Monday, September 9, 2013

"The Unity That Makes Us One" - Sermon

Mystics around the world and throughout time have pointed to a fundamental connectedness of life. Based on this nearly universal religious teaching, we celebrate the ties that bind us to one another and to the earth.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"The Cost of Dissent" - Sermon

"The Cost of Dissent"

Being a prophetic voice is not easy. This Sunday we look at the costs of speaking out, or remaining silent. We owe a great deal to brave women and men who have insisted in sharing their truth with the world. What might we learn from their struggles and successes?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"A UU Turn" - Sermon

“A UU Turn” Rev. Kent Doss

What do UUs believe? Five core beliefs of our faith tradition might be: Every soul is sacred and worthy, There is a unity that makes us one, Salvation is in this life, Courageous love will transform the world, and Truth continues to be revealed. Kent Doss Share via email

Saturday, August 17, 2013

“A Journey of Faith”

Each of us grows and changes over the journey of our lives. With every turn in the road comes a new perspective. On his first Sunday as Tapestry’s called minister, Rev. Kent Doss speaks about his own religious journey and the ways some of his own beliefs have developed over the years.

Rev. Kent Doss

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Controversy and Commitment" - Sermon

Controversy and Commitment
         This morning’s reading was a little out of the ordinary. I have seen this reading in our hymnal for years, and I don’t think I have ever used it. But today seemed like the day. Olympia Brown implores us to stand by this faith. It’s a pretty self-righteous reading for UUs. I imagine some of you were wondering what exactly was going on with this.
         The magic of this reading comes from the identity of the author. Olympia Brown was the first women to be fully recognized as a minister within the Universalist tradition. That happened in 1864. As you can imagine, her journey to ministry was not an easy one. And even after she was ordained, her career met roadblock after roadblock. Back in those days Universalist ministers traveled extensively, renting out meeting halls as a venue to speak. She found that consistently she was not given the basic assistance she needed, and met with crowds of men, eager not to hear her wisdom, but to prove her wrong.  But she persisted.
         Given the odds, her career in ministry was impressive. What was even more impressive was her determined work for the suffrage movement. The prologue of her biography recounts two different tales of protest. One when, at the age of eighty-two, she braved hours of pelting rain and police harassment to march in front of the White House for women’s right to vote. Two years later, when protesting President Wilson’s celebratory trip to France, she said in a speech, “I have fought for liberty for seventy years, and I protest against the Presidents leaving this country with this old fight here unwon!”[1]
         The real beauty of this story is how it all ends. At the age of eighty-five, Olympia Brown is one of the few original suffragists who lived to vote in the 1920 presidential election. This tenacious story is the background of those impassioned words that we read. From the time she was a small child Olympia Brown struggled to gain access to education and to be recognized as a leader in her religious community. Her life was a constant struggle with her church and her country. And still these were her words, “Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals – which has comforted us in sorrow, strengthened us for noble duty and made the world beautiful. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message.”[2]
         This morning following the legal ruling over the death of Trayvon Martin, as our country again is anguished and confused by racial tension, we remember that those who fight for more justice are not the enemies of our country. For when you love your community you engage with it, you struggle with it to help draw it into all that it can be.
         I have come to believe that church is a lot like school, or the neighborhood that you live in, a lot of things in life really. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Of course there is no guarantee. But generally speaking, the more you invest your heart and mind into something, the more you care about it, the more meaningful it is going to be for you. I’ve certainly seen that to be true here. The people you know who have been a part of this congregation for over ten years, have all been seriously involved. They have offered not just their money, but also their time and their heart.
         But there is no guarantee on the investment of your heart. The more you invest, the riskier it is. Even in church. Being in relationship with other people is risky business, even in church. Often people think church is some alternative universe where everyone is perfectly nice and we get along. But, people get hurt in church. Over the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen many tears shed. Not over sickness or death, but over what happens between these walls. It’s scary to say, but people get their hearts broken. Ministers do too. Caring deeply about other people is risky business. Somewhere along the line, you are likely to get hurt. And you will almost certainly meet some disappointment along the way.
         But then I’m sure Olympia Brown had her heart broken along the way as well. I’m sure that she was disappointed more than a few times in her Universalist church. As far as I can tell, you get out of your relationships only as much as you are willing to put into them. And the same goes for church.  

