Saturday, May 16, 2020


Peace, Love, and War

Our planet is now at war against an alien invader. The enemy is an alien to our bodies, and fighting it together could bring us humans to a new beginning of peace and love.


I'm a baby boomer and an aging hippy.

That gives me a particular point of view
  about current events
    and the circumstances
      in which we find ourselves now.

Personally I believe in peace and love,
  and realistically I recognize that
    we are a world at war.

The enemy we are fighting is microscopic
  so that it is invisible to us
    except for the harm it causes.

All the people of the planet are in the same boat,
  so to speak,
    except that some people
      have far more resources
        than the rest.

It may not be fair,
  but it is the situation we are in.

It may be better to say
  [as did a meme I saw recently],
    that we are not all in the same boat,
      but we are all in the same storm.

Far too many people
  who are in positions of public trust
    are seeking their own advantage
      rather than caring for the people
        who depend on their care.

In saying this,
  I'm not talking about any leader in particular,
    but I'm certain that the phenomenon
      will sound familiar to you.

I fact, the truth is that our primary weapon
  in the war against our invisible enemy
    is our caring for each other.

[Commandments of Love? Two, not Ten, not 613]

In order to provide the caring we need,
  those who  care for others day by day
    need tools such as medical equipment
      and medications that work against the enemy.

The medical equipment needed
  includes such things as hospital beds, ventilators,
    and, maybe especially,
      the personal protective equipment
        also known as PPE like gowns, masks,
          goggles or other face coverings and the like
            that blunt the enemy's attacks
              against our front line care givers.

Where the primary weapon of a war
  is caring, it is a different kind of war.

Peace and Love are the power behind the caring.

So it is that we are fighting
  such a different kind of war.

It is a unique opportunity to use our primary weapon
  not only in the time of the war itself,
    but even more so will it be true
      in the period after the war is won. 

I believe there is reason to be confident
  that we will win this war.

Our fighters are strong.

Our weapon of caring
  is universally available to them and to us.

And the tools they need can be produced
  by all kinds of people
    in all kinds of circumstances.

To my knowledge,
  never before in the history of warfare
    have sewing machines been so useful
      in the hands of all kinds of people
        as factories of necessary equipment
          in the winning of a worldwide war.

The sewing machines have been useful
  in making masks and gowns
    as necessary equipment
      to protect our care givers,
        who are our troops
          as they go into battle.

All the people of our small planet
  are being affected by this war and its battles.

All the people of our small planet
  can pull together as one
    in peace and love in new ways,
      not only to win this war
        but also to win the peace
          which comes after it.

In a painful irony of our time
  people have shown love
    by staying apart.
 
People all over the world
  have protected the most vulnerable
    by leaving them alone and in peace.

That has certainly not always felt good!

It has been a deeply painful experience
  in many cases.

Even after we begin to go out and about more,
  even when we are starting
    to gather in small groups,
      some of the pain will remain.

Our contact with each other will be more limited.

Some of us love our hugs.

Those can be deeply important.

For a time, our hugging will be limited.

Even handshakes may be a thing of the past,
  since those can be a major point of contagion.

At the same time, the pain we endure
  in reducing our contact with each other
    can be a major step forward in our battle
      against the invisible enemy that threatens us all.

Sadly, in nearly real time,
  we have been watching
    the conversion of many efforts
      to fight the universal enemy
        into fights against each other
          as part of an ongoing culture war.

As a baby boomer who is also an aging hippy,
  I'm caught in the middle of that very culture war.

All too many people in my age group
  are on the side of more and more conservative
    culture warriors.

As a Christian, I see more and more
  of my co-religionists
    making choices against my preferences
      regarding culture.

A joke I saw recently said,
  "Marijuana is legal, and haircuts are illegal.
    The hippies have won!"

The words of the joke are not universally true,
  especially in the midst of the culture war,
    but the idea stands both as irony
      and as a representation of the zeitgeist,
        the spirit of the age.

In the time of the election of 2016,
  both just before it and just after it,
    the sign of the times was the MAGA hat,
      the red baseball cap that represented,
        "Make America Great Again!"

Now, in the time of a global conflict
  against a universal enemy,
    the sign of the times is a mask and gloves.

There is a lot of misunderstanding
  of the face masks that protect us
    from spraying germs on the people around them.

Some individuals are walking around without masks
  as a way of saying
    that they are not afraid of the germs.

The people who are taking more extreme positions
  are, as usual, a small minority.

- 78% of Americans believe people in their communities should stay home as much as possible.
- 80% of Americans say it's important to wear a mask in public.
- Only 21% of Americans say current restrictions on businesses are too restrictive.

And these numbers cut across all kinds of demographics: education, race, age, income, rural/urban. It's not just rich educated coastal elites who think we should stay home. Most people, from every background, agree.

The statehouse protests are astroturfed, artificial, fake conflicts, and they're getting way too much validation.

Most people are trusting the evidence of science,
  despite news reports that are more interested
    in entertainment than information.

At the same time, there are serious efforts
  to keep us ever more deeply divided
    just as we need to unite more closely
      to win a war that threatens us all.

I'm optimistic, anyway.

We will come together,
  and we will prevail,
    as we work together
      to protect the most vulnerable people around us
        [including me!].

As with any war, there will be casualties.

