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The Religious Journey of the Humanists

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You probably don’t remember this, but for one simple awesome moment, the very moment you were born, the earth took a deep breath, a hollowed and holy breath, as you also took your first breath. Your birth was an amazing moment for this old world of ours, a moment filled with awe and wonder. No one like you has ever been born before. There have been billions upon millions, an unknown number of people opening their eyes to the world for the first time, but no one, no one the likes of you.

 

Scoff if you will. Snort in disbelief and call me a hopeless romantic, but I swear, as I am alive, you are a most precious person, the equal of no other here on this earth. But, you probably don’t believe me, because you have been told over and over again, you are nothing, you are in need, you are not ok just the way you are.. But that is all a lie. You are the most perfect human ever made, worthy of awe and respect.

 

Are we born good, or are we born evil? That has been the hot topic of debate in the religious world since religions began to organize. Depending on how you answer that question; (are we born in goodness or in evil and in need of saving,) will also determine what are your needs as a religious person and where you will put your faith.

 

Brave people have come forth over the centuries to claim what is a right of all individuals – to feel whole, worthy and most of all loved just as they are. To stand against the whole of the religious world, that has only ever preached the depravity of humanity, must have taken courage, audacity and an inner light that I can only be so thankful for. Because of their convictions in the potential of humanity, I too was freed from the bonds and fetters that would only have held me to a belief that clearly I did not see in my own life, that I was basically an evil person in need of saving. As people were lifted up to a place of the honor and dignity with which we each were born, the natural next step was how could this self respect become a religious belief also? And the humanists in their Manifesto found the way.

 

Humanist thought, from the very beginning of humanity, has been seen as a threat to the more established religions that have claimed a deity, and yet it has also, for many, throughout history, remained a constant religious alternative. The history of humanism is also the history of an idea, the idea of the possibility of the potential of goodness residing within humanity – goodness coming from deep within our DNA. This simple thought has rocked the world in religious debate for generations. And amazingly isn’t this still the biggest question in the religious world today? Are humans born evil and in need of salvation, or are we indeed born noble, worthy, precious, valuable and good already, and in need rather of encouragement and love rather than salvation?

 

Every person must at sometime in their life face themselves. The story of the humanists yesterday and today is the story of people who went to look into the mirror of their own souls and asked the question – who is steering this ship I call my life? All these people I’m mentioning answered unequivocally, we as humans are, we are capable of steering our own ship of life.

From music that lifts your spirit, and words that bind you firmly to your own power to change things in your life, your personality and your world, to the point when you say you are ready to make a change for the good for yourself and maybe your partner/spouse, is the feeling of what the Humanists wanted to give themselves and their world. Tired of the old dependence upon a capricious deity that throughout the ages had been fierce and then loving and then condemning and then uncaring, they decided to put their trust, their loyalty, their love in something that could be touched and regulated and understood, in other words, in themselves and humanity as a whole. This way of thinking caused them untold suffering, but also put them in the thought process of many, many religious thinkers before them. What it has given me is a deep and abiding belief that I can change, I can be better, I can be more loving, caring and I can do this great and wonderful thing for myself. Oh, I do need lots of help that is true, but the impetus the drive, the reason I can change remains firmly and resolutely within myself. What a gift that has been for me in my life, a belief in me as a person who then has power to change. And of course there was a price for identifying and taking on this power, but I will talk about that later.

 

80 years ago, in 1933, the Humanist Manifesto was signed by 34 men and women, most of whom were Unitarian ministers and lay people. Many of the ancient questions about a human’s worth and dignity were addressed in this structured religious-challenging document. There are copies of it available in the back of church for you to take if you want to know more.

The religious questions of the day in the 1930’s were remarkably the same religious questions that had been asked for centuries;

  1. the question of how a person makes moral decisions ( is it inner goodness, or God’s law and a threat of punishment,)
  2. the question of determinism, (is our fate in the hands of a God or our own hands?)
  3. questions of the existence of God or how God works, the question of salvation,
  4. the question of religious power,
  5. the question of the origins of truth, and the place of science in finding religious truth.

 

Each person I will speak of now, just as I am sure you have done at some time in your life, has looked into the mirror of their souls. When the Humanists looked, this is what they saw…The story begins I believe in 450 BCE, with a Greek, philosopher and theologian, Protagoras who wrote, “As for the gods, I do not know whether they exist or not. Life is too short for such difficult inquiries…besides humans are the measure of all things.” Of course he was exiled and lost at sea; also most of his writings were burned by the government. Much later though, he was called the “Classical Humanist,” his approach to faith, thought and action was affirming an overriding credit to the human rather than to the supernatural. Of course it is also said in history, that his viewpoints were seen as a character flaw.

Jim Henson on the Muppet Show sang a song that I love, that I feel expresses Protagoras’ humanist belief. It goes like this, “It’s in every one of us to be wise. Find your heart open up all your eyes. We can all know everything without ever knowing why. It’s in every one of us, you and I.”

 

About 800 years later, in 385 CE Augustine of Hippo took on, in the religious debate of the century, a man named Pelagius. The issue here was the question of the existence and extent of freedom of a human’s will. Augustine, a father of the early Christian church said – sin is a choice, always made deliberately by reason, therefore, sin = pride, the sin is committed when the individual puts themselves in the center rather than putting God in the center. He said there was no way out for anyone, all people are stained by sin and deserve damnation, but God has selected some to be saved by God’s own free choice. Those God will not save will never really know why they are damned, it is just God’s power to choose, because, well he is God, and of course we are all marked by original sin. Pelagius did not like this thought about himself and his fellow humans very much and decided on a different, but not a wholly new approach.

 

Pelagius, taking a personal risk, as the church was standing with Augustine, spoke against Augustine in that Pelagius believed; each person at birth has the right to choose. Life was a gift, and so was free will. It was a matter of choice in choosing good or evil; the power of that choice lies in the heart of every person. Who do you think was right?

This debate continued until Humanism, as it was articulated up to the 14th or 15th century had always put the emphasis on the dignity and worth of the individual, or a belief that people are rational beings who possess within themselves the capacity for truth and goodness. My, how people were hung, and imprisoned, excommunicated and burned at the stake for something so many of us say and believe so easily, in a so offhanded way today.

 

This same debate has been battled in every generation of time. I often think of the Reformation of the 1500’s as the beginning of individuals striving to use reason in religion.

In the 14th and 15th century we come around again to the old debate, this time between the Dutch cleric Erasmus, and the founder of fundamentalism then and today, John Calvin. Calvin took up Augustine’s predestination theme and turned it into double predestination, which forgive me I can’t understand well enough to explain. Erasmus on the other hand developed his humanist ideals first in France and then introduced them as a movement in England. Belief in the goodness of humans spread quickly in England and paved the way in Elizabethan literature to become a theology of the people, through the works of Shakespeare and later Dickens, who by the way was a Unitarian! Always the same theme, humans can change themselves and the world around them. The choice is always in the hands of humanity.

 

In America, beginning in the 1700’s the Universalists; our forebears were preaching the love of God and the goodness of this world and of life. They said there was no predestination in the mind of God and nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing can separate you from the love of God. Their cry for love was taken up and expanded by the Transcendentalists, in 1840, Unitarians in Boston who were influenced by such writers as Descartes, Spinoza, Thomas Hobbs and John Locke. The Transcendentalists; Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Frederick Hedge and Theodore Parker all believed they were coming into a new age, (well don’t we all) and that this new age would be enlightened by science in a way that no other generation would be affected. This was the time, they believed for a renewed respect for humanity.

 

Influences that helped shape the Humanism that we are familiar with, in its more institutional form, were Darwinism, Biblical criticism, (ability to read the Bible as literature) World War II, and the increasing liberal trends in the then American Unitarian Association. In the 1920’s the first inklings of the Humanist Manifesto were being formed. In it, its authors wanted morality and truth to be placed once and for all, outside the confines of the Bible and placed rather in the human reason. Although as we have seen this wasn’t a new thought, it was now succinct and in the form of a petition.

Unitarian Reverends John Dietrich and Curtis Reese in 1927 each published volumes of their humanist sermons. Curtis Reese’s story is one of what often happens to people when they put themselves on the line for what they believe. Curtis was one of the main authors of the Humanist Manifesto. His whole family, Southern Baptist in religious affiliation disowned him, told him they would not stand by and watch him prepare to burn himself in hell. He lost the presidency of Meadville Theological school because of his humanist stance. And a godchild of who was named after him

 

The Humanists came to the General Assembly of the then American Unitarian Association and knocked three times, for three years and said, to the almost completely Christian American Unitarian Association, “We want to be fully recognized as a part of the this church.” As the Unitarians had been liberal yes, radical true, but they were still Christians none the less, this was a difficult decision for that body of Unitarians. For three years the Humanists came with their Manifesto in hand, saying, “We know we are the new kids on the block, but we think we have a truth here that you need to look at.” And I always love this part of the story, the Unitarians in 1933 ratified the Manifesto and said, “Yes, we will make our circle big enough for you to come inside.”

 

That was a very brave decision for the Unitarians to make, because by that decision they said religion, religious views, and ways of being religious are larger, more inclusive than Christian principles alone. They welcomed in the atheists, the esthetics, the agnostics, the doubters, the religious explorers, many of you and of course me.

So, what have the Humanists given us as a church community?

1. A Church without creeds

2. A democratic church, with freedom of the pulpit and the pew to make any other church secretly envious

3. A strong socially conscience church

4. A non-hierarchical church, we have no Bishops for good reason, because you the congregation can run your own locally owned franchise, to me that is as it should be.

5. A church that is diverse and at least proclaims openness of all faith systems. A church that was comfortable at last with not being a Christian church only, but willing to explore so much more.

6. A church that was able to see people who were scientists, ethicists, agnostics, atheists all as valuable human beings who have the right and the responsibility to search for their own truth and meaning. Humanists created diversity in the American Unitarian Association where there wasn’t much diversity before.

 

A couple of years ago I was interviewed by some high school students from a local conservative Lutheran high school. I was told that the teacher had put my name down for the students to talk to me because our church was so different the young woman said. She asked me if I was a Christian, was Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, I said no, I was a Taoist and there was no need for a Lord and Savior in Taoism. She looked shocked and said, “How do you know how to do the right things without the 10 commandments? Why, you could go out and murder and steal and everything, what makes you be a good person if you’re not a Christian?” I sighed, where was I to begin with this poor sweet child? I gave her all the standard UU lines, inclusive faith, one truth many paths, the fact that the 10 commandments come from many other religions in many different forms…but mostly I found myself trying to explain to her the ancient debates between Augustine and Pelagius and Calvin and Erasmus. Well, she wasn’t buying any of it. In her eyes, without a God, we as humans were unable to be good. I saw once again how even in this young mind the ancient debate continues, as it does in most conservative Christian churches, but also in the hearts of every human being at some point of their lives.

 

I keep hearing of the humanist/spiritual split in our congregations. I keep hearing questions on the UUA Internet chat lines, questions like: Is Humanism dead? Has it lost its reason for existing? Are Humanists old fossils in a changing more spiritual oriented UUA? What is the place of Humanism today? Is there still a need for reason in a discussion of the basis of goodness and evil in humanity?

 

I hear stories of new UUs who as Theists coming into our churches feel they have been attacked by many other UUs. I hear the Earth Centered Traditions people of the ancient Wicca pagan ways asking over and over again in our churches to be let in as full participants. I hear some of the Humanists saying they would rather be dead then have to include the pagans in their church. I hear the struggles, I hear the fights and arguments and I am deeply saddened.

 

Our church here in Roseburg has had such a great a powerful influence on so many lives. In the time I have served as your minister I have seen a variety of faiths and beliefs honored and respected. And I also know how difficult it is to accept fundamentalism from any religious system. The strength I see in this church is that so many of you are such brave seekers of truth, fearless of going where you may have never traveled before as we have studied world religions and shared our own faith journeys. As we learn to be brave and articulate our own faith system and feel secure in what we do believe, as so many of you are adept at doing, I believe it is so much easier to accept the faith of others, even if we don’t particularly agree.