         As we continue with the theme of covenant today, I wanted to bring in some of the difficult pieces of our past to see what we might learn. Another moment of controversy that teaches us about covenant and relationship is “The Unitarian Controversy.” That’s actually what this moment in history was called, the Unitarian Controversy. This controversy grew directly out of the development of American colonial religion. I won’t go into the details, but by the early 1800s a major split was emerging. As the academic field of biblical research grew, some clergy began applying historical and scientific reason to religion, while others thought reading the bible that critically was blasphemous. And eventually our predecessors , the Puritan churches, were no longer turning to their nearest neighbor for support and counsel. They began turning to the other churches that they knew held a similar theological viewpoint.
         The division between the orthodox churches and the liberal churches grew deeper and deeper. And in the midst of that division, the orthodox started calling the Liberals “Unitarian.” They meant it as an insult, because doubting the doctrine of the trinity was the most unthinkable and awful thing you could do.
         Finally, in 1918, William Ellery Channing preached the sermon, “Unitarian Christianity,” in which he outlined the Liberal beliefs of his peers. For the first time he said, yup, that’s right, what we believe is different. But we believe it is true, and here is why. In one sermon, William Ellery Channing acknowledged the existing rifts and ushered in a new era of American religion, Unitarianism.
         He took a huge risk doing it. He didn’t know how the whole thing would develop. But within a few years Unitarians had taken control of Harvard Divinity School, the only school In America training ministers at that time. 250 of the originally Puritan churches took on the name Unitarian, and by 1900, the Calvinists and the Unitarians when their own separate ways.
         In one sense this story, the Unitarian Controversy, is about a church splitting. But I wanted to share the story with you today to point out not the split, but the coming together of a community. For Unitarianism to emerge as a real tradition brave people had to speak their truth. There was no guarantee that they would be supported. But they took the risk to speak their truth and be real.
         As Unitarian Universalists we are called to seek the truth in love, and to share what we have found with one another. The purpose of this journey is not to stir the pot. I fear that our tradition is attractive to some because they see it as a celebration of conflict. But Channing wasn’t aiming to start an argument. He was naming what he knew was true for himself and many others. The fruit of his brave proclamation was the American Unitarian Association. Yes, you can look at that moment of our history as a schism. But my hope is that you will see it as a moment of coming together.  
         If we are going to be in community with each other, in covenant, then we have to take the risk of telling our truth. Even when you think it may be a minority opinion. It’s quite likely that others have had a similar insight. But the only way to find out that you are not alone in your belief, is to share them with one another.

