read the news, particularly the latest about the Duck Dynasty star's racist and homophobic comments, that seem to boil down to a lack of humility about one's faith and belief.  There seems to be this understanding that in order for my faith, my beliefs to be right, everyone's faith and belief must be like mine. For if I were to allow for the possibility that other faiths, other religions, other cultures, have wisdom, beauty and truth, then mine might be wrong, I might be wrong.  We seem to need to be right, more than we need to be in relationship with one another.

And this is not just a fault of the conservative right, they just seem to have a very noisy voice in our public square.  Yet I have found this same arrogance, this same lack of humility in the liberal religious, spiritual circles that I inhabit.  I have heard and cringed at the comments that express how much more enlightened, welcoming, justice seeking we are than our conservative counterpoints.  Some atheists have claimed reason as their own, dismissing all people of faith and their belief in a force beyond ourselves as unreasonable and bound to believing in six impossible things before breakfast.  I have read articles like this one, that no part of science is based on any kind of faith and that to be a person of science and faith is an anathema.

Some express this arrogance as a desire to reduce all the religion and spirituality down to some simple truths like the Golden Rule.  Yet part of the beauty of the diversity of the world's religions and spiritualities is that they are in fact different. I do think that finding commonalities is an important piece of building tolerance and understanding, yet it is only a first step. This distilling down of diversity to a few simple universal truths, allows me to stay comfortably where I am and not be deeply challenged.  While it may produce a certain level of tolerance on my part, it will never generate deep respect, nor understanding and it is far from love. Spiritual humility calls upon us to accept that we may not have all the answers, that we might be wrong.

In Unitarian Universalist circles, I see two ways this religious arrogance operates.  The first is in the how much more enlightened we are then those in other religions, particularly Christianity. There is still far too much "anything but Christian" among us even as acceptance of theism, the language of reverence and an embrace of ritual has become common in our communities.  Secondly, it is this notion that because in our six sources we embrace the truth of the world's religions, that somehow we are uniquely and best suited to lead interfaith/multi-faith work.  Again, it is not enough to just assume all religions boil down to the same universal truth and just because we embrace all these perspectives does not mean that we are fluent in them all.  Also affirming that there is wisdom and truth to be found in the world's religions does not give us the right to decide to appropriate rituals and holidays of particular religions for our own uses, or that somehow we can bring a reasoned faith to lead multi-faith efforts.

Now this is not to say that UUs cannot do multi-faith work - many UUs do such work every day.  The work they do is grounded and powerful.  Yet anyone who has ever engaged in multi-faith work knows it requires deep humility.  It requires that first I understand myself and my own faith. I have to first know deeply who I am and who I belong to as a person of faith and then I have to listen deeply.  It is humble work. We have to acknowledge that despite our embrace of the world's religions, there is no way we can be deeply competent in the faith, beliefs, practices and customs of all those religions.  We must begin with "we don't know."  From this unknowing, can be the beginning of deep wisdom, deep respect and deep love. When I can accept that openness to other traditions does not equal knowledge or experience of that tradition, then I can begin to walk with another in the work of discovering our unique journeys and traditions ... that requires humility.

Being humble doesn't mean that I have to minimize or reject my own faith, my own sense of the holy, what I know or who I am or that I lack conviction.  Rather humility means that I say "I don't know it all" and that my experience is not everyone's experience. It is really letting go of the need to be right. It is being able to allow for the possibility that another perspective, another faith, another person might also have access to the holy, to beauty, to truth. In the multi-faith work that I continue to do, I am always struck by how much deeper my own faith becomes when I really listen to another's experience of their own faith without trying to translate it into my own experience or immediately dismiss their experience. It is certainly important to acknowledge where our faith leads us to different conclusions, different values but if we do so with humility then perhaps we can stop becoming such threats to each other and find the holy between us.

Spiritual and religious humility, one might say any humility, is sadly lacking. In our need to have good and bad, right and wrong, we seem not be able to hold paradox, to hold that there may be more than one way, more than one good, more than one truth.  Maybe at this point, nature has something to show us, just as we turn the corner to the return of the sun, of more light and the promise of spring and summer, winter begins here in the northern hemisphere.  A deep paradox holds, just as the days begin ever so slowly to get longer, we will experience the cold of winter (well theoretically anyway as I sit writing this in 70+ degree weather). Spring and summer will still feel a long way off as we deal with rain and snow, layers of clothing to stay warm - coats, scarves and gloves.  Yet nature tells us that slowly but surely spring is making its way here. Slowly the sun will come to warm the air.  As we embrace the practice of spiritual humility, let's embrace the paradox of knowing and holding to our own sense of faith, our own experience of the holy while making room for others to hold different beliefs, different experiences.  May we open ourselves to seeking not to know but to understand, respect and love those differences.  May we embrace our unknowingness and learn to live easily with it.

