Monday, September 27, 2010

"The Only Way Out Is Through"

Throughout the month of September we have been talking about vision in different ways here at the Fellowship. When we celebrated our water communion and built a common spiritual well, we gained a deeper understanding of the shared vision of our community. Last week, we talked about the keeping a vision of hope for the future and how often the smallest moments of our lives are sources for profound inspiration. This week, we talk about vision in a different way. This week we explore the gift and challenge of focusing on the present moment. Because if we can focus on this moment, the here and now, we can face our challenges one step at a time.

The title of this morning’s worship service, “The Only Way Out Is Through,” I knew only as a witty phrase that reminded me of Buddhist principles. And it still does, we will get into what the Buddha taught later. But in my preparation, I found that the quote, “The only way out is through,” comes from a poem by Robert Frost. It’s called “A Servant to Servants.”

The poem is far too long to share in our worship service. But I want to share with you what it is about. It is the mental meanderings of an over worked and under-stimulated farm wife. She’s having an imaginary conversation with some free-spirited campers who have landed on the farm. Of course she sees them from her only vantage point on the world: the kitchen window. She’s envious of them and angry that her life is reduced to taking care of loutish farmhands, while her husband runs all over the place. But eventually she gets to the point of seeing that the only way through this life, is to deal head on with what life hands you, and make the best of it.

It’s a pretty universal theme ­ girding yourself to get through what life has to offer you. In this poem we hear the heartfelt yearnings of a board farm wife, wondering what a more adventurous life might have been like. Finally, she comes to realize that most likely, if she were with those free-spirited campers on her farm, she would grow tired of sleeping on the ground, and board with that lifestyle.

The only way out is through. The only way to get through life and get anything out of it is to engage it head on. I think this is a wonderful message, a very Buddhist message, but some may think it an easy answer. If your life is easy, of course you would say, dive in and embrace it. Well, that’s not quite the vantage point hat Robert Frost was writing from. Rather than boredom of the farm, Frost’s life was rattled with challenges.

Here was a man with a childhood so disrupted by his father's drinking and gambling that he was too nervous to attend school till the fifth grade. When Frost was 11, his father died of tuberculosis, leaving the family with just $8. Subsequently he had to put his sister in a mental institution where she eventually died. And, his own children were a lineage of tragedy. One died just after child birth, one died of cholera and yet another committed suicide. His wife died 25 years before him and he gradually grew blind ­ too blind to read the poem prepared for Kennedy’s inauguration so he recited "A Gift Outright" from memory.

I guess I point all of that out to say that if anyone has the backing to be able to say those words, “The only way out is through,” it’s him. Certainly the only way to survive that sort of repeated trauma is to take it one day at a time. And perhaps the only way to survive the cruelly boring domestic life of this mythical farm wife is one day at a time. The only way out is through.

All of that talk of one day at a time may sound familiar to a few of you. It is a bit of a mantra in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs. For many people it’s a life saving mantra. In the midst of recovery, a period that is filled with regret for the past and concerns about the future, the only way to not be overwhelmed is to take one day at a time and focus on the present moment.

But there’s another essential piece to 12 step programs that resonates with the idea that the only way out is through. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and addiction that has overtaken your life. Only when you recognize and admit that you have a problem, can you go about addressing it and moving forward with your life. But you have to start with that moment of confrontation. You have to admit that there is a problem to begin with.
But admitting you have a problem isn’t just about being an addict. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, a necessary step to dealing with any of life’s challenges. Admitting you are scared or angry or hurt, or in danger, whatever the moment presents, admitting what you face is a crucial piece of coming through it.
I say admitting, as if it’s about making some public confession. That is the case for AA programs. That’s what that whole introduction that we know about is. Hi my name is _____ and I’m an alcoholic. It’s about naming your problem publicly. But admitting you have a challenge begins with yourself. Knowing yourself, knowing how you are feeling, and acknowledging that feeling. Admitting to yourself that you are hurt or scared, admitting to yourself the way you feel can be just as terrifying and just as important as making a public confession.

