Standing On The Side Of Love In Statesboro, Georgia

Archive for October, 2012

Can You Say ATONEMENT? – Given September 23, 2007

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 – Given September 9, 2007

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 – Given April 15, 2007

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 (Given April 8, 2007)

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 – Given March 18, 2007

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 – Given March 4, 2007

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 – Given February 4, 2007

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”)

 

 

A Greener Faith – Given January 28, 2007

A Greener Faith

The Rev. Jane Altman Page

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro

January 28, 2007

 

 

Not too long ago, I was the guest minister at another Unitarian Universalist church.  During the Story for All Ages, I shared with them the story of the stars being our ancestors. Then I did the little ritual than I’ve done here before where I anoint the children and adults if they like – with some glittering stardust on the tops of their hands.  This particular church had a scientist in the congregation who spoke up during our talkback segment.  She said that although I was correct in indicating that the various elements that made up our bodies and other things on the earth were created by dying starts, she really didn’t like her science being mixed up with her religion.  She preferred to keep them separate.   She was concerned that using our scientific knowledge in the mythologies that we share with children and others at church would be confusing.  I respect her opinion, but I do, indeed disagree.  Our world desperately needs for science to inform our faith traditions and for our faith traditions to wake up and join together with others in saving our earth.  Indeed we need greener faith traditions.  In the words of Gary Gardner of the Worldwatch Institute, we need to “invoke the spirit” in our quest for a sustainable world. 

 

Now for many years this did not happen, especially in conservative churches and faith traditions.   Bill Moyers discussed this in an interview related to his faith based series entitled, “Is God Green.”  He said,

 

The James Dobsons, the Pat Robertsons, the Jerry Falwells have demonized environmentalism as the work of Satan or Hollywood wackos or treehuggers. Orwell was right: you can change the language until you change behavior. By demonizing good, serious, sincere environmentalists, the political right and its religious allies were able to make it impossible for people in the pews, people in the churches, and people in the local congregations to hear environmentalists.

Perhaps this led to folks speaking out against efforts to minimize pollution.  For example, our former Vice President, Dan Quayle said,
“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”

But regardless of the efforts of some religious fundamentalists who may have been encouraged by folks like Karl Rove, during the 1990’s interactions between environmental and religious groups increased in frequency and importance and they have continued to increase.  Here are some examples on the global level.

            In their 1990 statement at the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders, 32 globally renowned scientists appealed to the world religious community “ to commit in word and deed, and boldly as is required, to preserve the environment of the Earth.”

            In 1994, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew began a series of shipboard symposia focusing on regional water-related environmental issues that included scientists, policymakers, journalists, and religious leaders.

In 1995, Prince Phillip hosted the leaders of nine world religions, along with secular leaders – to discuss implementation plans for religion based conservation projects.  The conference resulted in the alliance for Religions and Conservation.

            In 1998, under the leadership of the World Bank and the Archbishop of Canterbury, a collaborative initiative was undertaken between development institutions and nine world religions.  The initiative incorporates a spiritual voice into shaping the policies and practices of human development organizations.

            In 2000, more than 1000 religious leaders met at the United Nations and the environment was a major topic of discussion.  At this meeting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a new ethic of global stewardship. 

            And these worldwide efforts and voices have continued into this new millennium.  BUT, worldwide statements have not led most folks in America to changing policies and lifestyles.  And for the first part of this decade, our government seems to have led the way in retreating from environmental reform efforts.  Religious conservatives initially followed their leaders in dismissing issues related to global warming and other matters.  But something changed.  Many became concerned about this – so much so they began to wrestle with the idea that they were supporting an administration with such a poor record.  Here’s a quote from North Carolina pastor Joel Gillespie sharing his discomfort in 2004.  “I went into the voting booth on Election Day, and I wanted to vote for George W. Bush because he’s right on abortion, family values, gay marriage. But I had trouble pulling the lever, because he has a horrendous environmental record.”

In the fall of 2006, many folks no longer believed what they were being told by some conservative leaders and they did make that known with their votes.  Now while much of this change is attributed to their belief that they were duped into following blindly into a war, climate change and concerns related to energy needs have also gotten the attention of many Americans, including religious conservatives, especially in the aftermath of Katrina.  So they are starting to come on board.  And we, as Unitarian Universalists, should be ready to work in interfaith alliances with them in this effort.  However, we may take a lesson from one of Jesus’ teachings regarding these efforts. 

