Monday, April 26, 2010

Newsletter Article for May

I often describe Unitarian Universalism as covenantal rather than creedal. When I say we are a covenantal rather that creedal religious tradition, I mean that rather than a set of theological beliefs that we all share in common, we are bonded by a common commitment to treat each other with respect as we strengthen our community. At its most basic, a covenant is an agreement about how a group of people will treat one another. But there are a few important details that make covenants especially important to Unitarian Universalism.
First, covenants are the historical basis of how we organize our congregations. Imagine North America in the mid 1600s with colonial governments and small religious groups popping up all over the place. There were some orderly Anglican churches, but also an array of small Puritan and Congregational churches. Each had their own slightly different theology and way of governing themselves. In 1648 the government of Massachusetts called for some sense of order amongst these churches. As a response, the Cambridge Platform was written.
That document, the Cambridge Platform became the blue print that we still largely follow today. It included the right of each parish to call its own minister, to control its own property and funds, and to determine criteria for church membership. Those new American religious communities used covenants as a simple document for members to agree on how they would treat each other. They were written and signed by all the members of each congregation and they reflected the simple promises that members made to one another and to God.
That brings me to the second important detail of covenants in our tradition. A covenant is more than a simple agreement between individuals because it calls on our highest ideals. For historical Unitarians that meant God, for many of us today, that means appealing to our sense of justice, love and goodness. Covenants are not just about the people making them, they are intended to be an embodiment of our highest principles.

At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Laguna Beach, we are bound together by a sense of covenant. We are here to build a supportive community, and we expect each person to be respectful of others. Covenant is the core of who we are, and it’s a great platform from which to grow into the Beloved Community that I know is our future.

Rev. Kent Doss

sermon - The Challenge of Universalism

The Challenge of Universalism

It always fascinates me that many people, probably most people don’t know what the words Unitarianism and Universalism mean. Obviously we are a free-thinking religious tradition that is open to all sorts of insights. But in a theological sense, those two words, Unitarian and Universalist mean something very specific. Today I want to talk about Universalism, both what it means on paper, and what it means in our lives.

Historically, Universalism was all about salvation. In the Christian tradition that we grew out of, the central conversation was about how to get to heaven, and who would achieve that goal. And of course the converse was also a hot topic as it is today. Who would end up in Hell and how would they get there.

But Universalism came along and short-circuited that entire conversation. It has been a thread throughout Christian history but didn’t really become a major movement until the 1700s in America. These early Universalists believed that if God would save anyone, then he would save everyone. He wouldn’t arbitrarily choose some and not others for eternal bliss, or eternal punishment. That sort of arbitrary punishment is, well sadistic. If God would save some people, then clearly he would save everyone. What a liberating message. Rather than speculating who God would save and who he wouldn’t, Universalists were able to focus on how they should treat one another. And rather than living in horrible fear of a maniacal punisher, they could enjoy the world around them and respond to the divine with joy, rather than fear.

Well that Universalism of our history is fascinating and could be a sermon in itself. But Universalism took a massive and amazing shift. It’s this shift that is largely responsible for who we are as a tradition today. You see, people began to realize, well if a loving God wouldn’t condemn anyone to Hell, and people believe an array of different things about God, well, maybe all those people, with all those different beliefs are all on to something. Maybe, we should encourage people to deepen their own faith, and their own understanding of the divine because it is valuable insight.

That transition, from Christian Universalism, the idea that a loving God wouldn’t arbitrarily condemn people to Hell, to the idea that a variety of religious belief helps us to build a larger and more comprehensive concept of the divine as we gather in community, well it’s that shift that makes our church what it is today.