I mentioned that believing that the only way out is through is reminiscent of Buddhist thought. It actually is in several ways, more ways than I can describe in one sermon. But we’ll take a stab at it. You may know at the foundation of Buddhist thought is the Four Noble Truths. This was the great realization that Buddha had when he reached enlightenment under the Bohdi Tree.
The first Noble Truth is that “life is suffering.” At least that’s the way it is usually translated. Life is suffering. From the time we come into the world we are always longing for more. We experience pain sickness and death. Even as we enjoy things, there is a knowledge that they are for a limited time or quantity. We are never satisfied.
In fact, a better translation of this First Noble Truth that is “all life is dissatisfaction.” The Buddha wasn’t a complete pessimist, saying that life is just pain and suffering. It’s not that dramatic. But the essential experience of life is dissatisfaction. We always want something more or something different. We attach ourselves to something other than what we have or what we feel.

Which brings me to the Second Noble Truth. The Second Noble Truth is that the root of suffering, or dissatisfaction as I prefer to call it, is attachment. Life is suffering because of attachment. We get attached to material things that are fleeting. We also get attached to disappointments of the past, or anxieties of the future. We are attached to the way things could have been, or the way we didn’t quite make the mark that one time. We even get absorbed in how wonderful life used to be. We get attached to what is not here and now, and we long for a different experience. And thus we are dissatisfied.

The challenge within the Buddhist framework, and I think the challenge in all of our lives is to be aware of your mind in the present moment. Are you focused on the past or future, or maybe some other place? Or is you mind present in the here and now? That is the primary goal of Buddhist practice, to live in the present moment, free of attachments that only bring dissatisfaction. It’s a big challenge if you take it seriously.

That is where the practice of meditation comes in. That is the stereotype of the Buddhist, or at least the first thing that comes to my mind, the meditating monk or the Buddha. That’s because meditation is a central practice of Buddhism. And it is also the one spiritual practice that I do on a regular basis.

For ten to fifteen minutes I sit and breath. I know it sounds easy; anyone can breath for ten minutes. But I don’t just sit there. I focus on each breath, each inhale and each exhale in the very moment that they occur. In and out, one at a time. Only breath, only that moment. That’s a very hard thing to do for fifteen minutes. Your mind goes in 50 different directions, wondering what’s for dinner, what time is it, am I doing this right, did I remember to pick up the dry-cleaning?
But your breath is always there, in and out, to help refocus on the moment. In and out, one at a time. Only breath, only that moment. It’s a wonderfully helpful experience in my life. I don’t meditate as often as I would like to, but I do do it when I can.

So the first challenge in Buddhism is to focus your mind and heart on the present moment. And then, once you are there in the present moment, you tap into compassion and joy.
The Buddha taught endlessly about compassion for other living beings, and compassion for yourself. Without diving too far into it, the root of that compassion comes from a recognition of interconnectedness. I can feel compassion for other people’s suffering, because I know my own experiences of suffering. As Unitarian Universalists, we talk about it as the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. For most of us that’s a reference to ecological concerns. But it’s also a central theme in Buddhist thought. In the core of our being, we are interdependent, so much so that our identity, our self is blurred with the rest of creation… Okay I’m getting carried away.

Suffice it to say that compassion is a key component of Buddhism, and the root of that compassion is an understanding and embracing of our interconnectedness. And compassion is a multilayered thing. We must have compassion for ourselves, in our times of challenge. And we have compassion for those who are close to us. After all we know some of their pains like we know our own. And then compassion gets a bit more complicated as we stretch to feel compassion for people we don’t know. After all, they too must have disappointments, dissatisfaction occurring in their lives. But we are called to extend compassion to them. And finally, perhaps most difficult, where is the compassion in our hearts for our adversaries, the people who have done us harm? Can you feel compassion for them?