From the 7th chapter of Matthew – Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Recently our President Carol Simonson was helping me share about Unitarian Universalism at the Religious Awareness Fair at Georgia Southern.  And Carol shared with one of the inquirers something that is very true about us as Unitarian Universalists.  She said, “if you like to talk and have discussions, you will really enjoy being with us.”  She’s right – we do like to talk and have good discussions.  The old joke about this is that after you die you come to a fork in the road with one arrow pointing to heaven and another arrow pointing to a discussion group about heaven.  The discussion group, of course, if filled with Unitarian Universalists.  But we are less likely to be involved, as a congregation, with doing something about the concerns that we discuss. 

Now that does not mean that we are not active as individuals and as households.  Many in this congregation are environmentally conscious and take actions to minimize the harm they do to this earth.  I asked our members and friends to share some of what they were doing with me and seven of you responded.

Bob Doloff shared that he had joined and supports the Sierra Club in their efforts. His sharing that with me has renewed my interest in the possibility of us having a chapter here in Statesboro.  The Augusta chapter meets at the UU church and many of the UU members there are very active.  It’s one way that the church can work across lines with a more secular organization.  The Sierra Club has been willing to work with faith groups – even on a national and global level to pursue common goals. 

Carol Simonson shared how she has leaves and other organic matter shredded and recycled into the land rather than being picked up.  She also shared her recycling efforts with newspapers and items she takes with her to work to put in the recycling bins at Georgia Southern. 

My partner, Greg Brock, is a daily inspiration to me as he uses the Bulloch County recycling centers in every way possible.  He also walks or bikes to work at least one day a week, and uses online journals and newspapers rather than print editions if possible.  He also constantly reminds me to switch on only the lights that I really need and I’m doing better about that.

One of our new friends, Tracey Adams, is passionate about environmentalism.  Tracey has a child in diapers – cloth diapers – with environmentally friendly flushable inserts. These are special cloth diapers she orders via the internet that don’t take as much water to wash.  Her family also does all the traditional recycling efforts mentioned by others as well as composting and buying organic foods.

One of our members, Cynthia Frost, sent me a list that’s too long to share in its entirety.  I think Cynthia got a head start on all of this.  My sources tell me that Cynthia was a genuine hippie in her youth – and she’s continued the more positive aspects of hippiedom and added other environmentally friendly behaviors.  Here are a few of these:  hanging laundry out to dry and just fluffing it in the dryer, using canvass bags for shopping, keeping her thermostat adjusted to 78 in the summer and 68 in the winter, walking to work, shopping at 2ndhand stores, composting, and of course recycling – which she’s done for 30 years.  She also reports that she doesn’t use her oven in the summer – but instead uses a toaster oven on her back porch.  Well, Cynthia – I rarely use my oven in any season – but I have to admit, it’s not because I’m being environmentally aware.

Now Shari Barr was not a genuine hippie.  She was just a weekend hippie I believe!  Nevertheless, she certainly has tried to live her life in an environmentally friendly manner and she’s been an inspiration to me and others.  In addition to doing many of the things already mentioned, Shari shared ways that she keeps her older car running with less pollution – although she tries to use it less altogether by combining errands, etc.  She has also become more concerned for her fellow creatures.  She and Rick are trying to create a yard that is a friendlier habitat for bugs, birds, and squirrels and she keeps a small bag of dog food in the trunk of her car to feed to hungry strays she encounters.  Shari also tries to pass down these values to her grandchildren.  For example, John Paul and Gracie have a water bottle with their name on it in the refrigerator and use this when they are thirsty rather than every cup in the house. 

And then there’s Relinda Walker – what an inspiration she has been and continues to be to all of us.  Relinda not only does many of the things that I’ve mentioned, she’s really given her life to this.  She is not only an organic farmer, she teaches others how to transform their farming efforts.  And she’s helping our congregation in our efforts to buy and eat in ways that will make both us and our earth healthier. 

I’m sure there are others here today who could add to this list.  Indeed we can inspire each other. 

Now, I’ve been told that Unitarian Universalism is supposed to be a “guilt free” church.  So I’m not sharing what these folks are doing to make you or I feel guilty.  We are all at different points on this path and it’s not a race.  In fact, this is one area where we must cooperate – not compete.  If we fail to help each other and others in this world with these efforts, we all lose –especially our children, grandchildren, and future generations.   

