Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Gift for You!

Rev. Jane Page

Here’s something about me that you may not know. I do not like to shop. In fact, I dread shopping. I admit that part of the reason that I don’t like to shop is that I don’t like to spend money. Although I’m a generous person – and don’t mind giving money, when it comes to shopping, I’m “frugal,” a characteristic inherited from my mom. And, even if someone GIVES me the money – or a gift certificate, I do not like to shop. So I avoid it if I can. Greg does the grocery shopping at our house, so I don’t even have to decide which detergent is the best for us.

Now this shopophobia that I have may be seen as a blessing, I suppose, by those who have to take out a second mortgage after a trip to the mall. But during this season of the year, it’s an extreme disadvantage. I know I should be making lists and looking online and in stores for that perfect gift for everyone. Sorry, it’s not going to happen. Yesterday was my mom’s 84th birthday, and I thought, “I really should give her a gift I suppose.” So I looked around the kitchen and picked up the fall centerpiece that I had purchased for our “Day of the Dead” celebration and took that to her. Shame on me! (And worse yet, I’ll probably “borrow” it back for our Thanksgiving meal.)

Now I really do appreciate that some folks are SO good at shopping. But it’s too hard for me – so I follow my dad’s example. He didn’t care to buy gifts either. But his gifts were always the right color – green. I’ll probably share some of that green stuff this holiday season with my family members. I know that this is the easy way out. Sorry, the agony of trying to find the right gift is just too frustrating. However, I do enjoy giving words of gratitude and love.

So here’s my gift for each of you for the holidays. It’s a little blessing.

May you sleep well, at least now and again.
May you also eat well – chocolate’s no sin.
May you share smiles with others, even if they frown.
May you get some smiles too, when you are down.
May you see lots of beauty every day.
May your heart be touched by a story or play.
May your troubles not be as bad as they seem.
May you grin in your sleep from a happy dream.
And when we’re together or when we’re apart,
May my love for you stay warm in your heart.

Hope this season is blessed with goodness for you and yours!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Everybody Turn and Spin

(This is the fifth sermon in the "Let it be a Dance" series based on phrases from Ric Masten's popular song in our hymnal.)

In his song “Let it be a dance,” Ric Masten says…”Everybody Turn and Spin.”

In my interpretive dance this morning, the turning represented reasoned thoughts and actions while the spinning represented those connected with passion. Of course the dance is only beautiful and sustainable when both are present with the dancer. Gibran’s metaphorical prose provides another picture of this idea with the use of a ship’s rudder and sail. And though most of us would agree in the value of both reason and passion working and dancing in harmony together, these concepts are more often portrayed as enemy spirits – in a warfare for our souls.

This is prevalent even in the earliest Creation Stories. Adam and Eve certainly understood cause and effect, yet – of course – this passion fruit proved to be their (and some say our) downfall. On a side note --- those opposing marriage for gays and lesbians, often note – “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” One could reply – “So the downfall of mankind was caused by a heterosexual couple!”

Other ancient stories from the Bible and Koran magnify this continuous struggle. Here we see David struggling to keep his passions in toe. He fails, of course.

Ancient Greek playwrights also use these concepts in their dramas and comedies.
"In his plays The Bacchae and Medea, Greek playwright Euripides expresses his views quite clearly on the relationship between reason and passion in human life. Euripides believes that there is a constant struggle between the two elements, and people must be able to find the proper balance in order to exist peacefully, something his characters were unable to do. He expresses, via his characters, his belief that passion dominates this struggle in most cases, and when this occurs, proper logic is skewed. The lead role in each of these plays failed to find the proper balance of passion and reason, and in failure found death."

And the list of stories and dramas could go on and on, of course, including our the Chicken Little story you saw with the children. Here are just a few of the more famous quote regarding reason and passion.

"The law is reason free from passion"

"Reason is God’s crowning gift to man."

"Reason should direct and appetite obey."
"He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason."

