Monday, May 9, 2011

Sermon - "Thanks Mom"

Thanks, Mom

“Thanks, Mom.” I’ve said these words countless times. For clean clothes for a meals, for sage advice, for encouraging words, a good laugh or silent company. “Thanks, Mom.” I imagine I’m not the only one with this phrase seared into their brain, like automatic response. I’m sure many of you have said it frequently, and some of you hear it, a lot.
It’s bit like the mantra of my childhood or of my relationship with my mother. “Thanks, Mom.” I have said it so many times, and will probably say it until the day I day. But there’s only one problem with mantras. When you say something enough times, it can lose it’s meaning. Hail Mary full of grace… Our father who art in heaven… when you say something enough times, the words lose their meaning. Rather than a sentence or phrase, you find you are simply repeating a set of sounds in order.
So rather than another “Thanks, Mom.” Maybe we can spend some time today talking about what it is we are thankful for, and what we can learn from all the different kinds of mothers who have shown us support through out lives.

Mother’s Day can get a pretty bad wrap these days. It is one of the most commercial holidays around. According to the New York Times, American’s are projected to spend $1.9 Billion on flowers for mothers day this year. That’s a whole lot of flowers.

But it’s worth remembering that Mother’s Day actually has a remarkable history. The holiday is rooted in on Unitarian woman’s personal campaign to end war. In 1870 Julia Ward Howe wrote the Mother’s Day proclamation. Although we have read it in years past, I want to share these powerful words with you again.

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
Say firmly:

"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of
charity, mercy and patience.

"We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!
Blood does not wipe out dishonor
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war.

Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions.
The great and general interests of peace.

This holiday was serious business for Julia Ward Howe. It was a deeply sincere and political point. For her, the experience of being a mother led to intense political action and public debate.

She saw some of the worst effects of the Revolutionary War -- not only the death and disease which killed and maimed the soldiers. She also worked with the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides of the war. She saw the economic devastation of the Civil War, the economic crises that followed the war, the restructuring of the economies of both North and South. All of this set Julia Ward Howe on a mission to bring together the voices of women to end the blight of war.

In addition to her public struggle for women’s rights and against war, Howe was a deeply committed abolitionist. She was ridiculed for both causes. Especially painful was the way many White women criticized her abolitionist work, as if she were being disloyal to her sisters by advocating for the rights of Blacks as well.

It’s important that we remember Julia Ward Howe, not just to talk about the roots of this holiday. But, to talk about the way a mother’s love manifests itself in the world in a variety of ways. Howe’s love for her children, and for all people, lead her to be an outspoken political activist. I can’t tell you if she could bake a cake or sing a lullaby, but I know that she did everything in her power to make the world a better place for her children.

Not for lack of effort, eventually the original concept of Mother’s Day faded away. The funds dried up for cities to celebrate the holiday. Her version of Mother’s Day didn’t quite take off, but Julia Ward Howe planted the seed that would later become what we know as Mother’s Day today. Years later, A West Virginia women’s group led by Anna Reeves Jarvis began to celebrate an adaptation of Howe’s holiday. They celebrated to re-unite families and neighbors that had been divided between the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War. The group held a Mother’s Friendship Day.

When I read about the roots of this holiday, I am struck by the difference between the Hallmark cards today, and those women who boldly engaged in outspoken political action. Julia Ward Howe was not Betty Crocker. Yet we celebrate her as a mother, who did everything within her power to make the world a better place for those that she loved.

The point is, whether it is through political action or chocolate chip cookies, mothers, and all of us show our love in different ways. Today we remember mothers, and all people who have acted out of love to make the world a better place for future generations.

There is a concept that’s very popular in couples counseling these days. It’s the idea of “love languages.” We all express our love in different ways. For some people, the little things are what really count. For other’s it’s all about having a formal commitment that tells the world that you are a couple. Some people need time alone with their partner to feel like their relationship is validated while others feel especially appreciated when they receive gifts.

