Monday, December 12, 2011

Wait Wait.... Don't Tell Me!

Dec. 11 sermon  at the UU Fellowship of Statesboro

Our reading this morning was one in which Emily Jane Bronte reminds us to cherish the present while placing hope in the great depths of eternal goodness for the future.  And she title’s that poem, “Anticipation.”  Another more contemporary sacred text by that same name and with a similar message is Carly Simon’s song – Anticipation. 

I ask that you participate with me in this message by singing back that word after I sing the first one to you.  So our little call and response will go like this!  I’ll sing:

Anticipation
And you sing:
Anticipation 


The story goes that Carly Simon wrote that song while waiting for Cat Stevens to pick her up one day.  At least she was making some good profitable use of her time.  But her song was also initially expressing some of the frustration we feel when we have to wait.  For the chorus of that song goes like this:
Me – Anticipation
Congregation – Anticipation
(Me or all) Is making me late --- is keeping me waiting.

This is the time of year where we often find ourselves waiting.  And that can be frustrating. 

On Monday, I found myself at Hobby Lobby.  Now I don’t shop there often – because I’m not a crafty person – well not that kind of crafty anyway.  But that’s the only store in town that seemed to have these little paper lanterns that had the little tiny lights in them run by batteries.  And I needed more of these to hang on the branches of the path back to the labyrinth in the woods since Georgia Southern’s Gay Straight Alliance kids were coming over that night – and I knew they’d need some light shed on that path. 

I picked up the plastic box with the lanterns and headed to the checkout.  And here is what the conversation that went on in my head:
(Note to Reader:)  Here I get pick up the plastic box of lanterns and go to the back of the imaginary line that beings in front of the altar and heads toward the congregation.)


Oh – my, the lines are backed up. 
Jane are you going to stand in one of these long lines.  You are a busy woman. 

Nah, you are no busier than these other folks and you need these lights.  Get your butt in line like everybody else.

Hmmm.  I wonder why they only have four registers open.  Don’t they know there are people out of work that need these jobs.

That line over there is moving – and mine is not.  Should I change lines?

Jane, you know that doesn’t work.  Stay put.

I don’t think that young man at the register knows what he’s doing.  He must be new or a temp or something. 

Well, why don’t you make use of this time while you are waiting here.  Carly Simon wrote a song while she was waiting for Cat Stevens.  And that author of that book you were reading about Advent said he found Jesus while standing in the line at Cosco.

(looking around – sings)  Jesus, Jesus, Jesus……   No, not here today. 
Oh, you could take out your phone and check your email.

NO, NO, NO…. you don’t need to be one of those people.  Make conversation with the nice lady in front of you.

“A’hem.  That’s a beautiful top you have on.”  “Yes, this is a long line – oh, you’re moving to another line?”…..
Don’t leave me.

Oh, the line has moved, ha – she shouldn’t have moved.  I was right to stay here.  Only one person in front of me. 

Oh no – the cashier has to call for a price.   Waiting,  Waiting….Why doesn’t he do something.  Someone needs to say something to him.  I don’t think I like him very much.  He doesn’t seem to care that I’m a very busy woman.  Oh, the other cashier is having to call for him.  He’s a pitiful cashier – doesn’t seem to know a thing. 

But he reminds me of my son.  John is a cashier at a busy Whole Foods store in Atlanta.  I bet he has a long line of busy people waiting on him right now.
 
Oh – my turn.

Oh, no bag please, I can carry this.  I hope you have a wonderful day!

(Returning to pulpit)
Anticipation
Anticipation

Sometimes to help us focus on the positive and let us know we are making progress toward some special anticipated event, we use countdown calendars.  And Christians have devised a countdown to Christmas known as Advent.  Now if you were raised in what some of us call a Christian “high church,” you are familiar with the Christian liturgical year that begins with Advent.  Advent means “coming” and of course refers to the coming of Jesus – both as a newborn babe – and for some, waiting indeed, for the 2nd coming.  Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – so today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

At the beginning of the service, we lit the third candle of our Advent Wreath – and I’d like to share a little about that for those of you who may not be familiar with it’s history. 

(From:  http://linda-ashar.suite101.com/pagan-origin-use-of-the-advent-wreath-a170540)

The circular Advent Wreath and its candles are pre-Christian, a Pagan practice absorbed into Christian observances like many Pagan rites as Christian conversion spread across Europe.

The centerpiece of their spiritual rituals at this time was the living wreath, either formed of evergreens or with a cartwheel woven with evergreens. The evergreen wreath or wheel symbolized the unending circle of life, the rotation of the seasons. The evergreen, of course, was a part of the earth that lived steadfastly through the winter darkness. Lighted candles set within the wreath or wheel brought light to the darkness.

The magic of the Advent Wreath translated well into Christian practice. With very little change the symbol of light in the darkness, rebirth of the sun, made equal sense to the birth of the Son of God bringing the light to the world. The Christian Advent Wreath initially became popular in Lutheran homes in Germany, then spread to other Christian denominations.  There are different traditions with different colors of candles – but usually three of the candles are purple and the candle for the third Advent Sunday  -- the joy candle -- is pink or rose.  Although the advent wreath began as a Lutheran ritual – the use of the pink candle has Catholic origins.  On the third Sunday of LENT – (which also lifts up Joy), the pope used to give a pink rose to one citizen.  So pink became a symbol for Joy.  There were seven candles lit during lent, and when the Catholic church began celebrating Advent by lighting candles – they used the first four from lent – with the third – again – representing joy.  The others are purple – the color of royalty, of course, symbolizing for them the kingship of Christ.  Now regardless of your own theology – we UUs like purple and pink – so these are just fine with us!

Our advent candle also has the white candle in the middle.  This is the Christmas or Christ candle – and we will light that one on Christmas Eve. 

This is an advent wreath – but some families have advent calendars with candy to eat on each day.  Our wreath has fewer calories though.

Anticipation
Anticipation

I entitled this sermon “Wait Wait…. Don’t Tell Me” – just on a whim, when I wasn’t quite sure what I would be preaching this Sunday, but it certainly fits with the “anticipation of Christmas” theme.  The title, of course, comes from the popular PBS game show – but it also represents our joy in anticipating the unknown.  That wrapped present that says “Don’t Open till Christmas.”  Most of us like things out in the open – but there’s something intriguing about keeping some surprises under wrap.  The negligee industry has profited greatly from that! 

And even we Unitarian Univerasalists – some of us known for our “cold rationalism” – are intrigued and awed by mystery.  We can even be turned on by “anticipation.”  But what are we waiting for?  A UU minister colleague of mine has a blog – in which he points us to another blog about Advent where Christians posted their own ideas and revelations back during Advent in 2009.  And there is one posting by a woman named Bridgett – that’s the only name I can attribute to this quote, but I do want to give Bridgett credit.  She begins by providing a quote attributed to Jesus in the gospel of Luke.  “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.  For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”  Then Bridget goes on to point out that just as Jesus was born in a specific time and place – so were we.  And Bridget goes on to post – at 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2009:

“A specific time, a specific place. We were not chosen to be those who walked with Jesus in Palestine. We were chosen to be here. And what am I blessed to see and hear? What will prophets and kings desire to have seen and heard from what I have experienced? Is there anything in my life wondrous, noteworthy, mysterious? Living in the blank page, our response time to the coming of Jesus, all I can think is "there had better be." There had better be something worthy left behind when I am gone. And I had better get to it.”

Anticipation
Anticipation

So, here we are… on December 11, 2011.  Here we are together at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.  Here we are…..  waiting…..
(silence)

For what?
For some politician to provide a master plan?
For some great prophet, guru, or philosopher to show us the way?
For some future with greater beings and thinkers than we?
I think not.

It was the poet June Jordan who wrote:  “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” 
Of course, this line was later borrowed by Alice Walker and used frequently by Barak Obama.  But it’s a good line, I think, for Unitarian Universalists – regardless of our theologies. 

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  And now is the time we’ve been waiting for.

Anticipation can be frustrating.  There are those who have really good reasons to be anxious for the future, and we understand that.  And anticipation can be really good too.  So we will enjoy our Advent wreath and the joyful anticipation of the holidays, and even the good works that we will do for others.  But right here, right now is the present that is our most precious present!

Savor the present.

After recording in her poem her wonderful observations of a grasshopper, Mary Oliver writes:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?