There will be people who will be blamed.

It will not be an easy task,
  but peace and love will prevail,
    because there are more of us
      who want to see it come to be
        than there are of those who seek to divide us.

Having come together
  to do what we have to do to protect each other,
    it will never again be so easy to divide us
      over issues that matter much less.

We will have loved each other most effectively
  by staying apart for a time.

We will learn to treasure our togetherness,
  and we will learn new ways to express our caring.

We have seen changes for the better
  in our Earth Herself,
    and we will not so easily go back to harming Her
      in ways that too many of us
        thought were inevitable.

I have a lot of hope for our future.

I believe in
  and I am committed to
    peace and love,
      and maybe for the first time in history,
        those are our weapons enabling us
          to win a war that threatens all our lives.

Peace be with us all.

May we all indeed learn new ways
  to share our love with each other


Amen.

So let it be.

Blessed be.

Saturday, May 02, 2020


Beltane and May Day

Beltane as the start of Summer, is the ancient corresponding festival of Samhain (Halloween), the start of Winter. Mayday is not only a distress call; it is also Beltane.

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The First day of May marks
  the ancient feast of Beltane.

We are celebrating a couple of days late,
  but that's OK.

Beltane has its own Season,
  a.k.a. Summer!

According to Celtic tradition,
  Beltane marks the beginning of Summer
    as Samhain (Halloween) marks
      the beginning of Winter.

So Blessed Beltane!

Happy Beltane, my friends!

It really is a glorious celebration
  from ancient times.

I'm proud to share with you
  that my family includes a Beltane baby,
    at least in the modern sense:
      My granddaughter, Kyla,
        was born on May 1, 1999,
          21 years ago last Friday.

The traditional meaning of a Beltane baby
  refers to a baby born
    about nine months after Beltane,
      and there is a good, traditional reason for that.

You see, Beltane celebrates
  not only the start of Summer
    and the Celtic Sun God, Bel (or Belenos/us),
      it's also a sacred day for the ancient Goddess
        of Fertility, the May Queen,
          (whose name, Creiddylad, KRahay-TH-IHL-aeD
            is difficult to pronounce!),
              and you can imagine (if you want to)
                what the celebration of some of her rites
                  was like.

Her name is a form
  of the English and German name, Cordelia.

At least that form of her name
  is much easier to pronounce!

The song from the musical play, Camelot,
  "The Lusty Month of May,"
    includes the lyrics:
      sung by GUENEVERE:
Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev'ryone goes
Blissfully astray.

That recurring verse at least gives us some idea
  of the rites of Spring that were traditionally
     celebrated around Beltane.

The Beltane bonfires are another custom
  that celebrate the arrival of warmer weather
    and the joys of Summer.

The bonfires were sacred to the Celtic God Bel,
  who was god of the sun and fire.

The name of the festival, Beltane,
  means Fire of Bel (Bel means shining,
    and Tane means fire.)

Like Samhain, or Halloween,
  Beltane is a thin time
    in which the veil between worlds
      is almost thin enough to see through it.

As I've said in relation to Samhain,
  I can feel the thin time
    mostly by recognizing the spirits of nature
      that are around us all the time.

Everything that breathes has spirit,
  since breath is the meaning of the word, spirit.

Like the last day of October,
  the first day of May is sacred
    to all life,
      but in opposite ways.

Life is becoming dormant, going to sleep,
  at the start of the Season of Cold and Quiet.

Life is waking up, returning to activity,
  at the start of the Season of Warmth and Growth.

We recognize the feeling if we stop to think about it.

We ourselves are a part of natural life in our world.

Sometimes we forget this,
  and we need experiences of awakening.

May Day gives us exactly that,
  an opportunity to recognize our place
    in the overall scheme of things.

Likewise, the emergency call of Mayday, Mayday,
  can provide an experience of waking up.

It began to be used as an emergency call
  in 1923
    because it sounds a lot like the French word,
      m'aider, meaning help me!

We are in a planetary emergency now,
  because of a global pandemic.

It may just be that we are being called upon
  to wake up
    to the realities of our relationship to other people
      and to the rest of the world in which we live.

If we accept this opportunity
  and begin to move forward with the idea
    that good can come
      of the experience of these days,
        then the difficulties and losses
          can be an opportunity for us all
            to make choices
              that will enable our survival.

We don't know yet
  how bad the pandemic will get,
    but that is at least partly up to us.

We don't know yet
  how many lessons we and others will learn from it,
    but that is even more up to us.

The most important lesson for us all
  will be compassion,
    the recognition that no one stands alone
      in suffering or in benefits.

Inequities in our economic system
  are standing out in sharp relief.

Our need to grasp the importance
  of the world of nature, and we are a part of nature,
   the well being of all living things
      including ourselves
        is becoming clearer and clearer
          along with the water and the air
            becoming clearer in places all over the world
              where pollution was obscuring
                 everyone's vision of things around them.

Ours is not the first Beltane season
  in which a cry of Mayday went out
    for all the world to see.

The first day of May is the world's true Labor Day
  ever since the Haymarket Square riots in Chicago,
    on May 4, 1886.

The riot first broke out as a result of protests
  seeking an eight hour work day for laborers.

From our perspective today,
  the eight hour work day does not seem
    such an unreasonable demand.