Sometimes some of these things seem difficult.  But the more we do them, the easier it becomes – and the more joyful it becomes.  I’m preaching to myself here.  I’ll give you an example.  This past week I was with my four year old grandson Thomas in the grocery store.  Thomas is a beautiful child with beautiful smile that just captures your heart.  So in the grocery store – Thomas sees this display with all these little small plastic non-reusable bottles of colored sugar water.  And he says – Look Nana Jane – my favorite!  And they are on sale.  And he says they are his favorite.  And Nana Jane – inspired (not guilted) by you all – says, “No Thomas.  All those bottles create a lot of waste and the drink in them is not that good for you anyway.”  He had that sad little look on his face for a few seconds – but it went away. 

Yes, indeed, many folks in this congregation are continuing to try to “do right” in this area.  And we should be inspired when we come here to our faith community.  I believe we can do a better job as a congregation in these efforts.  And that’s why I’m bringing this message to you today with a proposal – because just talking about it without any structure for change, probably will not make that big of a difference. 

The folks at our national association realized this and have provided what I believe is a very good program to help congregations in their quest.  It’s called the Green Sanctuary Program.  The Green Sanctuary Program provides a framework for congregational study and reflection, plus individual and collective action for responding to that call.  It’s based on a process of theological reflection and spiritual growth, — of ongoing education and social activism.  Integrating all of these process steps into our programs can help us to insure success, not only in obtaining UUA’s Green Sanctuary certification, but also in maintaining an on-going commitment as a “lifetime” Green Sanctuary.  Shouldn’t the house where we worship be leading us in the right direction here.  Fortunately, when this building was built, you all were careful about considering environmental implications.  And those who work with the grounds have also been very considerate.  So we have a head start on this.  There is already much that we can “check off” because we are doing the right thing.  But having this program can help us reach to a higher potential as a congregation.  For example, we don’t use fair trade coffee at our break time.  That’s something that you would expect at most UU churches.  I brought this up once before and someone said, — well – it’s hard to find and you have to order it.  So, I’ve ordered the first case and it’s on the way.  And it wasn’t that hard to do. Similarly, it’s hard to find paper coffee cups that we would like to use for large functions.  But they can be ordered as well.

Following the Green Sanctuary Program can also prepare us as a congregation to work with others in interfaith efforts to make differences in our own community.  For example, I can envision a coalition of congregations pushing for the City of Statesboro to provide pickup for recycling. Many cities our size have that service and it greatly increases the numbers of folks who recycle.

 

If you have an interest in joining a group of folks to explore this “Green Sanctuary” program, email me or sign up on the sheet I have on the back table. And you can stay after the break and discuss this at talkback.  But let’s make this discussion more the “talking” that we UU’s are known for.  Let us invoke the spirit within each of us and in this congregation in our quest for a sustainable world. 

 

Indeed, we need to see the earth as sacred and holy and live our lives in response to that. 

When Moses encountered the holy in the burning bush, he heard the voice of God saying – Moses, you are on Holy Ground.  Take off your shoes.  Today we stand on holy ground,  Let us take off our shoes of destruction and walk lightly on this sacred earth.

 

Amen and Blessed Be.

 

 

 

 

Copyright Jane Altman Page, 2007

 

Just Living Simply – Given December 3, 2006

Just Living Simply

 

December 3, 2006

Jane Page

 

(With voice of evangelist)

Sisters and Brothers, it is GOOD that you have come today to this house of worship.  For the time is drawing nye — YES, the shoppocolypsee is coming!  If ye are not to be stricken down by the dreaded disease of Affluenza, if ye do not want to be doomed to the hell of clutter and waste, if – indeed ye have already overspent – ye must REPENT!!

And the people all said — AMEN.

 

Those of you that are teachers know that if you really want to learn something well, you should teach it.

 

Well, I’ve also found out as a minister – that if I really need to change something in my life, then I should preach it.

 

It’s hard to prepare a sermon on simplicity without taking a hard look at my own life and practices. 

 

So Greg’s station wagon has made more trips recently to the recycling center, the Goodwill store, and the Habitat Store. 

 

I’ve always lived a comparatively simple life.  My dad used to say — Jane gets everything she wants.  She just knows how much to want.  So I’ve been blessed that material stuff has never been something that really turned me on.  I’ve also inherited my grandmother’s frugality — at least when it comes to things for myself. 