It’s sort of like familiar with the proverb of the blind men who come in contact with an elephant. Each person feeling a different thing understands the elephant to be something different. The one who reaches out and touches the elephant’s leg thinks that it is a tree. The one who feels the elephants long muscular trunk thinks it is a snake, and the man who reaches out and grabs the tail, well he thinks he’s found a rope.
And so it is with our church. Each one of us has occasion to reach out and feel the world around us. Each one of us has the opportunity, and the responsibility to engage this amazing universe we live in, and to feel for ourselves what it has to offer. And then, when we come together, not only do we have a better picture of what the whole might be, we can sit together in wonder and this amazing and confusing thing that we feel, but may not have exactly the right words to explain.

So Universalism first was about universal salvation, and then eventually came to be about universal insight into the nature of reality. Each of us has access to a bit of that picture. Well, the next implication is equally important. If each of us has a piece of insight into that bigger picture, then that bigger picture must be well, really big, and connected.

My favorite image to describe this interconnected bigger picture is not the elephant. In fact it’s much bigger than the elephant. It is Indra’s net. In Hindu and some Buddhist traditions, it is explained that
When Indra fashioned the world, he made it as a web, and at every knot in the web is tied a pearl. Everything that exists, or has ever existed, every idea that can be thought about, every datum that is true—every dharma, in the language of Indian philosophy—is a pearl in Indra's net. Not only is every pearl tied to every other pearly by virtue of the web on which they hang, but on the surface of every pearl is reflected every other pearl on the net. Everything that exists in Indra's web implies all else that exists.

And so it is with Universalism. From the top, a loving God wouldn’t condemn anyone to Hell. We must be Universally saved. We humans have limit but uniquely true insight into the larger nature of reality. And finally, that bigger picture that we celebrate in awe and wonder is an interconnected web of all existence, of which we are a part.

SO that’s what Universalism means on paper, but what does it mean for our lives. If theology doesn’t have some connection with our lives, then it is simply a waste of paper.

Enjoy it, revel in the bejeweled web of creation. Wonder at the great jigsaw puzzle of belief that we are building together. Enjoy it, live it deeply, and share it. Universalism is beautiful and inspiring, but it is not an easy faith.

Yes, Universalism is a faith tradition. Those who claim to be Universlists are making a faith claim. Universalists have faith that the world is in fact a good place, and they have faith that we do have valuable insights into our world.

I want to offer you a new definition of faith today. It stands in bold contrast to fear. Faith, Universalist faith is a willingness to greet the world with an open heart and love. It’s that simple. Living out our faith, Universalism means greeting the world around us with an open heart.

Unitarian Universalists can be shockingly adversarial. For a faith tradition that is to be a reflection of universal love, we can be awfully defensive. “Those people don’t understand us.” “Those people just want money.” “Those people are hateful and misguided.” “Those people aren’t educated enough.” “Why can’t they just be more like us.”

But, there is a handful of faithful people in this congregation. These are people who inspire me. There is a handful of faithful people who greet the world with an open heart.
And honestly, the world doesn’t respond gently to faithful people. The initial response of this world is to call them too nice. They are labeled as pushovers, too soft, even weak.
There are people among us who greet the world with an open heart and a hug. I thank you for your inspiration for myself, and for our church, because you are the embodiment of Universalism. You pushovers, you soft ones, you naïve people, you kind people, you loving people, you faithful people.

Please, I beg of you, please share your kindness and your faithfulness with this congregation, please share your faith with me.

A couple of weeks ago in an Adult RE class we were talking about how some people had been criticized in their work place or in the world for being too nice. Well please, bring your niceness here, for niceness, open heartedness, greeting the world with open minds, that is the message of Universalism my friends, that is living our faith.

The challenge of Universalism is two-fold, it is to respond to the brilliant and loving Universe that we are miraculously a part of. We are called to respond to that reality with gratitude and with action that gives back. As Barbara told me, I think her aunt or her mother said, “You have to pay your rent.” It’s not enough to hang out in this amazing world, you have to pay your rent. You have to give back to the beauty of creation. The challenge of universalism is to greet the world with an open heart and to give back when you can.

