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The Christian Nation Myth

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By Dr. Phil Moser

When the Puritans arrived in the New World, they established rigidly theocratic societies. They established their churches as the official state religion, directly supported by tax revenues. The laws of the early Puritan colonies were expressly justified by reference to specific biblical passages. Citizenship was tied directly to religious faith.

Invoking that past, modern-day Christian evangelicals assert that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and that out of control secularists have broken faith with that tradition. However, they ignore one important fact. The Puritans did not found America, nor did they found the nation of the United States; their colonies preceded the Continental Congress (1774), the formal Declaration of Independence (1776) and U.S. Constitution (1787) by more than 100 years. The Pledge of Allegience was not written until 1892 and therefore is not a founding document; moreover, it did not contain the words “under God” until 1954! “In God we Trust” was not established as the national motto until 1956, a reaction of the McCarthy era to the notion that there was a Communist under every bush.

For American evangelicalism, the “Christian Nation” myth is an excuse to “take American back for God” in order to forward political agendas such as outlawing abortion and gay marriage, fighting for prayer at all public events, disavowing evolution and global warming, and perpetuating control by the white majority. If they can prove that the U.S. was founded on Christian principles, it provides them with a foothold to achieve their goals, including the re-institution of official discrimination against people like homosexuals, Muslims, Jews, and atheists. However, if the founders of the United States of America intended to establish Christianity as the country’s official religion, they did a horrible job of it. These founding fathers deliberately kept religion from entering the documents that established the government. Accordingly, we will examine the religious views of the founding fathers to see if the idea of a Christian is consistent with their view of the role of government. We will also examine the documents creating the nation to see what references to religion occur.

Thomas Paine: While not a Founding Father, his book, Common Sense, is the all-time best selling book that advocated American political and social independence. Unfortunately for the “Christian Nation” advocates, Paine was an atheist. He stated “of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.” All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. My own mind is my own church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; for my own part I disbelieve them all.”

The following eight figures generally are regarded as the key Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and George Washington.

Benjamin Franklin: Franklin earned the title of “The First American” for his early and indefatigable campaigning for colonial unity; as an author and spokesman in London for several colonies, then as the first United States Ambassador to France, he exemplified the emerging American nation.[4] Franklin was foundational in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical and democratic values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment. Franklin said “Lighthouses are more useful than churches in showing us the way to salvation.” In the affairs of the world, men are saved not by faith, but by the lack of it. I look for God’s judgments and see no sign of them.”

Alexander Hamilton: he never talked about Christ and took refuge in vague references to “providence” or “heaven.” He did not seem to attend services and did not belong formally to a denomination. he was religious as a youth, became less religious during his middle years — though never anti-religious — and renewed his commitment to God/religion at the end of his life. During his middle years, when religion seemed to be of less importance in his life, Hamilton used religion more as a political tool than anything else. In this way, Hamilton can be likened to some politicians/pastors today, who use religion as a political tool of sorts.

John Jay: He was a founding father and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was an Episcopal Christian. He was the most conservative and religious of the recognized Founding Fathers. However, his view of Christianity was one of tolerance: “real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others.”

Thomas Jefferson: was a Founding Father and the author of the United States Declaration of Independence as well as the third President. He stated: “Christian is the most perverted system that ever shone on man. The hocus pocus of a God with one body and three heads had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs. There is not one redeeming feature in our superstition of Christianity. It has made one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. ” In his early quest for the historical Jesus, Jefferson compiled his own version of the Gospels by deleting all miraculous content and retaining Jesus’ moral teachings. He did believe in prayer and in life after death. He was a Deist; he did attend the Episcopal church because he enjoyed listening to sermons to stimulate his own thoughts and beliefs. Like Unitarians, he believed that proper religion is a uniquely private, individual matter and cautioned his fellow Americans against adopting any formal set of broadly accepted religious dogma. He stated “I never submitted my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, politics or philosophy, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”

In his Presidential election campaign, Christian ministers made vigorous attacks on his character, based on religion. He was referred to as a “true infidel” . These contemporaries of Jefferson show that Jefferson was not a Christian and they knew he was not. Therefore, some fundamentalists will admit that Jefferson was not a bible believer but will insist that the intention of most of the other founding fathers not thus far mentioned was to establish a “Christian Nation”, so let us continue with our analysis.

John Adams: he was a founding father and second President of the United States. He assisted Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence. He nominated George Washington to be Commander in Chief of the Continental armies. He was also father of John Quincy Adams, sixth President. He stated “this would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it.” He was widely regarded as a Unitarian Christian influenced by Deism. He rejected the deity of Jesus; he was affiliated with Congregationalists that formed a separate Unitarian denomination in 1825. While his generation of Unitarians maintained a high view of scripture, he believed in a strictly personal God. His son, John Quincy, plus at least at least two other Presidents, Fillmore and Taft, were Unitarians; Jefferson and Madison never attended a Unitarian church but certainly were theologically identical with Unitarians. you may be surprised to learn that President Obama’s maternal grandparents were Unitarians!

James Madison: is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights. He was also the fourth President. He is notable for drafting the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and thus is known as the “Father of the Bill of Rights“. He stated” the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority will best be guarded by an entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatsoever and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others. Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” He is now characterized as a moderate Deist. In 1785, he wrote an essay in which he presented fifteen reasons why government should not become involved in the support of any religion. This paper is considered to be a landmark document in political philosophy.

James Monroe: He was the fifth U.S. President and the last one who was a Founding Father. He was a nominal Episcopalian all his life, but seems to have had little interest in religion. His public writings make a few mentions of a guiding providence but say nothing explicitly Christian. In the 1790’s he was U.S. Minister to France; Thomas Paine lived with his family there. Probably due to the influence of Paine, he appears to have become, especially since he was a member of the Freemasons (like many other of our Founding Fathers, particularly Washington), which promotes a Deistic worldview.

The Orthodox critique of Freemasonry agrees with both the Roman Catholic and Protestant versions: “Freemasonry cannot be at all compatible with Christianity as far as it is a secret organization, acting and teaching in mystery and secret and deifying rationalism.”

George Washington: Washington was our first Commander in Chief and later first President. Washington presided over the writing and adoption of the Constitution, in 1789. His leadership style established many forms and rituals of government that have been used since, such as using a cabinet system and delivering an inaugural address. Washington is universally regarded as the “Father of his country”.

He stated: “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most distressing and ought most to be depreciated. Throughout his life, he attended the Anglican (later Episcopal) church fairly regularly. He valued the role of religion in promoting morality and order and he believed in a Divine Providence. However, he never took communion and declined becoming an ordained bishop of his church. When chided by a minister for leaving church before communion, he never again attended church on communion Sundays. We now see him as a Deist, not a Christian, much like Adams.

An Episcopal minister, Reverend Wilson, preached a sermon in 1831 in which it stated “among all our presidents, from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism. Wilson characterized Washington as a typical 18th century deist, not a Christian, in his religious outlook. He further stated, as a contemporary of the founding fathers, that “nearly all the founders of our nation were infidels and not one of the presidents who thus far have been elected (meaning Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe , John Quincy Adams, and even Andrew Jackson) has ever professed a belief in Christianity. When the Constitution was written, God was not merely forgotten, he was absolutely voted out. Those who administer the government have not made any profession of Christianity. In the numerous interviews and public uproar that followed his sermon, he stated “I have diligently perused every line that Washington ever gave to the public, and I do not find one expression he which he pledges himself as a believer in Christianity.”

The terms by which Washington referred to God in his inaugural address—Great Author, Almighty Being, invisible hand, and benign parent of the human race—are dead giveaways that he was Deistic in his views, since Deists preferred not to use the unqualified term God in their conversations and writings because of its Christian connotations.

Clearly, the founders of our nation intended government to maintain a neutral posture in matters of religion. Such an intention would be consistent with the religious beliefs or practices of the first five Presidents whom we have discussed, who were all either Deists or Unitarians. Anyone who would still insist that the intention of the founding fathers was to establish a Christian nation should review a document written during Washington’s administration. Article 11 of the Treaty with Tripoli (ending that brief war) declared in part “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” Washington read it and approved it. It was re-affirmed by Adams and the 1797 senate.

Most of the colonial population of their time were unchurched until 1790, according to historian Richard Hofstadter. Perhaps as many as ninety percent never went to church. Mid-eighteenth century America had a smaller proportion of church members than any other nation in Christendom. Even by 1800, only one out of every fifteen Americans was a church member.

By now, virtually everyone knows the argument that making the U.S. a Christian nation would violate the First Amendment rights of Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Atheists, Unitarians, Agnostics, etc. But few realize that it also would violate the first amendment rights of Christians as well, for which of the 2500 Christian demoninations would we choose as the Christian orthodoxy upon which to base the law? Some Christians have tried to argue that the separation of church and state is one-way, that the state may not interfere with religion but religion may interfere witht he state. Howefver, this is an impossibility, since by definition any control that a denomination achieves over the state automatically will become state infringement on the religious rights of others.

