Wednesday, May 23, 2012
When was the last time you woke up in the morning without a plan for the day? When was the last time you sat in your home and did nothing? For many of you I suspect is has been a very long time. It has been too long perhaps.
Though it goes against the American work ethic, against our sense of achievement and development, doing nothing on occasion is a really wonderful thing. Let me be clear, when I say “doing nothing,” I mean literally not having a single obligation. It’s not taking a class or doing your chores. It’s putting aside that never-ending list of have-to’s to do whatever the moment calls you to.
Somehow the day of Sabbath has been largely lost in contemporary America. Dedicating a day to rest and renewal isn’t an easy thing to do when the world around you whirls on in its rapid pace seven days a week. I do my best to take either Saturday or Friday completely off from work. I succeed in doing that about two-thirds of the time. I know many of you come to church on Sunday’s as a moment to recharger. Then you gather for a meeting or whisk off to activities with your children and grandchildren. Or you return home to tackle the list of chores. Certainly, the sense of productivity is admirable. But you need more than an hour or two at church to recharge. You need to unplug from your commitments on occasion, weekly even.
I know the voice in your head tells you “daylight is burning, this mess isn’t going to clean itself up, my kids are looking forward to this adventure, I NEED to get a jump on the work week.” Well this month I give you permission, I give you homework to do nothing on occasion. My friends we live in paradise. Take a moment and enjoy it.
Monday, May 21, 2012
“The Oversoul Today”
“The Oversoul” is one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s most famous essays. He covers a tremendous amount of theology in it. Maybe even more amazing than the ideas he presents poetic way that he manages to present them. It is beautiful and inspiring language that any religious leader would aspire to. But admittedly that language is a little dated, and a little dense for today’s reader. So as we focus on Transcendence as our theme of worship this month, I thought it would be fun to dive into this great essay, and explore it for our lives today.
One of the reasons this essay is so prominent is that it encapsulates the beliefs of the religious movement called Transcendentalism. But I’m especially interested in it because what he says seems to still stand as the core Unitarian Universalist belief today. Emerson used more traditional Christian language, but as you will hear, even within that language, his ideas about God and religion pushed the envelope, even for today’s American religious life.
In very broad terms, the essay is about the human soul, and a unifying divine force that Emerson called, the oversoul. There are four very clear topics that he covers. I want to talk about each one of those today, about how Emerson understood them, and how we might understand them. The areas he covers are, take a deep breath with me, 1) the existence and nature of the human soul, 2) the relationship between the soul and the personal ego, 3) the relationship of one human soul to another, and 4) the relationship of the human soul to God. I told you he covered a lot. I want to talk about these ideas one at a time and hopefully give you a taste of what Emerson was thinking.
The existence and nature of the human soul:
For Emerson the existence of the soul was self-evident. You can see its reality across cultures and throughout time, because the soul is that part of human beings that longs for a deeper connection. It is the universal religious impulse, the piece of us that responds with awe and wonder, the thing that draws us out of our individual self and self-interest into a broader relationship with the world as a whole.
As I said before, Emerson used much more traditional language than we do as Unitarian Universalists today. I know many of you are squirming at the use of the word soul. Personally I find the concept of a soul, at least in the traditional Christian sense to be really unhelpful. But that’s what is so magical about this essay. Emerson, writing in 1841 was talking about something much more compelling than the popular use of the word in America today.
Our thoughts have been so pervaded by Christian religion and culture that we think of soul as a sort of ghostly eternal existence of the individual person. Emerson’s concept of the soul is, believe it or not, much more influenced by Eastern religion than our own. Along with other progressive religious leaders, Emerson was an avid reader of the sacred texts of Hinduism. And the influence of the East is nowhere more apparent than in his description of the human soul. For Emerson, the soul wasn’t the ghostly unique personality of an individual; it was a piece of the divine that is in each person. The soul then, was something that was the same in each person, it was part and parcel of the same energy that animates the universe. It’s not a separate personal identity, the soul is the bedrock for our connection with the rest of creation.
