Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Wavers or Naysayers

Palm Sunday - 2015

Children's Story:



This morning I’m going to share a special story with you from this book – The Bible.  Now like many other stories I’ve shared with you, this story is very old – and it’s told a little differently in different parts of the Bible – and we are not really sure how much of it is true  -- but these are very good stories and we can learn a lot from them. 

This story is about the man called Jesus.  We’ve shared stories of Jesus here before and told stories that Jesus shared with others.  And most of us consider Jesus to be a great teacher whose stories and sermons encouraged people to love one another and to care for others.  But long ago many people wanted Jesus to be much more than that.  And actually, that’s still true for some today.

Jesus lived in a land called Palestine – and that land was controlled by a foreign government, the Romans.  Well – actually back in Jesus’ day – the Roman Empire was very big and the Romans controlled many lands.   

Jesus was a Jewish man and many Jews wanted to be free of the Romans and be able to rule their own land.  And they were looking for a KING who would lead an army that would revolt and overthrow the Roman government.  And because Jesus had attracted very large crowds when he taught, they thought that perhaps he could be that King and lead that revolt. 

Well, it was the time for a big Jewish holy day called, The Passover.  Many Jews came to their holy city of Jerusalem to celebrate The Passover so there were huge crowds there.  And these folks heard from other crowds following Jesus that he was headed for Jerusalem.  And they were very happy! 

Jesus knew that they were looking for a leader.  And he thought that he could be a good leader – one who would teach them to love and respect one another.  So before he came into the city, he got his disciples to bring him a small donkey for him to ride, because a prophet of long ago had said that the King would ride in on a donkey. 
Well, when the crowds saw Jesus riding that donkey they got very excited.  They wanted to greet him like royalty.  But they didn’t have any RED carpet to put down – like we see the kings and even movie stars walk on.  So you know what they did?  They put down their garments (which just means clothes – like their coats) on the road.  And they put down branches from the trees.  And one of the stories said that they waved Palm branches and put these down on the street as Jesus came by. 

So when Jesus entered Jerusalem it was kind of like a parade – with people on all the sides singing and shouting praises at Jesus.  And they called him their King and waved the Palm branches.  And that is why many folks call this Sunday – the Sunday before Easter – PALM Sunday.   So that day was a really FUN and exciting day in Jerusalem.

But then the people found out that Jesus was not going to be the kind of King that led a revolt against the Romans.  And many of them were not happy with Jesus anymore.  They did not understand that the message Jesus was teaching was much greater than any war victory, because Jesus was not a person who encouraged violence.  Instead, Jesus was a person who encouraged peace. 

So when we see these palms and here about Palm Sunday – we need to remember the stories that Jesus taught that said, “Be peacemakers, Love your neighbor, and even Love your enemy.”

Let’s try to do just that today.  

SERMON 

It was Palm Sunday, but because of a sore throat, five year old Johnny stayed home from the local Episcopal Church with his grandmother. When his family returned home, they were carrying several palm fronds. Johnny asked them what they were for.
      "People held them over Jesus' head as he walked by," his father told him.
      "Dang it," Johnny fumed, "the one Sunday I don't go and he shows up."

Well, Johnny really had a pretty good question.   What WERE the Palm fronds really for?    I did try to do some research to find out the answer to little Johnny’s question.  And I got conflicting responses.  It seems that the Palm represented something different depending on when it was being waved and who was waving it.  

During pre-Christian times, the Palm was a symbol of military victory – especially for the Jews.   Remember the Maccabees that we sing about at Hanukah?  Jewish historians tell us that after their victory, they marched triumphantly into Jerusalem waving palm fronds as a sign of their military victory.  

SO – some interpreters of Christian scriptures share that folks welcoming Jesus were waving Palms because THEY were expecting a Messiah who would lead a military revolt against the Roman government.  And the hope was that this charismatic figure called Jesus would be the King that could do just that. 
Another source said that Jewish people often waved palms at celebrations.  They were especially used at harvest celebrations and represented peace and plenty.  But they were waved at other celebrations as well.  Hey – they didn’t have balloons back then.  So, if you think about it, most of the folks entering Jerusalem were there to celebrate the Passover.  Could it be that they happened to have had Palm branches in their hands ANY way – because they were celebrating?  Perhaps so!

And then finally, many Christian scholars identify the palm as representing – not military victory – but victory of the faithful believers over the enemies of the soul. 