 

However – Living Simply is not simply – Living Cheaply!!  In fact – I changed the title of this sermon after I started working on it to emphasize another aspect of Living Simply.  The title now is “Just Living Simply” with an emphasis on Just.  That word has a double meaning, of course.  And if you didn’t catch it at first – the Just in that phrase is the root word for justice.  And if you want to live “justly” as well as “simply” – it may cost more for some things – not less; and sometimes it’s more difficult to do.  But I’m committed to making an effort to move in that direction. 

 

This may seem like the wrong time of year to emphasize, “just living simply.”  The holiday season is a time when we are encouraged by the marketplace as well as friends and family to buy more, eat more, drink more, travel more, give more, live MORE .  Even the TV preachers are emphasizing how you can have a life of ABUNDANCE – just send them the “seed” and your wealth will multiply.  

 

How did we get to this point where our social, emotional, and even spiritual identity is so deeply interconnected with what we own and consume?    According to Duane Elgin (one of voluntary simplicity’s modern day gurus):

Since World War II, we’ve seen the most massive experiment that’s ever been undertaken in programming the psyche of a civilization. And it has worked. The advertising culture has succeeded in creating identity consumption — a sense that our meaning in life depends upon the significance of what we consume.

A retail analyst, Victor Lebow, who promoted consumption as necessary to our economy in the post-war period, was very clear about this. He said, “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”

(Elgin says) I think people are having a very tough time separating their sense of spiritual identity from their consumer identity. And, there’s a conscious blending of the two by advertisers to make it seem as though our spiritual or soulful significance is manifest in our consumption.

 

 

But most of us have already figured out that more is not necessarily better.  Not only do we have problems with the ethical dilemmas resulting from too much consumption – like what we are doing to our dear earth and other beings in the process – but we’ve also found out that having more does not mean being happier. 

 

Studies show that although most families today live in bigger houses, have more cars and more stuff than they did in the 1950’s, they are not any happier.  In fact, the added complexity of more stuff and more things to do has increased stress for many folks – especially during the holidays when we feel the need to do whatever it is necessary to please all the folks on our list.  So I thought it would be a GOOD time to focus on the simplicity movement and remind us that we do have alternatives.  When I chose this topic, I didn’t realize that we would have had several messages by our guests and own members which deal with some particular examples of living justly, compassionately, peacefully, and simply.  It does seem like our congregation – whether intentionally or not – has chosen to explore this lifestyle together and support one another in our efforts. 

 

Our Unitarian forefather – Henry David Thoreau – would say, “It’s about time.”  Of course, Thoreau was one of the first folks to discover and write about “voluntary simplicity” – although he didn’t call it that. Thoreau’s two-year experiment on Walden Pond led to his book initially entitled, “Life in the Woods.”  This extremely simple life had to end because of his increasing debt.  After that, he maintained what would perhaps be considered a more balanced simplicity. 

           

And of course there have been others through the years who have swum against the tide of greater and greater abundance and consumerism.  But the voluntary simplicity “movement” really revved up in the 70’s – lost some momentum in the materialistic 80’s, and regained some of it in the 90’s.  In this new millennium – especially after the jolt of September 11 and the loss of the idea that material wealth brings us real security, folks started to pay attention.   But it’s hard to maintain that attention in a world in which you are bombarded with advertising that has such strong pulls that you may be pulled into thinking a “want” is a “need” or even “an absolute necessity.” 

George Gerbner (professor of communications and founder of the Cultural Environment Movement) says that to control a nation, you don’t have to control its laws or its military, all you have to do is control who tells the nation its stories. Television tells most of the nation most of its stories most of the time.

And Elgin warns: 

If television is our social brain, then American television currently has the highest level of intelligence that beer and car commercials can buy. And this dumbing down of the U.S. public is happening at the very time when we face unprecedented social upheaval and change. As people have really tried to live out the television dream, and seen how hollow it all is, they are becoming deeply cynical about it and saying, “I don’t care how many more ads you show me, I don’t believe them anymore. I don’t know what to believe, but I just don’t believe it anymore.” 

(Actually – I think we saw some of this happen with the last election.)

Elgin seems to think that we are now becoming divided against ourselves on this.  Wanting to change – but still being held to that false view of the “American Dream.” Here’s how he summarizes the polls on the change toward simplicity.