         The last thing that I want to talk about in terms of relationship and covenant is change. The only thing that is certain in our relationships, with our church, our spouse, our children or anyone else, is that they change. As people grow, change is inevitable.
         This reminds me not so much of a controversy, as simply what I would call the current state of confusion that American religion is in today. As you may be aware, the United States is in a tremendous shift away from organized religion. An unprecedented number of people identify themselves as spiritual but nor religious. They are not atheist; they just don’t find a home in the religious communities that exist today. And today there is no default notion that people will go to church on Sunday mornings. The church hour now competes directly with soccer practice, yoga, groceries, brunch, sleeping in, or spending time with the kids. Church is no longer given a privileged place in American society.
         But it’s even more complicated than that. The whole way that American’s understand membership in organizations is changing. Not just churches, but all sorts of organizations are finding that the old structure of “membership” isn’t fitting anymore. And as those models of membership go out the window, so do funding structures that went with them.
         My message here is not that church is going to Hell in a hand basket. My message is that it is changing. As American society changes, so will our religious communities. It’s scary stuff, but it’s not necessarily bad.
         Just a couple of months ago I heard Rev. Sarah Moldenhower-Salizar preach at the Western Regional Assembly in San Jose. For those of you who don’t know, she is a former minister of this congregation. She was talking about just this thing. She said that she had, for a very long time thought that being a Unitarian Universalist meant being a part of a congregation. We practice our religious in community, in a covenant with other people. But as she is raising children, pursuing a Ph.D. and developing a rich network of friends, she finds that she is living out her Unitarian Universalist faith independent of a church community. Mind you, her Ph.D. is focusing on covenant and she is the chair of the UU Minister’s Association in her area. This is a person who is deeply invested in living within a Unitarian Universalist faith in community. But she wasn’t rooted in a particular congregation. The point of her sermon, and my point is, that the way we understand our religious community is changing dramatically in the twenty first century.
         This is incredibly scary stuff. As someone who has invested my career in the institution of church as we know it, the idea of upending congregational life to do something completely different is a terrifying. I love churches. The idea of this level of change is very scary to me. But I am doing my best to trust my wider faith community. I know that there are brilliant and dedicated Unitarian Universalists across the country with ideas for new vibrant ministries that will revolutionize church as we know it. It’s a little terrifying, but I am doing what I can to understand what church is transforming into, because I am committed to it.
         Whether they are covenants with our congregation or relationships with friends and spouses, they change over time.  It’s the only thing that is certain in life and certain in our relationships, change.
         It’s often remarkable that some couples stay together as long as they do, married to the same person for decades. Heck it’s amazing some of our members who have been at this church for thirty years. But they aren’t really married to the same person, because we all change and grow over time. And this church is pretty difference from what it was thirty years ago. Relationships change over time, but that doesn’t mean that they have to end. Yes, they will look different, but as Unitarian Universalists we should know deeply in our hearts that different can be good. Change can be good.
         As Olympia Brown tells us in her impassioned words to stand by this faith, you get out of your relationships only as much as you put into them. It is a risky investment, but that’s the only way to get any return. So let us be brave in our investment of hear and of truth. Let us share our hearts and our minds with one another. So that even as our community changes, as it is bound to, we remember that it is home.
         “Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals – which has comforted us in sorrow, strengthened us for noble duty and made the world beautiful. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message.”[3]


[1] Charlotte Coté, Olympia Brown: The Battle for Equality (Racine, WI: Mother Courage Press, 1988), 3.
[2] Unitarian Universalist Association, Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Beacon Press : Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993).
[3] Unitarian Universalist Association, Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Beacon Press : Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993).

Monday, June 17, 2013

"The Golden Rule - Inside Out" - Sermon

The Golden Rule Inside Out
         We all know that the Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Right? Well it turns out that the inverse of that rule is used just as often in religious traditions. And it appears that this Golden Rule inside out, as I have called it, offers us a quite a bit more guidance on how we might treat each other with compassion.
         At its core the golden rule is all about reciprocity, an understanding of simple fairness. And it is a shockingly universal rule. Before this week I knew that it’s one of the few ideas that occurs within nearly every religious tradition. From North to South and East to West, there is some version of it everywhere. What I hadn’t realized though, is that many of these traditions use a particular formula to highlight the golden rule. They say that this single rule is the culmination of all the ethical teachings of that tradition, that this rule is a foundation for all other within their faith. Think about it, when several different religious traditions claim one thing not just in common, but as the bedrock of their ethical life, that’s about the strongest endorsement any ethical idea can get.
         Within the Judeo Christian tradition the Golden rule comes across in the positive sense. Perhaps that’s why we know it most commonly that way in the United States.. Though it comes up in a few different places, it is known as the great commandment, and the summation of Christian teaching. In Matthew, when asked "which is the great commandment in the law?", the Bible reports that Jesus answered, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself". How many times have we heard versions of that?
         Another proponent of the Golden Rule was the Chinese philosopher and teacher, Confusions. Around the 500 BCE, he wrote “never impose on others what you would not choose yourself.” Both of these guidelines are useful, but I want to focus especially on the second one today. Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you. And don’t say to others what you don’t want said to you.

