Saturday, October 17, 2020

 


Autumn Joy 


The Season of Autumn brings a festive time, traditionally following harvest and preparing for new beginnings. It brings its own kind of joy and a sense of well being for people in our planet's northern hemisphere. 



I have to admit that for most of my life 

  October has been my favorite month of the year. 


Now that I live in the North, 

  April is running a close second, 

    but October is still definitely on top for me. 


It may be partly because of the 

  now undeniable effects of climate change, 

    but October still marks 

      the escape from heat for me. 


This year I wondered about my escape from heat 

  for the first couple of weeks of October, 

    but the weather has at last begun 

      to feel more like Fall. 


It's no accident that Thanksgiving celebrations 

  happen in Autumn, for us, 

    and for our neighbors to the north in Canada. 


In the northern hemisphere, 

  Autumn is the primary season for harvest. 


Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, 

  and this year it was 

    a week ago as of tomorrow, October 19 - 

      that is, it was October 12 this year. 


Our Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. 

  is November 26 this year. 


It makes sense 

  that Canadian Thanksgiving comes earlier. 


In the North, harvest comes earlier. 


Canadian Thanksgiving 

  is the second Monday in October. 


U.S. Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday 

  in November. 


Cooler weather brings its own kind of good feelings, 

  but Autumn also ushers in a season of celebrations, 

    high holy days for various faiths 

      and national celebrations like Thanksgiving. 


The coming holiday of Halloween, 

  much longer known as Samhain, 

    is the holy day that is coming soonest, 

      at least for those of us in the U.S. 


On the ancient pagan calendar, 

  it marks the start of winter, 

    the season of cold weather, 

      not just pleasantly cool weather. 


Beth once pointed out to me 

  that in our part of the world, 

    the first snowfall often comes 

      around Samhain, a.k.a. October 31. 


Of course it can come much sooner, 

  and with climate change, it may start coming 

    much later. 


My first year in the Inland Northwest, 

  the first snowfall came around November 7, 

    and the last of the snow that fell with it 

      finally melted completely away in April. 


I did not know at the time that the pattern 

  would not be repeated year after year. 


It's not my plan to speak 

  mostly about the weather today, 

    but weather profoundly affects the way we feel, 

      and that IS mostly what I want to talk about. 


Joy is far more important and more dependable 

  than the feeling of happiness. 


Of course, it depends on how we use the words, 

  but I think of joy as a sense of inner well being, 

    a kind of positive peace, 

      that sense of peace is not subject to being lost 

        in the face of life's changes and challenges. 


Autumn is more a reflection 

  of a sense of well being than its source. 


Harvest time is a source of well being 

  so long as the harvest is a good one. 


Our regional culture 

  is deeply entwined with harvest 

    and the well being 

      that it can engender. 


Over many generations, 

  people have had the good sense to help each other. 


One crop may fail 

  at the same time 

    that another crop greatly prospers. 


The hope of helping each other 

  is a far more dependable source 

    of joy and well being 

      than a single crop whose failure 

        could threaten many people 

          with the loss of joy, happiness, 

            and even many more losses. 


Many of us are familiar with some 

  of the history of the so-called 

    Irish potato famine. 


Very few Irish people call that period of starvation 

  by the name of potato famine. 


They tend to call it simply the Great Famine. 


It is true that the trigger of the starvation 

  was a potato blight. 


It is also true that potatoes were a staple 

  of the diet of the Irish people. 


When the potato crop failed, 

  as many as a million of the people left the country, 

    greatly damaging the Irish economy, 

      and, much worse, 

        as many as a million of the people 

          starved to death. 


At the very same period of time 

  other crops such as barley 

    achieved "bumper crop" status, 

      but most of those crops 

        were exported from Ireland

          even as many of the people 

            who raised and harvested those crops 

              died of starvation 

                because they did not own the crops 

                  or the land 

                    on which the crops were grown. 


Deep and enduring resentment were engendered 

  between Irish people and their overlords 

    on a neighboring Island (a.k.a. England). 


More than a century of war 

  and "troubles" came into being. 


Today most of Ireland is an independent nation, 

  and some resolution of the "troubles" 

    may be at hand as a result of Brexit, 

      but it's also possible that the troubles 

        may start up again in a new wave. 


Be that as it may, 

  the history of the Great Famine of Ireland 

    can serve as a paradigm of harvests and justice. 


To say the least, basic principles of justice 

  would require that people who work the land 

    must be allowed to share in the abundance 

      that the land produces, 

        enough to permit them to survive

          and even prosper. 


Autumn joy would ask no less of us. 


In truth, the act of sharing 

  can provide a basic and profound

    sense of joy of its own. 


The joy of sharing and enabling each other's survival 

  is an important part of life's meaning for us all. 


Giving thanks together 

  is enabled by acts of sharing 

    and helping other people to survive. 


As we deal with the coronavirus pandemic, 

  acts of sharing and helping other people survive 

    are taking on new meaning. 


The simple act of wearing a mask 

  can be a significant way to help others survive. 


The unwillingness of too many people 

  to engage in such a simple caring act 

    is a sign of denial as much as anything. 


We may not ever return to a way of life 

  that we used to regard as normal, 

    and such a loss can be really difficult to accept. 


What lies ahead may become something better, 

  a culture newly based on mutual caring and hope. 


My own hope is that we can learn new ways 

  of feeling and expressing gratitude 

    as we learn to care about others in new ways. 


There are indeed signs of such caring happening, 

  and we have a chance to see the caring 

    gain the upper hand 

      instead of the denial. 


What we will all need 

  is to learn to be kind to each other, 

    even when it is difficult to do so. 


According to the national legend 

  of the first Thanksgiving 

    sharing, caring, and enabling survival 

      were an important part of the story 

        of the first colonists from England. 


Three Sisters agriculture give us 

  a symbolic representation 

    of sharing and cooperation. 


Teaching the Three Sisters method 

  may well be a part of the way 

    that native Americans helped the colonists survive. 


Corn, beans and squash grow together, 

  helping each other with their unique qualities. 


