Standing On The Side Of Love In Statesboro, Georgia

Rev. Keith Kron:  We come today from many places and many stories into the new home of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, Georgia.

 Congregation:  We remember and honor the past and those who have come before us.

 Rev. Keith Kron:  The Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah.  Rev. Frank Anderson.  Pot lucks.  Recognition as a Unitarian Universalist congregation in 1990.  Georgia Southern’s Developmental Studies Building. The Bland Cottage at the Botanical Garden.  The Old Nursing Building.    609 East Grady Street. From humble beginnings, the Fellowship has been in many places.  We give thanks to these beginnings and homes of this fellowship.

 All:  And now it has a new address:  6762 Cypress Lake Road.

 Rev. Keith Kron: We wish to honor those who have been a part of this congregation’s history  and dedicated parts of their lives to make this Fellowship a beacon for Unitarian Universalism in Southern Georgia. Please take a moment and call forth the names of the people who helped build this congregation and whom you wish to remember.

 Congregation:  (calls forth of names).

 Rev. Keith Kron: We honor the future and those who will follow.

 Children, Youth,  and their Families:  We are thankful for this new building.  We are glad to have a place to be together, to learn, to play, and to be with loving  people.

 Rev. Keith Kron: We honor those who visit us.

 Guests:  We are honored to be here at this moment, sharing this celebration of your dedication to this faith and to Statesboro.  We know within these new walls, lives will be cherished and renewed, supported and loved.  We know outside these walls, your presence will make a difference in this community.  We are grateful for your dedication to creating this new space and to Unitarian Universalism.

Rev. Keith Kron:  We honor those whose dedication has brought us to this moment. We honor the ministry of this congregation, its people—leaders and minister.

 Board & Minister:  Our shared ministry is an ongoing source of love and hope for each of us.  We promise to be good stewards of this ministry. We value the trust bestowed by you on us.

 Rev. Keith Kron:  We honor the people who are this congregation, who worship on Sunday, who teach and learn, sing and listen, celebrate and grieve, find comfort and nurture others.

 Congregation:  We find refuge and strength here.  We find peace and courage here.  We find affirmation and conviction here.  We wrestle with questions, comfort one another in times of need, and build community together, becoming more than the sum of our parts.

 Rev. Keith Kron:  In this new building, this new hallowed space, we give and find life.

 All:  We dedicate this new building to our people, to our community, and to  our faith.  This dedication of love and work is inspired by those who have come before, those amongst us, and those who will be our future.

 May these rafters protect us from harm.

May these walls keep up warm.

May these floors ground our lives.

May these windows remind us we are not alone.

May these doors be open to all who wish to enter and become a part of our community.

And may the people who gather here be filled with spirit, generosity, knowledge, purpose, memory, respect, curiosity, faith, hope, and love.

We bless this building and this fellowship as we continue together into our future.  We welcome ourselves and each other to our new home.

Shared as the UUFS Building Dedication, January 24 2016, 4 pm

Thank you so much for inviting me today.  It is a great joy to be with you on the occasion of  your building dedication. I bring greetings from your Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations that I am privileged to serve as Moderator.  But let me also bring greetings from my home congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beaufort, your sibling community in our cluster.

I have felt a very personal connection to this faith community over the years.  We, Statesboro and Beaufort, shared an itinerant preacher many years ago; the Rev. Nan White, as she travelled back and forth between here and Hilton Head Island and Beauport…long before any of us had settled ministers.

I have been here to speak in my role as District President.

I have been here to present a Chalice Lighter check that led, ultimately, to the development of this property.

I have celebrated your milestones as your vision turned boldly outward to the larger community.

As Moderator over the past year or so, I have

been speaking about the need and hope for our congregations to be Bold, Brave, and Bodacious as they lived out our Association’s Vision or Ends statements as they are known.

The Global Ends, as they are called in our policy-governance model, are our shared vision that you and I, along with several thousand Unitarian Universalists, crafted over several years of discernment and “linkage” with many people and organizations.  Linkage is the active listening process required of boards of trustees to determine the collective vision for our future as a liberal faith movement.  The point is that these Ends statements are not the will of the board or me; they are the will of all of us collectively.

A story for another day is how all of those UUs came to agree on the language of these Ends.

Let me share some of the words of our movement’s vision:

“A healthy Unitarian Universalist community that is alive with transforming power, moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace.

(And), “Congregations and communities engage in partnerships to counter systems of power, privilege and oppression.”

There are other Ends and I hope you will go to the UUA web site and search “global ends” to learn more.  These are not just lovely aspirational words, but goals that both the board and administration are working towards and that guide how we budget our resources.

I highlighted “Congregations and communities engage in partnerships to counter systems of power, privilege and oppression”, because I see evidence you are doing that here in Statesboro, and I want to commend you for your boldness.

Let me site an example I’m aware.

At Rev. Page’s invitation, I attended the Georgia NAACP State Convention & Civil Rights Conference here in Statesboro on October 8.

Rev. Page is an important partner with the NAACP in Georgia.  I was impressed how much the leadership respected Jane and the work she and you are doing to advance racial and GBLTQ justice.

More than respect for your work, they have been influenced by it.

I saw how much they knew and appreciated our values and our commitment to fighting injustice in the forum I participated in.

Quoting Dr. King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This is the calling of our time; pushing back against threats to justice everywhere and working to end injustice anywhere.

The work you are doing here in Statesboro is “moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace.”

Now you have a bigger platform, a more visible place from which to amplify your collective prophetic voices.

Now you can be Bolder, Braver, and a bit Bodacious here at the corner of Cypress Lake Road and Route 25.

Imagine who will come now that they can more easily see you and find you.

Imagine what gifts and revelations these new folks will bring to you.

Imagine what changes that will require changes in your own structures and ways of being together.

Imagine how you can move “the world toward more love, justice, and peace.”

Given this new opportunity for public witness, I have an “ask” of you on this occasion of building dedication.  I invite you to test something for our Association as you re-imagine what you might accomplish in your new home.  It has to do with our covenant that we value over creed and dogma.

In my report to the delegates at last year’s General Assembly, I noted, “that covenant is both a noun and a verbToo often, I see congregational leaders speak of covenant only in the context of controlling unhealthy behaviors rather than an expression of how we manifest our love for one another and the world.  Covenant is both the commitment and the means to practice engagement in community.

“It is both a noun – the promise itself – and a verb – the practice that manifests the promise.

“Covenant is the collective commitment TO and practice OF religious community that we embrace when we say we are a covenantal faith tradition.

“Covenanting, the gerund…verb, must be intentional if we are to counter the forces of individual and community isolation and institutional drift.

“We need to explore…how we might change the conversation from membership to mutual covenant.  What we have seen as we discussed emerging congregations and covenanting communities over the past year is that the practice of covenanting has energized some groups that appeared to be isolated and static.

“Let’s imagine, rather than signing the book, people entered and were welcomed into covenant that would be renewed periodically.

“Imagine if congregations and communities entered and were welcomed into mutual covenant with the larger association that would be renewed periodically.

“This approach to covenanting would energize our movement and attract individuals who are increasingly just not interested in membership in yet another organization, but they do desire to get connected and stay connected in networks of connection, to probe for and express affiliation.

“This process of covenanting is an activating impulse that connects our personal commitments in community, drawing individuals together to co-create a world of more love, more justice, and more peace.

I asked the board at our October meeting to consider how our Association might imagine moving forward from the notion of membership in an institution to one of mutual covenant.  The trustees approved my suggestion to name a task force to take up this issue.  It will be a significant part of our General Assembly in Columbus in June to begin a process of discernment, which I hope will result in bylaw changes at a future General Assembly. I am excited about their work to date, and I invite you to test what that might mean for you, here is Statesboro, in this new home.

“A healthy Unitarian Universalist community that is alive with transforming power, moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace.

“Imagine what that would be like.  Imagine what your congregation or community could do to be braver, bolder, even bodacious as you actively begin COVENANTING to create that community alive with transforming power,

Imagine our collective and individual UU communities and the world with more love, more justice, and more peace.”

Are you willing to test this notion of covenanting as a way to be radically welcoming and perhaps accelerating our living into the Beloved Community?

Let the people say Amen!

Let me close with words from Sandra Fees, abridged.

“We have brought our dreams for this religious community and our passions for the values we cherish most.

I invite you to bring to your consciousness,

your dreams for our house of worship,

for this community of love and care.

What dreams do you bring?

What blessings will you offer?

What word of hope and inspiration do you carry?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raft and Shore:  a poem commissioned for the UUFS building dedication, Jan. 24, 2016

 

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”    John Augustus Shedd, 1859

 

Now that we’re here—

nails driven, paint dried—

what are we building?  What

will we, together, make of this gift,

this remade body shop, now

a stop for minds and hearts?

 

How, here, will we uphold the inherent

worth and dignity of all who enter and exit,

a round trip passage no person escapes?

 

These sunny walls and carpeted halls

will contain wedding cake and funeral food,

humor and heartache, as we marry and bury

our own and other refugees.

 

May we discover no gulf between “us” and

“them” as we share this raft and shore,

this home at the crossing of Bypass & Cypress Lake.

 

May this church serve as ship  and  safe harbor

for all who seek shelter from persecution or pain,

for all who seek expression of ideas, music, dance.

For this new home belongs to all of us and to none. Each

green chair and coffee cup is ours to occupy and release,

each yellow pansy and African violet ours to tend.

 

May this church minister as mercifully to the poorest

single mom, her toddlers and teens, as to the wealthiest

families; to the faithful friend who attends-without-joining

as to the tithing member who rarely shows his face; to the

preachers, committees, and choirs as to the

first-timers who find us late and duck out early.

 

 

 

Whether someone lands here for a day,

a year, or a lifetime, may we offer

sanctuary without sanctions — a place of refuge

and a set of oars. 

 

Here, let us rest and refuel

for the social and sacred work worth doing

in this beautiful, broken world. Let us name

what ails and what anchors us, what feeds us and

what leads us to feed Statesboro.

 

May we keep asking questions:

What is “worth” worth? How do we dig dignity?

When do we play games, and when do we plan

revolutions? Who will lend a hand, who will set the sail?

 

As we consecrate this place today, may we

rededicate ourselves—individually and collectively—

to being more peninsula than island, more boat than tank.   

