“The Value of Caring”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

Many people may be familiar with author Riane Eisler from her controversial and international best-selling classic The Chalice and The Blade which came out in 1987. Last summer Eisler spoke to UU’s at our annual General Assembly in Portland, Oregon about her newest book The Real Wealth of Nations.

Eisler fled her native Vienna, Austria from the Nazis first living in the slums of Havana and then later in the United States. Eisler has been preoccupied throughout her life’s work as a social scientist, attorney and social activist with this question: “Why, when humans have such a great capacity for caring, consciousness and creativity, has our world seen so much cruelty, insensitivity and destructiveness?”

In 2004, Eisler was invited by the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation to participate in a forum on the future of economics. The conversation there started with a critique of dominant economic analysis that is known as “neoclassical” based largely on the modern capitalist theory of Adam Smith who wrote the “bible” of capitalist theory in 1776, that we know as The Wealth of Nations.

Smith was born in Scotland and developed an optimistic vision of the future based on the central belief that although people are inherently selfish, this selfishness could work for the common good if the market was left alone to regulate production and commerce without governmental interference. He believed the forces of the market would counter selfishness through competition. He used a familiar phrase “the invisible hand of the market” to promote the idea that competition would lead to higher living standards.

The critique is our current economic models of capitalism, socialism and communism, have not been able to successfully address the mounting global problems of poverty, overpopulation and environmental degradation. Instead of providing higher living standards for everyone, free market capitalism has helped to concentrate wealth in a small percentage of the population. These economic systems have proven to be dysfunctional in many ways. Eisler is among social theorists who believe strongly that we need a Caring Revolution as an antidote to our high-tech mentality that is still guided by values of conquest, exploitation and domination.

Eisler asks us to look at our beliefs about human nature. Then she encourages us to help rethink and remake the economic systems we have created.

Growing our awareness of a pervasive economic double standard is an important step in this direction.

For instance, we know about mainstream economic indicator tools such as the GNP and the gross domestic product. These are tools that are supposed to tell us how well we are doing economically by looking at our overall productivity. But a huge part of every nation’s economic productivity is not recorded in these indicator tools such as how the basics of food, health care, and education are distributed – much of what is considered the “housework” of caring for the young, the sick and the elderly, or the extensive contributions of volunteers, much of which is supplied by women. The real wealth of nations should not be the amassing of assets by a few but rather the human potential of the many.

The United Nations Human Development Report publishes that the value of women’s unpaid work is estimated at $11 trillion each year. The report suggested that “if national statistics fully reflect the ‘invisible’ contribution of women, it will become impossible for policymakers to ignore them in national decisions.” The report also documented that “if women’s unpaid work were properly valued, it is quite possible that women would emerge in most societies as the major breadwinners or at least equal breadwinners—since they put in longer hours of work than men.”

A shift toward an economics of caring would replace these traditional indicators with global quality of life measures. With this kind of approach it has been proven that a better predictor of quality of life is to show the status of women, rather than the gross national product.

Nordic nations such as Finland, Norway and Sweden have found that investing in caring policies and programs – from universal healthcare and childcare to generous paid parental leave has been an investment in a higher quality of life and a more innovative economy. From 2003 to 2006, Finland was ahead of even the U.S. in the world economic forum’s global competitiveness ratings.

In an economics of caring which Riane Eisler firmly states is the real wealth of nations, all activities that go to nurture and actualize human beings and our natural environment are given a higher value than activities that promote military spending, environmental, and human, degradation. Instead of being counted as gross national product, these activities could be considered gross national costs.

Eisler asserts that much of our dysfunctional economic behavior is based on that assumption of human nature as basically selfish and the false justification that selfishness leads to greater productivity. She points to recent results in the field of neuroscience to challenge these assumptions.

In a study with 18 month-old babies, scientist Felix Warnekan in the field of evolutionary anthropology discovered even young babies are actually physically programmed to respond in caring and helpful ways. Without rewards or praise, babies would repeatedly offer to help retrieve objects that were accidentally lost, and fail to respond when items such as clothespins and books were intentionally thrown.

This may not seem like a strong case of biology over culture but we all know that our neurochemistry provides a unique pleasure to us whenever we are genuinely caring toward a child, a friend, a lover and even our pets. Scientists can argue that it is a grace of evolution, that when offered a choice, we choose mutual caring over selfishness and greed.

Eisler helps to point out that the stress of competitive conditions has been proven to override our innate desires to bond with others. The cruelty we see even in families is often the result of poorly coping with stress. So many of us have experienced the results of poor parenting because our parents were under pressures they simply do not know how to cope with and not due to a lack of love from them.

Neuroscientists know that children who are abused or neglected will most often continue the pattern in their adult life unless they experience some kind of supportive, respectful environment.

The costs of not being able to provide good childcare and healthcare are enormous – from crime, mental illness, and drug abuse to the shameful loss of human potential. Evidence from neuroscience supports policies of good care, especially for children.

Our UU principle which affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person is often connected to our human responsibility for ethical action. As UU’s, often we overemphasize our imperative for good moral character and neglect our basic need for love, acceptance and support…as we are. The power of our caring communities is a testimonial to this and to our Universalist heritage which affirms a loving God under all conditions and for all people.

This Mother’s Day, may we each affirm the quality of caring that has supported us through life and its invaluable contribution to our personal sense of wealth and well-being. May we feed empowered to offer care to our families, friends, communities and even strangers, knowing that the simple act of affection can work wonders. And may we reach out and offer comfort to all of those who are feeling isolated and neglected this day. May we each feel the care of others freely given our way.

The value of caring is real and it is often greatly underestimated and unacknowledged. In closing I share this passage by Kay Hardie as quoted in the book Some Do Care by Anne Colby and William Damon – “I am one of these people who have been loved every day of my life. I am a person who has been told by the words or actions of those people closest to me, ‘We just think you’re great. You can just do anything.’ I remember thinking a long time ago that in this painful world, if you have been given the kind of things I’ve been given which is the gift of limitless expectations for your life, and security, and a nest to come from, one that was warm and safe, and you look around you and if you have any sensitivity at all, you know that’s not the way most people got their start or live their lives. And for me I would think it would be the road to madness if you didn’t try to give some of it away.”

 

“How Are We Saved?”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

I must confess, personally my mind does not want to consider Rebecca Parker’s hypothesis that rather than anticipating the Apocalypse, it has already happened. There have been some terrible things that have happened in our not very distant past and yet it’s hard at times not to imagine how much more terrible it could get. It reminds me of the classic line from Laurel and Hardy – “This is one fine mess you’ve gotten us into!”

