Monday, October 25, 2010

Take It As It Passes By

(This sermon is the fifth in Rev. Jane Page's "Let it be a Dance" series and was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro on October 24, 2010.)

Ric Masten’s song says: “Take it as it passes by.”

He precedes that line by saying “A child is born, the old must die, A time for joy, a time to cry.”

– Take it as it passes by.

This is the old paradox that life is GOOD and BAD. Ric says we should take it all and dance with it.

This acceptance of the bad things in life reminds me of that popular bumper sticker – S-H-I-T Happens.

No one really knows where this famous proverb was originally uttered. One source said the phrase was first used as among students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Could be! A Wikipedia source reminded me that a fictitious explanation of the origin of this phrase occurs in the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump.” While he was on that long run, a bumper sticker salesman running alongside him points out to Forrest that he has just stepped in a pile of dog feces. When Forrest replies, "It happens," the man replies, "What, sh --it?" to which Forrest replies, "Sometimes". The man is then inspired to create that famous bumper sticker.

Then later all these lists came out that shared how this concept is expressed in all religions and world views. I’ll share a few of these. Now since I’m trying to be a “good girl” and not use bad language from the pulpit – instead of having to spell this word out, I’ll just say “bad stuff” instead.
* Taoism: Bad stuff happens, so flow with it.
* Buddhism: Life is bad stuff happening, so let go.
* Zen Buddhism: What is the sound of bad stuff happening?
* Islam: If bad stuff happens, it is the will of Allah.
* Hinduism: I’ve seen this bad stuff before.
* Presbyterian: Bad stuff is predestined to happen.
* Calvinism: Bad stuff happens because you don’t work hard enough.
* Episcopalian: It’s not so bad if bad stuff happens, as long as you serve the right wine with it.
* Catholicism: Bad stuff happens, but as long as you say your “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys,” it’s OK.
* Wicca: What bad stuff goes round, comes around again.
* Agnosticism: How can we know if bad stuff really happens?
* Baptists: We’ll wash the bad stuff right off you.
* Judaism: Why does bad stuff always happen to US?
* Christian Fundamentalism: If bad stuff happens, you will go to hell, unless you are born again. (Amen!)
* Unitarian Universalism: Come let us reason together about this bad stuff and perhaps your minister will create an interpretive dance exploring it.

So the “it” that we take as it passes by – may really rhyme with it. But it can be many things. I asked on our listserv if you would share with me your concepts of what IT could be. And some of you did.

One of you said the “it” was Truth – and quoted that biblical passage that said that the Truth shall make you free.

Another shared that perhaps because of current happenings in his own life, he would say “the ‘it’ includes dealing with death, seizing the moments of friendship and connection, and recognizing that those moments also pass.”

Another shared that IT is “whatever calls to us -- our bliss -- opportunities that appeal.   Life is a smorgasbord, offering us many choices.   We choose what we take -- whatever will help us grow and mature and deepen – our soul work.”

One congregant said: “For me, the ‘it’ in this context might be the chance, the struggle, the risk. I also think of ‘it’ as love, as desire to live fully engaged with the beauty and force that connects all sentient beings.”

One person said the question reminded her of Walt Whitman’s poem – “Song of Myself” – and she quotes the line… "There is that in me---I don't know what it is but I know it is in me..." 

And our diverse congregation goes from one quoting Whitman to another quoting Country Singer Jerry Jeff Walker – who croons:

Well, I'm takin' it as it comes
And you know – that it comes to everyone
I'm just sittin' back here
Gettin' high and drinking beer
And I'm just takin' it as it comes

And then last – but not least, there is the one who says there are some “its” that he doesn’t want to take anymore and joins with Twisted Sister in singing (and you can join me):

We’re not gonna take it,
We’re not gonna take it,
We’re not gonna take it – anymore.

So we all feel like that now and then – and should – but then we are also reminded of Paul McCartney sharing that when he felt very frustrated, he remembered a dream he had of his mother Mary – who died when he was just 14 – coming to him and saying, "It will be all right, just let it be." And of course, that was the inspiration for the Beatle’s song,

Let it be, let it be, let it be let it be… Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

Many of these ideas that you all presented on the listserv bring to mind --- well they bring to mind – the mind! Mindfulness is also a concept that we began to hear more about in the 70’s – and the idea that we needed to be mindful of the “here and now.”

I can close my eyes and see the words in yellow chalk on that green chalkboard now. I was taking a graduate education class in the Carroll building at Georgia Southern. I honestly don’t remember what class it was, or the name of the teacher – but I do remember that night we had a guest speaker --- and that speaker went to the board and wrote in HUGE letters this simple phrase: BE HERE NOW! And perhaps like many others who heard those words – that was an “aha” moment for me.

The author of the book titled Be Here Now published in 1971 was a fellow by the name of …… Ram Dass. Here’s some information about him from his website biography:

Ram Dass first went to India in 1967. He was still Dr. Richard Alpert, an already eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr.Timothy Leary. He had continued his psychedelic research until that fateful Eastern trip in 1967, when he traveled to India. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji, who gave Ram Dass his name, which means "servant of God." Everything changed then - his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since.

