Monday, September 15, 2014

Standing on the Side of Love with our Time, Talents, and Treasure




Originally shared at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro on September 14,2014 by Rev. Jane Page


Story for All Ages – Stone Soup
Reading – “On Giving” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Sermon
I invite you to think of the last time you gave a gift that was significant and meaningful both to you and to the folks or organizations receiving the gift. 

Some of you may have thought about something you did yesterday – and others may have had to stretch your memories a little. Because I’m a minister, I am BLESSED to see wonderful outcomes of the gifts that I share every day.  And I’m so appreciative of that opportunity.  But I also remember some very special times in my life history, and I’m going to share one of those stories with you today.

When I was a little girl, I could entertain myself for hours playing with my dolls.  Now this was the pre-Barbie doll era.  In fact, by the time Barbie made her entrance, I had moved on to skateboards.  But as a child, my dolls were magical to me.  They brought me great pleasure and I became emotionally attached them.  And because my family members knew how much I loved these little ones, they gave me dolls for my birthdays and Christmas.  My dolls were not the grown-up dress-up dolls.  They were baby dolls or little girl or boy dolls.  They were children – my fellow playmates.  And they were my students.  I’d line them up all around the room and teach them.  And of course, at night, they were my bed companions.  I named them all – my own names if I didn't think the ones from the factory fit them.  They were my babies. 

Now of course as I got older and became more involved in my school activities, I played with my dolls less, but I still had them all lined up in my room and would include them in special parties with the neighborhood girls.  We would sit at our table and our dolls would have their own little table.  I pulled this picture off the internet.  My doll’s table wasn’t that fancy.  I’m sharing all of this with you so that you will understand my gift to the Baptist Children’s Home and why it was special.

We received word at First Baptist that the children at the Georgia Baptist children’s home needed toys – and that volunteers would repair them and get them in good condition so that these children would have Christmas presents.  I must have been about 10 at the time.  I came home, made sure my dolls were clean and their hair was combed, got a big box, and carefully laid my babies in the box.  I saved out two special dolls that were in poor condition – Tiny Tears and Suzie with the broken leg.  (Tiny Tears now fills in for Jesus every year when we have our Christmas Pageant).  And then, after they were carefully laid in the box, I put that big box atop my red wagon and pulled it to the church.  This was not just a hand-me-down activity.  This was a gift of love from my heart.  A big gift.  A gift for the greater good that we Baptists were striving for at the Children’s home.   I did not cry or have sadness with my gift.  I was so happy to be able to give generously. 

Since that time, I try to recapture that same spirit in my giving of time, talents, and treasure to the greater good.  And although I give to other good causes, I find that my greatest blessings as a giver come when I give to that greater good that this congregation and Unitarian Universalism represents as we Stand on the Side of Love in this community and in the world.  This is the place where we receive spiritual sustenance and grow those values in ourselves and in our children that make us better givers with other causes.  This congregation should be where we give our greatest gifts.  

And most Unitarian Universalists have the resources to make meaningful gifts.  But unlike other faith communities, many Unitarian Universalists treat their congregations as just another charity – like NPR or something.   Although Unitarian Universalists are near the top in average income, we are dead last in our giving. 

Say what?  Yes!
Although Unitarian Universalists are near the top in average income, we are dead last in our giving among 23 major faith traditions in the United States. (From Spiritual Truths, General Assembly Providence, RI – Rev. Val Weller)

Statistics show that folks with lower incomes give a greater percentage to charity.  (See Bama Group Research) And while most faith traditions challenge folks to tithe, we have very low expectations. We tend to have a fatalistic view of what we can do.  But I’m an evangelist for the LOVE that we stand for! 

So like the prophet of old—I’m going to Stand on the Side of Love – and shout out that we can do better.  We can be a part of a congregation that truly can live our principles and values, but we can’t think of that congregation in the same way that we consider the neighborhood restaurant – where we go and pay a fee to be served.  As Rev. Eric Wickstron reminds us, we need to give up the consumer mind set and begin to think of ourselves instead as shareholders, investors, and co-owners in what happens in our congregation..

Yes, the congregation is YOURS, a fellowship to nurture your own spiritual growth and that of others –including our wonderful children -- both internally and beyond.  And to do that we all need to share our time, talents, - and yes – our treasure. 

I truly believe that with our new home and increased visibility and space for increased activities, we truly are standing on the edge of something great.  We can be more than a little light in a tiny chalice.  We can be a lighthouse – a beacon of Love shining out in this community.  But for the light to shine, we need your gifts. 