"We arrive at truth, not by reason only, but also by the heart."
Blaise Pascal

"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."
Thomas Jefferson

"Faith…must be enforced by reason…when faith becomes blind it dies."
Mohandas Gandhi

"I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality."
Mohandas Gandhi

"The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis."
Dala Lama

"Happiness is not an ideal of reason but of imagination."
Immanual Kant

"Mankind is governed more by feelings that by reason."
Samuel Adams

"Reason obeys itself, and ignorance does whatever is dictated to it."
Thomas Paine

"The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."
G.K. Chesterton

"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins."
Benjamin Franklin

And of course – one should not discuss the topic of reason without mentioning John Locke. So – “John Locke.”

And there are many women – including my hero – Elizabeth Cady Stanton – who were lovers of reason and many others as well who were lovers of passion – but enough of this Who’s Who! What about us!

Many of us were attracted to Unitarian Universalism because we didn’t have to leave our brains at the door. We lift up our 4th UU principle which says that our congregations affirm “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

And we are especially glad that following is listed among the six sources for our faith is this statement:
“Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”

YET – most of us want to gain more from our faith than knowledge and understanding – and we bring our whole selves into this faith – not just our reasoning.

We affirm with our Children each Sunday morning that “We are Unitarian Universalists: People of Open Minds, Loving Hearts, and Helping Hands.”

Although folks have noted this tension since ancient times, we now have the technology to actually see a little more about how this works – because we can monitor brain activity related to decision making. And what we are seeing is that folks may believe they have totally based decisions on logic – but indeed, they are using that “gut” aspect of thinking – then sometimes rationalizing to match it – or sometimes rejecting it based on more logical thinking.

According to Daniel Gardner, author of The Science of Fear,
“People process information primarily through two mental modes, or channels, that operate in parallel. The first mode of information processing occurs primarily on the subconscious level; the second, at the conscious level…. Gardner…refers to these two modes as Gut and Head, respectively.

"Gut processing is sophisticated, intuitive, and quick. Head processing, on the other hand, is analytical, slow, and rational. Each mode of mental processing has strengths and weaknesses, and each plays a distinct role in decision making.

"Gut makes decisions quickly. But Head can monitor Gut’s decisions and overrule them when necessary. According to Gardner, “Gut decides, Head reviews: This process is how most of our thoughts and decisions are made.” Essentially, we are of two minds, each of which works semi-independently of the other.

"What makes the interaction between Gut and Head so interesting is that, sometimes, Head doesn’t bother to monitor Gut. Sometimes, Head doesn’t step in at all. When this happens, decision making occurs automatically, under the radar of our conscious attention.

"So, although Gut enables an efficient way of navigating a complex world, it can also lead us astray. The challenge is that Head can’t look inside Gut to figure out how or why Gut operates the way it does. Our subconscious is much like a black box with no access doors. It’s strictly off limits to the conscious mind. All Head can do is monitor and override Gut; it can’t change or negate the influence of Gut.”

My gut tells me it’s time to get to the “So What” of this message. Well, there are lots of possible responses to the “So What” question – but I’m just going to concentrate on the “So What” for today.

At 11:45 today, our congregation will have our Annual Meeting. We will be asking you as members to consider and vote on some important recommendations from our board, finance committee, and nominating committee. Now – I am not ON the board, finance committee, or nominating committee, but I have observed them operate. And I can assure you that these recommendations are ones that incorporated reason and passion. These heads you see here have been hard at work --- envisioning, deliberating, imagining, calculating, gut-checking, exploring, analyzing, critiquing, engaging, and even a little dreaming.

At 11:45 today, they will share with you a record budget proposal based on a record canvass event – and they will share with you their visions for this wonderful congregation for the 2011. The nominating committee will also share a slate of officers for your consideration – folks who have generously agreed for their names to be put forward – with I’m sure much passion and reason going into that decision.

These are not easy times for many folks. We struggle in many ways. But I am so thankful that we have a congregation that recognizes the value of this fellowship and of Unitarian Universalism for themselves, their families and this community and stands on the side of Love.

May we be bold as we move into the future, balancing both passion and reason as we dance together.

"Let it be a dance we do,
May I have this dance with you,
In the good times and the bad times too,
Let it be a dance!"