On February 19th 1997, Ram Dass suffered a near-fatal stroke, which left him paralyzed on the right side of his body and expressive aphasia limiting his ability to speak, along with other challenging ailments. The after effects of the stroke have once again changed his life and vastly altered his day, but he has been able to resume teaching and continues to share and teach. In 2004, following a life threatening infection, Ram Dass was forced to curtail travel and focus on recovering his health. Ram Dass now resides on Maui. The Internet is a new vehicle for Ram Dass to share his being.

I’ve read other reports that indicate that although he has had ups and downs, Ram Dass has continued to practice what he preaches. And he has readily moved to a stage where he has to have lots of physical help to function day to day – but he’s taking it as it comes. He is being “here now” with those challenges and still contributing with the help of others.

I haven’t read his latest book. It’s entitled: Be Love Now: The Path to the Heart. Ah, so in the end, “it” comes round to love for Ram Dass --- and for many of us as well.

Of course Ram Dass is just one of many prophets and gurus through the ages who have tried to address the paradoxes of the world – including the principal problems of theodicy, the conundrum of why, if the universe was created and is governed by an all powerful God who is of a good and loving nature, there is nonetheless so much suffering and pain in it.

Another famous author is Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner. I had the privilege of hearing him speak here at Georgia Southern a few years ago. Of course Kushner is the author of the best seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Kushner struggles in the book with the story of Job. And in the end, he ends up reinterpreting the story – and letting go of the idea of an all powerful God in order for the world to make sense to him. But he holds on to the loving God. Some of us here have let go of Job’s God altogether as we have tried to make sense of the world. But we all can learn from Job’s story. One reason I told the story of Job to the children is because they need it just for cultural literacy. When someone tells them they will need the patience of Job, they need to understand the character of this man who persevered through tremendous suffering. And they (and we) need to have models of perseverance from ancient stories and from today!

Last month – September 2010 – there were at least 9 suicides of teenagers who were gay or who were perceived as gay after intense bullying. You know those stories if you’ve read or seen any of the news – so I shall not recount them. What I do want to share, though, is how uplifted I’ve been by the “It gets better” campaign.

According to a USA story (10-09-2010) by Elizabeth Weise, the “It gets better” project was started last month by Dan Savage. The Seattle-based writer and columnist was waiting for a plane at JFK airport when he read about 15-year-old Billy Lucas in Indiana, who committed suicide after being bullied in high school because his classmates thought he was gay. Savage said: "I thought, 'If I could only have talked to him for five minutes, to tell him it gets better, maybe he wouldn't be dead.' "

Sitting at the airport, Savage realized he was waiting for someone's permission to talk to these kids — but he didn't need to. When he got home, he and his husband, Terry Miller, made a video about their 16 years together and uploaded it to YouTube. In it, they tell gay and lesbian teens that life gets wonderful. The couple, married in Canada, live in Seattle with their 12-year-old adopted son, D.J.

Miller says in the video, which has been viewed over a million times, "If you can live through high school, which you can ... you're going to have a great life. It's going to be the envy of all those people that picked on you.”

The project has taken off, with probably more than a thousand videos posted now since September 22. I encourage you to watch some of these. These modern day Jobs demonstrate that if you can persevere – and get what help you can, it does get better. And that’s a message we can all use. These messages give youth and others something else to take as it passes by. They are already taking the crap – but with this project, now they can also take hope.

I know that many of you have also persevered through great difficulties, and others are trying to get through them now. And yes, we can “take the pain” – and “take the hope” – but we can do more. One problem I have with the phrase “take it as it passes by” – is that it seems to be too passive, as if life goes by and we just partake of it. But that is not the case. I believe that we don’t just partake of our lives – we make our lives, we create our lives. How we deal with difficulties and how we attempt to help others – does make a difference in the world. Did you know that our UUFS Feeding Statesboro team provided lunches for 86 people this past Tuesday? These folks, as well as our own volunteers and volunteers from that neighborhood, received a wonderful meal to nurture our bodies and genuine fellowship to nurture our souls. Yes, our actions change the course of our lives, for ourselves and for others. And when we work together with others – in a community like we have here at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, we can and do make a difference.

(Note to Reader: Our story for all ages entitled, “An Old, Old, Story about a Man Called Job” was shared earlier in the service. In this story, I call God – Big G, and the adversary or devil – Little D. And though Little D wants to win his bet and have Job curse and say bad things about Big G; throughout the story – even when all the bad things happen, Job recites this praise phrase – “Blessed Be to Big G.”)

Now most of us don’t have the same theology as Job. But perhaps we have a Big G too. Some may call it God or Goddess – for others it may be the Goodness within each of us – or the Goodness in others that we connect to in life – or perhaps it’s the Grand Universe itself, or maybe it’s Gaia. (sing) “Gaia, oh Gaia, – living breathing earth” – that Great Grandmother Nature. Or maybe it’s simply Grace – that amazing Grace that we have just waking up each day and experiencing this life. And perhaps that leads us to the Big G of Gratitude. Regardless of what is sacred to you, through the good times and the bad, I hope that today you can recite with Job and with me – that praise phrase “Blessed Be to Big G.”

And so –
Let it be a dance with do!
May I have this dance with you?
In the good times and the bad times too!
Let it be a dance!


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