We have many things going on in our wild and precious lives in these December days, don't we?   But right here, right now, we are with loving people in a place that lifts up justice, service, connection, hope, love, joy, and peace!  
Breathe it in.

Carly Simon ends her song about anticipation with this reminder:  "THESE are the good old days!"

Sing it with me.

These are the good ole days… These are the good ole days… These are the good ole days!
Amen – and Blessed Be!




Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Christmas Present!


MINISTERIAL MUUSINGS!
December 8, 2011

The 1973 Christmas season was an exciting time in our household, for Fred III was learning to walk and talk. Since he was saying some words, I and others would naturally ask him what he wanted for Christmas - or what he wanted Santa Claus to bring him. And he would reply with some gibberish. As I listened more closely, I realized that it was the same gibberish each time we asked him. That meant that he definitely had something in mind. What was it that my dear little boy wanted? I could not figure it out. I asked others to listen and they could not understand either - though he said the same word or phrase each time.

When I was in the toy sections of the stores we were in, I would ask him again what he wanted - and even asked him to point to it. He looked around but did not point to anything. Needless to say, I felt my precious child was going to be very disappointed on Christmas morning when his anticipated gift was not there.

One day, while looking at a magazine, he started saying the jibberish word over and over again. I ran to see what it was. He was pointing to a box all wrapped up as a gift --- and saying "Preprin...Preprin..." ---

"Oh, a present," I said. "You want a present for Christmas." And he smiled and clapped for me finally getting it right! There was no special toy or piece of clothing that he wanted. He just wanted the joy of having a present and unwrapping it to see his surprise!

As we continue in this season of anticipation, may we also delight in the pleasure of the unknown!

Peace, Love, and Joy!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lessons from THE TAO OF WILLIE NELSON


An “interview of Willie” (as portrayed by Jane) by Rev. Jane Page
November 13, 2011


This book, The Tao of Willie Nelson, was suggested to me by Rodney and Lauren Fowler. Now Rodney and Lauren shared with me that they are big Willie Nelson fans. In fact, Willie gave Lauren a signed Bandera when they connected at one of his concerts. Willie says in his book that he always makes a special connection with one person in the audience and then that connection just spreads. And it seems Lauren was the lucky lady that night. So, perhaps that’s why this book meant so much to them. But it has gems for those who are not Willie fans as well --- if there are such people. ‘Cause most everyone I know likes Willie Nelson. Even if they aren’t fans of his music, many Unitarian Universalists are fans of his ideas. But we’ll let Willie speak for himself on some of these.

For I have decided that this best way to share about Willie’s ideas in this book is for me to interview him about them. I tried to get him to come, but he does have a busy schedule. He was playing in Texas last night at the Grand Opening of a new music hall. Don’t worry though, Willie assured me that he’ll be on the road again headed this way in February. In fact, Rodney, … if you haven’t already bought tickets yet you better do so soon – because on Valentine’s Day, Willie will be performing at the Johnny Mercer Theater in Savannah.


Since he couldn’t be with us in person today, I’ll provide the voice for his responses to my questions. But for sure – when I put on this cowboy hat with the red braids – you’ll know that these are mostly Willie’s words – not mine. (Note: The words in parentheses are mine – usually transition phrases or summaries of Willie’s own words. Other words of Willie’s are excerpted from The Tao of Willie Nelson.)

Jane:
Willie, welcome to our service. Now, what I’d like to know from you is what made you think you could write a book that someone would suggest to me as a sacred text.

Willie:
(Thanks Jane, it’s good to be with you folks. I’ll tell you), the ways my life has changed seem pretty amazing to me. By hook or by crook, I seem to have stumbled onto something all of us search for in this great mystery of life. Some would call it happiness, but I like to think that what I found is me. That sounds simple enough, but the truth is, it took quite a while to do it. Among other things, it took me learning that I had to quit trying to be someone else. Trying to be someone else is the hardest road there is.

Jane:
So Willie, would you call the Tao your religion?

Willie:
(Nah), The, Tao is NOT a religion. It has no gods, and could be as helpful to a Christian or a Jew as to a druid who worships trees, a narcissist who worships himself, or a record executive who worships money. Once you know what the Tao is not, then everything else is the Tao. The Tao is the biggest thing there is….. It is the link between you and the natural world, the link between you and the universe. The Tao is the link between you and yourself.

When Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true,” he was dipping into the Tao…or into some really good snuff.

Jane:
So Willie – where did you get this knowledge to get to where you are now – knowing yourself and all?

Willie:
(I started learning my lessons in Abbot Texas, where I was born in 1933. My sister Bobbie and I were raised by our grandparents.) Times were hard in Abbott and most other places during the Depression. We never had enough money, and Bobbie and I started working at an early age to help the family get by. That hard work included picking cotton at age seven in the rows beside Mama Nelson. Picking cotton is hard and painful work, and the most lasting lesson I learned in the fields was that I didn’t want to spend my life picking cotton.

In Abbott, Texas, you had to learn fast or pay the consequences. Luckily that learning curve also included some patient teaching. Early on, I was taught a number of things that have served me well.

The starting point was to respect your elders. Now that I’m an elderly fart myself, it’s no wonder I like this one.

(And I learned not to be afraid to ask questions.)

In church I was told that if I so much as smoked a cigarette or tasted alcohol, I’d be damned in hell for all eternity. Even when I was a young boy, it didn’t take long for me to start thinking that sounded all wrong.

Yeah, Even as a boy, I didn’t cotton to the idea that your religion should be flaunted to other people. Your religion is for you, and is best kept close to your heart.

(Now, though I questioned a lot of it, I’ve kept a lot of my church upbringing with me.) Sister Bobbie and I still play songs from the church in Abbott at every concert, and every few years we record a new gospel album. It’s part of who we are, some of the best part.


Jane:
Well, I know you said you picked cotton when you were a boy Willie. And I can appreciate how hard that is from listening to my daddy describe it. Of course, the only cotton I ever picked was out of an aspirin bottle. But somehow – you also found the time to learn how to pick guitar and sing. Did your community provide the right kind of culture for you to easily learn these skills?

Willie:
There were two kinds of culture in Abbott when I was a boy—one was agriculture and the other was yogurt. Luckily, Sister Bobbie and I were born into a world of music. After I got my first guitar at age six—a Stella that came from the Sears & Roebuck catalog—I’d sit on the end of the (piano) bench and play along with Bobbie.

When we were five or six years old, our grandparents put Sister and me on stage and said, “Our kids do things. Now start doing.” We’ve been doing ever since.

I was in the sixth grade when I got my first paying music gig, strumming guitar in the John Raycheck Band in Bohemian dance halls. Mama Nelson was dead set against me working in sinful nightclubs until she found out I could make eight or ten dollars a night. You had to pick a lot of cotton to make eight dollars.

Jane:
Well, all of us have certainly benefited from you’re your musical knowledge and skills Willie. But since we are here in a church – I’d like to come back a moment to your religion. Can you share a little more about that with the folks here?

Willie:
(Jane) Some people like to make a big deal about their particular religion. If your religion is an important part of your life, then I am happy for you without any regard for which religion it is. As far as different religions are concerned, to me they’re just different paths leading to the same place.

The Golden Rule is the main thing I live by, and every religion I’ve read about or studied—both East and West—has the Golden Rule as a common thread running through it.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

(And I guess I carry with me a little of the religion of my Cherokee ancestors.)
(You know) With belief in gods above and below the earth, in the waters and across the land, the Cherokee seemed to share much with the way of the Tao, which also sees God in all of creation.

(Of course, you all know about the Trail of Tears. Thousands of Cherokee) men, women, and children died of starvation, exposure, and disease along the way.

Knowing that my ancestors got a raw deal, I’ve long believed in supporting American Indian causes. In 1987, I was named Indian of the Year…and spent all night playing music and dancing with fifteen thousand Indians. That experience made it clear to me just how powerfully musical Indians are, and what a large influence my Indian blood has been on my music.

One of my favorite Cherokee stories speaks as well to us today as it did to them hundreds of years ago. (Now listen to this.) They believed that within each person was a battle between two wolves. Sitting with his grandson, a grandfather explained that one of the wolves was evil and was driven by anger, envy, regret, ego, and the worship of war. The other wolf was good, and was driven by love, hope, compassion, and the promise of peace. Thinking about the wolves already growing within him, the boy asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” And the old man replied, “The one you feed.”