Another Beltane season event
  that provided a Mayday call to our nation and world
    took place at Kent State University
      on May 4, 1970.

National Guard troops fired
  on a crowd of students,
    killing four of them.

Not all of those who died
  were protesting,
    but those who were protesting
      were opposing the bombing of Cambodia
        during the Vietnam War.

From the perspective of today,
  the protests against the illegal incursion
    into another sovereign nation,
      expanding a war zone,
        does not seem so unreasonable.

Many events and choices
  seem different
    from the perspective of a different time.

The balancing of one need
  with a different need
    is often the source of conflicts and crises
      in our lives.

In our time Beltane brings us all
  once again
    to a question of balance.

What will our priorities be?

Will we reopen our businesses too soon
  and invite the pandemic to reach new peaks?

Or will we reopen our society too late
  so that recovery will be impossible?

It is a delicate question of balance,
  and one that we will all have to consider together.

The wisdom of the ages will come to bear upon us.

Again, compassion will be the key.

In the question of opening soon enough
  without opening too soon, our compassion
    will be enabled by our having concern
      for each other's vulnerabilities.

Those of us who have
  pre-existing medical conditions
    that make us more vulnerable to disease
      will have to be considered if we are to survive.

Likewise, those who are on the edge
  of extreme poverty,
    who cannot withstand
      a financial emergency of $400,
        will have to be considered
          if our economy is to have any hope
            of recovery.

Beltane brings us precisely the lessons we need
  for our spiritual lives,
    for our ability to continue breathing,
      as individuals and as a culture.

We cannot ignore the world of nature.

We cannot ignore each other.

We cannot ignore anyone's needs,
  and we will have to learn to live together,
    sharing the resources of our world
      as stewards and not
        as masters and subjects.

The equality of the God and Goddess of Beltane,
  Bel and Cordelia
    set us an example in mythology
      that can enable us to live our own
        very real lives.

Amen.

So mote it be.

Blessed Be.

Saturday, April 18, 2020


Faith Versus Belief 

The opposite of faith is not doubt. All too often, the opposite of faith is belief.



I have heard many wonderful sermons in my life.

There are three whose themes have stayed with me,
  with at least one concept that continues
    to be an inspiration to me.

The first of those sermons was an Easter message
  with the simple title of, "Mary!"

I heard the sermon while I was in seminary
  in South Carolina.

It was about the moment that Mary Magdalen
  recognized the risen Jesus.

When she first saw him,
  she thought he was the gardener.

He spoke her name,
  "Mary!" he said, and 
    instantly she knew who he was.

She said to him, "My Teacher!"

The concept that has stayed with me
  is that Mary recognized Jesus
    when he called her by name.

In the second memorable sermon
  the preacher spoke about
    the confession of sins
      with which Lutherans begin
        every Sunday worship service.

She said that we are really simply confessing
  our failure to acknowledge
    our dependence on God.

As UU's we interpret the idea
  a little differently than many Christians:
    We could say simply
      that we depend on the spark of the Divine Spirit
        that lives in each and every one of us.

The helpful concept is the same for me either way:
  I don't have to search my conscience
    for thoughts, words, and deeds
      that I have to define as sins.

I can simply remember that I can lean on
  the best of my true Self, the divine life within me.

The third sermon that has stayed with me
  includes a concept that I'm still working on, 
    the concept on which I'm basing
      my own sermon for today.

It was a UU sermon,
  delivered by the Rev. Marlene Walker,
    who was at the time a most effective
      interim minister at the UUCP in Moscow, ID.

She said that the opposite of faith is belief.

For me at the time, it was a startling statement,
  but of course being startled
    only caused me to pay closer attention.

The concept that unfolded
  has been a continuing part
    of my own spiritual formation,
      and it is my hope that it will be meaningful
        for you all, too.

Faith is our own deeply personal exploration
  of the meaning of life.

Belief is the conclusion we come to
  regarding the meaning of our own life.

Exploration is active.

A conclusion stands still.

Faith has to keep moving.

Belief has nowhere to go.

As UU's our faith is solidly built
  upon critical thinking.

Those who focus on their beliefs
  are generally not so interested in critical thinking.

We also have beliefs,
  but those are, like the beliefs of Buddhists,
    subject to change
      if they are proven wrong
        by investigation and experience.

It would not be too unusual
  to find that someone considers
    the opposite of faith to be doubt.

In fact, doubt is a vital part of faith,
  and not just for UU's.

Today is often nicknamed, "Low Sunday"
  among those who follow a liturgical calendar.

You can probably guess why.

Easter Sunday often sees the highest attendance
  of any Sunday in most years.

The Sunday after Easter
  often sees the lowest attendance,
    (except for maybe the Sundays around
      three day weekends
        like Memorial Day or Labor Day).

Whether today has the lowest attendance or not,
  the story of the day on liturgical calendars
    is (nowadays) the story of "Doubting Thomas."

I prefer to think him as Believing Thomas
  because of the transformation he experienced.

For us UU's, being called a doubter
  would not be any sort of insult.

We sometimes even doubt our doubts!

After all,
  one of our most sacred symbols,
    and one that I treasure in my heart,
      is a question mark.

  One of my favorite things to see
    on a UU Christmas tree
      is all the question marks!
        (along with all the Darwin fish -
          the ones with little feet and legs
             sprouting from their underside)

Our faith is in science,
  not dogma.

