Saturday, February 20, 2021

 


Possibilities and Realities 


When we are optimistic, we need a dose of realism. When we are pessimistic, we need to maintain a view of good things that are possible. 



Wishful thinking can be fun, 

  but it can often get in the way

    of accomplishing the things that we need to do, 

      and even doing or getting the things we want. 


Wishful thinking can be caused 

  by inappropriate optimism 

    or by an attempt to escape 

      from inappropriate pessimism. 


We can be enabled or disabled 

  by pessimism or optimism, either one. 


When pessimism points us 

  toward thinking realistically, 

    it can enable us. 


When it discourages us from taking action, 

  by leading us to ask, "What's the use?" 

    it can disable us. 


The latter, asking, "What's the use?" 

  would be a form of inappropriate pessimism. 


When optimism encourages us to take action, 

  by leading us to believe 

    that our actions will do some good, 

      it can enable us. 


When optimism devolves, 

  when it winds down, into wishful thinking, 

    leading us to believe that all will be well 

      without anyone's effort, 

        it disables us. 


Believing that all will be well without anyone's effort 

  would be a form of inappropriate optism. 


One way to understand optimism versus pessimism 

  would be an approach to healthy relationships. 


All relationships involve 

  being together and being apart. 


Optimism refers to the boundaries 

  which we all need. 


Pessimism refers to the territories 

  which we all may feel that we need to defend. 


The reality is, as the song by Chicago says, 

  "Even lovers need some time 

      away from each other." 


There is nothing wrong with that need, 

  and mutual respect brings us the realism 

    that will enable us 

      to accept each other 

        and our needs as we are. 


The antidote for too much optimism 

  or too much pessimism 

    is a healthy dose of realism. 


When we are realistic, 

  we are willing to take a clear-eyed look 

    at the realities around us. 


Sometimes we try to hide from those realities 

  because of the realities are just too scary, 

    because of fear, 

      but a saying that has helped me 

        many times in my life 

          is, "Perfect love casts out fear." 

            [1 John 4:18 and ACIM]


Realistically, there is no such thing as perfect love, 

  but it can be a goal. 


Love is stronger even than death, 

  so surely it is stronger than fear. 

    [Song of Solomon 8:6] 


As I spoke of it a couple of weeks ago, 

  love is not just a feeling. 


Love is action, caring for one another 

  as well as for ourselves. 


The arc of the moral universe 

  will bend toward justice

    so long as we continue to bend it by our actions. 


Participating in moving toward justice 

  can help us avoid the extreme ends 

    of optimism or pessimism. 


Right actions will always bend the arc 

  of the moral universe 

    toward justice. 


The good side of religious life 

  encourages us to do what we can 

    to move ourselves, our communities, 

      our nations and our world 

        toward justice. 


Sadly, too much of religious life involves dogmatism 

  rather than moral or right action. 


Dogmatism without right action has enabled 

  many of the problems 

    we have lived with for generations. 


People can justify all kinds of evil actions 

  in the name of promoting their own religions, 

    some sincere individuals believing 

      that the doctrines of their faith 

        are more important 

          than anyone's personal morality, 

            including their own. 


We are faced with some important choices 

  in the world of religion in our time. 


Will we move toward doctrines 

  as the most important expression of faith, 


or will we move toward actions that care for others 

  as the most important expression of faith? 


The answer remains to be seen 

  in a lot of collective thoughts, words, and deeds. 


I'm quite certain of the direction 

  we as UU's hope we will move, 

    that is, toward positive, moral action 

      as the expression of our faith. 


It's one of the reasons, I believe, 

  that we have associated ourselves 

    with the Unitarian Universalists. 


As a Lutheran minister, 

  I have grappled with the evangelical tradition 

    that we are justified entirely by grace 

      without any consideration of works of the law, 

        without concern for the things that we can do. 


The Lutheran faith tradition would seem 

  to work against the importance of right action 

    as the most important expression of faith, 

      but in reality it doesn't often happen that way. 


The question at the heart of the matter 

  involves what we mean by the word, "faith." 


My experience, both personally 

  and in community with others, 

    has been that faith means grappling 

      with the issues of life, 

        especially the issues of right and wrong, 

          regardless of the conclusions we reach. 


In other words, people of faith can (and often do) 

  come to different conclusions about 

    the important social and personal questions 

      of the time in which we live. 


I am pessimistic about the idea 

  that we will come to agreement 

    about the right actions we all need to take. 


I'm optimistic about the possibilities for the future 

  when people do work together 

    for the common good. 


Reality calls me to look for things we can agree on 

  so that we can work together, 

    even if the areas of agreement are small. 


Sometimes we have to start small 

  before we can accomplish anything at all. 


Our faiths give us a starting place 

  for working together, 

    and I find what I believe is a realistic hope 

      in the starting place of our faiths. 


Orthodoxy in religion 

  is concerned with getting all the ideas right. 


A corresponding word, orthopraxy, 

  is concerned with engaging in the actions 

    that will lead to more justice, 

      to better conditions of life for everyone. 


Faith can be summarized, to describe it again, as 

  Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy - dogma vs. principle 

    doctrine vs. action 

      religious law vs. personal morality. 


Personal morality, as I understand it, 

  refers to the commandment to love our neighbor.  


A pessimistic approach would warn us of 

  the conflict between works righteousness 

    and faith alone, 

      justification by faith vs. justification by works. 


A simple summary of reality says that 

  we need faith AND works. 


Consider St. James, who said in his epistle, 

  "Tell me of your faith, 

    and I by my works will SHOW you my faith." 

      [James 2:18] 


Not limited by denominational lines, 

  these differences are deep within religious groups. 


The contrast is between hard liners and progressives 

  in any denomination or religion. 


Optimism says principle is on the rise. 


Pessimism says dogmatism will always prevail. 


Realism says it will be a struggle, 

  but the arc of the moral universe 

    will continue to bend 

      toward justice, toward principle 

        rather than toward dogma. 


The bend toward justice will not happen 

  without effort. 


It isn't automatic. 


It's natural, but we will have to work toward it. 


Part of the hard work will be looking clearly 

  on what has happened and what is happening. 