May you and those you hold dear experience blessing during this rich season of holidays!  Blessed Be!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Is It Real? - revisited

Hi all, for today's Throwback Thursday post I am re-posting this one from 2011.  What does it mean when we discount what is in our heads as unimportant and unreal?

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, November 12, 2014

The Problem With I Am Your Parent Not Your Friend

        Over the last few weeks I have felt bothered by the public humiliation of children by their parents.  In a recent interview on the Wendy Williams show, Kelly Ripa proudly proclaimed "that I'm your mom not your friend."  Overwhelmingly she has received an outpouring of praise for her tough parenting stance and setting firm rules for her 13 year old daughter.  I have seen this phenomenon a great deal in social media lately.  The father who made a video destroying his daughter's computer because he did not like what she said about him on Facebook or another social media outlet.  A person in my Facebook feed who took offense at his daughter's choice of outfit telling her "she wasn't going to stripper school" and that a pimp "would make sure she was on time" and that if she walked to school some creepy guy would kidnap and assault her.  In all these cases these "tough parents" receive a great deal of support  and "way to go mom/dad."

     This support for tough parenting is understandable since there seems to be this belief that our children, particularly our youth are out of control, disrespectful and that parents are more concerned about being liked by their children than being strict parents like they had - which of course are the same parents who let us run around freely during daylight hours with no parental supervision, ride the subway alone, and otherwise gave us a childhood of unbridled freedom. What does it say about both friendship and parenthood when we say to our children I am your parent not your friend?

     Well first in terms of friends, it assumes that friends won't tell us the truth, won't stand up to us when we cross the line, mess up.  My deepest and truest friends are the ones who speak the truth to me, tell me when I have messed up and don't just tell me the things I want to hear. My friends are also the ones who I can confide in, talk openly about what is going on, rant and rave with and weep with, and we can laugh and have fun together.  This image of a friend as someone who doesn't tell me the truth or is just seeking my unconditional approval is not a friend.  Let's also look at what it says about parents - I don't care if you are unhappy, your feelings are not important to me, my rules are my rules and you have to accept them without question with total and complete obedience, and by the way I am free to speak out on social media about your worst moments but you had best not say anything negative about me.  In the case of Kelly Ripa she has millions of people not just a few hundred followers to hear about her daughter's worst moments.

     This also comes down to some very troubling assumptions we have about the teenage years. Suddenly when our children become teenagers we tell parents that our children will become unrecognizable, unreasonable monsters who have to be reined in at every moment lest they become out of control sociopaths.  The reality is that the challenge of parenting a teenager is that we can't parent them like they were when they were younger. The "because I said so" if ever appropriate or adequate will truly never work with a teenager. Teenagers are working out their place in the world. In an earlier time they would have been apprenticed to learn a trade.  We have extended childhood and adolescence so now we expect our children in their teenage years to continue to obey us unquestionably like a four or five year old.  Yes our teenagers still need rules, boundaries and they need privacy. They also need to be able to vent about us and about what is going on in their lives. If we shut that down, it only breeds resentment.  Just as sometimes we need to make tough choices or enforce rules knowing that it may cause our children to be unhappy or even angry, we need to learn to let our children have their feelings even if we don't like what they are saying about us. We need to grow up and not take it personally.  I think it is one thing to set a rule about profanity in social media but if all they are doing is saying how mean a parent is or unfair and somehow made you look bad on their social media accounts, just let it go.  When our children are young and they cry or throw a fit we often look to see if they are hungry,or thirsty or tired or just having a bad day. But there is an image of teenagers being out of control and out to ruin our lives.  Teenagers have bad days.  That doesn't mean you don't call them on it but expecting our teenagers to never have a bad day or never make a mistake is not fair.  We all have bad days, we are all going to mess up. It should not mean the end of the world.  Appropriate boundaries and consequences, of course, just like we would face if we had a bad day, made a mistake or hurt another.