Religious doctrine is rightly understood
  as our human attempt to describe
    our personal, spiritual experiences.

Dogmas and beliefs try to normalize the experiences
  and insist that everyone
    must have similar experiences
      and define the experiences in similar ways.

Such an approach
  actually stifles faith and spirituality.

This is not to say
  that all traditional faiths
    engage in stifling real faith
      by their emphasis on dogmas and beliefs.

Many people in traditional faiths
  are much more open than that.

We find people of good will
  in every faith and every kind of church.

As UU's we can surely afford
  not to judge anyone.

There is in fact an entire tradition
  within Christianity
    that takes a dim view of beliefs and dogmas.

They are known as
  the Society of Friends, the Quakers.

They refer to dogmas and beliefs
  as "notions."

They do not insist
  that people must believe certain notions
    with one notable exception:

They believe that every person
  has within themselves a spark of divine light.

For this reason they are pacifists.

No one has the right, they say, to kill anyone
  who carries within themselves
    a spark of divine light.

This sounds to me very much like
  our First Principle:
    The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

UU's are not traditionally known as pacifists,
  but our First Principle stands.

There have certainly been UU pacifists,
  and our church authorities
    have vigorously defended
      their commitment to pacifism
        within our faith tradition.

During the Vietnam War, for example
  the UUA established a denominational registry
    for conscientious objectors.

It's just that we don't require everyone
  to agree about much of anything.

I see that as a good thing.

There are UU Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists,
  and representatives of many other faith traditions,
    atheists, agnostics, believers and non-believers
      in many kinds of spiritual ideas and practices.

We are generally pretty good
  at agreeing to disagree,
    at being civil to each other
      even when we strongly disagree
        about principles that are important to us.

We do agree about our seven principles,
  but those are not in the form of beliefs.

They are more like commitments we have made
  to value each other because of our differences,
    not in spite of them.

I believe that this is a key to our UU faith
  in this understanding:

We treasure the variety of human expression.

We do not insist on conformity.

We even value variety in our approach to
  spirituality and the development of our faith.

We do not worship science,
  but our faith and practice are informed by it,
    including the scientific study of religion
      as part of human social psychology.

A UU sermon is not just a treatise
  on the analysis of issues,
    but there is often that element.

Like all good preaching,
  a sermon is an expression of good news and hope
    even in the midst of difficult circumstances
      such as those we are all going through now.

Today's good news
  is that our beliefs are not frozen.

We do not believe everything we hear;
  indeed we often only believe half of what we see,
    as the song by Marvin Gaye says,
      "Believe none of what you hear
          and half of what you see."

Thus our faith is steeped in doubt,
  and beliefs, as frozen notions
    about religion and spirituality,
      can truly be understood
        as the opposite of a faith like ours.

If you remember anything about today's sermon,
  I hope it will simply be
    the understanding
      that it's OK to question everything.

Don't believe everything
  you hear, see, or even think! 

This principle will be especially valuable
  in our time.

There is so much information
  and misinformation
    that some healthy skepticism will be important,
      even to keep us healthy!

As we do for our own UU faith,
  we can do our own investigations
    and come to our own conclusions.

Indeed, the process
  will be vitally important for us all.

Amen.

So let it be.

Blessed be.

Saturday, April 11, 2020


Easter

We celebrate this High Holy Day of Easter as a festival of hope with Pagan and Christian origins.


On Good Friday morning,
  I heard one of my favorite historians,
    Jon Meacham, say,
      "Returning to the roots of our faith
        is a way forward."

For us UU's the roots of our faith
  are many and varied.

To quote from the "About Us" tab
  on our NIUU website,

"Unitarian Universalism affirms and promotes seven Principles grounded in the humanistic teachings of the world's religions. Our spirituality is unbounded, drawing from scripture and science, nature and philosophy, personal experience and ancient tradition as described in our six Sources."

Those are beautiful words
  for us to live by in our faith.

We can and do draw from those six Sources
  as the roots of our faith.

For Easter Day, I want to highlight
  two of the six Sources:

Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves,

and

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.

(I'm full of quotes in this sermon, and I'm not done!
  These really do come
    from our own congregation's web page,
      https://niuu.org, under the About Us tab.)

Speaking of Jewish and Christian teachings,
  today we are thinking of Passover and Easter.

Both are remembrances of deliverance.

They are in no sense identical,
  but they are clearly related.

Passover is a celebration of Liberation,
  and it has been and will always be
    a source of hope for people who are oppressed
      in all kinds of times and places.

Easter is a celebration of Resurrection,
  and it has been and always will be
    a source of hope for people
      who are facing fear of death
        in all kinds of times and places.

In thinking of the spiritual traditions
  of Earth based spiritualities
    instructing us us to live in harmony
      with the rhythms of nature,
        we are learning to draw strength
          from the fits and starts
            of the arrival of Spring.

Spring brings to mind the Goddess, Persephone,
  whose story sings in harmony
    with the stories of Passover and Easter.

Spring brings new a beginning of life and growth,
  as in the story of Persephone herself.

Liberation brings a new beginning
  of the freedom and self-determination of a people,
    as in the story of Passover.

Easter brings a foretaste of fulness of life,
  now and in the world to come,
    as in the story of Easter.