So the answer to little Johnny’s question would depend on which preacher is standing in the pulpit.  Since I’m here today, I’ll go with door # 1.  If there were Palms, my guess is that the folks were waving them in hopes of being saved from the Romans – not from some spiritual hell.  

A second bit of conflicting symbolism is related to that little donkey Jesus rode.  Now Jesus was a man who walked. He walked everywhere, – as did most folks back then.   So WHY ride now?  And why ride this iddy biddy colt? 
If you study the Christian gospels, you will discover that much was written to coincide with Hebrew Scripture prophesies – like many of the events related to Jesus’ birth.   It’s almost like someone took all these prophesies and composed a story that seemed to “fit” – although sometimes the fit was like putting the square peg in the round hole, but nevertheless, it gets in there.  And then the writer even says:  “This was done to fulfill the prophesy.”  The Jews (or at least some of them) had been looking for a messiah for some time – and these Christian gospels seemed to be written, at least partially, to proclaim – hey, Jesus is the man.  Now in the reading from John that you heard earlier, the writer quotes a prophesy that says:  “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."  I did a little background research and found this prophesy in chapter 9 of Zachariah – a minor prophet book in the Old Testament that declares visions of horrible destruction followed by wonderful celebrations of the Jewish people after defeating all their enemies.  This chapter ends with the following prediction:    “How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.”  No wonder the crowd got excited! So one obvious reason for Jesus riding the donkey would be because he was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, and WANTED people to draw the conclusion that he was the prophesized messiah.   

Now some say that Jesus intentionally rode in on this donkey to humble himself.  These bible interpreters claim that most leaders would be riding in on a horse – not a slow pokey donkey.  And this little donkey – never ridden before – was to convey a message of humility.  In any case, I’m sure that if Jesus did arrive on the slow pokey donkey – some might have been disappointed.  I know that feeling myself.  After our current president was elected, I was hoping for our leader to ride in on a fast horse called CHANGE – and immediately cleanse our land of evils like “Don’t ask, don’t tell,”  “a broken health care system,” “an unfair tax structure,” and certainly, “unnecessary wars.”  Instead, I’ve had to adjust to this donkey ride – but we’ve gotten there on some of my hopes.  

Although there are some discrepancies in the three gospels that tell this story, they all have jubilant crowds praising Jesus as he nears the city.  One of the gospels, however, also includes some verses that indicate Jesus’ realization that these crowds obviously had not heard his teachings.  In Luke, the writer shares that when this jubilant parade was nearing Jerusalem, Jesus wept.
Luke 19: 41-42 states: “As Jesus drew near to the city of Jerusalem he wept over it saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.” 
The writer of Luke said he cried for Jerusalem.  But one also has to wonder if he didn’t cry for himself, for Jesus likely knew that the end was near.  He was seen by the establishment as one who did not follow their rules and who openly criticized them, and he had attracted a huge following.  That scared the folks who had been in the more privileged groups of authority.  And we know – even looking today – what can happen when folks are fearful that they may lose their power.  

So Jesus was sad – and he wept. As one of the songs in our hymnal says:  (sing) “With sudden grief his eyes grew wet, and soon his weeping drowned his sight.”

After he entered the city, he also experienced some other very difficult emotions.   When he visited the temple, he realized that the temple he had loved had turned into a den of thieves – with moneychangers using their positions to take advantage of the poor religious folks who came to make their required sacrifices.  We usually refer to Jesus as one who was “meek and mild.”  But according to the gospels, that is not the Jesus that entered the temple that day.  He was furious!  He threw out the merchants and those selling the doves for sacrifice and overturned their tables.  Now some scholars tell us that this story is probably metaphorical – with the temple representing Israel and the moneychangers representing the established religious order.  Perhaps so!  But since we are telling this as a story – anyway – that may or may not be true – anyway, let’s include the angry Jesus.  

When Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, he experienced lots of other emotions – including love and compassion for his disciples as he gently washed their feet.  And I’m sure extreme disappointment as he acknowledged that he knew his betrayer.  

Later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus experienced frustration with his disciples for falling asleep, anguish as he contemplated his fate, fear as he begged his Heavenly Father for some possibility for escape.  And then…. And then…..