 

William Ellery Channing reminds us we don’t have to think alike to love alike. To be perfectly honest I would not be a Unitarian Universalist if it hadn’t been for the Humanists who opened up the whole saved/unsaved question and gave me some answers I grabbed a hold of as a drowning person in the ocean. I am eternally grateful to the men and women who were not afraid to open up this eternal question and give some new insight to the debate. And with each passing year I am more and more convinced that I am on the right path for me. Humanism is the clue that holds together my constant belief that I am good, I am worthy, I am able. I do need help, I don’t need salvation.

 

I want to say to you as a church, all this change ain’t over yet. As Einstein pointed out, the only thing constant in life is change. Being a UU is about change, it’s about being constantly opened and challenged, and learning to settle in with all things in love.

 

I am so proud of our Humanist heritage. I am constantly amazed at those who forged ahead with the idea of goodness in humanity as a gift of our being alive. But that is not all. There is always more. I look at the faces of our children in our Religious Education Program and wonder what truths ancient or new are brewing in their fresh open minds. What permissions are we giving them to explore and someday be the Curtis Reeses, the Erasmuses, the Darwins, the one who shakes the foundation and allows people to see a new way. I bow in the Dojo to each of you and the struggles, the experiences, the effort, the careful thought and choice that brought you to this place of a person of faith, your faith today. You have my deep and abiding respect. I bow in the Dojo to all of you, my teachers.

Audio: The Goddess Brigid and the Fires of Creativity and Inspiration

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Audio: The Goddess Brigid and the Fires of Creativity and Inspiration

What the Bible REALLY Says about Homosexuality

Homosexuality is a conundrum to many people. On the one hand it seems to be condemned in the Bible and yet there are many, many good and wonderful people who are gay and seem to be leading healthy and productive lives. They are having families, making commitments to one partner, doing laundry, shopping and going on vacation. How then can a Christian who has given the Bible authority in their lives live with these paradoxes? One way may be to see and understand that there could be another way of reading and interpreting the passages that seem like condemnations, but may simply have been the ploy of those who wished to destroy the lives of those who are gay and used the Bible texts as ammunition. With the coming to light of historical texts, buried for centuries, there may be a new way to look at old Biblical thoughts. On Sunday, February 17th, we at the Umpqua Unitarian Universalist church will give some new light to the old condemning passages and maybe find a way to allow all God’s creatures a place in the choir of life.

Service begins at  10:30am.

Audio: The Faith of a Religious Atheist

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Audio version

“The Faith of a Religious Atheist”
An Atheist tells of the
ir faith.

 

Rev. Annie Holmes

 

A Hindu young man named Sertaketu,  had studied the Vedas, the Hindus’ sacred books for twelve years, and was feeling rather full of himself. His father, Uddalaka, asked him a question, Where can you find real Being?” The son was unable to answer. The Father proceeded to teach him a lesson about the fundamental truth of which the son was entirely ignorant. He told his son to put a piece of salt into water and report back to him the following morning. When his father asked him to produce the salt, Sretaketu could not find it because it had completely dissolved. Uddalaka began to question him: “Would you please sip it at the right end? What is it like?he asked?
Salt” the son answered

 

Sip it in the middle. What is it like?”
Salt” the son answered

 

Sip it at the far end What is it like?”
“Salt” the
son answered

 

“Throw it away and then come to me.”

 

The son did as he was told. His Father said to him, “My dear child, it is true that you cannot perceive Being here, but it is equally true that it is here. This is the first essence-the whole universe has as its Self: That is what is Real: That is the Self: that you are, Sretaketu!” Thus, for a Hindu, even though you cannot see it, Brahman pervades the world and as Atman, is found eternally within each one of us.”

 

 

 

This is how I feel about faith.  I remember talking to a Lutheran acquaintance who I had known in Lutheran seminary, many years later and I was explaining how I was now as a Taoist and a Unitarian Universalist and he asked me in the middle of one of my sentences, when I had lost my faith.  I was so taken aback I at first I couldn’t answer.  Then, over time as I have rehashed this conversation with him in my head I realized I would have said, “Oh I haven’t lost my faith by any means, I do have faith, the greatest faith I have ever had in my life.  In fact, there are so many things I believe today it would take quite a while to tell you all the wonderful things I today believe.”  You see, I was always one of the Catholic children and young adults who never really felt they had “the faith” as so many people around me seemed to have.  I would watch them pray, and cry in church at times, do the stations of the cross and say the rosary and receive communion and I did all those things but I didn’t believe, not really. And I always envied them.  I did envy them that is, until I found my own faith, as a Taoist, or a religious atheist. And this church encouraged me to find the faith that has sustained me in my life.

 

Does the godhead reside outside of us? Are we the godhead? Does the divinity reside within us but distinct from us? Creation versus evolution. Secular versus sacred. Holy texts versus reality. These have been the dilemmas that have faced  humanity from the dawning of time. There have been religious discussions since people have learned to communicate. There have always been differences of opinions. There have always been deviations from the current norm throughout history, but the most hated, the most hunted, the most misunderstood, the most exiled and the most rejected, has always been the atheist.

 

Throughout history, to question of the very existence of god has been the most dangerous question of all. It seems all other religious questions have been moderately tolerated, depending on the religious climate of the time. But to be an atheist throughout history, has meant to be an outcast, hounded, and thought of as a pariah on society. In fact, it has meant that you may be the worst kind of person ever, because to dare to deny the existence of a divinity has meant that you have not fallen into line, you have not conformed, and that you have denied your salvation from the possibility of everlasting damnation.

 

Today, I would like us, as UUs, to look at atheism and atheists in a different light. Look at the history of atheistic thought, and a look at the atheists today; what they say about themselves, how they see themselves as either being ostracized from all religious communities, or somehow creating a place in the world of their own.

 

Theism is defined as the belief in a god. The term theism is sometimes used to designate the belief in a particular kind of god, a personal god, the god of monotheism. The prefix “ameans withoutso the term a-theism literally means without theism,or without a belief in a god. Atheism, therefore, is the absence of a theistic belief, but not a absence of all belief. The Reverend W. Bradford Greeley, a UU atheist minister (sound strange?) writes that, “For many of us who call ourselves atheists, the solution to the paradox involving good and evil was the demise of a belief in God. For many of us who accept the description atheist, the growing demanding life and living provided by the sciences leads to the final dissatisfaction with traditional theologies. For an atheist the concept of God will no longer be a tenable personal belief. We believe that the evolution of knowledge and reason has moved us beyond the necessity of such belief.”

 

Atheism has a long and interesting history. And although they have continually been the butt of jokes like, “The sign on the tomb of an atheist reads: “Here Lies An Atheist All Dressed Up and No Place To Go.” For myself and the atheists I have known, telling other people who we are religiously is sometimes hardest part of sharing who we are personally. People often assume we are evil, or stupid, or people pity us. Do you ever remember a religious community, or a family congratulating someone because they “converted” to atheism?

 

But there are whole religious traditions that are atheistic. For example Taoists have no god in their system. The Tao te Ching claims the Tao is older than God! The Buddhist tradition has no personal god who will save you. Instead of relying on a god, Buddha urged his disciples to save themselves, says Karen Armstrong in her book, The History of God,  Dharma to the Buddhist is the truth about right living which alone could free us from pain. Buddha found the concept of god too limiting.”

 

Buddha wanted to show that language was not equipped to deal with a reality that lay beyond concepts and reason. He held that a person’s theology and beliefs like rituals were ultimately unimportant, they could be interesting but not a matter of significance. The only thing that mattered was living a good life.

 

To the Hindu, God is not seen as a being added on to the world as we know it, nor is god identical to the world. God, Brahma, Atman cannot be fathomed by reason a Hindu believes, only “revealedto us by experience which cannot be expressed in words or concepts. Reality, God, this Atman, for a Hindu is only discerned by ecstasy.  Imagine what a great door to your life could be open if you truly believed your idea of the divinity could only be discerned by ecstasy.  What would a concept like that mean for your life?

 

People throughout time have struggled with the perception of a god. Is he/she/it/ all things or nothingness? One perception of god is a being all knowing and never changing. Where did the notion of an unchanging god come from? The early Greeks saw movement and change as signs of an inferior reality, therefore something that had true identity remained always the same, characterized by permanence and immutability. Scholars feel that this is where the growing religion of Christianity got the idea that a god worthy of their praise would always be the same, now, in the past and in the future. The most perfect motion for the Greek was the circle, because it was perpetually turning and yet returning to its original point. Many atheists see the god of the Jews, Muslims and Christians as an utterly stagnant god. Who would want to worship a God that did not move or change or learn or adapt because of those with whom the God was in relationship?

 

In the 1550s the term atheist was used for a person who was believed to have had a buried anxiety. In these years the Catholic church was growing, as the Holy Roman Catholic Church was failing in its power over people, but continued to preach they were the only religious game in town. But at the same time, reformers all over Europe were questioning the authority that had been the norm for centuries.

 

The presence of atheists in the steamy, rambunctious Reformation times reflected a hidden worry by many that maybe god did not exist. It was thought that by allowing atheism any voice would be the beginning of the downfall of a moral and ethical society. Atheists were seen as a threat to individuals and society. Plato insisted they receive 5 years imprisonment. Thomas Aquinas urged they be exterminated from the world by death after the third offense. Religious reformers could change the idea of god coming down in the sacraments from transubstantiation to consubstantiation, but maybe the Reformation was going too far if people were allowed to question even the very existence of god.

 

The term atheist was considered an insult. These questions were and are still constantly asked of them ... Without a god, what would be left of morality? Without a god, what purpose is there in a humans life? How would you know not to murder someone if it wasn’t for the Ten commandments? If we do not believe in god, how can we be certain of anything? If god does not exist, whom can we turn to in a time of crisis? If there is no after life, who will reward virtue and punish injustice? If god does not exist, what becomes of the worth and dignity of each person? Without god, how can humans achieve happiness? Yet, during the 17th and 18th centuries, people in the West would cultivate an attitude that would make the denial of god’s existence not only possible but desirable. They would find support for their view in science. But in the view of the Reformers, science should be as passive as the Christian, who could only accept the gift of salvation from God and could do nothing to save themselves. Martin Luther is quoted as saying “I am sinful and unclean and cannot save myself.” All of science, to these 16th century believers, had to agree with the Bible before it was allowed to be believed. Reformers concluded therefore, there could be and should be no conflict between science and scripture. Hence the beginning of the battle we are still fighting today over evolution vs. creation theories.

 

Copernicus and Galileo did not fare well in the religious system of their day. Bibles were for the first time translated into the spoke., native languages of the day. As a new literalism in reading and interpreting the Bible grew, so did intolerance. The religious world did not stay stagnant for long. By the 19th century, atheism was on the religious agenda. Advances in science and technology were creating a new spirit of independence which led some to declare their independence from God. Men like Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin., Nietzsche and Freud declared the anthropomorphic, personal god of Western Christendom vulnerable and were appalled by the crimes throughout the centuries that had been committed in his name.

 

Nietzsche declared “God was dead” He realized that there had been a radical shift in the consciousness of the West which would make it increasingly difficult to believe in the phenomena most people described as God. World War II, the death of six million Jews, the seemingly death of goodness and the rise of the success of evil, all changed the way humanity viewed theirworld and god. Jean Paul Sartre insisted for himself that even if god existed, it was still necessary to reject him since the idea of god negated human freedom. The Existentialists of the 19th and early 20th centuries saw the absence of god as positive liberation for humanity

 

Freud claimed that religion belonged to the infancy of the human race. Belief in god had been a necessary stage in the transition between childhood and maturity. Now that humanity had come of age, religion and god should be left behind He realized you could not abolish religion – rather he felt people would outgrow ritual and god in time.

 

For many people, even to our day, these thinkers, these philosophers, these scientists were the inspiration to move beyond the revelation of a single book, the Bible, and a single definition of divinity to a new freedom to explore a world without a revelation of god. For many atheists, the absence of god is a positive relief. Many find a life without a god a liberating experience, to be rid of a god who terrorized their childhood. To many, atheism continues to be a valid philosophy of living and it has a good and honored place, historically, logically, philosophically and legally.

