Monday, March 28, 2011

Let the Sun Shine; Let it Rain!

Ric Masten’s song says, “Let the sun shine, let it rain.” And we might as well. As Tina Whittle said last week, she can’t cast a spell to stop the Spring from coming. And I say, “Glory hallelujah to that!” I told my mom that I was going to do a sermon on the weather and she replied, “Did ya’ll run out of things to talk about over there?”

Even though the changing weather is a constant thing, news of the weather and other natural events has caught my attention recently. I usually read my news on the internet – but sometimes also watch it on TV. In addition to the daily war news, the big news also seems to center around weather and natural disasters. And I’m reminded of this Creedance Clearwater song.

(Note to reader: Here you have to imagine me going over to the piano to play and sing“Bad Moon Rising.”)

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

I hear hurricanes a-blowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.


Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.


Yeah – if you watch the news, seems like there is always a bad moon rising.

But you know --- weather happens! You’ve probably heard the old saying:

“Whether the weather be fine, Whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold, Whether the weather be hot, We'll weather the weather, Whatever the whether, Whether we like it or not.”

Fortunately, we live in a pretty good climate here in South Georgia – and we’ve had to face few natural disasters – although we’ve had some times of drought that have been pretty tough. Now many of you have lived other places and have weathered some difficult storms. I had the opportunity to spend four Januarys in Chicago when I was in seminary. They required us to go for what they called the “J-term” just to make sure we were committed. One year, we had what I would term an outright blizzard while I was there. And it was a Saturday. We had class scheduled that Saturday because we had Monday off for the MLK holiday. And I had to cross over that midway at the University of Chicago – where the wind comes sweeping up from the Lake. Since it was Saturday, no one was about – and the sidewalks and roads were not cleared. So there I was trudging through this snowstorm – all by myself – (and this is before I had a cell phone) when it occurred to me ---- “Jane, you could slip down and hurt yourself – and be covered by snow really soon – and freeze to death – and no one would know it. Your classmates would think you just didn’t come. Jane – you could DIE out here.” That was scary. I made it to class and shared that I would just stay in that building overnight rather than go back out into the storm. Fortunately a group of hardy seminarians agreed to walk back with me and keep me safe. I’m sure you all have some similar scary weather stories. But for the most part, we weather the weather, whether we like it or not.

More recently, though, we’ve seen situations where folks have not been able to weather the weather and other natural events. You can’t blame Mother Nature – she’s just doing her thing – rocking and rolling, stretching and blowing, raining and pouring, temperatures soaring, at least she’s not boring, for sure.

Now please know that I’m not one of those climate change skeptics that say nothing is different than it has always been. Al Gore and lots of scientists have convinced me that climate change is real – and that this change is at least partially our fault. That “our” fault by the way – is not some generic pronoun standing for humanity--- it means – ME and YOU too; especially me and you because we live in the United States of America. I’m not using the projector today – but I’m sure you’ve seen the maps and the graphs that demonstrate how much of the carbon footprint comes from OUR big boot.

But what about all these natural disasters – some weather related and other geological? Are there really more of them? Saundra Schimmlpfennig, who is the founding director of the charity rater, does a pretty good job of responding to that question. Here’s what she says in a Huffington Post article:

“1. Some disasters are no more frequent nor severe than before but appear that way because they receive more news coverage. Earthquakes may seem more frequent because there are more stations set up to monitor earthquakes, and because we are now able to quickly receive news from all over the world. This creates the impression that there are more earthquakes than ever before. According to the U.S. Geological Survey …’earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years.’

“2. Some natural disasters are no more frequent nor severe than before, but cause far more damage due to population growth and urban migration. The more people who are in the area, the larger the number of people that will be affected by a disaster. Overpopulation as well as urban migration may force people to live in marginal areas such as on unstable hillsides, in flood plains, on top of fault lines, or in shabbily constructed buildings. All of these factors increase the odds that more lives and livelihoods will be severely affected by a natural disaster.