         Sometimes we don’t like to admit it, but the things that others do and say affect us deeply. In our book discussion group last week we shared some of the small moments in life that have stuck to us in this regard. It was incredibly moving to hear people share the tiny moments of their lives that made a big difference, for ill or for good.
         One woman shared about being a small child, and a teacher telling her she really shouldn’t bother with art projects in school because she didn’t have any artistic skill. For years afterward she avoided visual art, not because she felt particularly ashamed, she just knew that she has been told she wasn’t any good. So why bother. Until her senior year of high-school when she needed one more elective class. The only thing that fit in her schedule was an art class. She begrudgingly took it, and she love it. She’s no great artist, but she found that she actually enjoyed making art. And she also found that for years she had sold herself short because someone else insulted her work. Another woman in the class told a nearly identical story about singing in her childhood.
         For me, the unkind moment that stuck also came in childhood. And it happened through my church. I remember the moment so clearly. We were on a choir trip to San Diego, and our youth minister said really in passing, that I was spoiled. Of course I know that having a good conversation about privilege and wealth could have really opened my eyes. It could have helped me understand my world much more clearly. But this was no compassionate conversation. It was an off the cuff short remark, judging me in one word. The offender in this story is now a Unitarian Universalist minister. I know he didn’t mean to be hurtful, and I can guarantee he doesn’t remember the conversation. But that doesn’t make it any less real. I remember it like it was yesterday.
         Neither one of these offenses is horrible. But they were hurtful. The truth is we are sensitive to what others say. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words, they touch the soul.” Of course there is something to be said for self-confidence and not taking the negativity of others personally. But we are all human beings after all. At the end of the day we want to know that we will be included in the group. We want to know that there is a place for us in the pack. To varying degrees, we all need to belong. It’s part of who we are as social animals.
         Living more compassionately in our world means recognizing that our actions and words affect other people. Even when we are not intending to, especially when we are not intending to, we can inflict a pretty high degree of pain on the people around us. Of course the alternative is also true. In our class we also shared the moments in life that someone’s small gesture had meant a great deal.
         One person shared the story of trying out for the football team having never played the game before. He didn’t know what he was doing at all and he got pummeled. But one of his classmates spent a short time with him that afternoon, and explained a few basic concepts to protect himself. That brief explanation saved him in the tryouts. He got on the team, loved the sport and had a pretty successful go at football thereafter. Though they weren’t close friends, he still remembers the name of the guy that helped him out that one afternoon. It wasn’t such a big deal, but it made a world of difference.
         Another person in the class recently lost her brother. And she got a card from another person in the class. It wasn’t a huge deal, but she said that receiving a hand-written note made her know that someone was thinking of her in her time of grief. That small gesture made all the difference in the world to her.
         What I want you to hear in these stories, and what I want you to understand today is that we each have the power to impact other people’s lives. Whether we want the responsibility or not, the way we interact with other people will bring more suffering or more joy into the world. In her book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” Karen Armstong spends a great deal of time and attention explaining that living compassionately is more than simply doing the right thing. Compassion is a mindfulness that gets cultivated with time and attention. Being aware of the impact we have on others means noticing how “carelessly we inflict pain; sighing impatiently over a minor inconvenience, grimacing when the clerk is slow at the check out line, or raising your eyebrows in derision at what you regard as a stupid remark.”
         We all get tired and irritable. We all say things that we don’t intend. We all inadvertently hurt other people. But if we spend a little time and effort, we can do that less.
         The golden rule is to do unto other what you would have done to you. And the rule inside out is, don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you. Now we are each a little different, we each have our own needs and wishes. So I want to pause for a moment. If we are going to abide by this rule after all, we have to know what it is that we want and don’t want in life.
         What is it that you truly want from others? Make a mental list of it. Mine would include: being heard, getting a second chance, being invited to participate, a respect for my time and resources. But what is important to you? Think about it for a moment. What is it that you truly want from others?
         And what are the ways you don’t want to be treated? What are the slights that have hurt you? For me they include belittling my life choices, mocking, questioning my ethics or intentions, and generally feeling judged by the people I am closest to. Make a list in your mind. How do you not want to be treated?
         I’m willing to bet that the simple signs of respect and appreciation that we each want cost little time or money. And the things that really hurt you most avoidable, if we paid a little more attention to the way we treated one another.