This second challenge of Universlism isn’t so much about what you do as an individual, but about how we live as a community. And how we open our doors to the other. The other challenge of Universalism is to open your hearts and to open the doors of this church. Because every person has access to the divine. Every person offers some grain of truth.

I have mentioned this before in a sermon, but it bares repeating. About five years ago the UU congregations in Orange County engaged in a marketing campaign. I was just moving to the area in the midst of the campaign. All the churches joined their resources to buy advertising in magazines, newspapers and radio. They even did direct mailings. One of the pieces of that campaign was the release of a bumper sticker, that read “Unitarian Universalism, The Uncommon Denomination.” It was a great idea to do bumper stickers.
But, I can’t think of a less helpful message for us to describe who we are. Who wants to be a part of a religious movement that understands itself as an elite club? Who wants to claim elitism as a part of their religious values? I don’t want to be an uncommon denomination, I want to be common as dirt, welcoming to all, in fact, The Common denominator, the place that is available for all.

It’s true that Unitarian Universalism is a unique type of religious gathering in that we welcome people of all different belief systems. We are universal in our acceptance of religious thought. We are open to an array of belief systems. We welcome everyone who comes with a yearning in their heart. And if we want to live up to that ideal, we must get over ourselves. We are not an uncommon denomination, we are not too smart for the masses, we are not, and I have heard this a lot, to difficult for people who want a religion that provides easy answers.
What we offer is common as dirt. In fact, I want to see that bumper sticker changed from, Unitarian Universalism, the uncommon denomination, to “Common as Dirt, Come grow with us.”

What we offer is common as dirt. It is a VERY simple message. Unitarian Universalism a community on a journey of deepening our lives and our faith. We believe that each person has insight into the deepest questions of life, and we gather in community to support each other as we ask those questions. That’s it. It’s simple. It’s doesn’t depend on a particular theology or cultural background and it doesn’t depend on a particular education.

I don’t want to hear that people are not smart enough to understand or appreciate our church.
That’s not the problem. The problem is that we are not smart enough to talk about our faith in a meaningful way.
It’s not a difficult message to say that our world is a wonderful place, and we each have insights into the divine. But most importantly, we are our best selves when we come together as a community to explore those insights together. It’s not a complicated message. Our children understand it.

I’m tired of hearing our members complain about “those people who aren’t like us.” As long as we talk about people who have a different background or theological difference as “Those People” who are so different, you can damn well bet that they aren’t going to find this a place that feels like home.

And just to clarify, opening our doors and our hearts, offer an invitation to find a meaningful home in this community is not about filling seats or growing our church. It is about living out our faith.

We are Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Laguna Beach. So what, So the message of Universalism should blow the doors of this church wide open. Not just to white educated liberals.

If we are to live up to our calling of Universalism, if we are to live up to our faith, we must offer an open door to all people and an invitation to build a beloved community together.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Newsletter Article for April

I am writing this month’s Sealight article from a café in New York City. I have had a terrific few days here in the city enjoying great food and reconnecting with friends who I haven’t seen in years. Just yesterday we made an unplanned visit to All Souls Church here in New York City.
Wow! What a joy to visit such a historic institution of our faith tradition. The congregation was formed in 1819 and the building is simply amazing. Sitting for a moment in the massive sanctuary filled me with two distinct feelings. I felt rooted in a tremendous tradition, and I longed for the unique little Fellowship that I call home. It is a tension that we exist in as Unitarian Universalists. We are a part of a broad intellectual and historical tradition that has molded much of America. It is a deep and inspiring history that can anchor our faith. And the other side of that tension is an appreciation for the uniqueness of our Fellowship and the individuals we know and love there.
For the most part, members of our congregation know the great work that UUFLB does in our community and the wonderful individuals who come here on Sunday mornings. That deeper sense of tradition however, is lacking. Either through human relationship or visiting some of the vast array of Unitarian Universalist landmarks, the power of connection with a tradition is not something to be read about but something to be experienced.
I am excited to have heard that a few of you plan to attend this year’s District Assembly in Santa Barbara and I hope more of you will seriously consider going. Spending time with other Unitarian Universalists is a priceless and rare opportunity. Sure there are things to learn and new helpful ideas. But much more than that, District Assembly is an opportunity to tap into the power of broader reaching Unitarian Universalist community. Like I said, connection to our tradition is not something to read about, but something to experience. So while I want to share with you a sense of tradition and history that informs my faith, the most important thing I can offer is an invitation, not to read, but to step into a wider circle of our faith tradition.