Good government will be able to help. 


There can be 

  a Truth and Reconciliation Commission 

    like those in use in other countries 

      that have gone through trauma and danger 

        resulting from bad government. 


Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, 

  with his close ally, Nelson Mandela, 

    established the Truth and 

      Reconciliation Commission in the 1990's 

        to enable the newly fully democratic 

          Republic of South Africa 

            to move on from the horrors of apartheid. 


Nancy Pelosi recently promised a commission 

  like the one that investigated 9/11 

    to look into the events around the attempt 

      at sedition and insurrection against 

        the U.S. capitol on January 6. 


Pessimism would claim that such commissions 

  make no difference at all in the unfolding of history.


Optimism would claim 

  that they provide complete resolution. 


The reality is that such commissions 

  are not final answers, 

    but they are at least the beginning 

      of a process of healing. 


The healing that we need as a nation 

  is not just wishful thinking. 


It can be a new beginning for us all, 

  an opportunity for transformation. 


I HAVE to believe at least in the possibility. 


Amen. 


So let it be. 


Blessed be. 


Saturday, February 06, 2021

 


Peace and Love 


As signs of Spring begin to be seen, our thoughts turn toward hope for ourselves, each other, and our world. 



Many of my friends and family 

  who have received communications from me 

    have noticed that I often 

      close my correspondence with the words, 

        "Peace and Love." 


This is not just to remember my years 

  in the 1960's, 

    nor is it only to remind myself 

      that I'm an aging hippie. 


It has more to do with an expression 

  of my deeply held values. 


I do truly believe in my heart 

  that this world would be a much better place 

    if we all practiced and shared 

      more peace and love. 


I'm not speaking of either peace or love 

  in a sentimental sense, 

    even though feelings 

      are deeply involved with both. 


Peace is far more than the absence of conflict. 


Deeply involved with the reality of peace 

  is our acceptance of each other as human beings, 

    sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of  

      deep differences between us. 


Peace is a powerful force, 

  stronger than its opposite in every ultimate sense. 


A sense of peace between people 

  enables us to appreciate 

    the things we can learn from each other. 


Without that sense of peace, 

  we may think of those who are different from us 

    or who think differently 

      as our enemies 

        or even as a different kind of person, 

          maybe not really human beings. 


I'm thinking of the opposite of peace 

  as disorder - chaos, and conflict. 


Certainly thinking of other people as enemies 

  can easily and quickly lead 

    to disorder, chaos, and conflict. 


At its heart, peace means well being, 

  and so it is something we can work 

    - even struggle - to acheive, 

      for ourselves, for our loved ones, 

        for our neighbors, 

          for members of our community, 

            and even for people who might be 

              in deep disagreement with us. 


Like peace, 

  love is certainly involved with our feelings, 

    but it is also much more at its heart and center. 


Love means caring, and so its opposite is not hate. 


The opposite of love is apathy, 

  and apathy means not caring. 


Peace and Love work hand in hand, 

  each needing the other to achieve 

    its own optimal state of being. 


The calm that peace can bring 

  is needed to allow love to care for the other. 


On the other hand, 

  peace sometimes brings so much calm 

    that nothing can be accomplished. 


Love is active, 

  and it can bring about many accomplishments 

    to fulfill the possibilities that peace enables. 


Loving our sisters and brothers 

  means actively caring for them, 

    seeking to be sure 

      that their basic needs can be met. 


It may not be easy, 

  but we can desire and work 

    for basic needs to be met 

      for people who are on the other side 

        of some of the conflicts of our time. 


It would be much easier to do 

  after the conflicts have ended, 

    but it can be even more important 

      while some of the conflicts are still going on. 


The form of love that can allow us 

  to seek the best for our enemies 

    is often called forgiveness. 


This form of love is a way of letting go. 


If we hold on to anger or hurt, 

  we harm ourselves, 

    not those who have hurt us. 


In the immediate future, 

  we will need to show compassion, 

    not condemnation, for those 

      who have been led astray into extremism. 


In the United States today, 

  there is an urgent need of forgiveness 

    to enable the healing 

      of the deep divisions among us. 


In our case as in all cases, 

  forgiveness does not mean 

    permission to do wrong to us or others again, 

      and it does not mean escape 

        from the consequences of one's actions. 


So there is nothing against forgiveness 

  in prosecution or other kinds of  accountablity 

    for harm done or threatened against other people. 


Forgiveness means that love can overcome hate, 

  and past wrongs do not have to control 

    the present or the future. 


Forgiveness is one of the greatest forms of love 

  that can help bring about peace, 

    not only for the person who is forgiven, 

      but often even more for the person who forgives. 


As a way of understanding how forgiveness can work 

  for peace and love in the life 

    of a nation and its people, 

      we need only think of the possibility of 

        a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 


Such an official opportunity for forgiveness 

  helped in the healing and rebuilding 

    of South African society 

      in the years after the dismantling of apartheid. 


In the United States today 

  we are in deep need of healing and rebuilding, 

    so the consideration of the establishment 

      of our own version 

        of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission 

          may be an idea whose time has come. 


When some of the members 

  of the House of Representatives 

    and the Senate of the U.S. 

      do not feel safe in doing their work, 

        there is urgent need for a time of healing 

          to help restore peace and love in our land. 


We have been called 

  to just such a time of healing 

    by a voice that may have been surprising 

      to some of us, 

        but whose words came as a clarion call 

          in the poetry proclaimed at the Inauguration 

            of President Biden and Vice President Harris. 


Amanda Gorman spoke words 

  that I will never forget hearing, 

    and that I hope to hear over and over, 

      just as we heard them again today. 


I have long loved poetry 

  because of the power of the words to move us. 


Like most of us, I had to study the analysis of poetry 

  in school. 


The analysis was not one of my favorite things, 

  but I want to do just a little bit of it today. 


*** Some brief analysis of the poem: ***


As Amanda Gorman said in her magnificent poem, 

  "We've learned that quiet isn't always peace." 


In that phrase, 

  we find a summary of the relationship of the poem 

    to this week's theme. 