This is one of the most powerful pieces of meditation in Buddhist practice. It’s actually reflected in both of the hymns that we are singing today. We can cultivate a sense of compassion in ourselves, we can stretch our hearts, if we just take a little time to do it. Start with yourself, identifying a dissatisfaction or frustration, and feel compassion in your heart. No one wants to hurt, and you know that. Just hold yourself in compassion. Then extend that compassion toward someone you know and love. Maybe someone in your family facing a challenge, or even someone here. Next, imagine someone you don’t know well, perhaps the grocery store clerk or a waiter at a restaurant that you frequent. Holding that person in your thoughts, know that they too have struggles and disappointments. Hold them in compassion. And finally, and sometimes this is not possible, but if you can, who are you angry with? Who has hurt you? See if you can hold that person in your heart, knowing that he or she also experiences disappointment, dissatisfaction. Maybe, just maybe they have hurt you as a response to their own disappointment.

Those two practices, meditation to center on the moment, and the practice of extending a feeling of compassion beyond yourself are pretty much the core of Buddhist religious life. Usually when we talk about religious diversity, we tend to talk about religions, like Christianity, Islam, Hundism, Jainism, groups of people that believe a certain thing. But we should be careful about how we lump people together. For most Buddhists, their tradition is a practice, rather than a religion. You may hear people describing themselves as Buddhist practicioners. The key isn’t what you believe about metaphysics, it’s how you live your life in the present moment. It is sort of like Unitarian Universalism; what you believe is not as important as how you life your life. And in Buddhist life, two key practices are meditation and stretching your heart to embrace wider and wider circles of compassion.

Buddhism is largely a practice, like a sport or an intellectual endeavor, it takes practice and time, lots and lots of time. And eventually you land in the here and now. You come to realize that this life is full of struggles and dissatisfaction. But, if you take what life offers you, and live it out in this moment, it is possible to find joy there.

Whether you are a Buddhist practitioner or a discontented farm wife from Robert Frost’s imagination, or even an every day resident of Southern California, with hopes and desires unfulfilled, and maybe a few regrets, the only way out is through. As Frosts farm wife puts it, “I 'spose I've got to go the road I'm going.” The only way out of a struggle is through it. The only way to live this life is one day at a time, with as much compassion as our hearts will allow.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Expect Miracles

Expect Miracles

One of the favorite adult religion education classes that we offer in Unitarian Universalist churches is called Building Your Own Theology. It’s a pretty intense class that encourages participants to get in touch with just what it is that they believe. One of the exercises is talking about spiritual moments, because those moments are a bit of a key to where and how you understand the sacred in the world.

Because some people are uncomfortable with even calling them spiritual experiences, the class I think talks about them a wow moments, times when you are really moved. Well I had one of those just a couple of weeks ago, a wow moment. Some of you have seen my post about it on facebook.

Just a few weeks ago, I was walking at main beach here in Laguna. I was taking my dog so it must have been around 7:30 in the mornings. And I noticed in the distance a whole pod of dolphins swimming. They were not far off the beach at all. I almost wanted to swim out there with them. Although they were probably there precisely because it was early and there weren’t a bunch of people in the water.

They looked so beautiful and graceful. I sat on one of the benches and was moved to tears... And then a possibly even more interesting thing happened. At least three other people walked by completely oblivious to the beautiful scene happening just 100 yards away. One guy was on his cel phone, no surprise he missed it. But one person, I even tried to talk to as he walked by.
“Hey did you see the dolphins?” I said.
His only response was to walk faster. I was shocked.
Maybe my private moment with nature was heightened when I realized how unaware most of us are most of the time, or maybe I was just deeply tuned into the moment, but it was a very striking experience. I left the beach thinking all I have to do is open my eyes a little bit more often to see the amazing world going on around me.

That’s certainly the way one of the most prominent Unitarian thinkers described his spirituality. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, the core of religion was feeling a fundamental connection with the wider world, and all you have to do to experience that is open your eyes. That’s what he talks about in the essay that some of us will be reading in the book group in Novemenber. I’m sorry for the gendered language. Emerson writes.