         Well now is your chance. As Karen Armstrong so beautiful says it, “The Golden Rule is not a notional doctrine that you agree with or disagree with. It is a method, and the only adequate test of any method is to put it to practice.” As Unitarian Universalists we know that the way we live our lives is more important than the theory behind the action.
         Living Compassionately isn’t as simple as you might initially think. It requires an awareness that we are deeply interconnected. Our words and actions impact others in profound ways. Living compassionately requires reflecting sincerely on how we want to impact those around us, and having the self-awareness to pause before we act of speak. And THEN we act, we make our intentions manifest in the world around us.
         Compassion is a way of being in the world that happens every day of our lives. It’s not simple, but it is a habit that, like any other can by built. Today we have talked about the first phases, about the power of our words and actions, about the impact that we want to have in the world. But now as we go back to our daily life, the time comes to live out that golden rule with one another.
         As I said last week, no one becomes a saint overnight. We are called to ease into this exercise gradually. Armstrong suggests aiming to act once each day with the positive notion of the golden rule. Do something for someone that you would have wanted for yourself. When you are able to do that, then act once each day in the negative version, catching yourself before you make that funny but wounding remark. Remember, each time you succeed with the golden rule inside out, you have made a small victory over your ego. And it will get easier and easier.
         At the end of your day, brushing your teeth or crawling into bed, reflect back and see if you were able to execute this most basic of ethical commandments. Did you do something for someone? Did you refrain from those sharp words? If you did, that’s great. If you didn’t, remember we are all human and that this is a lifelong journey
          When these steps become habit, aim for two enactments of the positive form of the golden rule and two enactments of the negative version. And then three and then four.
         The goal of course is to behave consistently with compassion. But behavior is built on habits, and habits are an accumulation of individual acts. We choose how we will act in this world. Whether you like it or not, it is our responsibility to choose how we will encounter the world around us. This is the gift and burden of human awareness. We can choose to care more fully for the people we love; we can choose to make our world a better place. It all starts with an awareness that our words and actions matter, and requires us to slow down to ask the simple question, “Is this how I would want to be treated?”