From the structure of the poem, 

  we learn some important balance of the ideas, 

    from the beginning of the poem to its end: 


The context of  the words, "quiet and peace" 

  can be seen in the beginning of the poem:  


When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry,

a sea we must wade

We've braved the belly of the beast

We've learned that quiet isn't always peace

And the norms and notions

of what just is

Isn’t always justice

And yet the dawn is ours

before we knew it

Somehow we do it

Somehow we've weathered and witnessed

a nation that isn’t broken

but simply unfinished 


So we see the power of this poetry: 


"Quiet isn't always peace." 


"What just is 

  isn't always justice." 



Then comes the conclusion, 

  moving us from the shade 

    into the ever-present light 

      with which we can choose to unite: 


When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

------------------------------------------------------------


In the peace and light of a young woman's poem, 

  we can catch a new vision of peace and love 

    for our present and future. 


It's not only feelings. 


It's great power, ultimately the most powerful Force 

  in the universe. 


In the end, peace and love will prevail. 


We can see the peace and love 

  in the light of the present, 

    if only we are brave enough to see it, 

      if only we are brave enough to be it. 


Amen. 


So let it be. 


Blessed be. 


Saturday, January 16, 2021

 


What's Next? 


Always in motion the future is. We're all hoping that better days are ahead. 



The sermon I will be preaching today 

  will be the most political sermon 

    I have ever preached. 


I will be taking sides, 

  but the side I will take 

    need not be controversial. 


I am siding in favor of domestic peace and tranquility 

  and against sedition and insurrection 

    by terrorist attacks.  


I want to begin with a quote from Casey Stengel 

  that I used in my first sermon 

    of this New Year of 2021 on January 3: 


"Never make predictions, 

   especially about the future." 


When I prepared 

  the title and blurb for today's sermon, 

    I had no intention 

      of making any kind of prediction, 

        even by implication. 


If I had intended an implied prediction, 

  my title and blurb would still 

    have made a lot of sense. 


Just to remind us all of the title of today's sermon, 

  it was, simply, "What's Next?" 


Just as a reminder, too, the blurb said, 


"Always in motion the future is. 

  We're all hoping that better days are ahead." 


As we think about the future and its movement, 

  we remember that our choices 

    of thoughts, words, and actions of today

      will have a long term effect 

        on the flow and the direction of the future 

          and the possibilities it will present. 


We all have a number 

  of important decisions and choices

    in the next few weeks and months. 


Our decisions and choices will have 

  a profound effect on the direction of our future. 


We have more power regarding our shared future 

  than we know. 


This is one reason that Yoda was able to say, 

  in typical Yoda fashion, 

    "Always in motion is the future, 

      and many possible futures there are..." 


As individuals, we have relatively little power 

  to affect the possible futures, 

    but as communities, working collectively, 

      our power to shape the future is tremendous. 


Failing to consider 

  the way we are affecting the future every day 

    can lead us to all kinds of surprises, 

      some of them good, some of them not so good. 


Much to the surprise 

  and even amazement of many of us, 

    the U.S. capitol was attacked and breached 

      by domestic terrorists 

        on January 6 of this year of 2021. 


Many people made important choices 

  based on their own beliefs and commitments 

    that led them to have some part in the attack, 

      either defending or trying to destroy 

        the laws and traditions that maintain democracy 

          in the U.S.A. 


I was surprised by my own reaction to the event: 

  more than anything else, 

    I felt overwhelming sadness. 


The attack on the capitol 

  was not in itself a complete surprise, 

    but its extent and degree of success were a shock. 


The meaning of the attack will be the subject 

  of study, historical analysis, 

    and the development of plans 

      to protect our nation's sacred places 

        for many years to come. 


As Yoda said, "Many possible futures there are." 


January 6 was Epiphany of 2021,  

  and Epiphany can serve us all as an awakening. 


Optimism and realism will tell us that 

  awakening is our optimistic hope; 

    reality is continuing divisions. 


Our divisions have now led 

  to threats of domestic terrorism 

    that are a greater threat 

      to our well being as a nation 

        than international threats and dangers. 


In any case, 

  as our meditation from Arundhati Roy told us, 

    our present situation is a portal. 


The pandemic has brought us to a portal, 

  and so has the insurrection at the U.S. capitol. 


A new administration will be inaugurated this week, 

  but it alone is not the path through the portal. 


Our response to the insurrection,  

  to the pandemic, 

    and to the deep divisions in our society 

      will build our path through the portal. 


It is a path we will all have to walk together. 


It will be absolutely necessary that we come 

  to a minimal level of agreement 

    about truth and facts. 


There is too much false information 

  being disguised as facts. 


Part of the danger of false information 

  is that all of us 

    are playing dangerous games. 


The best paradigm I have encountered 

  to understand our games 

    is a way of understanding QAnon. 


If you don't know much 

  about that conspiracy theory, 

    consider yourself lucky. 


In brief, it is a bizarre set of false assumptions 

  claiming that leaders of the U.S. Democratic Party 

    are human traffickers and pedophiles. 


True QAnon believers consider Donald J. Trump 

  a kind of hero and messiah 

    who will deliver the nation and world 

      from all that evil. 


The analysis that I consider a useful paradigm 

  sees the entire QAnon community 

    as some sort of role playing game. 


QAnon is only the most extreme example. 


There have long been conspiracy theories 

  promulgating falsehoods 

    and leading all kinds of people astray. 


Too many of us are playing roles 

  in our own fantasies 

    about our times and our future. 


Role playing games define their own reality 

  and have their own rules. 


They are dangerous when people become confused 

  and unable to distinguish between 

    their favorite game and reality. 


This can be happening on the Left and on the Right. 


Again, the QAnon conspiracy theory  

  believes that Donald J. Trump 

    is a kind of messiah who will save the U.S.A. 


No national leader can redeem the nation 

  or the planet. 


None of us can look anywhere other 

  than our own hearts, minds, and spirits

    to find our way to hope and well being. 


As Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi said, 

  "If we could change ourselves, 

    the tendencies in the world would also change." 


That magnificent quote 

  is often shortened and simplified 

    to be the similar quote, 

      "Be the change you want to see in the world." 


That will mean that all of us will have to give up 

  some cherished illusions. 