“To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food.

Later in that essay he writes “I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

That’s a pretty amazing description of a wow-moment.

Emerson’s prescription for 19th Century religion is exactly what we are talking about today. If you open your eyes to the amazing potential of the world around you, it is astonishing, and you can’t help but have some hope. Amazing things, miraculous things are happening around us in nature all the time, why shouldn’t we expect those same things to happen in our own lives.

The word “miracle” means different things to different people. Most importantly, it means something that happens outside of the natural order of things, something unexpected or even unprecedented. A miracle is a new answer in a world of challenges.

I love Emerson’s understanding of miracles always being around us, and the idea that nature can connect us with the divine and to each other in the deepest way. I totally agree with him, but I want to take his understanding of nature one step farther. Because the magic of nature is not just that it is what it is. The magic of nature, the magic of us as human beings is that we have become what we are. Out of a few cells in the sea we have become physically powerful, emotionally complex and intellectually stunning creatures. We have become self-aware. We have become, through nature, mindboggling complex creatures.

The miracle isn’t just about what we are and what surrounds us. The miracle is about how we got here. Step after step, over billions of years.

And who taught us best about that process? Our good friend, and who some believe was a Unitarian, Charles Darwin. I still don’t know about the Unitarian claim, but he certainly would be welcome in our ranks. In his 1859 book On the Origin of Species Darwin argued that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and proposed the scientific theory that evolution occurred through natural selection.

We all know about Darwin and his amazing contribution to modern thought. The discovery, what some still insist on calling a theory, of evolution has fundamentally shaped our understanding of biology and of ourselves. He demonstrated that the interdependent web of all existence, isn’t just a nice theological concept. It’s science. It’s what’s in our DNA.

And of course any significant development of thought comes with a share of controversy. People don’t take to new ideas very easily, they never have. Darwin was at the crux of a huge theological shift occurring in the 19th century.

The controversy over evolution was actually a little different his time than it is today. This is an important difference. We know about the debates that go on around evolution today. A certain brand of Christianity has its heart set on interpreting the Bible literally, which means that the world was created in just seven thousand years and that all life sprung up from God’s plan. They see evolution as an affront to their literal interpretation of the Bible.

Well, the controversy that Darwin faced in his time was a little more complicated, and much more interesting. Folks weren’t upset that Darwin was arguing with what the Bible said. Already by the 19th Century there was a variety of belief about whether the Bible was a history, or story. In fact it was right around this time that the Unitarians at Harvard were arguing just that point, while Darwin was in England offering a revolution in scientific thought. The theological conundrum that Darwin introduced was much more threatening than the controversy as we understand it today.

Darwin’s natural selection brought into question not only the Bible. It also brought into question God’s providence. If evolution happened by natural selection, essentially by chance, then God’s role in the whole process came into question.

According to natural selection and evolution, our lives as humans are based largely on chance. That’s right, its like a giant craps shoot. Some where sometime, a particularly gifted critter did better than the others, and was able to reproduce, and have little baby gifted critters. It’s a biological craps shoot, billions and billions and billions of times. And thus, here we are today.

Needless to say, some people were uncomfortable with that. Some people are still uncomfortable with that. What Darwin introduced wasn’t just the idea that the world may not have come out of the Garden of Eden. What he introduced was that rather than God’s divine plan, much of what occurred then, and occurs now is left up to chance.

I have made that sound a little less than romantic, with the critters and baby critters, fighting for survival. It makes most of us a little uneasy about just who we are and how we came to be that way. And it made a bunch of people who believe in an omnipotent God quite angry. In fact they flipped their lid.

This giant game of chance is a little unsettling. But, I think there’s also a tremendous flip side of the coin. Just look at what it has achieved. Maybe it took billions of tries, but look at the phenomenal diversity and richness of life that covers the globe. From a few cells to countless species adapted to live in virtually every location on earth, from the deepest ocean, to rocky mountain peaks, the hottest deserts. Nearly everywhere on Earth, some creature has evolved to live there.