But seriously now – ,this question which is fourth in my sermon series called Questions of Faith, this question, just “How Are We Saved?” is really kind of a perennial one. I think it has two major dimensions. One is how is the world saved, and second, how am I personally saved, as an individual.

All of the world’s major religious traditions hold the prospect that human beings can find a way out of the suffering, confusion and alienation that we experience in life. Although each of the traditions is distinctive despite their commonalities, there are basically three categories of human thinking about the religious question “How Are We Saved?”

One category of thinking is that we are saved as both a species and as individuals by living in harmony with the dynamics or laws of nature. The second category of human salvation has to do with ethical living. All traditions agree that adherence to a core of ethical values can effect a transformation of the human condition. The third category holds that right relationship with our creator God and each other will save us.

Religious doctrine about the source, nature and function of what has saving power for humans is referred to theologically as the area of “Soteriology” which comes from the Greek word “soter” which means “savior”.  While Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism have more elaborate soteriologies, the other major traditions address the question as well.

For instance, Confucianism holds a classical Chinese view of human nature which is that people are naturally capable of choosing between either good or evil actions. The central concept is that we all have an innate capacity for moral improvement. Now the successor of Confucius, Meng Zi, took this original concept further with his belief that not only can we choose, but human beings are essentially good and naturally inclined to ethical betterment.

Even a later Confucian teacher who was more skeptical about human nature, Xun Zi said that despite human’s natural tendency toward self-centeredness, we can be taught through proper education to be more ethical in our choices. An interesting contrast that we find in Confucianism is that when people choose to act selfishly they hurt themselves and others but it does not damage the essential relationship between the human and the divine as other traditions teach.

While people can always have the opportunity to right their wrongs if they are willing to face the responsibility of neglected or sabotaged relationships, in Confucianism there is no notion of salvation or redemption as we find in other traditions but rather a focus on exemplary persons who serve as moral role models such as the Buddha.

In Buddhism discovering our own inherent Buddha nature is the way out of human suffering, while Hinduism provides many paths to an experience of oneness with God which is known as yoga or devotional practices. In Buddhism and Hinduism, salvation is seen in the simple sense of a release from the status quo that sees no antidote for human suffering.

In Christianity we find a doctrine of not only salvation but also redemption. It is said God sent his son Jesus to die and rise from the dead in order to prove human victory over both evil and death. In addition, believers not only feel “rescued” through the actions of Jesus but also embrace the concept that Jesus redeems them to a previous state of innocence which existed prior to humanity’s fall into sinfulness. This word redemption comes from the Latin to “buy back” which helps to explain the Christian concept.  Buddhism and Hinduism, while having their own doctrines of Soteriology, do not share the Christian concept of reinstatement to a prior state as part of their belief systems.

In Taoism, all things exist naturally in a primordial harmony which is a balance between Yin and Yang forces at work in the world. When things go wrong in nature or human society, according to Taoists it is the result of disequilibrium between the Yin and Yang forces. Taoists acknowledge the human tendency to seek control and to attempt to dominate even nature, but they believe in the end nature will always restore a basic balance.

Interestingly, Taoists believe that humans are able to purify themselves of disharmonious qualities even to the extent that we can live eternally and join a Paradise of Immortals. They say a purified human can choose to die in a physical form but more often they find a substitute for the human body and slip unnoticed toward the external paradise. While some Taoists share this concept of immortality beyond death, as in the resurrection, there is no single savior recognized in Taoist thought.

Islam, like Judaism and many indigenous traditions, focus on a right relationship with the Creator God and with other humans. The Muslims are called to practice the Five Pillars of Faith – first acknowledging the one God and Muhammad as a prophet, then encouraging extensive daily prayer, giving to the poor, fasting during Ramadan, and pledging to make a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. In a similar way, practicing Jews strive to preserve their community and do acts of justice making while honoring the cohesive force of Judaic law.

The religious question of “How Are We Saved?” is often tied to a sense of human survival against all that threatens to destroy us collectively and personally. We humans have always been at the mercy of the forces of nature and the frailty and foibles of human nature. Religious traditions offer us a sense of security and agency as we face any threatening circumstance that life brings our way.

While there is security in the effort to do the right thing and seek harmony with nature, some traditions teach that even the strongest and most pure of heart among humanity still need assistance from something greater than a human power. The word “Grace” is often used when referring to the superhuman or divine aid known as the power of salvation.

All of us know of situations where despite the fact we were aligned with the integrity of our strongest values, we have continued to suffer. We have been treated unfairly  we have been at the mercy of poor health and mean-spirited people. The wrongs that have been done to us have not been righted. We are still vulnerable to doubt and heartbreak. We disappoint ourselves, and we are at times terribly disappointed in our fellow humans.

So how are we saved? We can know the beliefs that offer a sense of security and wisdom. And some of us have experienced the presence of some kind of grace in our lives during the hardest moments. Whether that was described by us as the presence of God, or simply something greater than us, such as peace, compassion or maybe even…Love.

Although there are many ways to look at the questions of salvation and redemption, all of us at some time or another have sought to be more of who we are. We’ve longed to become more whole, more balanced and redeemed not in the sense of being paid back but more like achieving our full value, of cashing in a coupon to reveal our hidden strengths and talents.

And a critical part of seeking wholeness, which is one way that we are saved, so to speak, is to heal the parts of ourselves and others that serve to hold us back and distract us with pain.

Rebecca Parker likes to refer to a phrase often used by a recent UU luminary, James Luther Adams. They remind us that “there is a love that holds us and will never let us go.” Whether this is a compassionate presence of the divine or simply the power of our guiding principles in life, there is a love that does not let us go, and never gives up on the possibilities of our being more whole, more healed, and even saved when we need it most.

“Once I was lost but now I’m found… How sweet the sound of amazing grace.”

May the power of love working in our world, in any and all forms, be the power that saves us one and all. Amen, Shalom, Namaste, and Blessed Be.

 

“A Triumphant Life”

Easter Sunday

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

A Time for All Ages (Sermon follows)

Have you ever known somebody in your life that has died? Maybe it was your grandmother or grandfather, or an aunt or an uncle? Maybe it was someone in the family of one of your friends…

Well, even if you haven’t yet lost someone you love to death, one of these days you will and you might even know already that it is one of the hardest things that happens to us in life.

On Easter every year lots of people are celebrating the beauty of springtime after the winter months by remembering the man who was called Jesus. 2000 years ago Jesus led an amazing life, so much so that he has touched the loves of millions of people around the world since that time and still does today.

When we join in celebrating Easter, we remember the important part of Jesus’ life which is that he was killed for speaking out about the things he believed in like fairness for all people. On what is called Good Friday, Jesus was killed by the Roman army along with people who were found to be criminals. The crime that Jesus had committed according to the Roman army was he was introducing religious ideas that encouraged people to fight against unfairness and so he was considered to be dangerous.