First and foremost we will have to recognize 

  that our opponents are not all alike. 


Secondly and importantly 

  we will have to hold in our hearts 

    the reality that our opponents 

      are not all evil people. 


Thirdly, there are many reasons 

  why people might disagree, 

    and sometimes there are really good reasons. 


If we can recognize those realities, 

  we may actually get back to honest disagreements 

    that lead to debates and not fights

      and that may lead to better conclusions 

        than any in-group could ever have developed 

          on its own. 


I feel a need to list and expand those realities: 

  1. Our opponents are not all alike, 

        and neither are we. 

  2. Our opponents are not all evil, 

        and neither are we. 

  3. Our opponents may have good reasons 

        to disagree with us, and we may have 

          good reasons to disagree with them. 


In the light of the situation we are in 

  and our need to arrive safely together 

    at the portal that will take us to a better day, 

      it will be a great idea to return 

        to two optimistic sermons given recently...


Connie Johnson on December 13 

  spoke to us about Kindness, 

    and Rachelle Strawther on November 29 

      spoke to us about 

        starting a Dialogue in Just Six Words: 

          how Curiosity and Empathy 

            can Cross the Great Divide. 


Both of those sermons have brought me 

  a lot of hope as well as a sense 

    that better times may really be coming for us all, 

      despite some of the signs that may seem to point 

        in the other direction. 


One final optimistic thought: 


Remember Georgia! 


Even if we only think of the record voter turnout 

  for the most recent two elections in Georgia, 

    November 3, 2020 and January 5, 2021, 

      Georgia gives all of us good reasons 

        for renewed hope. 


I'll repeat one of my often stated positions: 

  I believe that in a democracy, 

    the more people who vote, 

      the better the outcome will be. 


Participation leads to a sense of ownership 

  and the hope that one's needs can 

    and possibly will be 

      addressed by one's government. 


We can all seek to share such a sense of ownership 

  so that it will bring us to and through the portal 

    of a better day for ourselves 

      and for all of our sisters and brothers,  

        including those with whom we disagree. 


So much for my most political sermon ever! 


I have arrived where I want to be, 

  in hope for us all, 

    regardless of opinion and point of view. 


So much for my predictions about the future: 

  I do believe that we will arrive at a much better day. 


May it be soon. 


Amen. 


So let it be. 


Blessed be. 


Saturday, January 02, 2021

 


New Year, New Beginning


2020 has ended. The New Year of 2021 has begun. We are hoping for a genuine new beginning in many ways. 



Happy and Merry Tenth Day of Christmas! 


and also - and especially - 


Happy New Year! 


In this festive time 

  our hearts and minds are looking forward 

    to better days, or at least 

      what we hope will be better days. 


While last Friday was the first day of 2021, 

  it was not the first New Year's celebration 

    of recent weeks and months starting last year. 


As far as I'm aware, 

  the first New Year's celebration last year

    was October 31, 2020, Samhain, a.k.a. Halloween. 


On that occasion the Celtic New Year arrives.  


 As the wheel turns from the warm season 

  to the cold season 

    the traditional Celtic New Year begins. 


In the inland PNW 

  we really do experience it that way, 

    with Samhain marking the transition

      from warmer weather to colder weather. 


As I mentioned recently, 

  Beth once told me that the first snowfall 

    in our part of the world 

      often comes around the end of October. 


The second New Year's celebration 

  comes about a month later, 

    with the First Sunday of Advent. 


That occasion marks the beginning 

  of the Western Christian new liturgical year. 


The liturgical calendar was as important to me 

  as the secular calendar 

    for many of the years of my life and career. 


The First Sunday in Advent 

  has often been my first chance

    to wish members of the congregations I've served

      a Happy New Year, 

        even you, my dear friends of the NIUU. 


I wish my dear ones a Happy New Year 

  as early as the evening before, since that's the time 

    at which holy days begin 

      in Jewish and Christian tradition,  

        even if that means that my dear ones wonder 

          if I've lost my mind. 


Anyway... 


On December 21, we passed yet another landmark 

  that marks the start of a new solar year: 

    the Winter Solstice arrived here in the north. 


I said plenty about all that 

  the Solstice means to me last week, 

    and there are always many things to consider 

      from ancient traditions 

        about the world of nature. 


To begin with, the solstices are best understood 

  through mathematics. 


For all of us who are interested in natural science, 

  the solstices and equinoxes 

    are a source of endless fascination. 


They all result from the angle of the axis 

  around which our home planet Earth rotates. 


From ancient times 

  the calculation and prediction 

    of the arrival of the Four Seasons 

      have been sacred tasks. 


One of the first things I will hope for 

  in the coming of the New Year 

    will be the widespread recognition 

      of the sacredness of natural science 

        and mathematics for the well being of us all. 


As of now we have arrived 

  at another major celebration, 

    especially with the start of this New Year. 


Last Friday was New Year's Day, 

  and today, two days later, 

    we are still at the start of a new beginning. 


At least that's what many of us are hoping for. 


As we enter a new year, 

  we also remember the new millenium, 

    the new century, 

      and the new decade 

        we are in and have been moving 

          into and through. 


As a remarkable sign of all of these new beginnings, 

  a sign occurred in the skies 

    on the Winter Solstice this year. 


I've been hearing many people 

  refer to the celestial event 

    that coincided with the Solstice this year 

      as the Star of Bethlehem.


Many astrologers and astronomers theorize 

  that the Star of Bethlehem of the Magi, 

    the Three Wise Men, or the Three Kings 

      was none other than the convergence 

        of Jupiter and Saturn, 

          as happened last December 21. 


We are in the first years 

  of a new millenium of the Common Era. 


Around the transition 

  of the millenia and the calendar 

    from "Before the Common Era" (B.C.E.) 

      to the Common Era (C.E.) 

        the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn 

          was in the constellation of Pisces (the Fish). 


(I've learned to appreciate the designation of years 

  as B.C.E. and C.E. instead of B.C. and A.D. 

    because, to say the least, not all people 

      who use the secular calendar are Christian. 


It's easy to understand why many 

  might not appreciate the designation 

    of any given year, "Before Christ" 

      as B.C. represents

        or, "Year of our Lord," 

          as Anno Domini or A.D. represents.)  