And may we dare to rock the boat with mindful speech

and action, silence and song. May we march in coalition

with sisters and brothers from many faith traditions,

allies guided by the lighthouse of love.   

 

Here, we bow in gratitude to all.

We wear no halos or horns

only eyes and ears attuned

to the frequencies of love,

the voices of reason.

We row to the beat of justice and dignity

for all.

 

Can You Say ATONEMENT?

September 23, 2007

Rev. Jane Page

 

Earlier this week when I was working on this sermon, I also took some time to watch the news on television.  And the main story on all the news show was, “OJ is in Jail.”  One of the TV hosts remarked at the glee which seemed to be on the faces of those interviewed about this – and admitted that he himself had chuckled with delight when he heard about it.  Why did so many folks – perhaps even you and I – have a strong positive “YES” reaction?

 

Well, somebody with more psychological training that I have can shed some light on that emotional response.  But I do know that most of us want to see the Universe as sometimes being fair – sometimes serving justice.  If, indeed, OJ Simpson got away with murder – then perhaps his getting caught in that motel room provides a little of that justice that we long for.  We want some accountability – at least for others, but maybe also for ourselves.

 

My religious naturalist theology tells me that this is probably something that evolved with human beings and allowed for our continuation as a species that uses cooperation with others as a primary means for survival.  In any case – this idea – that one must pay somehow or seek forgiveness for her wrongdoings – became a part of our religions.

This weekend Jews around the world celebrated their most holy day, Yom Kippur.  This is the holy day that is observed by even many secular Jews who do not attend synagogue any other time of the year. Of course, the same thing occurs with Christians at Easter.

Yom Kippur follows the holy days of Rosh Hashana. Together these days are known as the Days of Awe. Yom Kippur is essentially the last chance one has to get straight with God before He inscribes your name in the book of judgement.

This holy day is based on teachings from the book of Leviticus

 

…In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the L-RD. -Leviticus 16:29-30

 

But Yom Kippur does not literally mean Day of Atonement.  Kippur means covering.  So it is a day of covering for ones sins – although the translation that both Jews and Christians now use includes the word Atonement.  How did that word get it there?  And what is the meaning of it?

 

It turns out that Atonement was a word invented in the early 16th century by Englishman William Tyndale.  According to a biography, Tyndale was determined to translate the Bible into English.  The Englishman was convinced that the way to God was through his word and that scripture should be available even to common people.  A clergyman was reported to have argued against this idea by proclaiming: “We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” In turn Tyndale made his prophetic response: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself!” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Tyndale)

 

Well, as you might imagine with that kind of risky talk and behavior, Tyndale was eventually tried for heresy and burned at the stake in 1536.  BUT, not before he had produced his translations of the New and Old Testaments.  The later King James Version actually uses much of the Tyndale translation.

 

Tyndale was also a student of Bible Doctrine and did not believe that words like reconciliation and repentance and ransom provided the full meaning given to the doctrine of salvation through the death of Jesus.  His understanding was that we were separated from God with Adam’s fall and needed to become one with his spirit again – therefore the use of the words At One.  The word “one” was pronounced at that time in the Old English way – without a W sound at the beginning. (Some English words – like “only” have survived with this older sound.)  So the word he used combined “at” and “o-n-e” for atone – and went on to a noun form called atonement.  By the way, Tyndale is also responsible for the words “Jehovah,” “Passover,” and “scapegoat.”  So now the word atonement is used by both Jews and Christians.  The Jews use it in connection with Yom Kippur and Christians use it in their doctrines of salvation through the death of Jesus.

 

Now this is the doctrine of atonement that I grew up hearing about and eventually rejecting.  And I quit using the word atonement until more recently, because I could not separate it from the idea that Jesus was thought to have died a brutal, gruesome, death because I could not lead a perfect life.

 

But – not all Christians in our history have viewed atonement that way.  As time went by – some Christians began to talk about atonement differently.  And one of the leading thinkers of a new way to regard Atonement was our own Universalist ancestor Hosea Ballou.

 

Now since most of us did not grow up as Unitarian Universalists, we don’t have this history as part of our heritage.  So forgive me for giving you a dose of Universalist religious education now – in this worship service.  I think it’s important that we know about this faith that many of us now call our own.  And Hosea Ballou and his doctrine of Atonement are an important part of that history.

 

Hosea was born in 1771, the 11th child of a Calvinistic Baptist Preacher.  (We would call those the Primitive Baptists today.)  His mother died when he was two.  He had a very  minimal formal education – probably equaling 3rd grade.

 

In his teens, Ballou was confronted by the challenge of the message of universal salvation, preached in the area by Caleb Rich and others. He found utterly convincing St. Paul’s statement, “Therefore as by the offense of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Christ] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/hoseaballou.html)

 

Ballou was ordained to Universalist ministry and became an itinerant preacher in New England where he preached both universal salvation and Unitarianism – rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity.

 

In A Treatise on Atonement, 1805, Ballou put great stress on the use of reason in interpreting the Scriptures. The core of the book, as the title implies, was Ballou’s reformulation of the doctrine of atonement. As finite creatures, he argued, human beings are incapable of offending an infinite God. Therefore, he rejected the orthodox argument that the death of Jesus Christ was designed to appease an angry God, and replaced it with the idea that God is a being of eternal love who seeks the happiness of his human children. It is not God who must be reconciled to human beings, but human beings who must be reconciled to God. Ballou was convinced that once people realized this, they would take pleasure in living a moral life and doing good works. (www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/hoseaballou.html)

And of course he pointed to Jesus as a model for living that life and doing those works – not as a life that had to be sacrificed for us to become reconciled to God.

 

I envy our past President Carol Simonson.  She grew up the daughter of a Universalist minister and was taught this much more loving version of atonement.  Therefore, she probably never felt like she had to reject it.  She doesn’t have some of the same problems and anger to some of the “church language’ that some of us do, because it wasn’t used in the same ways that some experienced as a painful rejection of them.

 

And as you all know from my other “Can You Say” sermons, I’ve worked hard it recent years to reclaim some of the language of my heritage which can help me in my own spiritual growth.  And today, I share with you that “atonement” can be a helpful word for us as Unitarian Universalists.  Regardless of our theologies, we do have the need to be whole – not to be separated from whatever it is that we consider to be sacred or divine or good.  Some of us may call that God or Goddess – while others refer to spirit or Universe or simply the goodness of humanity or nature.  In any case, we realize that when we have done something to hurt others or this world in which we live, we need to reconciliation.  We need atonement.

 

And before we can become one with our God or our deeper spiritual selves or the Universe or the Divine, it’s often necessary to get ourselves right with others first.  That’s what happens in the days before Yom Kippur in the Jewish tradition when folks try to repair things with others – make amends if you will.  And I’ve found the same thing is true for me.  I might try to walk the labyrinth and feel one with nature, but if I’ve just said something that I know was painful to a family member or something – it’s pretty hard to get to that place.  Those who are in 12 step programs know that making amends is a vital part of their recovery.  And I’ve found that the sooner I can do this, the better it is for me and others.  Now making amends is more than just apologizing.  It’s trying our best to make it right again.  This summer we were able to see a humorous example of this when Kevin Crabtree presented a video of the sit-com, “My Name is Earl.”  This fellow named Earl was a really bad guy – and now he’s trying to be a good guy – and to do that he’s made a list of everyone he’s harmed in some way since childhood and is going about trying to undo the damage he’s done.  And of course, it’s pretty hilarious because sometimes to UNDO something may be worse or impossible.  But at least Earl is trying.  And he’s growing in the process.

 

And that’s not a bad place to be.  Trying — and hopefully growing.

 

Now that I’m a minister, I’ve found that folks sometimes share things with me that they have regrets about or that they felt they could have done better.  Now Catholics have this built into their spiritual practice as the time for confession.  And the priest can ABSOLVE their wrongdoing by prescribing a certain number of “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers” to be said.  I’ve wondered if we don’t also have this need. Maybe I should prescribe a recitation of the principle which is most closely allied with the “sin” in question.

 

Didn’t recycle last week – say the 7th principle seven times – one for each day you failed to recycle.

 

You made fun of the minister’s southern accent?  Goodness Gracious!  For that you need to recite the first principle ten times.

 

Or maybe the absolution could be the singing of “Spirit of Life” or the lighting of candles of concern.  In reality, most of us know that the way to absolve ourselves in not in recitations but in doing.  We say that we are a faith of deeds – not creeds.  And perhaps, it’s ridiculous and often even counterproductive to address the old wrong.  But we can try to do something good.   And usually that’s what my conversations with folks usually end up supporting.  Mainly folks want to be heard – to know they are okay – and to talk through the best ways to address their concerns.  And I’m always happy to have these or any other conversations folks may want to have with me.

 

Sometimes though, after doing what we can to make amends, I think that we may need a little something more to help us toward an atonement that is more divine and healing.  For the last couple of years, we’ve had an end of the year fire ritual that I think stives to meet this need.  But we can also include some ritual in our services in which we give voice to the idea that we’ve messed up ourselves and that others have hurt us – but that we can seek forgiveness and forgive.  And that’s what I invite you to do now.

 

Our hymnal includes a Litany of Atonement that I’d like for us to recite together.  It’s # 637 in the back of your hymnal.  This litany was written by Robert Eller-Isaacs and includes many of the “sins” that we may need to address.  And yes – I did use the word sin – which means “missing the mark.”  Instead of reading this as a responsive reading, I’m going to ask that we read both the regular print and the italics together.  Because I think it helps to actually provide our own voices in efforts to seek atonement.

 

Please join me in reading this Litany of Atonement:

 

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference.

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible;

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause;

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others;

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love;

 

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone;

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit;

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For losing sight of our unity;

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness;

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

 

MAY IT BE SO!

AMEN.