And the Christian story tells us that after Jesus was killed by being hung on a cross to die, three days later when the women he knew went to tend to his grave which was in a cave in those days, the big stone that had been used to cover the cave had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was gone.

Then some of his closest friends really thought that they saw Jesus again, as if he didn’t really die! Wow, can you imagine how amazing that would be if it happened to you?

Well when this happened a lot of people started talking about how, even though Jesus had been killed alongside with criminals, somehow he was still alive and most importantly – people still wanted to believe in the things he was always talking about…how close we are to God and how important it is to be loving towards other people, even people who are very different from us.

We really don’t know what happens to people when they die and different religions and people have different ideas and beliefs about that, but you know, almost everybody around the world uses all kinds of flowers to celebrate the life a person they have lost.

It is a way of remembering the beauty we have known in that person and a way of reminding ourselves that even when our hearts are as sad as they can possibly be – there is still beauty in our world and life keeps going on even when it feels like it has stopped.

Today as Unitarian Universalists we celebrate a Flower Communion to honor the importance of the Easter holiday. When the choir sings Rhythm of Life I want to ask you all to come up here one at a time and pick a flower that you like best to take with you for today. We hope that the flower will remind you that even when you are having the hardest time you’ve ever had, maybe even because you have lost someone important in your life – you will be happy to know their beauty stays with you even after they are gone – in the same way that you will be able to remember your flower’s beauty from today—in a few days when it will have died.

Sermon: “A Triumphant Life”

There is a curious Greek Orthodox Christian tradition. Believers gather on Easter Monday to trade jokes. Doris Donnelly, a teacher of spiritual theology says “since the most extravagant ‘joke’ of all took place on Easter Sunday- the victory, against all odds, of Jesus over death- the community of the faithful enters into the spirit of the season by sharing stories with unexpected endings, surprise flourishes, and a sense of humor.”

Traditional Christian churches regularly celebrate Jesus’ victory over death with the practice of communion – breaking bread and drinking wine, symbolizing the body and blood of Christ which was given, they believe, for the salvation of humanity.

This kind of communion is rarely celebrated in Unitarian Universalist congregations. Although we recognize the extraordinary teachings and example attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, we do not require the standard belief held by Christians that he died to save us from our sins. Rather, we believe that Jesus’ integrity to stand by his beliefs, even at great risk to his personal safety is an incredibly powerful tribute to his teachings, and a personal challenge to us all. Although we greatly respect the personal sacrifice Jesus made in his willingness to die rather than betray his deep convictions, we do not believe that a loving God would require the brutal killing of any of God’s children, let alone one who was sent to fulfill specific requirements for all of humanity’s salvation. Unitarian Universalists believe that Jesus was executed for human political reasons, not divine or religious ones. Unitarian Universalists believe in a loving God who does not condone or advocate violence of any kind, let alone require any kind of violent death in order to establish redemption on earth.

The flower communion that many UU congregations celebrate annually on Easter morning, we find to be a more fitting act of remembrance and inspiration. The flower communion ritual originated with a Unitarian minister in Czechoslovakia as an annual festival to include children in worship prior to the summer church break. But since Rev. Norbert Capek’s death in the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau at the hands of medical experiments, UU congregations has tied the martyrdom of his life to defend his convictions for religious freedom and tolerance with the beautiful flower ceremony that celebrates the legacy of an honored life beyond its individual death.

As we approach the 50th Anniversary celebration of this congregation in Pensacola, we are bringing fresh eyes to a painful part of this church’s history. In 1994, while volunteering as escorts at a local women’s health clinic, church members Jim Barrett was murdered and his wife June was shot. Many people in Pensacola were outraged by the extreme violence that was perpetrated, supposedly by religious people feeling justified by religious reasons yet relatively few were willing to take a public stand to denounce the violence.

Amidst the heated controversy and complexity over the woman’s right to abortion and the larger issue of women’s access to reproductive healthcare including contraception, several of our church members rallied with other people of conscience in Pensacola to continue providing volunteer escort services, even under the dangerous conditions of local women’s health clinics.

A surprising twist to this real story is that today, fifteen years after the initial clinic violence which as we recall spanned several years, a group of young people in association with the Women’s Studies Program at the University of West Florida are about to submit a resolution to Pensacola’s City Council petitioning for a Day of Remembrance for the victims of acts of domestic terrorism, including the doctors who were murdered and several others injured.

This student organization called the Women’s Studies Collective is joining with other local organizations like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and American Civil Liberties union to sponsor a film series on Reproductive rights. Next month the film Soldiers in the Army of God will be hosted here at UUCP where segments of the film were made. Members of this congregation have been faithfully serving as escorts ever since these awful events, even today, as there is a resurgence of pro-life activism at local clinics. There is a real need for these faithful volunteers to be supported by the willingness of new people to get involved as escorts and advocates for women’s rights to healthcare.

For centuries, UU’s have been living out the faith of their conviction despite danger and adversity, and this is part of our celebration of the flower communion on Easter.

But I have another story I want to share with you today that recalls the anguish of Good Friday and the transformational act of being renewed which is the glory of Easter.

This is the true story of a young man from Kansas City and his deeply moving transformation from soldier to antiwar activist. This story is now being widely told through a 2007 award-winning documentary film called Body of War, which was co-directed by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue. Remember him?

Phil Donahue was inspired to make this documentary after Ralph Nader invited him to visit a woman and her son, a seriously wounded soldier, in Walter Reed hospital. This is where Donahue met a heavily medicated Tomas Young. Donahue was so moved by this young man’s desperate predicament and the courage with which he and his family were facing it, that he endeavored to produce an intimate and thoughtful reporting to share with the public. Both Donahue and co-director Ellen Spiro wanted to offer a brave example of the free press which is guaranteed by our Constitution as a much needed antidote to the sanitized coverage provided by the corporate media on the war in Iraq.

Two days after President Bush spoke on the ruins of the Twin Tower from 9-11, Tomas Young enlisted in the Army to defend our country and to help find Osama Bin Laden. He was 22. A year later after expecting to go to Afghanistan but being sent to Iraq instead, Young was shot just above his left collar bone on his first mission. He had been in Iraq just one week when he was riding in an unarmored Humvee with his fellow soldiers and they were fired upon.

The bullet severed Young’s spinal cord in his upper back so that he has no bodily functioning from the chest down. In addition to not being able to go to the bathroom without manual assistance, Tomas can’t even cough, and has to regulate his body temperature with the use of ice packs.