The corn provides a pole to hold the beans 

  as their vines grow. 


The squash provides a living mulch 

  as the plants' large leaves protect the soil. 


Squash, Corn and Beans provide nourishment 

  that humans need to survive and prosper. 


We modern humans can learn to use our own gifts 

  to help each other in new ways day by day. 


As our days pass in the season of Autumn, 

  we are preparing not only for the holy days 

    of Samhain (Halloween) and Thanksgiving, 

      we are also preparing for celebrations of Light. 


The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah 

  will begin on December 10 this year.   


With menorahs and the candles for the eight days, 

  it's a Festival of Light. 


The Christian celebration of Christmas 

  is preceded by a Season of preparation

    known as Advent. 


This year Advent begins on November 29, 

  still technically within Autumn. 


With the candles of Advent wreaths, 

  it, too is a season of Light. 


The Winter Solstice, December 21 this year, 

  marks the end of Autumn, the start of winter, 

    and the beginning 

      of longer days and shorter nights. 


As such, it is the source 

  of all our celebrations of light. 


Ancient earth based spirituality marked it 

  as a sign of hope. 


Darkness and cold will not dominate us forever. 


Our Autumn Joy culminates in the Season 

  that celebrates the Rebirth of the Light. 


In times like ours, 

  we need the joy and beauty of Autumn

    and the hope of the coming season of light. 


Amen. 


So let it be. 


Saturday, October 03, 2020

 


Genes and Memes 


Genes are sequences of information used to make proteins and carry out most of the work in our bodies. Memes are units of culture that carry information about our hopes, feelings, beliefs and actions as individuals and groups. Understanding both can help us live consciously and meaningfully. 



Most of us have read books whose stories or ideas 

  become a part of us, 

    and we carry them inside ourselves 

      through most of our lives. 


About 20 years ago, I read one of those books, 

  and it has affected the way I see the world 

    ever since. 


The book was _The Meme Machine_ 

  by Susan Blackmore. 


It was especially interesting to me. 


The book describes the meme as a tool 

  that can be used to help us understand 

    the society in which we live. 


Our culture shapes us, and we also help to shape it. 


Memes and meme theory 

  can help us understand 

    both our society and our culture. 


In college, I had a double major 

  in sociology (as well as music), 

    so the concept of the meme 

      has long fascinated me as a way to analyze 

        the development 

          of human societies and cultures. 


I get the question fairly often, 

  "What is a meme?" 

    so I hope today to address the question 

      and help us all see the idea of memes 

        as a way to understand the sharing of ideas. 


Genes are well known and understood as sources 

  of important information about organisms,

    both plants and animals. 


The information from genes 

  is passed from generation to generation 

    to provide information about a species 

      and its characteristics. 


Individual creatures are formed at least in part 

  by the genes they inherit from their ancestors. 


We ourselves are part of the genetic process, 

  also known as heredity, 

    both in terms of giving and receiving genes. 


The color of your skin, your hair, and your eyes, 

  for example, is a result of the genes 

    you have inherited. 


In much the same way, 

  memes are units of culture, 

    expressions of ideas, 

      and they help form and reflect 

        societies, cultures, and their development. 


There have been memes 

  as long as there have been human societies, 

    but they are being supercharged in our time. 


There have also long been supermemes. 


The oldest and most obvious supermeme is religion. 


Hymns and songs are among the most ancient 

  forms of memes, and they reinforce a sense 

    of belonging to a given supermeme or religion. 


Doctrines are also memes of religions, 

  but doctrines are generally 

    not as much fun as hymns.  


In our own UU tradition, 

  each of our Seven Principles is a meme, 

    as are the six sources of our faith. 


I hope you are getting a feel for something 

  that I consider important: 

    that a meme is a tool 

      for understanding the formation 

        of society and culture

          in much the same way that a gene is a tool 

            for understanding the formation 

              of animals and plants. 


Supermemes are ways 

  of spreading many memes at the same time. 


Conspiracy theories are scarier kinds of supermemes

  than religions, even though some religions 

    are and can be scary enough. 


Whether there are any real alien invaders or not, 

  UFO culture is a supermeme. 


A conspiracy theory that deserves to be obscure 

  but is becoming famous lately 

    is Q-Anon. 


It's an obvious example of a super meme. 


Some of the memes that it spreads are so ridiculous 

  that it's difficult to imagine 

    that anybody could actually believe them. 


And yet... 

  Q-Anon is in the process 

    of entering the mainstream. 


By the way, 

  we provide energy to memes 

    by speaking of them in specific terms. 


It's hard to refute some of the crazy ones 

  without listing some of their more ridiculous ideas, 

    but refuting them 

      without describing them in detail 

        is a tightrope we are having to learn to walk. 


In that light, I feel a need to mention a meme 

  currently being spread by Q-Anon. 


To me, one of the most positive things 

  President Trump said about his and Melania's 

    contracting COVID-19 was, 

      "We'll get through this together." 


Well, Q-Anon followers 

  broke down the word, together, 

    to mean, "to get her," 

      that is, to get Hillary Clinton. 


I don't know any details about 

  the meaning of that, 

    and I don't want to know more than I have to. 


Maybe that's my small way of walking the tightrope: 

  showing how crazy the memes can get 

    without spreading them further. 


In any case, 

  memes are ways of sharing ideas, 

    but we don't have to share them. 


They are ways of spreading culture, 

  but we don't have to accept the culture

    they are spreading. 


Just as genes are not the last word 

  about the life and development of an organism, 

    so memes are not the last word 

      about the development of a society. 


Experience and choice are also powerful factors 

  in determining what we are like 

    as individuals and as societies. 


The combined effects of many choices 

  help determine the direction of a society. 


Hence there is a measure of individual responsibility 

  in any society's direction and development. 


The choice to say and do nothing 

  is still a choice. 


The age old controversy of nature versus nurture 

  applies to both genes and memes, 

    in equal measure, it seems to me. 


The gene is the first word 

  about the nature of an organism. 


It is not the final word. 


There is a necessary balance 

  between genetics and experience. 


Memes are like that, too. 