Emerson’s understanding of the soul is the seat of our first Principle as Unitarian Universalists. It is about the inherent worth and dignity of every person. There is something within each person, a piece of the sacred that is not earned, it is not spoken, and is the same in each one of us. Emerson pretty boldly used the word soul, and I appreciate that. But to understand his concept today you can just as easily talk about each person’s humanity, their potential, whatever it is that is innate in each person that gives them worth and dignity.
Though we should be clear that this seed or soul, or whatever you choose to call it, is not dependent on the individual will. It is not part of an action or even intellectual activity. It is innate to each of us.
It reminds me of one of my favorite hymns that we sing.
Voice still and small, deep inside all,
I hear you call, singing.
In storm and rain, sorrow and pain,
still we’ll remain singing.
Calming my fears, quenching my tears,
through all the years, singing.
I hear you call, singing.
In storm and rain, sorrow and pain,
still we’ll remain singing.
Calming my fears, quenching my tears,
through all the years, singing.
The relationship between the soul and the personal ego:
It was very clear to Emerson that we each have a soul, a still small voice in each one of us. So what does that mean for us as individuals? How does the presence of that soul affect our lives?
Well, just like we heart in the children’s story earlier [“All I See Is Part of Me”], and as Emerson most likely got from the classical Greek philosophy, the soul that is in each of us holds tremendous possibility to illuminate our lives. We have in each of us, a piece of eternity, a piece of the sacred. The task then, is to get into better contact with that piece of ourselves.
I said earlier that Emerson’s idea of the soul was very influenced by Hinduism. The way we respond to that soul is very much in line with Buddhism. The great task in our lives is to move beyond focusing on our personal ego to see the truer self that lies beneath. Personal ego, all of the stuff that we typically think of as our identity, our bodies, our achievements, our intellects, even our your actions toward others. All of the trappings of your personal identity actually impair you from seeing and experiencing the most important part of yourself, your soul.
I think the hymn that we know well, that best speaks to this piece of Emerson’s thought is “This Little Light of Mine.” Our task is to let that light that resides in each of us shine forth, a light of truth and compassion. The great task of religious life is to keep our personal egos and pride out of the way long enough for that light of truth and compassion to become the driving force of our lives. It’s no easy task, but it is what we are called to.
Emerson argued that this was actually the point of all meaningful personal reform movements. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but Unitarians have ALWAYS been in the business of bettering themselves, doing what they can to improve society and generally living a life of integrity. This sort of self-development focus is in our religious DNA. According to Emerson, the real goal or those improvement efforts, is to allow for our souls to become more manifest in our daily lives. And when we can manage to do that, our lives are transformed.
Not only are our lives improved in a sort of personal growth way, they are actually transformed. The sort of change that occurs when we really listen to our soul, is of a different magnitude. It’s not a sense of growth in just one aspect of our life that is achieved, but rather a transformation of our whole person. It is like the metamorphosis of a butterfly. We are not just growing, but fundamentally changing our whole being. When we truly tap into deeper truths through our soul, it’s not an expansion of intellect or ethics, or just an expansion of our compassion or any other singular type of growth. When we come to listen to our soul, when we are able to let that little light shine, our whole person is transformed, mind, body, heart and all.
You have heard me often use one of my favorite quotes from Emerson. “It behooves us to be careful what we are worshiping. For what we are worshiping we are becoming.” I feel now like I have a much better sense of the importance Emerson placed on the focus of our worship. He saw tremendous potential in each person, the seed of truth, the soul that could come to its full glory when given the right circumstances and nurtured in the right ways.