Jane:
Well Willie, you and I and all these folks out here have probably spent time feeding both of those wolves. And we’ve had our ups and downs. But since you are a celebrity, yours are very public and have probably been very stressful. What do you do to keep yourself healthy with all the stresses of life?

Willie:
…(takes deep breath, then says) BREATHE
People tell me they’re surprised that I don’t run out of breath at my concerts, even when I sing for a couple of hours straight… I don’t explain it to them, but I will to you. The secret is breathing. When I was very young and just learning music, my grandmother taught me that voice control depended on breathing from way down deep. Everyone knows that filling your lungs with oxygen is good, but not many people choose to do it.

(And you’ve got to drink lots of water!)
My number one roadie, Poodie, says, “You can’t make a turd without grease.” I like the line, but the truth is, what your turds need is water. (And it helps get rid of the toxins, too.) For most of us in America, clean water is easy to come by. All you have to do to is make the choice to get it to your mouth. (Pee) more. You’ll live longer.

(And then, of course, I’ve learned how to meditate) If you’ve never tried meditation, no worries, because it’s really about not trying. It’s about just being

(Another thing I do is to practice both patience.) I was pretty good at making money during the sixties, and even better at spending it. I recorded a lot of albums (back then, but) none of them made me a big Nashville star. I was also not much of a pig farmer. The pigs had a great time, but I didn’t make any money at all… (However), I learned some invaluable lessons in Nashville that apply to both farming and show business.

Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you. Keep skunks of all kinds at a distance. And I learned: If you forgive your enemies, it messes up their heads.

Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.

Jane:
Well, Willie – you’ve had to bounce back pretty far some times. Would you mind sharing a little with us about your troubles with the IRS and how you managed to bounce back from that?

Willie: (laughs)
On first glance, you might conclude that I may not be good with money. But if you look closer, you’ll realize that I’m definitely not good with money.

I had a rough beginning, (but by the end of the 80’s), I owned a golf course, a recording studio, and an assortment of houses and ranches, and I didn’t ever have to worry about where the next dollar was going to come from. Then one day I answered the phone and discovered that I owed the IRS sixteen million dollars. Shortly after that, the debt magically became thirty-two million,..which might have been more than I’d made in my whole life.

This happened not because I was trying to cheat our government, but because I’d taken the advice of financial advisors who were supposed to be the best in the business. Stupid me. But even though… they took my (possessions and my) money, they couldn’t take my music. So I vowed to tour harder and then started to retire my debt by releasing a double album called The IRS Tapes. It’s a winner, by the way. I recommend you buy a copy right away.

I’ve heard people say I was singled out by the government because of my pot smoking or my politics, but the way I see it, there was a legitimate tax owed, it was the Feds’ job to pursue it, and my job to pay it off. There were a lot of numbers being tossed around in the press, but by the time the IRS had decided what I really owed, I’d paid much of it off.

And if I’d never been able to pay it off, I’d still be the same person I am today. I’d still love my family, I’d still have a lot of friends, and I’d still have my music.


Jane:
SO Willie, since you’ve brought up your use of POT in discussing that episode – perhaps you could share a little of your wisdom on that subject with the folks here today. Here’s your chance to make your case.

Willie:
(Well, thank you Jane – I’ll try to make my case.) One place to start is in a typical American medicine or liquor cabinet. The highest killer on the planet is stress, and there aren’t many people in America who don’t medicate themselves one way or another. Some people choose an occasional beer or a little pill the doctor prescribes, and I’m not knocking that. But the best medicine for stress is pot. I think people forget that in all the ..debate over marijuana, we’re only talking about stems and seeds… As far as I can tell, the primary reasons and uses for the hemp plant are to smoke it, wear it, or use it to make fuel to burn in our cars. And I’m in favor of all three. (Now), no matter what I choose to do, I’m not trying to get anyone else to do anything he considers immoral or the law considers illegal…. On the other hand, it seems pretty stupid to put people in jail because they have a small quantity of a plant that grows wild in large portions of the United States….

I don’t know why pot agrees with me when alcohol and a lot of prescription drugs do not, but I suspect it has something to do with my Cherokee heritage. Among their many talents, the Cherokee were known and celebrated for carving ornate pipes. And I don’t think they were carving those pipes just to look at.

(Now folks) --If this conversation has stressed you out, I’d recommend a solution, but it might get me in trouble.

Jane:
Well Willie, I think we better change the subject before I get in trouble. I think a little safer subject for us is your encouragement of sustainable energy. I saw a documentary last week on television in which you were sharing about your activism in this area, specifically as it related to biodiesel. What is that and what are you hoping for?

Willie:
You may have never heard of biodiesel fuels, but I believe strongly that biodiesel is something that can benefit all of us in a great number of ways. Biofuels are motor fuels that are made from farm products. They can be made from crops grown specifically to make fuel, from crop by-products, or just from recycled products such as used French fry oil. The world fries a lot of potatoes and all that recycled vegetable oil can be put to use to power millions of vehicles. (And), biofuels can start us back on the overdue road to energy independence.

There is really no need going around starting wars over oil when we have what we need right here at home. And no, we don’t have to start eating French fries three meals a day, because farmers can grow crops that are planted and harvested just to fuel our cars.

Choose to do the right thing in your life, and you’re choosing to empower yourself and the country you love. It seems so simple.


Jane:
Willie, you’re 78 years old now, living the good life at your homes in Hawaii and Texas – and your home, of course, on the road in your bus, the Honeysuckle Rose. But you have to also be giving some thought to the end of your life. Care to share some thoughts on that?

Willie:
If you’re thinking that I’m old enough to be offering any final words, you should forget about that right now. I’m still learning, and hope to be doing so for a good while yet…. Besides, I don’t have anything I feel I need to get off my chest. No confessions. No last-minute pleas for forgiveness.

(Now when my life is over, I think I,ll probably be coming back again and trying to get it right again. But whether you believe in something like reincarnation or not, here's something to think about.) In the music business and in just about every other facet of life, what you leave (when you die) is who you are. And that’s a thought that at some point in your life deserves a fair amount of your attention.

When I leave, I will be a lot of fine music – at least I know it was fine having the opportunity to make it. I will also be a father, grandfather, great-grandfather; a husband, a friend, and a person who cared about other people and the beautiful world I was born into.

In time, though, my music will fade away to a soft, distant song, and then it will be no more. Ultimately, all of our achievements will fade away, which is why the point of our lives is not just to become famous or even to produce lasting work. Really, when you get down to it, aren’t we all just doing the best we can?

At this moment, my best is going toward (sharing with you folks.). It’s a nice coincidence that this moment of mine is coinciding with a moment in your life when you (hear) them. Here we are – connected …by the thoughts we share.

(Yeah), each of us is just doing our damnedest to finally get it right. They say the end of one road is just the beginning of another. Does that deserve a hallelujah or an amen?

(And with that – I think I better go get) on the road again.

Jane:
Thank you Willie! Maybe we’ll see you in Savannah on Valentine’s Day! Let me give you a hug before you go!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Knowing Why We Knock! A Sermon on UU Evangelism for Association Sunday

October 23, 2011
Rev. Jane Page


The old UU joke is:
“What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian Universalist?” And the response is: “Someone who knocks on your door but doesn’t know why she’s there.”

And we laugh about that!

But I am called by that great spirit of Unitarian Universalism revealed to me by my Unitarian Universalist ancestors and contemporaries to stand here in this pulpit today and prophesy to you about this. And what I am called to say is:
We might not need to witness for Jehovah – but we DO need to be a witness for Unitarian Universalism. And unlike the member in the joke, we need to know why.

Rev. Shana Lynngood, in her essay entitled, “A Faith that Believes in Itself,” spells out why we knock pretty well.

She says:

“We are knocking because the world is in urgent need of our message, which says that all people matter….That the well-being of our earth is intrinsically linked with our own future; that peoples in other parts of the globe cry out for peace and we must hear and heed their cry; that people in our towns and cities cry out for food and shelter and a way of life that values … a way that knows all souls are worthy of love. (Yes,) we stand in a long line of visionary Unitarian Universalist thinkers and believers who call to us.
What they dreamed by ours to do, indeed.”

Now when I first started going to seminary, I announced to my newfound love Greg Brock, that it was MY intention to be a Unitarian Universalist evangelist. He responded: “Isn’t that an oxymoron.”

Oh Contraire!

I then shared with Greg that an internet search using the words UU Evangelism produced 28 matches. A decade later the same search produced 133,000 matches, including a sermon preached by then seminarian Jane Page back in 2002 entitled, “Can You Say UU Evangelism?” And I and others here have been encouraging this group ever since.