In the life of an individual, 

  they can be part of nurture, 

    but they are more like the first word, not the last, 

      in the life of a society. 


In the society of the U.S. today, social media

  provides platforms, prime launching pads 

    for memes of many kinds. 


Facebook is probably the premier platform, 

  especially for many mature adults (like me). 


Instagram is more popular with the young.


Supermemes have (and long have had) influence 

  over public opinion and so also over elections. 


Today the conspiracy theory of Q-Anon 

  will have some influence on the coming election 

    since some candidates 

      have expressed their support for it. 


Religions have influenced politics 

  in many times and places. 


In the Eastern Roman Empire, 

  the Emperor was considered also 

    the leader of the church.


In the Western Roman Empire, 

  the pope was also the head of a State, 

    sometimes larger and sometimes smaller, 

      until today it is a few square blocks (121 acres) 

        within the City of Rome, the Vatican. 


Especially today, 

  some political parties are becoming supermemes. 


Like religions 

  some of them are demanding loyalty 

    from their followers. 


In the middle of a fraught election season, 

  we can use the understanding of memes 

    to make sense of many things 

      that would otherwise be nonsense. 


There are some things 

  that we won't be able to make sense of, 

    but our own ability to retain some degree of sanity 

      could be helped 

        by increasing our level of understanding. 


If you visit social media platforms like Facebook, 

  if you watch news programming on television, 

    you are being exposed to many memes. 


Some of those are planted by supermemes 

  or other interested parties 

    in order to promote their own points of view. 


There is still such a thing as truth, 

  and it is still possible to verify truth vs. falsehood. 


Search engines like google and bing 

  are tools to find the source of a meme. 


Sometimes that is hidden. 


Sometimes it is easy to find. 


In any case, substantiation is easier today 

  than it was 

    when we had to use library card catalogs 

      to find most information about sources of ideas. 


Chaos is the goal of bad actors. 


Information is the antidote. 


Memes can be good or bad, 

  but they are not so by their nature. 


You can even create your own. 


Find an answer to an idea or meme 

  that you discover is false. 


Share it. 


Become part of the solution. 


I believe we can make courtesy and truth telling 

  fashionable again. 


Even that simple statement 

  could become a meme or two: 


Just say, "Treat each other with courtesy." 


or, "Tell the truth! It might not even hurt too much." 


A drop of water may not seem like much in an ocean, 

  but the ocean itself is made up of many drops. 


You and I are not alone. 


We have each other, 

  even if we have to learn 

    to share our relationships online. 


You and I can be a part of the giant turnaround 

  we all need. 


If it begins with the present election, 

  we may even be able to create good memories 

    to keep with us from this year of 2020. 


Amen. 


So let it be. 


Saturday, September 19, 2020

 


The Balance of Light and Dark 


An Equinox reminds us of the importance of balance. There is light and dark in all things and in all of us. To ignore one's own shadow is dangerous. 



We are approaching a change of Season. 


Summer is ending, 

  and Fall is about to begin. 


To be precise, 

  the transition will happen at 6:30 a.m. 

    this Tuesday morning. 


The light of day and the dark of night 

  will soon arrive at a perfect balance. 


It sometimes takes a day or two 

  for all things to come together 

    and for the balance to be clearly visible, 

      but we have been watching 

        the gradual decrease in the hours of daylight 

          and the gradual increase 

            in the hours of nighttime. 


I for one am fascinated 

  by these changes of the seasons. 


It reminds us all of our place in the Universe 

  and in the world of nature. 


The passage of time is clearly visible 

  with the apparently slow changes of the seasons. 


Something else deep inside us 

  is being manifested by these changes. 


Day and night are in balance, 

  and the light and dark in ourselves 

    are also in balance, 

      whether we like it or not. 


In this case, light and dark 

  are not synonyms for good and evil. 


It's more like illumination and shadow. 


Life requires both. 


Keeping those two realities in balance 

  is a life skill, 

    and it is something we are here to learn, 

      I believe. 


If we hide from the light, 

  something is wrong. 


If we pretend that there is no shadow within us, 

  something is equally wrong. 


To hide from the light may simply mean 

  that we are too sensitive. 


I've been experiencing some light sensitivity 

  in recent weeks. 


It feels like a metaphor 

  of the things I'm talking about. 


If we pretend that there is no shadow inside us, 

  we may be feeling ashamed 

    of something natural about ourselves. 


Both the light and the shadow are vital 

  if we are to live full, balanced lives. 


The world of nature is rich in reminders 

  about the best and most healthy way for us to live. 


One giant reminder 

  about a healthy way for us to live 

    is all the smoke that has surrounded us 

      over most of the last week. 


We cannot continue to do just as we please, 

  releasing unsustainable amounts 

    of greenhouse gases 

      if we are to have any hope 

        of living healthy lives. 


The holy days of Earth based spirituality 

  like the Equinoxes and the Solstices 

    are also reminders of our relationship 

      with the rest of the cosmos,

        and our celebration of them 

          is an important part of our spiritual lives. 


As we are thinking of our spiritual lives 

  and our relationship 

    with the rest of the natural world 

      of which we are a part, 

        please remember that 

          when I speak of spirituality 

            I'm speaking of our breathing in and out 

              more than anything else. 


Breathing in and out is especially important 

  for us all to be thinking about in these days 

    of fire and smoke in our part of the world. 


Breathing in and out is important to consider 

  also because of the coronavirus that is causing 

    a world-wide pandemic of COVID-19. 


With smoke and plague, 

  we simply cannot take breathing in and out, 

    our human spirituality, 

      for granted. 


As we think of spirituality, 

  light and shadow are words we use 

    in metaphorical ways. 


Light represents understanding, like enlightenment. 


Shadow represents things that are hidden from view, 

  like mysteries. 


Light and shadow involve something 

  much more than the metaphors 

    in our interesting times 


Light and shadow are words 

  that we can use to describe 

    what we have been seeing 

      outside our windows 

        over the recent days. 


Light has been subdued in the shadows of smoke. 


This has been more visible reality than metaphor. 