 

Just what in each of these areas has atheism given us? Historically, some historians admit, reluctantly, that atheists are and have been a wholesome and beneficial balance in the religious scale. And also in history, the best representatives of atheism have had a passion for individual liberty and honesty.

 

Philosophically, the majority of freethinkers have shown dignity and faithfulness and even heroism to a socalled unpopular cause, religious freedom for all.

 

Logically, atheists have represented scientific inquiry into religion, have shown fearless adherence to logic and have insisted on a strict discrimination between the known and the unknowable. And legally they have been champions in the cause of the continued practice of the separation of the church and state.

 

Democratically, they have asserted that human intelligence, as known and visible, now, is limited and they accept its limits realistically. And, making the world a better place will happen because humans use the gifts that they have been given to reason themselves through to an idea of freedom for all. Using this realism they hope to put into effect some practical plans for making society better and happier.

 

And ecologically, most religious systems place humans over plants and animals due to the divinity of the godhead that lies within them. In many religious faiths humans are the end of creation, the crowning achievement of a god, because it is believed that god resides in humans more than any other part of creation. Atheists struggle against this religious notion and in reality they feel in that all life has worth and dignity.

 

Atheism is sometimes defined as the belief that there is not a God of any kind,or the claim that a god cannot exist. While these are categories of atheism, they do not exhaust the meaning of atheism and they are somewhat misleading with respect to the basic nature of atheism. As far as belief goes, an atheist would ask for a new words. They are constantly searching for a new vocabulary to use in human systems.
An atheist will tell you they understand the concept of god and have made a conscious choice to put their “faith” so to speak. in something else; reason, goodness, truth, beauty, free thought, rational deduction and the human spirit, to name a few.

 

An atheist relies upon their use of reason to form their system of convictions. Atheists trust themselves, their intuitions and the way the world works. Thomas Paine in his book Age of Reason , said, The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.Although reason may be at the base of their decision making, atheists are very spiritual people. To an atheist, reason and spirituality are not mutually exclusive terms. You would think the opposite is true. But their lives are not denial so much as having to continually justify their stand in the midst of a growing militant Christian society.

 

During my walks last Fall, I picked up many leaves. One leaf in particular struck me because on the back of it was an empty cocoon. I see a parallel between the atheist and a caterpillar in a cocoon. At first the caterpillar is wrapped up tightly in the soft white spun cocoon of a faith that is given to them. But the caterpillar soon moves around inside the cocoon and grows bigger than the original home. The caterpillar is meant for other things. In time it breaks free of the protective shell and finds its wings and flies to new found freedom.

 

Unfortunately atheists are having a tough time even in liberal circles. Often they keep quiet and keep to themselves rather than have to go through the endless barrage of questions and justification the fear of others questions or rejection demands of them. They are commonly considered to be a threat to individuals and society. But to many, it continues to be a valid philosophy of living and it has a good and honored place, historically, logically, philosophically and legally.

 

Bertrand Russell, an avowed atheist, in his book Why I am Not a Christian tell us, A habit of basing convictions upon evidence and of giving to them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general and acceptable thought, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering.Atheists remind the religious world not to worship the symbols as religious idols. For example, Jesus was the finger on the hand pointing the way for humanity to be more human, a way that could teach each of us how to live as caring and loving human beings. Atheists remind us not to worship the finger but rather learn to look beyond the symbol to see what message the symbol is trying to tell us.

 

What about the proof of Gods existence because of the beauty of the world around us? Logically an atheist asks; if I ask who made me, I must ask who made god.? If everything in our universe must have a cause, than god too must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the earth as god. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view that the world rested upon an elephant and elephant rested upon a turtle, and when the Hindu was questioned, “How about the turtle?” the Hindu said, Suppose we change the subject.There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. Russell reminds us that our belief that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination.

 

Atheists are human beings. They are often courageous human beings who need community as everyone does. They need to be loved and respected and accepted for the thoughts and actions they make on their convictions. Think of it, where else but in a UU church setting could an atheist even breath their identity. If it wasn’t for this UU setting I would not be preaching this sermon on this subject today.

 

As things stand now in the world, besides their own organizations, we may be the final bastion of hope for a religious community home for an atheist. We owe it to tolerance and acceptance and openness and diversity to keep our UU communities viable and sound To ensure true freedom of religious thought let us all understand our very important place as UUs in providing that loving forum for people of all  spiritual paths.

 

A few years ago a young man came to me for counseling and I ended up learning much more from him about this subject. But when I asked him if he would co-teach a class with me on atheism, he said, “Oh, Reverend Holmes, it may be easy for you to share who you are, but it has always been safer for me to silent. The repercussions, questions, finger pointing and accusations are too painful for me and I never seem to get my point across anyway.”  Strangely, he taught me much of what am sharing with you now. I would love to find him and let him know, sharing although at times is difficult is also necessary because we never, ever know how what we are sharing will affect someone. He effected me deeply and now he is affecting you.

 

As Rev. Greeley put it, “As atheists we desire the opportunity to celebrate our beliefs in the warm and supportive atmosphere of a religious community. We need the stimulation and challenge that such a community provides as we continue the process of developing and practicing our religious
beliefs
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“The Faith of a Religious Atheists”

 

Rev. Annie Holmes

 

 

 

My Chicago Face and How To Live In The World

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“My Chicago Face and How To Live In the World”

Rev. Annie Holmes

 

 

It was one of the coldest winters in Chicago I ever remembered.  The wind off Lake Michigan had a seriously angry, deathly, “take your breath away” feel. I had lived in Chicago for 5 years, at two different stints.  In the time I lived there I had learned to put on what I called, “My Chicago Face.”  It was a hard face, an unfeeling face, a stone face.  I had worked on it for years, watching people and how they did it. The face was noncommittal, it was vague, evasive, ambiguous and reserved.  Not unfriendly, but not friendly either.  I really didn’t like it, but it had grown on me as friends of mine were mugged and raped.  I took it on as a mantel of toughness I did not feel as I was told to always wear the emergency whistle around my neck, and blow the hell out of it if I felt I was in trouble.  My Chicago Face hardly ever smiled at anyone.  It looked straight ahead but still had a hard time ignoring you, but it did so because it was taught to.

 

When I took my first preaching class, the professor videotaped each of the sermons we practiced on the class.  In my first sermon I was like a used car salesman, pointing at them continually.  As the professor and I watched the tape of my performance, he asked me, “Just what were you doing?”  I really didn’t know, I guess I was simply trying to show importance and emphasis of my sermon points, I tried to explain.  The second sermon I decided I would be more demure.  But as it turned out I became a stone, not moving left or right or at all.  Again when we watched the tape he asked, “Just what were you doing?”  I guess others were getting the same feedback because in the next week he took pictures of us having lunch with our friends in the cafeteria.  We were laughing and talking, and he had these pictures blown up to a large size and said as we stared in amazement at ourselves, he said, “This is the face I want to see when you preach.  This open, smiling, caring, wonderfully relaxed and yet vibrant face.”

 

Wearing my Chicago Face, as I walked from the parking lot of the hospital to the entrance at the Emergency room, I never imagined that what I would be experiencing would be as breathtaking as the minus 10 degrees in the January Chicago air seemed to take my breath away.  But miracles are often around the corner, and if we only knew they were coming we could be ready.  But we don’t, and it seems it is only in hind sight that we truly understand the meaning of some incidents and people in our lives. So, on that cold January, so long ago, this is what I learned…

When I was in seminary, I, and all my classmates had to take a 10 week course called Clinical Pastoral Education.  It is a course designed for the student/minister to work in a outreach setting, like a hospital or a jail or some such arena, where there is a group of other students and a supervisor.  So, the idea is that you work on the hospital ward, and then take your experiences back to the group to be processed.  Well, instead of a 10 week CPE course,  I decided on a full year experience.

 

At the time it felt like hell, now I can see it shaped my ministerial style from that experience on.  At the first meeting of the group the supervisor was determining where we would be placed in the hospital for the next year’s work.  I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers and my toes, silently praying, “Please don’t give me the cancer ward, I’ll do anything, but please don’t give me the cancer ward.  Please, oh please.”  I looked up and everyone was staring at me as the supervisor said, “Annie Holmes, I give you– the, well, let me see, how about the……” I held my breath, “the cancer ward.”  “No,” my insides screamed.  I had just gone through my Grandmother’s terrible, heart wrenching battle with colon cancer, I couldn’t go through those battles again, even with people I didn’t know.

 

But, once the supervisor speaks, it is the law in CPE land.  So, off to the cancer ward I strode.  Even if it killed me, I was determined to somehow find a way off that floor, as soon as I could   No one was going to tell me where I had to be, for a whole year.  Even though being with cancer patients would remind me of the death of my Grandmother, I knew I was a good conversationalist, I was outgoing, I could get people talking, I guess I would be ok, if I could just keep talking, I told myself.

 

Now, you can add to this unhappy little scenario, the fact that the supervisor told me, as we were walking to the cancer floor, that the past student, Dan who had served that ward for his CPE, was simply loved by everyone, the patients, the staff, everyone loved, DAN.  “Oh, boy” I thought, how can I compete with Dan, who as it turned out on Friday nights bought pizza for the nurses and doctors, and regularly sent flowers to the patients.  But, for the time being I was determined to make the best of it.  I walked onto the floor, my palms breaking out in a cold sweat.  I kept saying to myself, “It will be ok, you can leave here soon.”  The nurses’ station was empty.  The floor was quiet and barren. As I walked toward the nurses lounge I heard laughter and talking and I gingerly knocked on the door,  all the laughter and talking of about 6 nurses stopped immediately.

 

A nurse in a blue jacket turned around and asked if she could help me. I noticed they were eating pizza, I wondered if Dan was still sending it to them even after he was gone.   I mumbled, embarrassingly, that I was the new chaplain on the floor and was there any special patient they felt I should visit at that time.  They all looked at each other with knowing looks.  I realized, they knew I was coming. Because they didn’t ask me in, or to sit down, I continued standing half in and half out of the room. Finally, the nurse who first talked to me, said there was someone who could use a chaplain, she was in room 765.  Relived to know they saw some purpose for my being there, and finally having a place to go I started walking down the hall.  The nurses were snickering loudly behind my back.

 

I reached room 765 and put on my best Reverend/Chaplain face and walked in.  “Hi,” I said, I’m the new Chaplain on this floor…” There was a women about 70 years old laying in the bed, in a coma.  You could tell by the bent hands, and the frozen look on her face that she had been in a coma for quite awhile. At first I felt furious at those nurses who must have thought it was a pretty funny trick to send the new chaplain to a person who was in a coma.  Then I felt embarrassed because she was a person who maybe could use my help.  I was there in the room, I decided to stay, if only to mostly show those nurses they couldn’t play me for a fool.

So, I sat down at Lorraine, that was her name, at Lorraine’s side and I just started to talk.  I practiced what I would have said if she could have heard me.  I must have stayed a good hour.

 

Her room was the farthest from the nurses’ station, they must have felt she needed them very little.  As I walked down the hall toward the nurse’s station I casually visited other patients.  When I reached the nurses’ station, I remembered we were supposed to check in with them for update on the patients.  The one who had spoken to me, chuckled when she asked how Lorraine was.  I said we had a very nice visit and left the floor without looking back, my cheeks burning.

In the following weeks I visited Lorraine every day.  Mostly I would sit by the bed and talk, and read to her from magazines.  As the weeks went by, I began to see Lorraine’s room as a haven.  I would go there after my 10 hour shift in the ER and I found it was so pleasant to just sit and hold her hand.  Sometimes I would be there for an hour and realize I had not said anything, and yet I felt like Lorraine and I had visited, had communicated.  Her world was total darkness and silence, except when someone took the time to break through that wall.  They say hearing is the last sense to leave a person, even in a coma, but I was beginning to see we were communicating in another way, a deep way.  That depth of communication, the power I felt as simply  “ being” with her was something new for me, the one who was forever talking.