Yet, we still have a little skepticism about that word “evangelism” and those kinds of actions. Why? -- Probably because the term has stereotypically been used with the likes of less than noble fundamentalist preachers. The character Elmer Gantry is the type that comes to mind. I haven't seen that film in ages, but a quote in a sermon by Robin Zuckerman reminded me of that fiery preacher. She tells her listener's, "If you've read the searing Sinclair Lewis novel or seen the melodramatic Burt Lancaster film, then you've met Elmer Gantry, the engaging, but scandalous Midwestern shoe salesman turned charismatic preacher in the 1920's. The quintessential revivalist showman, Brother Gantry, with rolled-up shirt sleeves, preaches hellfire and brimstone, thumps his Bible, performs alleged miracles, and leads repentant sinners to conversion through his touring tent ministry. With mesmerizing eloquence, Gantry exhorts one crowd:
'Sin, sin, sin. You're all sinners. You're doomed to perdition. You're all going to the painful, stinkin', scaldin,' everlastin' tortures of a fiery hell, created by God for sinners... unless, unless, unless you repent.'"

And the people all said, -- "AMEN"

When I was nine years old, I was "saved" when a visiting evangelist came to our revival at First Baptist Church here in Statesboro. Of course the first order of the day was convincing me I was lost. Fears of dying in my sleep without having made that all important decision and proclaiming it publicly had haunted me a bit. But it wasn't fear that encouraged me to step forward. It was the glorious good news that Preacher Robinson was sharing with us. We had a wonderful savior and friend in Jesus. Someone that would be there for us and look after our every need. Someone who loved us supremely. So much that he gave his life for us. And he was standing there at the door of my heart - knocking - knocking -knocking. And all I had to do was let him in.

At the age of nine, I had bought into all that was taught to me in Sunday School and church. I had not yet reached the stage of reasoning that developmental psychologist Piaget calls Formal Operations which would enable me to think more abstractly about various possibilities.. My more concrete inductive logical reasoning however was pretty good. And I figured that if salvation was working so wondrously well for all of these folk at First Baptist Church, then it would work for me too. And it did for a while.

But like most of you, I have a questioning mind. And when my mind moved into that gear as a teenager, the old answers didn't work. Now, I went through years of feeling guilty about initially doubting and later plain old disbelieving many of the things that were taught to me. Preacher Robinson's Good News just wasn't good for me anymore. And it wasn't until MANY years later that I heard the Good News of Unitarian Universalists. And I heard it on a cable television show. The Good News I heard was that there were others like me and that they were a part of a wonderful religious movement called Unitarian Universalism. Now it's a shame that I did not hear this sooner since there was already a UU congregation in Statesboro at that time. But these folks - like many of us today - kept to themselves religiously - and when at work and at play told no one about Unitarian Universalism. WHY? After all, folks talk about other things they are involved in - clubs, sports, charitable organizations. Things like that just come up in conversation if it's something you are really involved with and care about.

It seems that most Unitarian Universalists are so afraid of seeming to be proselytizing that they don't share anything.

Now that was not always the case, of course. I’m going to share a couple of examples from this book that Greg Brock bought at the cluster meeting we recently went to in Charleston. Greg, Shari Barr, Teresa Winn and I had the pleasure of hearing and sharing with John Buehrens, former UUA President, who very recently published this book, A People’s History: Universalists and Unitarians in America.


One of the folks I want to lift up to you is Universalist Quillen Hamilton Shinn, who lived from 1845 to 1907, and grew up in what became West Virginia.
Shinn served as a Universalist minister for 20 years in New England, always broadening his riding circuit for carrying the good news to others. He introduced Universalist “Summer Meetings” on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampsire and at Ferry Beach on the coast of Southern Maine – (still a favorite for UU meetings and coursework). Then as “General Missionary” for the Universalist Convention, he visited some thirty-four states and two Canadian provinces, averaging nearly a sermon per day. His modus operandi included distributing flyers about his impending arrival with the Universalist gospel, and then, after speaking, gathering the most enthusiastic to start a new congregation. He became known as the “Grasshopper Missionary” and was later appointed Missionary to the Southern States. A picture of him on the horse he rode to spread the good news is included in Buehrens’ book.

The Unitarian example I want to lift up is Munroe Husbands, who lived from 1909 to 1984. Husbands was a Unitarian layman hired by the association in 1948 to give leadership to the Unitarian Fellowship Movement.

“Raised in Salt Lake City, as a teenager Munroe rebelled against both his family’s Mormon heritage and the Christian Science church preferred by his mother, a social worker. Wanting her son to be a part of a church, she passed on a colleague’s suggestion that Munroe ‘try the Unitarians.’” (Buehrens, p. 62) Well, he tried them and loved them – so much so that he convinced all his siblings to join as well. Munroe got involved with public relations during World War II and continued with that work in Needham Massachusetts (with Blue Cross) after the war.” After being discovered as a real promoter at the local Unitarian church, the association hired him to lead the new lay fellowship program.

“Husbands wrote short, provocative ads. The most widely-used began, ‘Are you a Unitarian Without Knowing it?’.... Each Spring and Fall he set off in a car loaded with pamphlets for a thirty to forty day tour, speaking in a different community every evening. Before he left town, he appointed the best leaders as interim officers…. By 1958 there were 249 new Unitarian fellowships, and twenty years later, twice as many.”

Of course in 1961, the Universalists and the Unitarians got together – partly because they were doing so much together already and were so similar – and also because they needed one another. Since then, we’ve had some times of growth, and some times of decline, with many folks not feeling the need to spread the word. If folks found us, good for them. But we weren’t going to proclaim this faith too loudly. In fact, many UUs (especially in conservative areas) became more closeted during the growth of right wing Christianity. And shame on all of us.

Now understandably, there are many of us who do have good reason to steer clear of proselytizing .

But there IS a difference in proselytizing and evangelizing. As the Rev. Tony Larsen wrote, "Sharing is different from shoving." To proselytize is "to induce someone to convert to one's faith." An evangelist, according to the Random House college dictionary is "a person marked by zealous enthusiasm for or support of a cause."

And if that is the case - a UU evangelist I will be.

Evangelism literally means to "spread the good news." I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is - do we have good news to share. And the answer is YES WE DO!

Some of us shared the good loving news of Unitarian Universalism this past Monday by marching in the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade. Our President, Shari Barr, was motivated to sign us up for the first time for this parade while we were attending a Southern Cluster Meeting in Charleston recently. Jim Key, President of our Southeast District, was the speaker that provided that inspiration. He shared with us that it took him a long, long time to find a liberal religious faith home, through his many moves working for IBM – because Unitarian Universalism never crossed his radar. He had never heard of a UU congregation, so he kept visiting the most liberal Methodist and Presbyterian and nondenominational churches he could find. And, he challenged us to come out of the closet and make ourselves more visible as Unitarian Universalists, including marching in ANY parade in town. And Shari’s eyes lit up and she announced to those of us there: “If it’s not too late, we are going to march in the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade.” the speaker who provided that inspiration. ...... Now at first, we thought we might not be able to get folks there – and even considered that it might just be Shari and me carrying the “Standing on the Side of Love" banner. But that would be something! As it turned out, fourteen of you showed up to decorate Rick’s truck and march with our fellowship of LOVE, while the children blew bubbles, and the rest of us held signs and rainbow flags, smiled, gave “shout outs” to hundreds of parade watchers, and of course waved. And as Shari noted afterward, perhaps a thousand or more folks now know that there IS a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Statesboro.

You know that story that Jim Key told is not unusual. Many of you have shared with me that you did not know we existed for a long time. I emailed the listserv this week to ask how you DID find out about Unitarian Universalism and got some interesting and varied responses. But I was able to group them into four categories.
(1) Moving into a building of our own sure helped – because several of you found our faith after having yoga classes or meetings in our building. And some just noticed the sign as you passed by and looked us up. Of course, Grady Street is no longer a well traveled road now that the hospital is gone. So we sure can’t depend upon folks just seeing the building.
(2) Now some of you found UU while attending memorial services of others who were UUs. But we don’t want to have to encourage any of you to die, so let’s not be too dependent on that method either.
(3) And then some of you actually found out about us through your reading – either books or reading materials on the web, or reading something in the newspaper.
(4) But MOST of you found out about Unitarian Universalism because somebody told you about it. Hallelujah! That’s what more of us need to do.