The relationship of one human soul to another:
So each of us has a soul and that soul is instrumental in the way we develop as people. It is also critical in the way we build relationships with one another. Emerson talks a bit about the relationship of one human soul to another. Fist is the most obvious, the point that we make clearly every Sunday here. It is about the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Everyone has a soul, a piece of the divine, a spark of potential, the possibility for human compassion within them. But, the sad truth is that it’s not always easy to see that soul. It’s either because that person has so much in the way, blocking their inner light. Or, just as likely, because we have so much in the way blocking our own ability to see it.
You see Emerson argues, and I have to again agree, it is the soul in us that is able and willing to recognize the soul in others. There is a sort of mutually reinforcing power when people join together in community, at least when they are brave enough to be real with one another. Our souls gravitate toward one another and bring one another out of hiding, if we allow it, if we encourage it. In this way it matters deeply who we spend our time with and how we spend it. Being in real community allows us to better bring our true selves into fruition, and it allows us to practice seeing the souls of other people around us.
Our souls are enriched by the communion with other souls. That’s not to say that every encounter with every person feeds us. Quite often what we see, what we are allowed to see in another isn’t a soul but a show. Fortunately we have an internal B.S. detector. That’s my description, not Emerson’s. The core of our being is attuned to be attracted to other people’s soul. And we innately know the real thing when we see it. The real soul I mean. A person’s soul is not proven by material things, physical characteristics, boasting, great intellect, or even remarkable ethical life. It is a channeling of truth so apparent that we can’t help but recognize it. And coming in contact with a real soul reveals all of those other means of self-aggrandizement as the façade that they are.
Relation of the soul to God:
So the soul is instrumental in the way that we relate to one another, and it is instrumental in the way that we relate to God. That’s because, the soul is part of God in each person. Rather than that ghostly personality that we so often think of when we describe “soul,” Emerson thought of it as something more universal, a piece of the divine, a spark that rests in each person.
Again, Emerson is using the Christian language of his time and place. You can just as easily use truth, beauty or humanity to embrace this concept. I told you earlier that Emerson was deeply influence by Hinduism. Nowhere is that more true than in his understanding of the soul’s relationship to God, or the fact that in each of us lives a little spark of the divine. One of the most famous passages of the Bhagadvad-Gita, the sacred Hindu text, illustrates the idea perfectly.
A father tells his son, “Place this salt in water and come to me tomorrow morning." Svetaketu did as he was commanded, and in the morning his father said to him: "Bring me the salt you put into the water last night."
Svetaketu looked into the water, but could not find it, for it had dissolved. His father then said: "Taste the water from this side. How is it?" "It is salt' " "Taste it from the middle. How is it?" "It is salt." "Taste it from that side. How is it?" "It is salt."
"Look for the salt again, and come again to me." The son did so, saying: "I cannot see the salt. I only see water." His father then said: "In the same way, O my son, you cannot see the spirit. But in truth it is there. An invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is Reality. That is Truth. THOU ARE THAT!"
In Hinduism and in Emerson’s faith, each one of us is filled with the spirit of God. The truth that resounds in the entire Universe is also in us, it is what makes up our being. I find that idea enthralling. You however may find it kookie. So, let me put it in terms of today’s Unitarian Universalism.
We talk a lot about the interdependent web of all existence. It’s an undeniable reality of life. Strangely, for Unitarian Universalists that interdependent web means several different things – love and compassion, ecological connection, draw to social justice. Whatever the interdependent web means to you, you plug into that web in a particular way. If it is ecological then it is about your body. If it is about compassion then it is your emotional self, if it is about service then it is your actions. Whatever that point is that connects you to the rest of the web, wherever, however you feel most connected, that point is worth some serious focus and study. Because that is the point within yourself that probably has the most to teach you.
For Emerson, the soul was the seat of the divine in each person, it was the universal spark that we all shared and that was be plugged into the web. For you the soul may or may not be the spot of connection. But if you get nothing else from today’s worship service, I want it to be this. That piece of you that makes you feel most connected to the rest of the Universe is special. It is the seat of your religious life. Find that spot where you plug in and cherish, because it has endless lessons to teach you.