All three of these Sources of our faith,
  Earth-Centered traditions,
    Judaism, and Christianity
      bring us hope
        in this time in which we need it most.

In our own times
  we are in particular need of hope.

Hope is by no means certainty.

We face many unknowns these days,
  and what we do know can appear
    overwhelming and terrifying
      if we stop to look carefully
        and wake up to the realities
          we and the whole world may be facing.

There will be a lot of suffering and death,
  especially among the most vulnerable people.

It can be difficult to sustain hope
  in the face of some of the information
    we are having to cope with.

Hope is still important, no matter what.

Speaking of hope brings me
  to yet another quote,
    one that is especially important to me,
      the great poem by Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune without the words, 
And never stops at all, 
 
And sweetest in the gale is heard;         
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm. 
 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea;       
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

I love that poem
  because it sings so beautifully 
    about hope, and I am trying to say
      that hope in abundance
        is exactly what we all need right now.

I have high hopes that our physical separation
  will result in a collective victory over
    the apocalyptic scourge
      that is threatening all the humans
        on our small planet.

I have hope for many other things, too,
  above all that we will learn some vital lessons
    as a result of the experience we are sharing.

We need each other so much
  that we cannot afford to be as divided
    as we were becoming in our society.

United we stand, divided we fall,
  is more than just a saying.

It is a reality that we are living.

Even a Public Service ad has been saying,
  "We stay apart now
    so that we can be together tomorrow."

What we are doing
  in physically separating ourselves from each other
    is fulfilling the call of our Source of faith
      in Judaism and Christianity,
        responding to the Love of God
          by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I even have hope for those who are suffering most.

So many people are being hurt
  by the struggling economy
    that they are inspiring compassion
      in other humans.

Part of the compassion we are seeing
  is beautifully expressed in the following saying
    from freedhearts.org:

And then the whole world walked inside and shut their doors and said, "We will stop it all. Everything. To protect our weaker ones. Our sicker ones. Our older ones." And nothing in the history of humankind ever felt more like love than this.

I want to carry this concept of hope
  even further:

I have come to believe that no one ever dies alone.

One of the saddest phenomena
  of the fatalities of the coronavirus
    is that families and loved ones
      cannot be present at the bedside
        of its victims as they die.

Yet I take comfort from believing
  that no one dies alone.

The experience of people
  who have had near death experiences
    is that someone they know comes for them.

They do not face death alone,
  even when it is not yet certain
    that they will in fact depart this life.

Many of us have had experiences
  that affirm that experience,
    often from the words of loved ones
      who are near death.

My step-Dad's mother,
  on the afternoon she died,
    told him that two of her sisters
      had come to see her.

He said, "But, Mama, they died years ago,"
  and she replied, "I know, but they were here!"

Such experiences give me hope
  in times like these.

Despite all the appearances,
  I really am convinced that no one dies alone.

Despite the appearances
  of our present circumstances,
    I do believe that we can rely
      on the benevolence of the Universe.

That in any case is my hope.

At times like ours
  we need to reach deeply within ourselves
    to draw on the roots of our faith
      as a way forward.

Amen.

So let it be.

Blessed Be.

Saturday, April 04, 2020


Shall We Break Bread?

Sharing a memorial meal can give us a time to be aware of the continuing presence of loved ones who have transitioned into the after life. Remembrance is the key.


Today is an important day for me in many ways,
  on many levels.

I'm immensely grateful
  to be able to share it with you all,
    my dearly beloved spiritual community,
      even though we have to do so via the internet.

First of all, I have to mention
  that today is Palm Sunday
    on the Western Christian liturgical calendar,
      the first day of Holy Week.

Palm Sunday is so called
  because according to tradition
    on that day Rabbi Jesus rode into Jerusalem
      on a young donkey.

A large crowd of people cut branches from the trees,
  laying them as a carpet before him
    in order to welcome the one
      they hoped would rescue them
        from the Roman government.

The following week is called Holy Week
  because its remembrances
    comprise the High Holy Days of Christianity.

A very different crowd,
  not at all the same one as the Palm Sunday crowd,
    called for the death of Rabbi Jesus on Friday.

Those events, from the highs to the lows,
  constitute the central events
    of all four Gospels of the New Testament.

For most of my life,
  my career and personal devotions
    have been organized by the liturgical calendar,
      and that calendar centers
        on the events of this week.

There are also several deeply personal reasons
  why today is important to me.

April 5, 2020 is the 110th anniversary
  of my mother's birth.

Palm Sunday every year is for me
  the anniversary of my father's death,
    regardless of the calendar date.

He died on Palm Sunday, April 14, 1957.

I have shared thoughts before
  about how important anniversaries can be
    in all our lives.

Among the most important of those
  are anniversaries of births and deaths.

Those, after all, are the events
  that mark the limits of our lives in this world,
    beginnings and endings.

We remember these and other anniversaries
  in a wide variety of ways.

One of my personal favorite ways
  of remembering important anniversaries
    is a memorial meal.

The most common memorial meal as such
  is a gathering around food, shared
    by friends, family and loved ones
      immediately after a funeral or burial or both
        of the person being remembered.

In our difficult times of physical separation
  to protect ourselves and each other
    from contagion,
      one of the most painful experiences
        is our inability to gather
          for these deeply comforting memorial meals.