Now sometimes we are shy about sharing – because we don’t know what to say. And indeed, if you are going to share, if you dare to share, then you need to prepare! And, if we are going to knock – we’ve got to know why we are knocking.

Earlier this month I sent out lots examples of elevator speeches from a Unitarian Universalist brochure. Of course elevator speeches are short enough that you can share them on a brief elevator ride or while standing in line at the grocery store. You are encouraged to find your own way to share about UU – but if you need to – just borrow one of these for now. I’ve handed a few of these out and these folks are going to stand and share some of these.

“Our faith is not interested in saving your soul—we’re here to help you unfold the awesome soul you already have.”
Andrea Lerner

“Unitarian Universalists have different religious beliefs but share a common faith. We know that life is holy, that each person is worthy, and that, when we join together to plant the seeds of love, the world blossoms.”
Erik Resly

“Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal, not creedal faith. That means that, although we may believe differently, we come together to search, grow, serve, and minister. Francis David said it best, ‘We need not think alike to love alike.’”
Michelle Buhite

“It’s a blessing you were born.
It matters what you do with your life.
What you know about god is a piece of the truth.
You do not have to do it alone.”
Laila Ibrahim

“We are a church of many beliefs, worshipping as one community, and focused on making this a better world.”
Rev. Steve J. Crump

“Unitarian Universalism is a religion of people who covenant to treat one another well, care for the earth, and protect the beautiful tapestry of cultures and communities that make up the people of the world. Love is the core value from which we build.”
Sunshine Jeremiah Wolfe

“In our faith, God is not a given, God is a question. God is not defined for us, God is defined by us. Our views are shaped and changed by our experiences…. We create a faith by which we can live, and struggle to live up to it. Throughout, each of us is fated to travel his or her own path. In the larger sense, we have chosen to journey together because we find that it is helpful. We find that it is good.”
Rev. Forrest Church

“I am a UU because I am convinced I need other people who love what I love. I am a UU because I want to join hands with others to create a community where we grow spiritually, where we support one another, and where we work together to create a world in which everyone matters, everyone is free, everyone is respected, and everyone lives in peace. I am a UU because I have seen what love, understanding, and commitment can do. And finally, I am a UU because I am convinced that if we let the love in our hearts guide our ways, the possibilities before us are breathtaking.”
Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President

And if you can’t remember anything else – just share our little children’s affirmation: “We are Unitarian Universalists: People of Open Minds, Loving Hearts, and Helping Hands.”

Yes my friends, I AM a Unitarian Universalist evangelist! You can put those words under my name in my obituary. And there are other lay evangelists here as well. We invite you to join us in sharing our good news.

I'll close this sermon with the words attributed to the Universalist Preacher known as the Father of Universalism in America, John Murray:
"Go out into the highways and by-ways. Give the people something of your new vision. You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine."

(Sing) "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine" – (Sing with me.)
"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!"

AMEN and Blessed BE.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lessons from John Lennon


Lessons from John Lennon on our Shared Birthday!
October 9, 2011

When I was in the eighth grade, the Beatles were all the rage. My first boyfriend said to me: Do you like that new Beatles song? You know, “I want to hold your hand.” And that’s how he let me know that he wanted to hold my hand. That’s as far as we got…. Which is far as you SHOULD get in the eighth grade! My math teacher, Mr. Mallard, hated the Beatles and said they were ruining music. He wore a Beatles wig to class one day to make fun of them. But we listened anyway. We listened and we loved them that entire decade as they performed all over the world with their mesmerizing music.

Although I shared my birthday with John Lennon, he was not my favorite. That spot belonged to the cute one, Paul. And the number 2 spot belonged to Ringo, perhaps because he was a drummer, like my brother Johnny. And maybe, later, because I had his cigarette butt framed and hung on my wall, well, at least I thought it was his. But that’s another story for another time.

John Lennon was one decade older than me, born October 9, of 1940. But he was much, much older and experienced in his exploration of life. So I was not very understanding of some of his actions in the late 60’s and 70’s. And then I got too busy with my own life to pay much attention. It wasn’t until his death in December of 1980 that I began to examine the lessons my birthday mate could teach me. Isn’t that the way it often is? Lennon himself said: “Everybody loves you when you're six foot in the ground.”

John had a lot to say, not only in his songs, but in other writings as well. He was a prolific song writer, credited with writing about 180 songs with McCartney and over 100 by himself, and who knows how many others that were never published. He also wrote poetry and is quoted from loads of interviews. So the “sacred text” of John Lennon is a long one, and I haven’t studied it all. Now, just as with other texts that some consider sacred, I’m not in agreement with everything, and do not defend all of John Lennon’s words and actions. Yet, the life lessons are abundant. I’ve just chosen a few that are especially meaningful to me to share with you today in celebration of our shared birthday.

1st, John believed, and did not believe, in God, and that was okay. He are three Lennon quotes about God.

“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong.”

“God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”

“If there is a God, we’re all it.”

I have an entire sermon entitled, “Can you say GOD?”with my exploration of the God idea and the God word. So I won’t share a lot of that with you today. Suffice it to say, I can certainly understand the ambiguity in some of Lennon’s songs and quotes. And perhaps it’s okay to be a little ambiguous about something as complex and indefinable as God.


2nd, THINGS can be problematic. Here are two Lennon quotes that reinforce this.

“Possession isn't nine-tenths of the law. It's nine-tenths of the problem.’

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.”

3rd, For the most part, I agree with Lennon when he says:

“I don't believe in killing, whatever the reason!”

Oh, I know we can pull up those situational ethics scenarios that can cause one to rethink one’s stance. But for the most part, I’m appalled that we think we still have to kill people to make this world a better place.

And speaking of killing and birthdays, John and I share our October 9 birthday with someone else I want to remember today.

Troy Davis – October 9, 1968 – September 21, 2011

And John and Troy should both be alive today.
‘Nuff said.

Instead of killing, instead of war, John Lennon dreamed, sang, and made love for PEACE!

4th, John Lennon said:
“It doesn’t matter how long my hair is or what colour my skin is or whether I’m a woman or a man.”

And I say, AMEN!

The Beatles were, of course, hugely successful, but one of the main criticisms of our parents was their hair. My brother was in a band called “The Dimensions”, and they all let their crew cuts grow out a little, so that they actually had bangs. My dad and brother had huge fights over this, plus he was thrown out of his 10th grade biology class and told he could not re-enter till he got his hair cut. Seriously! But the hair thing is the mildest part of that quote. After all, hair length is a choice. The quote also moves toward concern for more serious types of discrimination. And John is basically saying that we do not determine the worth or value of a human being based on these physical differences. As Unitarian Universalists we say that we uphold the inherent worth and dignity of all. And I think John Lennon would agree with that principle.

5th, John was a dreamer and wanted us to dream, with him or without him.

John said: “I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?”

And, as we sand earlier, he sang: “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.”

Sometimes dreaming gets too hard though, and reality comes rushing in….In the song, “God is a Concept” John writes:

“I was the Dreamweaver, but now I'm reborn. I was the Walrus, but now I'm John. And so dear friends you'll just have to carry on.”

Now, if we take that within the context of the song; perhaps John is just talking about the dreams of religions. Who knows?

But in any case, in terms of peace and love, we dream on!


6th, Time matters…..

John said:
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

And:
“When you're drowning, you don't say 'I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,' you just scream.”

And this quote – which I believe more and more:
“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”

And the most precious time of all, is time spent with children. My understanding is that Lennon didn’t spend much time at all with his first son Julian, but he devoted himself to with Sean who was born on his birthday, our birthday, October 9, 1975. He wrote:


“He didn't come out of my belly, but my God, I've made his bones, because I've attended to every meal, and how he sleeps, and the fact that he swims like a fish because I took him to the ocean. I'm so proud of all those things. But he is my biggest pride.”

Which brings us to the 7th and final lesson of this day, “LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.”
Here are some of John’s words about love:

“Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.”

“Love is the flower you've got to let grow.”

(In fact), “We've got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can't just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it's going to get on by itself. You've got to keep watering it. You've got to really look after it and nurture it.”


And if you really nurture your love of others, your love of nature, your love of learning, your love of life…. then

“All you need is love.”

da-da-data dum…..