There was another crowd – another huge crowd here in this city that had welcomed Jesus with Hosanna’s and Palm branches just a few days before.  But this crowd was not jubilant – this was an angry mob, calling out with the encouragement of the high priests, “Crucify him.”  “Crucify him.”
How did songs of praise turn into shouts calling for torture and death?  Of course another question is:  are these the same people?    Maybe the Palm Wavers left the city – all hiding out, like many of Jesus disciples were doing.  And maybe those who had stayed away from Jesus’ jubilant entry because they were not fans of Jesus (the naysayers if you will) – now turned out to demand his death.  That is very possible.  But there are probably others who just joined both crowds and were swayed by others to behave with the crowd in both instances.  

When I was a young teenager, my mom used to give me instruction about lots of things and warn me about “the crowd.”  She would say – “Now Jane, be careful not to just go along with the crowd.”  Well, I took her advice.  And here I am.  And I would probably bet that most of you sitting here are not easily caught up with crowd mentality – or you probably wouldn’t be here, where we are all pretty independent thinkers.  But it even happens with us now and then, doesn’t it?  We just want to go along with a different crowd.  I want to shop at the farmer’s market, and buy second hand clothes, and drive a hybrid, and come to church here!  I hope that I’m doing those things because it’s the right thing to do, - but I also have to admit that I like being with like-minded folks and doing things that like-minded folks do!  And that’s okay, as long as I monitor the reasons I’m involved in certain activities and make sure that I’m weighing out whether or not these activities are really the best things for me to do.
In preparation for this sermon, I studied lots of social psychology – specifically related to crowd psychology, herd psychology, collective behavior, crowd manipulation, etc.  And I found that scholars are not in agreement about a lot of this – and in fact, many of the theories that were popular in the 19th and early 20th century related to things like “group think,” are now being debunked by others.  So I’m not going to go into a lot of specifics on any one of these with you.  But I will share a summary of the three major theories and you can see how each of these might present an explanation of the crowds in Jesus’ day and in ours as well.

The first theory is:
Contagion Theory - the Contagion Theory was formulated by Gustave Le Bon. According to him, crowds exert a hypnotic influence over their members. Shielded by their anonymity, large numbers of people abandon personal responsibility and surrender to the contagious emotions of the crowd…. Le Bon's Theory, although one of the earliest explanations of crowd behavior, is still used by many people. However, critics argue that the "collective mind" has not been documented by systematic studies. 

The second theory is:
Convergence Theory - whereas the Contagion Theory states that crowds cause people to act in a certain way, Convergence theory states that people who want to act in a certain way come together to form crowds. It asserts that people with similar attributes find other like-minded persons with whom they can release underlying tendencies.

And finally, the third theory is:
Emergent-Norm Theory - according to Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian, crowds begin as collectivities, composed of people with mixed interests and motives. Especially in the case of less stable crowds, like crowds gathered in protest, norms may be vague and changing, as when one person decides to break the glass windows of a store and others join in and begin looting merchandise. In short, people in crowds make their own rules as they go along.  And this theory may explain some of the crowd behavior in Jerusalem that week.

Although most of us need community, we do NOT need a crowd.  And I dare say – Jesus did not NEED a crowd.  In fact, he often tried to get AWAY from the crowd.  But he did need community.  And his community failed him.  
 On that fateful Friday as he hung from that cross – where were the Palm wavers then?  Where were even his closest disciples?  Who was there for him?  According to Christian scriptures, his crowd of supporters had disappeared – replaced by the curious and those who enjoyed macabre events like crucifixion.    It was too hot for the Palm wavers and disciples – and they left the kitchen.  Well, at least according to the three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Now the writer of John places the three Marys there and John as well. So we don’t really know for sure who was there – but certainly not most of those who were supposedly his closest community.  

Now, it’s easy for us to criticize the disciples – yet – how many of us are guilty of the same thing.  We can hang there when things are going well, but sometimes we find other reasons to absent ourselves when things become more difficult.  Can you think of a situation where you have done that?  …………………..   Most of us can if we are honest with ourselves.  We’ll wave the Palms – thank you very much!  But don’t ask us to be there with the pain and suffering.  (Now, of course, I’m not speaking of those situations where we must leave to protect our families, ourselves, or our sanity. – Okay?)

Yes, in that old, old, gospel story, Jesus wept that day when he entered Jerusalem – for he knew his message of peace had not been heard and the end was near.  And on that cross –forsaken by his community – he cried; he cried out – “My God, my God – why has thou forsaken me?”  Is it any wonder he felt forsaken by God when others were not there?  

We need one another – in times of Joy and Sorry.