About 75 percent to 80 percent of the public say, ”We’re going to need to make major changes if we’re going to live sustainably on Earth.” I find it very significant that such a large fraction of the overall public recognizes that, like it or not, there are great changes ahead. Next, about 60 percent of U.S. adults say, “Not only do we need to change, we want to change.” Still, this is largely rhetoric as most are sympathetic but disengaged — still waiting for the starting gun to go off.

Then, about 25 percent are actually doing something by changing the way they live — perhaps by not taking the job promotion that would require them to move somewhere; maybe one of the partners in the relationship will stop working or take a lower-paying job that’s closer to home. These are the so-called “downshifters” that are disengaging from the rat race of our consumer society.

Finally, about 10 percent of U.S. adults are “upshifters” that have gone even further and are pioneering a new way of life that is more sustainable, satisfying and soulful. They’re making a whole-pattern shift in their lives that grows out of an ecological awareness and the sense that “I’m here as more than just a consumer to be entertained; I’m here as a soulful being who wants to grow. I want to have meaningful work, a meaningful life with my family, a meaningful connection with my community, and a meaningful sense of spiritual development.” That 10 percent is about 20 million people, and it’s almost two-to-one women to men.

I believe that most of us here today really want to be in that 10% — and many of us are there.  But it’s not easy.  We do need help and we do need support.  AND we need to realize that it takes a while and NOT see ourselves as somehow inherently better or superior than other folks. 

So if we are going to support one another in this journey, we probably need to consider some common guidelines or principles.

Now – the leaders in this loosely bound “movement” warn us that there are not simple rules to follow. 

Voluntary Simplicity is not a list of rules. It is a consciousness, an awareness.

And many recommend that we do not go “cold turkey” when trying to make these significant changes in living.  That seems to bring additional frustration.  Also, what works well for one household may be too difficult for another to adopt for varying reasons.  There are multiple paths to just simply living.  And  – even though folks agree that there are NO rules for everyone – there is an abundance of “help” for you out there.  So much so – that it overwhelmed me.  Here I was – trying to prepare a sermon on simplicity, and becoming stressed out over whether I should give you Elgin’s principles for Voluntary Simplicity, or share some of St. James’ ways for simplifying, or provide you with tips from Jensen’s Simplicity Survival Guide, or give you Pierce’s recipe for simplicity, or one of several 9, 10, or 12 step programs to simplicity — dang, this was just getting too complicated.  And to be honest with you – after you read through tons of these – they can get pretty boring.

SO  – I decided to not give you ANY of those specific lists.  You go read them.  You can get them on the web and check out the books from the library.  Instead – I’ll just share with you the WWJD of Just Living Simply.  No, not “What Would Jesus Do?”   — I wouldn’t want to try to second-guess that.  But I can tell you – “What Would Jane Do.”  Not that I’m a “just living simple” saint.  I’m far from it.  But I’ve been able to do the hokie pokie and turn myself around regarding some areas of my life.  And I can share with you a few of the things that have helped me to get started on this journey to simplicity.  So here are Five “Plain Jane” suggestions:

Plain Jane suggestion #1 – Get rid of clothes you seldom wear – including those jeans that you think “might fit again” one day.   I was motivated to begin this simplification journey after I heard Will MacIntosh speak here at UU some time ago.  He made the point of telling us of how he did an inventory of his shirts and was appalled at how many he had.  I came home, took one look at my packed closet, and made a determination that I was not going to keep loads of clothes that I wasn’t wearing.  I cleared it out then and have “attempted” to make sure that I remove clothes if I add clothes.  I’ve also found that if I need or even want a new item of clothing, I can usually find it at the Goodwill store.  So I take bags of clothes to them and buy my “new” or “new to Jane” clothes from them.  I also buy mostly black clothes. Someone told me I looked good in black – that’s why I decided to become a minister for my post-Georgia Southern career.  It was either that or an undertaker.  But seriously, I wear mostly black clothes and perhaps accent with some color.  That way, I can also reduce my shoes – and this is especially helpful when I’m packing to go somewhere. 

Plain Jane suggestion #2  – If you have a large yard like I do, give some of it back to God.  She’ll take good care of it.  I did this after my divorce when I realized that all the yard work would now be mine to do.  Well, now I have Greg – but I still let God keep her part.