Monday, September 26, 2011

Simply Living and Giving


Because Simple is GOOD!
(A sermon for our 2012 Canvass Kickoff)

Reading:
Simplicity is…
(An Excerpt from Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin)

Simplicity fosters a more harmonious relationship with the Earth – the land, air, water.
Simplicity promotes fairness and equity among the people of the Earth.
Simplicity cuts through needless busyness, clutter, and complications.
Simplicity reveals the beauty and intelligence of nature’s designs.
Simplicity helps save animal and plant species from extinction; and responds to global shortages of oil, water, and other vital resources.
Simplicity yields lasting satisfactions that more than compensate for the fleeting pleasures of consumerism.
Simplicity blossoms in community and connects us to the world with a sense of belonging and common purpose.


While doing my research for this sermon, I ran across a blog posted by Rev. Gary VanderPoll, pastor of a nondenominational evangelical church in Boston.

http://economicdiscipleship.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/what-if-jesus-were-your-financial-advisor/

The question at the top of the blog posting was:
What if Jesus were your financial advisor?
I read it out loud – and my “matter-of-fact” economist husband heard it and responded: “I wouldn’t want Jesus to be my financial advisor. He didn’t know ANYTHING about finances.”

And that is probably true, but he still gave out lots of advice. In fact, as this pastor acknowledges in this blog posting, there is much more advice in the Christian scriptures about money and wealth than there is about other ethical issues that receive for more attention by pastors – such as sexuality.
I read on just to see where this guy was going with this – and found his research efforts to be quite deliberate. He went through the whole New Testament writing down every reference to wealth, money, and possessions. And he has a big excel spreadsheet with all of that on there.

Then he did a pretty good meta-analysis to categorize the gist of the message of these passages. And the result was this pie graph.


From my knowledge of the New Testament, I’d say this is pretty accurate. Jesus has lots of warnings about accumulated wealth and possessions – and often encourages folks to sell it and give it all away to the poor.
Now he and his band of disciples did have funds they collected or worked for – for their living expenses. But then they put Judas in charge of that bag of money – so go figure.

In any case, I think I would concur with my husband and not choose Jesus as my financial advisor. He’s way too radical. He’s beyond socialism – even beyond Marxism.

Heck, I can’t even go as far as our own Unitarian Ancestor Henry David Thoreau did – when he moved out to the woods to simplify his life, although his words do inspire me.

Here are some quotes from Thoreau encouraging us to live simply:
"Still we live meanly, like ants; …. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest.
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
“Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.”
“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

Basically Thoreau was telling us that “Simple is GOOD.” And Thoreau’s a good guy – but his kind of simplicity is a regressive simplicity – a sort of utopian, back to nature throwback to an earlier time. Folks today who follow this kind of simplicity might take on a primitive lifestyle with no indoor toilet, no computer, no car – NO WAY! I like my Prius!

But I do have a simplicity guru that I can try to follow. His name is Duane Elgin – and those were his words we shared for our reading. He is the author of Voluntary Simplicity, first published in 1981 – with subsequent revisions including this 2010 publication.


I had read an earlier version of this work, and was already a fan and – I guess you could say – a disciple. Greg and I have been attempting to move to this lifeway for a quite few years now. Actually, our awareness or this need was challenged here in a UU service about a decade ago, when Guest speaker Will McIntosh asked us to go home and count the number of shirts that we owned and see if that was really necessary! It worked. And we’ve been looking for ways to simplify since then.

Yes, we’ve discovered what many others have – that Simple is GOOD.

Although there are other good books on this as well, Elgin’s earlier work had given me a framework for studying and attempting to implement simplicity in my life. I decided to get his latest edition and review it before this service.
Chapter 1 begins with the words --- “TIME IS UP!! Wake up alarms are ringing around the world with news ranging from economic breakdowns and the end of cheap oil to climate disruption, crop failures, and famines. The time has arrived for making dramatic changes in how we live.”

I think the biggest difference in this edition is the awareness that we have moved from warnings about the need to move in this direction – to a total awareness that our world is now in crisis and that we MUST learn the lessons offered by people like Elgin – and he is, of course, just one of the many folks raising awareness of this need. No longer is simplicity seen as an alternative lifestyle for a marginal few. It is a creative choice for the mainstream majority, particularly developed nations. Elgin states: “The circle has closed. The Earth is a single system and we humans have reached beyond its regenerative capacity. It is of the highest urgency that we invent new ways of living that are sustainable.”

To portray the richness of simplicity, Elgin presents eight different flowerings of what he sees growing in the Garden of Simplicity -- because Simple is Good. So what are these flowers?
1st – Uncluttered Simplicity – taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented – focusing on the essentials. As Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail.”
2nd – Ecological Simplicty – Choosing ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly.
3rd – Family Simplicity – Placing the well-being of one’s family and other close relationships ahead of materialism and the acquisition of things.
4th – Compassionate Simplicity – Feeling such a strong kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, “we choose to live simply so that others may simply live.”
5th – Soulful Simplicity – approaching life as a meditation and cultivating our experience of direct connection with all that exists.
6th – Business Simplicity – a new kind of economy is growing in the world, with healthy and sustainable products and services.
7th – Civic Simplicity – changing every area of public life – from public transportation and education to the design of our cities and workplaces.
8th – Frugal Simplicity – By cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our personal finances, we can achieve greater financial independence. Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the Earth and frees resources for others.

This garden cannot be grown overnight – and takes much tending. But, it does not mean sacrifice. It means living more fully. And that means living more simply – because Simple is Good.

Now, I’m probably the Queen of Frugality. I buy mostly used clothes – giving them a 2nd chance, you know – and I’ve learned many tricks of good frugality from my mom and my grandmother. And for the last decade, I’ve lived with the King of Frugality. So that works! But it does not mean that we are not generous. I will gladly pick up your tab at lunch. Sometimes I may be a little too generous – if there is such a thing. And that leads me to the 2nd part of this sermon title.

This sermon is entitled Simply Living and Giving – because – it is indeed our canvass weekend. What we hope to do through this canvass is simplify a little ourselves – and help YOU to be able to more simply give the time, talents, and treasures that you WANT to give to our wonderful congregation!

One way we’ve simplified is to make all the packets the same – and not do these by households – with some having different numbers of pledge cards and volunteer forms, etc. If you didn’t pick up a packet at the concert Friday night, please get one before you leave today and sign one of the sheets on the back table letting us know you got a packet so that we can save stamps by not mailing one to you. And please pick one up even if you’ve recently started attending here; because we want you to see the variety of volunteer activities and other activities we have available- and get involved!
SO……..
#1 – Everybody get a packet!
#2 – Please read the cover letter with the directions! It really does help. The cover letter is white and has two sides.
#3 – Fill out the pledge card with your estimate of giving for 2012.
On the back of these cards you will find UUA’s Giving Guide. This is a progressive guide. YES, one that assumes that if you are more blessed financially, you are in a better position to give a bigger percentage. But it also takes into account that you sometimes have unusual circumstances; including medical bills, childcare, costs of higher education, and other possibilities. This is a Giving GUIDE – that also takes into account that your commitment to our congregation may be at different levels. Our hope is that you will move toward being committed at the visionary level – looking with us to the future. But understandably, you may need to grow to that point in commitment. So use this guide -- or don’t use it. But it is a good way to at least start thinking about your gift.
NOW – you can give as a household – if you are in one of those households that pool their money and prefers to give as a unit – or you can give individually. If there are two or more adults who get packets (but you are doing one pledge card together) simply indicate on the other pledge cards that you are part of that household unit.
#4 –Complete the YELLOW Volunteer Form. We ask that you check one of the major committees for membership – then you can also check various activities under any of the committees. So for example – you may check the building and grounds committee, but also check under social justice that you want to participate in the MLK parade. If you are willing to give leadership to any of these committees or activities, please let us know that by writing that in the margins.
#5– If you have folks you’d like to recommend for our board – including yourself, use the blue form for doing this.
#6 – Put them all in the envelope provided and bring them back to church next Sunday or the one after that – or you can put a stamp on the envelope and mail it in.

SO – that’s how we’ve hopefully simplified the part about the packet. BUT we also want to encourage you to find ways to SIMPLY give!! Because Simple is Good.