 

One afternoon on my way to Lorraine’s I saw there were people outside her room milling around.  One woman who looked like a Doctor approached me as I walked down the hall. “So, you are Chaplain Holmes,” she said as she put her hand out for me to shake. “Is Lorraine OK?” I asked.  “That is what we are here to talk about,” the Doctor answered.  “What have you been doing here?”  I stammered, “I don’t know what you mean?”  “She is awake, Rev. Holmes, she woke up this morning.  What have you been doing in your visits here?”  “Nothing really,” I tried to look into the room to catch a glimpse of her.

Inside the room there where about 20 people.  The nurses were there, from the lounge, from my first day on the floor, I really hadn’t talked to them much since that first day.  There were specialists and what I assumed where her family.  As they left the room, they each took my hand and said I was to stop by their office and tell them more about this case when I had the time.  “This case,” I thought, “this is Lorraine, not a case.”

 

The family all hugged me, “It’s a miracle,” they said.  “Whatever you did, it’s a miracle.” The nurses each took my hand with awe and respect.  After a while they all left.  I was left alone with Lorraine.  Not the Lorraine I had known for a month, but now a person who smiled at me and asked me who I was.  I sighed, she didn’t know me.  So, I sat down next to the bed and we started all over again getting to know each other.  After about 5 minutes she said she was tired, would I mind just sitting with her awhile?  I smiled, that was what I had become good at, sitting quietly by her bed, her hand in mine.

In the weeks that followed I learned she had been a school teacher for 30 years, she was a jazz singer of some renown and that she would love to have me keep coming.  The supervisor of my CPE program was willing to honor my request to move to another floor, I guess because I was some kind of miracle worker, but said no, I would like, and needed to stay where on the cancer floor.

 

I stopped by the flower shop at the entrance to the hospital, and like Dan I found myself buying a rose for Lorraine.  But on that day before Christmas, as I turned the corner to enter her room, there was an empty bed.  The room was quiet and sterile and empty.  I dropped the rose, I ran to the nurses’ station, where is she, what happened I demanded.  The nurse looked at me, with sad eyes and said Lorraine had died suddenly the night before.  There was no sense in calling me, it all happened so fast.  She put her hand out to touch mine.  I realized the tears where rolling down my cheeks.  She said the nurses where having pizza in the lounge, did I want to have some?  Thanks I said, maybe latter.  I walked toward Lorraine’s room, letting the news of her death sink in.  I sat in the chair next to her bed until it was dark outside, trying to make sense of the whole experience.

 

The only sense I could make out it, if there was any sense to be made, was that Lorraine had been my mentor, my teacher, my friend.  Lorraine had taught me in her coma and outside of it, how to simply be with someone.  The time that I spent with her taught me more on how to care for someone else, than all the books I had read, or the hundreds of hours spent in classrooms.  Although those classroom hours and the books did give me a basis, a foundation from which to work, Lorraine made all the theories come alive.

 

I realized, from her death on, that the greatest challenge I would face as a minister, and as a person would be to truly be present for another person without letting my needs and wants and desires be the focus of the interaction, without showing off all I know, without focusing in on me, in other words, to be a non-anxious presence so someone else could reveal something about themselves. I knew at times I would have to let go of that Chicago Face I had so carefully designed.  That simply being there and truly listening to someone else, with no opinions, no agenda, no motherly advice, but to simply listen, to be quiet for more than a few sentences, to listen, to be quiet, to listen in silence, would be my calling.  To learn to quiet my mind to realize what the other person is saying and then…. to allow silence, sweet silence, the silence on my part that allows the other person to continue to share, allows them the room to expand on a topic or a concern, or an opinion.

 

Lorraine taught me this most valuable lesson.  And ironically, she taught me the most when she was in the coma.  There I had to sit in silence, as the droning of my own voice after a while did get a little monotonous.  I learned to simply sit with her, once I decided that that is what she needed from me.  I put my own needs aside, I held her hand, realizing that the Doctors and nurses were always poking and prodding and sticking her, no one had the time to simply hold her hand, rub her bruised arm, hum a song and sit.  I knew she knew I was there.  Her eyebrows would go up and down, her mouth would twitch as if she wanted to speak.  Actually, Lorraine and I met on a plane above this reality, because we met in a place of silence, a place deeper than words, a place outside the banter of conversation, the battle of getting in the last word, the struggle of who has the most correct opinion.  I learned to simply sit and to let us simply be.

That is the call I believe for each of us, as we greet and meet each other in the community we create every Sunday morning.  The call is for us to simply be here for each other.  We are called to that difficult and complex gift we can give each other – of truly listening, truly being there for one another,  is the hardest part of this being simply being there for each other.   It is like a dance, a dance we do on a wire.

 

That same year I worked with a young girl who was dying of anorexia.  She was barely 16 and day after day her family, some of her friends and myself, as part of hospital chaplain staff would come in and talk to her.  She never responded in all those days that I visited with her. Her thin hands were always crossed over the folded-down sheets, and her eyes stared expressionless out of the room, to somewhere none of us could travel with her, as hard as we tried.  Her Mother read to her, her Father in a loud often obnoxious voice would tell her jokes, her friends would stand at the end of the bed and talk nervously about her like she was deaf, or maybe not even there.  Some of the Chaplains prayed over her, blessing her forehead, or taking her hand.

One day as I walking by her room, I saw her younger brother sitting next to her and he had laid his head on her shoulder and he was crying softly.  And there was that dying young girl gently stroking his hair and singing softly to him.  He had reached her where none of us could, he let her know that he loved her and that he would miss her when she died.   This young boy used the power of his feelings in silence to bring to his sister the most valuable lesson of all ~ she was loved.

 

Imagine what talking to someone would be like if you forced yourself not to say anything throughout the whole conversation.  What would it be like, if someone was allowed to complete their whole thought and then allowed them to expand on that thought. In this dance of the conversation, we can give up the lead once in a while. If we don’t we are bound sooner or later to fall off the wire.

 

Lorraine spoke volumes to me in the silence, I learned a great deal about her even in that month of silence.  I found that by simply sitting with Lorraine,  that she had good days and bad days.  I got to the point where I could read her face and know how she was feeling.  I was a help to Lorraine when I stopped thinking about myself and focused in on her.  That is a lesson we are each called to learn.  That most difficult task of truly listening to another person.  I know, in my dealings with others, that often it takes people awhile to say hard and difficult things, things they wish to say, but can’t always say quickly, or easily, or offhandedly.  Good sharing takes time, good listening takes time.

 

There has been much written in the last 20 years that points to the fact that not all of us learn the same way, not all of us perceive the world in the same way.  In short, we have learned that there are different personality types who have different needs and desires.  The extroverted people, like myself, who jumps easily into every situation with gusto, can easily dominate the more introverted person who may need more time to feel comfortable in a situation, or more time to formulate what it is they are going to say.

 

It would only be right and just that in our committee meetings, at coffee hour, when we meet outside of church in each other’s homes, we practice the Lorraine method of conversation.  We sit facing the person we is talking, giving them our full attention.  We look into their eyes, letting them know we are listening.  We sit quietly, not offering advice, not trying to fix anything, not even commenting, we do not steer the conversation, we allow the person talking the lead in the dance at that moment.  We know that at another time it will be our time to share, but for this moment, at this time, the stage belongs to the person talking. And even when we do our best we are reminded by this quote just how hard being together can really be, the quote goes, “I know you believe you understand what I just said, but what you heard is not what I really meant.”

 

The Lorraine method takes time, it takes patience, but the rewards are endless to you the listener, and  to the one sharing who maybe for the first time in a long time got the chance to share a complete feeling, a total story, the whole picture.

We have some beautiful examples from neighboring cultures where this method of conversing has been a part of the established culture for hundreds of years. Alice Walker in her book, “The Temple of My Familiar” explains the practice of the Olinka tribe.  She tells us, The African tribe of the Olinka people use humming sounds instead of words.  Sometimes that accounts for the musicality of their speech.  The hum has meaning, but it expresses something that is fundamentally inexpressible in words.  Then, the listener gets to interpret the hum, out of their own experience, and to know that there is a commonality of understanding possible, but that true comprehension will always be a matter of degree.  If for instance you say to someone who is ill, who is feeling low: “How are you?”  He or she can say, “Ummm, ugh,” and you more or less get it.  Which is the way it really is.  If the person replied, “Fine or Terrible” it would hardly be the same.  No work would be required on the part of the listener.

 

To the Olinka, the hum would be equal to our nod, or our saying yes or no in a conversation, which would allow the person to continue.  When I have been really ill, the worst thing a person can do to me, is to ask how I am, and I begin to tell them and then they break into my last sentence and tell me all about their brother who had the same illness.  Now, I may want to hear about their brother at another time, but when I was ill, I wanted to share what was happening to me.  But we are often afraid of another person’s pain, or another person’s illness, or another person’s ideas, so we talk on top of them to hide from our own fear.  The problem is, we miss what it is they are trying to share, we miss new insights, we miss the best they may have to offer us.

 

One other culture I have learned so much from has been the Native American peoples.  In a book entitled Native American Wisdom, Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Teton Sioux explains conversations for his people, “Praise, flattery, exaggerated manners, and fine, high sounding words were no part of Lakota politeness. Excessive manners were put down as insincere, and the constant talker was considered rude and thoughtless.  Conversation was never begun at once, or in a hurried manner.

 

No one was quick with a question, not matter how important, and no one pressed for an answer.  A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation.”  He goes to say that these long pauses in conversation, considered polite in the Lakota tribe, was seen the Whites that the natives were dumb, slow, lazy and uncooperative.  Far from it, if you took a interpersonal communication course today you would be taught the Lakota method of conversation.

 

As we are learning everyday how to live in our world, our brutal, violent and yet loving world,  it would benefit us to practice the Lorraine method of conversation.. Each time you meet as a family or with friends, there are so many beginnings, so much newness.  At this time of the new year – I offer to you the Lorraine method of conversation.  I offer you the beauty of silence, the honoring of another’s sharing through patience as someone else speaks and the joy of truly basking in the story of another’s life as they speak.

 

Losing my Chicago face has been a long process.  Sometimes I look at myself in the rear view mirror of my car and I am stunned, because there she is, that cold, unattached woman who, like back in Chicago was ready for any mugger, any pervert, any person who would harm me.  And I have to smile, smile so hard that my crow’s feet show, and I know again, I am in Roseburg, I’m not in Chicago.  I can lose the face and all that represented to me.  I am still and always will be on alert, I have too many years of training to not know what is going on around me at all times, but I can also smile at people, and say hello and be pleasant and open.

Finding openness, being there for another person, truly listening may be the hardest task of your time with others, and it just may be the most rewarding task of your lives.

 

A few days before Lorraine died she asked me if it was true that I had come and sat by her bedside for more than a month when she was in a coma.  Seems the nurses had told her I had.  “Oh, yes” I said kind of embarrassed.  She took my hand and pressed it firmly and said, “You may not believe this Annie, but I knew someone was here, all those days.  I was scared, I would flit in and out of consciousness and sometimes, on a good day I would feel someone holding my hand, I would hear – of all things – humming.  Imagine, it was you.  You will never know how wonderful was for me to know I was not alone in that awful darkness.  Your being here was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”  Between both of our tears, all I could answer was, “Lorraine, it was my sincere pleasure.”

 

“Secret Inheritance”

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“Secret Inheritance”
Rev. Annie Holmes

I offer a Chinese prayer as a gift to you today, a prayer that I often pray …
“When all the people of the world love
Then the strong will not overpower the weak.
The many will not oppress the few.
The wealthy will not mock the poor.
The honored will not disdain the humble.
The cunning will not deceive the simple.
And love will make this old world new.”

Is it a prayer we whisper in our hearts and know in our
psyches that it will never be true? Or is it a prayer that
as we place ourselves in the middle of this church community
we begin to know in a very deep, abiding way, that by
belonging, all things will be made new, at least feel new in our lives. That we are changed by this church, and that the church itself is changed because we are here and participating. Think for a moment of all the ways your life has been changed because you have attended this church. Well, also know that this church has been changed because you are here.
Belonging.
~ When you have 50 people of all different opinions what do
you have? Now, you’re supposed to say, I don’t know what
do you have?  A UU Church!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

They have all sorts of new services today. They even have
a dial-a-prayer for UUs.  You call the number and nobody
answers.
Oh, yes…Belonging.
Home, it is said, home is where when you go there they have to take
you in.
A church home, it is said, is where when you go, you are
invited in.
Ah yes, Belonging.
For example:
~ As UUs it is said we don’t have 10 commandments, we have
10 suggestions.