At any rate, the world and its calendar moved into 

  the Age of Pisces, the fish, and the Fish

    became a sign of Christianity (ichthus). 

      with the transition into the Common Era. 


In our time the convergence took place 

  in the constellation of Aquarius. 


So truly this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,

  and it has been so for about a generation. 


(My apologies if I have just given you an earworm,

  that is, a tune you can't get out of your head! LOL) 


Before you start to be concerned 

  that I'm promoting astrology and the study of it, 

    I simply believe that it's a useful way 

      of marking the times and the seasons, 

        and it's a wonderful collection of metaphors. 


It's useless for making predictions. 


(There's a fun quote from Casey Stengel 

  that I plan to use for my next sermon on January 17, 

    "Never make predictions, 

      especially about the future.") 


If we tried to use Astrology 

  to make predictions about the future, 

    it would be a pseudo-science, or a false science. 


Yet most of us use the names of the constellations, 

  at least as mnemonics, 

    to help us locate stars 

      and the movement of planets. 


In any case, 

  the current events 

    that include a planetary convergence

      provide us with an important metaphor 

        of a hopeful new beginning. 


The year of 2020 has not been all bad, 

  but most of us will not remember it 

    with undiluted pleasure 

      as Queen Elizabeth II said 

        of her annus horribilis, 

          for her the horrible year of 1992, 

            the year of a fire in Buckingham Palace 

              and the separation of Charles and Diana 

                among other calamities.  


At least one important good thing that happened 

  in 2020 was the awakening 

    of many people in the U.S. 

      to the horrible experiences 

        of those who are victims of racism. 


One symbolic event of the awakening 

  was the naming 

    of Black Lives Matter Plaza 

      in Washington, D.C. 


Major transitions in this world 

  are almost always accompanied by 

    a measure of chaos. 


That statement alone could explain 

  a lot of the things we have experienced in 2020. 


Many people all over the world 

  are trying to take refuge in an excess of order. 


And yet, law and order is not a phrase 

  that generally leads to greater civic safety. 


Quite the contrary, 

  too much order leads to rebellion, conflict, 

    and far too much chaos for anyone's safety. 


In terms of mathematics as well as social order, 

  there is a place between order and chaos. 


That place is known as complexity. 


It is a good place, 

  a place of balance, 

    a place of hope. 


If we can learn to accept the complexity of our lives, 

  we can find a place for each other 

    where we appreciate our differences 

      and learn from each other 

        even - and maybe especially - 

          in the midst of disagreements. 


As individuals and as communities we face a choice 

  even as we learn to accept 

    the complexity of our lives: 


We can choose to embrace community and sharing 

  or we can emphasize our individuality 

    and our own personal priorities. 


Those two possibilities may seem too subtle, 

  but they will be increasingly important 

    for our own well being 

      and the well being of others. 


It becomes a question of stewardship vs. greed. 


If we choose to uphold stewardship, 

  we will emphasize abundance and generosity. 


If we choose to uphold greed, 

  we will emphasize scarcity and selfishness. 


As we move forward into this New Year of 2021, 

  I'm holding out hope 

    for a sense of good stewardship, 

      an emphasis on the abundance of what we have, 

        and the generosity that will help all of us 

          find our share in all good things. 


Happy New Year, 2021! 


Amen. 


So Mote it Be. 


So Let it Be. 


Blessed Be! 


Saturday, December 26, 2020

 

Yuletide


The Twelve Days of Christmas have a predecessor in the Yule Log and the traditions of the Twelve Days of Yule. 


God Jul! 


That's Merry Christmas in Swedish and Norwegian. 


In the Scandinavian languages,

  the ancient term of Jul is used to represent 

    the more recent term of Christmas. 


In a variety of Celtic and Germanic cultures, 

  including the Anglo Saxons, 

    the winter festival 

      that celebrated the passage of the Solstice 

        was and is Yuletide. 


Since we are in the middle of 

  the Twelve Days of Christmas 

    and just as truly in the Twelve Days of Yule, 

      I felt it was important to begin thinking about 

        the connection between the two holy times 

          and their place in our culture and faith. 


In truth, the two are one. 


Christmas and Yule are a single holy festival. 


That's one reason I began the sermon 

  with the words, "God Jul," 

    or Merry Christmas in various languages. 


It's nothing unusual 

  to find that a pagan spiritual celebration 

    has been converted into a Christian one. 


Although some Christians try to deny it, 

  many of the teachings, traditions, and holy days 

    that Christians hold dear 

      are rooted in other ancient cultures 

        and spiritual traditions. 


This holy festival in which we find ourselves 

  is truly a celebration of the Season of Solstice 

    for us all. 


Solstice is a moment, a day, and a Season. 


This year the moment and day were 

  2:02 a.m. Pacific Standard Time 

    on Monday, December 21. 


We are now in the middle of 

  the Twelve Days of Yule 

    and the Twelve Days of Christmas, 

      whether we choose to call it Yule or Christmas. 


The Twelve Days of Christmas began at sundown 

  on Christmas Eve, 

    and they will end at sundown on January 5, 

      the eve of the Epiphany (3 Wise Men's Day). 


The Twelve Days of Yule begin on the Solstice, 

  last Monday, the 21st this time around

    and they will end 11 days later, 

      this year on New Year's Day, January 1, 2021. 


(Doesn't the sound of 2021 sound wonderful?! 

  a new beginning after the end of 2020, at last!) 


I have to say that in my own life, 

  the Winter Solstice 

    has always been profoundly important. 


My first marriage took place on the Winter Solstice 

  in 1972. 


In many years, 

  one of my personal 

    anniversary and solstice celebrations

      was to go outside 

        and pour out a small libation of wine 

          in recognition of the importance 

            of the occasions. 


Now that I live in the North, 

  the Solstice is certainly not less important. 


I have to confess to you all that this is the first year 

  that I haven't had a light fit, 

    at least not yet! 


That's what I call a few hours in which 

  I simply MUST turn on every light I can find 

    because the darkness of the season 

      is beginning to give me the creeps. 