     If we want our children, particularly our teenage children, to embrace our values than we have to model them.  We don't want our children trash talking us or others on social media, then we can't do it to our children.  We don't want our most embarrassing or most private moments proclaimed on social media then we can't share our children's.  Just like if we want honest children, we need to demonstrate honesty; if we don't want our children to cheat or steal then we can't cheat or steal. If we want our children to respect us then we have to respect them. Yes, we do need to have rules and set boundaries, our children need and want that but that doesn't mean we are not their friends. I think we need to understand that one part of parenting is modeling relationship ... so rather than seeing parenting and friendship as diametrically opposed, I think we need to understand friendship as one aspect of parenting. If truth be known, there are more than a few of my friends who have parented me on occasion ... given me the hug or the kick and guided me toward my best self. If we want our children to come to us when they are in trouble, then we have to care about their feelings and make ourselves available and trustworthy.  If we want our children to want to be in relationship with us throughout their lives then we need to be their true friends.  The friends that laugh and have fun with you and won't let you get away with things. It is not about our children never being unhappy with us. We need to be honest when our children have crossed the line but that doesn't mean we demean and embarrass them. It does not mean we have the right to slut shame them.  That also means not putting our children's embarrassing and worst movements on social media.  Maybe a good rule of thumb is to think "would I want this posted about me?" If not then don't post it! It means there maybe the need for accountability but not the need for bullying. Perhaps, the biggest difference between friendship and parenting is that we became responsible for growing and guiding a life ... responsibility is not ownership ... and at the end of the day, what does it say about us when we claim that we don't want to be friends with that precious life.

     Let's help our children become their most authentic and true selves. Let's remember they are not our possessions, we have the gift of raising them and then letting them go.  In words of Kahlil Gibran, "Our Children are not our children."  Let's teach our children to respect themselves, us and others by showing them respect, by treating them the way we would want to be treated and loving them, caring for them and seeing them as the unique and amazing individuals that they are.

May it be so!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Gratitude in Hard Times

I preached this sermon on Sunday November 9, 2014 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Story: An adapted excerpt from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom - this link takes you to the full passage but I did shorter adapted version
Poem: "Be Thankful" Author Unknown

Gratitude in Hard Times

I know that many of us are struggling this week with hope and gratitude following the elections this week.  Not all of us and some may be pleased with some if not all of the results.  If my Facebook newsfeed is any indication there was a great deal more disappointment than exuberance following Tuesday.  Others of us are struggling with illness or family members with illness, are struggling financially, battle depression, are worried about loved ones who are struggling and all the other things that can make it hard to be grateful.  Around the world there are people living in a poverty we cannot imagine, live in fear of bombs and war, are in prison, are facing death, are alone. Finding things to be grateful for is not always easy.

In our story from Corrie ten Boom it would be hard to imagine a more dismissal picture…Corrie and Betsy are in a concentration camp, they are starving, they are in a confined space, it is filthy and there are fleas.  They don’t actually talk about being bitten by the fleas but we can imagine that we can add itchy bites to the whole situation. Yet in that situation Betsy tells them to give thanks for the fleas and it turns out it was the fleas that kept the guards from checking too closely on what was going on in the barracks so the Bible remains safe and the reading of it goes on.  Corrie is skeptical as I would imagine most of us would be at giving thanks for the fleas.  Yet what might it mean for us to give thanks for everything, including the challenges in our lives?

I am reminded of Parker Palmer who is an author and educator who also shared in his book Let Your Life Speak about his battle with depression. Parker, over time and it took a long time, came to see his depression as part of his spiritual journey, as leading him to his truth self and true vocation.   In the midst of his journey through depression Parker finally found a therapist who would also treat his depression as part of an inner journey.  In one session, she suggested that rather than see his depression as the hand of a friend pushing him down to the ground where it is safe to stand rather than as an enemy seeking to crush him.  Parker, like Corrie, was at first incredulous at this image.  In time however this image of depression as a friend who pushed him down where it is safe to stand slowly healed him as began to live a more grounded, authentic life.  He could see how fear, ego, and a series of what his life “should” be had led him to living an ungrounded, inauthentic life and his journey down into the depression and facing the demons there led him to a deep healing; to authenticity.