~ The children of a UU Sunday school were drawing pictures.
The Sunday school teacher asked one child, “What are you drawing a
picture of?” “I’m drawing a picture of God,” the
child replied. “But nobody knows what God looks like”
objected the teacher. “When I get done with my picture they will!”

~ What does a cross between a Jehovah Witness and a UU do at
your door? Knocks incessantly for no apparent reason.

~You know why UUs are not very good at singing hymns?
Because they are always reading ahead to see if they agree
with the words.~

What is December 25th to a UU? Why the birth of Socrates!
In belonging here, we have been given a secret inheritance. It is now our time to share this secret with others. There is a secret in receiving an inheritance. The secret is revealed little by little. All of us can look around this room this morning and ask, who are the ones who are going to lead this congregation in this the 13th year of the new millennium? Who will it be who will do the work of this church in the world? Well surprise!  We are the ones, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. There are no other hands than ours. There are no other minds than ours. There are no other imaginations than ours, to breath the breath of life into those 7 principles we hold so dear.
Surely goodness and kindness will follow us all the days of our lives. A response could be: We are here for each other. As we enter this building each Sunday and take the hand of a member or visitor, as we look into each other’s eyes and call this gathering our community, let us remind each other, We are here for each other.

Out of what world view do people come to us seeking the kind of religious freedom we offer? Have you, or have the people seeking us been abused and hurt by your religious home of the past?  People who are looking for us are trying to believe they are good and worthy.   We are here for each other. But what could those pains people bring here really mean? We smile politely when we see each other, or are we really and truly here for each other.  By our listening, our caring, our giving we help the ways of our church to be powerful in the world.
As we light our candles for joys and concerns and share the deepest parts of our lives and ourselves may we do so in a judgment free, and safe environment.  We are here for each other.

Reality has always been a seamless web of interrelated systems. No one else but us can take the next right step for this church. We are a volunteer organization. We are the ones we have been waiting for. To be a volunteer in this church means that you are participating in a definition or redefinition of the meaning of freedom in our society. By joining this organization, you are exercising your individual power through an organization which is totally free. In a volunteer organization like this church freedom is the optimum word. There is no binding contract keeping you here, you here by your own free will.  And therefore, hopefully you will do the work of the church of your own free will.  That is the basis of democracy too.  Freedom.

Your membership, your belonging means that you will participate in the process of making church and social decisions.  You are part of making the Democratic process in the United States made stronger by your participation in this volunteer organization. In a dictatorship there are no volunteer organizations. Know why?  Because they are too dangerous to the total control a dictatorship needs in order to sustain itself.  Your membership has literally furthered the cause of democracy! Think of the power that voluntary associations have had in our world: remember volunteer organizations are often pesky thorns in the governments sides.  Because they are free to focus on the people and not bureaucracy. So, what have those pesky volunteers done now…
. the establishment of schools and colleges
. conservation of our natural resources
. protection of all people’s civil rights
. attacking the poverty issues
. improvement of race relations
. interfaith groups seeking fellowship with one another
.  the suffrage movement for women’s vote
. demand for welfare and the establishment of unions

A UU church is a special place to grow, because each of us, when we become members, commits to actively creating a safe place where religious freedom and growth can be nurtured and fostered.  Each of us has and will be changed in a dramatic way because of our involvement in this volunteer organization.
~ your inner life now takes shape as you live out your moral dreams within this community
~ integrity of you as an individual grows
~ relationships to other persons is strengthened
~ individual power is strengthened, as is the power of the church in the community where it dwells is felt
~ members learn first-hand how the democratic process works.

Freedom of churches and religious freedom go hand in hand with the democratic, liberal principles of one person, one voice, one vote. And a church separate from the state cannot force someone to give financial support to the church, the members affirm responsibility to participate in the shaping of the policies of that church and then funding the dream. All done in freedom, with non-coercion,  from a person’s sense of duty from their own conscience.
Our democracy, our country, our church will only be as strong as the volunteer associations remain strong.  Totalitarian governments, authoritarian systems, and dictatorships will never allow a strong volunteer strata of society. How do you know you are a part of a strong, healthy voluntary association? The institution can articulate easily its purpose for being, one can see the strong commitment, the energy that is expended, and of course a separation of powers so the organization is free to do what it formed itself to do.

We may feel that government with a large “G” whether it be federal, state or local may be on top with all the power, while those in our society; the sick, the mentally ill, the addicts, the homeless, the children, and those in grief or stress,  have no voice or power. But in a healthy society there is that middle group who make up the millions of volunteers who have power and who cannot be bought off.  And you, these volunteers I’m talking about, need to realize you can make this society better.

Belonging to this church is the beginning of power and transformation; personal and societal. James Luther Adams, UU theologian tells us: “Volunteers have found, first through the church, then through other groups, the real, true power in society is found in living in a democracy where an individual may not properly be coerced into any obligation they had not assumed freely upon entering that association.”
Through volunteering here, we learn about our world and our culture. We learn skills in

listening, discussion and organization. We speak out on issues near and dear to us, but not just with one voice, but in many voices. We learn how to be together, how to live together, how democracy works in a smaller milieu.
Voluntary associations have brought about prison reform, prevention of cruelty to children and animals, often in opposition to the world around them.  Margaret Mead reminds us: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

We take on public responsibilities as well as private nourishment when we become a member of this church. We search our whole lives for identity. So members, welcome once again to the identity of being Unitarian Universalists in the world.  I believe the chief end of human existence is dwelling together in unity and as the Chinese prayer reminds us; in love.
After being here for awhile, it doesn’t take long to realize that many people give of their best to keep this church growing and maturing. I remember marveling to hear that people would serve two terms on the Board of Trustees because there was a need. I marveled to hear that people have stayed up late at night putting together procedures for a new mission statements and by-law changes and long-range plans. I marvel to know people care so deeply for the future of this congregation that they give and give and give. We are all the recipients of that giving and those dreams.

Our life together in this church is not about a contract. No one can keep you here if it is not your will to be here. I bet most of us have had to do things we were not comfortable doing in our jobs because our contract with a company demanded that we do this thing. Unfortunately that is the way of the work world, but not here, oh no, not ever here. There is real, true power in volunteering, because it has something to do with a word called covenant, not contract.  What is the difference? The difference is between being coerced and making a decision out of trust.  It is the difference between duty and love. Orders of Service…

Responsive Reading “From Cage to Covenant” by James Luther Adams

L: What are the major ingredients of a covenant?

P: Human beings individually and collectively become human by making commitments, by making promises.

L: The human being is a promise-making, promise-keeping, the promise-breaking, promise-renewing creature.

P: Covenant is a promise that two sides of the agreement agrees to maintain.

L: This covenant with the creative, sustaining, commanding, judging and transforming powers, which may be interpreted theistically, non-theistically,  or humanistically. It is something we cannot control but something upon which we can depend, even for our freedom.

P: The covenant is for the individual as well as for the collective.

L: We are responsible not only for our individual behavior, but also the character of the society – also for the love and preservation of nature.

P: The covenant responsibility is especially directed toward the deprived.

L: Whether these be people suffering from neglect and injustice or those who are caught in the system that suppresses them, it is the gap between the covenant and the system, between ideals and behavior, which creates deprivation.

P: Good healthy covenant must include a law of love.

All: The covenant depends not so much on law as on the faithfulness nerved by loyalty, by love. Violation of the covenant is a violation of trust. Ultimately the ground of faithfulness is the divine or human love that will not let us go.If we are then to live a life of fulfilling this covenant, this agreement, this promise, this pledge that we make not only to ourselves as members and friends of this church, but to the world at large, how do we do this marvelous thing for our world?

  1. We learn to link, not rank people or experiences or pieces of
    life
  2. We learn to honor diversity, knowing that everything, even that which
    is different is still and always connected.
  3.  We know on a deep level and are reminded we are within, not separate from the dance of life. Don’t be afraid of things you don’t understand.  Keep an open mind, remember all in this life is connected, and
    understanding and peace will come.
  4.  Enlarge the scope of your interests, as individuals and
    as a church community.  Risk, try something new,
    celebrate the rhythms of life together; birth, rites of
    passage, and of course death.
  5.  Make a covenant with creation that embraces all of your life’s
    decisions.
  6.  Attend worship services, committee meetings, annual
    meetings and vote, use your voice and your power
  7.  Know life does not have to be any certain reality. Life
    is fluid and easily shaped in healthy systems as the
    potter’s clay
  8.  And finally, never assume you have all the right answers
    to any given question, keep searching.

I offer you now a poem from Starhawk. Think of this poem as
a gift from me to you as you continue your spiritual religious
journey as Unitarian Universalists.  And Starhawk tell us;

Out of the bone, ash
Out of the ash, pain
Out of the pain, the swelling
Out of the swelling, the opening
Out of the opening, the labor
Out of the labor, the birth
Out of the birth, the turning wheel, the turning tide.

This is the story we like to tell ourselves
In the night…
When the labor is too hard, and goes on too long

When the fire seems nothing but dying embers winking out
We say/ we remember a time/ when we were free
We say that we are free, still and always
And the pain we feel is that of labor
And the cries we hear are those of birth.

And so you come to the fire where the old ones sit
You are young, just on the edge of ripening
They are ancient, their faces lined with spider webs or wrinkles
Their face brown, bronze, cream, black
Their eyes are wells of memory
The say…

“Listen child, this is your night of passage
And it is time to learn
Your history
Tonight you will run free, out into the wild
Fearing only the spirit of your own power
And no one in this world would harm you or lay
A hand on you
But there was a time/ when children were not safe
And the dark held rape and death and terror
We remember that time.

Go to the stream, kneel down, drink the sweet water
As you can anywhere water runs in this world
For it runs clean, and breathe the clear air
And know that there was time
When the waters and the very air itself
Were poisoned, and the people died
We remember that time.

Look around the circle, look at our faces
Each one different, each one special
And we so love the hue of our different skins
And carved planes of our faces
But there was a time
When people feared each other
And hated what they saw in different eyes
We remember that time.

And look up into the sky, see the stars, see the moon
Know that there is nothing in the sky to threaten or harm you
But there was a time when we were all targets and we
Didn’t know, from one day to the next when the bombs might come
Whether we would have a world to leave to you
We remember that time.

They are silent
They wait
You look into their eyes, you breathe deeply
and it’s as if you know the world they speak about
You feel its fear seep into your blood
and you feel also something else
A memory of strength or courage
Look at the old ones
See the power in those old eyes and frail, cupped hands
Breathe it in
Know it is your own power, too
You are one of them
They live in you as you in them
And you marvel at them
How did they survive? How did they stand it?

They wait
You realize they are waiting for you
And you wonder what it is they want you to do
And you think maybe they want you to ask them something
So you say,
“Tell me, old one
How did you do it?
How did you change it?”
And they smile

Listen ~Hear what they say to you…

“We struggled
We held out our hands and touched each other
We remembered to laugh
We went to endless meetings
We said no
We put our bodies on the line
We said yes

We invented, we created
We walked straight through our fears
We formed the circle
We danced
We spoke the truth
We dared to live it
We know, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

“Secret Inheritance”

Rev. Annie Holmes

Christmas

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Christmas

by Dr. Phil Moser

This week I watched the heavy snow come down, most of it melting as it hit the ground. But every now and then, a few flakes would stick, and that would cause more to stick.  I think that is how solutions to problems are discovered.  Rather than wasting our time asking why a situation is so, or forming committees to study it, sometimes it better to just starting tossing out possible solutions to see what sticks. I think everyone and no one has the answers to the recent school shootings, but if we all do what we thinks will work, from gun buybacks to arming teachers, from banning assault weapons to improving the mental health system, then maybe enough solutions will occur to make some of it stick. The same thing is true with the economic crisis.  We should need to throw all the different solutions at it and see what works without bogging down in the same old rhetoric.  Like any human problem, if we sit around asking why a situation is so, or who is to blame, we just dig ourselves in deeper.  I learned a long time ago with my mental health and addicted patients that asking why about anything is a useless exercise.  It only orients them to the past and provides them with excuses that block them from action.