Surprised by Donahue and Spiro’s interest in his personal story, Young weaned himself from the excessive morphine needed to manage his pain so that he could share his heartfelt message with the world. Young feels betrayed, not only by the Bush administration’s ill planned and misguided approach to the war, but also by the lack of medical care he has received since returning him from that war.

Despite terrible depression and grief, and constant physical discomforts of various kinds, Tomas Young is claiming his new life built on the anguish of his past, as a serious anti-war activist making personal appearances as often as he and his family who cares for him can manage. After this intimate documentary was completed, Young has produced a companion soundtrack album, also called Body of War, with a wide array of artists including Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who provided two new songs for the documentary.

When Donahue and Spiro were interviewed by Bill Moyers, they admitted it was difficult to co-direct this ambitious project, as they struggled with their different styles, and a desire to balance the subtle and poetic intricacies of Tomas’s life with a direct and hard-hitting political critique of what is likely to become known as one of the worst mistakes in this country’s history.

But Donahue and Spiro wholeheartedly agree that they were personally inspired by the bravery and patriotism of Tomas Young and his family.

This Easter as we recall the bravery and courage which Jesus showed in his darkest hours, as well as the legacy we have inherited from countless generations of lives which were not given, but taken, may we celebrate the beauty of their hard won lives of honor. May we keep our hearts and minds open to the ongoing beauty of life when we ourselves are facing our darkest moments.

And may we join with others around the world this Easter morning in a prayer for peace and an end to needless violence.

As we prepare to participate in the flower communion, which we will observe in silence as the music plays, I’ll close today’s message with Norbert Capek’s flower communion prayer.

“In the name of Providence, which implants in the seed the future of the flower

and in our hearts the longing for people to live in harmony;

In the name of the highest, in whom we move and who makes the mother and father,

the brother and sister, lover and loner what they are;

In the name of sages and great religious leaders, who sacrificed their lives

to hasten the coming of the age of mutual respect—

Let us renew our resolution—sincerely to be real brothers and sisters

regardless of any kind of bar which estranges us from each other.

In this holy resolve may we be strengthened knowing that we are God’s family;

that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us. Amen.”

“What Lies Ahead?”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

It is fitting that the third message in my sermon series called Questions of Faith is presented with the question of “What Lies Ahead?” in the context today of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday because it marks the beginning of the Christian Holy Week that culminates next Sunday with Easter. When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem by riding on the back of a donkey in the week that led to his crucifixion, it is said that he was fulfilling yet another sign as a Hebrew messiah, as written in the ancient text. It was told that the messiah who would come to avenge the enemy of the Jewish people would be seen riding a donkey, rather than a horse, to show that the Hebrew people would be avenged by peace, rather than war.

Expectations of a Messiah arose in the Jewish tradition first during and after the Babylonian exile, and then again in the extended occupation of the Jews by the Roman army two thousand years ago.

For some Jews, the details and message of Jesus’ life and death fulfilled their expectations of him as the messiah for humanity. And for other Jews, their messianic expectations did not end with the life and death of Jesus.

Although we will begin to explore the question of “What Lies Ahead for the future of humanity?” in the context of the Abraham traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we will soon broaden the scope to include the Eastern traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, and I’ll add a contemporary global look for today.

The religious question of “What Lies Ahead for the future of humanity?” is a question that is deeply rooted in the cosmologies of individual religious traditions. Cosmology has to do with fundamental beliefs and views about the nature of time and space in the universe and what it means to be an embodied human. The western traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam which follow the lineage of Abraham all embrace a concept of time that is linear. For these monotheistic faiths, time and history is moving from a distinct beginning, through middle to an anticipated end.

The area of Systematic Theology to which the question of “What Lies Ahead?” refers is the area called Eschatology – derived from two Greek words meaning “the study of last things”. The last things include juicy topics like death, judgment, heaven and hell.

While the traditions which arose in the Middle East have a linear orientation with the beginning, middle and end in a historical sequence never to be repeated and culminating in a final transformation of humanity and the universe, the traditions of Asian origin assume instead a cyclical view of time. The incredibly expanded Asian view of time sees the same cycles of nature reflected in various epochs of time. They see history as an infinite cycle of creation and destruction, beginning with a time of order and peace through various ages of disorder until peace is eventually restored. For the Asian traditions, human death continues into a physical cycle of rebirth and transformation.

More common in the Western traditions is the notion of an after-life where the human soul is subjected to a day of judgment in another realm of existence. Although the Jewish tradition did not interpret the story of Adam and Eve into a belief of original sin, Christians see the death of Jesus on the cross as an act of atonement for all of humanity’s sinful or fallen nature. This follows the ancient Hebrew notion of sacrifice by one for the purification and renewal of all. For Christians, Jesus’ death and reported resurrection brings about for humanity a salvation through victory over evil and death. Jesus is understood to redeem and restore humanity to its earlier state of innocence.

Overall, we do not find the concept of “millennialism” in the Asian traditions that see the cyclic progression of time as an unlimited chance for human enlightenment, by which is meant, recognizing and realizing one’s own divine nature through various paths of practice and devotion.

Millennialism which we find in the Western religious traditions refers to the expectation that at a certain point in time, human history will experience a dramatic turnabout resulting in the very end of time itself. A millennium, which refers to a thousand years, is a shared expectation of time that several past communities have named. The expectation of these “End Times” is an ancient theme with Jewish roots and common in the time of Jesus.

Religious traditions the world over have anticipated various cataclysmic events as a possible future for humanity. They have fallen into two major categories-environmental disasters and  escalated human conflict, or both. The escalated human conflicts are often foretold in mythic proportions of a final battle between virtually superhuman personalities representing the forces of good and evil in the world.

Many people in the world today are actively anticipating the “End Times”, an apocalyptic battle of spiritual adversaries, some of which have ironically sprung from the roots of the same religious tradition – namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Of course, we know that there are other factors beyond purely religious ones that will always affect our notion of humanity’s future. We can’t overlook the significance of economic and political perspectives when informing the religious perspective, to say nothing yet of scientific advances.

When we think of the two major categories of predictions for the future of humanity—environmental disaster and escalated human conflict—where do we as Unitarian Universalists fit into the picture? How do we attempt to answer the question—“What Lies Ahead?”

Well, first of all, despite our Jewish and Christian roots, we do not anticipate, on religious principles, some kind of final conflict between good and evil necessarily, but rather place our faith and our hope in the capacity for human agency and morality. Despite the reality of human frailties and limitations, as UU’s we do not believe in original sin. We believe instead in an essential goodness within humanity which we like to call inherent worth and dignity.

Rather than polarized forces of good and evil, we prefer the notion of an interdependent web of life that calls us to be in right relationships with both our fellow human beings, and the whole circle of life itself, as it is expressed on this precious planet of ours called Earth.