This is also the first year that I feel the deep joy 

  that most people in the North feel 

    with the arrival of the Winter Solstice. 


The two experiences may well be 

  closely related for me: 

    no light fit this year 

      and Winter Solstice Joy. 


In any case, I'm starting to love 

  watching the numbers for the length of the days 

    going UP instead of going DOWN 

      as the weather report and almanac tell me 

        that the Season is indeed changing direction. 


As soon as Winter arrives 

  it begins to end, 

    since the Winter Solstice marks 

      the shortest day of the year, 

        the first day of Winter, 

          and the day on which the days 

            begin to grow longer 

              and the nights begin to grow shorter. 


With the longer days and shorter nights, 

  we can also begin to look forward 

    to temperatures beginning to go up 

      even if the coldest temperatures of the year 

        may be upon us. 


The change of season has a profound effect 

  on our feelings. 


Seasonal Affective Disorder is definitely a thing! 


My own light fits may be a sign 

  that I have a mild case of SAD  

    as well as being a consequence of having lived 

      most of my life in the South. 


The truth is that I'm very grateful to be in the North 

  for many reasons, 

    but it would be impossible to think 

      that such a change from South to North would be 

        without any drawbacks at all. 


The biggest positive change 

  has been the absence of unbearable heat 

    (for the most part) in the summertime. 


Colder weather has not been 

  the biggest drawback for me. 


I've often told friends and family in the South 

  that around here, we have four mild seasons, 

    and that is true (for the most part). 


Maybe the biggest drawback 

  is the considerable period 

    of much longer dark than light. 


This year it seems to be more difficult than ever, 

  probably in part because of the pandemic 

    and the extent of the isolation 

      that so many of us are experiencing. 


There are ways of getting around 

  the darkness and isolation, 

    and I'm looking for as many of them

      as I can find. 


Among the ways around darkness and isolation, 

  I have always appreciated 

    the celebration of the Holy Days 

      as distinguished from the holidays. 


The Holy Days, whether Christmas or Yule, 

  have traditionally been ways of coping 

    with these days of darkness: 

      looking to the birth and the rebirth of the Light. 


At the same time, 

  the holidays can often leave us feeling worse, 

    because they bring back memories 

      of much better days. 


The very celebrations intended to help us feel better 

  end up leaving us feeling worse. 


The Holy Days have a much deeper meaning 

  than the holidays, and that is 

  something that cannot be taken away from us, 

    no matter the circumstances. 


Christmas is a celebration of holy birth, 

  and every night a child is born is a holy night. 


Among the Holy Days, 

  today is the Third Day of Christmas 

    and the feast day of St. John, the Apostle 

      traditionally known as the author 

        of the Gospel of St. John. 


And today is the Seventh Day of Yule, 

  since the Solstice arrived last Monday, 

    the First Day of Yule. 


During the Christmas and Yule seasons, 

  in celebration of new life, 

    a tradition of care of the poor 

      has long been honored at this time of year. 


If we spend time, energy, and other resources 

  caring for those less fortunate than ourselves, 

    we draw attention away from our own feelings 

      and our own circumstances 

        and bring renewed hope 

          not only to ourselves but also to others. 


The great old hymn, "Good King Wenceslas," 

  serves as a reminder of the tradition 

    of care of the poor. 


From the first time I heard it, 

  it has been one of my favorites. 


It's a song of St. Stephen's Day, December 26, 

  yesterday. 


Good King Wenceslas


Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,

When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,

When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.


“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,

Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;

Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes‘ fountain.”


“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:

Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”

Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;

Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.


“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;

Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”

“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly

Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”


In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;

Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.


Just singing that hymn gives my heart a lift. 


In a similar way, Yuletide is an ancient celebration 

  of the return of the Light, the rebirth of the Sun. 


A yule log is an ancient tradition. 


It's a way of safely bringing 

  the warmth and good feelings of a bonfire 

    into the heart of the home. 


Where there is a fireplace, 

  a special log is burned 

    to represent the light and warmth of the sun. 


Where we have electric or gas furnaces, 

  perhaps a video of a crackling fireplace 

    can represent the tradition. 


Like our Zoom gatherings themselves, 

  in these strange times, 

    we are finding new ways 

      to renew our joy and sense of well being 

        as the holy days are upon us. 


Amen. 


So mote it be. 


Saturday, December 05, 2020


St. Nicholas


December 6 is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, legendary 4th Century Bishop of Myra. His story developed into the legend of Santa Claus. 



Today, December 6,  is St. Nicholas' Day. 


I believe that St. Nicholas, 

  and his modern counterpart, Santa Claus, 

    can bring us hope in the midst of the chaos 

      that is inundating us 

        these days. 


Nicholas was a bishop of the early Christian church, 

  serving in the Greek speaking maritime town 

    of Myra, on the coast of what is now Turkey. 


His lifetime bridged the years around Constantine's 

  Edict of Milan, which made Christianity legal: 

    St. Nicholas was born on March 15 of 270 CE, 

      and he died on December 6 of 343 CE. 


Saints' Days are normally set 

  on the date of their death, 

    since their death is thought to be 

      their birth in the Kingdom of Heaven. 


Hence St. Nicholas' Day is December 6, 

  the anniversary of his death. 


Constantine's Edict of Milan was proclaimed 

  in February of 313, near the middle of 

    the life of St. Nicholas. 


Prior to the Edict, 

  Christianity was an illegal religion, 

    and people could be, and were, punished severely, 

      as was Nicholas himself, 

        if they refused to renounce their Christian faith. 


After the Edict, after 313, 

  Christianity became a tolerated religion, 

    and Christians were no longer persecuted 

      for their faith. 


As I said, Nicholas himself 

  was imprisoned for a time 

    because he refused to recant his Christian faith. 


To this day, St. Nicholas 

  even in the form of  Santa Claus, 

    is portrayed with red cheeks 

      because of the abuse he received 

        during his imprisonment for his faith. 


People all over the world 

  are being persecuted for their faith to this day 

    by authoritarian governments 

      like that of ancient Rome. 


If we are willing to let it be so, 

  the appearance of Santa Claus 

    with his red cheeks 

      can remind us  

        of the importance 

          of our acceptance of each other 

            despite our different faith commitments. 