Not everyone can make that journey; not everyone makes it through.  We can name far too many who do not, many our own family members, friends, celebrities like Robin Williams who finally lose their battle with depression.  It is critical that we not reduce hard times, debilitating times, to Pollyannaish opportunities for silver linings and gratitude.  It takes great strength to see good in the midst of suffering. It should never be a demand, only a possible way forward.  Yes many have shown us that it is possible and we must also acknowledge that hard times do break people, people are fragile, and not everyone comes out stronger – it is not true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It may be true for some and our care, love and prayers are needed for those for whom life is filled with too much grief and suffering.

In my own life I can see things that at the time felt like the end of the world that became pathways to new places.  Like so many others I was once fired from a job and I can honestly say it was a gift.  I was blessed with enough income from unemployment to figure out what to do next and it led to my decision to enter Wesley Theological Seminary.  Being fired removed me from a highly toxic work environment and allowed me to embark on a new direction.  I remember at the time though part of me felt like the world had ended. I was ashamed and embarrassed.  I was relieved. I was scared.  It took time to see it as a gift; as a blessing.

Lately I have embarked a on new practice, learned from the Science of Happiness class that I have been taking through edX and UC Berkeley.  It is the practice of Three Good Things.  Each night I write down three good things from the day.  For me, even on the hardest days, this practice helps me see the good.  They may be small simple things, like cuddling or playing with our kittens, a delicious meal or a hot shower but remembering that it was not all bad, that there was good in the midst of it all restores hope and gives strength to put the day to rest and begin again the next day.  For me this has been a life giving practice and helped me to deal with some of my current struggles. For others it may be impossible to see even three good things in their day.  I offer it as a practice that I have found helpful and healing.

Part of what is so broken in our American culture and in particular American politics is that we don’t stop to reflect on what is working, on that which we can be grateful for.  How many positive political ads were run that said hey this is really working and I pledge to support policies that will help keep this working or expand it so even more people can have access?  We don’t run our campaigns this way, our campaigns feed on what is broken, what is lacking and then promising to fix it.   This is true of our political system and it is also true of our consumer culture.  Our consumer culture thrives on our sense of scarcity.  It thrives on making us believe that happiness can be purchased and packaged.  It requires us to be always hungry and never satisfied.

Our poem this morning invites us to give thanks for hard things, for opportunities to grow.  It offers a practice, like the Three Good Things, to re-frame the story we tell ourselves. Just like the ten Boom’s their prayers and practice did not change the situation which was horrible and evil, it did however change them.  Finding gratitude in the midst of hard times does not always change the conditions but it can change us, it can give us the opportunity to see a new way through.  It can give us strength to persevere or maybe to let go.

Another troubling aspect to our culture is the assumption that there is a way through or things can be fixed and yet there are some things that cannot be fixed or cured, they can only be accepted.  Death is one of those things.  All of us will die and all of us will lose those we love to death.  There is nothing we can do to change this, we can only accept it.  In the midst of grief, often people will offer words that time will heal and yet that is not always a comfort.  Sometimes in the midst of grief healing is the last thing we want.  I also think it is not true.  Grief does not truly heal, the loss remains.  With time, love helps fill the cracks and crevices. Much like the Japanese art of filling a cracked bowl with gold which I find a more helpful image; the bowl is cracked and remains so but with care and time the cracked places become beautiful.  Those who live with chronic illness, including my wife, struggle to have people understand including medical and other professionals, that there is no healing in the sense we usually think of it.  This is not a cold or the flu where we are sick for a while and then get better.  With chronic illness, terminal illness, what we consider healing has to look different.  It may look like more good days, less pain, sometimes just allowing oneself to be with the pain or may even look like letting go as in the case of Brittany Maynard for whom there was no cure for her brain cancer. Her healing was about accepting that she was dying.  In our death denying, everything can be fixed culture, acceptance and letting go are not easily done.  Yet we can also be grateful in the midst of letting go. We can be grateful that a loved one is no longer suffering; grateful that in the midst of our own pain another’s has ended; grateful for the life lived.

All of the world’s philosophies and religions seek to make sense of suffering, grief, illness and death.  Each tries to offer a why, to offer a way through.  Gratitude in the midst is one way, one practice we can embrace to make hard times easier, to shift our perspective.  We do not have control of all of the circumstances of our life, we can choose how to respond and the story we choose to tell.  It may take years for us to find gratitude in the midst of hard times, in the midst of grief, illness, death. We can cultivate gratitude as a practice, as a habit that we develop.  We can take to the heart the words of Meister Eckhart “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

May it be enough!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Looking for Hope - Revisited

Like many this week, the results of Tuesday's election have me struggling to find hope and keep on fighting. I know for myself I just don't understand how people can support candidates whose positions I don't just disagree with but actually find morally bankrupt; yet that is a post for another day.