If indeed, any speculation on the future of humanity is a leap of faith – than our speculation as Unitarian Universalist is an optimistic one. A future built on the hope of human resiliency and an instinctual appreciation for life itself. Ours is a leap of faith into the possibility of human justice and of the possibility of humans learning to live in harmony with the Earth that sustains us rather than exploiting it to the point of our own extinction.

Today when we began the service by singing “Woyaya”, we celebrated the UU belief that even though we do not yet fully know how to achieve human justice and harmony in living upon the Earth, we believe it is possible in the future of what lies ahead for humanity.

On Palm Sunday, instead of recalling the procession of a particular human savior, we celebrated the procession of our children, of humanity’s children as they proceed into the future of us all.

On this Palm Sunday as we kick off this church’s Annual Budget Drive with a written testimonial by Bob Ortiz in the Order of Service, we celebrate this congregation’s leap of faith to call a full time settled minister a year and a half ago, believing that ministerial leadership could help secure this congregation’s presence of Unitarian Universalist values in the city of Pensacola’s future. As UU’s we know it is largely up to us what we create in our future together, and so I want to take a moment to encourage everyone again to participate in our Long Range Planning process, to cast a vision of what we hope to achieve as a community over the next five years.

This year we are also reminding longtime members of this church, and informing our new members and newcomers that even as we strive to build a larger church program for music and for the religious education of our children, we are still reaching financially to firmly establish the presence of a full time minister in this congregation’s annual budget. We also want to make the most of the limited resources we have to work with, for example—increasing the use of our building by outside groups to generate operating income for us.

Even though our congregation represents only a small corner of this huge universe, we believe that what we do together in the practicing of basic UU values—celebrating diversity, practicing compassion in human relationships, and building justice in both our human and Earth communities makes a difference. We believe that our message of universal love is a saving message and that investing in our UU values today is our best bet on building a brighter future for the humanity of tomorrow.

In a book entitled “Prayers for a Thousand Years”, Sister Mary Goergen wrote this –

“We are about to enter the 15th million millennium of the universe.

We are about to enter the 4.5 millionth millennium of the Earth.

We are about to enter the 4 million millennium of life.

We are about to enter the 2,600 millennium of humans.

We have entered the 3rd millennium of the Common Era.”

She continues – “We are who we are today because of all that has existed before us. We carry in our bodies and spirits the struggles and changes, joys and sorrows, loves and hates that have occurred throughout all time.”

As we anticipate what lies ahead in the future of humanity, may we walk gently upon our precious planet Earth and reach out to the whole of humanity despite our differences—religious, economic and political.

Let us recognize our common humanity in the treasured hopes we have for all of humanity’s children, and heed the spirit of these words of Albert Einstein – “There lies before us, if we choose, continued progress in happiness, knowledge and wisdom. Shall we instead choose death because we can’t forget our quarrels? We appeal, as human beings, to human beings! Remember our common humanity and forget the rest.”

 

“Breaking the Chain”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

Every person in this room today and every person outside of this room has experienced early in our lives what I am going to refer to as “an original wounding.” This means that somewhere and sometime when we were young, every one of us was presented with one particular situation that caused us to feel deeply hurt. Some particular situation in our early life caused some kind of original wounding in the very heart of our psyche or being.

It could have arisen from a variety of situations, but most often this original wounding happens in the context of our family dynamics. That is, some kind of difficult and challenging habit of interaction into which we were born by destiny of fate. You know some people say –“we don’t pick our parents in life.” But a few other people say that “even though we don’t pick our parents in life, there is something within each of us where our greatest learning in life comes from the challenge we are presented by some part of our relationship with our parents, or whoever was our primary caregiver in,what we can refer to as, our family of origin.

This “original wounding” has such a distinctive impact on the fabric of our personal being, that we often and most unknowingly will frame subsequent difficulties and challenges we encounter in our lives through a perceptual lens that is tainted, you might say, with the original wounding.

For example, perhaps when you were young your mother was compelled by circumstance to be unavailable to you. Perhaps she had to work outside of the home for instance, or maybe it was a relationship in her life that demanded primary attention from her, and left you with a mother who was not involved primarily with you. She was perhaps both physically and emotionally distant from you at a time in your life when she was one of your primary relationships.

And so to continue with this example, if your particular “original wounding” in life came from this kind of being hurt, what you might call a sense of abandonment or even rejection in your relationship with your mother, later in your life whenever you get close to someone, perhaps a good friend or maybe your first love relationship, if something difficult happens in that later relationship, you are likely to experience it in a similar way to this original wounding with your mother. The outside circumstances may be totally different but your internal perception of them will be filtered through the lens of your experience with abandonment or rejection. You will perceive this other person as behaving in a way which is familiar to you because you feel this sense of being hurt. This particular kind of loss. You may even unconsciously anticipate being hurt like this in your next closest relationship and have what we often hear called “trust issues.” That is you are hesitant to trust another person for fear of being hurt, like you were hurt before.

This is an example of “original wounding” and somehow until we are able to work through consciously how we came to cope with this original situation, we tend to find it as a repeating pattern in our lives. That is we will see it occurring in other relationships and situations. We may see it happening actually even in situations where it may not be warranted. For example, your first best friend disappoints you by choosing to do something with someone else rather than going to a movie with you. You respond by feeling that your best friend is going to leave you or abandon your friendship, or that they are, with this one simple action, somehow rejecting you. You take it perhaps too personally that they are going to do something with someone else. You make it mean something big about you when your best friend may simply be making a small decision that actually has no bearing on their feelings of affection and appreciation of you.

We naturally and unconsciously tend to re-experience an earlier painful situation, in our attempts to come to terms with it, to understand or figure out why this happened. Was the pain you felt caused by something you did wrong or some bad quality in you that somehow deserves this rejection or abandonment?

It is incredibly common, especially in young people, that we tend to make sense of something that has happened by internalizing the responsibility for it. “It was my fault that this happened”, we tell ourselves. Does this sound familiar to you? Can you recall a situation in your life when you were young when you felt you had somehow caused a mishap and it turned out that it didn’t even have to do with you really?

And so one of the major ways we have found to overcome the challenges we carry in ourselves as a result of an original wounding, is to bring our conscious awareness to the pattern as it manifests in our lives. At some point along the way, the child whose mother had to work, or whose mother was preoccupied with a daunting and problematic relationship in her life, that child comes to realize that her behavior had more to do with these other circumstances than it had to do with him or her. What we thought and experienced as abandonment and rejection was not intended by the mother. It happened but it was not her intention to abandon or reject.