Plain Jane suggestion #3  – Make a commitment about your diet that is meaningful to you and that you can actually KEEP.  In the summer of 2003, while at Meadville Lombard, I felt motivated to make a change in my diet.  Actually, my increasing awareness of ethical concerns related to meat products plus my desire for healthier living and maintaining some discipline in my diet increased my desire to become a vegetarian.  However, I was aware that giving up meat “cold turkey” would be especially difficult for me.  SO – I kept the “cold turkey” as well as other poultry and fish.  And I’ve been able to maintain that commitment.  Since overdosing on turkey on Thanksgiving, I’ve even been able to give that up and stick to fish and other means of getting my protein.  But it’s not easy.  And after Relinda’s talk a couple of Sundays ago, I’ve realized that perhaps just giving up these products is not enough.  What we really need to do is to continue to work on changing the farming and food producing practices.  Each of us can do our part in whatever way we can.    But you can begin with a commitment that you can keep.

Plain Jane suggestion #4 – If you need something or really want something that Wal-Mart sells – and that may be difficult to find somewhere else – it’s okay, you can go to Wal-Mart occasionally.  Actually, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of rationalizing this suggestion when I told Greg, “Hey – the fundamentalists called for a two day boycott of Wal-Mart because of their adding sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy and their agreement to extend spousal benefits to the partners of their gay employees.”  Then Greg said – “WHAT benefits?”  And I said, “Well – if they HAD benefits, they would extend them to partners of gay employees.”  My point here is not just Wal-Mart specific.  Basically, I’m saying that we should give ourselves a little “slack” sometimes – and also realize that while we try to buy locally and from companies that have policies more in line with our principles, we can also share our desires with large corporations and hopefully have them move in a better direction.  I bought some “free range” eggs from Bilo the other day.  Some companies are figuring out that many of us are willing to pay extra for these items – and money talks.

Well, – I promised I would just give you FIVE of these Plain Jane Suggestions – so I’ll end with this one.

 

Plain Jane Suggestion # 5 – Have yourself a merry “little” Christmas.  Unplug the Christmas machine.  After all, the Christmas story is about a little baby that was born in a barn with only the basic necessities of warmth, nourishment, and love.  Just Simply Living!  There are lots of alternatives on the web related to simplifying the season.  The Adbuster group that sponsors the “Buy Nothing” day every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving has suggested that we might go so far as to have a “Buy Nothing” Christmas.  You may not want to go that far.  But certainly we can bring more peace and tranquility to this stressful time of year.  Now if you really enjoy sending out loads of Christmas cards and shopping for all your friends and relatives – then go for it!  But if it adds more stress to your life, turn yourself around, give yourself a break and have a simpler holiday – giving time and love and lots of free hugs. 

(Sing)

“When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.

To turn, turn will be out delight, ‘til by turning, turning we come round right.”

Can You Say GRACE? – Given on November 5, 2005

Can You Say GRACE?

 

November 5, 2005

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro

The Reverend Jane Page

 

 

 

A little 6 year old girl was asked to “say grace” before a Thanksgiving meal that her mom had prepared for the extended family.  She responded – but I don’t know what to say.  Her mom prompted her – just say the prayer mommy says.  The little girl smiled with the memory of her mother’s last prayer and said, “Oh Lord – why did I ever invite all these people to dinner.”

 

As a candidate for ministry and now as a minister, I’ve been asked more often to offer a blessing – or “say grace” before meals with others.   I’ve realized that this presents a marvelous opportunity for me to demonstrate a way of giving thanks, which is more inclusive of all faiths.  My favorite thing to do now is to sing, “Oh we give thanks” – the little song that is included in our new hymnal supplement.

 

But of course “grace” has a more complex meaning than a prayer of thanksgiving said before a meal.   Books have been written and courses taught on grace.  And our dictionaries have long lists of definitions.  But alas, I try to limit the time for my sermons.  Fifteen or 20 minutes is a gracious plenty.   Hopefully it will be enough time, though, for you to gain a renewed appreciation for this special little word.

 

The word “grace” is can be traced by to the Latin word gratia meaning favor, charm, thanks, derived from the Latin word gratus meaning pleasing, grateful; and akin to SanskritgrnAti  – meaning – he praises.