The idea is that we all feel appreciated in different ways. We all have a love language. It’s a pretty easy concept to get a grasp of in navigating the labyrinth of romantic relationships. The more we know about what makes our partner tick, the better we can show them we appreciate them.

But it occurs to me that the same thing is true for familial love. The ways we are nurtured are different from one person to the next and from one generation to the next. While Julia Ward Howe felt compelled as a mother to be a political activist, other women have felt compelled to create a loving environment at home, or nurture their children’s education, or to bring home the bacon. The ways mothers support their children is a deeply complicated and personal decision. It’s rooted in what they think their family needs, and it’s rooted in their time and culture.

I say it’s a choice, but the truth is that many woman don’t have a choice about how they will mother. The circumstances of women often dictate the “love language” that they have access to. For a very long time some women were prevented from working. The only appropriate avenue to nurture their children was in the home, in domestic ways. They were deeply limited. Ironically, during that same period, another class of women, working class women, had to work six days a week to feed their families. They had no choice but to show their love through making money to make ends meet, often leaving their children home alone.

Maybe, being a mother doesn’t mean being one thing in particular. Maybe, being a mother means having to make some incredibly tough choices about how to express your love. Every mother, every one of them here, and every one of our mothers has found a unique way of expressing her caring. And maybe that’s what Mother’s Day ought to be about. Not idealizing one particular kind of mother, but pausing, so say a collective “Thanks mom,” for making the incredibly hard decision to show your love the way that you did.

There are a million and one ways in which mothers show their love. And although it’s difficult to talk about, sometimes the most caring thing that a mother does, is let go of a child that she know she can’t support. Letting go is one of the unspoken, deeply noble ways that women express their love. Letting go is a choice that we also embrace this Mothers day.

The loving act of letting go is a big part of my own story, and part of the way that I have come to understand Mother’s Day. Many of you know, because I have preached about it a few times in the past, that I was adopted. I was adopted at birth by my amazing family. It something I always knew and felt okay with. It’s just a part of my family’s story. But, starting about three years ago, about the same time that I came to this congregation as your minister, I have been in contact with my biological parents. At first it was about exchanging information, and reassuring them that everything has turned out all right. My family, the family I grew up with, is amazing and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Being adopted by them has filled my life with as much love and support as anyone could ask for.

But this past year I have come to know my biological parents on a somewhat deeper level. They were high-school sweethearts who couldn’t support a child and weren’t ready to get married yet. In getting to know them better, I have gotten a glimpse of the way their love and support took form through some very tough choices. As I build a deeper relationship with my birth parents, I understand more and more what a painful and loving decision it is to let go. At that time, in that place, the best way to love, the only way to love was to let go, and pray for the best.

Doing the right thing can look radically different for different mothers. Choosing the right thing, the loving thing is a tremendous task. And today we celebrate all mothers, all people who do their best to care for the people they love. Throughout our lives, each one of us, men and women make those difficult choices about the best way to care for our loved ones.

We know the unfortunate uncertainty of that gift. Whether we are mothers or not, we know the struggle of aiming to support another person with what little resources we have. Whether it’s little time, little money, a finite human attention span. Maybe we don’t feel like we have the right words to offer comfort. We are faced with the challenge every day. “Is this the right choice, the right way to be supportive? “

But this Mother’s Day, I want to offer a gift, to mothers and everyone else. The gift is a respite from the worry of doing the right thing. Let’s set that worry aside, and have a little faith in the power of love. There is no guarantee that what we choose is the best way to nurture our children. There’s no guarantee that we will use the right love language every time.
There is no guarantee. But for this mothers day, I want you to join me in a small leap of faith. Join me in a faith that when we give a gift of love, it is eventually received. When we act out of our hearts, it transcends those limitations of not enough time, not enough money. Eventually, in the long view, in the broad picture, when we care for the people in our lives and do it from the heart, it is enough.

This Mother’s Day, let the power of love that resounds in our hearts, sing a louder song of life than the echoes of doubt. This Mother’s Day, let us have faith in the power of love.


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