Religious Holy Days and worship services
  often center around memorial meals.

This year, the evening of April 8 marks the beginning
  of the eight days of Passover
    on the Jewish calendar.

The passover meal is a memorial meal
  for the remembrance
    of the liberation of the Jewish people
      from slavery in Egypt.

Moses was not only a law giver.

He was also a leader of the liberation movement
  that brought his people out of slavery
    into the freedom of a promised land.

Enslaved people of many times and places
  have been inspired to seek their own liberation
    by the example of Moses
     and the children of Israel.

A passover meal
  shared by Rabbi Jesus and his disciples
    is called by different names:
      the Last Supper or the Lord's Supper,
        Holy Communion or Holy Eucharist.

No matter the name we use for it,
  the memorial meal
    in which Rabbi Jesus said,
      "Do this for the remembrance of me,"
         has become the central worship obervance
            for most Christians.

We can say many things about the meal,
  and various Christian groups certainly do so,
    but a simple fact of experience and history
      is that it is a memorial meal.

Rabbi Jesus himself proclaimed it so
  when he spoke of bread and cup saying,
    "Do this for the remembrance of me."

As I've spoken of it before,
  the spiritual renewal movement known as Cursillo
    has been an important part of my life,
      especially the Lutheran expression,
        known as Via de Cristo, 
          and the non-denominational expression,
            sponsored by the Methodists
              and known as the Walk to Emmaus.

The bread and cup of Holy Communion
  are near the heart and center of every expression
    of the Cursillo movement.

Now before I say more,
  I don't want anyone to start worrying
    that I'm trying to introduce
      a specifically Christian practice
        into our shared worship experiences.

All of you who know me best will know
  that that is something I would never do.

At the same time,
  I do want to propose a simple ritual
    like the lighting of our chalice
      that can remind us of important memorial meals
        in all our lives.

You see,
  a spiritual director of an Emmaus walk
    tried to develop a simple, meaningful act
      that could make any meal,
        even one eaten in public,
          into a spiritual experience.

He would pick up a piece of bread and say,
  "Shall we break bread?"

He would then break the bread and say,
  "We remember."

The others at table can then pick up
  their own piece of bread,
    break it, and say, "We remember."

Then all who wish to participate
  can eat of the broken bread.

We can claim this simple act
  as a memorial meal
    for any person or event, time or place
      that we may wish to remember
        individually or together.

And so,
  I'm picking up my own piece of bread
    and saying, "Shall we break bread?"

We remember.

And you can respond, in your own place and time,
  breaking your own bread and saying,
    "We remember."

As we break bread together,
  we share a simple memorial meal,
    however each of us may choose to define it
      in our own hearts, minds and even words
        as we share the experience.

There are many people we miss
  from our own lives,
    some of whom are in remembrance
      because they have moved on
        to whatever form of life may be found
          after this life.

Some of the people we are holding in our hearts
  and not in our presence
    are not with us because of physical distancing.

What we are doing in staying apart
  is a profound act of love,
    hoping to protect each other
      from grave danger.

Still, it hurts.

So our memorial meal
  holds in remembrance
    the times we have been together in the past
      and the times we will come together again
        in the future.

Our shared worship online
  can be a meaningful reminder of each other.

It isn't the same as physical presence,
  but it is a meaningful adjunct
    to the spiritual experience of remembrance,
      and it can be profoundly comforting.

As we remember,
  I hope it may be so.

Amen.
So let it be.
Blessed be!

Saturday, March 14, 2020


The Ides of March

In ancient Rome the middle day of March was considered unlucky. We can make it a time for reflection and rational understanding.


Being in the middle isn't always fun.

The Latin word, Ides, means "in the middle of."

The saying, "Beware the Ides of March,"
  simply means to beware of the day
    in the middle of March, that is, the 15th.

In Shakespeare's play, "Julius Caesar",
  the warning was given,
    "Beware the Ides of March!"

Caesar was assassinated on March 15th,
  in the play and in history.

Prior to the assassination of Julius Caesar,
  March 15 was considered an unlucky day.

Afterward, it was considered
  even more unlucky.

The ides of March
  may previously have been considered unlucky
    because it was a day on which
      debts were supposed to be settled.

Every month has "Ides",
  the middle day,
    and the Ides of any month
      may have different meanings
        for different months.

Each week has an "Ides", too, the middle day,
  namely Wednesday,
    also known as humpday,
      since on that day
        we are over the hump of the week,
          so to speak. :-)

The uncomfortable part of being in the middle,
  the part that isn't always fun,
    involves most of all our relationships
      with people we care about.

Sometimes being in the middle
  is simply the natural result of our relationships,
    like being the middle child.

Sometimes being in the middle
  is the result of being inserted into the middle,
    being used as a go-between
      for other people we care about.

The latter case can be most uncomfortable,
  and it can happen because of a kind of abuse.

The abusers use others to do their bidding,
  inserting them between themselves and the people
    they want to influence.

The people who are inserted into the middle
  are sometimes referred to as flying monkeys
    in popular psychology.

It's most helpful to know about flying monkeys
  so that we can beware of them when they appear.

The message to send back to a would-be abuser
  can simply be, "Speak for yourself!"

Flying monkeys are generally sent out as influencers,
  bearing a message against an individual or group.