Sermon - Earning Hope

Earning Hope

This month in our worship services, we are focusing on the idea of salvation. That word doesn’t come up very often in Unitarian Universalist circles. In fact many of us cringe at the idea, as if it is some long forgotten baggage of other religious traditions that we have moved beyond. Well I’m willing to bet that whether you recognize it or not, some idea of salvation still affects your beliefs. Maybe you wouldn’t use that word, maybe you would simply call it hope, or reassurance, or peace. But the idea of salvation is important to us, especially as Unitarian Universalists.

I just saw a book title that pointed to this reality. It’s a new book from Beacon Press, that’s the Unitarian Universalist publisher, called “The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting, and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism.” Through humor and factual information, the book addresses the juggernaut of living a “good” life in the modern age. The choices are overwhelming. Is it better to buy locally produced food or organic products that have to be imported? Which is safer for the environment, purchasing things online or driving to the store? How do we welcome diversity without tokenizing individuals? Trying to live by one's ideals can be confusing and contradictory.

But why? Why this obsession with living up to the perfectly green, politically correct and engaged life? I think it’s wonderful that we have such commitments, but it is important to ask why.

I think it is because we are looking for some sense of salvation. We are looking for the satisfaction of doing the right thing, being GOOD ENOUGH.

Unitarian Universalists have long given up on the idea of original sin or the idea of salvation by faith alone. In our world view, it’s your actions that make the difference, not just what you believe. We have forsaken original sin and salvation by faith alone, to say I can earn hope on my own, I can be good enough on my own. See, look how good I can be.

My fear, and what I want to talk about today, is that our idea of salvation and acting out our values is an endless effort. When is enough enough? When do we get the hope?

I don’t think we can earn it through action alone. In our culture you can’t really earn hope with your actions alone. We earn our hope by doing what we can and having the courage to know that that it is enough. And we know it is enough because we trust in our brothers and sisters to follow through with their values as well. We earn our hope by doing what we can and having the faith to know that that it is enough because we are not alone.
It’s important to understand that our theological beliefs did not spring out of thin air last year. They have been around for a very, very long time. Just about any heretical belief you can find today, including those of Unitarian Universalism, have been around since theology has been written and churches have picked what is orthodoxy or right belief, and what is not. In fact, most of orthodox beliefs exist because at some point in time, people believed the opposite. And that is exactly the way it was with original sin in the Christian church.

Most of us have some notion of original sin in the Christian church. That’s the fallen or sinful state of human beings that is passed down generation to generation because of the “Fall” in the Garden of Eden when Eve ate fruit from the tree of knowledge. Just be being descendents, all of humanity is likewise sinful. It’s a pretty core piece of Christian theology, but it wasn’t so until the early 400s. Augustine of Hippo was the champion of this doctrine and he was one of the most powerful and influential theologians of Christian history.

But at the same time, one of our very important theological predecessors was arguing the opposite. He argued that salvation can be earned and humanity’s natural state is not original sin. Rather than the sin of a mythical predecessor, he focused on free will, and the importance of right action, not just having the right theological faith. His ideas quickly spread, which is one reason the opponents acted so promptly and firmly. In fact they acted so forcefully and so completely that nearly all of his written works have been destroyed. Most of what is known about Pelagius today is recorded in the letters and books of Orthodox theologians who argue against him.