No, we don’t need a crowd of Palm wavers, but we all need a few hand palm wavers to say, “Hey – I see you, and I care.”  Do you know of someone you need to wave to today, perhaps with a phone call or card or email?   Is there someone here in this congregation who could use a hug today?  You can get one here.

You know we folks have different theologies and beliefs.  But as we UU’s say, “We do not have to think alike to love alike.” So on this Palm Sunday – let’s wave our hand palms at folks today.  Let them know that we see them, we are there… we care.

Oh, may it be so!

 


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wrestling with God (1-11-09)

Wrestling with God
Rev Jane Page
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro
January 11, 2009
 
The Reading:
Genesis 32:22-31 (New International Version)
Jacob Wrestles With God
 22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak."
      But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
 27 The man asked him, "What is your name?"
      "Jacob," he answered.
 28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [a] because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."
 29 Jacob said, "Please tell me your name."
      But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.
 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, [b] saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."
 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, [c] and he was limping because of his hip.
 
The Sermon:
 
I’m a member of the FACEBOOK social networking system on the internet, as many of you are.  FACEBOOK provides an opportunity for friends to “update their status” and tell their network of friends what they are up to.
 
Monday night at 10:15 I posted this update:
 
“Jane is ‘Wrestling with God’ as she prepares for her Sunday sermon on the same topic.”
 
This was followed by a comment from one of my facebook friends, Deb Blackburn, later that evening:
 
She said:
“I put my money on Him...no offense.”
 
Well, no offense taken I suppose.  I guess most folks would think it rather foolish for someone to attempt to wrestle with God.  But Jacob held on to him and wrestled him all night long – until he got a blessing.  Of course he came away with a little injury as well.  Anyway, it’s true that I also have spent many nights of my 58 years wrestling with God.  But I prefer to dance with God!
 
We have waltzed and done the foxtrot too,
But more often it was the twist or the boogaloo.
 
And I’ve walked with God and talked with God,
I’ve yelled at God and raised hell with God.
I’ve raved at God and been saved by God.
I’ve shoved God and loved God.
 
My God has been multiplied and unified
My God has revolved and evolved time after time.
Especially after a glass of red wine.
 
Through laughter and tears of these 58 years,
I’ve changed God’s demeanor from angry to kind,
And at time’s I believe that I changed God’s mind.
Yes, I’ve changed God’s face and changed God’s place.
And I made HIM surrender when I changed God’s gender.
 
I’ve hated and rejected God.
Then translated and reflected God.
 
My God’s now Pure LOVE empowering us all
And I’m blessed to attempt to answer Love’s call!
 
Yes, my God has changed and I have too
And that can continue, thanks to UU!
 
Hallelujah!
 
Yep – Jacob and I have both wrestled with God – but he’s the focus of this sermon.  And we are going to use his story and see if there are lessons that we might learn.  We’ll begin by looking at three big questions regarding this story.
1st – Why was this story included in the Hebrew Scriptures?
2nd – Who was Jacob wrestling in the story?
And 3rd – Who won – and what were the results of this match?
 
Why was this story included in the Hebrew Scriptures?
 
      Stories in Hebrew scriptures (like other old religious texts) were often included to explain or defend some phenomenon or practice.
      The Hebrews needed to explain and affirm their special status as descendents of Jacob – especially since Jacob was not the eldest son.
      A special blessing from God would carry even more weight than the blessing of a father– confirming their “chosen” status.
 
2nd Question was – “Who was Jacob wrestling in the story?”
 
Like us – Jacob sometimes is not sure who is struggle is with!
Let’s review verses 24-30. 
 (See above)
 
FIVE times this figure opposing Jacob is referred to as a man.  Then he shares with Jacob that Jacob has wrestled with God and men --- and Jacob goes on to say he’s seen God face to face.
 
So is this a man or God? 
Let’s see how most artists portray Jacob’s struggle.

           
           
 Where did this angel come from?
 
Three possibilities.
 
  1. The evolution of religion and of God from one who “walks among people” to one who resides in heaven.  (theophany)
  2. Jacob’s god seemed to have limited power and knowledge in this match.  This does not match the later concept of Yahweh as all powerful and all knowing.
  3. There are other places in the Old Testament where “Angel of God” and “God” are used interchangeably when “He” appears.
THUS:  “God” became an “Angel of God” when the prophet Hosea recalled the story many generations later.
 