The Freedom to Marry

September 9, 2007

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro

Rev. Jane Page

 

Three weeks ago, Greg and I were married here in this church.  Many of you were here and joined with us in that wonderful celebration of love.  Now, some of you may say that the reason I’m giving a sermon on marriage equality today is to relieve my guilt for participating in an institution not available to all loving couples.  And I might respond with some defense indicating my long term concern for this issue.  The very first paper I wrote for seminary back in spring 2001 was entitled, “Same-Sex Unions:  A Journey from our Early Christian Roots to Sarah’s and Suzie’s Wedding at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.”  But that long term concern probably adds to my need to alleviate some guilt.  I had said I would never marry again.  And Greg and I shared with some folks that we had 40 years of marriage between us already – and that was probably enough.  Some of you may remember a sermon I did in this sanctuary in the fall of 2002 entitled, “Marry, Marry – Quite Contrary” upholding the freedom not to marry.  But, this past Spring, after five years of non-marital bliss, we changed our minds.  I don’t know that I can explain why very well – but we did.  And we could.  So, this summer we went down to the courthouse and filled out some fairly simple paperwork – and we were issued a license to marry.  It’s a privilege that we, as a heterosexual couple (or some might say – mixed gender couple) had in Georgia.  My friend Joan Kahn-Schneider – who was also one of the officiating ministers – had helped me rationalize this by saying that I had lots of privileges that other folks didn’t have that I took advantage of every day.  I was not giving all of them up – and instead was using those privileges in ways that hopefully were helpful to others.  So, with that nice rationalization and also the encouragement of my minister friend Nan White – who cannot marry her partner of 13 years but who also officiated at our wedding, we moved forward with our plans.  And I’m glad we did.  As our invitation stated, we had the desire to give our love its fullest expression – and for us, that was marriage.  And now, as a married woman and a Unitarian Universalist minister, I am committed to continuing the work to make this privilege – this choice – one that all couples can make.

Now some may ask – Why would anyone want to get married in the first place?

What is marriage for?  Well, although some on the conservative right would have us to believe that the institution has remained unchanged through the ages, it just isn’t so.  The purpose of marriage and its structures have changed with changes in society.

Most ancient societies needed a secure environment for the perpetuation of the species and a system of rules to handle the granting of property rights. The institution of marriage handled both of these needs.  But most would agree that ancient marriages were not for love.  Historian John Boswell makes this interesting comparison of pre-modern Europe love and marriage with today’s culture.

In premodern Europe marriage usually began as a property arrangement, was in the middle mostly about raising children, and ended about love.   Few couples in fact married “for love,” but many grew to love each other in time as they jointly managed their household, reared their offspring, and shared life’s experiences. Nearly all surviving epitaphs to spouses evince profound affection. By contrast, in most of the modern West, marriage begins about love, in its middle is still mostly about raising children (if there are children), and ends – often – about property, by which point love is absent or a distant memory.

Now at the same time that all of these religious and civil marriage ceremonies were taking place, we also have evidence of services designed to unite same-sex couples.

These religious ceremonies, however, seemed to be more about love and commitment to a loyal companion in life rather than a legal framework for protection of property and marital rites.  Here’s an example of a Sixth Century prayer for the union of two men translated by John Boswell and quoted in his book entitled, Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe.

 

O Lord our God, who made humankind in thine image and likeness and gave it power over all flesh everlasting, and who now hast approved thy saints and apostles Philip and Bartholomew becoming partners, not bound together by nature, but in the unity of holy spirit and in the mode of faith, thou who didst consider thy saints and martyrs Serge and Bacchus worthy to be united, bless thy servants, N. and N., joined not by nature, but to love each other and to remain unhated and without scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God and ever virgin Mary. Because to thee belongs all glory, honor and worship.

 

I refer you to Boswell’s work or my 2001 paper for more information on these ceremonies.  

Through the ages, there have been lots of different forms and varieties of marriages.  There’s polygamy – also now known as “big love.”  And there are two types of polygamy.  There’s polygyny – one husband, several wives, and polyandry – one wife, several husbands.  And of course, there’s monogamy – one husband, one wife.  Then there are differing societal requirements like:  endogamy – requirement to marry someone who belongs to his or her own group – alive and well in laws in our own country against inter-racial marriage surviving till 1967 in some states.  That’s the year that the Supreme Court struck the ban down in Virginia.  And though no longer enforceable, the ban on interracial marriage remained in the South Carolina constitution till 1998.   And even exogamy – people have to marry someone from another area or group

Before reforms of the 19th and 20th century, marriage had also been understood legally and socially as a relationship of hierarchy or coverture – in which a wife’s legal identity was covered over by her husbands.  Despite romantic concepts of equality in love, according to American Law historian Hendrik Hartzog, “everyone knew in 1820, in 1870, and still in 1950, that husband and wife meant a dyadic relationship between two unequally situated individuals.”  (http://hnn.us/articles/4400.html)

Perhaps that is why many gay rights organizations shied away for many years from supporting marriage for the GLBT community.  Marriage was seen as a heterosexual arrangement which institutionalized the dominance of one and/or the protection of the other party.  And, why – anyway – would gay folks want something like marriage which seemed so – so – straight.  But gradually through the years – the institution of marriage has changed.  Some changes were made through courts and some through legislation and many through changes in society’s attitudes about women.

Nineteenth century feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton had simply argued for women to consider opting out of marriage – acknowledging that marriage equality would not be possible in their lifetimes.  And Stanton placed part of the blame on the shoulders of women who were unwilling to acknowledge change was possible.  Here’s a quote from Stanton in 1894:

Women are too proud to admit that they want what they think they cannot get.  They fear the ridicule of the men of their households, of the press, the disapproval of their clergymen who quote the Bible against larger liberties for their sex….  This one lesson of subjection and self sacrifice has been taught by creeds, codes, customs, and constitutions all through the centuries and no wonder that woman has learned it so well.  The most powerful influence on the human mind is through religious emotions, and all the leading religions on the earth teach the subjection of one sex and the domination of the other, thus enfeebling the love of liberty on the one side and stimulating the love of tyranny on the other.

The women’s movement continued, though, to move….slowly it seemed….but move it did.  And although Stanton did not live to see it, women did earn the right to vote and much more.  Indeed, even without the passage of the equal rights amendment, the majority of Americans would not deny women equal rights with men and state by state – law by law – court case by court case, changes were made.  And the institution of marriage itself changed.  So much so, that it became acceptable to even feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who married in 2000, and to Jane Page too.

Now civil marriage is not viewed as a trap or cage – but rather as a safety net providing rights and protections for both parties.  Is what Greg and I have obtained through this process just a piece of paper certifying our marriage.  No, it is more than that.  Ask any unmarried couple who has paid heaps of money to lawyers to write documents for just some of the same rights and protections.

I had said I would never marry for benefits – and I did not.  But there are many benefits — some estimate as many as 1400 specific legal benefits that Greg and I now have access to that same sex couples do not.  In addition, private employers and institutions often give other economic privileges and other benefits (special rates or memberships) only to married couples.

According to Evan Wolfson, author of Why Marriage Matters:

Exclusion from the freedom to marry unfairly punishes committed same-sex couples and their families by depriving them of critical assistance, security, and obligations in virtually every are of life, including, yes, even death and taxes….  (In the area of death):  If a couple is not married and one partner dies, the other partner is not entitled to get bereavement leave from work, to file wrongful death claims, to draw the Social Security payments of the deceased partner, to automatically inherit a shared home, assets, or personal items in the absence of a will.  (In the area of taxes):  Unmarried couples cannot file joint tax returns and are excluded from tax benefits and claims specific to marriage.  In addition , they are denied the right to transfer property to each other and pool the family’s resources without adverse tax consequences.

Wolfson provides a long summary of other benefits in his book – too long for this little homily.  But I will share the broad categories he uses in addition to death and taxes.  Others benefits are related to debts, divorce, family leave, health, housing, immigration, inheritance, insurance, parenting, portability (marriages are honored in all states – domestic partnerships are not),  privilege (meaning legal privilege), property, and retirement.  And though they can address some of these with legal documents; most of these critical, concrete legal incidents of marriage cannot be arranged by shelling out money for an attorney or writing up private agreements – even with lots of forethought.

Wolfson fully realizes that marriage should not be the only way.  He states:

Of course, our country needs to find ways other than marriage to support and welcome all kids, all families, and all communities.  Marriage is not, need not, and should not be the only means of protecting oneself and a loving partner or family.  But like other Americans, same-sex couples need the responsibilities and support marriage offers legally and economically to families dealing with parenting, property, Social Security, finances, and the like, especially in times of crisis, health emergency, divorce, and death.  And gay people, like all human beings, love and want to declare love, want inclusion in the community and the equal choices and possibilities that belong to us all as Americans.

Why is this such a difficult battle?  Are people just that prejudiced?  Well, we are products of our society and sometimes it’s hard to get over some of the things we were taught.  Sadly, much of the negative teachings we’ve had came from religious teachings.  The Bible has been used through the ages to deny people rights – and it continues to be used.  I will not quote the two or three verses that you’ve heard so often.  Instead, I’m going to quote another UU minister’s words on this topic.  Rev. Don Southworth, minister of the Eno River UU Fellowship said:

When people bring the Bible into the debate about why homosexuality is a sin and marriage is only between a man and a woman, it is wise to ask what part of the Bible’s sexual mores they believe in. Do they take their teachings from the part in Leviticus that reads “A man who sleeps with another man is an abomination and should be executed.” Or do they take their teachings from the part in Leviticus that says if a bride is found not to be a virgin she should be executed on the spot, or a couple that has sexual intercourse during a women’s period should also be executed. Do they believe in polygamy, concubines, or forcing childless widows to have sex with their dead husband’s brothers in order to ensure the dead man has a male heir? People far better versed in Biblical scripture than I am can debate point by point stories and lessons from the Bible and how they are irrelevant to the same-gender marriage debate. Suffice to say that the Bible is confusing at best when it comes to translating how sexuality and marriage should be done today.

And the argument that allowing gays to marry weakens marriage for others holds no weight.  The same concerns elevated about gay marriage have been voiced about other changes in society including changing the divorce laws, allowing married women to own property, contraception, inter-racial marriage – all of these ideas have brought forth forecasts of domino effects including polygamy, bestiality, and incest.  An LA Times editor provides a good rebuttal to the  “same-gender marriages will ruin the institution of marriage” argument, an argument that is usually couched in religious terms.  In response to the Episcopal church making Gene Robinson its first gay bishop, the editorialist stated:

The actions taken by the New Hampshire Episcopalians are an affront to Christians everywhere. I am just thankful that the church’s founder, Henry VIII, and his wife, Catherine of Aragon, his wife Anne Boleyn, his wife Jane Seymour, his wife Anne of Cleves, his wife Katherine Howard, and his wife Catherine Parr are no longer here to suffer through this assault on our traditional Christian marriage.