So, my thinking goes, if that’s nature, the same amazing stuff that surrounds us every day, the same force that has come up with ingenious solutions to every challenge the globe can present, why should we expect that force to stop with us? Why shouldn’t we expect the miracles to keep coming in our lives? Because that’s what evolution is after all. It’s moment after moment of little chances, little miracles. Something came into the world that hadn’t existed before, something out of nothing. A whole string of tiny miracles created us and the world as we know it. Why on earth would we expect that they stop occurring?

I want to add a short disclaimer to this emphasis on miracles and evolution. The atheists out there may not like this, but that’s okay. According to Darwin, and according to myself, there is still plenty of room for the divine to be active in this process. You may have noticed that when I start prayers, they tend to be addressed to “Sprirt of Life, Spirit of Creation.” That’s because what I find most compelling, and what we can share in as a religious experience is a sense of awe and gratitude from the tremendous power of life and creation that surrounds us. For some, that’s God, for some it’s science. Who or what God is in this picture is up to you to decide. And it’s also up to you to be grateful. Darwin never intended to pose an atheistic alternative to understanding of the world. Some people have taken evolution to that step, some have not. But we are all grateful to be a part of it…

Earlier, during our intergenerational time we heard the Parable of the mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a person took and planted in the field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.

And there is the parable about the leaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that gets mixed into a big bowl of flour to make bread. The yeast makes all the dough (bread) rise."

I love these parables, mostly because they use language and examples that were in the experience of everyday people. It would be like talking about pumping gas in your car, or using the ATM today. They are based on everyday life. Because they are in the Bible, a “religious” book, we fall into thinking that Jesus is talking about grand theological concepts, like it’s a textbook from seminary or something.

And certainly, you can take a literal interpretation and assume that Jesus is making a statement about some far off divine realm. But I don’t think he’s talking about a giant tree house in the sky, perched atop a mustard tree. That’s not what the parable of the mustard seed is about. Remember this is also the guy that said the kingdom is among you. I don’t want to dive into Biblical interpretation too deeply, but just be clear, Jesus taught in allegory and parable. They are metaphors, not lectures on metaphysics.

So what of this mustard seed? For Jesus, and I think for us, the tiniest thing imaginable, the smallest moment of nature can hold within it all the hope of the world. And that hope is infectious. It can grow into the largest of things; it can provide shelter for others. Whether it is keeping your eye out for dolphins or reveling in the complexity and miracle of human experience, or just planting a seed in the garden, we can find hope in the most basic pieces of nature. Because they are miracles, not just for what they are, but for how they got there. Billions and billions of chances at evolution turned out something new, and the world came up with a new solution to problems. It has happened for a very, very long time. Why on earth should we expect the magic to end in our lives. Why shouldn’t we expect some small miracles to occur?


Monday, September 13, 2010

Sweetwater for the Journey

Water communion is one of my favorite Sundays. Some ministers don’t like it because it is too much like show and tell. They worry that folks use the time to show off where they have traveled. But I think that’s kinds of missing the point. Yes, we do get to hear of some kooky adventures, like round the world cruises, and trips to Guatemala. But more than that, we get to hear what has been stirring in people’s hearts for the past few months. I’m still touched by hearing last year, or maybe it was two years ago, when Diane Morris shared that the water reminded her of bath time with her children, and what that meant to her now that they are young men. We have also heard this year about the joy of new pets in our lives, and complicated emotions of leaving a home or 40 years to start somewhere new.

Bringing together our experiences in a symbolic way is just a perfect example of who we are at this Fellowship. We bring our collective experiences here to share with one another.