I’m not going to suggest that you give a Tithe, though some do strive to do that as a spiritual practice.  But I do think that most of us can begin moving – if we haven’t already – to that 5% level of giving.  My dad used to say that we shouldn’t do anything (excuse the expression) half-assed.  And some would consider asking for 5% to be just that.  But I know that since folks do give to other good charitable organizations – 5% may be a more appropriate goal for you to strive for.  Some of you can’t do that all at once – but perhaps you could begin with giving 3%.  Whatever you give will be honored and appreciated.  And if you have no money to give – that’s okay too!  Because we also need for everyone to give of their time and talents as they are able to do so. 

Now we have to be careful when we ask folks to give of their time and talent.  Because some folks readily give and give and then get burned out and leave us.  And we don’t want folks to leave! 

We want them to stay with us and be renewed by others.  You know – some folks say that leading Unitarian Universalists is like herding cats.  But I don’t like that analogy.  I prefer referencing a flock of geese as a metaphor for a UU congregation, because there are lots of lessons we can learn from geese.  I’ve shared this before – but it’s worth repeating these lessons (originally shared by Milton Olson. (http://www.uww-adr.com/blog/lessons-from-geese-by-milton-olson#.VBc7thawVZw)

FACT 1
As each goose flaps its wings it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follow. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

LESSON
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another

FACT 2
When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

LESSON
If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

FACT 3
When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

LESSON
It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other's skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

FACT 4
The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

LESSON
We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one's heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

FACT 5
When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

LESSON
If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

That’s the congregation we need to be and that we CAN be. But we need us some good soup to nourish us.  And I have a STONE for the soup.  This STONE is magical because this represents our vision of what we can be.  We can BE that liberal beacon shining in southeast Georgia.  We can BE a congregation that folks KNOW exists because of our visibility – both in terms of our meeting place and in terms of our good works and advocacy for justice and peace.  We can BE a people that teaches our strong values to our children and reinforces them in us as well.  We can BE a community of faith where we can nurture and heal ourselves and receive the nourishment to nurture and heal the world.  But this vision –this stone, by itself, will not make the soup.  We need for each of us to go back and look into our cupboards --- and perhaps see what we are hoarding there in terms of our time, talents, and treasure, and bring them to share in the soup pot for the greater good.  And when we do, we will know – just as I did when I gave away my dolls, that it is a good and joyful gift. I can just smell that wonderful soup now.  Mmmm mmm good!

May it be so!  Honk Honk





Saturday, September 6, 2014

Open Letter to Classmates

This letter was written in March of 2008 and sent to African American classmates and published as an "Open Letter" in the Statesboro Herald. 



March 10, 2008

An Open Letter to Erma, Mattie, Homer, Alvin, Elaine, Charlene, Jeanette, Runell, Mary Linda, Johnny Sue, Billy, and Catherine.

Dear Classmates,
In the fall of 1965, I entered Statesboro High School as a sophomore.  This was only the second year in the existence of this new school building on Lester Road.  But more was new than the lockers and desks awaiting me that fall. There were also new faces – darker faces than those I had been accustomed to in my Statesboro schools.  Some of you were students who began Statesboro High School that year, the first year that the high school was integrated.  And some of you remained and graduated with my class in 1968.  Others decided to leave and return to William James.  And others of you joined the class our junior or senior years.  But all of you were my classmates.  And one of you is no longer with us.  This letter comes too late for Homer. 

Like many of you, I was born here in Statesboro in 1950.  And like you, I grew up in the days of Jim Crow laws.  But unlike you, these laws did not affect me in obvious ways.  My white privilege allowed me access to every store, restaurant, and entertainment spot in town.  And for the most part, I was pretty na├»ve about the evils of racism.  Oh, I did notice things – as all children do.  I remember when I was 5 or 6, standing in the “Whites Only” line at the Dairy Queen with my dad, waiting to get a cone.  It was a hot day and there were lines at both the “white” and “colored” windows.  Perhaps that’s why I noticed the differences.  So I asked my dad why all of the white people were in our line and all of the colored people were in the other line.  My father shared this unique explanation with me.  He told me that we were white – and that we stood in our line to get vanilla ice cream, while the colored people stood in the other line to get chocolate ice cream.  Of course, I immediately told him that I wanted chocolate!  And he said, “No, you are white, so you get vanilla.  That’s just the way it is and you have to accept it.”  Well, I didn’t realize that vanilla was the only flavor served at Dairy Queen.  (That was even in the days before dipped cones.)  But his answer stuck with me.  And it has served as a metaphor for what happened in my life.  Indeed, I just accepted the differences and did not question them further.  Yet, I still took notice – like when boxes were being filled at my elementary school (Mattie Lively) with our old worn-out textbooks.  I asked what was going to happen to them and was told that they were being taken to the “colored school” for the children to use there.  “Separate but equal” was never the case in Bulloch County.     