Whether with gun violence, or the fiscal crisis, or personal issues, the whys are not nearly as important as the what-when-how-we are going to do about it. The boy who put his finger in the dyke did not offer a permanent solution to a long-term problem, but at least he offered a solution. All of us in our hearts need to ask, individually, what we can do to solve our national problems.  One thing I delight in doing is to take my bags of cans to the recycling and giving them to someone who appears to need the money more than me.  The other day, the National Intelligence branch was complaining that they have too much video tape from drones to analyze in order to be more selective in targets. I wrote them a letter and suggested that they send boxes of those tapes to old veterans like me, after giving us an orientation, and have us do it for free. We feel like we are contributing and they meet a need. Maybe if you ask a school to link you up with a bright but troubled youth who might benefit from mentoring, you could prevent a shooting. I told you last week about the Candy Striper who probably saved my spiritual life when I had polio. I believe that in these random acts of kindness lies our salvation as a culture and a nation.

This brings us to Christmas. Christmas, after all, carries a heavy responsibility for each of us individually. This one day is expected to contain almost all the enchantment that remains in our disenchanted culture. It is the one time that skeptical non-belief is suspended and grudgingly gives way to hope. Who hasn’t looked out on the sparkle of light over crisp snow on a cold Christmas eve, feeling the total quiet and the sense that something wonderful is coming?  Christmas returns us to that child-like state of grace and innocence, of wonder and belief that provides us with a optimism about a world that otherwise is heavy upon us.

Christmas is about rituals, mostly focused on consumption and abundance, whether the large bonfire, the rich food, the Christmas tree, or even the black Friday sale. We see so little of unselfish grace in our day to day affairs. By giving to others material things, we hope to enhance the spiritual, either with a God or with other people.  Underlying all the glitter and trimming is the basic reality, the noble paradox that only by giving away what we most need and don’t have do we thus receive it (consider: respect, appreciation, love).

The Christmas stories cluster around miracles, and Christmas becomes the day of miracles; the day when we are willing to entertain possibilities that we would deny on any other day.  The story of Scrooge, George Bailey, Ralphie, and even the Grinch are actually profoundly religious in their own way. They have to do with the nature of our own human spirituality, and the existence of a kind of unselfish experience which we will accept only on this one day of the year.  The Christmas spirit moves us not to be the people we were, but to enlarge our sympathies, deepen our gratitude for what we have, expand our connectedness and commitment, and rejoice in the human community as it nurtures us.  We are more connected and less alone than we think.

Perhaps one of the most amazing Christmas miracle stories was that in the winter of 1914, on the battlefield of Flanders in WWI.  The British and German soldiers in the trenches who faced each other over a short space on that Christmas Eve no longer believed in much of anything, including the likelihood of their individual survival or the short end to a war which would drag on for another four years and account for nine million dead. The troops on both sides were weary, frustrated and dispirited, bogged down in the glue-like mud, waterlogged trenches, and barbed wire entanglements of Belgium with little sense of national or spiritual purpose, other than the defeat of the enemy.

Despite the constant machine gunfire and artillery barrages and even though their trenches were only 60 yards apart in some places, soldiers on both sides had managed to receive gift boxes from their government. The British had holiday foods and tobacco and the Germans had small Christmas trees and candles. On that night, the Germans set their trees on their trench parapets and lit their candles. They then began to sing carols.  After shooting at a few of the trees, the British became more curious that cautious and began to crawl forward to watch and listen. After a while, recognizing the familiar songs even though in a different language, they too began to sing.  By Christmas morning, the no man’s land between the trenches was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing, and helping one another bury their dead.  Soon they were even playing soccer!  Of course, it didn’t last; some of the generals didn’t like it at all and commanded their troops to resume shooting at each other.  After all, they were in a war!  Soldiers reluctantly went back to their trenches, with much hand-shaking and mutual goodwill.  For the next few days, most of the shooting was at the stars, rather than their fellow human beings. It definitely defeats the purpose of war, once the enemy is humanized.  But for a day, there was peace on earth and good will toward men, all because the focus was on what Christmas stands for.  There is something about this one holiday that changes people and even creates miracles. Something wonderful happened two thousand years ago, and the hope that it inspired has caused it to happen over and over again down through the years of time.

Of course, Christmas wasn’t always called Christmas.  Previously, it was the time of the winter solstice.  To the Pagans, light and fire were considered sacred, symbolizing the triumph of light and warmth over darkness and cold and commemorating the return of the sun’s power. Until the 13th century, this Pagan view of the holiday prevailed.

336 AD is the first time Christ was mentioned in conjunction with the Winter Solstice.  The name, Christmas, came from the words “Christ’s Mass” and used as such beginning in the 13th century.  The date of December 25th was not set as Christ’s birth in the West until the middle of the 4th century.  Many scholars held that the birth of Christ as the saving light of the world is analogous to the rebirth of the sun in the Winter solstice celebration.  In Germany, St. Boniface dedicated the fir tree to the holy child in place of the Pagan sacred Oak of Odin, which Boniface chopped down as symbol of the dominance of the new religious order over the old one.  The final move to combine the Solstice and Christianity was led by Francis of Assisi and, later, his religious order, the Franciscans.  In 1223, in the Church of Greccio, Italy, Francis built the first life-sized Nativity scene.  Another Franciscan, Jacopone Todi, was the father of Christmas carols.

Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant movement in the middle 1500’s, is credited with bringing the Christmas tree indoors.  And Charles Follen, a Unitarian minister, is credited with bringing the Christmas tree indoors in America, in the early 1900’s.

During the subsequent Victorian era, Christmas had everything a good Victorian could desire:  sentimentality, romance, strong family ties, piety, color, lights, warmth, feasting, almsgiving, singing and dancing.  In 1843 Charles Dickens (himself a Unitarian) commemorated the new style of Christmas in the book, “A Christmas Carol.” As the Industrial Revolution began to sense a chance for profit in the Victorian style of Christmas, Queen Victoria’s sons and daughters married into most of the royal courts of Europe and perpetuated their version of Christmas by seeking to recreate the Christmases that they remembered from England.  It was only a matter of time before the United States adopted these aspects of doing Christmas, including the commercialism.  And as the world’s primary Capitalists, we took the commercial side of Christmas to new heights, currently culminating in Black Friday and the emerging Cyber Monday.  Now you do not even have to leave your computer chair to get into the spirit of giving (thus helping the stores make their quotas for the whole year in one month and stimulating the economy).

Then, of course, there is Santa Claus, or more properly St. Nicholas.  The first idea of Santa Claus was based on the real-life Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, Turkey, born in the year 343.  He was named the patron saint of sailors, thieves, hobos and (appropriately enough), children, bankers, and pawnbrokers.  Upon entering a monastery at an early age, he rid himself of his wealth by giving away all of his possessions, thus establishing his identification as a gift giver.

One story about Nicholas concerned a family with three daughters who were too poor to provide dowries, which meant no marriages.  Upon learning of this, Nicholas disguised himself in a coat and hat, went at night to their house, and dropped three bags of gold coins down their chimney.  The gold is said to have landed in the girl’s stockings, which were hanging on the fireplace to dry.  The father of the family caught Nicholas in the act and the story spread quickly through the town, leading to his becoming Bishop of Myra.

Vladimir of Russia discovered the story of Nicholas in 1003, which eventually led to Nicholas becoming the patron saint of Constantinople.  As his legend grew, so did the stories of his carrying gifts for good children, but switches for bad children.  This more judgmental Santa Claus appears to have been influenced by stories about the Norse gods, Thor and Wodin.

The idea of Santa Claus came to America by way of the Dutch in the 1600’s, called “Sinter Claes.”  However, American Christmas at that time  was only a religious celebration and even was considered illegal (due to the influence of the Puritans) in New England until 1681.  In 1821, the book “A New-year’s present, to the little ones from five to twelve” was published in New York. It contained Old Santeclaus, an anonymous poem describing an old man on a reindeer sleigh, bringing presents to children.

The final evolution from St. Nicholas to the American Santa Claus occurred in 1823, with Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”  Our first picture of Santa Claus as we know him was provided by Thomas Nast in his illustrations for the Moore poem when it was published in 1863 in Harper’s Weekly Magazine.  In an 1869 poem, he was placed at the North Pole.  By 1889, he had a wife.  His pipe was eliminated and replaced with a Coca-cola bottle in the 1920’s by artist Haddon Sundblom.  Finally, Santa had the red checks, a red suit with white fur trim, a round little belly that shakes when he says “hoho”, and a sleigh full of presents, drawn by raindeer (including Rudolph in 1939).

With the advent of movies, Christmas was fully drawn into the American culture and became a reflection of it.  “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” were the quintessential portrayals of everything good and noble surrounding Christmas in the 1940’ through the 1970’s, but they were replaced in the 1980’s by “A Christmas Story.”  Perhaps this cultural shift occurred because A Christmas Story is everything It’s a Wonderful Life is not – “satiric and myth-deflating, down to the cranky store Santa kicking Ralphie down a slide.”  Or perhaps it is because of the changing relationship between the community and the individual. Whereas the older films position Christmas as that which “uplifts the suicidal, raises every voice in Whoville, [and] renders peace between Macy and Gimbel,” A Christmas Story “inverts the moral principle.”   Now, as TIME put it, it’s the individual Christmas experience that matters. Getting the BB gun, instead of protecting the local Savings and Loan for the poor, is the point. Bedford Falls can take a hike … [it’s not about] angels getting their wings. Christmas is about the kids getting their due.” The same theme holds forth in my personal favorite Christmas movie, Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation.”

But the great divide between It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story is more than just the radical individualism that marks our day. The real divide between the two films is that one retains the idea that Christmas is about the miraculous birth of a special child, while the other does not.

A Christmas Story has become one of our favorite movies. The nostalgia of the time, and the way it reveals how Christmas, often “works,” runs deep and familiar.  But when we watch it, we remind ourselves that while it is a Christmas story, it is not the Christmas story.  For a taste of that, we need to go back to Bedford Falls, or even all the way back to Bethlehem.

For me, the passion for the wonder and the potential of Christmas is best discovered in a letter written to a little girl in 1897.  That year, an 8 year-old coroner’s daughter in Manhattan named Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father whether Santa Claus really existed.  Her father suggested that she write the The Sun newspaper, telling her “if you see it in the Sun then it must be so.” He unwittingly gave one of the paper’s editors, Francis P. Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question and address the philosophical issues behind it.

Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time that saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society.  Although the paper ran his editorial on the seventh page, below a bicycle ad, its message was powerful and moving to a nation coming to grips with itself on the edge of a new century.  Here it is in its entirety:

“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

“VIRGINIA O’HANLON.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

 

Virginia O’Hanlon grew up and eventually received a doctorate degree from Fordham, working as an educator throughout her life.  In an interview late in life, she credited Church’s editorial with shaping the direction of her life in a positive manner.  Frank Church died in 1906. Ironically, he had no children, but he inspired thousands of Virginias.

 

As the seasons change and the sun grows closer to renewing its promise, let us remember to forgive others as well as ourselves for the mistakes of the past.  Take all the theological and commercial trappings away and we are celebrating a certain sense of the holy that comes with every birth, including yours, mine and the sun.  Frederick Buecker said that “if you do not believe in God as a noun, maybe you can believe in God as a verb, a quickening of the soul that responds to the spark of life in every shape and form. In the words of a Belinda Carlisle song, In this world we’re just beginning to understand the miracle of living.  Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?  Ooh, heaven is a place on earth. So I say a happy holiday to all, and a wish for peace on earth and good will to men.

 

The Celebration of Bread

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Rev. Annie Holmes

 

Helen had stamped around the house all day long. Everything seemed wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. She picked up the bread dough and slammed it down on the table. The flour arose in a smoke filled vapor around her head. She was going to cry. Her husband Ed hated it when she cried. Again she dove her hands into the smooth, soft, warm dough, again she resisted the urge to go slowly and slammed the dough onto the counter. She was glad the phone hadn’t rung. It always seemed to ring when her hands were sticky and full of flour and the kids were gone and she was alone. She dug her palms into the dough, lift, turn, slam. And there they were, the tears she was dreading.