And his work didn’t disappear because he was a nobody. He was well educated, fluent in both Greek and Latin, and learned in theology. Even Augustine, perhaps the most powerful Christian theologian outside of the authors of the Bible called Pelagius a “saintly man.”

I wanted to bring up Pealgius in particular because his concern echoes what I hear many UU’s talk about today. How many of you question the whole notion of salvation by faith, the idea that if you just believe the right thing, then God forgives all of your sins, no matter what it is you have done? If you say you’re sorry, all is forgotten, how many of you have problems with that?
Well, in 400 in Rome, Pelagius was concerned about the moral laxity of society. He blamed this laxity on the theology of divine grace preached by Augustine. He thought that Augustine’s idea of original sin and salvation by faith alone was not only contrary to the core of Christian teaching and ignore humanity’s free will. It turned people into automitons, because if it was all up to God, then why bother. No matter what we do, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

So Pelagius believed in free will, human beings could in fact be good, and their actions made a difference. What an important revelation. What we do matters in the large cosmic scale. We can be good and do good of our own free will.

So what did he do with this great theological principle? Did he advocate for the homeless, was he a great social reformer? Did he aim at creating a better world for other people.

Unfortunately no, Pelagius was an ascetic. Instead of thinking that his good actions could create a better life for other people, he focused on his own life. Ascetics generally reject any sort of worldly pleasure with the aim of pursing spiritual goals. They live the simplest lifestyle possible to prepare themselves for spiritual transformation. Rather than exerting their energy to help those around them, the focus of asceticism is to purify one’s own self to seek personal enlightenment.

Pelagious realized that what humanity does matters, and he sqandered that realization. He wanted to prove that he was “Good enough.” He thought he could earn his salvation by denying himself of earthly pleasures and distancing himself from all sin. So he suffered in isolation, to earn his hope.

I don’t know much about his last days. Like I said, Pealgius is a difficult historical figure to track because so much of his writing was destroyed. But I wonder, was he fulfilled? Was he able to earn his hope? Was he able to do enough to prove himself?

And I wander the same thing about many tormented do-gooders of today. I know I feel this way sometimes. If I just make my carbon footprint a little smaller, and donate a little more to the right charities, will I prove myself? How can I earn my hope, my salvation? What do I have to give or do to get there? What do I have to do to prove that I am good enough?

Well Pelagius has been all but buried in the pages of Christian history and doctrine, there’s another figure that has not. William Ellery Channing took up the same theological principle that Pelagius held, that we do have the power to work for our salvation, and he turned it outward.

As a minister in the early 1800’s Channing faced an theological atmosphere strikingly similar to the one Pelagius dealt with. A millennia and a half later, Christian orthodoxy was still supporting original sin and predistination, and still faced very little challenge in that belief.
But Channing and the early Unitarians said, hold up. We humans have something special, a special ability to use our intellect and our compassion to become better people. And becoming better people should be the focus of religious life, not simply being fearful of a God who might arbitrarily condemn us to Hell for a mistake made by a mythical woman in the Garden of Eden.

Religious Liberals demanded that we use reason. We were intelligent beings, not robots. We are called to use our brains when possible to come up with the best understanding of our world, whether that is in science or medicine or theology.

And along with that insistence on the use of reason, came an understanding that we humans were not completely depraved. In fact, if we tried, we could better ourselves, and that should be the focus of religious life. We should focus on the development of our intellect and moral lives. Meaningful religion was not an emotional reaction or instantaneous salvation through a profession of faith.

In 1819, William Ellery Channing preached the landmark sermon, “Unitarian Christianity,” For the first time, he accepted the label Unitarian, and at that critical moment made a distinction between his Liberal peers and the Christian orthdox. That sermon was the catalyst that made our church what it is today.

The thrust of the sermon was two fold. First, he insisted that we must use reason to develop our faith. After all we were endowed with this great capacity and it would be irresponsible not to apply it to religious life. Second, we as humans are capable of moral development, and this, above all else, should be the thrust of religious life in America.

