Monday, September 12, 2011

Sermon - "The Community Well"

The community Well

According to the Bible, paradise featured four rivers flowing in cardinal directions out from the roots of the Tree of Life. . Their waters symbolized life and nourishment. In Bali, springs are attributed with healing or magical powers. For Buddhists waterfalls symbolize the “permanent impermanence” of the universe, which is partly why they play and important role in Chinese and Japanese landscape painting. In Shinto tradition, waterfalls are held sacred and standing under one is thought to purify the soul.

Throughout human experience water has been a source of life, not just for quenching our thirst. It also is the perfect symbol for our religious lives. Whether it is the ever-changing nature of a waterfall, the peaceful serenity of a still lake, the life-giving sustenance, it is the perfect symbol for the complexity of the spirit.

So coming from our different backgrounds and different life experiences, today we construct together a community well, a vessel to hold our hopes and dreams and fears We have done that in a symbolic sense, through ritual. But I want to challenge us as a community to live up to the potential of what that vessel represents, a container for all of our experiences, our joys and our pains, our hopes and despairs. A source that we can draw from in our time of need. Because that is what church is all about. We somehow were magically reminded of that reality ten years ago.

We all remember where we were when we learned what happened on September 11th. For my generation, it was our version of the JFK assassination. It was the first national tragedy that really flipped our world upside down. From that moment on, nothing would be the same.
Ten years ago today I left my parents home in Tulsa and boarded and airplane on my way to Washington D.C. I was to begin an internship there at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Washington Office for faith in action. It was an exciting time, I was eager to get there. So when the captain told us we were going to have a detour, my initial reaction was a simple annoyance. “Can’t you get anywhere in an airplane anymore.” Then, probably fifteen minutes later, the captain came back on the speakers to explain that an airplane had run into the World Trade Center, and there was a terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Because all flights were to land immediately, we were being routed to Louisville Kentucky.
Of course if you were at home watching the news you knew exactly what that meant. And there’s not an American alive who doesn’t know what happened that day. But with only those little pieces of information, an airplane ran into the World Trade Center, and there’s been a terrorist attack on the Pentagon, I landed in a city where I knew no one. Fortunately I had the resources and the wits to get a hotel room immediately. So I went, and sat in my room, and I watched as the horrible image of that airplane was shown over and over and over again.
Finally it occurred to me that there was probably a UU church in town. So I looked them up in the yellow pages, and sure enough, there they were. I called and found that the church was open that evening, and they would be holding a vigil for anyone who was interested. All were welcome.
I don’t know how I got to the church. I hardly remember the church itself. And I don’t remember a minister being there at all. What I do remember was a room full of people gathered in a big circle. In the center was a chalice and many candles. And as people felt moved they lit a candle and offered a few words from their heart. Some spoke words of fear and pain. Others were concerned for loved ones in NY. Still others spoke words of solidarity with the Muslim community around the world.
There was no magic in the gathering. No one had the perfect words of comfort or a concise political analysis. We were all too stunned to offer anything resembling perfect. That gathering didn’t offer me any answers. What it did offer was a place to bring my fear and my loneliness. It was a place to come and be real and to be myself in the presence of others.

That was a terrible few days of my life. I dare say some of the worst, being stuck in an unknown city alone at a time of disaster. They were painful days. But at the same time, I feel tremendously grateful for having had a community to turn to in my time of need. It was as simple as pulling out the yellow pages in my hotel room, and I knew I could walk into a place where I would be nurtured. I feel profoundly grateful for that experience, and I wish it had been the experience of more Americans.

Because, being a part of a loving community changes people. Knowing that you can bring all of who you are, knowing that you will be cared for not in spite of who you are, but because of who you are does something to the human heart. It cracks it open a little bit.

That’s why I care about religious community, because it has the potential to change people’s lives, and to change the way they live in the world.

Not religion that comes from on high, but religion that is built on the foundation of community. Not religion that limits God’s love to a few chosen people, but on that celebrates the truth that love is a renewable resource. Not a religion that invests in exclusion, but one that throws its doors open, like the arms of a loving grandparent.

When tragedy strikes we have these momentary opportunities to understand our priorities. It’s happening now as Texas burns. It happened not long ago with Hurricane Irene to residents of New England. And here in Laguna Beach we have had our share of fires, landslides and floods.
Forget about the house or the car. Forget about the objects. Are the people I love still okay? That’s what it boils down to. Are they okay, and how can I let them know I love them?

But ten years ago, in the wake of the biggest national tragedy of my lifetime, our president told the country to go out and shop. He told us to fill the gaping hole in our hearts with consumer electronics and cars. And he promised revenge.
That strategy simply did not work. It doesn’t work, it never will work. We are today more fearful, more militant, more angry, and certainly more cynical than we were on September 12th 2001. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to tell you that shopping and revenge are not the best ways to heal your wounds.

Healing doesn’t come out of revenge and shopping. Healing and growth come out of very difficult and messy work. Whether it is in the face of terrorist attack, or in the face of the pains of our every day life, aging, disease, broken relationships, financial trouble, healing does not come with quick and easy answers of getting revenge or getting new shiny things.
The real challenge of religious community and of our lives is to hold the real and profound pain that enters our life. And at the same time, turn our minds and hearts toward hope. It’s a difficult task for an individual and a difficult task for a community. But it is one of the greatest tests, perhaps the test of a worth-while faith. When you come out on the other end of fear and pain, is there still room for love?

The level of cynicism in our country, and even in our midst as a congregation is overwhelming at times. So I want to lay down a few pieces of Unitarian Univesalist belief for you to chew on the next time you talk about our woes. We believe that people are generally good, and they want to do what is best for their community. We may disagree with their tactics, but we believe that people are at their core, good. THEY are not out to get US. Quite the contrary. WE all want a world where future generations can thrive.

People are generally good, and our world is good, full of life giving resources with the power and potential to heal. That’s right. Nature is an amazing miraculous thing with untold powers of healing.

Yes, there is a tremendous environmental disaster in our midst. Yes there is political turmoil in our country and around the world. But when we let go of hope in a better world, when we let go of our faith in love, our faith in the healing power of nature, faith in community; when we let go of our faith in goodness, we have already lost.

This sermon sounds rather grand with its claims about interpreting September 11th, and our annual water communion. But what I’m talking about is much simpler. It’s actually what we do every Sunday here when we gather in worship and share our joys and sorrows.
Although it takes a while and sometimes people make us uncomfortable, we take time nearly every Sunday to speak aloud our Joys and Sorrows. As we celebrate Joys and grieve our Sorrows, we remind one another of the complexity of life. In sharing our joys and pains our relationships are deepened and we are reminded that we are not alone. Through those connections one to another, we weave a fragile tapestry of hope.

On September 11, 2011 may we embrace hope rather than despair, and love rather than revenge. And in so doing begin the healing of our community, and the world around us.