We have covered so many ideas today. And there is much, much more in this one short essay that I would love to share with you. If you can’t tell I sort of fell in love with Emerson this week. But before I wrap up, I want to boil this who thing down to a few key ideas.
First and foremost, there is a light and source of goodness that rests within each of us. And, the greatest task, perhaps of your life, is to let that true light shine. Remember, everyone else shares that same light, whether or not they know it, and whether or not you can see it. Everyone else has that same spark within them. When you are able to connect soul to soul, light to light with another person something magical happens and the world is enriched. So be brave when you can, and share your light to give other people the courage to do the same.
And remember that that piece of you that feels connected to the world, Emerson called it the soul, you may call it something else. But that piece of you that feels connected to the world is the foundation for religious life. Spend some time there and explore that connection. It holds a tremendous lessons that can transform your life.
Monday, May 14, 2012
Hello again. While poking around the new template for this blog I found all kinds of comments that have been made on my postings for the past 2 years! I had never seen these comments before. I am SO SORRY for not responding to some of you. Please know that I now will look for comments and they are VERY welcome. In fact that's the whole point of the blog, to generate conversation.
“Showing Up for Mother’s Day”
I want to start out this sermon by sharing with you something that several of us read in a recent book discussion. It comes from the book, “A House for Hope.” In this particular section, the author is quoting feminist theologian Charlotte Perkins Gilman as she talks about the potential for reimaging God. What if women’s experience of birth-giving had been the source of religion instead of men’s experience of killing? She writes:
Birth based religion… would tell no story of old sins, of anguish and despair, of passionate pleading for forgiveness for the mischief we have made, but would offer always the sunrise and fresh hope: “Here is a new baby. Begin again!” To the mother comes the apprehension of God as something coming; she sees [God’s] work, the newborn child, as visibly unfinished and calling for continuous service… As the great Power would have been apprehended as the Life-giver, the Teacher, the Provider, the Protector – not the proud, angry jealous, vengeful deity men have imagined. She would have seen a God of Service, not a God of Battles.
This book argues, and I agree, that whether or not you believe in God, the traditionally masculine concept of God has shaped much of our culture and our lives. The way we imagine our highest ideals, the words we use to name what is most important to us shapes our lives in profound ways.
If you didn’t notice last week, I hope you will this week. The words of our closing song are slightly different from how we have sung it in the past. In “Let There Be Peace on Peace,” rather that singing, “With God as our father, brothers all are we,” we will sing, “With God our creator, we are family.” And instead of “Let me walk with my brother…” We will sing “Let us walk with each other in perfect hormony…” It’s a very minor change, but important way of looking at our underlying assumptions.
Whether we believe in them or not, we have more than enough images of God as masculine in our lives. Western art is replete with these images. We have more than enough examples of what it means to have power over someone else. We learn on the news that power is military, it is money, it wears a uniform, it is authority. Power is coercive. But, today we pause to celebrate a different kind of power. Today as we celebrate Mothers Day, we celebrate the live giving and life sustaining power of nurturing. It’s a critically important day. Just one day for celebrating the necessity of nurturing.
Because what we set our sights on matters. Whether it is the gender that we use to talk about God, or the roles in society that receive recognition and praise, what we set our sights on matters. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so beautifully puts it, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.” Today we pause to celebrate not just the women who have raise children, but everyone, women and men, who have taken it upon themselves to nurture and support the world around them. And the opportunities for that are endless.
You may have heard that a couple of weeks ago was the national day of prayer. I attended the Laguna Beach Interfaith Council’s prayer breakfast that morning. You should check it out next year. We had a delicious breakfast at Mission Hospital and the guest speakers were really captivating. The speaker that really stuck with me was talking about the volunteer work that she and her husband had done with lepers in India. It was absolutely amazing. She and her husband had spent a couple of years in a non-denominational leper colony, getting to know people there, raising money for their cause, even tending to their wounds.