We as UU's can be especially sensitive 

  to the importance of this kind of mutual acceptance 

    because of the centuries 

      during which UU's have experienced 

        different kinds of prejudice against our faith

          as well as terrible persecution at times. 


So St. Nicholas or Santa Claus 

  can have special meaning for us as UU's 

    whatever the wider culture may think about him. 


Different cultures have their own customs 

  for the celebration and remembrance 

    of St. Nicholas. 


For instance, there has long been a tradition 

  of children putting out their shoes 

    in the hope that St. Nicholas 

      will leave treats for them. 


He is often said to leave small gifts 

  in stockings or wooden shoes, 

    especially on December 6, 

      not only on December 24 or 25.  


This custom actually has roots in the legend 

  of Bishop Nicholas himself. 


In ancient times, a hearth 

  was almost like a small room. 


There was space for a fire and a chimney above. 


There would be room to hang small clothing items 

  to dry in the warmth of the fire. 


The story is told that 

  Nicholas was known to climb onto the roofs 

    of people in his diocese 

      and drop small gifts - or gold coins if needed - 

        into stockings that had been hung 

          in the hearth to dry. 


In one particular case, 

  three young girls in a family 

    were about to be sold into slavery

      to pay off the family's debts. 


The Bishop heard of it, 

  and on Christmas Eve, 

    he climbed up onto the family's roof 

      in his bishop's red robes and hat 

        and dropped bags of gold 

          into the girls' stockings 

            that had been hung up in the hearth to dry. 


The picture of Bishop Nicholas in his red robes 

  dropping gold into stockings in the family's hearth, 

    through the chimney, no less, 

      as a Christmas gift to a family that really needed it 

        became iconic and legendary, 

          and it has remained across many centuries 

            to give birth to an even more widespread icon 

              of our own culture today, 

                Santa Claus himself. 


The story gives us a lovely picture 

  of the way St. Nicholas got into the business 

    of putting special gifts into stockings 

      and the way he was ultimately transformed 

        into Santa Claus,

          a way to pronounce St. Nicholas,

            maybe a young child's way of trying to say it. 


So what does this mean to us today? 


I feel that my mother gave me a hint. 


As children will do, 

  and as I've told the story before, 

    I informed her that I knew 

      that Santa Claus could not possibly deliver gifts 

        to all the children of the world in a single night. 


I was letting her know 

  that I no longer believed in Santa Claus. 


She then informed me that Santa Claus 

  is the spirit of giving, 

    and that was something 

      that I could not argue with, 

        and I still can't argue with it! 


The bottom line for me 

  is that I still believe in Santa Claus. 


I do believe that St. Nicholas, 

  as legendary as he may be, 

    was a real bishop in a real time and place, 

      complete with red cheeks 

        and with red robes and cap. 


I also believe that the icon of our culture, 

  Santa Claus, is a symbol based on the bishop, 

    who serves us well as the spirit of giving. 


As I often like to emphasize, 

  spirit is breath. 


When we breathe in, we take in life, 

  and when we breathe out, 

    we let out the stuff of life 

      for other kinds of creatures. 


Oxygen enables us to utilize energy, 

  and so we take in life as we breathe in oxygen. 


The carbon dioxide that we breathe out 

  enables plants to produce energy 

    in the form of food 

      for themselves and for animals, 

        in effect for all living things. 


One could say that plants of many kinds 

  are the original spirits of giving 

    as they breathe in the carbon dioxide from us 

      and from all kinds of animals 

        and breathe out the oxygen that we all need. 


In any case, 

  as we breathe, as we process oxygen,

    we enable the thoughts of our hearts and minds. 


Spirit, that is, breath, enables thought. 


As we think, 

  we can also focus our thoughts on giving. 


Especially at this time of year, 

  as we approach the Holy Days of light and giving, 

    we all need the spirit of giving 

      to remind us of our need of each other. 


Especially in these strange times, 

  we can see ourselves as sources of hope and life 

    for each other. 


We share what we have 

  with those less fortunate than ourselves 

    and we follow the example of St. Nicholas. 


In so doing, the spirit of giving, 

  Santa Claus, 

    and the breath that calls us to share life, 

      renews our opportunities to participate 

        in the ancient and noble rituals 

          of sharing the wealth. 


I have high hopes that we are heading into 

  an era of great altruism. 


There are great evolutionary advantages 

  to the practice of altruism 

    among many species. 


Our own survival 

  on our small, beautiful spaceship Earth

    may well depend upon it. 


There are signs of a new beginning coming, 

  in the Heavens 

    with the solstice and a planetary conjunction, 

      and on Earth 

        with the inauguration of a new U.S. President. 


We all desperately need some new beginnings, 

  especially of good things. 


A new birth of mutual care, generosity, 

  and altruism 

    will go a long way toward bring us hope 

      just when we need it most. 


I'll be thinking and speaking of the new beginnings 

  a great deal in the weeks to come. 


Stay tuned, or, as Rachel Maddow says, 

  "Watch this space!" 


Amen. 


So Let It Be. 


Saturday, November 14, 2020

 


Preparing to Give Thanks 


"It is what it is." If we can find ways to give thanks for it, whatever it may be, we can transform it. 


The words, "It is what it is," 

  are not always received kindly, 

    and they may or may not be intended kindly, 

      but they can form a useful expression. 


They can be used to refer 

  to the importance of accepting reality. 


All too often, those who like to say, 

  "It is what it is," 

    are not too fond of accepting reality. 


I can think of one notable example 

  that I'm resisting mentioning by name. 


Learning to accept reality 

  is an important life skill 

    at any stage of our lives. 


We cannot begin to cope with or change our reality 

  without first accepting that it is the way it is 

    right now, as things really are. 


On the other hand, too much acceptance 

  can disable us just as much 

    as trying to deny reality. 


I can also think of some examples 

  of too much acceptance, 

    and for now, those, too, 

      will remain unnamed. (like a lot of Senators...) 


It is possible to accept reality 

  and still work to change what we can change. 


The traditional Japanese art of acceptance (ukeireru)

  seeks to achieve a balance

    between accepting things as they are 

      and working to change what we can. 