It’s good to find a way to reflect on the original woundings in our lives. We are presented with a painful and difficult situation early in our loves and we find ways to cope with that. These coping mechanisms work in our loves to manage the difficult parts, but when we keep using them even in other kinds of situations that don’t warrant them, we fall into a cycle which limits us. We can end up defining ourselves by this original sorrow and overusing the ways we found to cope with it. We can fall into a destructive cycle that repeats itself in different areas of our lives. In our attempts to protect ourselves from being hurt again, we cut ourselves off from other people and even from parts of ourselves. The cycle is a destructive one because it limits who we are and our interactions with other people. We inadvertently set ourselves up to actually be hurt in the same kinds of ways again and again like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A few years ago the accomplished actor Denzel Washington made his directorial debut with a film based on a true story calledAntwone Fisher. The story is about a young man who is in the Navy. He keeps getting into altercations with his fellow seamen and so is disciplined by being required to see a psychiatrist, who is played by Denzel Washington. The young man, Antwone, is resistant to talking with the psychiatrist and actually sits through several of his initial sessions in silence. Eventually and slowly, the psychiatrist is able to draw Antwone out of his silent self-protection.

At one point Antwone asks Denzel Washington’s character if he thought it was possible for people with lots of problems to have a regular life. You see, Antwone had told the psychiatrist that he had no parents. His father was killed just before he was born and his mother was in jail when he was born. He was raised in foster care and sent to a reform school as a young teenager when he no longer allowed the abuse he suffered in his foster home.

When Antwone asked the psychiatrist if people with lots of problems could lead a regular life, he was wondering if he should pursue a relationship with a young woman who was also serving in the Navy. He was wondering if he would be able to have a healthy relationship with her and he was wondering, despite how damaged he felt he was, if she could possibly accept and love him. At this point in the story Antwone had not yet fully disclosed the abuse he suffered while in foster care.

The psychiatrist encourages Antwone to be open to the relationship with the young woman and starts to become a supportive father figure for Antwone. But when the psychiatrist tells Antwone that his disciplinary requirement had been filled and that he would make the medical recommendation that Antwone had come to terms with his anger issues and could proceed in his Naval assignment, Antwone feltbetrayed.

Denzel’s character had been the only person he had ever really talked to about his life. Just when he had started to trust the psychiatrist, to even need him for that fatherly support, he was told that he was “fine” and no longer needed to see the psychiatrist.

Antwone was rejected and abandoned again. The process of opening up to the psychiatrist and then being turned loose left Antwone alone with the unleashed feelings over his past and a painful anger from losing this new relationship of trust that he had established with the psychiatrist.

Denzel’s character had not only affirmed this young man’s desire to be emotionally healthy, he had withstood the disclosure of Antwone’s secret pains of the past. In time, the psychiatrist realized that Antwone had opened himself to him and that his vulnerability required more of his professional time. The psychiatrist also came to recognize that Antwone’s process of emotional recovery echoed his own journey of personal healing. And so the relationship continued.

Wayne Muller in his book Legacy of the Heart, the Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood writes—

“When we are hurt as children, we can quickly learn to see ourselves as broken, handicapped, or defective in some essential way.” Muller brings his background as a therapist and a Harvard Divinity school graduate to his writing. He continues in the introduction of his book by saying “you are not broken; childhood suffering is not a mortal wound, and it did not irrevocably shape your destiny. You need not remove, destroy or tear anything out of yourself in order to build something new. Your challenge is not to keep trying to repair what was damaged; your practice instead is to reawaken what is already wise, strong and whole within you, to cultivate those qualities of heart and spirit that are available to you in this very moment.”

Whether the original wounding in our lives left us with invisible patterns such as the inability to easily trust another person, or with the more visible patterns of physical or substance abuse, we are all capable of growing beyond these difficult limitations.

In the same way that our individual sorrow and suffering is a universal human experience, we all have access to tools for healing old wounds. There is a love in our lives that will not let us go.

May we each have the courage to look honestly at our lives and to take the steps that loosen us from the limiting patters we have inherited from the past. May we cultivate compassionate patience with the other people who have touched our lives. May we learn that the scars of our past have the power to teach us great strength and true wisdom. May we maintain our sense of worth and dignity even in the face of thoughtless and pain-provoking behavior on the part of others.

May we break through the chains of our past to embrace the fullness of this moment and the bright possibility of tomorrow.

Amen and Blessed Be.

 

“Who’s in Charge Here?”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

Yesterday at the Long Range Planning workshop I was looking through some of the materials that have been compiled about this congregation and I stumbled upon an interesting statistic. In 2005 when this congregation embarked on the bold adventure to search for a full time minister who could be a good match to serve this community, a large survey was administered by the ministerial search committee and its purpose was to create a profile of what this particular congregation is like and to create a profile of what kind of minister it was seeking to meet its needs and expectations.

As a part of that survey, individuals were asked to identify their beliefs and their theological orientations. I was not particularly surprised to learn that the highest category of common response from this congregation at that time identified themselves as “Humanists” and I would suggest that percentage would be about the same today if we were to administer the survey again.

You see it is typical of our Unitarian Universalist communities across the country to have a significant number of folks who do not consider themselves religious in a traditional sense of the world or even for whom religious tradition and language offer little personal value in our quest for meaning in our lives.

So let’s start with a look at Humanism and then survey the human landscape of religious wisdom traditions as we explore the second question in my sermon series—“Questions of Faith”, the basic human question of “Who’s in charge here anyway?”

Humanism is an ethical philosophy that affirms the worth and dignity of all people. It holds the notion that as human beings we are capable of determining what is morally right and wrong because of universal human experiences and a rational approach to making sense of them. Humanism asserts every person’s right to conscience and self-determination, stressing the value of social responsibility while rejecting dependence on beliefs that are based in a supernatural or “other worldly” context. Humanism believes in a noble human aspiration of ethical action to relieve human suffering and to fulfill our human potential for establishing just social systems. Humanism believes that humans have individual and corporate power to change the world and that what we do makes all the difference.

Now as with most human traditions, within the broad category of humanism there are notable variations. Secular Humanism, which is considered by many traditionally religious people to be quite dangerous, is simply a stance toward life held by some people where the concept of a divine presence in this world is not apparent or useful to them personally. Folks who consider themselves “Atheists” simply do not find the God concept compatible with their experience of life. Those who are more comfortable with the term of describing themselves as “Agnostic” find that not knowing about a definitive concept of God is a stance that makes sense, and is quite adequate as they go about the business of finding purpose, meaning and ethical action in life.

Another broad category is Religious Humanism for which adherents either embrace religious language and traditions to affirm human agency and responsibility, or for whom some religious language and tradition has meaning, either in a cultural or personal way, but not necessarily as an exclusive system for personal salvation.