 

Ed would be home soon. Why did this always happen when she was only doing what everyone seemed to want? Her mother praised her, one of the few praises she received when she made her homemade bread. Ed loved the bread, eating three and four and five pieces even when it was still hot and the butter ran off the sides of the bread and onto his beard and hands and down his chin. That always made them laugh. But, they hadn’t laughed much lately.

 

The tears would make the dough even sticker, Helen thought annoyed. She realized the foolishness of the scene. Here she was with her Mother’s apron on over her uniform, up to her elbows in flour and crying now so hard she couldn’t even reach for a tissue. She wiped her tears on her sleeve, washed her hands and blew her nose. What a mess. The door opened and there was Ed, all chilly and rosy cheeked from the cold out of doors, and early, he wasn’t supposed to be home for another hour or so. They simply stood there looking at each other for a moment. She stifled a sob, and he put down his bags and took her in his arms. She hugged him as hard as she had ever hugged him. He felt her intensity and kissed her on the neck. “I am so sorry,” he said hoarsely. Helen smiled, nodded and sighed.

 

“Baking bread?” he finally asked. “Yeah,” was all she could answer. “I’m glad, everyone loves your bread.” She nodded. He took his coat off and walked over to her by the counter. “May I help?” he asked. She felt kinda faint. “Sure,” she answered in a whisper. He washed his hands and gently she took those strong, oversized hands and shifted a little flour over them. Then she guided them into the first batch of whole wheat dough those rugged hands ever touched. Together they kneaded the bread slowly.

 

They didn’t talk. But their bodies moved together in the rhythm of the dance of the palms into the dough; slowly pushing it away, pulling it back, lifting it up, turning it over, pushing it away, pulling it back, lifting it up, turning it over. Man and woman caught in an ancient sharing of pain, forgiveness and grace. They knew there was an intimacy they felt there, on that twilight afternoon of togetherness that they had not felt in a very, very long time. She looked at him shyly and smiled. “We can’t knead the bread forever.” She told him. He laughed, “Why not?” “We must bake it now,” she laughed back. She went to get the bread pans, thinking she could not remember a nicer Thanksgiving in her whole life.

 

 

Responsive Reading: by Mark Belletini.

“Only bread is for the breaking”

Leader: The dignity and wholeness of each human life is not for the breaking,

only bread is for the breaking…

People: Our care and compassion for others is not for the breaking, only bread is for the breaking.

L: Our circle of love and acceptance of one another is not for the breaking, only bread is for the breaking.

P: The roots we plant and tend which support us and nourish our spiritual growth are not for the breaking, only bread is for the breaking.

L: Our spirits are not for the breaking, only bread is for the breaking.

P: The ties that bind us to family, community, human race, the universe, are not for the breaking, only bread is for the breaking.

L: Our promise to live in peace, integrity and truth with one another is not for the breaking, only bread is for the breaking.

P: The fragile earth which is our home is not for the breaking, only bread is for the breaking.

All: In gratitude for the bounty of life and the community we share, we break only our bread. Blessed be.

 

Bread, dough, cash, currency, sustenance of life. References of manna in the desert, the bread of life. I don’t think it was by accident that the early Christian church used the symbol of bread for their communion ritual. I remember hearing stories of the gold rush people in Alaska who would rather give up their boots or even their horse instead of their sour dough starter. You could always get more boots and another horse, but the sour dough starter was life itself for those in the wilderness. And I don’t think there was much coincidence in calling money bread and dough.

Think of every native people of the earth, and the basis of their diet is some kind of bread.

 

When my ex-husband and I lived in Puerto Rico, in a little town called Humacao, we were brought to the precious secret of the city where we lived early on in our stay. Often we would smell the rich aroma of fresh baked bread on our walks but never found a bakery. “Oh,” the locals told us, “that’s because you don’t know where to go.” So, when we were deemed reliable, in the black of night we were taken down this dark dank street and shown a rectangle about waist high that was cut out of an enclosed wall. There was light and warmth streaming from the inside, but it was impossible to see in. “Put $2 there on the ledge” we were told, so we did, then a hand reached out with a loaf of the warmest, softest, most heavenly loaf of bread I had, or have ever smelled or tasted. And that was it, we were hooked. Almost every night one of us would make the trek down the deserted dark street to give “the hand” the money and receive our daily bread. No one would tell us why all the secrecy but we didn’t care, as long as the bread was there. Oh, what lengths we will go through for the stuff of life.

 

I see two trends happening in our 2012 modern world. On the one hand bread, good healthy bread is making a comeback. I remember the days of Wonder bread and the soft squishiness of it and how terrible we soon found out it was for us. Hostess products have certainly polluted a large section of our society. But bread, healthy breads are back though. Bread with seeds, bread with fruit and combinations of flours that are hard to pronounce, but your body knows them well.

 

Then, the other trend has been that so many people have found they cannot tolerate gluten and now we have so many gluten free products. As I remember it, my Grandmother made homemade breads of all kinds on Saturday mornings. I don’t remember my Mother ever making homemade bread. And my daughter does not bake all that much, so this baking need seems to skip generations. By the late 1950’s early 60’s homemade anything was not as valued as that which was canned, packaged and processed. But, by the 1980’s I was back with my Grandmother making breads on Saturday morning for my family.

 

There was something so special about mixing the flour, kneading it and waiting for the yeast to do its special magic while I sipped my morning coffee. The damp towel over the bowl would slowly rise. To me, it was always magic. Then popping it in the oven and watching it turn brown. And of course when you took it out of the oven, the sheer delight in the smell of fresh baked bread. People could not stay in bed. People couldn’t get the butter and the jams and the knives out fast enough in order to capture that 10 minute window you had of fresh, piping hot bread, where the butter melted and ran down your chin. I had a friend who in those days, when bread baking was coming back, who used to grind her own flour from the wheat she grew. She mentioned often that there was a distinct satisfaction in watching the process from wheat sheaves to slices of bread.

 

Who hasn’t enjoyed the lusciousness of Lighthouse bakery bread? Who wouldn’t pay $3 or 4 dollars a loaf for Dave’s Killer Bread? And imagine a loaf of Wonder Bread in 1951 was $.14. And maybe that was even too much for what you truly got.

When we speak of breaking only the bread in our lives, couldn’t we also speak of repairing and healing our lives? If bread is life, here is a slice of life I wish to share with all of you. And as we were speaking of healing in our book group this past Wednesday, I was reminded of my 98 year old friend, Edwin, who gave me this piece of advice that has lasted me all these years. What he told me wasn’t a crumb, it was the whole loaf! I shared this bit of wisdom with the group and they asked me to share it with you.

 

So, Edwin was 98 years old when I met him. I was a Lutheran seminary student who brought communion to shut-ins. I always saved Edwin for my last stop because I so enjoyed talking to him. He was bed ridden and full of cancer. He was on oxygen and often in terrible pain. And yet on those visits he was pleasant, fun, enjoyable and amusing. Golly how we laughed together about everything. One day I couldn’t stand it any longer, and just had to ask him how he could be so cheerful when things were so bad in his life? He looked at me curiously and asked, why I thought things were bad in his life. Was he kidding, I thought? No, he was serious. So, I mentioned all the parts of his life that were painful and debilitating for him, and he smiled and with a arthritic hand, waved all that aside.

 

He told me, that a long time ago he had developed a method of dealing with life that made all his problems seem manageable. So, I got more comfortable on the end of his bed and he shared with me what he did every night before he went to sleep for the past 70 or so years.

Edwin, would lay on his back in bed and close his eyes he said. He would then think of the day that had just passed. All the events he would picture in his mind. If there had been any arguments or pains, or parts of the day where he had acted in malice or was not proud of, he would in his mind ask for forgiveness. If there were parts of the days where he had acted in valor and bravely, honestly and gallantly (his word) he would congratulate himself and give himself a well deserved pat on the back.

 

Then he would think of the present moment he was in. He would think of his warm house, his wife laying next to him, the clean sheets covers around him, his dog’s breathing at the end of the bed, his children and their homes and he would be so thankful. Sometimes, he said his heart would be close to bursting with all the gifts he had been give.

 

Then, lastly he would think of the next day. He would imagine the meetings he would have to attend and if there could be a problem with someone, he imagined how the problem would be resolved and how the meeting would go smoothly, and there would be few problems. Each person he would bless, each problem he would handle in his mind, with the best of himself. So, having let go of the day he had just had, thanking the Universe for the gifts around him in the night that was present and having prepared himself for the next day as best he could, he would peacefully and happily fall asleep. And, he told me, he still did that same routine at 98 years old, on oxygen, waiting for death. With that, he took my hand and kissed it softly and said, “Now you too can learn the lesson of the great ones, simplicity, letting go, saying thank you and preparing.”

 

If indeed only bread was for the breaking, could we not take dear Edwin’s words to heart and heal the pieces of our lives that we do indeed have control over? The Tao te Ching reminds us, if we seek to let something go in our lives, we must first let it come to fruition, it must bloom and we must attend to these pressing things in our lives before they will be at peace in our hearts. If you ignore these pains, they don’t go away, they only fester and in time rule us. Knowing how to yield is strength. Use your own personal strength and what you know to be true in your heart, and you will return to the source of light. This is called practicing eternity.

Bread is a gift of the earth to us all, yes even gluten free, it is a gift. As it is called life itself. It is good and worthy of us to take time out of our lives and honor those pieces of life that sustain us. So, to bread! To life!

 

The Gift of the Bread

“Only bread is for the breaking,” not our hearts, not our lives and certainly not our friendships. So, in this vein we will celebrate the gift of bread in our lives and have a special sharing of breads we will bring to the celebration.  If you bake, please bring some bread to share.  (yeast-risen, zucchini, pumpkin, banana, etc)

Chief Seattle Speaks

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Letter of Chief Seattle of the Suwamish Tribe: To the President of the United States of America, Franklin Pierce, 1854.

The great chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. The great chief also sends us words of friendship and good will. This is kind of him, since we know he has little need of our friendship in return. But we will consider your offer. For we know that if we do not sell, the white man may come with guns and take our land.

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and every humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man. So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us.

 

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the people of the earth. People do not weave the web of life; they are merely a strand in it. Whatever they do to the web, they do to themselves. But we will consider your offer to go to the reservation you have for my people. We will live apart, and in peace.

 

It matters little where we spend the rest of our days. Our children have seen their fathers humbled in defeat. Our warriors have felt shame and after defeat they turn their days in idleness and contaminate their bodies with sweet foods and strong drinks. It matters little where we spend the rest of our days. They are not many. A few more hours, a few more winters, and none of the great tribes that once lived on this earth or that roam now in small bands in the woods will be left to mourn the graves of a people once as powerful and hopeful as yours. But why would I mourn the passion of my people? Tribes are made of people, nothing more. People come and go, like the waves of the sea. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as a friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

 

One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover, our God is the same God. You may think you know that you own him as you wish to own our land: but you cannot. He is the God of all people; and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. This earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? So we will consider your offer to buy the land.

If we agree, it will be to secure the reservation you have promised. There perhaps, we may live out our brief days as we wish. When the last red man has vanished from this earth and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, these shores and forests will still hold the spirits of my people. For they love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell our land, love it as we’ve loved it. Care for it as we’ve cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you take it. And with all your strength, with all your mind, with all your heart, preserve it for your children, and love it as God loves us all. One thing we know, our God is the same God. This earth is precious to him. Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see…

 

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the geese, harsh and exciting over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” These are the words of Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

Oh my gosh! They are telling me the earth is heating up. The polar ice caps are melting. The water is rising, the atmosphere is breaking down. The ozone layer is dissolving. Oil spills in places I can’t pronounce. Little ducks and geese and wild birds covered in oil. Garbage and waste filling up our world, and part of the answer given to most of these problems is that I have to walk through the desert on my knees for a hundred miles. Or, in other words, things I simply cannot do, or won’t do.