It's part of the warning 

  that I've been speaking about lately. 


I hope and believe that it is not too late, 

  but nature is giving us more and more, 

    clearer and clearer, warnings 

      of what is to come, 

        if we don't make some serious changes 

          in the ways we are living 

            and relating to the world around us. 


The simplest way to express 

  the reality in which we find ourselves 

    is to remember that the natural world 

      will use its amazing - even miraculous - resilience 

        to recover from damages that we may cause. 


But we may not fare nearly so well. 


Like the laws of physics, 

  the laws of nature are not debatable. 


We cannot break those laws. 


We can only break ourselves upon them. 


Light and shadow take on 

  a much more urgent meaning 

    under such circumstances. 


In our ordinary lives every day, 

  the meaning is just as important 

    even if it isn't quite so urgent. 


The importance of keeping 

  the light and shadow in balance

    can be seen as a deeply personal issue 

      as well as a matter of public policy. 


The personal side is important, too. 


The personal side impacts all our relationships. 


Trying to pretend that there is no shadow, only light, 

  can lead us to consider ourselves much better 

    and much more important than we really are. 


To recognize the shadow within ourselves 

  can lead us to be humble in our self understanding. 


We all have elements of darkness 

  deep within ourselves, 

    and that is not a bad thing at all. 


To use the language of Star Wars, 

  there is a light side of the Force, 

    and a dark side, too. 


The two have to be kept in balance. 


Without the balance, 

  the power of darkness 

    can seem to be overwhelming. 


In fact, 

  sometimes the power of darkness 

    can seem to be far greater 

      than the power of light, 

        but in fact it is not more powerful. 


The words from the first chapter 

  of the Gospel of John come to my mind, 

    "The light shines out in the darkness, 

        and the darkness did not take it down." 

             (my own translation) 


It may not always have been seen this way, 

  but these words seem to me to show the balance 

    of light and shadow. 


Without the darkness, 

  the light does not shine out nearly so brightly. 


Without the light, 

  the darkness and all the beauty in it 

    cannot be seen. 


If you have looked at the face of the moon, 

  even through a small telescope, 

    you can understand exactly what I mean. 


There are mountains and valleys 

  on the surface of the moon, 

    and looking at those mountains and valleys 

      can give us the feeling 

        of looking at another world. 


Yet looking at the brightness of a full moon, 

  we cannot see them well. 


As the moon waxes and wanes, 

  shadows form and cause the mountains and valleys 

    to stand out in sharp relief. 


To see the surface features of the moon 

  the best place to look 

    is along the boundary of light and shadow. 


It's a wonderful metaphor 

  to understand the interplay of light and shadow 

    in our own lives every day. 


In order to understand where we are 

  and what we are doing, 

    it is best to look at the boundary 

      of light and shadow. 


The face we show to the world 

  is an important part of us, 

    but it is only a part. 


Our inner life, where and how we see ourselves 

  is at least equally important. 


Much of our inner life is hidden from everyone, 

  at times even from ourselves, 

    so darkness is a good description 

      for the deepest parts. 


That is not a value judgment. 


It is neither good nor bad. 


Sometimes the best parts of ourselves 

  are hidden from us. 


So we can understand ourselves best 

  by looking at the boundary regions, 

    where our inner life, our personal thoughts, 

      encounter the face we show to others. 


This is not to ask us to reveal 

  what we find best to keep hidden. 


It's simply a call to awareness. 


If we want to understand ourselves better, 

  we can contemplate the interaction 

    of our self understanding 

      with our actions and words 

        in the world outside ourselves. 


Keeping the balance 

  between our own inner and the outer worlds 

    is like nature's balancing of light and shadow 

      of day and night, summer and winter. 


We can learn about ourselves 

  as we contemplate the natural world around us 

    because we are a part of that world. 


With the approach of the Equinox, 

  we are reminded of the balance 

    within us and around us. 


We need the light and we need the shadows 

  in order to understand and perceive ourselves 

    as we really are. 


Amen. 


Let it be. 


So mote it be. 


Blessed be! 


Saturday, September 05, 2020

 Water Communion 


Memory, Communion, and Community 


We remember together and so we share Communion and build the Beloved Community. 



Every human being  is in Communion with water 

  all the time. 


Our bodies are made mostly of water. 


As you may know already, 

  I'm a fan of science fiction, as was our dear Beth. 


In one of the shows 

  of Star Trek the Next Generation, 

    a terraforming crew on a desert planet 

      is falling behind schedule. 


Their problem was a life form based on silicon 

  instead of the carbon that we are based on.


The terraformers  were unable to recognize 

  the silicon based life form as a living species. 


Somehow as the story proceeded, 

  the silicon based life form developed the ability 

    to communicate with the humans. 


Their first words to the humans were, 

  "Ugly. Giant. Bags. Of mostly water." 


That wasn't very complimentary, 

  but it was true, as far as it goes. 


We are made mostly of water, 

  and the water is held in a flexible container, 

    also known as skin. 


So we are bags of mostly water. 


I guess we would be ugly 

  to a life form based on crystals of silicon. 


Recent studies have shown 

  that silicon based life forms 

    may not actually be possible 

      in our universe, 


But the science fiction story still gives us a paradigm 

  for understanding ourselves 

    as a carbon based life form 

      whose bodies are composed of mostly water. 


My concept is to highlight our intimate relationship 

  with the water 

    that forms most of the surface of our planet. 


Hence I say, again, 

  that all of us are in full Communion with water 

    all the time. 


MOST of the time 

  our full Communion with water is a good thing. 


Like many of our most important relationships, 

  especially with the world of nature, 

    we cannot take that positive quality for granted. 


As we saw near the end of last month, 

  our relationship with water can turn suddenly 

    catastrophically harmful, 

      as with a hurricane or two. 


I'm one of those who believe 

  that nature is giving us all a warning. 


We are in fact a part of nature, 

  and so we are as truly subject to Her laws 

    as any living thing. 


We have tried to live as a dominant species 

  for far too long. 


We absolutely cannot continue to do so. 


If we try, we will not harm nature Herself. 