The text of the Declaration of Independence contains just four theological references: “nature’s God,” ; “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the World” and “divine Providence.” These are alll distinctly Diestic terms. There is not a single specific mention of either Jesus or Christianity. The Declaration, reflecting the signatories’ collecting thinking was carefully written and edited; words were included, or not, for a reason.

The U.S. Constitution, written in 1787 and ratified by the states in 1789, has only this religious wording: “in the year of our Lord”, a common phrase still used on some legal documents and diplomas. There is not any constitutional authorization for the establishment of any religion in the U.S. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Article Six rejects a “religious test” for public office, and the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion while at the same time providing for its free exercise. Even so, the question of whether or not the U.S. would officially become a Christian nation was in doubt until a political struggle in Virginia between Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry was resolved. Henry was the governor and an Episcopalian; in 1785, he wanted residents to pay a church tax to support religious institutions. Jefferson strongly opposed the proposal, enlisting Madison and some ministers as allies, in defeating the bill, known as Virginia’s Jefferson’s statute of Religious Freedom. This statute became the philosophical groundwork for the separation between church and state in the Constitution. It stated “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.”

The Constitution and amendments only mention religion three times, and only as prohibitions against government doing things religious. Many public officials have a history of violating their oath of office by mixing religion into government or by support religious groups publically. However, a tradition of violating the Constitution does not change the Constitution! It is remarkable that so many of our citizens have lost or never knew our history in terms of our Constitutional rights. About 1/3 believe that the First Amendment did not establish a clear separation of church and state, and more than one-half still believe that the U.S. was established as a Christian nation. Today’s misconception about the Untied States as a Christian nation, of course, is not the only example of Americans failing to live up to the founding ideals. I am sure that the Founding Fathers would be horrified to witness the strangle hold that corporations have over the distribution of wealth in our country and in politicians having to meet litmus tests from right or left in being elected to or retained in office.

And finally, a quote from a great American of a later time: “The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession.” Abraham Lincoln.

As we look at patriotism and its meaning for us on this 4th of July, we need to seriously consider whether our nation or the world can any longer afford the kind of patriotism that is narrowly nationalist or affiliated exclusively with any religion. America is a great nation, but is greatness is not based upon its being religious. What has made America great is not religion but law–a Constitution that applies equally to all of our citizens. That foundation had cracks in it when it was laid, through which minorities, women and others fell through until amendments were added to fill in those cracks; still it is a unique political document in recognizing human rights over responsibilities to the government. Therefore, when holidays such as the 4th of July come and patriotism fills the air, it is appropriate for Americans to salute their flag. In the words of Jesus, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things which are Gods. ” It is our duty as American citizens to pledge our allegiance to the flag and to the nation for which it stands. However, the government cannot compel me to swear anything about deity, even though the religious zealots of the 1950s decided it to be so, in opposition to our Constitutional rights. Therefore, when it comes time to recite the Pledge, I do so proudly but I substitute one secular word in place of the one religious word in the pledge. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under law, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That is what the pledge would say if it truly represented all Americans.

I will now open it up to hear your feedback, ideas and comments.

The Gift of the Quaker Soul

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By Rev. Annie Holmes

This is a story of love and trust, and it is also a story about the misuse of power and the agony of betrayal. With some stories it is easy to stay a safe distance away and say, “That certainly was interesting, but thank God it didn’t refer in any way to me.” But that will not be true with this story, because it is an age-old story, worn through at the knees, threadbare as your favorite shirt or pair of sweat pants, is this kind of story. It is a story the ramifications of which we wish we could stuff away in a closet. But that will not be true, because it is a human story and we are human and even though we may wish we wouldn’t have to hear it, we must, and by golly hopefully learn from it to our good health. This story touches our American Constitution, and the way we do church as Unitarian Universalists. I believe it is important we know this story.

Where to begin…well I guess I must tell you one thing first. That is, not only will this story move you on a personal level, but it has bearing on how we understand our liberal, free church and this congregation as well. You see, this is a story of the Puritans and their search for religious freedom, but also their search for a place where people would act in a way they felt humans could act toward one another, in other words – honorably. Were they terribly naïve to think there was such a place? Maybe. But their search was genuine and their findings so remarkable it changed the face of religion in England and in the United States. Some scholars believe that in this country, one of the few countries in the world by the way to have religious freedom, we owe this freedom to none other than the Puritans and their successors in the United States, the Quakers.

Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, they were searching for a place where when one person made a promise to someone, one would keep it. The word, the handshake, the look in a person’s eye, would mean something. There would be between people a binding, a firm commitment that was serious and solemn and lasting.

So, to tell this story we must go to England, the year is 1649. This story is about the great grandmothers and grandfathers of religion in America.. The Puritans, oh yes, those poor, misunderstood Puritans. As Unitarian Universalists the Puritans are in a way our ancestors. They were a group of people who grew out of the Church of England in the latter part of the 16th century and who by the 17th century who wanted to reform the Anglican church and establish a middle course between the Roman Catholics and the Protestant reformers. If you watched the series “The Tutors” or know anything about England at this time, you know that it was a hotbed of fermenting change, and those who sought to stop the change in any way they could. The new Anglicans were slaughtering anyone who held to the Catholic Church and we know the Catholics were retaliating by the crusades continuing. It was a messy business, with our friends the Puritans in the middle trying to build bridges.

Under the leadership of a Puritan clergyperson named Thomas Cartwright these brave people demanded a form of church government that took the total ecclesiastical power away from the bishops and gave that power and control to committees of ministers and the lay people instead.

 

We have no Bishops in our Unitarian Universalist Association because of the belief by the Puritans that individual church could and should run their own business.

This was unheard of, unprecedented in the religious world at that time. The purpose was to free the church from the control of bishops that were often appointed by the king and queen. Which meant that the monarchy was in fact ruling the church. The Puritans were the first religious people to demand that the church be run from the pew, not the pulpit, or the throne. They believed in people having power, even religious power to control and rule themselves. They were the first Congregationalists, in which there was no church hierarchy and each individual congregation would be self-governing.

 

About 200 years after this story, the first Unitarians in America left this same Puritan/ Congregational church structure, and in effect formed a new church, called the American Unitarian Church. And interesting to note, the Congregationalists of the first Unitarians time were actually the Puritans descendents, and we are also their descendents by still demanding that the people who are members of a congregation own and run their own church.

 

These English Puritans of 1649 were trusting people. Their motto was, “we are on this earth to walk together.” They believed that statement with all their heart and soul. With a phrase like that as your motto, you can see how others could hurt them, abuse them and of course let them down. And that is exactly what happened.

In 1650 the Puritans put themselves out on a limb by putting their religious beliefs into actions, and led a movement to reform English society; this is quite a list to make any social concerns committee proud and daunted.

 

Listen to what they wanted to do; end abuses of power by the monarchy, advocate for land reform, prison reform, alleviation of poverty, amend unjust laws against laborers, relieve burdensome taxes, eradicate debtors prison. Fueled by their belief that, of course, their chosen leaders agreed with their vision for their society and feeling they had made more than a legal pact with their leaders, they felt they had made a religious/spiritual promise and to these people, a spiritual promise that held more authority than any contract. What they wanted was no less than the principles of free conscience, free speech, open debate and the ability to dissent. They rode a tide of high hope and put their love of freedom and their opposition to oppression into dramatic action.

 

And in 1650 they won. King Charles was deposed and Oliver Cromwell came into power. But as soon as Cromwell was in power, in order to make a stronger alliance with those in England more interested in economic expansion than personal, religious or societal freedom, Cromwell moved to suppress the radical Puritans who had helped bring him into power.

 

The two groups of Puritans who were Cromwell’s supporters were crushed. They took on descriptive names that have stuck with them all these centuries. One group was called the Levellers, or Puritans with a passion for reform and the other group was called the Diggers, even more radical advocates of economic change. All were imprisoned, silenced, punished. Their land and homes were taken from them, their bank accounts stolen, their lives as they had known it, were changed forever. Once the reformers, they were now the rebels, the wrong doers. The broken-hearted visionaries protested, implored, appealed, demanded that the covenantal commitments be honored by Cromwell and his leaders. But their efforts were ignored and in time squelched,.

 

This is the part of the story that could begin to interest us, because this is also our personal stories. In our willingness to believe, we too have put our love, our loyalty, our very life into a cause, a person, a family and when things just seem like they are going our way, we believe, we soar, we know, we trust, and then as it often it happens, the bottom of our life falls out underneath us. The worst happens, the promise is broken, the trust is crushed, and we are bruised and bleeding and feel imprisoned.

You see, a covenant is more than a simple promise, and more binding than a contract, because it involves love.

 

As the Puritans believed in this covenant with all their hearts, the one that said, all people would truly walk together with them in creating a better world, they not only believed that, they expected to love and be loved by others while on this journey of walking together was taking place. The covenant idea has more power within it than a legal document holding someone to their word, because covenants deal with the emotions, a person’s underbelly, a vulnerable stance, rather than the threat of a courtroom if there is a breach of promise. The difference between a contract and a covenant is the difference between a wedding ceremony and a prenuptial agreement.