 

So the contradiction continues everyday in my life. I want to stop global warming as most of you do. But will I give up my car, move closer to Roseburg? Walk everywhere, take the bus, not fly home to Wisconsin to see my family because of the fluorocarbons the airplanes put in the air, not use plastic ever again, don’t burn wood, I don’t think so. So, once again the pain of the contradiction goes on in my life, and I am one of 10,000, 100,000, 1,000,000 who truly are distressed by what they read and see and do believe is happening, and yet cannot seem to make that next step to truly sacrificing what needs to be let go of in order to make a difference. And you know why I am not ready to do what has to be done in my life to make a real difference on our earth? Are you curious? So was I when I got to the bottom of the problem for me, and it comes down to – my not being really and truly being in love with this earth we live upon.

 

I have not let the soft animal within me love what it loves; itself and the earth. The earth is not under my fingernails, it is not between my toes, it is not in my teeth or my hair. I am clean, I am above it all, I am locked inside a building most days, I am sterile, I am germ-free, I am disinfected, I am hygienic, I am sanitary, and — I am deficient. I am blind. I am lost. I am without a foundation and therefore because of all these things I will not greatly change on where it really counts.

 

Because I don’t really love the earth, I will probably not do what has to be done to heal her, save her, redeem her, as only I could myself. Because you know and I know those things you really love you sacrifice for, you give your life easily for, you protect. You say: “There is nothing I wouldn’t do for the beloved,” because that is what love does, gives without counting the cost. So, they can go on and make all the movies they want. They can show me polar bears with no more ice to walk upon because of my car, and I won’t give up my car or even find a way to use it less because I don’t love that polar bear as much as I love my convenience. That is where I am unsaved, unfaithful, unhappy, unspiritual, a sinner so to speak, because I have shut the earth and its power and its needs out of my life, I will not respond as I should to her cries of distress.

 

Will I ever be happy enough on this earth to do what I could and should to save her? So, is there no salvation for me? For others? For our earth? Yes! Being a Unitarian Universalist of course I have an attitude of ultimate optimism. I don’t subscribe to sin, just misinformation. I don’t preach hell, only missed opportunities. I do know that there is an answer and it calls forth from me Mary Oliver’s ideas. In other words, I need the soft animal in me to speak to me. I need to have a garden. I need to swim, walk barefoot in the grass, get dirty, sweaty, smelly. If I don’t make some connection with the earth on my street; like picking up garbage, planting flowers, watching the stars and the moon, know the constellations, be familiar with the cloud formations, I will be a lost soul forever and more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. And my friends, I do want to be a part of the solution, I do.

 

I have a model, a hero, in how to be a part of the solution, his name is Dr. James Lovelock and I hope he will be a role model for you too. Born in 1919 in England he has had a distinguished scientific career, and — he has been seen as a science sell out, a rationalist turned woo-woo, a scholar who should have known better. Where did he go wrong, his fellow collogues asked? When did he leave the hallowed halls of learning and become a shaman? Soon they found they could not save him, he would not go back into the box of academia, and rationality. He was lost to them and gave to a whole generation of people who were so thirsty for the waters of life, a new story, a new way to look at our earth. This is his story.

 

After receiving his Ph.D. in medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine he came to Harvard. There he began to invent and he invented so well, NASA hired him. It was while he was working for NASA that he had his conversion. While studying life possibilities on Mars, he discovered a new way to live on the earth, something he called the Gaia theory. Named after the Greek goddess Gaia, the earth herself, James took off from his inventing and scientific work and did a most amazing thing. James Lovelock walked the earth for 7 years. He walked the deserts, the mountains, the plains, the cities, the fields. He walked, walked, and walked. Personally I think he was getting in touch with the animal part of his nature. But whatever, after this 7 year period he decided the earth was alive. Yes, alive.

 

He discovered, what ancient people have been telling us for generations, she had a way of regulating her biosphere, almost the mindset that allowed her to make changes within herself to do what she had to do to live. It became known as Earth Systems Science. Now, I don’t know if the earth is alive or not, I tend to think it is, but, I’m told by my science friends that that notion is the romantic in me. But what I do know is that Lovelock’s theory has changed so many people’s thinking about this planet we walk upon our whole life. And to this theologian/nonscientist, I see this change in theories as a good thing. Because anything that is alive will be given a closer look by people than something we consider inert.

 

Lovelock in his own way discovered what I think is the connection between the earth and the global warming that is occurring. The link is that you must, I must, everyone must cultivate, develop a connection, a visceral umbilical cord to Gaia, the Mother, the earth if we are to do the right thing. You can have all the knowledge you want. You can attend all the movies, know dozens of statistics and yet if you cannot care for the soft animal within your heart, know your connection to the earth; your oxygen is her oxygen, your carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium and chlorine are all hers too, the earth will die and we with it. If you don’t see that, you will never, ever give up your car, take public transportation or reduce fluorocarbons in our air. You won’t save the whales, or know or care what is happening to the honey bees.

 

I believe we are all looking for happiness, we are all looking for spirituality and believe it or not, it is very simple, it is about connection, links, association, relationship and bonds. If we can’t see that we are the earth, we will never do the right thing to save it. That is the basis of all things spiritual – connection. It is very difficult to love someone you have never met. That is the basis of love, justice and the one piece that is not discussed in Washington as more and more of our natural, wild lands are given over to development. How and do we love the earth?

There is a program called Outward Bound. In this program kids who have never been reached by parents, the law, the penal system etc. are sent, where, to the wilds of Minnesota, to a place called the Boundary Waters Canoe area. Here they get something I believe, we all need. The first day they are blindfolded and lead into a swamp up to their necks. That is called “getting the city out of your soul.” And then these kids are challenged by nature, and nature in themselves, in a way they have never been challenged by anything else before. And they are given something else, a connection to the earth to fill the hole in their hearts. Many of them come out of the month long experience as new individuals. Completely changed. What do they have besides blisters, and a sun burn?

 

They have a sense of power of riding a rapids, camping out in the wild, no McDonald’s in sight. If they do not make their own meals they will not eat. If they don’t paddle somewhere, they will stay where they are. They learn they are a small part of something huge and great and wondrous and wonderful. Their animal self is nurtured, told to howl, feel humble and learn. They learn their own power, they find when they have been in touch with that power, they know a happiness many of them never experienced before.

Where is your Boundary Water experience? How will you Outward Bound? When will you take off the too tight shoes and let go of the tie and the pretense that we are better than the animals, above the earth, more than the dirt? Ha! You and I are only going to be a part of the problem if we don’t stop that way of thinking and get dirty. How long has it been since that soft animal in you was recognized and loved?

 

In the Native American spirituality there is a tradition of believing that each person has a counterpart in the animal world. This animal may call to you, or come up in dreams. You may be drawn to this animal for reasons you cannot fathom. For some it becomes what is called a power animal. Do you know yours? Have you taken time to find out who or what it could be? Are you afraid of the animal side of you? No wonder. We were taught to fear that wild side of ourselves and what is there to fear but the connection that just may save the world. Have you ever thought of yourself as a savior? Well, you could be. It takes some practice, some courage. It takes being in touch with something not made by human hands. It takes the strength of going outside in your neighborhood and taking a garbage bag with you and picking up all the trash in your mile of influence. It means when they ask you at Safeway, “paper or plastic,” you say “neither,” and have your canvass bags ready to fill with your groceries.

 

Not very glamorous, not very influential, but very, very effective. These actions ripple out on the waters of other people’s lives. I have seen it. I walk near my home and pick up garbage and others have helped me. I see now one lady who does the same. I have seen people watch me at Sherm’s as I load my groceries in a canvass bag. Not stuff of the Nobel Prize for Peace, but I know every bag I don’t use is one that will not be put into a land fill. I try to recycle. I compost all my fresh garbage and use it in my garden. Little stuff, small stuff, like the animal part of me. I breath in and out, 28, 400 times in 24 hours.

 

I consume food. I drink water. I smell cooking around me and my mouth waters. I walk, I try 15 minutes each day. I cry when there is sadness. I wait eagerly for something wonderful to happen. I pray for peace, I work for justice, I know I am more or less the sum of my experiences, my family, my genes, my race, my sex. And yet, there is this other side of me. It yearns for the smell of grass, the howl of the wolf, the great, big expanses of mountains and prairies. It cuddles in the warmth of sleep and dreams of riding the winds. It calls to me when the moon is full to do something wild and free. And if I answer, I will be worthy of its presence that I carry all my life.

 

Make no mistake, Mary Oliver was telling the truth, the earth opens itself up to us, every minute of every day. How will we answer? We can of course go indoors and close the doors and windows and watch TV. Our only connection to the earth being the specials on Nova, or the Discovery Channel. You have earth right outside your home. Why not go and play in it a bit? Breath a deep breath of night air before going to sleep at night.

 

Watch a sunrise or sunset all the way through. I am convinced there will be no real and lasting change in your heart, in my heart if we do not connect, do the spiritual thing and find a way to connect with the earth. If you are angry, annoyed, irritated, fuming, gnashing your teeth, cross, enraged, outraged, infuriated, upset, sniping at people, unable to focus, you need to get outside and make a connection to the earth, or you will be lost, believe me, you will be lost.

 

I heard a speech in Portland at a Green Sanctuary gathering of Unitarian and Universalists recently. In the speech the woman was saying that unless we find another way of speaking about the earth, meaning calling her a her, and mother and making the earth a female, we, our Western society will not treat the earth differently. She said it was because of the way women are treated all over the world that linking the earth and women was a fatal blow against the earth. I have been musing on that premise since last summer.

 

In the last 20 years our UU churches have been involved in something called the Green Sanctuary movement. Since the 1980’s actually. It is a program that came out of our 7th principle, which states that we as a church affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Did you hear that, humans are only a part of the web, not the spider on the web, not the web itself, but only a part of the web, just like everything else; plants, animals, rock, mountains. So, in that vein Phyllis and Paul Zegers and others have tried to make our UU church here in Roseburg a green sanctuary, a sustainable place of refuge from use and abuse and throw- it-away mentality. For example, we don’t use any paper products for our coffee hour or pot lucks anymore. We try to recycle all used paper etc. We changed our light bulbs to more sustainable ones and so forth. We put in fans instead of air conditioning. We are in the process of planting some plants that are native to Oregon in a walking garden on the church’s property. Green sanctuary could be a way to equip your home so it too is in harmony with the earth.

 

All these ideas are small ideas, small steps I know. But I am confident that as we begin to see the connection of the earth to ourselves, our hearts will melt and we will be able to do the hard things that need to be done. Is it too late? I don’t know. But as a person of faith, deep faith in the human spirit, I pray that scientists will remember their humanity as they do the research that may find some answers. I pray the environmentalists will remember temperance and patience as they work to give us a better idea of what is happening all around us. I pray that the churches everywhere desist in teaching that the earth is God’s footstool, or a place of sorrow and woe, a place to want to leave as soon as possible, so it is ok to use it while we are here as we are all going to a better place by and by. I pray that churches like ours will maybe find more metaphors to talk about our earth, than only using a feminine noun. Metaphors that are inclusive of other person’s viewpoints. That will pull others into the conversation.

 

Every day on this earth is precious to me, I want to soak it up and cherish it and remember I have been put here to give and to take in a balanced way. I pray that those who do deep meditation and give themselves over to cloisters and hallowed halls, send out good energy to heal all persons and the earth.

There is a soft animal side to you. It is looking for recognition and grace. I’m told things begin to change weather wise in Oregon in February. Well, I’m from Wisconsin so I wouldn’t know about that. But, what I do know is that this Spring, I will be watching, watching with my animal eyes to see and feel the changes of the earth. I know of the connection now, my real life connection to the earth. Life as I lived it before cannot continue.

 

I give you a small gift this morning, it is the way to happiness, which we know only doubles once it is truly felt in a person. This way to true, lasting, real happiness is the connection, the bond, the union, the link, with our earth. Without that bond, we are lost, you are lost, I am lost. Every person on earth must love something, without that love, we would shrivel and die. So, I am asking you to love yourself, the soft animal part of yourself, and love the earth. With those love firmly in place, you will know happiness and joy far beyond your imagining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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