But it was what she said about the children in her faith tradition that really struck me. She said that she knew when they said their morning prayers, they asked for an opportunity to be of service in some way during that day. That is so powerful to me. I love the idea of asking for an opportunity to help others. In our wish list, in our prayer lives, in our bucket list, we have endless things we would like to learn and experience, and own. But the simple sentiment, to start the day with an intention to have the opportunity to help someone seems revolutionary to me.
What would it do to our lives to begin each day with the intention to have the chance to offer service to another being. One opportunity, big or small every day. I think the difference could be truly revolutionary. I’m going to hold on to that one for a while and I’ll get back to you about it.
After all, that is what celebrating Mother’s Day is about. Not necessarily celebrating your own mother, though that’s important to. We celebrate the people who set themselves up to help, in the best way they know how, every day.
The minister and writer Robert Fulghum has a great essay called, “My Son is a Great Mother.” It is in part a celebration of the role that his son plays in parenting, and fulfilling all the roles that in generations past had been traditionally a mother’s duty. As Unitarian Universalists, that blending of gender roles is not really news to us. The women of our own congregation have pushed the envelope as psychotherapists, academics, mayors, attorneys, and a long list of other careers that weren’t women’s business. And similarly, the men in our congregation have stepped forward to be pretty amazing nurtures as school teachers, social workers, and parents.
It’s pretty easy for us to understand that the phenomenon of nurturing isn’t confined to the lives of women, or mothers in particular. We all have the capacity to fill such a role when the time comes. But as I was saying. Fulghum writes this great essay about his son’s parenting. It’s also about the dangers of giving advice to mothers about mothering, so he artfully gives some advice to his son, about mothering. He gives 10 tips.
1. Children are not pets. 2. The life they actually live and the life you perceive them to be living is not the same. 3. Don’t take what your children do personally. 4. Don’t keep scorecards on them – a short memory is useful. 5. Dirt and mess are the breeding group for well-being. 6. Stay out of their rooms after puberty. 7. Stay out of their friendships and love-life unless invited in. 8. Don’t worry that they never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you. 9. Learn from them; they have much to teach you. 10. Love them long; let them go early.
Then as a footnote, he adds what I have come to realize is the most important thing for any parent to hear. He writes “You will never really know what kind of parent you were or if you did it right or wrong. Never. And you will worry about this and them as long as you live.”
I am not a parent. I may be someday, but the verdict is still out on that one. I am not a parent but I have been around enough to realize that parenting isn’t about always having the answer or doing the right thing. In fact, more often than we like to admit, good parenting is about responding when we don’t know the right thing to do.
You could read until your eyes fall out of your head and still, it is guaranteed that a moment will come that you are not prepared for. Sometimes there is no answer, no right thing to say or do. Sometimes you have to just show up and let your heart lead the way. Nurturing isn’t not as much about knowing what to do as it is being there to do it.
Of course some knowledge and skill is helpful, maybe even necessary. My little niece is now two years old. But when she was a newborn it was fascinating to watch my own mother in action as a grandmother. I guess I had never seen her in full baby caring mode. It was seriously amazing. The bathing and changing diapers, achieving the perfect angle to give a bottle and burping in a few perfect pats. She was able to do all these things all while cooking dinner for the rest of us. It was like a finely-tuned machine I was incredibly humbled by.
There is great skill to mothering and nurturing. But skill is not enough. 90% of success is showing up. I was having serious challenges figuring out how I wanted to describe Mother’s Day and to celebrate it with you this year until I was with my colleagues on Thursday morning. We were talking about serving our congregations and the importance of being present. And someone brought up the famous Woody Allen quote. It is a favorite amongst ministers. Woody Allen said “90 percent of success is showing up.” “90 percent of success is showing up.”
And 90% of nurturing is showing up. Nurturing or being a great parent isn’t about having all the answers. Thank God because that is impossible. Being a parent or nurturing another person in need is about showing up, even when you don’t have the answer. I’m not a parent myself. But I know this is part and parcel of the experience of caring for children or loving anyone. Not knowing what to do, but being there anyway, being there and letting your heart lead the way.