We will certainly harm ourselves, 

  and we could destroy ourselves. 


The Book of Revelation 

  and other collections of Apocalyptic Literature 

    contain fearsome descriptions 

      of what could happen 

        if we continue down the wrong path. 


I've often said, 

  "Don't worry about the Book of Revelation 

    unless you start to understand it!" 


Well, I'm sorry to say, 2020 appears to be a year 

  in which all too many people, 

    especially the most vulnerable people, 

      are starting to understand 

        what the word Apocalypse 

          And the book of Revelation really mean. 


Still and all, 

  it's not too late. 


We can still get out of the way 

  of many of the dangers that are all around us. 


We can still repair our relationship 

  with the natural world. 


We can recognize our Communion with nature, 

  including, and today especially, 

    our Communion with Water. 


Our worship service, based on Water Communion 

  is thus deeply rooted 

    in our relationship with nature, 

      and so much of human spirituality

        is likewise deeply rooted in the natural world. 


In fact, our UU spirituality in general has deep roots 

  in the natural world. 


Our whole service today 

  is based on Earth-Centered spirituality. 


Indeed, Earth-Centered spirituality 

  is one of the most important forms 

    of UU spirituality, 

      listed among the 6 sources 

        of our unbounded spirituality, the 

          Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions 

            which celebrate the sacred circle of life 

              and instruct us to live in harmony 

                with the rhythms of nature. 


Two of the great mentors and spiritual leaders 

  of Unitarian Universalism in the U.S., 

    Thoreau and Emerson, 

      were both steeped in the spirituality of nature, 

        each in his own way. 


Thoreau was perhaps best known 

  for his relationship with Walden Pond, 

    a body of water that was formative 

      in his own development 

        of a kind of Water Communion. 


Emerson wrote a book entitled Nature 

  in which may be found the wonderful quote, 

    "The happiest person is one 

      who learns from nature the lesson of worship." 


Today we are again learning from nature 

  the lesson of worship 

    as we share in a particularly UU rite, 

      the Water Communion. 


Most of us find 

  deeply personal spiritual recharging 

    in the world of nature. 


Bodies of water are often sources 

  of the unique kind of spiritual recharging 

    that are just what we need when we need it. 


That's why we love to going to a beach 

  or walking alongside a lake 

    or sitting quitely beside a pond or a stream. 


I love the sound of rushing water 

  like rapids or waterfalls 

    as they sing to my soul. 


It's no surprise, therefore, 

  that we share in our Water Communion 

    as we share a little of the water 

      that has meant so much to us 

        in the last year. 


In this way we remember 

  Meaningful events from the last year 

    And we deepen our Communication 

      And our communication with each other. 


In this strange year of 2020, 

  with so much in a kind of suspension, 

    maybe we can focus 

      on our relationship with water

        as something to help us restore 

          a feeling of being connected 

            to the world of nature

              and to each other. 


As we deepen our sense of Communion 

  With nature and with each other 

    We can begin to reconcile with each other 

      Despite the differences between us. 




I have many of my own holy places, 

  and most of them are closely related to water. 


One of those closest to me and to my home 

  is a catchment pond 

    for excessive rain water 

      where lots of lovely cattails grow. 


Because of the pandemic, 

  I don't often get to walk around or sit beside 

    some of my favorite sources of water communion, 

      so I'm especially grateful for the cattails 

        and their pond. 


The water I'm bringing today is from them, 

  even though at this time of year, 

    it's more mud than water. 


As UU's we remember our communion with water 

  not only today with our water communion. 


The water we drink, 

  wash with or wash in, 

    the water that brings us renewal

      of body, soul, and spirit

        can remind us of our communion with water 

          and with each other. 


Water can also remind us 

  of the importance of social justice. 


Fresh, clean, health-giving, life-giving water 

  can be extremely hard to come by 

    for many people on our small planet. 


This situation is not likely to get better 

  in the near future

    as climate change continues. 


I subscribe to the theory 

  that water will be the oil of the future, 

    that is, the scarce resource 

      over which people all over our small planet 

        will struggle. 


It will be come to be the sign 

  of our willingness to care for each other 

    or not. 


As such, 

  water will not only illustrate, 

    it will also embody 

      our communion with each other. 


The question we must all ask 

  as we are in communion with water, 

    "Will we be in communion with each other?" 


I deeply hope, and I invoke that hope 

  that our collective answer 

    will be a resounding, "Yes!" 


Amen 


Ameen 


Omeyn 


So mote it be 


Saturday, August 01, 2020


Prophets, Priests, and Kings 

Biblical literature is foundational in our culture. The competing categories of prophets, priests, and kings have been basic in the formation of our political and social systems. 


Politics and religion are in the Bible 
  and in most kinds of its literature. 

As a Christian, I strongly believe 
  that the best way to study the Bible 
    is to read and study it as literature. 

I want to go even further than that. 

In order to understand the Bible, 
  it's important to study it 
    using the same tools we would use 
      to study any document from the ancient world. 

For us Unitarian Universalists, 
  it's important to study the Bible 
    from the point of view of history and culture, 
      and to recognize it as one of our own 
        Sources of faith and understanding. 

That is to say, Christianity is one of our sources 
  of UU faith  
    so its most basic source document, the Bible, 
      is important for us to understand. 

Almost needless to say, 
  we do not regard any Scripture 
    as infallible or authoritative. 

In fact, one of the best Facebook memes 
  that I have seen lately says, 

"Buy a Bible, don't read it, and you'll be a Catholic. 

Buy a Bible, and read only what suits you, 
  and you'll be an Evangelical. 

Buy a Bible, read it fully, analyze it, reason it, 
  and you will be an atheist. "

Of course, I would prefer to say, 
  "Buy a Bible, read it fully, analyze it, reason it, 
      and you will be a Unitarian Universalist." 

There are other possibilities to be
  as well as Unitarian Universalist: 
    United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Anglican, 
      progressive Christian of any stripe, 
        and many others. 