3rd Question was “Who won this wrestling match and what were the results?”
 
If you read many Christian scholars doing exegesis, they will tell you God won and explain with some kind of twisting of the story.  But if you read it literally, like most of them say we should….
      Jacob won!  “When the man saw that he could not overpower him….”
      Results:
     Man / God breaks Jacobs hip.
     Man / God forced to bless Jacob.
     Jacob walks away with a blessing, a new name, and a limp.
     Jacob is a changed man in action and name.
(Israel means struggling with God)
 
SO WHAT are the lessons we can learn from this story.  What are some possible metaphorical analogies we could explore?  They are probably innumerable but here are 5 possibilities that I considered or wrestled with.
 
7 Possibilities
      Story represents struggle with faith in God.
      Story represents our struggle with good or doing good.
      Our blessings come through struggle.
      Our blessings are accompanied by pain.
      Blessings from fathers – not enough.
      We are humbled in our attempts to face the divine.
      We take on new identity after struggle.
 
I decided to go with the first one this time – perhaps because I had a book handy which did just that!
 
Rev. Tom Owen Towle, a widely published Unitarian Universalist minister, published a book in 2002 entitled:  Wrestling with God:  A Unitarian Universalist Guide for Skeptics and Believers
 
 
Tom dedicates his book:
 
To all religious pilgrims who pitch tent in the creases between belief and skepticism, uncertainty and devotion…who willingly carry on a persistent lover’s quarrel with God.
 
From Owen-Towle’s intro:
My life-journey has been one extended wrestling match with God – evolving from an early mindless embrace to categorical rejection, then gradually yet resolutely proceeding toward my current status as a questioning believer or trustful agnostic.  I have emerged a theological hybrid who chooses to juggle live tensions concerning the Holy.  However unorthodox my spiritual condition may appear to mainline scrutiny, I proudly reside in the middle realm, straddling the three A’s, atheism, agnosticism, and affirmatism, simultaneously.
 
Tom asserts that he’s in Good Company –
quoting Voltaire:
To believe in God is impossible – not to believe in God is absurd.
And theologian, author, and diplomat Michael Novak:
A conscience faithful till death is of more importance than being on a certain side, whether of belief or unbelief.
 
But isn’t living in that kind of paradox stressful?
 
Owen Towle says:
 
I am at peace with Walt Whitman’s claim:  “Do I contradict myself?  Yes, I contain multitudes!”  (Tom goes on to say) Probably innumerable Unitarian Universalists, when pressed would admit to being religious mongrels.
 
I don’t think I like being called a religious mongrel.  I think of an ugly dog when I hear that word.  But mongrel simply means mixed breed.  And if Barack Obama can refer to himself as a “mutt” – then I guess I can accept Owen-Towle’s term.  Personally, now that I own a beautiful, energy efficient Prius, I’d prefer the term Hybrid – which Tom also uses.
 
So why does Owen-Towle use the title “Wrestling with God” for his book exploring his mongrel beliefs.
 
He says:
 
Along with Jacob, the epitaph of countless Unitarian Universalists could gladly read:
 “You have wrestled with beings divine and human” (Genesis 32:29). 
We have been known to emerge from many a theological skirmish both limping and graced with a new name such as the one Jacob acquired, “Israel” – literally, “the one who struggles with God.” 
 
Owen-Towle uses Pascal’s division of beliefs in making his own argument for checks and balances.  Pascal was an eminent 17th century apologist for the Christian religion, as well as a mathematician and an experimental scientist.  He divided humanity into deniers, believers, and doubters and noted that each attitude brought a valuable gift to the theological table.  In his volume of confessions he stated that:
 
“Denying, believing, and doubting completely are to humans what running is to a horse.” 
 
Tom Owen Towle uses three A words for these same classifications.
Those that DENY God – are the Atheists
Those that DOUBT  -- are the Agnostics
And those that BELIEVE are the Affirmatists
He contends that all of these are important aspects of our Unitarian Universalist faith.
 
Tom provides a laundry list of atheistic postures.  See if any of these sound like YOU or someone you know.
 
The devoted atheists – those individuals who splurge more effort debunking god than some believers do celebrating Him/Her/It. (The New Atheists that I discussed in a sermon last year would fit this category for sure.)  Peter Christiansen good naturedly lampoons this group:  “I tend to be wary of ‘professional atheists’.  They spend a little too much time thinking about God.”
 