We build our communal well together, the combining of life experiences, insights, education, emotions. All of who you are and who you have been is welcome here. All of your thoughts and dreams, and fears and shame, all of your faith and doubt, your weakness and strength. All of who you are and have been is welcome. Because as we come together in community to share our experiences we learn together and we grow richer as community. What a deep well we have here.

More and more in my life I am grateful to have a community of faith that I identify so strongly with. Through the ups and downs, through various schools and different friendships, even as my own personal religious beliefs have changed quite a bit. In the midst of all of that change, I have known that I am a Unitarian Universalist, through and through. Unitarian Universalist is who I am.

Of course I am a minister and I grew up in this traditions. Unitarain Universalism surrounds me every day of my life. You may not feel this as strongly. But as I talk about the power and importance of the tradition that we create together, I have to share with you that it has been an invaluable foundation. It may be different for you, but for me, having a solid grasp of who I am as my life changes, and as the world changes around me has been such a gift.

It’s like our opening hymn from this morning. “There’s a river flowing in my soul, and it’s telling me that I’m somebody.” This faith tradition lets me know that I am a part of something bigger than myself. It lets me know who I am in the midst of change. But this river also tells me, it tells everyone that they are somebody.

Unitarian Universalism is telling you and everyone that you are somebody. You are a person, a loved person of inherent worth and dignity. Regardless of your bank account or diploma you are person of worth and dignity. Regardless of the car you drive or the company you keep or the shape and size of your body, or your political affiliations, you are a person of inherent worth and dignity. Regardless of your country of origin or the papers you carry with you. The river in your soul is telling you that you are somebody.

Whether you accept that or not is up to you. UUFLB and our message of love and acceptance can only go so far. It’s up to each person to allow that message to be heard and embraced.

This is part of why I end every worship service by saying “I love you.” It is a little peculiar and I explained it only once, the Sunday when I started saying it. I say “I love you” in the benediction each Sunday because it is an irreplaceable statement that each and every person needs to hear. Sadly, it is too rarely heard by many people. I close our worship services by saying “I love you” in no uncertain terms, because that is the core and sometimes challenging message of Unitarian Universalism. It is not an ambiguous statement that God is love, or “All you need is love.” But that you, each and every one of you is loved by another human being, and you are worthy of that love.

Today as we build our shared well of experience we share those stories of love. We remind one another of the challenges of life, the joys of life. We remind one another that while the struggles of life are hard, they are always worth it. We remind one another to trust in something greater than ourselves,,, to have faith.

Faith is a sticky word around here. I tend to think of this word as synonymous with trust. Some of you disagree with that, so I looked it up. And it turns out we are both right. Faith is used as a trust in or loyalty to God, or adherence to traditional religious beliefs. And, it is also understood as something that is believed with strong convictions, even without absolute proof. It is trust in something, and it is faith in God. While the word faith makes some of you cringe a little, it’s actually a really helpful word for Unitarian Universalism. Because, for some of us, faith is in God, but not for everyone. It means a whole rang of things for us. But at the end of the day, it is about having something that you can trust.

Your faith may be in science or the human capacity for love. Or maybe you have faith in a universal creative force or a benevolent God. Maybe you have faith in the power of community. Whatever it is that you trust, I hope we all have a bit of faith.

It’s a necessity, a vital piece of our lives, a little bit like water. Our faith, or let me say my faith, comes in an ebb and flow. It’s not a constant. Of course sometimes I am moved to tears with feelings of utter joy at connection with the universe and the rest of humanity. Sometimes I am humbled to be alive, to be a part of this tremendous creation and grateful to have a sense of connection to it all. Sometimes I have a deep deep well from which to draw.

But sometimes, more often than I like to admit I am parched like the desert. Sometimes there is isolation, and doubt, Fear, anger, jealousy. Sometimes my innermost feelings of love are set aside because they are inconvenient or because they make me too vulnerable. Sometimes faith is so far away, that I hardly remember what it felt like to trust.