I am very proud of the stands that Unitarian Universalists have taken and that we have a long history of calling for the full inclusion of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender people in church and society.  Thirty-seven years ago – in 1970 – our general assembly called for an end to discrimination against homosexual and bisexual people in the denomination and in society and three years later, our association established an Office of Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay concerns.  In 1984, our General Assembly recognized and encouraged ministers to perform Same-Gender Services of Union – and most UUA ministers have conducted many of these ceremonies since then.  But we knew that ceremonies were not enough.  And eleven years ago – before court cases in Hawaii, Vermont, Massachusetts and now Iowacaptured the attention of the media – our General Assembly called for the UUA to support the legalization of “Same-Sex Marriage.”  More recently, President Sinkford established a fund called the “Freedom to Marry” fund to provide grants to churches and others working for this change.  And Unitarian Universalists were instrumental in the efforts made in many states to overturn and change laws.  But we have much work to do.

Our efforts will not be successful overnight.  But the expansion of civil rights to women and minorities in our society did not come overnight either.  And just as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony did not live to see women vote;   Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. did not live to see his dream come true; our goals may not be fully achieved in our lifetimes.  But we will not turn back.  Unitarian Universalists are Standing on the Side of Love.  And we will not sit down.

So what can we do in 2007 in Statesboro, Georgia.  Here are a few suggestions:

1st – until we achieve marriage for all loving couples, we can continue to encourage the extension of privileges to domestic partners.  And we can share with one another, companies that we know are doing this – and do business with those companies.

2nd – we can be active in expressing our views via blogs, editorials, and in our day to day interactions.

3rd – if you are in a same-sex relationship, consider being more open about it and talking more freely about you and your partner with others.  Hey, I know this is easy for me to stand up here and say since I don’t have to live with the rejection that might occur.  But I also know that attitudes toward marriage equality have changed considerably in the past few years because folks now know people who are gay and families with gay parents, etc.

4th – work for and vote for candidates who are more progressive in their views toward gay marriage.  Unfortunately, most of the candidates who stand a chance in the next presidential election haven’t felt that they could completely back Marriage for gay folks – using the term marriage.  However, many have come out in support of civil unions and some of them are sharing that they are open to gay marriage.

5th – use your resources to help in this worthy cause.  Give to UUA’s Freedom to Marry fund or Lambda Legal Defense Fund or one of many other possibilities for making a difference.

When I was a little girl of about 8 or 9 in the late 50’s, I used to have some unusual dreams. In one of my dreams, I saw people driving their house trailers instead of pulling them behind their cars. When I awoke, I thought, that’s really strange. But it’s not strange to me today. We see motor homes all the time now. I also had a dream that I went to someone’s home and lots of people were there. Perhaps it was a party. There were lots of grown-ups and children at this party. Some of the women had their husbands with them. But some of the women were married to other women. And some of the men were married to other men. When I awoke, I thought, that’s really strange. But it’s not strange to me today.

I have a vision. I envision a world where there will be no need for words like homophobia or even labels categorizing one’s sexual orientation. People will love who they love because they love them. And they’ll love each other for as long as they possibly can. And since my higher power is the Power of Love; for me – God is Love; God will look at that world and say,

 It is good!

 

This summer I’ve been in conversation with two women who have shared with me their desire to come to a church which welcomes them and their children as a family.  And of course, we do.  One of these women shared a dream with me.  Mary* said,  I have a dream that Vickie* and I can openly share our vows in a church – with a minister officiating — -and in my dream I walk down the aisle of that church just as proud as any bride would do on her wedding day.

Well, you know what – this is a church – I’m a minister – and that, my friends, is an aisle!  It may take many years for my dream to come true, but Mary’s dream can come true today.  So after the service today, while we are having our coffee break, we are going to transform our sanctuary to a chapel of love and we invite those of you who do not have other obligations to come back in for a very brief ceremony in which Vickie and Mary will share their Love.  And then – after this brief ceremony – they will share a meal they’ve prepared for us.  And when it comes to sharing love – and to sharing fried chicken, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, and wedding cake – I think we can all say –

 

AMEN.

LEST we Forget

Rev. Jane Page

April 15, 2007

 

 

LEST we Forget …. But how could we!  There’s too much evidence.  And yet – just this year, we’ve had reminders a plenty that not only is anti-semitism alive and well, but also downright denial of history by supposed scholars at “academic” conferences.

Last summer, actor and producer Mel Gibson was in the spotlight after his drunken tirade.  You know – sometimes I think we pay too much attention to celebrities and their comments, etc.  BUT – just as the despicable IMUS remarks have opened up a conversation that needed to happen in America this week, so did Gibson’s drunken anti-semitic tirade last summer.  Now of course, Gibson, like many others “caught” in bad behavior, blamed his addiction and indicated that of course, he did not really harbor these feelings.  But additional exploration of various statements he has made support that he might as well admit to being among the growing numbers who actually deny that the Holocaust happened – or at least that it happened on the scale that it did.  Most of these folks use slick language as they discuss their views with the media – as did Gibson.

Listen to these remarks given to a reporter when she asked Gibson to go on the record and confirm that the Holocaust did actually happen. Gibson said:

“I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century 20 million people died in the Soviet Union.”

His – “war is horrible” – explanation did not really answer her question.  In another interview, he questioned that numbers that are generally reported as “a numbers game.”

So what – that’s just one person whose dad is openly anti-semitic and who says his dad never lied to him.  But people do listen to folks like Mel Gibson.  And some are just waiting for some encouragement to hate.

His movie, The Passion – provided a lot of that encouragement – although he did concede to take out scenes in which depicted Jewish leaders saying – “May his blood be on our hands.”

Then just this past December, we witnessed a gathering described in the media with these words:

The International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust was a two-day conference that opened on December 112006 in TehranIran. The Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said the conference sought “neither to deny nor prove the Holocaust … [but] to provide an appropriate scientific atmosphere for scholars to offer their opinions in freedom about a historical issue.”

The attendees included the infamous David Duke, former congressman and presidential candidate as well as the former Imperial Wizard of the KKK.  But it also included some ultra-orthodox rabbis which allowed the organizers to proclaim that they had included Jewish viewpoints as well.

I don’t need to share the counter-evidence with you folks sitting here today.  You know it.  And if you don’t, email me and I’ll share information that you can read which overwhelmingly validates that the goal of Hitler was to respond to “The Jewish Problem” by extermination of the Jewish population.  And yes, there were other “undesirable” groups included on this hit list as well.

But there are those whose beliefs can cause them to totally disregard evidence.  Just look at the efforts by many to have the teaching of evolution taken out of classrooms.  And if we fail to take a stand for truth, many can be swept into aligning themselves on the side of hate – without even realizing that it’s happening.  That’s what happened in Nazi Germany.  Things were not going well.  World War I was lost. The economy was not good.  It must be someone’s fault.  Folks who were generally good folks – didn’t need a whole lot of brainwashing to follow Hitler’s lead into blaming the Jews.

And it could happen again – and does happen.

For example, when I was doing my research for the sermon that I gave last week regarding resurrection stories – I came across some discussion about how Christian fundamentalists were very worked up over the Da Vinci Code and the following documentaries that have come out which include scholarly evidence (most of it done by Christian scholars) that question the Christian belief of the resurrection of Jesus.  In one of the articles that I was reading, a frustrated believer said, — well it all comes out of Hollywood.  And you know that most of the Hollywood producers are Jewish.

So anti-semitism is alive and well.  And we must stand up against it.

Similarly and sadly, ethnic clensing is also very much still with us.

More than 2.5 million people in the Darfur region of western Sudan have been displaced from their homes and now live in abject poverty – with an average of 500 a day dying from violence, malnutrition and disease. They are all victims of ethnic cleansing, being undertaken with the support and approval of the Sudanese government, while the world watches.

Last year our Unitarian Universalist President Bill Sinkford was arrested.  So was Rabbi Steve Gutow who is the executive director of the Jewish Council for public affairs.  Now usually when clergy are arrested these days, it’s connected to such issues as embezzlement or child abuse – not things we can be proud of.  But I think we can be proud of our leaders for getting arrested last year.  Both of them were arrested while protesting in front of the Sudan Embassy in Washington, DC.  Their actions may have been, in the Rabbi’s words, “ a little political theater designed to garner attention,” but it also serves to remind us that fighting for justice in Sudan is a responsibility of all of us.  And, although there are no easy answers, we know from history what happens when the world shrugs its shoulders.

Unitarian Universalists have some high sounding principles that are listed on the back of your programs.  We say that we covenant to affirm and promote such things as – -the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equjity, and caompassion in human relations; the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice, for all; and respect of the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  Indeed we ARE part of a world community.  The stock market in Japan has a definite effect on Wall Street.  To exist – we must learn to co-exist.  And to do that, we will need to diligently stand up for our principles – to stand up for love!

But we cannot do it in our own separate religious circles.  Just as Bill Sinkford and Rabbi Steve Gutow stood with clergy from many faiths outside that Sudanese embassy – we need to stand together for righteousness.  As Transylvanian Unitarian Francis David once said, “We do not have to believe alike, to love alike.”

And if we do work together, we can build a world like that prophesied by Isaiah and Amos.  A world where we bind up the broken, where captives go free, where the oil of gladness dissolves all mourning; where we bring the good tidings to all the afflicted and all those who mourn, where we give garlands instead of ashes, a world where justice shall roll down like waters and peace like an everflowing stream

Oh – May it Be So!

Amen

Hallelujah Sunday – Easter Message

April 8, 2007

Jane Page

 

Happy Easter!

 

Our home has been blessed this past holy week with the laughter of children.  It just so happened this year that my partner Greg’s two kids had their Spring break the same week as the Spring break for the schools here in Statesboro.  So as I typed these words, I heard the voices of four children (his two children and my two grandchildren) in the kitchen eating Pepperoni Pizza. 

 

I had taken it out of the oven a little earlier and then decided to take a break from my reading and preparing to cut it into pieces for the kids.  As I entered the kitchen, I felt something touch my leg.  I looked down and saw a piece of thread stung from a handle on a cabinet to a leg of a chair. When I surveyed the kitchen, I realized that it was a complete web of strings going back and forth.  The children howled as I tried to make my way through the maze of strings without breaking them.  And I had that awesome feeling that one has when you actually feel like a kid again.  It was that kind of giddy happy feeling that needs no artificial stimulant.  If you COULD bottle that stuff, though, I think it could be appropriately called, Easter Tonic.  Easter is all about renewal, rejuvenation, revitalization, resurrection– new life, Spring, fertility, and a time for focusing on new growth and development.