 

Today our national church, the UUA, asks that churches and ministers make a covenantal stance with one another rather than creating only a legal contract, because the relationship we have with one another is patterned in the Puritan outlook that we are on this earth to walk together.

 

In the aftermath of the broken covenant between Cromwell and the imprisoned Puritans they divided again into two separate groups. One group became the Ranters. The Ranters responded to the anguish of the broken covenant in an outbreak of rage. Quaker scholar Douglas Gywn describes them this way; “The Ranters were a disturbed and disturbing presence within a receding utopian horizon. In an era of intense covenant theology, their ranting oath-searing was the perfect expression of rage, a dissonant diatribe that flung covenantal blasphemies aimlessly in all directions. Ranters frightened the Church, the government and almost everyone else.”

 

They evolved a nihilistic, negative theology that paired light and darkness as one, and viewed good and evil as intertwined. When put into prison, they quickly recanted their first reformist beliefs. Brokenhearted, they now held to no principles that they felt were worth living or dying for. They went back to their very different lives beaten and discouraged. Disillusionment, soon turned into cynicism, and cynicism turned into pessimism, and pessimism, turned into gloom and negativity.

 

The power of the story could have ended there, with the Ranters, if another of their religious group had not emerged in England at the same time, and from the same group of people, and they were called the Seekers. They were united in their sense of what they had not found. In prison, they too met, but they met in silence and awaited a new revelation from God. Rather than lapse into a nightmarish rage, they settled into a penitent silence that kept the covenant faith they first believed to be true, a faith they now knew to be even beyond human understanding.

 

A renewed emphasis was placed upon the overwhelming power of God’s grace and the need for human stillness to sense the spirit’s motions. They watched and waited in the dark night of eclipse, says Douglas Gwyn. In despair at the suppression of the radical Puritans, the Seekers literally, as they were released from prison, became wanderers.

One of these wanderers was a young man named George Fox. Fox was a youth when Cromwell turned on his co-religionists and dashed their hopes. Fox left home and traveled from village to village asking first the local clergy if they could give him any answer in his suicidal despair.

 

Finding no answers in the clergy or the churches, he sought refuge in nature, sleeping in open fields, and in the forest. For ten years, he wandered, and in his wandering a new religious awareness came to him. Even through the desolation, loneliness and the despair of a broken covenant, he began to experience the presence of a spirit of life, something he could not name at first that was sustaining him and all of life. Ah, yes, I guess you could say George had finally found his heart in a holy place! He articulated this spiritual discovery with these immortal words: “inward life did spring up in me.”

 

Within him, a strange mixture happened, Gwyn explained, “that of a tender pacifism melded to a fierce commitment to social activism fueled by a sense of hope born through trial.” When Fox felt this connection with the source of life, his body would shake and quake as the spirit came over him. Thus, as others joined him and had the same sensation, they were dubbed the “Quakers.” Gwyn writes of the spiritual renewal of the seekers to become the Quakers: “to arrive, there, they had passed through a desolating fire of disillusionment, despair and purification. This spirituality of desolation not only transformed their inward life; it also radicalized their social vision.”

 

This strange mixture of tenderness, the ultimate belief in the power of silence and a radicalized social vision, is the gift of the Quakers to our souls. Out of the depths of desolation, despair, irreparable brokenness there can be, the Quakers tell us, the fire of a new revelation. And this is the path each of us needs to follow to find a new heart.

As life has handed us challenges such as; divorce, or the loss of a love we once believed would be our salvation from loneliness and despair, or from some promise someone has made to us…two or many possibilities of responses come to us…

 

Within each of us there is a Ranter, calling out to our minds and our hearts, “Is there any justice? Is there any compensation for parents who did not love us, jobs that have used us up and then let us go, brothers and sisters who dislike us or even worse ignore us, past relationships we’re afraid to face because of the pain they involve, people who have used us, lied to us, abused us, played us for a fool, people who have died and still we grieve for them and people tell us to get over it.” Whatever it is, you fill in the blank as to what the ranter inside of you screams at you in your weakest moments.

But what the story of George Fox reminds us is that the ranter is not the only voice in our souls.

 

There is another voice too, and that is the voice of the seeker. It too has been hurt and abused as the ranter, but it takes a different ploy in what to do with the pain. Theologian Bill Jones described it thus… “being a seeker reminds us that there is a fierce rebellion lodged in the human heart that will rage against oppression and injustice and fight it to the end. Maybe out of sheer cantankerousness of spirit, with nothing to sustain it beyond passionate determination; or know it with the tenderness, as we have known it, of one who passed through the valley of suicidal despair and found there a divine comforter who has never left and will never leave, who embraces even the violators of every covenant within the fire of redeeming love.”

We, within our own personal lives and in the life of this congregation, need to remember the experience of brokenness has within it and can become the place of revelation; and the revelation found there, is what will fuel a new covenant.

 

**Those of us who grew up in unhealthy homes strive to make healthy homes as adults.

**Those of us who have felt abuse, strive to lay loving hands on everyone we meet.

**Those of us who have felt marginalized in our jobs or our relationships, from somewhere find the raw courage to draw in those on the fringes into our circle of life.

And as a congregation we begin to understand the need of the Quaker soul speaking to us as we seek to do the right things in order to be open to anyone who wishes to find a safe place in which to nurture their spiritual life. People who have felt broken from their churches of origin, may they find warmth and peace and love here. People who have been searching for us, may they take the difficult and maze-like path of Valley View Rd. to Watters, with 2 t’s and turn into our driveway and enter our doors and find a warm handshake of welcome and find a seat and permission to follow their hearts to their own religious truth.

 

The Quakers have taught us that even in the midst of the failures, the torture, the loss and the anger, it is the seeker not the Ranter within us and around us that can lead us into a new future. We are reminded of the strength of the practice of taking a slow deep breath, and allowing silence, sweet silence be our guide before we speak or act. I often feel like I am on a game show, when something presents itself in my life and the Jeopardy theme song begins, and the whole world is waiting for my immediate answer.

But learning from the Quakers, I try now to sit with the problem, the question, the demand, the situation and allow the answer to come from deep inside me before jumping into the water and then checking for the rocks. I strive to work from strength rather than from my pain and my disappointments and fears.

 

Pulpit as confessional: I am often afraid to love. Often I feel as if I need to protect myself more than let myself free to love, love, love. Why is that? After thinking about it muchly this week, I came to some sad but real conclusions. 1. I often feel I haven’t been loved very much by others, therefore I am reticent and fearful to give love. But that is not true. I save everything, every note, letter written to me by anyone, and all my journals. On Monday I was putting something in one of those boxes and started reading some of the notes given to me by people over the years. There was love everywhere. Praise and adulation, thanks and grace. I smiled, I have been loved, ambushed and almost smothered in it and why did I feel so strongly I hadn’t been loved? Partly because I believe our human nature often holds on to the negative more than the positive. One snub, one nasty remark, one rejection and golly it is indelibly marked on our souls. Twenty five “I love yous” doesn’t make it into the hall of fame of our past remembrances. Love is a tricky thing. Because I have come to realize you have to feel you deserve it before it becomes real to you. You see, it is as much a work of yours as it is of the person who is giving you the love. If we are not open to love, it will not be felt, absorbed or realized by us. Don’t be so anxious to believe all the negative, more than the positive.

 

Maya Angelou says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And how do we make people around us feel? All powerful and able to do what needs to be done? Or that they are able to find a way to do what needs to be done? Or that they can’t do anything. Love is the complicated answer.

 

Let us take a moment this morning and take a deep breath, and close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so, and think of a very deep pain, anguish, fear, paranoia that has you imprisoned. This ache may involve the changes that are happening in your life right now. It may be grief because someone you loved has let you down, or your life is changing so fast and it doesn’t feel like the life you used to know. Maybe your body is giving out in a way that is disturbing, or someone you thought would be there for you is not around. This is a deep ache within you that you have tried to rid yourself of, and for some reason it holds you, rather than you being able to hold it and make sense of it, or even let it go.

 

Name this burden if you can now in your mind and in your heart. Name it as close as you can to what it really is. Now let each of us ask our own inner light to let our hearts open up, unclench and let this burden go. Have faith in the way things are. Be at peace with the process that involves each of us and is yet bigger than any of us. Let it be released knowing that we too can be seekers of a better way of living. Let the ranting cease, and the seeking begin. Now, let us open our eyes and say together the litany found in your Order of Service…

 

Living spirits of earth, mother and father of us all, you who hold us in your breath, you who bathe us in your waters, who feed us with your fruits, guardian of where we are going, of who we are becoming, cradle of our days, and coffin of our nights, you who carry us folded in your arms, sailing silently among the stars, hear our prayer…

 

Litany of A Graceful Life

Leader: May all who enter here be protected by those who have gone before and can show the way.