So we have the ability and responsibility to use free thought and act on it. But this is where he split from Pelagius and his asceticism. Channing took that importance of human moral and mental capacity and put it to action making the world a better place.

With the likes of Dorthea Dix, Horace Mann, and other reformers of his time, Channing railed against slavery, against poverty, against alcoholism. He advocated for the creation of hospitals for the mentally ill and encouraged progressive approaches to education. Most importantly, Channing’s unique contribution to these causes was an undying interest in the moral potential of the individual.

He knew that with effort, people could become more ethical people. We could mold ourselves into better people, and that work of improving ourselves would in turn improve the world around us.

He writes, “The inward moulds the outward. The power of the people lies in its mind; and this mind, if fortified and enlarged, will bring external things into harmony with itself. It will create a new world around it, corresponding to itself.” For Channing, the equation was simple. If social ills of war, slavery and economic oppression were moral issues, then the solutions should be as well. And that’s where he earned hope. Channing earned his hope by doing what we could and having the faith in the will of other people to do the same. He believed deeply in the moral fiber of humanity. He did what he could and had faith that others would do the same.

Unitarian Universalists don’t talk a lot about salvation today. At least not in those terms. We talk about responsibility, and we talk about community. But we don’t talk about at the end of it all, where do we find comfort and hope. I think it’s an important question. At the end of it all, how do we know we have been “good enough?” How do we know that it’s okay? Where do we find hope?

The more I think about it, the more I realize that that kind of hope is not something that we can totally earn through our actions. We can be so Puritanical in our guilt. Those are also our historical roots after all. If I don’t have my reuseable shopping bags at the grocery store, or I am uneducated about a proposition, I feel bad. If I don’t live up to my ideal of a good person every day, I feel some guilt. Am I good enough? Will I every be good enough?


Perhaps the most powerful image that we have as Unitarian Universalists is captured in the Seventh Principle. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. The interdependent web of all existence, the web of life. It’s a wonderful symbol for our interconnection, and we use it to talk about how the choices that we make every day affect countless other beings. We are responsible for helping care for that web. We are interconnected and must care for others.

But today, I want to use that image as something more. The web is not just an image of responsibility, it’s not a symbol of guilt. If that’s the image you’re looking for it wouldn’t be a web at all. It would look more like what you see on the front cover of your order of service, a single person holding up a boulder. The interdependent web of all existence both depends on us, and it SUPPORTS us in our lives.
We act as we can to help nurture and sustain life. And we know that countless other beings are doing the same to nurture and sustain us. We are supported.

Unitarian Universalism is a religion of helping people, not of asceticism. We believe in doing the right thing, not to purify ourselves, or to be good enough. We believe in doing the right thing because it gives us more faith that others will do the right thing.

Our salvation, our hope doesn’t lie in our ability to be perfect, fortunately. We earn our hope by doing what we can and having faith that other peoeple are doing the same. This is not a guarantee that all will be right with the world, or a guarantee of eternal life in bliss. It is however a recipe for hope, which I find to most fulfilling and comforting thing in the world. We earn our hope by doing what we can and having faith that other peoeple are doing the same.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wildflowers and Roses

Wildflowers and Roses
A hallmark of Unitarianism has been the rejection miracles within the Christian tradition. I’m sure some of you have heard of the Jefferson Bible. That’s a Bible that Thomas Jefferson created for himself by taking the four gospels and cutting and pasting them back together again expressly for the purpose of removing the miracle stories. Walking on water, turning water into wine, resurrections of the dead, all of those miracles, Thomas Jefferson just cut them out. He wanted a Bible that was about the ethical teachings of the person named Jesus, that stood without magic tricks.