The water that we bring together today reminds me of faith. It’s a slippery thing, hard to hold onto sometimes. Sometimes we know it is there, sometimes we are parched and weary and can hardly remember what it felt like to trust. But we come together and build this place for one another, so that in our desert times, when we can hardly remember what it felt like to trust, there is a place to turn.

Because church is not just for ourselves and it’s not just for other people. Often when asked, people will say one or the other, “I come here to get recharged for the week and filled up,” or they say “I come here because it helps me help others.” But it’s both, both for ourselves and for other people. And as we share our memories today and build our common well, we do it for ourselves and for generations to come.

That’s what our closing hymn is about. In a few minutes we will sing “As Trinquil Streams.” It was commissioned for the joining of Unitarians and Universalists in 1961. In church terms not so long ago, two traditions, the Unitarians and the Universalists came together to join forces. They came from very different histories, from different socio-economic and geographical backgrounds. But they both had a clear focus on building an institution for the future, a faith that would promote freedom and tolerance. As the first verse says, “As tranquil streams that meet and merge and flow as one to seek the sea, our kindred hearts and mind unite to build a church that shall be free.”

Together we build a community of faith and support. And we also build and institution, a free church that proclaims a message of love and understanding. It’s a message that is needed now as much as ever.

We should pause today, September 12th, to remember the tears that flowed over violence and misunderstanding. September 11th 2001 changed our world. For us as Americans it made us feel the vulnerability of an imperfect world, as violence penetrated our boarders in a terrifying new way. But it also changed the rest of the world, as it was faced with a new reactionary United States military. September 11th is a day that has defined a generation, my generation. It is our Pearl Harbor, our JFK assassination. Unfortunately it has shaped us as a country, for better, and for worse.

Yesterday’s paper came with tremendous relief. It held the news that a Florida pastor finally decided to let go of his media stunt. Terry Jones in Gainesville Florida was planning on burning two hundred plus copies of the Koran. Ironically, this hateful act was supposedly going to demonstrate to the world the evil of Islam. I can’t begin to describe the stupidity in of his threat. It was disgusting . What strikes me most is the power that this misguided and malicious individual had over us, over the whole world.

He is only one man. No one had really heard of Terry Jones or the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida until about a month ago. He is one mean, but his hatred fueled heartache across the United States. An unbelievable list of celebrities, ministers and public figures addressed him. The President of the United States asked him to stop his stunt. He kidnapped international media attention for weeks. And perhaps worst of all, he made us feel deep shame that he was invoking our national identity to promote hatred.

But it wasn’t just heartache here. His hatred spread around the world to invoke pain and frustration that we can hardly imagine. His stunt fueled the recruitment capacity of Radical Islam in unimaginable ways. I have no doubt that his political stunt has already cost human lives, and will certainly cost many more.

It is shocking the power of an individual filled with hatred, isn’t it. But I hope that we as a country can learn from the shame of this moment, and the power that Terry Jones had over the entire world. He in no ways represents the spirit of Christianity or America. He certainly doesn’t represent living in faith. I hope that we can learn from the shame of this moment to realize that the exact same disproportionate attention and power is given to radicals in any group. Whether it is Terry Jones or Al-Quaeda, their hatred and threats are viral. If we allow ourselves to play into the fear and hatred they spew, we risk becoming our worst selves.

Today as we celebrate our water communion, and our little community here in Laguna Beach, let us be clear that we are also a part of a world community. It’s a community thirsting for messages of love and peace. A community where too often the vitriolic hatred of a few fringe individuals overwhelms the love that rests in the hearts of the multitudes. As we celebrate our message of love here in our fellowship, we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters to say clearly that violence and bigotry will not be tolerated. Spreading lies that fuel hatred will not be tolerated.

Let us respond to a few radicals who spread these lies and hatred, with a message of love. That is after all the core of all faith traditions, love and compassion. So let us say, no more will the screaming voices of a few radicals overwhelming the peaceful voices of a loving humanity. Let us go forward in the power of love and proclaim that truth that makes us free.