They are called flying monkeys
  because they are like the ones sent out
    by the Wicked Witch of the West
      in the Wizard of Oz.

She sent them out to do her bidding
  and cause problems
    for the people she perceived as her enemies.

Likewise, abusive people
  may send out flying monkeys
    to cause problems
      by rumor and innuendo
        against the people
          they consider their enemies.

If someone is gossipping about someone else,
  especially if they have no first hand knowledge,
    they may be in danger of being used
      as a flying monkey.

It's worth being careful not to be used
  in such an uncomfortable way!

Empathy and compassion can go a long way,
  both for victims and perpetrators
    in preventing the kind of damage
      people in the middle could cause.

Messengers are not normally necessary
  between people who care about each other.

Of course, as in all things, there are exceptions.

A message sent out of compassion
  and not manipulation can be helpful.

For example, if there is tension between two people,
  a third party can make communication easier.

The most important principle in that case
  would be openness.

Secrecy could make a helper into a flying monkey!

Openness could prevent that from happening.

The simple act of saying, "She asked me to tell you..."
  or "He asked me to say this about you..."
    could make all the difference.

Being a flying monkey
  could not possibly be comfortable
    for anyone concerned,
      especially for the flying monkey,
        the secret messenger.

There are many other ways of being in the middle
  that may make us uncomfortable.

We are at present in the middle
  of a deeply divided political season.

No matter whom we support -
  or used to support -
    in the current election,
      we can easily feel like we are in the middle
        in a most uncomfortable way.

Even if we try not to get into political arguments,
  our feelings can be hurt
    by thoughtless statements from people
      with whom we thought we shared
        our values and principles.

The present political situation is not a crisis,
  but it is uncomfortable for most of us
    in one way or another.

There are at least two crises
  where we are finding ourselves in the middle,

And they could be much worse than uncomfortable: 
  a highly contagious virus
    and climate change.

Those two crises may even be tangentially related.

Climate change is partly caused
  and at least made worse
    by exploding population.

As the population increases more and more rapidly,
  the people on our planet
    are more closely connected.

Events in a small community
  on the other side of the world
    can affect us profoundly
      in our communities
        in the Inland Northwest of the U.S.

As a result,
  a virus that spreads rapidly in China
    is likely to be found in other nations, too,
      including our own.

In this way, we all find ourselves
  in the uncomfortable middle.

So the climate crisis and the virus crisis
  have a common cause:
    the rapidly increasing,
      highly connected population
        of our small planet.

Right now, many of the people among us
  are not feeling very connected at all.

The quarantines and social distancing
  necessary to reduce the contagion
    of a virus that could be dangerous to so many
      are increasing the feelings of isolation
        that many of us are experiencing
          in our daily lives.

I know I'm feeling some of that.

The probability is high
  that your experience of this sermon
    is entirely by reading it
      in one form or another.

That's a strange feeling, for me too!

I much prefer and deeply need face to face contact
  with other human beings
    especially you, my sisters and brothers
      in our beloved community of
        the North Idaho Unitarian Universalists.

At the same time
  I know we all want to protect ourselves
    and each other
      from danger.

It would be a dilemma for us
  if we were unable to sort out our priorities.

Protecting each other
  is much more important
    than meeting our strong need
      for face to face contact.

So we are enduring a period of being apart
  in order to strengthen the hope
    that we may truly protect each other
      from the ravages of a dangerous virus.

Time will tell,
  but it really may turn out to be true
    that we are being each other's best protection.

Most of us are in the more vulnerable part
  of the population;
    I know that is true for me.

I have health factors that make me 
  more vulnerable to the virus
    than the general population.

The Ides of March
  has turned out to be a difficult day for us
    in ways I could never have predicted.

At the same time,
  as I hoped it might be,
    it can be for us a chance to take stock
      and gain some perspective.

We do deeply care about each other.

There are many ways for us to express our caring,
  and there are and will be opportunities
    to be part of each other's lives
      as long as we live.

Amen.
So mote it be.
Blessed be!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Winter to Spring

March is a month of transitions. Since coming to the Great Northwest, my favorite of those transitions is Winter to Spring. It's a time to focus our hearts on hope.


I love to speak from my own experience
  when I preach.

It's sometimes called "confessional preaching,"
  since it involves things that the preacher
    actually knows about from her or his own life.

That doesn't mean that I love
  to confess my sins when I preach,
    though that inevitably happens sometimes.

:-)

My experience of coming to live
  in the inland Pacific Northwest
    has brought many changes to my life,
      most of them for the better, by far.

Among those changes for the better
  has been a major change
    in the climate that I experience.

I sometimes say that Texas
  (at least the part where I lived),
    has two seasons: hot and hotter.

OK, so that's an exaggeration,
  but not by too much!

I'll never forget one year (in the 1990's)
  in which the temperature in Austin, Texas
    was 99 degrees in February!

There are plenty of contrasts
  between the weather I knew and expected in Texas
    and the weather I experience in these parts.

I could expect uncomfortably hot afternoons
  by the time late Spring arrived
    - or even earlier -
      in the parts of Texas where I lived.

I prefer not even to talk about the summer months!

The milder climate we have around here
  feels to me like a parable for better times
    that will be coming for us as a region,
      as a nation, and as a planet.