In our highly charged social and political climate, 
  it's especially important to study and think carefully 
    about the ideas that helped shape our culture, 
      and I feel that we UU's are uniquely equipped 
        to provide guidance for a good, positive, 
          historical critical, and scientific way 
            to understand the Bible. 

Leaders and leadership
  have been foundational in our republic 
    and its democratic principles. 

Different kinds of leaders 
  were part of the biblical story. 

Prophets were those who spoke for God. 

Priests were those who led and sustained 
  religious institutions, especially the Temple. 

Kings were political leaders 
  whose power and rule were thought 
    by some biblical writers 
      to supplant the power and sovereignty 
        of the God of Israel. 

Other biblical writers believed and wrote 
  that kings were appointed by God 
    to represent Him and to rule His people 
      on His behalf. 

It's clear that many of the writers 
  who believed that God appointed the rulers 
    were themselves official representatives 
      of those rulers. 

The Bible is filled with disagreements 
  among its writers and those they wrote about. 

So much for the infallibilty of scripture, 
  even in matters of faith and theology! 

Each of those categories 
  of prophets, priests, and kings provided 
    an important definition of social roles, 
      and each one formed a foundation 
        for different aspects of our society to this day, 
          regardless of our own individual religious 
            or political commitments. 

Let's start with the king. 

Every society or organization needs 
  a chief executive officer. 

In our time we are seeing more clearly than ever 
  that the chief executive officer 
    can be a man or a woman. 

In our time, we have a shining example 
  of an effective chief executive 
    who is a woman. 

Elizabeth II has been the Queen of England 
  for many years. 

There are significant examples 
  of Queens in the Bible. 

Queen Esther is among the best known. 

She was so important in Biblical literature 
  that she has a whole book named for her. 

Mary the Mother of Jesus 
  is another important Queen
    in Biblical literature and faith. 

Among many Christians, she is known 
  as the Queen of Heaven, 
    a bearer of many of the ancient traditions 
      of the Goddess. 

The chief executive 
  has both power and responsibility. 

In the social relationships 
  that a king or queen  represents, 
    those two aspects have to be held in balance. 

Power cannot be exercised 
  without responsibility 
    for long. 

There will be protest, rebellion, and even civil war. 

The U.S.A. was born out of just such a rebellion. 

King George would not exercise power responsibly, 
  so he lost the Thirteen American Colonies
    to their rebellion. 

It fascinates me that to this day, 
  the war that established 
    the independent United States
      is known in the U.S. as the American Revolution. 

In the British Commonwealth, 
  including our neighboring nation of Canada, 
    that same war is known as 
      the War of Insurrection. 

So much depends on one's point of view! 

The concept of a chief executive 
  keeping power and responsibility in balance 
    can help us understand our situation 
      in our own time and nation. 

If the current chief executive of the United States 
  is willing and able to take responsibility 
    for his own exercise of power, 
      he has a chance 
        to earn the respect of many people
          who do not now believe 
            that he has their best interests at heart. 

As my mother used to say, 
  “Time will tell.”  

The role of priest is another link between us 
  and the ancient world. 

Basically a priest is someone who presides or assists  
  at some sort of religious celebration. 

Priests also serve as go-betweens 
  for people who need divine aid of some sort. 

So those in our time who offer thoughts and prayers 
  for people in hard times 
    are serving - or claiming to serve - 
      a priestly function. 

From ancient to modern times, 
  priests offer sacrifices 
    to placate the gods they serve. 

More often than not today 
  the sacrifices are symbolic 
    or commemorative. 

Among UU's there are both priests and priestesses 
  in our communities of earth based spirituality. 

The high priests and high priestesses 
  are such primarily 
    because of their ceremonial function, 
      not so much as people who have been ordained 
        or inducted into a special order. 

The priest and priestess 
  represent the Lord and the Lady
    the God and the Goddess. 

While none of them made it into the Bible, 
  there were surely priestesses in ancient Israel. 

They would have led the worship of YHWH's wife, 
  Asherah. 

Her presence in the Temple and in the Bible 
  was likely suppressed by the ascendance 
    of a more radical monotheism, 
      the belief in only one God. 

As a result, the priestesses of ancient Israel 
  were also suppressed and all too often forgotten. 

In churches today, the ordination of women 
  has restored the rightful place of both genders 
    in the worship life of many people. 

Our own UU Association and its predecessors 
  were among the first religious groups 
    to permit and encourage women 
      as leaders of worship and pastors, 
        beginning in the mid-19th Century. 

Today in the Church of Sweden, 
  a leader among Lutherans, 
    there are more pastors who are women 
      than pastors who are men. 

In both the Lutheran and Anglican churches, 
  there are also women who are bishops. 

Prophecy is an institution of religious leadership 
  that goes back to biblical times, 
    and there is clear witness to both prophets 
      and prophetesses in the Bible. 

As an institution, prophets, both men and women, 
  are often seen as troublemakers, 
    especially by those who are in power. 

A phrase we have heard repeated many times 
  during the recent commemorations of 
    the great prophet and congressman, John Lewis, 
      was "good trouble, necessary trouble". 

It was a designation of his own. 

When he was told to stay out of trouble, 
  he realized that he needed to get into trouble 
    for the sake of making the world better. 

That could be a summary 
  of the meaning of prophecy. 

There are and always have been prophets 
  and prophetesses, 
    and the Bible bears witness to both. 

Jeremiah is probably the best known 
  biblical prophet, 
    and Deborah is probably the best known 
      biblical prophetess. 

Prophecy has continued to be part 
  of Judaism and Christianity, 
    even though the canon of scripture for both 
      has been effectively closed (for the most part) 
        for about 2000 years. 

The best known Jewish prophet of our time 
  was probably Elie Wiesel. 

He was a survivor of the Holocaust, 
  both Auschwitz and Buchenwald. 

He survived until 2016, 
  and it has been said 
    that survival is the best revenge. 

His words of hope and human kindness 
  indicate the heart and center of his prophecy. 

Among my favorite prophetic words from Elie Wiesel 
  are especially relevant for us today: 
    used on March 10, 2015: 
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. 

- Elie Wiesel

You see, prophecy involves 
   more insight than foresight. 