The truth is, Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday. Not all of us have perfect relationships with our mothers. Not all mothers have glowing experiences of their children. For some of us even the word “Mother” gets tied up in some complicated questions. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Hallmark Mother’s Day misses the mark. It can’t possibly describe the nuances of real human relationships. It misses the mark and quite frankly it’s not helpful.
The mythical perfect mother is dangerous. Mythical perfect anything or anyone is dangerous. Because it’s a myth. Perfect is simply not what we are. We are real flesh and blood with real human relationships, real complicated messy human relationships that don’t come with an instruction manual.
From time to time I hear my non-churched friends, or even people in this community talking about Christians in a way that really misses the point. They criticize Christians for not always living up to the values that Jesus espoused. Well, if they were all walking on water, then they wouldn’t need a church would they. Claiming to follow a teaching isn’t claiming to know all that teacher knows. Claiming to follow a religious path isn’t claiming that you have already completed the journey. Perhaps we can use the abundant images of perfect mothers that seem to appear this time of year not as measuring rods, but as reminders, as goals, as a myth to which we might aspire.
Who wouldn’t like their life to be so lovely and peaceful that it gets encapsulated in a haiku embossed on pink paper? It sounds lovely. It’s something we can aspire to. But any parent in this room can tell you that really caring is more complicated. The time will come when knowing the answer is not enough, because there is no answer that is enough. The only thing that is in fact enough is for you to show up. 90% of nurturing is showing up, being there reliably when you are needed, not with and answer, not with a skill, but simply with your heart.
Before we leave here I want to do something a little unorthodox. I want you to think of a person, and a particular moment when someone has nurtured you in that way. When has someone stood by you, not with the perfect answer, but just to be there with you in the midst of a challenge. Maybe it was a parent, maybe a friend, maybe someone in this room. Think of a person and a time that someone showed up in your life to nurture you, and tell the person next to you about it.
Thank you for sharing those memories with one another. The actual stories of caring that have touched your lives are far more powerful than any speculation on the topic that I can offer from up here. Thanks for sharing your stories and thank you for helping us to celebrate Mother’s Day. As we leave this place and return to our homes and brunches, phone calls and memories, may the celebration of Mother’s Day continue. Go home and thank your mother, either in person or in memorial. Thank those who have mothered you in one way or another by having the guts to show up. And thank yourselves for the gifts of compassion that you have undoubtedly given to someone you care for in your life.
Monday, May 7, 2012
What pushes your buttons? What do other people do that makes your skin crawl and makes you react, not as yourself, but as a purely emotional reaction? We all have these triggers. It may be a topic of conversation or even a particular word. Or maybe a particular behavior is just more than you can stand. A couple of weeks ago, at our weekly coffee talk on Tuesday night, we learned just this sort of lesson. Within just a couple of minutes of sitting down with our group, one of our members began confronting another member about how they had treated someone else in the church. Apparently she had not been as supportive as she might, and in the midst of an “I told you so,” wagged her finger. So at coffee talk she says, “Don’t you ever do that to anyone in the church again. If you wag it at me, I’ll break you F-ing finger off.” Needless to say, we were all a little stunned. The finger wager apologized and the topic of conversation quickly changed to something more positive. Eventually, a good forty-five minutes later, an apology emerged. “I’m so sorry, I’m not sure what got into me. That was over the top.” So we talked about it then and there. And we came to realize that the infamous finger wag was a favorite gesture of an ex husband. It was the embodiment of years of condescension and grief. She wasn’t responding to one finger wag of one conversation, she was responding to years of frustration with another person from decades past. And still it jumped out to surprise her. But we all learned from the reaction together. We learned a little something about having your buttons pushed. So when I ask, “what pushes your buttons?” I’m being quite serious. What gestures or ideas make your blood boil in ways that are really out of proportion to the situation? I know my buttons get pushed along the lines of political ideology. Just last week I jumped all over a close friend of mine for an innocent joke about a local non-profit organization. I think it was something about Village Laguna. They work to keep the