Climate change will certainly be a factor,
  but we still have the opportunity
    to make a difference.

Although authoritarianism is on the rise
  in the U.S. and in many other places.
    it looks to me like the far end
      of a swinging pendulum.

I keep thinking that we have reached the point
  at which the pendulum will begin to swing back
    nearer the balanced middle.

I also keep seeing that the return swing
  has not yet begun.

I'm an incurable optimist,
  so I still believe that the return swing is upon us
    and that we will soon see the signs of it.

If we think of our mild climate as a parable
  for more moderation in our governance,
    we can look for the signs
      of the fulfillment of this hope
        in the weeks and months ahead.

Another parable for us is the change of seasons.

The transitions are inevitable: 
  from Winter to Spring through Summer to Fall
    and finally the return to Winter's cold and quiet
      once again.

We can accept these inevitable, natural changes
  and adapt to them,
    or we can struggle against them
      and find ourselves acting in useless ways.

Likewise in the lives of our communities and nations   
  we can work to live adaptively
    while we also affirm the changes
      that are inevitably coming.

We don't have to despair.

Some pain in life is inevitable.

Letting it reach the point of misery is optional.

There is hope,
  and the signs of the coming of Spring
    are reminders that better times are coming
      in every way.

When I lived in Texas,
  the coming of Spring was not always
    an event that I welcomed!

It was a harbinger of the unbearable heat
  that was just around the corner.

Even the Winter Solstice was not a happy event
  because it marked the start of lengthening days
    that would inevitably lead to
      the painful heat of Summer.

I don't yet share the mild sadness
  that many people around here experience
    with the Summer Solstice
      because the days then begin to grow shorter.

I spent too many years with a sense of relief:
  It won't keep getting hotter forever!

One thing I really enjoy around here
  is the clearly observable lengthening of the days
    as the Spring Equinox approaches.

Today is the First Sunday in Lent,
  and the very name of "Lent" comes from
    an Anglo-Saxon word, Lengten,
      which is the origin of our word, Lengthen,
        referring to the lengthening
          of the days of Spring.

As UU's we can especially appreciate
  the positive implications of Lent,
    with the longer days
      and without the self-inflicted pain
        of giving up things we enjoy during the season.

Our spirituality draws from many traditions
  and claims the best from all of them.

Likewise we draw from the earth-based tradition
  that celebrates nature with its cycles.

We can draw comfort and hope
  as nature goes through all its changes.

Our society will change over and over
  just like the natural world.

Our political realities will change, too,
  and in our particular part of the world,
    we have great examples
      of just how fast change can come.

I'll never forget one Spring day 
  in which I was kind of freaking out.

I told Beth that
  in the microclimate of our neighborhood
    we had had snow, rain, hail, sunshine and wind
      all on that one day!

She said, "Hmm! It sounds like Spring!"

It took me a while,
  but with some reflection
    I understood what she meant.

She had lived in this part of the world
  for more than 30 years by then.

She had seen that much variety of weather
  all in one day many times over,
    and that one day often came
      during Spring.

The combination of conditions
  really typical of Spring weather around here
    has been unique in my experience.

At least it's always interesting!

Our political realities, too,
  can change suddenly.

We can expect new hope and new possibilities,
  preparing the way for them,
    each of us in our own way.

New hopes can bring long term changes, too.

I'll never forget one year up here
  in which Spring lasted about six months!

I've come to think of Spring
  as the period in which the weather
    doesn't get too hot or too cold,
      at least not for too long.

I've seen plenty of times of chilly
  and even snowy weather
    during Spring.

So Spring is a time of transition.

We can expect ups and downs
  as the changes we hope for begin to form.

Spring is a time of rebirth.

It can also represent a rebirth of hope in our hearts
  as well as in our weather.

Changes have come quite suddenly in our society
  and in the culture of what is acceptable
    and what is unacceptable.

Change in the health of nations is coming
  so fast that it's difficult to keep up with.

Change can come just as quickly in the future,
  and some changes for the better cannot come
    quickly enough for me.

I draw hope from the transition of Winter to Spring
  especially in this particular year.

I'm holding on to hope
  that the transition from illness to wellness
    from war to peace
      from authoritarianism to freedom
        and from fear to love
          will be seen all over our small planet.

There are larger forces at work
  than we can even begin to perceive.

Some of them will work to our benefit;
  some of them will work to our detriment.

There is little we can do to affect them,
  but if all of us do our own part
    we will promote positive change together.

The single most important thing we can do
  this year is vote. 

The first opportunity for residents of Idaho
   to vote in the presidential election
      is the primary election,
        a week from this Tuesday. 

The presidential primary in Idaho and in Washington
  will take place on the same day, March 10.

We don't know for certain
  which candidate would be best,
    but all of them have good qualities.

I would not begin to try to tell anyone
  for whom to vote.

I don't think it would even be right
  for me to try to do so.

I'm only going to say, "Please vote!"
  even if you are unsure about your choice.

I strongly believe
  that the result will almost always be better
    for us all
      if more people vote.

This Spring is a time of hope.

This election is an opportunity to hope.

I want to put the two together
  to encourage us all
    to work together
      to bring our hopes to fruition.

By working together
  we can make this Spring
    a time of renewal,
      not only for the world of nature around us,
        but also for us all
          in our community and our nation.

Amen

Blessed Be