To be fair to my parents, they never overtly taught me to be a racist.  They didn’t have to.  Everything in my society, from the Dairy Queen windows on, taught me that white folks and black folks should function in separate social environments.  And my society not only taught me that “separate” was right, it also taught me that I was in the superior group.  All I had to do was look at the water fountains.  The “whites only” fountains were clean with cool, refrigerated water.  Not so for the “colored” fountains.   And of course, my church reinforced these standards.  In the 60’s we also were witnesses to television news programs showing activities of the Civil Rights movement.  But these were presented in ways that made me fearful.  I’m sure it must have been covered, but I don’t remember seeing much of the peaceful demonstrations that I can now view in documentaries of that time.  The emphasis on our news seemed to be on riots and angry black people wanting to “destroy our way of life.”  The propaganda worked.  I was afraid and fearful of the possibilities of integration.  And I did not understand why in the world you would want to leave “your” school and come to “our” school.    

The Brown Decision, virtually outlawing segregated schools, was handed down by the courts in 1954.  Yet the schools in Statesboro had managed to remain completely separate for the next 10 years.  The latest effort to satisfy the courts had been the school system’s “Freedom of Choice” plan.  This plan was one in which parents could “choose” their children’s schools.  Everyone knew what choice was supposed to be made, though, and the schools remained separate till you and others made the bold decision to be pioneers in the effort to integrate our schools.  So there you were, walking through our halls with your heads held high and a determined look in your eyes.  And there I was, afraid of you, mad with you, but curious – oh so curious about folks like you.

For the next three years, we did our high school activities and really had very little interaction with each other.   I found out later that there were lots of folks who were interacting, though very negatively with you – trying to run you down with their cars and hurling insults and rocks.   I didn’t know about these occurrences because I never attempted to really get to know you.   I did make a connection with one girl that was life changing.  I used to be one of the folks at school that was a “cut-up” and class clown – someone who would make jokes about things and try to lighten up everyone’s attitudes.  When we were in the hallways, one of you would “cut up” with me in similar ways.  And we became friendly with each other.  I would like to say we were friends.  But I never invited you to my house and you never invited me to yours.  We were about as friendly as a white girl and black girl could be in those days I suppose.  And I remember thinking that I was more LIKE you than I was my white friends.  We were both from middle class families with parents that emphasized a strong work ethic, and we were both so fun-loving.  We were “kin” in many ways.  But I kept that thought to myself – not daring say it aloud.  That thought of our kinship, however, cracked through the armor of racism that I had built around me.  And I began to open my mind to the possibilities of a wider world of humanity.  I never thanked you for that. 

This year I have been involved with others in planning the 40th class reunion for the Class of 1968.  We haven’t had one in 30 years and I’m very excited about seeing folks again.  Focusing on my high school classmates and high school years has been a time of joy and sorrow for me.  One of the sorrows that I have is that I missed out on a real opportunity to get to know some fantastic people.  And I missed out on an opportunity to provide a welcoming hand of fellowship.  This was my loss and I can’t retrieve it.  But I can apologize.


  • I’m sorry that I did not make an effort to understand why you were coming to SHS.
  • I’m sorry that I did not meet you in front of the school and say hello.
  • I’m sorry that I was afraid of you and avoided being in places where several of you were together.
  • I’m sorry that I avoided sitting by you in class.
  • I’m sorry that I was involved with negative conversations about you and did not speak up when you were put down.
  • I’m sorry that I didn’t encourage you to join the clubs that I was in or join the flaggette team.
  • I’m sorry that I didn’t invite you to my 16th birthday party.  It would have been a lot more fun with you there.
  • I’m sorry that I didn’t find ways to get to know you – really know you and understand you individually, rather than seeing you as “one of those black students.” 
  • I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize the remarkable opportunity that I had in that place and time in history to be a part of something special with you.
  • And I’m sorry – oh SO sorry, that it’s taken me 40 years to say, “I’m sorry.”


I hope you can forgive me.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s not too late for some of us.
Three classmates together in 2014

Sincerely,

Jane Altman Page