 

And so it is that we are also celebrating today our renewal and commitment to this congregation through the returning of our pledge cards and surveys indicating our interests and willingness to work together for this community of Unitarian Universalists.  And we are ALL into renewal, rejuvenation, revitalization, and even new growth and development.  So my initial plan was to focus on those rather than the resurrection this year. But then I thought that I had lost the sermon that I had been working on.  I thought that my computer couldn’t recover it.  I thought it was dead. And I longed for resurrection.  After all, it WAS an Easter Sermon!  I also remembered that in my sermon “Can You Say Resurrection?” – that I did last week in Valdosta, I had emphasized that for there to be resurrection, something must die.  So I let my old sermon die and started on a new one – about – what else – resurrection.  Then LOW and BEHOLD, a miracle happened.  Tuesday night, AFTER I completed my first draft of the sermon, I found the sermon that I thought was dead. I guess it was just hibernating.  So I’ve ended up with a little of both.  In any case, the loss did encourage me to focus more on death and resurrection.  Because that’s what happens in the natural world. 

 

Things DIE – and other things come to life in their place.  The only Life after Death is new life!  But for some reason, we all seem to want to hang on to the old and familiar.  And most resurrection stories give some hope for that.  Now you notice I said “resurrection stories” – not “story.”     

 

That’s because the Easter story of death and resurrection is deeply rooted in much older mythology. Rev. John Crestwell, minister of the Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church has done a good job of summarizing some of these myths.  He said that one of the earliest stories comes from Egypt.  It’s the story of Isis and Osiris.  Listen and see if you can find some common themes with the Easter story.

Isis was the goddess of love who married the god of fertility, Osiris.   His brother Set is jealous (just like in the story of Cain and Abel) and, as the story goes, Set kills Osiris, cuts his body into many pieces, and puts the pieces over many different parts of the world.   Isis persistently searches for her husband and finds the pieces of him over time; and because of her amazing love and power, she magically puts him back together and then breathes the breath of life back into his corpse.  Osiris and Isis immediately procreate and give birth to Horus who would later slay Set.   Today, Isis is still known as the goddess of love.  Osiris is still referred to as the god of fertility but also the god of the underworld who “defeated death” and has power over death.  Horus would become known as the god of the living and Set, the god of evil and later Set becomes the mythological Satan in the Hebrew Scriptures.

If you’ve listened, you’ve heard the familiar themes.  There is a story of life that is defeated by evil in the world – then a great love brings back life again – rebirth or resurrection.  This old story has impacted many of the future myths in western culture.  For example, in Europe there are statues honoring Isis and her baby Horus that many thought were statues of the Mary and the baby Jesus.  And this life-death- resurrection story appears again in Greek mythology, hundreds of years before Jesus was born. 

For example, there was Dionysus who was a human god born through immaculate conception by the high god Zeus.  Like the Egyptian God Osiris, Dionysus was the god of fertility.  And he was also the god of bread and wine who had the power to raise the dead – just like Osiris and Jesus. 

In the story, Dionysus travels the land telling people he is a god only to be mocked and crucified over and over.  Strangely enough each time he is killed he is brought back to life.  As a result he becomes known as the dying and resurrected god of fertility or god of the vine.  

Dionysus loved a good glass of wine.  Now some of us plan to honor Dionysus in a special ritual this past Friday the 13th at 5:30.  Well, at least we’ll pay homage to his favorite beverage when we meet for our congregational social gathering at the local winery.  Join us if you can. 

And so, what is Osiris in Egypt becomes Dionysus in Greece, which becomes Attis in Asia Minor, and Adonis in Syria, and Bacchus in Italy, and Mithras in Persia, and Jesus in Jerusalem, and so on and so forth…  Many cultures had their dying and resurrected saviors who had power over death.

The one that Christianity most resembles is the story of Mithras, originally from Persia and later popular in Rome.  Here are some of the similarities pointed out in a book called The Christ Conspiracy by Achara S.

  1. Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds.
  2. He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
  3. He had 12 companions or disciples.
  4. Mithra’s followers were promised immortality.
  5. He performed miracles.
  6. As the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
  7. He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.
  8. His resurrection was celebrated every year.
  9. He was called “the Good Shepherd” and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.
  10. He was considered the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” and the “Logos,” “Redeemer,” “Savior” and “Messiah.”
  11. His sacred day was Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
  12. Mithra had his principal festival of what was later to become Easter.
  13. His religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper,” at which Mithra said, “He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved.”
  14. “His annual sacrifice is the passover of the Magi, a symbolical atonement or pledge of moral and physical regeneration.”
  15. Biblical Scholar Shmuel Golding is quoted as saying that 1 Cor. 10:4 is “identical words to those found in the Mithraic scriptures, except that the name Mithra is used instead of Christ.”

(And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.)

  1. The Catholic Encyclopedia is quoted as saying that Mithraic services were conduced by “fathers” and that the “chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called ‘Pater Patratus.'”

Now there has been a lot of Christian backlash regarding many of these comparisons and we must acknowledge that many of these findings are conclusions drawn from art, pieces of literature, and archeological evidence that is not always entirely conclusive with simple explanations.  But thereis enough evidence for most scholars to acknowledge that there are great similarities between the Christian story, including the resurrection, to call into question the originality and accuracy of the Gospel story.

One scholar shows how many of them connect to the SUN and it’s movements through the sky suggesting that they all of these middle eastern religions evolved from a worship of the Sun itself – which of course, does seem to resurrect each morning after dying each evening.

And that brings us back to nature itself – a central aspect of the Easter rituals that were prominent in Europe before Christianity.  Easter is, of course, a transliterated word for a European goddess of fertility or goddess of spring.  This is the season of transformation, of change from what appears dead to the warmth and vitality of spring.  We again see the theme of life, death, and renewal.  What is it about this process that is so important that we come to include it in our myths and religions?

Crestwell provides this explanation:

Perhaps the idea comes to us naturally and biologically.   We live on an ever changing planet.  Gaia, mother earth, is giving birth, and then shedding her skin, in a sense—dying and being reborn—everyday, every year, every second…  We watch the seasons change—the flowers come and go.  We can look at BUG and animal life and we can look at our own lives and see the change process over and over and over—it is continuous…  The process communicates to us intuitively that life is cyclical and ongoing—seemingly eternal (the process)…  Perhaps our mythologies are a natural extension of our oneness with this planet.  Life—death—and resurrection is exactly what happens to the earth and to us.  We are homoousian (of the same substance) as mother earth.  Perhaps humans are structured out to naturally to follow the self-regulatory processes of Gaia and our mythologies help us deal with the process and in fact have developed as a result of the process? 

Perhaps our mythologies are there to help us let go of the old, so that new life can come forth.  And if this is the case, we can look to that Christian Easter story – for one more bit of wisdom.  It seems that Jesus himself didn’t want to let go.  He pled with his heavenly Father to let the cup pass from him.  But he also said, “not my will but thine.”  My own theology doesn’t include a heavenly Father.  But it does include a world of nature which by follows a rhythm in which the old die and new life comes.  And sometimes I have to let go.  I have to say, “Not my will – but thine.”  In an earlier sermon that I’ve done about the resurrection, I shared how I had to let my identity as a married woman die back in 1998, so that Easter would come for me.  (I also had to let go of a lot of emotional baggage that was connected to that relationship.)  And more recently, I’ve also had to let go of my long time identity as a college professor and teacher, so that I could be here in this pulpit today.  I let go of my dad last September and since that time have had a new a deeper relationship with my brother who has become the main Altman man in my life.  Sometimes when some aspect of our life or in our life dies, it’s not easy to see how new life will come.  We grieve what is lost – and rightly so.  But still we need to let it go. 

The poet Mary Oliver wrote:

To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

Do you have aspects of your own life that need to die?  Do you need to let go of something?  It’s okay, you can let it go.

The Easter story in all of it’s forms – both supernatural and natural, has the promise of new life.  We just have to be ready and willing to let the old go. 

And when my own life is near it’s end, I do so hope that I’m ready to let it go as well.  Not that I – Jane Page – will resurrect.  But there will be new life – and hopefully my having been here will provide some preparation for it.  That’s one reason this fellowship is so important to me.  I come here and get a good dose of that Easter Tonic that I talked about at the beginning of this sermon.  I’m renewed and rejuvenated to work hard to serve others in this world.  I hope you will all come often for that wonderful renewal and blessing.  This fellowship can help us as we do let go of the aspects of our lives that need to die and as we are renewed to prepare for the new life that comes. 

And Easter will come, again and again!  Hallelujah, Blessed Be and Amen!

 

Copyright 2007; Jane A. Page

Tending the Flame

March 18

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro

 

 

This past winter, it actually got cold enough in Statesboro to enjoy a fire in our fireplace at home.  My partner Greg teaches some nights – and during that cold snap, he would sometimes build a fire for me before he went back to Georgia Southern.  (He probably was hoping to warm up my mood before he got back home.)  Anyway – the first time he did that, he was looking forward to coming back home and sitting in front of those wonderful warm flames with me.  But alas, while he was gone, I ended up working on my computer and got “in the zone” while writing a sermon or something – and when he got home, the flame was gone – at least the one in the fireplace.  He did a good job starting the fire.  But the flame was not tended – and went out. 

 

Tending the Flame

I chose “Tending the Flame” for this sermon topic and recommended that phrase for our Canvass theme because I thought it would fit well with the other metaphors and symbols that we have here at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.  Like most other UU churches, we’ve adopted the flaming chalice as our symbol and begin each service by lighting that chalice.  We also use “light” and “fire” as metaphors when we talk about our faith.  We hear words like “the light of truth” and “the fire of commitment” and “the warmth of community.”  And we are not alone.  Fire has been an important symbol of the sacred from time in memoriam.  Moses encountered God in a flaming bush and many religions use fire or light in their services.  Fire was so very important to primitive man and flame tending was often a holy position. Perhaps for all of these reasons, these words caught my attention.  Maybe I also chose this theme because of my own experiences with flame tending.