“3. Some natural disasters are more frequent and more severe than ever before due to environmental degradation and climate change. Deforestation, over-grazing, river channelization, hardscaping (covering large swaths of landscape with asphalt and concrete), and many other activities impact the frequency and severity of natural disasters. Although the tsunami (in the Indian Ocean) was caused by an earthquake, the destruction it caused was greatest in areas where the mangrove swamps had been destroyed. Mangroves act as a sponge absorbing much of the force of the waves. In Thailand, the places with the greatest destruction were those with sandy beaches where the waves could travel kilometers inland, unimpeded.

“Also, climate change is raising sea levels and changing weather patterns in many parts of the world. As sea levels continue to rise, low-lying coastal areas become more prone to damage by wave surges, tropical storms and other coastal issues. Areas with increased rainfall risk flooding and landslides, while areas with decreased rainfall face crop failure, desertification, wild fires and other serious issues.”

I also paid a visit to the Environmental Protection Agency site for some more verification. Their 2007 report indicated the following:

“Since 1950, the number of heat waves has increased and widespread increases have occurred in the numbers of warm nights. The extent of regions affected by droughts has also increased as precipitation over land has marginally decreased while evaporation has increased due to warmer conditions. Generally, numbers of heavy daily precipitation events that lead to flooding have increased, but not everywhere. Tropical storm and hurricane frequencies vary considerably from year to year, but evidence suggests substantial increases in intensity and duration since the 1970s.”

They further caution us that: “It is important to understand that directly linking any one specific extreme event (e.g., a severe hurricane) to human-caused climate change is not possible. However, climate change may increase the probability of some ordinary weather events reaching extreme levels or of some extreme events becoming more extreme. For example, …it is probable that heat waves will become more likely and progressively more intense over the course of decades under current climate change scenarios.” (

Now – you can go watch Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or read any number of scientific reports to understand the connection of carbon dioxide output to climate change – and I’m sure you’ve seen many of these. But here’s a quick summary from Environmentalist Bill McGibbin of of the increase.

“In 1750, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, people lived in communities that were largely self sustaining. Populations were more or less stable, and people pretty much lived their whole lives not far from where they were born. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 279 parts per million (PPM). Today, after centuries of improvements in public health, with vastly larger populations working in carbon-powered economies and driving many millions of cars, carbon dioxide measures 389 PPM, at least 39 PPM more than the outside limits of what has assured life as we know it. Keeping in mind that one must not confuse weather, which is immediate, with climate, which is long-range, and that perturbations in trends can and do occur, still it is painfully clear which way the wind is blowing, to borrow from Bob Dylan.” (

Some folks say they feel so sorry for our Earth and what we are doing to her. But I say, the Earth WILL win in the end – until the sun dies out or some huge meteor implodes it into smaller pieces. The earth will survive for a very long time. But humanity and other living things on earth may not if we make it an impossible, unlivable, environment.

As Unitarian Universalists, we’ve stood for years with the environment – and we stood up early in this debate to say that we were going to do better. In 2006, we formalized our intent with a “Statement of Conscience” passed by our General Assembly. This statement is too long for me to share in this sermon. You can look this up on UUA’s web page. But I do want to read the 11 statements of personal practices that are included in the Call to Action. I share these in hopes that we can re-commit to these today. Yes, this is your altar call – if you will. I have been to Mount and received these 11 commandments – or “calls to action.” After each statement, I invite you to say “Amen” as your commitment. Now, I know we can’t be perfect, but your hardy AMEN will indicate your commitment to focus on doing better than you have been doing in the past.
1. Reduce our use of energy and our consumption of manufactured goods that become waste;
2. Use alternative sources of energy to reduce global warming/climate change and to encourage the development of such sources;
3. Choose the most energy-efficient transportation means that meet our needs and abilities (e.g., walk, bike, carpool, use mass transit and communication technologies, and limit travel);
4. Determine our personal energy consumption and pledge to reduce our use of energy and carbon emissions by at least 20 percent by 2010 or sooner and into the future;
5. Reuse, recycle, and reduce waste;
6. Plant and preserve trees and native plants and choose sustainably harvested wood and wood products;
7. Eat and serve energy-efficient food that is locally produced and low on the food chain;
8. Use financial resources to encourage corporate social responsibility with reference to global warming/climate change;
9. Model these practices by committing to a life of simplicity and Earth stewardship;
10. Consume less, choose appliances that are rated energy-efficient (e.g., by the EPA Energy Star Program), and choose products and materials that are made from renewable resources and can be recycled at the end of their usefulness; and
11. Commit to continue to learn about the science, impact, and mitigation of global warming/climate change and communicate this knowledge by teaching about and discussing the problems and dangers of, and actions to address, climate change.