small-town feel of Laguna Beach businesses. I don’t know what the joke was. Of course in retrospect it was fairly benign. But instead of taking it as an innocent joke, or even hearing it as a critique of the flaws that every organization has, I took it personally. I heard the innocent joke as an attack on my personal political inclinations and my feelings for this town. So of course I read him the riot act about all the wonderful things this group had contributed to our community, all the things I knew he was grateful for, or at least should be grateful for. It was a totally disproportionate reaction to a joke. Fortunately he is a good enough friend to talk to me about it. He asked me what had happened and it took me several days to even figure out what was going on in my head, why I had responded so quickly and harshly. Knee jerk ideological responses are not helpful in relationships. I know this, the challenge is in remembering it. Fortunately both of these stories of button pushing turned out to be opportunities to learn a little, to gain perspective on ourselves and why we respond the way we do. Gaining perspective on our lives, pausing to understand why we respond the way we do in a wider network of people is a critical piece of development. And it is one of the central roles of religious life. By focusing on both our own experiences and the concerns of the wider world we are able to transcend our individual point of view. We are able to rise above the fray for a moment to see our life as part of a much bigger picture. In fact that is the exact purpose of the prayers of the people that we are adding to the worship service. This congregation has shared its joys and sorrows with one another for a very long time. It’s an important part of worship, sharing what it is in our heart. But prayers of the people adds an important dimension, it puts those joys and sorrows into a global context. The goal certainly isn’t to diminish the specific joys and sorrows of this community when we mention those of the wider world. The goal is to give a context, an opportunity to link heart to heart over the share human experience of pain and joy. As we celebrate and grieve the specific events that touch the lives of this community we are reminded of our brothers and sisters around the world who share in the struggle for meaning and happiness. Hopefully, our church, any church for that matter helps us strike a healthy balance our personal focus with a global concern. The other big way that we find perspective in our religious lives is opening ourselves awe and wonder at the beauty of life. That’s why I chose our closing hymn and that’s why I chose our reading from earlier. Tagor wrote, “The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measure. … I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.” Even if just for a moment, when I embrace that broader truth, the wonder of creation, I’m cured of my knee-jerk inclination to clobber someone who makes a political joke. Those glimpses of perspective help dilute the intensity of the moment our buttons are pushed. A significant piece of religious life is gaining perspective. And what we tend to see, when we can pause to take a few deep breaths, when we can transcend our anxious perception of the moment, is that we are a part of a much larger system. In our UU language we often call it the Interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. That’s straight from our seventh principle. It’s a pretty grand description of the system that we are a part of. “The interdependent web of which we are a part.” Or you may just see it through ecological terms. We share this planet and its limited resources. Jean Raun spoke earlier about the necessity to engage our political system from a perspective not of self-interest, but of communal thriving. But the sharing and the system can get even smaller scale than that. One of the most interesting pieces of training I had in preparing for ministry was about family systems. As I did a short internship in the hospital, we occasionally came across families or individuals that we just couldn’t make sense of. There seemed to be complex web of psychology and spirituality, so tangled that we couldn’t get a grasp of why they felt they way they did. So we would actually make a diagram of the family, called a genogram. It’s hard to explain so here’s a picture of what one might look like. Horizontal connections are marriages and vertical connections are parent / child relationships. And a whole bunch of different symbols describe the relationships. To make sense of what a patient or sometimes a family member was thinking or feeling, we had to draw out this entire web so that we could see the context that they were coming from. Families can be pretty complicated, as I’m sure you all know. What happens in one part of the family pulls on relationships and tugs in a way that impacts the rest of the family. It’s not difficult to see that we also have a web here at church, based on personalities, roles and relationships. A change in one person, one relationship affects the whole system. Every gathering of people has this sort of interrelated network, where the