We do not have a system in place that allows us to DRAFT the money from your account – like the Georgia Power does – but actually, I think that the BILL PAY system your bank offers is better anyway – because it allows you to totally be in charge – and when the time comes that you need to change what you are giving – like hopefully after you get that new better paying job or that raise - then you can do this without having to have someone else involved. I have my check sent automatically to the church PO Box – soon after my paycheck ENTERS my account. And that way I don’t have to worry about remembering to bring a check to church – or perhaps get in a situation where I get behind while on vacation and then have a more difficult time catching up, etc. It just makes it simpler – and SIMPLE is good. If you need help setting this up, we have folks in our congregation who are pretty good about things like that and can assist you. Just let me know and I’ll connect you with them.

Now I’m well aware that things are difficult financially for some of you right now. And I’m certainly not trying to guilt you into giving more money than you can afford to give. I’m just saying – that after you figure out what you DO want to give, we can help you figure out a way to do that in a simplified way. Because SIMPLE is GOOD.

Please know ALSO --- that we know things can happen that you can’t predict. We ask that you fill out these forms based on how things are now. But if something happens – you lose your job – a family member becomes ill and needs more of your financial assistance --- whatever – and you need to change your pledge, just let our treasurer know so we can adjust our budget --- and the same is true with your commitments of time. We understand that things can happen.

Hopefully, you will not be shipwrecked and end up on a deserted island like these guys.
But if you do, we’ll come look for you!

In any case, we do hope that you will take some time this week to consider your gifts of time, talent, and treasure to our wonderful congregation. If we all share together, we will be truly blessed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reminiscing....


This week five years ago was an unusual one for me. Preparations were underway for our congregation to ordain me as a Unitarian Universalist minister and install me as the first called minister. I was busily preparing the orders of service for adults and special ones for the children, and others planned for a grand reception at the Averitt Center after the ceremony.

That same week we moved dad to the hospice facility just down the street from our church. Dad had been under hospice care at home for his Alzheimer’s and other serious problems. However, he needed to be moved for some procedures to make him more comfortable. Once we moved him there, we realized that he probably would not be coming back home. The end was very, very near.

What to do? Calling off the ordination would be very difficult. Major plans had been made and airline tickets were purchased for special speakers, etc. Changing these plans would be disruptive to many people. And who could tell when my dad would go?

On September 24, 2006; the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro ordained and installed me in a wonderful ceremony. My dad had wanted to be there. He had told me earlier – in a rare moment when he knew what was going on in our lives; that we may have to wheel him in on a stretcher – but that he would be there. Indeed, he was close by – just down the street, with my nephew taking a turn at his bedside so that other family members could be with me. And as family and friends joined this congregation in a laying on of hands ceremony, I felt his strong hands there as well.

Early the next morning (September 25th), my brother called and shared that my dad had just breathed his last breath. My seminary friend Lee Page was with me when I got the call and accompanied me and my mom to the hospice facility.

My son John’s birthday was on September 26. That evening we had Dad’s visitation at the funeral home with so many folks from the community who had known my dad through the years coming through to share a moment with us. Then we had the funeral and buried him on September 27th.

That week I had traveled back and forth from our building to the hospice building with so many mixed emotions. And the combination of my son’s birthday with my dad’s visitation service was also surreal. Yet, it is at times like these that we often enter a spiritual realm that somehow gives us a holy strength and energy that is incomprehensible. My mom and I were reminiscing about this today and I shared with her my thoughts about this special realm. She replied, “That’s what some of us call God.”


Me and my daddy, J.G. Altman, in 2005

Monday, September 12, 2011

These Three…Lost in the Debris of 9-11: America’s Ten Year Search for Faith, Hope, and Love!

Sermon delivered by Rev. Jane Page on September 11, 2011.

Like some of you, I may not remember what I had for supper last night – but I remember exactly what I was doing on this morning 10 years ago. I was in riding in Nate Hirsch’s car. Nate was then the owner of two radio stations in town – and “The Voice of the Georgia Southern Eagles.” We had been paired together to collect money for Georgia Southern’s “A Day for Southern” – and we were out doing just that.

Nate got a call from the people at his radio station, telling him that he needed to know about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. He shared that with me and I envisioned a small plane – somehow – off course – perhaps with the pilot having a heart attack or something – and then having this terrible accident crashing into this large building. That of course was what it must have been. And Nate and I discussed that possible scenario. Then he got another call – saying that indications were that it was perhaps not an accident.

Our next stop was at the Nursery School where my grandson JD (now 14) was attending pre-kindergarten. We decided to continue our efforts to collect the money for GSU – still not understanding what was happening. When we entered, however, we saw much of the staff hovered in a room with a television – and we saw and heard this being replayed.
(News video of plane crash into second building) This was no accident.

I went to JD’s room and asked his teacher if I could come in and hug him. That is all I wanted to do right then. I’m sure JD wondered why his Nana Jane was paying this special visit. He did give me a big hug and smile – then pulled away and went back to his playing. The juxtaposition of those happy children playing in one room with the videos on the screen in the other room was surreal.

Now all of you (unless you are very young) have a story like that to tell – forever burned into your memories. America has not lost those memories – but we did lose other things that day. Some of us, of course, lost family members and friends. Even I had a friend that died in one of those towers that day. But we seemed to have lost more than that. To some degree – not entirely – but to some degree – we have struggled since that time to find and hold on to some of our most important treasures – even – to some degree – faith, hope, and love.

The falling of those twin towers seem to mimic the falling of dominoes –taking out so much more: one disaster after another, one crisis after another, one failure after another, domino after domino…on and on. (And certainly each crisis was not a direct cause of the 911 events – but our reactions to them certainly were colored by those events.)

I’m going to pause now – and let those of you here lift up some of the difficult crises, tragedies, and concerns that we’ve witnessed in the last 10 years. What do these falling dominoes represent to you?

One of the most difficult and devastating of these tragedies is the cost in lives, money, and soul – of our violent response.Americans have always wanted to be winners – and that’s fine for a ballgame, and perhaps even for the Olympics, or maybe this board game.


But, how do you WIN a “War on Terror”? Unlike this board game or ball games, there are no clear rules, no uniformed opposition, no referees. Yet, once we begin – like the TV game show and reality talent show judge Howie Mandel cheers, we’re “In it to Win it.”

No matter the cost of blood, sweat, and tears – no matter the neglect of other concerns through the years, we are left with QUESTIONS. Many of us asked:
Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?
Did we learn nothing from the Soviet experience with their war in Afganistan?
Did we learn nothing from our math classes?
Where is the money coming from?
Who pays for this?

And now the politicians cut the very services that provide some semblance of security for those in desperate need. And we search for our lost faith, our lost hope, our lost love.

After I decided on the title of this sermon and my selected text, I decided to study this passage we read earlier from 1st Corinthians a little more – looking at some of the exegesis of so-called biblical authorities about the meaning of it; (not that I myself view either the apostle Paul as an authority or the Bible as an authority; although I do include those writings as a source of inspiration.) But I thought – if I’m going to use this passage, let me see what others who do view it in a more authoritative manner say about this. Of course – they don’t all agree. But many do say that Paul viewed both faith and hope as spiritual concepts that endure – but are not as powerful as love.

Faith – according to other writings of Paul – is based on knowledge. And it’s the step we take after acquiring what knowledge we can. Now many put their faith in some supernatural beings or ideas. But we also put our faith in other kinds of things.

If I’m going to sit in this chair, I put my faith in design principles and in the workmanship of those who built it. And based on my knowledge and experience with past chairs like this, I feel confident sitting down in it. But my faith (which can be questioned, because some chairs do give way) …my faith is built upon my knowledge and experiences, or the confidence in the knowledge and experiences of others whom I trust.

Now HOPE is a more emotional quality, that feeling we get when we have some optimism that something good can happen!

Then there is LOVE. LOVE is what we DO for others – sometimes translated in this passage from Corinthians – as charity. And what we DO supersedes our faith and our hope.

I kind of like that explanation. It reminds me of our children’s affirmation – when they say –“We are Unitarian Universalists – people of open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.” We have all three aspects, but it’s really the helping hands that make the biggest difference.

The title of this sermon implies that “these three” have diminished in America since September 11, 2001; and that we continue in our search for them. That’s just a metaphor, of course; but I’d like to explore it a little more with you.

Has America lost faith? Some folks probably hope that we have. In fact, some folks blame faith and religion for acts like those that occurred that day. Sam Harris makes that argument in his book entitled: The End of Faith. And, if you have read this compelling book, you’ll probably find yourself nodding your head in agreement with much of it. And I hear John Lennon singing, “Imagine no religion…” – and think, yeah!