The definition of grace that I was given in the Baptist Sunday School was that it was God’s unmerited gift of salvation to us – the undeserving recipients.  But it doesn’t seem to be used in the Bible that way.  The word “grace” is used a whole lot in the various English translations of the Bible.  In fact – depending on the translation you are using, it’s used anywhere from 120 to 130 times.  My exploration in my last sermon of the word “Amen” was not a translation but the original Hebrew word.  So that was easier to trace.  But the word “grace” is a translation of other words.  The two words that are most often translated as “grace” are the Hebrew word chên (pronounced khane) and the Greek word charis(rhymes with harris).

 

Both Hebrew and Greek words give the same sense of the word grace. It has to do with favor, beauty, graciousness and thankfulness.

 

Now – with the resources we have available on the Internet, it’s fairly easy to do a search of the entire Bible and find the uses of a particular word.  I did this with the New International Version and found 127 citings.  Here are five examples of grace from the old and New Testament:

 

Psalm 45:2
You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.

 

Zechariah 12:10
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.

 

Luke 2:40
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

 

John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

Acts 13:43
When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in thegrace of God.

 

 

Now – because I had been brought up with a particular doctrine of grace – which meant God’s unmerited gift of salvation for us – I could possibly read that doctrinal meaning into these various uses of grace.  But when I that doctrinal lens off, the words seemed to more about love and kindness.

 

That doesn’t mean that the Bible DOES NOT provide a sense of God providing favor or salvation to undeserving beings.  However, when this concept of “unmerited favor” is addressed in the Bible, the words most often used are the Hebrew word Chesed and the Greek word Elios.  Chesed is used 245 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and Elios is used 59 times in the New Testament.  But those words are never translated as grace.  They are usually translated as mercy.

 

Now you may know that Augustine was born in Northern Africa.  His father was pagan and his mother was a devout Christian.  Augustine himself was raised as a Catholic but gave up his religion after going off to school at the University of Carthage.  He studied various philosophies and tried out different theologies and what some now call heresies. And like many of us “misguided thinkers” – he became a university professor.  He took a mistress when he was just 17 and lived with her for 15 years and had a son.  Yet he struggled with a complex guilt that was connected closely with the Mother (Monica) he seemed to love so much.  She was not happy with his lifestyle.  In his confessions, he reports praying to God,”God, give me chastity and continence – but not just now.”  Nevertheless, through a long and agonizing transformation, he eventually had an experience in a garden after beating himself into a frenzy.  He hears a child’s voice playing nearby saying, “pick up and read it.”  He flipped the bible open and read the following from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans (13:13) “Live honorably as in daylight, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the flesh.”  He considered that to be a miracle and decided to convert completely back to Catholicism and begin a religious community.  His later writings (based on an analysis of Paul’s teachings and influenced by his own study of Neo-Platonism) became the basis for much of Christian doctrine.

He taught that human nature was created faultless and without sin by God – BUT that nature of man in which every one is born from Adam – now is flawed by Adam’s original sin.  And therefore, we are rightly condemned.  HOWEVER, he says that that we are saved through the grace of Christ.  “This grace, however, of Christ, without which neither infants nor adults can be saved, is not rendered for any merits, but is given gratis, on account of which it is also called grace.” He further states that others – whether from not hearing or not believing and accepting Jesus – are condemned.  “For all have sinned–whether in Adam or in themselves–and come short of the glory of God.”

Later the Catholic Church moved away from these teachings and started to emphasize works more.  The debate between whether it was Works or it was Grace that got you into heaven was what the Protestant Reformation was all about. The Catholics of that time arguing that what people did, their Works, would or would not earn their way into heaven. This led notably to the abuses of people buying their way into heaven, by paying the church for indulgences as a way of penitence. Thereby the church freed you of your sin to enter heaven.

Luther and the other Protestants were appalled by the abuses. They came to believe that one could only get to heaven by Grace. But like Augustine’s doctrine of grace, they emphasized that most of us would be left behind.

Well, I’m sure you all have heard those teachings before, and if you are like me, instead of comforting you, they disgust you.  It’s not a loving doctrine.  Nevertheless, it continues to be taught and believed by many.

Now – though I’ve rejected that particular Doctrine of Grace – I haven’t rejected “Grace.”  It’s like most theological terms that I grew up with. I find that they can still provide me with comfort and joy if I remove them from the restrictive doctrinal teachings and set them free.