In general, Humanism supports a pragmatic approach to life that is based more in the direct experience of the scientific method, than in texts attributed to divine revelation, or in the trust of an external outside authority.

Do Humanists believe that humans are in charge here? Well, yes and no. Humanists believe that we have created the social systems and traditions that govern human life, but we also reside in a universe that is operating according to principles beyond the full grasp of human agency. We obviously do not control everything, even though we try, especially with the power we have harnessed through science and technology.

Even Humanists will admit that human beings are only one aspect of this material universe, and it does not in fact revolve solely around us. The knowledge and understanding that we can develop as human beings can enhance our quality of life and our ability for ethnical action.

We know from science that we live in a complex world with an Operating Manual we are continually trying to decipher, but we also know from simply being alive that the world is more directly infused with a meaning that is personal to each of us.

Some of us grew up with religious terms that accurately described our sense of “who’s in charge here”, while others of us have found a religious language later in our lives which helps us to do this.

Many people today are simply not comfortable considering themselves “religious” but prefer the term “spiritual”.

As each of us finds a personal meaning to the question of “who’s in charge here?”, there is a vast array of images and names we can reflect upon. There are some basic commonalities we can observe.

If we think of an outstretched human hand, we know that there are distinct differences to the world’s human wisdom traditions, as distinct as each finger of the hand is from one another, and yet the separate fingers are joined at the palm in the universality of human experience. This taps into an underground river of wisdom with many different wells along its course.

For those humans who have experienced the presence of the divine in this world, that presence is recognized with a multitude of names—Creator God, Mother, Father, and Holy Spirit. There are personal relationships in which we perceive with this presence. They vary — from our being a beloved child, to our being loved by a mystical partner, and to our being accompanied by the most faithful and loyal friend.

The divine qualities we as humans have identified carry great power in and of themselves, and are often enhanced by stories of real and mythical people. In addition to a Creator God being the Source of All that Is, many people recognize divine qualities in an Infinite Spirit, in Yearning, in Listening, in Beauty and Joy and Justice; in Nurturing, in Openness, in Hospitality and Forgiveness. Divine qualities include Grace, Creativity, Transformation, Wonder and Mystery. We can see the holy in Playfulness, in Silence and in a genuine and irrepressible Reverence for Life. We can see the quality of the holy in what we know as Love. We can experience a sense of the holy in the present moment and we can feel the power of simply being present.

The Jewish theologian Martin Buber relied on a Hasidic legend of a teacher who lived an unusually abundant life. After the death of the teacher one of his disciples was asked, “What was most important to your teacher?” The student replies—“Whatever he happened to be doing at that moment.”

Here’s another passage on this subject of the divine and simply being present. It is by Macrina Wiederkehr in a book called The Song of the Seed. She writes—“As the stars again become visible tonight, I am reminded of a feast of leisure from my childhood days. I remember, on summer evenings sitting outside on a quilt with Mama waiting for the stars to come out. Looking back at that moment with my adult eyes, I understand that God is someone who has taken the time to sit a on a quilt with me waiting for beauty. She is a mother of presence. I need only invite her into my moments of leisure. Her presence will empower my presence.”

“As I tried to bring a deeper quality of presence to all my works this day”, Macrina continues, “I found God moving through the day with me, like a mother, opening my eyes to beauty. Quietly, joyfully, gratefully without complaining, I welcomed all the beauty that crossed my path.”

Or how about this image of a mother in contrast, by Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine?  “At times, I think that truest image of God today is a black inner-city grandmother in the U.S. or a mother of a disappeared in Argentina or the women who wake up early to make tortillas in refuge camps. They all weep for their children and in their compassionate tears arises the political action that changes the world. The mothers show us that it is the experience of touching the pain of others that is key to change.”

When we think about the first UU principle of affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of each person, we can clearly see its similarity with the definition of Humanism I offered earlier. But it also ties closely with the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam with its emphasis that humans are made in the image of God. As the Quakers say “There is that of God in everyone.”

The Buddhists extend this idea of worth and dignity throughout creation in the concept of “interbeing”. Sentient beings pervade the entirety of our universe, even in what we consider to be inanimate objects. The Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh talks about it his way—

“Whenever I touch a flower, I touch the sun and yet I do not get burned…The miracle is possible because of an insight into the nature of interbeing. If you really touch one flower deeply, you touch the whole cosmos. The cosmos is neither one nor many. Like Shakyamuni Buddha, you can be everywhere at the same time. Think of your child or your beloved touching you now. Look more deeply and you will see yourself as multitudes, penetrating everywhere, interbeing with everyone and everything.”

This passage is one of many that comes from a mystical tradition of the immanence of the sacred in all that is, a power to literally reach out and touch us in the present moment.

The Hindus identify this divine spirit as the basic Self in all humans and in all creation. As the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita reads, “I am the self that dwells in the heart of every mortal creature; I am the beginning, the life span, and the end of all…

I am the sustainer; my face is everywhere…I am the divine seed of all that lives. In this world nothing animate or inanimate exists without me.”

Unitarian and father of the American Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote about it like this – “I believe in omnipresence and find footsteps in grammar rules, in oyster shops, in church liturgies, in mathematics, and in solitude and in galaxies.”

Whether we believe in a divine presence that is embedded in this creation, or a transcendent being who set it in motion and resides in a realm beyond us. Or… whether we don’t, or simply don’t know, the fact remains that as far as we know, no one has fallen out of the universe and despite its Operating Manual being only partially revealed to us, we do know that each moment holds an unpredictable power to teach us more about life.

We are always asking these questions like “Who’s in Charge Here Anyway?” And we are always learning more possible answers…

Kind of like this brief note collected in a book called Children’s Letters to God:

“Dear God:

How do you feel about people who don’t believe in you?

Somebody else wants to know.

Signed… A friend.”

As Unitarian Universalists, we have come from a Christian tradition, and yet early on we recognized Jesus as a teacher and distinct from the creator God. We embraced the application of human reason to our religious pursuits in the age of this country’s birth and its influence of Unitarian and Universalist forebears. Our congregations today affirm a radically democratic process of self governance and affirm the rights of our members to their individual beliefs. Although some of us are Theists and use theistic language, most of us agree that humans are called to account for our choices and actions, and that we are all called to care for each other in a radical practice of love.

I’m not sure that we could come to an agreement on the question of “Who’s in Charge Here?” but I think we do agree on the power of love and in the open possibility of the present moment.

I close with words by Theologian Paul Tillich whose faith was challenged deeply by the Jewish Holocaust as so many Christians and Jews was, and which opened the Humanist tradition as both an ethical and religious faith alternative.