 

Now flame tending – whether talking of real flames or those metaphorical ones – requires much more than sitting and looking at it.  There are things you can do to make your flame burn brighter and keep in burning. 

 

So what’s the best way to tend a Flame!  I grew up here in South Georgia in a home with a non-functioning fire place – so it’s not something that I needed to learn to do to survive.  But I always ready to learn something new – so I went to what I hope is a trusted source for my information:  www.hearth.com

They offer some tips for those who tend the fires and those tips may have some truths for those of us who are tending our Fellowship Flame.

 

First, these experts say to make sure you have good wood to keep your fire going well.  And they advise that this wood be of mixed sizes and types.  Also they advise that you keep plenty of kindling and small chips on hand. 

 

So what can we learn about this.  The wood is the fuel for the fire.  And the fuel for our fire includes our own talents, skills, financial resources, and time.  Now just as the wood needs to be good seasoned wood, we need to use the best of our personal resources for our flame.  And we need diversity in our fuel.  I think we have a good deal of that already; but certainly we can be looking for new chips, and kindling, and logs to add.  Some of these can come from what we already have stored up somewhere – and just haven’t shared, and some can come from what new folks may bring.  So #1 is Good Wood! Let’s make sure we make that available.

 

Second.  – And this is a direct quote — “Fire needs a “critical mass” in order to burn well.”  Basically the experts say that one log sitting in a stove or fireplace won’t do it.  You have to establish a good bed of red-hot embers to achieve a good burn.  Folks – those of us sitting in this room today as well as our other regular folks need to produce that red hot passion.  And I think we can.

Third.  – The experts say that a good Flame means a good Fire – Quote – “Much of the heat from wood is in the form of the gases we know as smoke. If you burn your stove improperly, lots of unburnt smoke will escape up the chimney and cause excess creosote (tar) formation on your chimney and also pollute the great outdoors. A proper fire BURNS this smoke. In general you should always see a flame on your fire. This is a simple gauge of whether you are burning properly. A smoky fire is a dirty and inefficient one!  Now, sometimes we may feel like we are “working” and “giving” – but we may end up producing smoke rather than a good flame.  That’s why planning is so important – and yet being flexible and changing your plans when you see that your efforts end up being a lot of smoke with no fire. 

Now, how do we do that?  The fourth hint given by the flame experts is an important one.  Quote – “Leave some space between the wood.”  Yep – Our flame needs some fresh air, some good oxygen. When we get a little too cozy with our own little groups – and make no space for new folks – then we are likely to end up with a poor UU flame.  We need fresh air and we need to mix things up occasionally.  The experts say that “cris-crossing your wood or placing odd-shaped pieces in the fire help the airflow through your stove or fireplace.  We have a faith and a church that we consider to be “open” not closed; and hopefully that openness will keep new fresh ideas blowing through.

And Fifth – Fire Tenders need to make sure there is a Good Draft.  If you have poor chimney suction, or an improper installation, your efforts will be in vain.   Now, we all love the comfort and security we feel in this safe sanctuary.  But if we have no opening back out into the world for our faith, then our fire will smolder.  And I think this has been a major problem for our faith tradition. 

No one encouraged me to do a sermon related to our canvass efforts this year.  And in fact, perhaps you would have preferred not to have one.  But I felt a true sense of responsibility to do it anyway.  And yet, I’ve struggled with it.  Perhaps because I hated those “stewardship” sermons that the pastor provided each year in the Southern Baptist church where I spent most of my life.  They were usually pretty boring – or at least that’s the way I perceived them to be.  Maybe I just was not in a state of acceptance to what they were saying.  Perhaps I was having a difficult time with the idea of giving more to a religious organization where my ideas, beliefs, and even gender were rejected or diminished. 

 

And maybe that’s why I have wanted to give since I’ve been in this fellowship.  I wanted to share my time, my talents, and my financial resources with this welcoming group of folks.  Because I thought that this was not only a place that was nurturing to me personally – but this is a place where my efforts and resources can combine with others to make a difference – to make the world a better place.  Now that sounds kind of sappy, I know.  But I really believe it. 

 

One of the Bible readings that I used to hear on stewardship Sunday was from Matthew, Chapter 6.  In this passage, Jesus is teaching his followers about the giving of alms.  He says:

 

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal —  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 

Now, Jesus and his followers shared a theology regarding life after death that may be different from mine or yours.  But regardless of your views of the afterlife, there is something to be learned in this lesson from this revered rabbi.  Jesus said:  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 

 

This was Jesus’ way of saying – if you care about something, you’ll put your treasure there – your treasures of money and time and energy.  Certainly those of us that have close family members with needs know this – especially if these are children or old folks who have a hard time doing for themselves.  We care for them and we are committed to them – and our treasure will be there. 

 

If you look at my Credit Card Bill to see where my money goes, you may think I’m most committed to eating.  But you know – the joy I have in eating out is usually when I can eat out and enjoy the company of others – like when we were at the winery the other night.  If I were at home by myself, there’s no way that I would want to spend that on some fruit and cheese and wine.  But in that setting – with you folks – and that glorious sunset, well, as the credit card commercial says – that’s priceless. 

 

And indeed, what we have here in this fellowship is priceless too!  And this is the time of year that we seriously consider our own commitment to this priceless community. 

 

Now, like many churches, we tend to have a central core of folks here who are tending the fire.  And we praise and honor those folks because they are doing a wonderful job with their contributions of time, energy, talents, and financial resources.  But like the chickens in our children’s story*, for them to retain their enthusiasm, they need others to pitch in and tend this wonderful flame of love as well.  And that core group also has to realize that other flame tenders may use different tools or different methods – and be okay with that.  The diverse wood in the fire makes it better.  And the breath of fresh air generates a brighter flame. 

 

Our special canvass day is not until April 1 and you’ll be hearing more about that.  Marky will be sending a special edition newsletter to you and I encourage you to read it.  It not only shares with you about this special event, there is an explanation of our proposed budget and our needs for your time, energy, and talents as well.  You will also be receiving at the April 1 event a brochure with UUA’s suggested giving guide.  This is simply for your own purposes.  But I think it’s helpful.  There is no pressure on anyone to give at any particular level.  Only you know your own circumstances.  But – for example, someone like me should be giving at least the proportion of my income indicated for the Visionary level.  Now, for me to do that, I’m going to need to make a bigger commitment.  I can do that and I want to do that.  We are also going to be canvassing you to find out where your interests and talents are – because folks – we can use them – and believe me, if we all do this together, we’ll be like that barnyard in the children’s story—full of the good bread of life and sharing with others.

 

I’m feeling a little like that Southern evangelist who said to his flock:

‘Brothers and sisters, there’s work to be done. Great good to be got. But first we got to take that first little step. And then the second. Then we got to walk together, and not grow weary.’
‘Amen,’ said the congregation. “ Now
, every time the congregation says, ‘Amen’ in this story, it would help if you all would offer an ‘Amen.’
‘We got to run together, and not grow faint.’
‘Amen.
’ (The congregation responds, ‘Amen.’)
‘We got to spread our wings like eagles and fly!’
‘Amen.’ (
The congregation responds, ‘Amen.’)
‘But’
, said the preacher, ‘we all know today it takes money to fly!’
There were a few scattered ‘Amens’, but mostly silence. And then a voice piped up from the back, ‘Then let’s just walk, preacher!’

I hope that’s not the reaction here.  We may not be ready to fly either – but we can certainly step up the pace and walk or run or dance deliberately together.

As Rev. Hilary Landau Krivchenia told her UU congregation:

We, at this church do not need to sally forth. 

 

(The following has been paraphrased and modified from a sermon by Krivchenia)

 

We are bearers of a free religious voice in a time of the narrowing of minds, we are faithful to diversity in a time of growing intolerance, we reason despite reaction and panic, we honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person when that might be too easily sacrificed.  And we cherish the wonderful web of life!

 

When you commit your time and money, this is what you commit to – this harbor of peace and freedom, of spirit and reason, of knowledge and wisdom.

 

These are the treasures, which we hold in trust for a world limited in vision.  This is our fire – inherited from many generations and places.  This chalice is a symbol of the illumination we find and create here.  But how committed to this are we to this faith?

 

In proportion with our means, we should invest in the world we hope to see – for we can build it together – as long as we make a good place for this voice, as long as we spread our inclusive vision, and teach our reasoning word.  We can make a difference.

 

As Unitarian Universalists, we are the rich inheritors of generations of free thought – we are the ancestors of the future.  Our flame is precious beyond count.  Therefore give your time and resources in generous faith to the tending of this flame – to these principles – to this congregation – to this community – and this world which so truly needs your gifts.

 

May It Be So!

(pause)

Now, who will give serious consideration to their commitment of time and money to this wonderful congregation?  (Hold up sign “I Will” – connects to previous Children’s Story – see below)

 

*Accompanying Story for All Ages:  The Little Red Hen and Her Friends (A modification of the traditional “Little Red Hen” story).  See Below.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 The Little Red Hen and Her Friends

Note:  Children and adults will respond as ducks, cats, and dogs with “Not I” or “I Will” cards when they are held up by the reader.  The “Not I” card includes a frown face to help non-readers while the “I Will” card includes a smiley face.

One day as the Little Red Hen, the medium sized White Hen, and the Big Brown Rooster were scratching in the field, they found some grains of wheat.

“This wheat should be planted,” the Little Red Hen said. And the other chickens agreed.  “Let’s see who will help,” she said.  And they went to the barnyard with the wheat.

 

The Little Red Hen (who was the talkative one) said: “Who will help plant this wheat?”

The ducks all said, “Not I.”

The cats all said, “Not I.”

And the dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the Medium sized white hen and the big brown rooster planted the wheat.

Soon the wheat grew to be tall and yellow.

“The wheat is ripe,” said the Little Red Hen. “Who will help cut the wheat?”

The Ducks all said, “Not I.”

The cats all said, “Not I.”

The dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the white hen and the brown rooster cut the wheat.

When the wheat was cut, the Little Red Hen said, “Who will help thresh the wheat?”

The Ducks all said, “Not I.”

The Cats all said, “Not I.”

And the Dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the white hen and the brown rooster threshed the wheat.

When the wheat was threshed, the Little Red Hen said, “Who will help take this wheat to the mill?”

The Ducks all said, “Not I.”

The Cats all said, “Not I.”