People: Show us the way to let go of our anger at things we cannot change.

L: May great courage accompany those willing to cross the River of Sorrow.

P: Show us a way to find courage in our hearts to be healed and heal others.

L: May all who read these words be freed from the bondage of fear and denial.

P: Show us a way to unlock our hearts, unclench our jaws and our hands and be open to peace.

L: May our eyes remain open even in the face of tragedy.

P: Show us a way to hear the news of the world, do what we can in the world that touches us and continue loving in the midst of difficult times.

L: May we not become disheartened.

P: May we not become disheartened.

L: May we discover the gifts of the fire burning in the inner chamber of our being…

P: Burning great and bright enough to transform any poison.

L: May we offer the power of our sorrow to the service of something greater than ourselves.

P: May our guilt not rise up to form yet another defensive wall.

L: May the suffering purify and not paralyze us.

P: May we endure; may sorrow bond us and not separate us.

L: May we realize the greatness of our sorrow and not run from its touch or it flame.

P: May clarity be our ally and wisdom our support.

L: May we not be afraid to see or speak our truth.

P: May the soul’s journey be revealed and the true hunger within us fed.

All: May we be forgiven for what we have forgotten and blessed with the remembrance of who we really are. Amen

 

 

The Ever Changing God-ness

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By Rev. Annie Holmes

God. Wow. Now there is a big subject. And yet we have 2,500 years of being told exactly what it is you are supposed to believe about this entity called God. Unfortunately, the big subject has been put into a pretty tight box.   If it would be possible to put aside everything you have ever been told about who this godhead is supposed to be, what would you come up with?  And that is the point of our 4th Principle, is it not? The responsible search for truth and meaning given to each individual.  But some of the problem is we will never, ever be able to erase all that has been said about God in order to come to our own conclusions.  We are, whether we want to be or not, we are indelibly imprinted with images of God the Father and Creator, and Jesus the Savior.  And once imprinted on our brains, as many times as those images have been imprinted, I guess we have to deal with them as they are and then be ready to adapt them. We can adapt those images. For many of us we must adapt those images, because the ones we were given don’t work for us.

One marvel of this whole God discussion is that somehow words like elusive, and omnipotent, and unmovable have been used to describe this entity.  And yet, the scriptures show that there have been great leaps of emotional and characteristic change in no one but God itself.  I find the changes God goes through as hopeful. If the images change, there is hope for creating your own God.

If polytheism is the worship of many gods, and henotheism is the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods and goddesses, and pantheism is the worship of many gods and goddesses, and paganism is the worship of the earth as a god, and the god of salvation demands a monotheism, what are we as UUs, who have so many varying beliefs in god, to believe? Look what religion, God, spirit has been through in this world;  first animism, then Goddess worship, to the rise of monotheism in Christianity, Judaism and Islam,  the Dark Ages, the Inquisitions, the Crusades, fundamentalism, Transcendentalism,  the Enlightenment, New Age, and now the rise of the popularity of Eastern religions.  And what, in all that time has been the underlining, underpinning principle – a relationship with a spirit that is felt but not seen. A spirit, an energy, a mystery, that seems above us, but yet within us.  A spirit that is indefinable and yet of some substance, because so many people have searched their whole lives for it, given their lives easily for it, and forced others to recognize it, whether they wanted to or not.

What a powerful invisible energy this God-ness has been in our world. And yet, there is not a person in the world who has seen this spirit, or would recognize it if it came up and shook hands with them.   And yet, through all these definitions and revelations and disclosures, we are still and blessedly, as UUs, urged to discover who and what this spirit is for ourselves. Or as humanists, atheists, a complete rejection of this spirit, or God-ness altogether.  Now that is good news indeed.  We need to remember that we do have a choice. I think of this as God-shopping. What would my holy, my sacred look like if I created on for myself?
But looking at our religious world today, I must say, I often feel sorry for God, at least the God that has been forced on people.  And the forcing comes from various places.  Some people believe God is so outside humanity it is a sin to even try to talk about the idea.  Some believe that God is nothing more than a vending machine, put in your money, press the right button and receive whatever it is you want. Always the games, the games played around this power. “Oh God,” the prayer begins, “save me, save whoever, and I will stop smoking, drinking, I will go to church, I will do whatever you ask, just now, just for this one moment, do what I ask.”  God as vending machine. And it is a crap shoot if you do indeed get what you want, isn’t it?  Maybe the warning is: don’t bargain with your sense of the holy. These prayers seem to believe that God may not know or see what you want or need and you have to remind him.  I find the whole notion very unfulfilling.

Then there is God as punisher, “You just wait until God your Father gets home!” The God that is so willing to send us to hell, although there is no scriptural recording of that fact, hence the Universalists of our past felt justified in challenging this kind of God saying rather, that all are saved, universally.  Or the God of the insignificant, as the one who cares about a run in our pantyhose, or the stock market going up or down, or if the rice burned or what you have done and why.  Once I heard sin described as the act of missing the mark, now you fill in the blank for what the mark might be, and I think there are, using this definition, many sins, many missing the marks,  done to this idea of God.  And I believe equally as appalling is many UU’s lack of trying to work with a spiritual entity at all.

The God of the Hebrew Bible starts out quite warlike and savage in his disregard for anyone but the chosen Hebrews. In the early Hebrew Bible books, God’s armies are allowed to pillage and rape and kill and take captives of all the people they conquer. But God’s consciousness seems to grow as the prophets of Israel come onto the scene, around the 500’s before the common era, and it is that the God of Israel has now distinguished himself, from all the other deities worshipped by the other nations surrounding Israel. But he also begins to call for a change, to call for reforms of the Israelite people. He changes his commands, as the armies are no longer allowed to kill and maim and rape and pillage. In fact they are now to care for the widow, the orphan and the poor.  The very fundamental story of  the Exodus now was expanded to first God would take care of his people, the chosen people, to now it was stressed that God was on the side of the weak and the oppressed. All the weak and oppressed of the world.

The covenant God had made with Abraham that said, “I will be your God and you will be my people” was now not meant to be a privilege, but rather a responsibility. Now Yahweh does not want sacrifices any longer, he wants love.  No longer distant and remote, he now has needs, and one of those needs is that – his people love him.  It is believed that this change in God from Testament to Testament was of great influence on Mohammad as he heard the words of the Koran from St. Gabriel.

The ancient Hebrew law of retaliation from Exodus 21:23-25 (if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.) was actually an advance over the tribal practices which assumed that a single offense against a member of the tribe called from wholesale destruction of the offending tribe.

But Jesus rejects the whole notion of retaliation, vengeance and retribution and demands instead a response to a misdeed that is the reverse of what is expected. It is not the recommendation of  nonresistance; it is rather the response of positive good in the face of evil.
1.) When one is insulted, they are to offer the other cheek as an act of love. This act, because it is not the normal human reaction is intended to challenge the aggressor with grace and love, rather than by retaliation.
2.) When one is asked for their essential clothing, their coat, the long garment reaching to the ankles that served as a basic covering for the body, they should offer as well their outer cloak, a heavy, more expensive garment which served for protection against sun, cold or rain as well as bedding for the night. In the first century there was a Jewish law protecting those who had to pawn their clothing: A cloak had to be returned at night so they would not have to sleep unprotected from the cold. It was also the attitude of the Jews in Jesus’ day that nakedness was to be held against the one who caused it, not the victim of the nakedness.  In this context, what is the effect of Jesus’ saying “let him have your cloak as well?” These are acts of grace, which contradict the ordinary human reaction to harsh treatment, and the intention is to overcome the wrongdoer by love instead of by a greater show of coercive force.

Roman law allowed soldiers occupying colonial territory such as Palestine to force local people to carry a soldier’s pack for up to one mile, this same law punished a soldier who forced a subject to bear the burden farther than one mile. How does this context affect your response to Jesus’ teaching, “go with him two miles?”

The Prophets of the Hebrew Bible were fierce people. All the Prophets had a specific call from God.  All the Prophets had some doom and gloom in their messages, but they are also remembered because of the good tidings of liberty to the captives, as they reminded the Jews that all slaves were to be freed after 6 years.  The Prophets were the consciences of the people. They were one of the first in the Bible who talked about the responsibility to care for people who were poor, the widow and the orphans. They spoke against slavery and bondage and taking advantage of people. They helped people find a new way to deal with those who were sick and talked continually how God’s people should care for one another.

Being followers of this Yahweh meant that now you were to give up an eye for an eye and move to a new level of care for everyone. They offered hope when the nation was captured.  They were constant reminders that as God has said he will care for his people, then we are to be like God here on earth and care for one another. How different from the earlier proclamations of any nation that is conquered, the spoilers can pillage, plunder, kill and take captive any peoples they so desire.  As Israel moved from the forms of government that were pretty crude like the Judges, to the Kings, so to God became less crude and more willing to care for everyone, poor, maimed and as the book of Ruth showed the Jews, even non Jews.

