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.


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