I love that we have such edgy forbearers of our tradition. Two-hundred years ago those thinkers were pushing the envelope in ways unimaginable today. Seriously, think of the furry that would be unleashed if one of our contemporary presidents took a pair of scissors to the Bible to remove the miracle stories… And Thomas Jefferson was just one of many Liberal thinkers that said, we don’t need these stories to enhance our faith. In fact all that flash and dazzle of miracle really distracts from the real essence of what we celebrate. The core of religious life isn’t in miracles but in living a meaningful life, caring for others, and embracing the mysteries that touch us most deeply.

So why Easter? Why are we adorned with floppy hats and flowers and an inordinate amount of pastel this morning in our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship? It’s not to celebrate the most miraculous moment in the Christian Calendar, the resurrection of Christ. We are here to celebrate another miracle.

We celebrate a miracle of human community and hope. In the midst of our diversity and in the face of adversity, we celebrate the miracle of hope and renewal. It doesn’t require magic tricks or bending the laws of nature. In fact, quite the contrary, it’s a simple miracle of Spring. We celebrate Spring and the miracle of hope every year with a flower communion, which will soon participate in all together.

The Unitarian Universalist Flower Communion originated in 1923 with Dr. Norbert Capek, founder of the modem Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia. On the last Sunday before the summer recess of the Unitarian church in Prague, all the children and adults participated in this colorful ritual, which gives concrete expression to the humanity-affirming principles of our liberal faith.

But hope and renewal don’t come out of the blue. Spring follows winter, liberation follows persecution, resurrection comes only after death. Perhaps the reason that Dr. Capek’s beautiful ritual has taken on so much meaning for us, is that it has survived as a symbol of hope beyond brutal religious oppression.

You see, when the Nazis took control of Prague in 1940, they found Dr. Capek's gospel of the inherent worth and beauty of every human person to be-as Nazi court records show-- "...too dangerous to the Reich [for him] to be allowed to live." For one of our most central principles, for believing in and preaching the inherent worth and dignity of every person, Dr. Capek was sent to Dachau, where he was killed the next year. This gentle man suffered a cruel death, but his message of human hope and decency lives on through his Flower Communion, which is widely celebrated today. It is a noble and meaning-filled ritual we are about to recreate. It’s meaning comes not only from a dazzling arrangement of flowers. It’s meaning comes from what those flowers symbolize. After pain and persecution, after Dachau, a community, our community comes together to celebrate hope. As a part of the flower communion and in our closing words, I’ll share with you some of the hope that he maintained, even in the face of death. Our celebration of Spring in Idyllic Laguna Beach is but a glimmer of the unshakable, life affirming, resurrecting hope that Chapek held in the face of death.

That is the other story of Easter, the story that some theologians want to share. In fact the president of one of the Unitarian Universalist seminaries holds dual ordination as a UU and a UCC minister, Rabecca Parker. She wrote a book called “Proverbs of Ashes” that is a retelling of Christian theology transforming images of violence into images of healing. And in that sense, we join with our Christian brothers and sisters as a community gathers in the midst of grieving. For only a community can transform grief into hope. Only a community can provide the fertile ground for new life to spring again. So we celebrate with our Christian brothers and sisters, the hope that they held for their religious community after their holy man was crucified. Through their tears, they saw hope. Through their pain, they saw a future for their selves and for their community.

But this is no unique story, this story of hope over death, especially in Spring. Just as we celebrate Easter with our Christian brothers and sisters, we also celebrate the hope of Passover with our Jewish brothers and sisters. No it’s not the miracles that Moses performed, or plagues that God spread over Egypt that we celebrate. It isn’t even the passing over of the Jewish households, while all of Egypt’s first born were struck dead in the night that we celebrate as the name Passover suggests. No we celebrate the liberation of a community from it’s oppressor, and the gathering of a community for years to come, for thousands of years to come, to tell their story and hope for a better future for themselves and for all people.

We celebrate a miracle of human community and hope. In the midst of our diversity and in the face of adversity, we celebrate the miracle of hope and renewal. And today we do that with flowers.