The God the New Testament has needs. Angered beyond reason with people’s sins, he now again wants sacrifice and restitution as he did so long ago with Abraham and Isaac. So a Messiah, a sacrificial lamb needs to be born to carry the sins of the generation before and those to come. Only his death, the death of God’s son will fill the bill. This is all implied in the Gospels, but never explained very well. What God the Father actually receives by Jesus’ death we are never told. But we are told that now that it has been done, God could never ask for that kind of sacrifice from any human again.

I am the kind of person who uses a butter knife to fix just about anything. Why go look for a screwdriver when the butter knife is right there where you need it?  Using the butter knife is not a good solution, because, I have learned, that the correct tool is everything, the difference between really getting the job done well and doing something only half way. The butter knife is only the beginning. Using it is saying you reject the notion of God you have been given.  But don’t stay there.  When you reach for the screw driver, you have made a leap of faith to something new. So, now with screw driver in hand think seriously what you appreciate most in your life, that may be the foundation for your idea of the holy, or the mysterium trememdium.
What is beautiful to you. What is truthful, or of worth. If we don’t do this thing, finding the holy, we will not be able to make good lasting and real connection all those who do believe in a revealed God.  And they are our brothers and sister, aunts and uncles, parents and children. They deserve, we deserve an intelligent, meaningful idea of God as created by religious liberals. Without our moving past rejection, our lives are like building a house using only a butter knife.
If you can say for sure what is of truth, goodness and beauty, what in your life is of worth, you are creating your own religion, your own God-head using your own spiritual muscles and that is religious power extraordinaire.  Maybe  because the God we have been given does not talk to us, reach us, touch us, we have stopped searching for our own truth and meaning in life? Maybe because as we knelt down as children and prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep” we gave up our true power to truly understand a sense of the holy.  We just gave up on this search, this definition, useless our psyches told us, as useless as trying to understand email, or electricity or Wall street banking.  To be passive in this search for truth and meaning means you will allow any whim, any fancy, any yahoo come and tell you what your truth is, and in mute submission you will nod your head.

In the butter knife versus the real screw driver I believe there is a parallel here in our search for a deeper life, the holy, the sacred in life. I believe that most people in the world feel there are either none, or inadequate tools available to complete this kind of search.  So, in desperation, frustration, dissatisfaction, and general annoyance, people have slipped into a complacent, unworried, already created for them, kind of God.

We don’t have to do this.  Knowing the history, at least for me, is a way to make some sense of this illusive and yet personal entity.  I like the term God is a verb, implying that this is not a static being.  And I like the whole idea of the divine living in me.  Someone once told me by being at them I was going to get all the God I would need.  Huh, I thought at the time, quite presumptuous of them.  And then I began to examine my own idea of this personae and came to the conclusion that yes, all the God I would ever need is right here, in me.  That is blasphemy in many parts of our society, but my golly here in these four walls it is gospel truth.  I can define, describe and  name my own God.

For many years, once I realized I had this power, I must admit I did do some hunching, and watching and wondering if there would be thunder and destruction.  But, as T.S. Elliot described the end of the world, not with a bang but with a whimper, so there has only been whimpers from the heavens at the audacity I have shown in creating my own God.  But it’s fun after you let yourself.

The Hindus have done it for centuries.  That’s why they have 330,000,000 gods and goddesses.  When they find something, some trait, some characteristic that fascinates them, or they wish to honor, they create a god out of it.  That’s why I am a UU.  Basically for this reason.  I get to use my religious and spiritual power to create my own religion, my own sense of the holy, my God.

Maybe the God the Testaments is not your idea of God, that’s ok.  But maybe take some time during this coming week and try to determine what you in your you-ness can do with this figure.  It may have no relevance, and that’s ok too.  All I’m saying is know what it is you believe. And know that the idea, maybe like God itself can and will change.  Now, of course, it is your prerogative whether you believe me or not.