And the Dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the white hen and the brown rooster took the wheat to the meal.

They took the wheat to the mill and had it ground into flour. Then the Little Red Hen said, “Who will help make this flour into bread?”

The Ducks all said, “Not I.”

The Cats all said, “Not I.”

And the Dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then I guess we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the white hen and the brown rooster made the bread and baked the bread.  Then the Little Red Hen said, “Now – who will eat this bread?”

The Ducks all said, “I will.”

The Cats all said, “I will.”

And the Dogs all said, “I will.”

“Hmm” said the Little Red Hen. “You did not help us plant the wheat or cut the wheat or thresh it or take it to the mill or make the bread.  Perhaps we should not share with you.”  But she talked it over with the white hen and brown rooster and said.  We are very tired from all of this work we have done – and perhaps that is why we did not feel like sharing.  But we will share with you this time.  And she cut the break into little pieces so that everyone had some.  And it was SO good.  And they all said it was good and wanted more.  The Little Red Hen said, “We have no more bread – but we saved some of the grains of wheat when we threshed it so that we could plant more!  But we chickens are rather tired – so I’m not sure who will help plant the wheat and cut it and thresh it and take it to the mill to be ground into flour and bake the bread.

Then, the Ducks all said, “I will.”

The Cats all said, “I will.”

And the Dogs all said, “I will.”

And all of the animals helped out with all of the work.  And they found out that the Ducks were very good at planting because they could use their flat web feet to pat the grain into the ground.  And they were all good at cutting – and the cats were especially good at threshing with their claws so they did most of that – and the dogs carried it to the mill – and of course the chickens were the experienced bakers and did most of that.  And they had a great abundance of bread – so much that they shared it with the goats and the turkeys.  And they all were proud of their good work – and full – and happy!

May it be so with us all!

Wake, Now My Senses:  The Embodiment of Spirituality

March 4

Rev. Jane Page

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro

 

I went to two funerals last month.  Both of the people that died were folks that I had known pretty well.  But the ministers conducting the services must have picked up the wrong files because they weren’t sharing anything that I recognized about my friend and my aunt.  I did hear a lot, though, about the salvation of their souls while we looked at the boxes holding their bodies.  These two Baptist minister basically shared the same theology that has been passed down through the Christian church as well as some other religions.  And that is that the body and soul are two separate entities.

 

This concept became more widespread with Christianity but it wasn’t created by Christianity.  Although we may find hints of it in even older texts, the idea – known as dualism, got a powerful endorsement from the Greek philosopher Plato.   Most of the folks before Plato’s time did not separate the spiritual from the physical.  Indeed spirits or souls were thought to not only dwell in living things, but also in inanimate aspects of the world. 

 

But Plato saw the soul as separate from both the body and the mind.  For Plato, the soul is the directing force. Plato compares this with a charioteer – the soul tries to guide the mind and body together like two horses rather than allowing them to contradict and be pulled in opposite directions.

 

According to Plato, most people never achieve this direction from their souls and allow their lives to be dominated by physical needs and sense pleasures.

 

St. Paul of Taursus was an educated man and was heavily influenced by these ideas and struggled with his attempts to deny the body.  Listen to this passage from Romans 7.  Paul writes:

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do  – not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Some say that Paul’s view of the soul was dependent upon his audience.  The letter to the Hebrews has a view of the soul more in line with the Jewish view.  But then most scholars think that Paul didn’t write that letter anyway. 

 

In any case, — what did the Jews of the time believe about body and soul?

 

The Jews were actually divided on the idea of an afterlife – with the Pharisees believing in the resurrection of the dead and the Sadduccees rejecting it.  But those who did believe in life after death, envisioned a resurrection of the physical body – not a separate soul.  And Christian texts also proclaim that the graves will be open and the bodies will rise. 

 

I had a great aunt that did not want a slab over her grave because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to break through the concrete on resurrection day. 

 

Christians today see the differing texts as a paradox because they accept Paul’s and Augustine’s defense of dualism, yet have to deal with these texts that connect the soul with the body.  For example, listen to this description of the aftermath of the crucifixion from Matthew 27.

 

And, behold, the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

 

Plus there is the conflicting text regarding when the soul is raised to heaven.  Most new testament writing seems to support “end of the world as we know it” time – while ministers seeking to assure family members that their loved ones are in heaven awaiting their arrival point to Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross – “Today thou will be with me in Paradise.” 

 

The idea of a resurrection of the physical body lost more ground as folks began to have a better understanding of the scientific implications of the physical death.  So the idea of a separate soul became even more prevalent. 

 

Additionally, many viewed the body as a temple or house for the holy spirit and had biblical support from Paul for that view as well. 

 

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes:  “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”

 

This concept as body as temple or house is also used by other world religions.

 

For example, Hindu scriptures teach that an individual is essentially the spirit clothed in a physical body. 

 

It was very difficult for me to get a clear view on many religions related to this – for like Christianity, there were varying interpretations and ideas.  In any case – at least for a couple of millennia, the dualistic concept separating the body and soul has prevailed – at least in the so-called “civilized” world.   

 

What I’m reading from many, though, is a turning to a more holistic view of body and soul.  Indeed spirituality is becoming more embodied. 

 

Even the Catholic Church renounced many of the beliefs of earlier theologians on this subject. 

 

Pope John Paul II specifically rejected dualistic thought in his teachings during the 1970s.  In fact, he termed dualistic anthropology as supporting a “culture of death.”  His theology of the body supported the view that the body and soul were unified.  Of course he went on to use this theology to support his views regarding such things as abortion, capital punishment, sexual abstinence, euthanasia, and many more topics.  And, indeed, recognizing the body as inherently a person did provide more support to the traditional practices of Catholicism.

 

Well – enough of theological views.  What do scientists and philosophers have to say about all of this?

 

Historically – these folks were also rather dualistic – but usually talked of mind and matter. 

Michael McGee writes:

Science began seeing the body as a machine when the 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes (day cart) declared, “I think, therefore I am.”  Descartes viewed nature as being divided into two separate and independent realms, that of the mind mind that of matter. This “Cartesian” division allowed theologians and scientists to perceive the material world as a multitude of different objects assembled into a huge machine.    

If Descartes would have said, “I breathe, therefore I am,” or “I make love, therefore I am” or “I chew gum, therefore I am,” we would have a much saner view of our bodies and the world.  Instead, Western humanity equates our identity with the mind instead of with our whole organism, giving us the illusion that we are isolated egos existing “inside” our bodies.

This inner fragmentation causes people to feel separate from each other, our environment, and even ourselves, making it far too easy to rationalize the exploitation of whoever or whatever may get in our way.

Now today’s scientists are leaning a lot more toward many refer to as the identity theory of the mind.  The identity theory of mind holds that states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain.  Now the words mind and brain are not used interchangeably – but they are bound together.  I became a witness to this as I slowly lost my dad over the last few years.   He had Alzheimer’s disease and as his brain cells quit working properly – my dad – the person that I had known as J.G. Altman – went away.  Before he breathed his last breath, he was basically all gone.  It was sort of like an hour glass running out.  And in the end – when only a little of the sand was left – when only a little of his brain was functioning – the parts that contained the personality – were gone.  Now I still loved him and I still sat beside him and held his hand – but it was sort of like looking at your pictures or your videos of vacations – you’re experiencing a likeness that reminds you of your vacation – but you’re not inParis anymore – but maybe – Paris is in you.

I’m trying to take some of these ideas and see them through a more spiritual lens.  Our own Dee Liston has made contributions to this in her research. Dee has been making attempts for many years in her research to help folks “get over” Cartesian ways of thinking about the mind and brain – or the mind/brain as she has called it.  She suggests that we use the metaphors provided by Quantum physics to help us move away from this prison of duality and linear thought.  I know very little about Quantum physics.  But I’ve read enough of Dee’s work to kind of “catch” her drift about this.  However, I don’t have enough of the understanding to share that with you today and suggested to her that we might just need to have her do a program about this some time.  In the meantime, she suggested that Rumi’s poetry may open a door for many of us into the spirituality that supports this non-dualistic way of perceiving ourselves and the world.   So here’s one about opening a door.

Rumi writes:

One went to the door of the Beloved and

knocked. A voice asked, ‘Who is there?’

He answered, ‘It is I.’

 

The voice said, ‘There is no room for Me and Thee.’

The door was shut.

 

After a year of solitude and deprivation he returned and knocked.

A voice from within asked, ‘Who is there?’

The man said, ‘It is Thee.’

The door was opened for him.

So my readings of philosophy, theology, and science as well as my experiences with my dad and others have supported my own desire to reject or ignore dualistic thought and embrace a more holistic view of spirituality. 

Well – that’s my ministerial explanation.

The Real truth is this:  My supreme spiritual experiences are ones in which I truly open my total body to awareness – awareness of whatever.  When I listen intently to the singing of the fellowship singers during our offertory, when I move in the ocean water and feel the waves around me and smell the salt air, when I embrace those that I love and those that I need to love, when I quench my thirst with cool water or a glorious wine, when I dance to the beat of womenspirit drumming, when I feel my eyes well up with tears at the end of an old movie, and when I open my senses to awaken to pain I may be having and pay attention to it and when I open my senses to all the joy of life itself – Oh God!

Unitarian poet Walt Whitman also had a real appreciation for the body.  I invite you to listen to this excerpt from his poem “I Sing the Body Electric.” 

O my Body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you;

I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the Soul, (and that they are the Soul;)

I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems—and that they are poems,

Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems; Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,

Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,

Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,

Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,

Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,

Whitman’s poem continues with poetic identification of every nook and cranny inside and out of the body – both the male and female body.  And as the reader explores the wonderful body with the poet, you know it. 

He ends with these lines –

O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul,

O I say now these are the Soul!

How we envision the body is vital.  The writer, Eduardo Galeano gives us these choices:

“The Church says: The body is a sin.

Science says: The body is a machine.

Advertising says: The body is a business.

The body says: I am a fiesta.”

A fiesta is a celebration!  And many world religions are now celebrating the body as holy and sacred.

As Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat point out in their book, Spiritual Literacy, “Jews regard the body and soul as being inextricably linked, and Christians emphasize the incarnation of the sacred in human flesh.  Hindus celebrate the body as a vessel for salvation, while both Buddhists and Taoists practice healing arts which attend to the breath and energy lines in the body.  Native Americans and some primal religions consider the body’s movement in dance to be a form of prayer.”