Now since I have been to the Mountain – I feel called to issue you and additional challenge. Here it is!

ENJOY this WONDERFUL Spring weather that we are having. This is a BEAUTIFUL time of year in Statesboro. Do not take it for granted. Not only are the days beautiful—but the nights are too. Rainy Nights in Georgia – never get me down. Enjoy the sunshine and enjoy the rain – and know it takes both to make a rainbow. And enjoy the wondrous moon. Tina explained to us last week that when it’s low in the sky – it looks bigger to our brain, though no one knows why. I know that’s true when I was visiting my son at a Florida beach, I saw that big moon rising over the Atlantic, and told him I wanted a picture of him with it. So I took my camera out and took the picture. But, alas, my camera has no brain. And the moon was much smaller in the picture. But oh, it’s glorious when it’s big in our brain. It’s a waning moon now – but I love it at every phase. I don’t see a BAD MOON Rising. I SEE a GOOD MOON Rising.

And I hereby take the liberty in this pulpit to change the lyrics (with apologies to John Fogerty) for a different verse to that Old Creedance song.

I see a good moon arising.
I see blessings on the way.
I see sunshine and rainbows
I see good times today.
Come on out tonight – and have the time of your life.
There’s a good moon on the rise.
Come on out tonight – and have the time of your life.
There’s a good moon on the rise.

May it be so!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Play the Music

"Play the Music, Say the Words" is a phrase from Ric Masten's song, "Let it be a dance." This sermon is one of a series of sermons based on phrases from that beloved song.

The year was 2006 – a very good year for me professionally. In March of that year, I received fellowship from UUA, graduated from Meadville Lombard at the top of my class, celebrated by receiving the “hand of fellowship” from Bill Sinkford at General Assembly, was called by you to be your minister – and was ordained and stalled on September 24! Ah, what a year that was!

But like most of you, my life is layered with waves and currents. And while I ride high on some waves, enjoying the cool breeze and warm sunshine, other waves in my life may be churning, or drifting, or pulling me in unknown directions. And so it was in 2006. For that was the year that my dad made those final breaks between the reality of who he and we were in 2006. And he became someone who did not know me, his only daughter. In 2006, when I would come to visit (and I came daily unless I was out of town) I would have to tell my daddy who I was. And I think he would accept that I was his daughter. He said to my Mama one time, “I know that woman who comes in here and plays the piano and sings is my daughter, because she says she is, and she is so nice. I need to find out who her mother is, because I must owe her something.” My mom said, “Don’t worry – you’ve provided for her mother.”

Now what does this trip back to 2006 have to do with our topic today? Because that was the year – with those situations being what they were – that I really came to understand the importance of hymn singing!

When I could no longer connect with my dad in other ways, we could always connect with the songs. And his favorite songs were the old hymns. He couldn’t remember what he’d just eaten for lunch, but he could remember the words to the hymns. One of his favorites was “In the Garden.” I would play the music – and he and I would sing the words. If you know, sing with me:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Now I don’t know how much these words meant to my dad. And he and I certainly didn’t share the same theology. But I think what was more important, in that moment, was what was underneath the words – something stronger! What was underneath was that he was still connecting – with me, with the world, with LOVE, perhaps named by many and my dad as God. And the connection in that garden was through singing. That one is not in our hymnal – but the one he sang with me till that day before he died – the same day you ordained me to be your minister is in there. And we shared Amazing Grace together as I sang and he moved his lips to the song. That old Christian hymn was written by Englishman John Newton, who was inspired to write these words after his slave trading ship survived a terrible storm. He later gave up slave trading and served his life in the clergy. In honor of Newton and my dad, please join me in singing that first verse.