Simplicity

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(printable version)
“Sister, brothers, take your time go slowly. Listen deep within yourself, simple things are holy.”
The bird lifted itself up from the sitting position, as if there was no effort needed at all. All six
feet of its wingspan were in full extension as it soared above me. I lifted my face as its long
body’s shadow passed over me. I shaded my eyes and watched for minutes more. Mesmerized, I
mused on effort and effortlessness. His flight was clean, powerful and simple. I remembered
reading one time: “In the silence between your heartbeats hides a summons. Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must, or leave it forever nameless, but why pretend it is not there?” I had a
silence between my heartbeats and it took for that heartbeat for that crane to rise from its nest
and soar above me, effortlessly. I so wanted to feel that freedom, that ease, that grace. Simple
things are holy.
As I young child I was told there were 7 deadly sins from which any good person would surely
stay away. Huh, I thought. How to make that same concept fit a more positive framework? So, I
devised the 7 blessed virtues that seem to be so important to a happy life. The first seemed to
have to be simplicity. When we speak of something being simple, it is usually in an antithetical
way to something being difficult. But simplicity seems to be in the realm of the spiritual, the
holy, a different sphere of definition.
What are some of the simple things we are told that just are just so – simple? Put together flour,
sugar, eggs and milk and wahla, you have a cake. Simple. Have a baby and you will always feel
fulfilled as a human. Simple. Find a career and you will be able to care for yourself and your
family. Simple. Eat right, exercise and sleep enough and you will always be healthy. Simple.
Well, you are saying, not so simple, any one of those. Ah, but they could be accomplished with
simplicity. See the difference? In simplicity it is how you go about the task, the way you bake
the cake, raise your children or do the job. But the tasks may not be simple, well; we know they
are not simple. But again, done in simplicity they are reduced to attainability.
What in your life is calling you? When all the noise is silenced and the meetings adjourned, the
lists laid aside and the wild iris blooms by itself in the dark forest, what still pulls on your soul?
Don’t think for a moment that the energy that designed the maple leaf, the mountain and the
Milky Way, and our endless need to love and be loved, has forgotten you. Maybe you’re just not
listening.
The ancient Chinese had a tradition of a secret to happiness, a way to listen and it was laid out in
what they called, the Four Dignities; Sitting, Standing, Lying and Walking. They thought of
these as the core activities in one’s life. You are now all sitting now, patiently waiting for
something wonderful from me. I sat at my computer and pecked out words I hoped would pull
and tug at your soul and give you some peace. The question is, when you do sit, are you sitting
in awareness and beauty?
Kay Cordell Whitaker writes in her book, “The Reluctant Shaman” “I closed my eyes and leaned
back against the wall, crossing my legs on the bench. I wasn’t very sure of what I was supposed
to be doing. And then a barrage of thoughts crowded into my head. I wondered if I needed to go
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shopping on my way home and if the kids’ bus was going to drop them off on time. Should I
really repaint the shower? And on and on. The voice inside said quietly, ‘Just let those thoughts
drift on away. Don’t hold them. What you look for is on the other side of all those thoughts.’”
Ah yes, the other side of the monkey mind, it is there we are looking for a happy life made
simple; sit, stand, lie and walk in a relaxed, rooted way. We are reminded, by those who have
achieved a simple happy life, that the stillness of your body will also begin to influence your
mind, which likewise will begin to move your being toward stillness. Wu-Men wrote in 1218:
“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.”
This week I learned of Gathas. They are an ancient form of devotional poetry. They are short
verses only a few lines long, that express the linkage between body, speech and mind. Li Po
wrote in the 700’s: “The birds have vanished into the sky and now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.”
There are a number of ways to play with Gathas, which I realized are little “gotchas.” One is to
make up a verse in the moment to express the present moment. Another is to compose a few
Gathas for situations that you encounter regularly in your day, such as; emptying out the
garbage, or driving in your car, having a root canal, standing in line, paying bills, hugging
someone. By punctuating such ever day activities with a burst of attention and a little poetry, we
bring ourselves into the here and now. If only for a moment we may truly appreciate how
miraculous it is to flick a switch and fill a dark room with light. Here are some Gathas I found:
“Arrrghhh! I’m not ready for this. Coffee first, poetry later.” “Phone ringing, reminds me, take
one full breath, then I’ll answer.” “First breath smiles me awake and each one after, all day
awake.” “Water keeps me clean and makes me a regular guy.” “Attention, Awareness, gets
things done, and much less worry lots more fun.”
Try composing a gatha, gotcha, today or this week and see how much fun it is. Here’s one I
wrote while writing this sermon: “The service is going well. No one is asleep. I will keep talking,
hoping I am able to light their inner fire.” We are told by the ancient Chinese to keep the verses
personal. Say everything in the present tense. Include images from both what is in your heart and
what you see in the outside world. Keep them short and timed to your breathing. Express
whatever you are feeling. No judgments or self-editing: simply an expression of what is really
going on. Another one from me on writing and giving sermons: “The clock is ticking, how
much more should I say? Someone smiles, I now know the way.”
By identifying and naming our feelings and by connecting these insights with our body through
our breath, we expand the focus and content of our attention. We begin to integrate the natural
wisdom of our body and our feelings with our thoughts. Maybe we say, with our Gathas, it’s not
so bad and it’s almost over. When life seems hard; the checkbook won’t balance, the line at
Costco is way too long, the dentist has to be called, the government will not be reasonable and do
what it is supposed to do, your neighbor has once again cut branches on your tree, played loud
music until midnight or parked in such a way you can’t get out of your driveway, create a Gatha
in your mind. Say it a couple of times and believe me you will smile because, what was hard,
difficult and remote becomes personal and condensed and therefore simpler to handle. Here’s
one I wrote for the Costco line waiting problem. “This Costco line is long, I hate to wait. I take
a deep breath. The person in front of me moves their cart. I smile.”
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The Four Dignities; sitting, standing, lying and walking are a part of our everyday life and yet do
we really see them as dignities? Giving small unassuming parts of our lives dignity, as in
distinctiveness, poise and blessings is a beginning to living in simplicity. “Walking the trail,
looking at sky, seeing all the tress, my life goes by.” “Cold mean morning, aching chest, sun
slow to warm, sleepy heart walks on.” “When my mind is pure and calm, I follow my breath.
There is nothing, no I, no body, no mind, just a swinging door.”
All the chasms between simply living in simplicity and seeing life as hard and brutal, all seems
to begins in the morning, does it not? We have just spent 7-8 hours in the dream world of the
unconscious, and we open our eyes and sometimes wonder; who am I and where am I, and what
was that dream all about. We plant our feet on the floor and it begins…either peace, calm and
ability to handle life, or fear, frustration and anger. With that one simple movement, swinging
your feet from the bed to the floor, there is the eternity of possibility. But so often we don’t feel
that freedom of possibility. We feel outside forces holding us down, cutting us off, feeling as if
there are more demands than we can give.
The crane, remember the crane, I often do in the morning. Life could be simple and easy, if I
remember to be a Taoist and don’t push the river. Here’s a gatha: “And suddenly out of the
silence someone whispered to me, You are the one, come immediately.” What could be so
important in life that you would drop everything and go? What would it take for you to let go of
all the expectations, and desires and supposed to be’s and just go?
A Navajo Prayer: “With their voices they are calling me, with their voices they are calling me. I
am the child of White Shell Woman; with their voices they are calling me. I am the child of the
sun; with their voices they are calling me. They are standing, waiting on rainbows; with their
voices they are calling me. Great dark stars their eyes, with their voices they are calling me,
dawn-pollen in their mouths, with their voices they are calling me. To my right arm, beautifully
to my hand they come, with their voices they are calling me. Ever increasing, never diminishing,
with their voices they are calling me. I, myself, am the child of long life and happiness with their
voices they are calling me, with their voices they are calling me, with their voices they are
calling me.”
You think the Navajos had it easy? Was their life a bed of roses? And yet, through death
marches, and forced expulsion from their lands, and treaties not being honored, and frozen
winters, barren summers, wars and poverty, they still heard voices calling them.
So many people have listened to the voices calling them. We are here as a church of liberal,
open minded, free thinking, spiritual people who strive for inclusiveness simply because people
like; Pat Zemlin, Jim and Jacie Pratt, Diana Wales, Larry Flanagan, Helen Miller, Corrine
McTaggart, and others said yes to a voice that called for such a church, in such a county as this.
With voices they were calling, calling and lo and behold they answered. Applause for them and
all of you for all the good work you do for the church and for this city in the name of Unitarian
Universalism. Within the simplicity of the need to answer a call for this kind of church in this
area, these and many other people answered. How do we answer the call to live more simply?
In an effort to free our spirits from the stuff we own, as an example; could we clean out one
drawer, one cupboard, and one shelf in our garage? Could we take one picture off the wall and
leave some white space? Could we clean up one pile of papers, magazines and letters? I wrote a
gatha for this too: “Opening drawer I see a mess. Closing drawer I still see the mess. Remove
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two articles – I smile.” Pretty simple don’t you think? What makes these tasks and life in
general seem hard – perceptions, expectations, fear of missing something, past experiences that
tell us this will be hard and difficult and we believe it, what else, lack of faith in the way things
are, an inability to be able to cope with change. But then we have the four dignities don’t we;
sitting, standing, walking and lying. Such simple gifts but if done in humor and grace can bring
us to peace.
I thought of all the crafts I have done and watched others do. I realized that so much of their
success at anything they, the experts, put their hands to, was that they had managed to find a way
to overcome the obstacles in order to make something that can be difficult, look easy and simple.
As I have gotten tangled in the yarn and the needles, or the quilt material will not lay down
properly or I can’t seem to sew a straight line, my beads fall all over the floor as I am trying to
thread this tiny needle and make something…it all seems so easy and simple when people on the
Ytube do the same thing. What is it about simplicity that makes it simple? I think it has to do
with talent for one thing and repetition, and sticktoativeness. For people who give up the phase
of going through the difficulties in order to reach some semblance of achievement, where the pot
just seems to form itself on the wheel, the scarf seems to weave itself off the loom, the spackle
seems to simply adhere to the house without effort, is the product of many tries and many
mistakes, and the desire to master this process, whatever it is.
The shuttle goes to and fro in the threads of the loom, swish, swish, the feet move up and down
on the pedals in perfect rhythm with the movement of the shuttle. And the weaver at some point
has to let go of the shuttle as it slides through the threads. The biker must feel the balance of the
bike before they can really go fast, the knitter must let go of the stitch before moving to the next
one, the parent must help the child pack their car for college, hugging them for the last time as
child and start to see them as an adult, the words must come out of the mind of a poet and lay on
the page before there is rhyme or meaning, the artist must trust the color and the brush and their
imagination in order to produce a picture.
Once all those things happen, the end product is easy, simple, straightforward, undemanding,
effortless and that is what we want out of life. We wish to be the crane who has never, ever in its
whole life thought of aerodynamics, or wing velocity, it only knows about just soaring, as it was
born to do. And what were we born to do? Huh? Sweat, grovel, beg, despair, cringe, and fear?
Hell no!
As most people we want some things in our life to be simple but we truly love when puzzles like
crosswords and suduko are difficult. When the puzzles are too easy and simple we scoff at them
and muse at just how clever we really are to be able to figure out such an easy thing. Do we
equate simple with foolish? Are we not to understand that when we feel something is difficult, it
is because we are missing something? Maybe what we are missing is trust, faith, and an ability
to learn how to free the shuttle so we can move to the next color and create something beautiful,
simply.