We think of prophecy as prediction, 
  but the reality is more like proclamation of truth. 

The civil rights movement in the U.S. 
  has produced great prophets 
    in the Christian tradition. 

The best known is almost certainly 
  the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

From biblical times onward 
  there have been schools of the prophets. 

At least two of the books of prophets in the Bible 
  were written by followers of the prophets, 
    some of them even generations later: 
      Isaiah and Jeremiah were both like that. 

In our time, too, 
  there have been schools of prophets. 

Followers in the footsteps of MLK, Jr. 
  have carried on the tradition 
    of protest and proclamation. 

John Lewis of blessed memory, James Clyburn, 
  and Andrew Young are just a few of them. 

Andrew Young is of special interest to us UU's 
  because he is an ordained minister of the UUC, 
    the Christian denomination most closely related 
      (as I've mentioned before) 
        in history, faith, and practice 
          to our own living tradition. 

Prophets and Prophetesses, 
  Priests and Priestesses,
    and Kings and Queens 
      are important historical characters 
        and contemporary realities and metaphors. 

There are a great many lessons we can 
  and need to 
    learn from them all. 

I could easily begin a series of sermons 
  about each of those categories. 

I may just do that, 
  especially if I get (even just a little) encouragement 
    from you, the members of our church community. 

Amen. 

Blessed be. 

Let it be. 

Sunday, July 05, 2020


Parenting

Parenting is a verb. No one does it perfectly. We all parent each other and we are all parented. We children remember more about how effectively we are loved than anything else.


By now, I suspect that nobody who knows me
  will be surprised to hear me say
    that I love to play with words.

That has generally worked out well in my career:
  Word craft is an important part of preaching,
    and preaching is an important part of ministry.

One of my favorite ways to play with words
  is to learn about their history and origin,
    their etymology, if you will.

The word for today is the title of today's sermon:
  parenting.

Our own English word, "parent",
  has the same root in the history of language
    as many of the words for father.

In Spanish [my second language]
  the word for father and parent is the same,
    padre.

From both parent and padre
  we can at least sense the Latin root for both,
    pater. [as in pater familias]

Pater is the parent word, so to speak,
  for a great many other words and concepts:
    patriarch and patriarchy,
      paternal and paternalism,
        patriot and patriotism
          are just a few examples.

We are all parented, with parent as a verb,
  in many ways,
    and some of those ways are represented
      by my examples of the words we use
        that come to us from the Latin word, pater.

My examples are basically negative, so far,
  at least as far as I'm concerned:
    patriarch and patriarchy,
      paternal and paternalism,
        patriot and patriotism.

A patriarch and the patriarchy he rules
  are a way humans have used
    to lord it over each other, so to speak.

A paternal person who acts with paternalism
  is generally not someone to whom
    I would want to subject myself in any way.

A patriot and patriotism are not as negative
  as some of the other examples,
    but I am not able to view either one postitively,
      at least not at this time in my life
        or our country's life.

There have been a few times in my life in which
  I have been able to experience
    positive feelings of patriotism,
      at least for short periods of time,
        but now is not one of them.

When I was in college in the late 60's and early 70's,
  I saw a poster that represented my feelings well
    at that time.

The poster listed many of the things
  that were going on in the country at the time,
    many of which are still going on today:
      racism and white supremacy,
        war and the profiteering that goes with it,
          disrespect for those being forced to wage war,
            and a federal government seemingly
              unconcerned with the needs of the people.

There were also positive things listed on the poster,
  like our freedoms and traditions of the rule of law
    and ideals more honored in the breach
      than the observance
        like liberty and justice for all.

Then there was a statement
  that summarized my feelings at the time
    very well indeed:

"I am proud.
  I am ashamed.
  I am an American."

Add the word, embarrassed,
  and it will summarize my feelings today.

Our leading the world in the spread
  of the corona virus pandemic
    is a source of embarrassment.

I do still care about the country,
  and I do still have hope for better days.

I remember the saying,
  "My country, right or wrong."

I learned in my younger years that the saying
  has an even more important second half:

"When right to keep it right,
  when wrong to make it right."

One of my contemporaries was told the statement
  by one of his elders, probably someone
    the age I am now:

"My country right or wrong!"
  the elder said.

The younger person said,
"Please remember the other half of the quote:
When right to keep it right,
  when wrong to make it right."

The younger person,
  my contemporary at the time
    was then called a traitor.

It is not difficult for me to imagine
  a similar interaction happening in our own time.

Loyalty and love of country
  need not blind us to its faults.

It saddens many of us
  that we haven't made more progress
    since those bad old days.

I have some of the same feelings
  about our own beloved UUA:
    when right to keep it right,
      when wrong to make it right.

Without going into too much detail,
  I want to mention that we seem to be in a time
    of paternalism within the UUA.

Our neighboring congregation, UUCS,
  is going through some very unnecessary agony.

Their loved and respected minister, Tod Eklof,
  has been removed from ministry fellowship
    by the UUA
      for being a gadfly (his word)
        in the face of the political correctness
          being enforced by the UUA in many places,
            in many ways and on many levels.

There have undoubtedly been mistakes made
  on both sides
    in this sad and unnecessary controversy,
      but paternalism
        has only made the problem worse
          in my humble opinion.

At least, because our church body
  is strictly congregational,
    the UUCS will not lose their minister.

I still love my country and my church,
  and I love them both enough to say,
    when right to keep it right,
      when wrong to make it right,
        and I do not believe that I'm being disloyal
          in saying those words regarding either one.

To try to correct wrongs
  is something we all have to do
    all through our lives.

It's part of parenting,
  whether we are parenting ourselves,
    our children,
      our peers,
        or our institutions.

It can be done with love.

The bottom line,
  the most important thing,
    is love.

It can be done out of the desire to protect 
  the beloved child,
    the beloved community,
      or the beloved nation.

Our hymn, the traditional "All Through the Night,"
  beautifully expresses the love and the desire
    to protect the beloved.

The desire to protect is at the heart
  of much positive parenting,
    even if that desire has to be carried out
      in caring for ourselves and those around us
        as adults.