Like other theological or religious terms I’ve discussed with you in these “Can You Say” sermons, I tend to “spin” these words in the direction of love.  I find that I think of and use the word GRACE at special times in my life – when I come to the realization that “This is good.”  And I usually think of it as “grace” when it seems that IT is something that I’ve received freely – without much effort – by just being aware.  That moment of grace may be some insight I have – or it may be my appreciation of a cool fall afternoon.  I have lots of good things that just seem to happen to me.  Now bad things happen too – and we are sure to notice them.  But sometimes we don’t notice the good things – because we don’t have our minds, our hearts in a state of grace – ready to receive and appreciate.

(Sing)  We are bless’d with love and amazing grace,– When our heart is in a holy place.

In a sermon I did earlier this year, I indicated that Unitarian Universalism and YOU were the “amazing grace” that saved me.   There are other aspects of amazing grace in my life as well – if I’m open to receiving.

Amazing Grace  – what a wonderful a touching phrase.  That music – those words – are ones that many of us love, regardless of our beliefs.

A friend of mine told me that Amazing Grace had always been one of his favorite songs.  He learned it while growing up in his grandparents’ Primitive Baptist church.  And his family always sang the songs at weddings and funerals.  But as a gay man, that church had rejected him – as had many other churches he attended.  And – perhaps stimulated by that rejection, he himself had questioned many of the churches doctrines and teachings.  He said that he didn’t know if he could still sing the song with any integrity now.  I told him – sure you can.  Just think of how happy you are now that you are finally out as a gay man and free to be the person you really are.  That is amazing grace – and you are set free.  You once were lost, but now you’re found – were blind, but now you see!  And he said, Yeah – that’s right.

The song, Amazing Grace, was written by John Newton. Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a ship’s commander.  He later became a slave trader.  Although he had had some early religious instruction from his mother, who had died when he was a child, he had long since given up any religious convictions. However, on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance.” He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him.

Now – he did continue in the slave trade for a time after his conversion; however, he later became convinced that this was not what he was to do with his life.  He became a minister and wrote many hymns for this weekly prayer services.  One of the hymns he wrote was Amazing Grace.  The original song had six verses – the first three of those are in our hymnal.  The fourth verse in our hymnal was added by someone later but is very popular and appears in almost all renditions.

Because I’ve had the grace to be able to sing the old Christian songs I learned long ago and enjoy the love they represent without getting too bogged down in the theology of the original writers, I’ve continued to be able to enjoy Amazing Grace.  And I’m so glad that my heart was open to that – for it was that song that carried my daddy through to the end with so much comfort.  As you may know, my dad had Alzheimer’s.  And though he had forgotten much in his later days, he could remember the old hymns.  So I would go over to my parents’ home and play those old songs and he and I would sing.  And he knew the words – especially to the first verses of the old songs.  But with Amazing Grace, he knew almost all the words.  In his final days in the hospice, he wasn’t able to talk much at all – but I could hold his hand and sing – and I had some really good grace in those days.  Those were the days leading up to my ordination and, of course, I had concerns about whether all would go okay – or whether the timing of my dad’s death would occur so as to necessitate making decisions regarding the scheduling of visitation and funeral activities around the ordination service.  But all of those concerns would melt away and I could be centered in true love as I held my dad’s hand in the hospice and he looked so intently into my eyes and I would sing Amazing Grace – and his lips would move.  The Sunday afternoon of my ordination – which was also the day before my dad died – I was visiting in the hospice.  My brother was there and daddy told him – “I’ve got to go.”  Johnny said, “That’s okay Daddy.  You can go.”  And he began to reassure him that we were all okay and that he would take care of Mama and me and cut the grass and feed the dog.  Then he said – “Jane come over here and sing to daddy one more time.” And I did.  And as I sang – “When we’ve been there ten thousand years – bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun,” – that light that had dimmed in daddy’s eyes grew a little stronger.  Now I don’t know what my dad was thinking about. Perhaps he was just taking pleasure in that moment with my brother and me.  But he did believe in a literal heaven and getting his “reward.”  And maybe he was thinking about going there and joining his good friend Billy Tillman and others.

I do not share those same beliefs.  But I do know that I carry my dad’s love and teachings with me.  And I can sing God’s praise – for me that is the praise of the Power of Love –and try to pass it on.  And that love and energy will be passed on and on maybe 10,000 years or more – till the sun dies or the last meteor collides.  And I have the Amazing Grace to be a part of that – and to be aware of it.

May it be so with us all!

Amen and Blessed Be.

 

 

Copyright – Jane A. Page, 2006.

Tag Cloud