The Blessed Virtue of Industriousness

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(printable version)
Garrett was a young boy of 10 when I served the UU church in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. One of
his tasks for a social science class was to put down everything they did in one day. So, Garrett
being a diligent lad went seriously about the task. He dutifully listed all his activities in one day.
When his parents looked it over before he handed it in, they laughed when they saw Garrett had
put down 20 minutes of his day to daydreaming. He was hurt that they had laughed at him. He
thought of how much he loved to daydream and thought, logically in his little head everyone
should/could do the same.
Well, I like Garrett’s idea and have thought of it often in the years since his parents shared that
story. I like it because I think it is an important reminder. Have you had your 20 minutes of
daydreaming today, or even once this week? Well, I’m not surprised if you haven’t. Because we
live in a complicated system in our society and it does not encourage you to daydream. In fact, if
we are not constantly busy and doing something, most of us feel guilty and unfulfilled. I believe
that is why meditation is such an unpopular pursuit. We just don’t believe in its usefulness nor
do we understand its purpose.
You see, we have been indoctrinated with the idea that idle hands are useless hands and the
devil’s workshop. And if we are not constantly busy with something that we are creating, or
cleaning, or doing we feel we are not earning our keep here on earth. And because of this
thought and a few others like; happiness is not work, work is work and happiness is entirely
something else, something most of our parents and grandparents espoused sometime in their life,
and looking out the window in silence and peace is a big waste of time. I remember my Dad
telling me when I wanted my first job because I thought it would be fun, saying; “ They call it
work, Anne, because it is supposed to be work, not fun.”
For awhile we understood, in this society how to work and balance sometime for silence and
being with friends and family, but unfortunately lately, maybe in the last 20 years, for many
reasons, we are working harder and longer than ever and one reason is because we want more
things, and maybe just to keep our jobs, leisure has become a conspicuous casualty of our
prosperity.
In 1874, here in the United States the workweek was reduced from 80 or 90 hours per week, to
60 hours a week to protect working women and children. Men still often worked 6 days and 70 –
80 hours at their jobs. Unions in the early 1900’s were the first to see that tired workers were
more likely to be hurt and injured on the job than those who had adequate time for some rest and
leisure. The words “work-life balance” were first used as late as 1986.
There have been some serious factors that have created a society were today 75-90% of all
Doctor visits are related to stress, the AMA has reported in 2011 costing patients and Insurance
companies $220-300 billion dollars a year. These factors include; blurred boundaries between
how we define work and leisure. The fact is these days with cell phones, I-Pads and I-Pods,
laptops and I-Phones, texting and the Internet cafes we can work from anywhere on the planet.
Your office can be in an airport, while at dinner or out supposedly with friends. Secondly,
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people have realized that they need to work longer and harder in order to keep their jobs.
Because there are so many people out of work, the few jobs there are, are at a premium and
competition is heavy. So, the new work force is fierce in its rivalry to get the job and then to be
able to keep it. That means people with families need to do more in the office and out of it, in
order to impress their bosses. Thirdly, you would think working from home would be a good
thing for people, but as it turns out, we don’t seem to know when to quit, as we set up offices at
home. People are multitasking at so many levels; typing reports, talking on the phone, watching
the kids play outside and baking cookies, that the tendency for overload is apparently going to
happen. Fourthly, we are in the middle of an epidemic of violence and sexual harassment in the
work place. All these factors have led to burn out in the work place, burn out at home, and burn
out in our spirits.
And as our boundaries are blurred between what is work, when to work and if it is even ok to
rest, I feel we may need loving reminders of the balance needed between work and leisure.
Many of you are retired, and think this finding balance in your life between volunteer work and
true leisure is okey-dokey. But I hear things…I hear how you too are over committed, pushed to
your limits, have a hard time saying no to requests. And how tired you really are. And your lives
are also part of the Protestant work ethic which says if there is an hour in the day that is free – for
the sake of your soul’s salvation you must fill it!
You too are part of the whole system, which continually tells us, if you are not producing, you
are not worthy. This is an insidious message and little by little it is killing us. Destroying our
creativity, which needs quiet and peace in which to grow and craft its genius. True artists know
there has to be a balance between being in a fast-paced demanding work world, and that place
where peace and tranquility lies, where true creativity lies. Creativity is needed in how to figure
out a particular pressing problem. Creativity is needed in how to talk to someone who is
continually annoying to you. It takes patience and creativity in figuring out how to live this day
to best possible advantage to you.
Eating in your car while running to a meeting, talking on the phone as you are getting out of your
car and trying to find the floor of the building where the meeting is. And during the meeting
wondering what the next step is for the rest of the day will in time, if it hasn’t already, sapped
your strength for love, for enjoyment, for delight, for satisfaction. And, ah-huh, there we have it
isn’t it…the crux, the matrix, the whole shebang… satisfaction. We are unbalanced on the side
of activity because we are restless, edgy, and impatient with Garrett’s 20 minutes of
daydreaming. We truly believe such a thing in our day would be a waste of time. Oh how
wrong we are. And right now, this minute you may be inclined to believe me, that 20 minutes of
peace and promise would be a good thing, but will you really try it today, this afternoon and give
yourself permission to quit, to stop producing, stop reading, stop watching TV, just purely stop
and dream?
The whole name of the game of this blessing of industriousness is patience. Finding some
staying power, some fortitude, serenity and persistence toward what is for the good of your
whole life, not just one afternoon, or one week. Because of the way most of us have been raised,
ego and fear obscure the way for us to find fulfillment and peace. “We can’t stop,” we tell
ourselves. “Please don’t make me stop, I don’t want to see what I may see if I do stop.” So we
trudge on forgetting that our finest efforts will flow like a river, as rocks, boulders, even a dam in
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time will succumb to the current, we can learn to act with such patience and perseverance and in
doing so, be like something new, something divine, something ethereal, something of a miracle.
Have you ever taken the time to let something reveal itself to you in its own way, in its own
time? Do we even know how to do such a thing? Have you lately allowed a day to just happen?
No agenda, no big tasks, or even little tasks, just allowing morning to become afternoon, to
become evening in its own time, in its own way. This would be being industriousness in a whole
new way I would bet.
No thing of greatness or worth yields to our demands for quick solutions and easy answers. The
paradoxical riddles of life do not yield to impatient inquiries. If you are feeling impatient you
are probably exhausted. If you want to find a quick fix to a difficult pressing problem, you are
probably in need of a nap, a time out. If people and situations have you constantly whining and
unable to accept or take things in stride, especially things you cannot change, you are pushing
yourself too hard and the part of you that needs, craves, desires, pleads for some day dreaming,
to just rest, you better listen so you don’t break your leg, or get bronchitis, in order that your
body and your mind finally gets a little rest. Patience and rest may be your biggest challenge.
The Tao te Ching reminds us, if you let impatience drive you to indiscriminate action, you will
lose your hold on your center, your core, the essential pieces of your life that hold you up. And
what holds you upright? Discernment between what you can control and what you cannot.
Serenity in times of crisis and pain and grief and sorrow. Repose, mellowness, contentment,
stillness, calmness will all be there in your life, if that is what you create. But these tenuous gifts
don’t come unless they are bidden, fostered and loved into being. And rushing from one project
to another will not be the soil where they will grow. The key to this kind of peaceful life is…of
its own accord. The sage activist allows events to unfold. They know how to gently shape things
as they come and step aside to avoid others. They let the flow of life guide them.
When was the last time you tried a natural response to something in your life? That is, an action
arising of its own accord. Because the opposite to this is expending so much energy- both
physical and mental – attempting to control situations, we exhaust ourselves, leaving little else
for the things that we can do something about. So says Stephen Legault in his book, “The Tao of
Activism and Leadership.” He reminds us all, that it is better to be still and allow action to stem
from that stillness than to jump ahead without measuring all the possibilities and consequences.
Triumphs and troubles present themselves and we let them come, they disappear and we let them
go. Because in the stillness and peace we may have finally figured out for the first time in our
life what it is we truly want out of our life. And it just may not be how to be busy every minute
of every day.
Every one of our lives is a complex organization of things that must be done of course, things we
wish to do for whatever reasons we give these tasks, and finally those challenges that may be
thrust upon us unbidden. The Tao reminds us running a complex organization is like frying a
small fish. Turn it too many times and it will fall apart. Preoccupation with petty things and the
constant worry of if you doing the right thing in a situation will not be present to the person who
is centered in patience and peace. The natural outcome of our patience and trust is the
confidence to act with assurance. There is no way to be certain that we will avoid mistakes when
we act, but if we have given ourselves time to ponder and dream of an outcome that would be
favorable, and if we know we have the humility to stoop low and admit our mistakes when we
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make them, action no longer becomes something to be hesitant about or frightened of. What you
choose to do in this framework will be natural and true and therefore correct. Part of the balance,
part of the value we will find by following a life of balance between times of complete quiet and
action, will be an equilibrium between stillness and knowing when to act.
We can rarely control events, but we can always control how we respond to them. That is, if we
reserve our energy by not trying to control what is beyond our reach. If you are in the habit of
responding to the events of the world with anger, if you are constantly suffering from the fear of
losing something or everything, for those of us suffering from the pain of having been wounded
in our lives, learning to act with restraint, compassion and love will be a lifetime’s work. Three
real and true treasures in life are restraint, compassion and love and they don’t come to us
cheaply. They cost dearly. Because they are only fostered in an atmosphere of stillness and
dream making.
If you are hell bent on running yourself ragged, why not run yourself into the ground of
peacefulness and quiet? Why not go overboard with contentment and ease? Why not be so quiet
one day that you will be able to hear the grass grow? To be happy in your life you must find your
true power. Stop trying to manage everything. Let go of complex plans and strategies and your
goals and objectives will be accomplished with ease. The more complex your rules for your life,
the less likely you will be able follow them. The more time you spend attacking, the more time
you will spend defending what you feel others are attacking that is yours. The more you let go of
debilitating expectations, the easier it will be for you to allow things to fall into place.
The Protestant Work Ethic has its limits. Idle hands are not the devil’s workshop. If we would
simple close our mouths, dim our senses, dull our sharpness, untangle our lines, soften our gaze,
settle the mud in our waters and find our true identity, we would find life to be a cinch. Well, at
least manageable. Before you rush out tomorrow to be active, spend some time in Garret’s day
dreaming. For the sake of your sanity stop trying to manage everything, and be a daydream
believer.