It is the difference between parenting
 and paternalism,
   the difference between love and control.

In our times,
  the positive form of parenting is most needed
    just when there appears to be a dearth of it
      in public life.

What can we do about that?

We can reach deeply into our own hearts and souls,
  seeking to bring out the love that is there
    for each and every one of us.

It's not just the words that are important here,
  as much as I love to play with words,
    and it's not just the feelings.

It's also our actions
  as we do the things we know are right
    for each other.

Wearing masks will be an excellent start.

Not everyone will do it,
  but if enough of us do so,
    lives will be saved.

Staying home when we can will help.

It's not unlike a loving parent
  stopping a toddler
    before she or he runs out into a busy street.

Encouraging better thinking and acting 
  regarding the dangers of our time will help, too,
    but there is no use in antagonizing people
      whose minds are not open to persuasion.

There is no use in wasting energy or breath
  - especially in our time .

It saddens me deeply that we cannot 
  be together physically today,
    that we cannot
      share music by singing together,

But if that is the price of survival
  especially for those
    who are most vulnerable among us,

then positive parenting of each other
  will enable it.

It's basically caring -
  giving and receiving of care - and love
    to and from people of all ages.

As the saying goes,
  "It's never too late to have a happy childhood!"

And we can help provide it for each other!

Amen.

So let it be.

Blessed be!

Saturday, June 20, 2020


Summertime

The Summer Solstice marks the beginning of Summer and the end of lengthening days. As the days grow shorter, slowly at first, we enjoy warmer weather and a season of growth.


For a couple of weeks or so
  around this weekend
    we may not be noticing any change
      in the length of our days.

That's true because of the Solstice,
  and it's true for both Solstices, Winter and Summer.

The word, solstice, refers to the sun
  standing still
    in what appear to be its half yearly movements
      from north to south or south to north
        as opposed to the daily apparent movements
          from east to west.

I don't want to spend too much time
  on the astronomy,
    but the transition is important
      in terms of our experience
        of the Four Seasons.

Summer began yesterday at 2:43 p.m. PDT,
  and as summer begins
    it also begins to come to an end.

For this reason,
  today, the first full day of Summer,
    can be a melancholy day
      for people in northern, cooler climates.

Of course, without this occasion
  and everything it means,
    the days would get longer and hotter
      until our climate would become
        impossible to live with.

In fact, it's possible to find hope
  in the experience of either solstice,
    the start of Winter or the start of Summer.

The first day of Winter, its own Solstice,
  marks also the beginning of Winter's end,
    even if it seemed as though
      wintry, chilly, wet weather
        would never end in our part of the world
          until just the last few days.

Warmth and light are vital
  for all of the things we need
    for the nourishment of our bodies
      as well as the nourishment of our feelings,
        our hearts and souls.

The sun has therefore been an object of worship
  for as long as objects of worship have existed.

The source of all life
  would have to be something
    to be held in reverence.

With that in mind, it seems appropriate
  that Father's Day falls on a Sunday each year,
    close to the Summer Solstice.

The Greek God, Apollo of the Brilliant Light,
  is an appropriate symbol for Solstice
    and for Father's Day.

His daily task with his chariot and horses
  was to pull the sun across the sky.

He was father to many children,
  and he was revered as an oracle
    and as a source of healing.

Ironically, he was also a bringer of plagues.

As such, he could be
  an appropriate symbol of our times,
    on both counts,
      the plague and the healing.

In our part of the world
  we are coping with two kinds of plague:
    One is a dangerous virus
      and the other is a dangerous sickness of society.

Sunlight can aid in the healing of both.

Like most viruses,
  the coronavirus that causes COVID-19
    cannot survive long
      in the ultraviolet light of the sun.

Like many social ills,
  racism cannot survive long
    in the light of undeniable information.

The truth is that all people are born with equal rights
  and that is the kind of light
    now cleansing our world.

Sometimes we think of the forces of light
  and the forces of darkness
    as absolute opposites,
      like good and evil.

The truth is that it simply does not work that way
  in ourselves or in the world in which we live.

We require both light and darkness
  in order to survive.

The shadow side of ourselves
  is as important to our well being
    as the light side. 

Guess which one we generally prefer to show!

Yet the light and the dark come together
  to bring us to deeper understanding of truth.

Without the quiet of winter
  the busy, bright times of summer
    would wear us out much faster,
      quite literally.

The balance of light and dark can be seen every day
  with sunrise and sunset.

That may be one reason
  that so many people love
    both sunrise and sunset so much.

The balance of light and dark
  gives us beautiful shades of many colors
    as sunlight is filtered through the atmosphere.

Watching a summer sunset
  can give us a beautiful feeling
    of the meaning of the Summer Solstice.

I have a favorite verse to sing about it.

I'm going to try to sing it via Zoom.

You all can let me know how it works -
  or how it doesn't work.

Summer sun, Summer sun, we watch as you set,
Sending your long arms of light from the west.
Summer sun, Summer sun, you shine so bright,
As you begin your return to the night.

I love that verse
  because it captures a universal kind of devotion
    to our beloved Day Star,
      and at the same time,
        it recognizes that the beginning of Summer
          marks the apparent return of the Day Star
            to the night, not just for one evening,
              but also for the coming seasons
                of Fall and Winter.

The balance of light and darkness,
  the marking of the end of Summer
    with its beginning,
      and the recognition
        of light and shadow in ourselves
          can bring healing to our souls and bodies
            and to our nation.

If we try to deny the shadow by saying
  "I'm not a racist!"
      or, "The virus is going away on its own,"
        we will only delay the healing we all need
          so very much.

If we accept our days and nights
  our seasons of light and dark
    and our own strengths and weaknesses,
      we can learn the lessons of the Solstices
        and begin a process of healing for us all.

As the days pause
  in their growing longer and shorter,
    we have this moment to take stock of ourselves,
      our communities
        - families, friends, and like minded people -
          so that we begin to appreciate
            who and where we are,
              more and more,
                every day and every Season.

Amen.
So let it be.
Blessed be.