For today's Throwback Thursday Post I am revisiting this post from April 2013 on Looking for Hope. It seems just as appropriate now as it did last year.

I am grateful for this quote that circulated on my Facebook feed this week: "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." Martin Luther King, Jr.  It can be hard to hang onto that infinite hope.

So what gives you hope in hard times?  What keeps you going?  Please share in the comments!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Honoring and Remembering Our Beloved Dead

On this weekend when we celebrate Halloween, Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, All Saints and All Souls Day, I am posting my reflections.

This was the reflection I offered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks on Sunday October 26, 2014.

Story: A Gift for Abuelita - this is a wonderful video of this story created by Middle Schoolers.  We used the video in the service.
Reading:  "When Death Comes" by Mary Oliver

Honoring and Remembering Our Beloved Dead

Today we remember and celebrate those people and pets who have died.  In our American culture we are not comfortable with death and in fact we do everything we can to avoid it.  In some circles it almost sounds like if we just eat the right foods, take care of ourselves somehow we can make death optional.  Also death has been removed from our consciousness through the professional nature of the business of death.  Most of us will die not at home but in a facility, our family will not prepare our bodies but rather professionals and more and more of us are opting for cremation.  I frequently hear discomfort with the idea of an open casket funeral or a vigil where the body is on display for a final goodbye.  The reality of death has been cleaned up and hidden away.

Yet death is something that will happen to each of us and each of us will lose those we love to death.  I know many of you have lost grandparents, parents, friends, pets and even children and grandchildren.  I worry that our cleaning up of death and hiding it away makes grief even harder since after the initial flurry of activity we act like life is supposed to go back to normal like nothing happened.  Too often people don't talk to family members about the person who has died for fear of upsetting them.  Yet we need to be upset, we need to cry and feel rage and fear.  That is all part of grief and grief is not pretty, it is not something we just get over.  Yes eventually life moves forward and we do heal but we never fully get over losing those we love.

Ritual has been used for centuries by humans to help us grieve, to honor and remember those we have lost, to help us cope with the reality of death.  I don’t believe there is any religion or culture that does not have a way to honor and remember the dead.  Today we are lifting up the traditions of Samhain, Dia de los Muertos and the Christian holidays of All Souls and All Saints.  What is amazing is the amount of overlap in these traditions.  Both Samhain and Dia de los Muertos involve creating altars with pictures, mementos and favorite foods of the dead.  Dia de los Muertos includes visiting the graves of those lost, cleaning them and then sharing a meal at the graveyard.  This is not a morbid holiday but rather a joyous celebration of life, a celebration of storytelling, and favorite foods.  There are sugar skulls and vibrant colored flowers.  The Christian holidays were created to replace the pagan ones and also focus on ritual and story telling. All Saints lifts up those exemplars of the Christian faith and All Souls on all those who have died.  I remember in the fifth grade, dressing up as the saint I am named after, St. Margaret Mary, and going to other classes at my Catholic elementary school singing "When the Saints Come Marching In."  It is a very happy memory and I know there is a picture in my parent's house with me dressed up as a nun.

Within Unitarian Universalism we hold a variety of beliefs about what happens after death.  Some of us hold that there is nothing after death.  Some may believe in reincarnation or a traditional heaven. Some of us are not sure and we think there might be or must be something.  Our Universalist tradition rejected that a loving God would damn anyone, no matter what they had done in life, to eternal torture and damnation. Universalism held that a loving God would reconcile all to God's self. All would be saved.  Today we are not the only UU congregation honoring and remembering the dead.  We affirm that those we love are never truly gone as we hold them in our hearts, tell their stories, make their favorite foods. They live on in our memories and in the stories we share with our children and grandchildren.  The dead may be gone but they are not forgotten.

So today we join with our ancestors who for thousands of years have been honoring those we have loved and lost.  We come together, share their pictures, their stories, their favorite foods.  We may shed some tears and we may laugh as we remember stories. It is a holy moment when through the tears of grief we also find ourselves smiling and laughing at a memory or story.

So I now invite you to stand as you are able and take a moment in silence to think about who you would like to remember this morning.  In a moment we will call out their names into the space.

Silence -  I now invite you to call out the names of those you would like us to remember and honor this morning.

May their memory be a blessing!  May the love we share never die.  Blessed be!