Acceptance of what is 

  can be understood as a deeply important part 

    of traditional Japanese culture. 


It has played an important role 

  in Japan's ability to maintain an orderly society 

    in all kinds of circumstances. 


Balance is still the key, 

  accepting what is, 

    without so much resignation 

      that it is disabling. 


Like all attempts to achieve balance, 

  success in balancing acceptance 

    and working for change 

     is limited. 


We can overcome those limits 

  by moving forward without giving up. 


It is possible, but not easy, 

  to work for change 

    while seeing our own limitations clearly. 


In terms of our society and culture 

  as well as the unfolding of history, 

    we are in a time of transition, 

      and I'm not just talking about 

        the official transition 

          from one administration to another. 


Of course, I feel the need to say a little bit 

  about the official transition 

    since it's so much on our minds

      even though I'm studiously trying 

        not to name names. 


Much of what we are seeing in the U.S. right now

  is performance art, a kind of shock opera. 


All of that and the chaos it is producing 

  will come to an end. 


The good news is that the chaos can't 

  - and won't - 

    last forever


Keeping such great good news in mind 

  is a matter of important perspective for us all. 


Perspective is a form of balance for us, 

  especially these days. 


We all have long understood 

  that this period would not be easy for any of us, 

    no matter how things turned out. 


As a recent social media meme has said, 

  "Anyone hoping for a peaceful transition 

    has never had to pull a toddler 

      out of a Chuck E. Cheese." (children's pizza place) 


I'll just let that analogy stand on its own 

  as a kind of social commentary.


More importantly, 

  we are in a time of rapid change and transition 

    in our society. 


Many people are finding the speed 

  and the extent of  change 

    to be personally challenging and even threatening. 


The social transition is the result 

  of rapid change of many forms. 


New kinds of relationships are forming. 


New ways of relating to people 

  with whom we disagree 

    are becoming a survival skill, 

      at least in terms of meaningful progress. 


Meaningful progress is turning out to be 

  a survival skill on many levels. 


In my most recent sermon (Living Memory on 11/1), 

  I said, 


"We are in a time of transition, 

  and we can often see ourselves and our world 

    in new ways when things are changing. 


This principle of seeing in new ways applies 

  to individual people, 

    to nations and societies, 

      and to the situations in which we find ourselves."


Those words have turned out to be 

  even more obviously true 

    than any of us could have known 

      when I first spoke them 

        two weeks ago. 


The presidential election and its aftermath 

  have created a new perspective 

    on the prospects for change. 


Even though a new president will take office 

  on January 20, 2021, 

    the people of this country will definitely not agree 

      about what the new presidency will mean. 


It will even be difficult 

  for the new president to get full support 

    from his own political party. 


He is clearly in the middle - 

  in my view, more center than center left - 

    so people more on the left will not be pleased 

      by many of his policies. 


On the other hand, 

  this does not need to stand in the way 

    of our preparing to give thanks. 


It is what it is! 


Moving forward may be a better possibility 

  for those standing very much in the middle 

    of the society he and she are trying to serve. 


I'm saying he and she because I already see 

  Biden and Harris 

    as necessarily a team. 


As we are preparing to give thanks 

  for new hopes and possibilities, 

    I find it necessary to mention a few warnings. 


The process will not be - and cannot be - easy. 


We associate giving thanks 

  with the traditional holiday and Holy Day 

    of Thanksgiving. 


It is an especially important holy day 

  for UU's. 


This year's Thanksgiving will not look like 

  any other Thanksgiving celebration 

    in the nation's history. 


In the first place, 

  the pandemic of COVID-19, 

    so much in an outbreak phase right now, 

      has prevented most of the gatherings 

        of families and friends 

          to which we have been accustomed. 


In addition, 

  there are people inside and outside the U.S. 

    who are determined to use a time of chaos 

      to produce even more instability. 


I do not say these things to encourage pessimism. 


As you know, I'm an incurable optimist. 


I just find it absolutely necessary, 

  especially for myself, 

    to seek balance for my optimism 

      with healthy doses of realism. 


Only as we look at things the way they are 

  as far as we can understand them 

    will we be able to transform them 

      to allow for the new hopes 

        we are holding so dear. 


One of my hopes for this time of change 

  is that our perspective on Thanksgiving itself 

    can be transformed. 


Our national UU leaders are working diligently 

  to help us all understand 

    that some of the mythology 

      surrounding the origins of the holiday 

        are not only historically inaccurate, 

          they may be actively hurtful 

            to people of the First Nations, 

              and that has been true for centuries. 


We are thankful for our time and place 

  in this land, 

    but many others have been displaced 

      by our presence. 


This understanding need not diminish our gratitude, 

  but it can expand it, 

    so that we are grateful to so many others 

      whose lives among and around us 

        have made our lives possible. 


Such a new understanding 

  can help us find new perspectives 

    and thus new ways of balancing 

      our understanding about what is 

        and what our reality needs to become. 


Soren Kierkegaard, one of the founding fathers 

  of the philosophical school 

    that would become known 

      as existentialism, wrote, 

"There are two ways of being fooled. 

  One is to believe what isn't true. The other is 

    to refuse to accept what is true." 


Neither one works, and in our time 

  it is especially potentially damaging 

    to be unable to say, "It is what it is," 

      while maintainting a perspective on reality. 


There is a profoundly positive 

  and optimistic corollary to the statement, 

    "It is what it is." 


The optimistic statement says, 

  "It's all good." 


To say it that way 

  may well seem much too optimistic. 


It's intended simply to refocus our attention

   at least that's what I mean by it. 


What this saying can do is enable us 

  to look at our present situations 

    without value judgments. 


Good vs. bad can feel threatening. 


There is always a higher good, 

  and it's possible in any time and place 

    to look for that. 


The higher good provides a goal 

  as well as hope for better situations. 


As 2020 is reaching its conclusion, 

  new goals and new hopes 

    can be especially  important. 


If we can focus on the new possibilities, 

  we really can begin to transform our situations, 

    here and now and into a promising, 

      hope filled future. 


Amen. 


So let it be. 


Blessed be.