Monday, June 10, 2013

"Draw The Circle Wide" - Sermon

         For a very long time I have been fascinated by our human ability and our religious calling to care for wider and wider circles of people. I first read about it in seminary. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote about these concentric circles of our concern from a theological perspective. Now several of us are reading a book by Karen Armstrong that talks about the same idea from both a religious and biological perspective. It’s a very simple idea, but the implications are pretty amazing.
         The idea is that we have a natural biological inclination for social relationship. If you think about it, we are pretty weak and fragile compared to the rest of the natural world. We don’t possess great physical strength or stamina. We don’t have strong bodies that protect us from the elements or potential predators. But low and behold, we have survived to multiply in tremendous numbers. We have become arguably the most influential members of the animal kingdom.
         It’s because we have evolved over time to be social beings. We have evolved a capacity for emotional engagement and understanding that transcends our immediate physical desires and compulsions. I’m not saying that other animals don’t have this as well. I am saying that the need to have a circle, a clan, is especially pronounced for humans. And it is a part of our basic wiring.  
         In her introduction to her book on compassion, Karen Armstong starts with a very scientific perspective. She writes about the old brain and the new brain. Old and new here aren’t about the age of a person, they are about the way that the human brain has developed over millennia through evolution. You see we still have the old portion of our brain, the reptilian self-defense mechanism.
         But over millennia we developed a “new brain” which is home of the reasoning powers. Our capacity for reason and love came with amazing physical adaptation, namely a larger head. Over time we developed larger skulls to make room for this giant brain. We even adapted the course of childbirth. Because a large head makes childbirth more difficult, humans evolved to give birth to less mature infants who would be dependent on their mothers for a tremendous amount of time, to allow the birth of a body with a head large enough for our amazing brains.
         This new brain must have been a tremendous advantage to drive those changes in evolution. And in deed it is. Our new brain enables us to reflect on the world around us and to be conscious of ourselves in that world. And along with that ability to for critical thought comes the capacity for compassion.
         What we are talking about today is embracing that very human capacity for compassion for our clan, and exercising it to embrace wider and wider circles of concern. As I said earlier, you can see these circles of caring as concentric circles that get bigger and bigger. At the center of the circle is self. We are animals after all. And immediately surrounding self are the close family and friends who we know intimately. Then a wider community of those we are generally close with. This would probably be the clan or the village that we were genuinely evolved to hold within our sphere of sincere concern.
         But our world today is much broader than the village or clan. Every one of us hears the news of what affects people around the world. What’s more, because of our global economy and ecology, every one of us makes daily decisions that impact people all over the world.
         Our task then, is to grow our hearts and our minds to incorporate sincere concern for the much larger circle. The task before us, particularly as people of faith, is to expand the horizon of our compassion, to include more and more people. If you are a visual person, it’s sort of like the picture on the screens. Our concern for our own well-being is at the center. And then our family and closest friends. The next circle out might be neighborhood, school or church. Then we think about an entire town, our county, all other humans, and other beings. Our heart and focus is naturally drawn toward the center few rings of the circle, but we can and should reach beyond that concern.
         I have said many times before that we Unitarian Universalists believe that courageous love will transform the world. Courageous love sill transform the world. Some hear that phrase and they immediately think of social justice, the courage to stand in picket lines and speak truth to power. That is certainly part of what we believe in. But today I want to invite you to see that courage not only in action, but courage in an broadening of our hearts. It takes tremendous courage to become vulnerable, and that is precisely what we are doing when we bring more people into our sphere of compassion. We are risking caring about them, risking heart-ache and worry.

         There are several different ways of going about broadening our circle of concern. If you want a very specific thing you can do, try learning about another culture. This is a little counter intuitive to what we have been talking about, bringing wider and wider circles of people into the realm of our concern. But the truth is, we can’t take in all the information about world events a meaningful way. Our lives are awash in information from people around the globe. It is far more information that we can process. This is the flip side of our shrinking world.
         But there is an alternative. Rather than having cursory knowledge about everything in the world, try focusing on one region, one culture. If we can focus on one specific community that is different from our own, we have an opportunity to learn enough  about them to compare and contrast our own life experience. We have enough awareness to begin to understand their experience as human beings, not just numbers.
         The quickest way to have this type of engagement is through travel. But it’s not completely necessary. With the internet and libraries, movie theaters and restaurants, it’s very possible to get a solid understanding of a different culture. Make it a project to focus on getting to know one culture that is different from your own, in a real in depth way. And I promise you, the feelings you have when you read about them in the paper will be different. The more we know about people, the more we are able to open our hearts to sincerely caring about them. We can’t know about all of them, but we can pick one or two different cultures to focus on.

         Another way to broaden the circle is the meditation we did earlier. This very common form of Buddhist meditation seems to tap right into the evolutionary needs of our human mind and emotions. After finding a quiet time and space, perhaps the hardest part of thise whole meditation practice, we focus on our selves. For a short time we bring wishes of health and wholeness, a general blessing if you will, for our self. Then we expand to think of one or two individual people that we care about. Then broaden the circle to people you are ambivalent about, maybe a friend of a friend, or the person who checked you out at the grocery story. The exercise gets really interesting when we focus our compassion and blessing onto a person that we have conflict with. Remembering that they have the same challenges, the same pain, the same joy that we do, we hold a hope for their wholeness and healing. And the meditation ends with offering a sense of blessing for all beings in the world.
         I know meditation sounds like an eccentric thing to do on your own. But it’s really not that big of a deal. It just takes a few minutes, start with five and build up from there. It just takes a few minutes, a quiet place, and your good intentions. If you want the science behind it, this form of meditation is actually an intentional way to train our brains. It’s an exercise in building our emotional capacity to care for wider circles of people. We train our brains to reinforce these neural pathways of sympathetic emotion, and to keep the neurochemicals like serotonin, the soothing healing chemical, flowing. See, it’s not as hippy dippy as you thought, is it?
         The last way of expanding our compassion I want to talk about isn’t so much a specific exercise, as it is a way of encountering the world around us. The best and perhaps hardest way to expand or circle of care is to not explain away the uncomfortable. We can’t absorb everything, but we can push ourselves to open our eyes, ears, and hearts a little more every day. Don’t explain away the hard things that you hear and see. When you read the news, try to remember that the stories you are hearing are about real people like you and me. When you encounter homeless people, remember that they too are just like you and me. They have a few more problems and challenges in life, but at the end of the day, they are flesh and blood human beings with the same complex emotional life that we each have. When you hear difficult news from a friend, sit just listen and wait before you shut down the conversation or assure him or her that everything will be okay. As we talked about in our book discussion group last week, that’s one of the hardest things in the world to do.