But then, I love connection, I love worship services, I love and need to be with others who are striving to become better themselves and to make the world a better place. And I have faith that we can join together in some kind of loving connection and make that happen.

But many HAVE given up on any kind of formal identified faith. “According to a comprehensive national survey released in 2009, those identifying with no religious tradition, or as atheists or agnostics, account for 15 percent of the population, up from about 8 percent in 1990. "No religion" Americans are the only religious demographic that's growing in every single state.”
(http://www.usnews.com/news/religion/articles/2009/03/13/leaving-religion-behind-a-portrait-of-nonreligious-america)

I wonder – if those folks know about Unitarian Universalism. I wonder if they know that there IS a tradition where they can find a home – a home that welcomes atheists and agnostics as well as others who follow varied spiritual paths. I’m not so worried about folks not going to church or synagogue though – And I’m not so worried about folks losing faith in God. But I am concerned that many have lost faith in what God represents: goodness and love in the world.

And – what about HOPE? In the Presidential campaign of 2008, we heard a lot about HOPE. I’m sure you remember this poster.

And I think that many of us, regardless of our politics, were somewhat optimistic that we could rescue HOPE from the debris – pull it out, hold it up. But events since then have been discouraging and HOPE seems to be stuck.

And then there is LOVE – which includes tolerance and compassion.
As the hip hop group Black Eyed Peas so effectively shared in their 2003 recording…. Where is the love?

"What's wrong with the world, mama
People livin' like they ain't got no mamas
I think the whole world addicted to the drama
Only attracted to things that'll bring you trauma
Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin'
In the USA, the big CIA fightin'
The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you're bound to get irate, yeah

...Where is the love ya’ll?"


It seems that that hate is focused now on those who are not native born – or who we THINK are not native born; as well as on those who practice non-Christian religions. History repeating itself again! Faith, Hope, and Love – LOST in the Debris!

So what is the debris – and how do we clean it up. To me – the debris is FEAR.
Psychologist Brad Schmidt agrees. In a January 1, 2002 Psychology Today article, he wrote: “On September 11, terrorists did more than destroy buildings; they scarred the American psyche.” The article goes on to explain some of the generalized anxiety that psychologists were seeing throughout America – even in rural areas, after 911.
And perhaps that should be expected.

But it seems that fear has taken hold of us in many ways since that time. And it’s been used by powerful people – selfish people to control us. (and those “People” include some corporations – which, of course as we’ve been told by the courts – ARE people). And it’s been used to cover the faith, hope, and love we hope to regain.

If we are to regain that faith, hope, and love; we have to clean the debris. Remove those unfounded fears; use our brains to help us figure out what we really need to fear and what is bogus hype. Yes, we needed to tighten security after 911 and be on guard. And yes, after hearing of the recent “credible threat” –I’d perhaps be a little more on guard today if I lived in New York City or Washington, DC. But at what cost is this fear?

I saw an interesting statistic recently that compared the number of Americans killed last year by terrorists with the numbers killed by lightning strikes and dog bites. Here is that chart.

Now worldwide – there WERE 13,186 people who died last year from events that could be labeled as connected to terrorism. But then the World Health Organization estimate is that more than 16,000 children in the world die every DAY due to hunger alone. And the UN Estimate is 18,000 a day. So our priorities and our fears are a little messed up.

We have become fearFUL because we devour too much fear food. I’m reminded of the little nursery rhyme about Miss T by Walter de la Mare.


"It’s a very odd thing –
As odd can be –
That whatever Miss T eats
Turns into Miss T:
Porridge and apples,
Mince, muffins, and mutton,
Jam, junket, jumbles –
Not a rap, not a button
It matters; the moment
They’re out of her plate,
Though shared by Miss Butcher
And sour Mr. Bate;
Tiny and cheerful,
And neat as can be,
Whatever Miss T eats
Turns into Miss T"



I’m reminded of that poem as I’m trying to change my own diet and eat food that is healthier for me and our planet. But I’m also reminded of it when I think about what I feed to my brain each day. And if I feed it a constant diet of fear –perhaps watching shows like Nancy Grace – or even the regular news casts – then I’m going to become fearful. I’m not saying we need to stick our heads in a hole in the ground and not know what’s happening in the world – but you know what I’m talking about, folks.

So here are some things I think we can do to clean up the debris of fear that keeps us from being able to fully possess those treasures of faith, hope, and love.
1. Educate ourselves to the facts. Don’t base our actions on hype. Are more children really being abducted or do we just see more on television?
2. Turn off the TV and other media that feed us fear.
3. Feed our brains with more positive possibilities, words, and images. Go to an art show, a good concert, a good walk in nature.
4. Get involved with doing good. Volunteer with something like Feeding Statesboro or Voces Unidas. Plant something good to eat or beautiful to see. Work for positive change.
5. Come here more often. Sing with us. Eat with us. Play with us.
We may not be able to change the nation or the world all at once,but we can start with ourselves and this congregation.

Let’s clean-up the debris and find that “faith, hope, and love” once again.


May it be so!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Yes, we did!

Every time I walk into the Emma Kelly Theater I'm flooded with memories. When I was a child here in Statesboro back in the 50's, we came to this theater often. It was then called the "Georgia Theater" and we came almost every time the movie changed. We always sat in the same place - near some steps by an emergency entrance on the left side - so my dad could put his feet on the steps. I also came often with my brother Johnny on Saturdays, where for 25 cents we could see a double feature and six cartoons! The theater would be packed -all kids -all joyful -all white. Well, there was the section in the balcony where the African American children could sit; but they entered by a side entrance before climbing those steps, so I rarely even thought about the separation. When civil rights laws became impossible for the management to ignore, they resolved to keep their white clientele happy while continuing to make money from the African Americans as well by a change in the price structure. The policy was that you could pay a higher price and sit downstairs - or a reduced price to sit in the old "colored section" of the balcony. And the un-said expectation was that nothing would change. For a long time, it did not.
 
Of course, as I have shared previously with many of you, over time I did change. And I became more and more frustrated with the lack of progress in our community toward inclusion. As an adult I began to gradually get involved in efforts to promote more racial justice in our community and became known by some as "a traitor to my heritage." I loved my community, but I did not love our lack of love for all.
 
And that is why I found myself with a broad smile that was stuck on my face at a recent visit to this beautifully renovated theater this summer. I was sharing an evening with my step-daughter Sarah at the local production of the musical "Hairspray." I know she must have wondered why I could not get that smile off my face. You see, the juxtaposition of my history with that building with my experiences that night were just too delightful for anything but a constant grin signifying my total joy.
 
As you may know, "Hairspray" is set in the 60's and has as a primary theme, the acceptance of others who may be different - including the transformation of a community from one that is segregated to one that is integrated. Of course, it is a highly fictitious, light-hearted production, and only hints at the real struggles of the 60's, yet those of us who were there understand the unstated significance behind the words to the songs and dialogue.
 
It was during the intermission that the overwhelming joy started welling up in my soul. I was thirsty - so went to the lobby to get a drink of water from the water fountain. And there - reminiscent of earlier days - were two fountains side by side. Except, of course, this time both were clean with cool water. One was lower for those in wheel chairs or who are of shorter stature and the other was higher.   As I drank that good cool Statesboro water from the lower fountain, I looked to my side where an African American man was drinking deeply from the other fountain there in the main lobby of that theater. Had we not been witnessing that play in that building, it would not have had the same meaning. But for me, at that time and place, I thought....   YES!
 
Then when I returned to my seat I looked around at all the joyful folks waiting for the actors to return to the stage. And I noticed in the row in front of me a man of European descent and a woman of African descent - very obviously a couple - totally relaxed in that environment. On my row sat a family that included a father of African descent, the mother of European descent and mixed race children. When I looked around me, I saw many of the folks with whom I grew up in Statesboro, having good conversations about the wonderful play they were seeing that night. And I thought..... YES.
 
The play began again and I witnessed folks taking part who I knew were openly gay in our community. And again, I thought.... YES!!!
 
YES, we still have struggles - but here we are!! We did make this journey, and though we have a ways to go, we have come far. It just took us about 50 years to do it, but we ARE making progress!
 
Later at a meeting of the Averitt Stars, I shared with them that I was committed to providing more support because the ARTS can provide wonderful opportunities for social transformation. Statesboro used to have a motto that I still remember hearing on the radio. "Statesboro - where nature smiles and progress has the right-of-way." Oh, may it be so!