I love our flower communion because it taps into something that can be fleeting for us as Unitarian Universalists. It taps into a unifying tradition that is rooted in a historical moment. Keep in mind that we are not just channeling a profound moment of an inspiring religious leader in Prague. We participate in this ritual with other churches across the country and around the world, as we celebrate together.

The other reason that flower communion is so meaningful to me, is because of the diversity of flowers that come together. I have wonderful memories of this day as a child. The anticipation of caring for a fragile flower and bringing it to church. It was also great fun to see what beauties other people would bring to church with them, because everyone brought something different.

That’s what this communion has come to represent to me. Of course, it is hope, the hope of simple miracles. But that hope comes in tremendous diversity as we come together with our unique gifts to share. What better symbol for the hope in a diverse community that an arrangement of different flowers.

What kind of flower are you in this community? What is your special and unique contribution? …

Are you a rose, stately and graceful? Do you bring dignity and presence to this great tradition?

Perhaps you are a wildflower, a Poppy, a Black Eyed Susan ?, unexpected and charming, offering whimsy and delight without a lot of fuss.

Are you a pansy, with defiantly bold color, and surprisingly sturdier than other flowers when the frost comes?

Maybe you are you a Bird of Paradise? You know these flowers are named Bird of Paradise because they resemble a tropical bird in flight. Do you bring the simply gift of freedom and joy?

Or maybe your gifts are spiritual in nature; maybe you are an Iris. The iris’s mythology dates back to Ancient Greece, when the goddess Iris, who personified the rainbow, acted as the link between heaven and earth. It’s said that purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to heaven. Do you bring a connection with the sprit to our community?

Fortunately I know we have a handful of sunflowers. While their distinctive and brilliant yellow head makes it easy to see why sunflowers have long held our fascination, when they were first grown in Central and South America, it was more for their usefulness, providing oil and food. That amazing combination of striking beauty and utility is, in part, why sunflowers have appeared as such revered symbols throughout the ages. Are your gifts of the more practical kind? Do you bring utility to this congregation maintaining an old building?

Or perhaps you are a Lotus. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions the Lotus represents spiritual purity, not just because it is white, but because it unfolds layer after layer after layer. Maybe your gift to this community is the personal growth and unfolding layer after layer of yourself to gain a sense of peace and compassion.

There’s one last flower that must be mentioned. I don’t see it around here much, but my childhood was swimming in it, honeysuckle. According to an old superstition, if honeysuckle is taken into a house then a wedding will follow. If a girl places this fragrant flower in her bedroom, she will dream of love, and in France it was given to a loved one to symbolise their union. Do you bring a sense of romance to this community? Are you a romantic, stoking human endeavor and passion for the highest ideals?

What kinds of flower are you? What kind of unique and fragile gift of self do you bring to this community? It’s something. Maybe its something that I haven’t mentioned yet, but your presence here brings something, and you are a gift to us all. Whether a rose or a wildflower, thorny or smooth, there is room for you here. Your brilliant colors are sure to contrast with those of your neighbor, but there is room for you here, and we thank you for brining your unique, fragile, and real self.

It is Spring my friends. It’s difficult not to revel in it here in this beautiful place. It is spring with flowers all around and warmth that we can trust in. But also, don’t leave this spring all to the outside world. I invite you to really revel in it. This is your spring to. Let this be your time to flourish, your time to come into full bloom, your time to express your unique and beautiful selves. It doesn’t matter your age, or your stage in life, because Spring happens again and again. And it is time for Spring now, time to flourish and share you fragile gift, time to rise up…

As we heard from Maya Angelou’s amazing Poem “Still I Rise,”

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

I rise
I rise
I rise.

We celebrate a miracle of human community and hope. In the midst of our diversity and in the face of adversity, we celebrate the miracle of hope and renewal.

It is time now to recreate a ritual from ages past. It is a ritual that lives on in congregations like ours all around the world. Flower by flower, person by person we build our communities and we bless them with hope. We bless them with faith that Spring will come again, and the miracle of hope and renewal that rests in each heart, will sustain us.