Amazing Grace
How Sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see!

As I said – that same year, I was singing in celebration. I was especially moved when I marched with other Unitarian Universalist ministers who were getting preliminary or final fellowship that year. The ministers always march into the auditorium with the hymn, “Rank by rank again we stand.” The last verse had words most meaningful to me on that occasion.

"Though the path be hard and long, still we strive in expectation, join we now their ageless song one with them in aspiration. One in name in honor one, guard we well the crown they won; what they dreamed be ours to do, hope their hopes and seal them true."

My ordination on September 24th was filled with music, old and new favorites of mine and yours. And it was a day of when those seas were rumbling underneath for me; but your music was the boat that carried me though. SO yes, I became even more passionate about hymn singing – and the desire that this congregation become a true hymn singing congregation. And we’ve been working on it since then, adding voices to the congregation and to our little choir.

Now the hymnbook that we use is this wonderful book called, Singing the Living Tradition. I thought I’d share a little of the history of hymn books in our association, and about how this hymn book came to be. I’m very grateful for my colleague, the Rev. Roger Fritts, who pulled together a lot of this information for a sermon he did in 2003 – and I’ll be sharing and quoting that work a good bit today. Thanks Roger.

And ALL of us hymn singers owe our gratitude to this man: Martin Luther. In the Middle Ages – before the Protestant Reformation, the liturgy was restricted to the priest and the choir. But Martin Luther loved to take away the privilege from the priest – and he so promoted congregational singing, that he’s known as the Founder of the Congregational Song. Fritts states that, “Music was the point at which his doctrine of the priesthood of all believers received its most concrete realization... All the people sang. In 1524 Luther published a hymn book. (And) His congregations learned to sing. Practices were set during the week for the entire congregation. A Jesuit testified that "the hymns of Luther killed more souls than his sermons."

But Martin Luther said: "When we sing, we pray twice…."
"I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. . . .
My heart bubbles up and overflows in response to music, which has so often refreshed me and delivered me from dire plagues."

English hymn singing owes some of its popularity to Isaac Watts, the Father of English Hymnody, who first published his book Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1705. After Watts, John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist movement, firmly established hymn singing in congregations in England and America. Charles was the more prolific hymn writer of the two.

In 1761 John Wesley wrote his "Rules for Hymn Singing," which still appear at the beginning of the Methodist Hymnal today and are good ones for us as well:
1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

2. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy harmony, but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
5. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. . . .

Here is an additional rule for Unitarian Universalists.

Stop reading ahead to see whether or not you agree with the lyrics!

Don’t worry about the words --- it’s all about someone’s connection with compassion and love in whatever form they deem as sacred --- SO JUST SING and connect with them!!

(From Fritts)
“The first Unitarian Universalist hymnal was Hymns of the Spirit. Although the Unitarian and the Universalists did not merge into one association until 1961, this 1937 "red hymnal" was a joint project of the Universalists and the Unitarians. It took five years to complete. It contains sixteen complete orders of service, including the texts of opening words, prayers and litanies, what we now call responsive readings. It is heavily theistic, with frequent references to God, the Lord, and Jesus.

“Twenty-seven years later Hymns for the Celebration of Life, what came to be known as the "blue hymnal" was published. This 1964 hymnal was a radical departure from the past, the first humanist Unitarian Universalist hymnal. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, which appeared several times in the red hymnal was nowhere to be found in the blue hymnal. The blue hymnal had no section at all called prayer. Instead the 1964 hymnal reflected the desire of many Unitarian Universalists to experiment with new forms of worship. Also the commission tried to include words for all the great world religions. For the first time our blue hymnal included passages from Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Jewish sources. The hymnal was carefully constructed so that it would serve us for many years into the future.”