The distracted atheists – those people who don’t have the time to waste on god-talk.
 
The functional atheists – those who sit in church or temple pews, going though rituals and mouthing doctrines, yet harboring in their hearts, and displaying in daily life, scant acknowledgment of a divine companion….  They are, for practical purposes, disguised unbelievers.
 
The hopeful atheists – those who emphasize human freedom and potential.  They gravitate toward humanism and occasionally embrace a naturalistic or mystical worldview and focus on human sized projects.
 
The cheerful atheists – those who live confidently and comfortably a-theos – without but not against the notion of deity.  These folks are more accurately termed non-theists and are essentially at peace, both spiritually and socially, living void of metaphysical reference.  
 
The pessimistic atheists who stress human forlornness in an impersonal, even hostile, universe.  Such nonbelievers have frequently grown up with tormented and twisted ties with God. 
 
Tom Owen-Towle finds atheism most valuable as a clarifying, cleansing vehicle and least useful when stubborn or combative.  He says that “Atheism is beneficial when employed in service of religious wisdom rather than as an outright negation of it.”
 
And honest Atheists have good company.
There are nontheistic as well as theistic forms of Hinduism.  In Theravada Buddhism there exists no single, uniform concept of a personal deity.  As for Zen Buddhists, when one famous Roshi was asked, “What does Zen say about God,” he remained silent. 
Confucianism is essentially atheistic in that it concentrates on rules of behavior for the conduct of human life but has little to say about deity as a personal entity. 
Jainism possesses no notion of a creator god, yet remains an uncommonly ethical faith.\\
 
Tom argues that:  “Atheism at its healthiest, dare I say, at its holiest, provides a critical, purifying role in the pursuit of a reasonable religion.”
 
Tom’s Second A is AGNOSTICM.
He posits that:
 
Agnosticism supplies the essential gift of measured indecision, challenging earthlings to handle the sacred lightly without forcing it into formulas, to “live in the questions” (Rilke) rather than yielding to either certitude or apathy.
 
Most Unitarian Universalists KNOW that the more we KNOW, the more we KNOW that
WE DON’T KNOW!
 
This has led to lots of jokes folks tell about Unitarian Universalists.  Here are a few.
 
 
UU Prayer: "Dear God, if there is a God, if you can, save my soul, if I have a soul."
 
One long time visitor considering membership said, “I'm not even sure if I am a UU. But I suppose that removes all doubt.”
 
What do you get when you cross a Unitarian Universalist and  a Jehovah’s Witness?  Someone who knocks on your door but doesn’t know why she’s there.
 
What do you get when you cross an insomniac UU with a dyslexic? Someone who stays awake at night wondering if there is a dog.
 
Did you hear the one about the poor bigot who was so angry at one of our churches that he burned a question mark on our lawn?  
And Finally:
For the members of any religion...
To have a few doubts is normal.
To have many doubts is a crisis of faith.
To have constant doubts is a conversion to Unitarian Universalism
 
The THIRD A that nourishes Unitarian Universalists is Affirmatism.
 
Owen-Towle says that
 Affirmatism unflinchingly insists upon the inherent sacredness of existence!  In the midst of healthy noes and perennial maybes, the affirmatist is willing to venture a steady, unyielding YES to existence in its entirety. 
 
He quotes Dag Hammarskjold (Dog Hammud held), who was a Swedish diplomat, Christian mystic, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, and  a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
 
I don’t know who – or what – put the question, I don’t know when it was put.  I don’t even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer “Yes” to Someone or something.  And from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.
 
Owen Towle also reminds us of the tale of Moses striking the Dead Sea with his wand and nothing happening.  The sea opened only when the first person plunged in, took the risk, and voiced a full-souled YES to Life, Life, Life.
 
As Unitarian Universalists, we, like Jacob, may wrestle with our understanding of the sacred and the divine.  But in the end, we are blessed – though humbled from the struggle, and we hopefully say YES to each day, each hour, each minute that we are given.  
 
Owen Towle provides this summary statement regarding the three A’s:
 
Holding to the critical gifts of our atheism, agnosticism, and affirmatism we love God as wholeheartedly as proves reasonable.  Unless we succumb to premature hardening of our spiritual arteries, we will argue with heaven all the way home.  But the good news intrinsic in our life affirming religion is that, as Thomas Carlyle remarked:  “Life is one long quarrel with God, but we make up in the end.”
 
And BLESSED we shall all be.