And so let us as Unitarian Universalists find joy and comfort in our bodies and celebrate the spirit embodied within us.  Sometimes when we’ve been taught to hate our own bodies or think of them as only vehicles for our true selves, it’s hard to open up to the full awareness of our body and soul enjoined together.  For some, it might be a little awkward or scary to try things like healing touch.  But I encourage you to be patient with yourselves while encouraging yourself to be open to fully experiences life with the bodies that are so much a part of our souls.  And your soul will unfurl its wings.  I know this rose will open. 

Our fellowship singers will share a song of encouragement with us as we pass our offering baskets this morning.  We invite you to give your gifts in support of our shared ministry here at the UnitarianUniversalist Fellowship of Statesboro.  And may your soul be blessed.

If I Had a Hammer!

February 4, 2007

The Rev. Jane Page

 

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land.

 

 

I was fortunate enough to hear Pete Singer sing this and other songs written by him at General Assembly in 2005.  Yes, Pete is a Unitarian Universalist and sings his faith.   Although I had heard and sung the song, “If I had a hammer” for most of my life – I didn’t know much about the history of this song.  In preparation for sharing with you today, I found out some interesting information about this song and its creators, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays.    It was written in 1949 – one year before I was born.  The two collaborated on it by passing a napkin back and forth at a meeting they were attending.  It became the first song recorded by Seeger’s group, The Weavers.  The songwriters call it “A Collectors Item” – because only collector’s bought it. 

 

It seems that this song was extremely controversial!  Why was this simple song of justice, freedom, and love, controversial? 

 

According to Seeger:

 

 “In 1949 only ‘Commies’ used words like ‘peace’ and ‘freedom’. … The message was that we have got tools and that we are going to succeed. This is what a lot of spirituals say. We will overcome. I have a hammer. […] No one could take these away.”  (end quote)

It was becoming dangerous to be a performer if you were suspected of having left-wing views and in the fall of 1949, Seeger faced his most dangerous concert of all. The venue was Peekskill, New York State, where on September 4, 1949, Pete appeared at an outdoor show that turned into one of the most terrifying and violent events in the history of pop music.

The concert had been planned for the previous month, when it was advertised in a Communist newspaper, but crowds had blocked the roads, beaten up some of the organizers, and it had to be called off. But the performers and the organizers decided that the show should still be held – this time on Labor Day. Supporters provided protection around the site, and the performance actually went ahead. And Pete Seeger sang “If I Had A Hammer.”

Only when the concert was over did the trouble really start. The performers were ambushed as they left the show by residents of the community who had been whipped up into an anti-Communist rage. Seeger escaped, covered in glass, his car dented with rocks.

The next year when the Weavers were temporarily on the charts, their manager wouldn’t let them sing the hammer song in concerts.  Lee Hays reported that the manager said, “I’m trying to cool down the blacklisters; that song would encourage them.”  So they stuck to their less controversial songs like “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” and “Goodnight Irene.”

During the communist witch-hunts of the early Fifties, however, the Weavers were blacklisted, resulting in canceled concert dates and the loss of their recording contract with Decca Records. Under congressional subpoena to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Seeger asserted his Fifth Amendment rights, scolding the committee, “I am not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or my religious beliefs, or how I voted in any election or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked.” Unlike many entertainers and writers who careers were ruined in the McCarthy era, Seeger stood his ground and persevered – even though he was sent to jail, albeit briefly, for defending his beliefs. (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Website)

Now the version of “If I Had a Hammer” that is most familiar to us was recorded in 1962 by Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Seeger says that they changed the melody a little – but, the interesting thing is that you can sing both melodies together and they harmonize.  Their recorded version also includes the change made in 1952 in the lyrics for the song.  It was a young radical activist, Libby Frank, in 1952 who insisted on singing “my brothers and my sisters” instead of “all of my brothers”. Lee Hays resisted the change at first. He said:  “It doesn’t ripple off the tongue as well.   How about ‘all of my siblings’?” He finally gave in. And the version we all sing now includes “my brothers and my sisters” – and it ripples off the tongue just fine! 

The song became popular as both a Civil Rights song and an Anti-war song in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  And it’s reportedly gaining new life today in Iraq as soldiers there attempt to find creative ways to speak out against the war. 

The song is used for so many progressive causes, not only because of its roots with left leaning personalities, but also because of the message that was initially intended.  And that message is that if we have the tools – and we do – we should use them for justice, freedom, and love. 

One man found a way to put that message in a more literal context.  Millard Fuller, originally from Alabama, was one of these “go-getter” young men that made money fast.  While still in college, he and a friend started a marketing firm and he had made a million dollars by the time he was 29.  But as his business prospered, his personal life began to fall apart and he and his wife were headed for divorce.  This personal crisis led him to rethink how he was living his life.

This soul-searching led to reconciliation with his wife and to a renewal of his Christian commitment.  The Fullers then took a drastic step, a “leap of faith,” if you will: They sold all of their possessions, gave the money to the poor and began searching for a new focus for their lives. This search led them to (Koinonia Farm, a Christian community located near Americus, Ga., where people were looking for practical ways to apply the teachings of Jesus Christ.

With Koinonia founder Clarence Jordan and a few others, the (Milton and Linda) Fuller initiated several partnership enterprises, including a ministry in housing. They built modest houses for their rural southwest Georgia neighbors on a no-profit, no-interest basis, thus making homes affordable to families with low incomes.

Homeowner families were expected to invest their own labor into the building of their home and the houses of other families. This participation reduced the cost of the house, increased the pride of ownership and fostered the development of positive relationships between neighbors. Money from mortgage payments went into a revolving fund, enabling the building of even more homes.

So the seed for Habitat for Humanity was planted in rural southwest Georgia in the early and mid 70’s.  Now the location was important – because that area is the home for the man that would become our President in 1976.  So that seed that was planted by the Fullers got a really good dose of fertilizer with the involvement of Jimmy Carter.  With the publicity provided by President Carter’s participation, Habitat found more supporters and has been growing ever since.  According to their website, Habitat International has built more than 200,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1,000,000 people in more than 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter.

Now you all may or may not have heard that the Fullers are no longer with Habitat.  As the organization grew, there were more and more disagreements between Millard Fuller and the board of directors. Although some charges of sexual harassment by female employees didn’t help the situation, those were not the primary problems.  Jimmy Carter attempted to ameliorate the controversy and was able to negotiate an arrangement in which Fuller would stay on as the Founder /President with duties that were primarily related to fund-raising.  However, because he continually spoke out openly against the board in this role, they actually fired Fullard and his wife, Linda in 2005.  Now this information is not on Habitat’s official website.  The website if very positive about its founder and just indicates that he was the president till 2005.  I had to do some more research to find out what happened.  In any case, the Fullers have since started a new housing program called Fuller Houses.  They don’t see this as competing with Habitat and still are encouraged with the growth of the seed they planted.  But they wanted to continue their work and they are doing it with a new organization. 

Although the Habitat organization has grown tremendously, the basic philosophy begun by Fuller has not changed.  And this includes something called, The Theology of the Hammer!  When I first proposed that we join with the Presbyterians to build this house, one of our board members pointed out that Habitat was a Christian organization.  And many of us do not share a traditional Christian theology.  And that is true.  But Habitat for Humanity has adopted – the theology of the hammer.  To provide more understanding of this, I’m going to quote from a section of their website entitled, Building Beyond our Differences – The Theology of the Hammer. 

Habitat for Humanity International is a Christian ministry that welcomes everyone – regardless of religious preference – to share our vision of a world without poverty housing. Habitat was founded with the idea of following Jesus’ example of caring and compassion for all people. Therefore, Habitat stresses that everyone is welcome to participate and build houses with people in need….  Habitat provides an opportunity for people to put their faith and love into action, bringing diverse groups of people together to make affordable housing and better communities a reality for everyone.

Although they call their economic philosophy, “the Economics of Jesus,” they are actually pulling from Jewish and Islamic teachings regarding “no interest” loans to those in need and they quote Hebrew scripture as their source of inspiration for this. 

Habitat is finding that their Interfaith projects can build more than houses – they can build respect and good will.  For example, “The Holy Toledo Build” in Ohio brought together Christians, Jews and Muslims to build a home, but the result was a symbolic gesture that broke down many barriers and led to the creation of new and powerful friendships.

Millard Fuller said that building relationships among people of different faiths creates a certain tension, “but it is a healthy tension that we can live with and be strengthened by.   We don’t have to quit being a Christian ministry in order to invite our Muslim friends and our Jewish friends or people of other persuasions to be full participants in this work. You don’t have to exclude Jesus to include others,” he proclaims.

Habitat is a partnership founded on common ground — bridging theological differences by putting love into action. (And) Everyone can use the hammer as an instrument to manifest (divine) love.

Of course, building houses takes more than a labor of love.  Habitat requires their partners to provide funding for materials as well.  We are fortunate that most of the start-up funds for this house were provided through a memorial gift by the JD and Doty Dunn who have been active supporters for Habitat for some time.  But we still need to raise additional funds and we want to do our part in that effort. 

And we need YOU! 

At the break we hope that you will stop by the table in the back and do at least one of the following.  (1) – bye your own tickets!  You don’t want to miss this!  (2) – sign out an envelope of tickets to sell to your family and friends.  You can return those you don’t sell – but it’s certainly worth a try.  Read my Ministerial Muusings in this month’s newsletter for some good reasons to do this.  Now if you don’t like to sell tickets – you can do what some of us are doing, and that is to buy them and give them away to your family and friends.  And (3) – sign up to help us.   You can help us with art projects for the children, cleaning up, or any of a number of opportunities.  And none of these require a hammer.  THIS TIME. 

I recently found out the date when we DO need those hammers.  I received the latest edition of the Bulloch County Habitat for Humanity newsletter on Friday with the news that the house co-sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has a tentative start date of March 2.    If you haven’t already signed your name on a hammer indicating that you will help in some way – whether it’s fundraising, helping with a lunch for workers, or actually hammering away on some Spring Saturday, please do so!

YEP!

(Sing) If I had a hammer, I’d tell you what I’d do.  I’d hammer in good lovin’ and I’d work on a building too!   (Invite congregation to join in chorus of “I’m workin’ on a building”)

 

 

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