BUT – within a decade it was hopelessly out of date. What happened?

“In the late 1960s our nation was shaken by the Black Power movement, the women’s liberation movement, Earth Day and the environmental movement, and other cultural revolutions. Hymn names like "Man is the Earth Upright and Proud" did not fit with our desire to live in harmony with the earth. Almost every reading, every hymn in the blue hymnal was written by a white male.” (Fritts)

Here are just a few of the hymns that were problematic because of their male centeredness:
The Mind of Man
The Man of Integrity
The Man of Life Upright
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
Our Friend, Our Brother, Our Lord
O Brother Man
Man Lives Not for Himself Alone
And many more.

Fritts, noted that by the mid 1970s there was only one of these hymns that many women in the congregation felt comfortable singing. It was entitled "Turn Back O Man, for Swear Thy Foolish Ways." Well, most of us came to Unitarian Universalists after this – but my understanding from some old time UU’s is that congregations passed out pencils and had folks changing the words in that hymnal to suit folks better. Finally, in response to overwhelming complaints, the association published a small pamphlet called 25 Familiar Hymns in new form, hymns with the male language removed. But everyone KNEW that a new hymnal was needed.

Finally, in the late 1980s the UUA Board of Trustees established a new hymnal commission. They kept many of the favorite hymns by changing the language. And many new favorites were added, many of them written by Unitarian Universalists. Now it’s easy to tell which these are – because there is a little chalice by their name at the bottom of the page. One of our favorites by a # 354 – We Laugh, We Cry, with words and music by Unitarian Universalist Shelley Jackson Denham. Another UU congregation that where I preached recently sang this song at my request – and asked me to help lead it because they had never sung it before. And I thought – “What? – and you call yourself a UU church?” But I did not say that out loud, of course. I love this song because it expresses so well what we are about here. Let’s sing the first verse.

We laugh, we cry, we live we die;
We dance, we sing our song.
We need to feel there’s something here to which we can belong.
We need to feel the freedom just to have some time alone.
But most of all we need close friends we can call our very own.

And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
And we have found a need to be together.
We have our hearts to give, we have our thoughts to receive,
And we believe that sharing is an answer.

Now unlike the old blue hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition is filled with hymns and readings by women as well as men. There are hymns and readings also by people of color and representing many varying theologies and cultures. Many of the old favorites are there – but the committee worked hard to make sure the language did not include the same old gender biases. And in fact, rumor has it that the reason John Lennon’s song Imagine is not included is because Yoko Ono refused to allow them to change the language from “brotherhood” to something more gender neutral. So this hymnal is 18 years old now – and still very beloved. It’s true that we also do now have a hymnal supplement, Singing the Journey, published in 2005 – with some newer songs that are loved by Unitarian Universalists. We’ve printed the lyrics to some of our favorites and have that as an insert in our hymnal. One of the ones we love to sing is Siyahamba – a song written in Zulu with other verses added in English. Let’s see how well your Zulu is this morning.

Siyahamba ku-kha-nyen’ kwen-khos’ (4 times)
Siyahamba, Siyahamba,
Siyahamba ku-kha-nyen’ kwen-khos; (2 times)

Now in the supplement – this is translated as “We are marching in the light of God.” But being Unitarian Universalists who like to change – and be inclusive – at recent General Assemblies we’ve been singing this as “marching in the light of Love.” And now with the recent “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign…. Folks have begun to use this song to sing this version – to join me. So for our final song of this message, I invite you to rise in body or spirit and join me in singing it this new way.

We are standing on the side of love (4 times)
We are standing, We are standing,
We are standing on the side of Love (2 times)

Just as my dad and I remained connected in love with the hymns of old, may all of us develop and continue a deep connection through these words and music – both old and new…. And may we say them – and sing them – till we know them – by heart!