relationships come to settle into a balance. Change in any one of those relationships means change whether big or small, for the rest of the system. This is one of the reasons people are averse to change in families or in organizations. Our subconscious is actually much, much smarter than we tend to give it credit for. Our subconscious knows that if something changes in one part of the system, then everything else will have to shift a little bit, including our self. And things will keep shifting and changing until a new equilibrium is reached. It’s the algebra of personalities. It all has to even out eventually. And this is where adaptive leadership comes into play, the mystery topic that people have been asking me about all week. Jane, our office administrator had no idea what picture to put on the cover of this morning’s order of service. Adaptive leadership is a leadership philosophy that encourages communities to embrace change as a learning and growth opportunity, rather than a source of fear or frustration. You may have noticed that I have been talking about change a lot lately. It’s not because I want to overhaul the church. We have a good thing going here. But the hard truth is, change is inevitable. When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, and other people build windmills. According to Facebook last week, it is a Chinese proverb. I can’t vouch for its origins, but it’s the truth. “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, and other people build windmills.” Change is inevitable. Our task it not to prevent it, but to build tools to respond to it. And, adaptive leadership is all about building a community where the challenge of change can be accepted not with chaos and fear, but as an opportunity for learning and growth. What I’m asking is that we trust one another’s good intentions. We trust the spirit of covenant. As you know, we don’t have a set of beliefs that we all hold in common. And this church is more than this physical building. Our real foundation is the covenant that we share with one another, the agreement to seek the truth in love and to help one another. The more we can trust one another’s good intentions, the better we can build windmills together as a community. I have talked a lot today about abstract ideas. To close the sermon let’s simplify this idea of Adaptive Leadership a bit. I want to return to our story from earlier, the story of Chicken Little. The parable is very clear. Don’t be a Chicken Little, don’t overreact and cause chaos out of your fear. Countless other parables in our culture are equally clear about how to behave appropriately. Don’t be a boy who cries wolf. Slow and steady wins the race; the tortoise always beats the hare. These stories teach great lessons, but they don’t teach us how to respond to our friend Chircken Little, or the boy, or the Hare. What are we to say to Chicken Little in the moment of crisis? We could say, “You stupid chicken, stop running around, that was obviously an acorn.” But what is Chicken Little going to learn from that experience? The biggest thing she will learn is that we think she is stupid. Or we could just give up on the situation all together and decide that the crazy chicken and your gang of silly animals got what you deserved. The fox ate them up and the problem is solved. Natural selection isn’t pretty after all. Well I like to think our congregation is a little kinder and wiser than either of these options. What if, instead of solving the problem for Chicken Little and all her frightened friends, or letting them all get eaten, what if we said “Wow you all are really upset about this situation. Maybe I should be to. But, can you tell me what happened here. I don’t think I understand. What do you mean when you say that the sky is falling? Turkey Lurkey, did you see the sky fall too?” A few patiently asked questions can be a whole lot more helpful than a quick answer. That’s what adaptive leadership is about in a nutshell, having the patience to sit with a question, rather than panicking to give a quick fix. Adaptive leadership is based on the belief that polyarchy, or leadership of the many, is actually better than oligarchy, or leadership of the few. Given enough patience and the right questions, that gang of frightened birds would have learned that in fact the sky is not falling, and that they probably shouldn’t get so excited about a perceived emergency. Adaptive Leadership isn’t just something that I’m reading up on because it’s the trend in the business world and the church world. I am sincerely interested in it because it has much to offer our congregation. Even more than that, I think it has some profound lessons for our families and our professional lives as well. Patience and perspective are worth more in the long run than quick answers. We are all going to get our buttons pushed from time to time. We are human beings after all. Conflict and change are going to happen, I guarantee it. My hope for this community, and for your families, is that we can trust our shared covenant, to move beyond quick answers so that together we can build windmills rather than walls when the winds of change come our way. -Amen-