         Expanding our circle of compassion, as light and lovely as it sounds, is actually hard work. Admittedly it comes more naturally to some than to others. But we all have the capacity to broaden the horizon of our concern. Think of it as an exercise.
         And exercise is hard. I am a runner. I love doing it most of the time. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they think running is awful, how bad they are at it, and how much they dislike it. Nine times out of ten, it is because they have tried it once or twice and thought it was too hard. They tried to go out and run and mile and nearly died. But the trick is you have to start very, very gradually and be patient. As your endurance grows you can run farther and faster. But it takes a long time to get there, and you can’t beat yourself up in the process.
         You don’t start with a six-mile run. You don’t begin a yoga practice with standing on your head for twenty minutes. And you don’t begin the exercise of compassion by becoming a saint. It happens one brave step at a time.

         I’m sure by now you have noticed the beautiful images that I have incorporated in today’s service. These are mandalas that were painted by Paul Heussenstam, Frances’ son. He lives and paints here in town. I wanted to use them today for two reasons. One is that they are quite obviously circles. But the other is that they are a powerful meditation tool. Mandalas invite the viewer to move beyond his or her personal identity and get lost the experience of exploration. They invite us to transcend ourselves.

          A mandala is a tool that religious people have been using in the East for about six thousand years. These pieces of art are intricate and beautiful. But I want to remind you today that these pieces of art are tools. They are tools to help transcend the sense of self, and know and deeper truth. I wanted to use mandalas today because they are often circular, they help transcend the self, and much like our church here, they are a tool that helps point to a deeper truth.
         In all this talk of belonging and circles of concern, we cannot escape talking about our circle of caring right here. This is an incredibly caring community. It’s a place where people feel like they truly belong. I’ll never forget hearing from one of our oldest members say that he loved this community because it was the one place in his entire life that he felt truly accepted for who he was.
         Belonging is a good thing. It’s an essential piece of our happiness. It’s part of building the clan that I was talking about earlier. And we make that happen here. There is tremendous power in deeply knowing those around you, and being known by them. It is a sense of home.
         But beyond building a sense of home, and a clan we also believe in a courageous love. We believe that it is our responsibility to open our hearts to wider circles of concern. Just as strong as the power of knowing one another and being know, is the power of invitation and openness. Just a important as sharing the feast with one another, is holding an empty chair to make sure there is room for one more person to stop by.

         As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to a dual task of celebrating those who are in our midst and simultaneously remembering the wider concentric circles of compassion. And our community here can help us do both.

         We aim to be a place where people gain a sense of belonging, where we feel we are a part of the tribe. But at the same time, it is our mission as a faith to expand our sense of compassion to broader and broader circles, beyond our own families, beyond the walls of this building, beyond our lovely town, state, and even country. As a religious community we are tasked with drawing the circle wide, making a place of belonging, but also a place where invitation is at the core of who we are.

         There is a whole lot going on today, with membership Sunday. We celebrate the commitment that others have made, so that we have UUFLB to call our spiritual home. We celebrate that for nearly sixty five years, committed men and women have built a community of belonging, that invites us to broaden the horizons of our mind and our heart.