The Fourth Blessed Virtue of Meekness

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(printable version)

1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep,
etc.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
3. Belongingness and Love needs – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status,
dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking
personal growth and peak experiences.
Abraham Maslow has given the world a great gift. As he looked at human nature and the way
people acted in certain situations he saw a pattern. People seemed to act from out of certain
modes at different times. (Read through the stages.) I would imagine that no one here would
like to stay on the biological needs exclusively for the rest of their lives. But we do think of
them, spend an inordinate part of our day taking care of nothing but those biological and
physiological needs. And that is good, because if you didn’t you would die. But, we all know
people who have stayed exactly there and we often pity them knowing there is so much more to
life. And what is the so much more?
Well keep looking at the hierarchy; safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs
and finally the best… the self-actualization needs. And I would posit to you today, that one
would have to submit, surrender, and yield in order to find self-actualization. And this is where
the 4th blessed virtue of meekness comes in. I know these are concepts that we have most of our
lives steered away from ourselves because, we always assumed and probably been told that
submitting, surrendering, allowing, was being weak, feeble and pathetic. I am hoping to
challenge all that today.
We are surrendering everyday of our lives. The best examples are to see when people are not
surrendering and just how ludicrous their behavior is. Take someone who has had one face lift
after another until their face is a permanent smile because they have lifted all the skin that was
available. Did they fool anyone? Are you fooled? Oh, look, we say, they are such and such an
age but they look 30. I have to ask why anyone in their advanced years wants to look 30? Ah,
they are still on the first rung of their needs. Spending all their time and money and energy
trying to be something they are not. So, one lesson could be, be whom you are when you are in
that time of life.
Mature and grow and surrender gracefully to the age you are, the place where you are, knowing
this is good. I am not saying don’t take care of yourself and do all the wonderful things needed
to care for your health, but be proud of the age you are and the changes to your body that that age
gives you. When you surrender, thoughtfully, carefully and with love to the power of a certain
situation, you strengthen the spiritual muscle that allows you to be your best self.
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Truly meek people are not fooled. They are not easily convinced of something other than the
truth of any situation. Lucretia Mott was not warrior or a general, or even a very brave person,
but she was a grandmother who in the 1800’s saved slaves as they were being auctioned on the
auction block.
Prudence Crandall was not someone you would probably even notice on the street. But she
paved, almost singlehandedly, the way for black women to be allowed to read and write. Father
Damian stayed on Molokai knowing that many people thought his decision to stay on the leper
island foolish and even irresponsible. But he submitted to the notion that he was the best one to
do that work with the lepers. He served over 600 lepers for more than 14 years until he too
succumbed to the disease. Daniel Chester French would not believe he was really an artist until
one day Ralph Waldo Emerson gave him a turnip from his garden and Daniel carved a perfect
frog out of its fleshiness. He went on to create the Lincoln Memorial and fashioned the
Minuteman statue in Washington, DC.
King John Sigismund created religious freedom for his kingdom in Transylvania in the 1500’s,
unheard of way of being a king anywhere in Europe. Jane Adams created housing and places for
the homeless of Chicago to go, when many were saying there was no hope for them why waste
your time on people who would never be redeemed. 13 women Unitarian ministers went West
from Boston in the early 1900’s and created dozens of Unitarian churches in the Midwest when
the ordained men refused to leave the comforts of the East coast.
Margaret Fuller could hardly believe she was asked by Horace Greeley to be the first male or
female foreign correspondent for the New York Tribune. We are Unitarians believing in the
unity of God because of people like Michael Servetus who didn’t start out being revolutionary,
but because of his reading and studying of not only theology but also medicine and law declared
the doctrine of the Trinity to be antithetical to the Bible and therefore he would not believe it.
John Locke took this thought further and expanded on what the world would be like with a
religion for himself that could be reasonable. All of these people are the meek who did indeed
inherit the world while they were alive. And they did so because they submitted, humbled
themselves before an idea that was bigger than they ever imagined an idea could be.
These are the meek, the ones who will inherit the earth, inherit eternity, inherit their own
integrity, and inherit authenticity. And that is something we don’t often hear; it takes courage,
guts and motivation to be meek and submit to the calling, your destiny so to speak, that has been
yours since the beginning of your life. It is terribly difficult to bow down to your own purpose
for being alive. No one takes on the mantel of meekness without some fuss and wondering what
this calling could actually mean. This virtue is not for sissies. It is not for the faint of heart.
Meekness has within it the qualities, and I repeat, qualities of; humility, submission, gentleness,
docility, modesty, compliancy, and mildness. At first glance these may seem to be qualities that
have been given to only those who are weak, and have certainly not chosen for themselves. But,
we have that annoying phrase that reminds us that: the meek will inherit the earth. And I think
there is something in that statement that I haven’t looked at very closely before I imagined these
7 virtues to offset the seven deadly sins of my youth.
And what would be wrong with finding more modesty in one’s life? Or of finding more
mildness, or being more gentle? But these are soft qualities and as I have mentioned before, our
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world does not lift up the softer side of life as anything we would want to have, because then we
may be ground under with the weak and the infirm. Then we could be taken advantage of, or
worse, we could lose the world’s respect.
And that is where the realm of spirituality, church and good common sense comes into play,
hopefully to give us some balance. I remember a story told to those of us who attended our
national churches general assembly in Portland by Robert Fulgum. He told of sitting in his car
waiting for his granddaughter to get out of school. As he waited he watched 3 young girls doing
their duties as street monitors as children the left school and were crossing the street to go home.
These girls must have been about 11 or 12 years of age and were taking their responsibilities
very seriously. They had a conundrum that really interested Robert. There was a big truck
parked over the line of the no parking zone. It wasn’t much over the line but the girls were
walking around the truck trying to decide what action their authority as crossing guards gave
them.
One girl said authoritatively, with hands on her hips, remarked that the driver was obviously in
violation of the no parking zone sign and needed to be taught a lesson. Another had out a
measuring tape and was actually measuring just how far this driver was in violation from the end
of the sidewalk. The third girl stayed back from other two and waited patiently. The two
decided that the driver indeed deserved a ticket or some kind of warning. The third young lady
said in a calm, yet also authoritative voice, maybe this person had some emergency and needed
to park quickly and leave the truck where it was because that was the only spot available. The
other two looked at her with their mouths open. They were speechless in the face of what
certainly could have true, but also speechless in the face of someone able to show compassion.
Right away Robert saw, one of these young girls would be a future judge, the one who measured
the actual distance a future lawyer, and the one willing to give the driver the benefit of the doubt
would most probably be a counselor, or maybe even a minister. Giving the benefit of the doubt
to the driver she had decided on leniency rather than punitive judgment. In the world of where
the meek shall inherent the earth, I truly believe we need the lawyer, and the judge, but we also
need the compassionate one within us. And this is where the rub comes in life because we do not
want to be played for a fool. And that is not what I am talking about here. The character trait of
a truly meek person may seem like madness, and it may be daring, but it is never foolish.
These are the people and this is the behavior that prodded the writer of the Gospel of Matthew in
the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be
satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
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Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say
all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way
they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These were new words, new ways of thinking for a new world. The genius of Jesus’ words and
message was that might would not equal right anymore. And many listened, but as we know
from history most have not. But to those who have a proclivity toward mercy, making peace,
nurturing their gentleness of heart, turning the other cheek etc. we are told not only here, but also
in the Tao te Ching, the Upanishads, the Buddhists teachings, they are the true and lasting force
for good in the world. But they are often a quiet voice; a soft voice and we may need to turn off
the TV once in awhile to hear them. You may have to stretch yourself in a new way in order to
actually live the life of a meek person.
I know for sure we will have to let go of the old notions we have given this word. Once again I
remind you meekness is not weakness. This is truth, strength and wisdom. We are warned
acting this way will seem foolish in the eyes of the world, but when has the truth of the holy ever
meshed with the military, or the government or Wall Street? And when it does in the life of
people like Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs or others who put into their actions this virtue of gentleness
we are all amazed, and awed and bowled over, because it is not what we expect. And my guess
is when it happens to us, we do the gentle thing toward someone we too are amazed and awed at
ourselves. Huh, we say, we didn’t know we had it in us. And of course we did. This virtue
smiles at us as we are stretched and pulled in new directions that when we feel the stretch and
pull we know we in a realm of the holy and truth.
You know what I mean, when we react without rancor or sarcasm, when we feel we could.
When we forgive ourselves and others and we wonder where the courage to do that came from.
When we know we hold someone else’s ego in our hands and we could so easily dash it to the
ground and that might make us feel powerful, but that feeling of power in time feels false and
insipid and we so wish we could take back the terrible things we said in anger, or pain, or rage or
whatever. These are the times that gentleness, submission to a finer way to live will show us the
way to true happiness and peace.
These are not new concepts, but they are concepts that are continually challenged in our media,
our politics, our movies, our novels, our video games, our personal need to feel power. I would
rather be a meek person than one of richest people in the United States. I would rather be the
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gentle who will inherit my rights in another way than on the backs of other people. Come and
join me in this way of living that defies all we have been told about what true power really is.
As children many of us have heard these questions. Often they were asked in frustration and
anger. But today I ask you these questions in the meekness and in love; and I hope in the
answering of these questions you will find a way to your well of meekness and strength of the
kind the world only experiences when someone is bold enough to honestly answer these simple
questions; 1. What in God’s name have you been doing? 2. What on earth have you done? 3.
Who do you think you are? 4. And, what will you think of next? Answer those questions
honestly, truthfully, sincerely, candidly and openly, and you may find a path to meekness and
inheriting the earth, your own life in a way you had not imagined before.
This is the power of the Namaste; I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells.
I honor the place in you, which is love, of truth, of light and of peace. When you are in that
place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one!
This meekness is the power of bowing in the Dojo honoring to the essence and the presence of
another. This is simply the power of love.

2012© CedarBranch Media, LLC.