“The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your being, of your ultimate concern of what you take seriously – without any reservation. Tillich concludes- “Perhaps in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself.”

Amen

 

“The Road Not Taken”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

Have you ever traveled to a distant city or town and while finding your way to your destination, you stumble upon an area that looksso interesting that you just want to stop and check it out? Perhaps you are pressed for time and you remind yourself that you are expected and if you stop you might arrive late. You try to make a mental note to go back later, perhaps as you return home, but you knoweven as you do that it’s likely you will forget. Or simply decide that you don’t have the time to stop then either…

Life presents most of us with so many choices, at times it is hard to know what to choose. Which way to go?  How to pick the best way to get to where we’re trying to go? That is, if we are lucky enough to have choices!

It’s good sometimes for us to remind ourselves, as typical Unitarian Universalists who have a long personal history of marching to the beat of a different drummer, that not everyone has had the same opportunities that we have been blessed to recognize. You may think it is an outdated notion that people pick life’s course based on the expectations of their families, their community, their particular lot in life. Sure, they have choices, but sometimes the pressure to conform to what’s expected of them and the very real consequences of abandonment if they dared to stray from that path, made it seem as if really had no choice at all.

It’s great to have choices in life that help us feel the excitement of rewarding possibilities—and it’s awful when we feel that we have been subjected to a single destiny, especially when it’s a destiny that serves to limit who, and what we know we are capable of being.

When Robert Frost wrote The Road Not Taken to tease his writer friend and frequent walking companion for always wondering what they might be missing by not taking a particular path, he probably did not know that the poem would be championed by generations of those considered to be marching to a different drummer. The poem has come to herald the virtues of independent thinking and the practice of personal freedom.

Frost’s walking companion was always wondering what they were missing when choosing one path over another. Frost recognized the human tendency to not necessarily follow through on our impulsive curiosity with the line in the poem: “I doubted if I should ever come back.”

He even recognizes that although one path appears “less trod upon”, with fresher grass that “seems to be wanting wear”  –  it is more of a momentary perception than an actual difference, because both paths that morning in Frost’s poem “equally lay in leaves no step had trodden.”

What we remember most from Frost’s beloved poem is the ending that “the road less traveled by made all the difference.” It is a comforting and self-congratulatory statement that tells us in the end it pays to listen to our heart and sometimes choose what is not expected of us. Frost’s poem encourages those of us who dare to trust ourselves in life especially when what we choose goes against the grain of convention or the expectations of others.

Can you think of a time when you bravely chose a path that felt contrary to the expectations of others in your life—or challenged the norms of our society?

Perhaps it was a choice of who to be friends with in school, or maybe it was listening to a particular kind of music, or wearing a certain kind of clothes.

Or perhaps when everyone thought you should have a family—you chose to work or go to school instead. Perhaps you surprised people in your life by your choice of work or your choice in a partner or where you decided to live. There are so many ways in which we can feel we are going our own way and risking the stability we can get when others approve of our actions.

Another piece in Frost’s poem that recognizes a basic human condition is that although we can try other paths in life and occasionally ever alter our course—we can’t fundamentally change the past. We are left with the consequences of our choices always.

As I grow older I find myself reflecting on the ways I feel I have changed over the years and the ways in which I feel the same as I did when I was much younger. It’s funny how life and our choices and sometimes lack of choices can change us. And I think also of my own willingness to be changed. Sometimes I have welcomed the fresh perspective that a person or idea can introduce to my life—while many times I have expected or perhaps unconsciously wished that others would change to conform to my expectations for them. I recently asked myself—if I can so easily expect others to change in order to meet my personal standards, am I willing to consider the changes others may desire of me? Am I willing to change and be changed—even when it’s not the way I see it or feel it should be done?   Hmmm…

Sometimes I think about my own choices in life and the times that circumstances have seemed to have chosen me. I wonder how my life would be different if I’d gone that way instead of this one. I celebrate some beautiful surprises in my life—like the birth of my daughter, meeting my husband and even becoming a minister, while at times I wonder where I’d be now if I’d followed another path. Would I be in another career? Another town? Leading a totally different life?

Julia Cameron wrote some year ago a book that has known quite a bit of popularity called The Artist’s Way. In it, Cameron asserts that we are as humans by definition—creative beings and that creativity is a birthright that many of us have to struggle to reclaim and recover. Our individual creativity was often stifled when we were children for various reasons—to make us practical and socially acceptable, to keep us from precarious positions. I’m sure you can think of more reasons why.

Cameron’s book is filled with little activities to help us claim the creative impulse in our lives and to give ourselves permission and support for growing into the fullness of our being. One of the exercises has to do with envisioning the imaginary lives we could lead, if we could suddenly be transported to another place and time. If you could wave a magic wand—where would you love to live and what would you be doing there?

On my short list, I am a painter in France or a rancher in Wyoming.

It’s interesting to look for the unclaimed parts of ourselves in the lives we are living. For instance, instead of being a painter in France, I have an extensive postcard collection of art I have brought home with me from travels to other lands and museums and gift shops. Instead of being a rancher, I seek out wide open spaces for walks in the countryside or simply a place to sit and look out.

I enjoy remembering how multifaceted each of us is in our lives. How multidimensional our lives are. And that there is so much possibility available to us, if we dare to look for it.

It reminds me of a poem by the writer Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from German.

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world,

I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.

I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still do not know!

Am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?”

We all have dreams that we carry with us in life of aspirations – the things we would like to do before we die.

It’s unlikely when you are on your deathbed that you will say you wish you’d had more time…to work!

No, we have too many dreams in us not to think of the paths we haven’t been able to take and wonder where they might have led us. Sometimes we fail to notice that the projects that we devotedly commit ourselves to in the present carry the power of a dream or destination we hope to eventually realize for ourselves.

I recently saw a movie with a great story about this based in true life. The movie is called The World’s Fastest Indian and stars Anthony Hopkins as the man from New Zealand who holds the world record for speed on a motorcycle with a class of 1000cc.

This great story is about Burt Munro a guy who was born in 1899, who served in WWI, raised a family, and was a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast. For over 40 years Munro kept rebuilding his 1920 Indian motorcycle himself, trying to make it the fastest Indian in the world. His dream was to take his Indian motorcycle to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to see what fastest speed his bike could achieve.

In the movie he has figured out how to go from New Zealand to Long Beach, California on a sea freighter working off his passage. It isn’t until he is encouraged by friends that he mortgages his home, which is really a workshop shed, to have enough money to buy a car to take him from California to Utah.

Munro went to Utah in 1962 on a shoestring budget and with the kindness of strangers and a steady perseverance. He negotiated himself into the competition despite the fact that he hadn’t registered in advance, and his motorcycle lacked all the requisite safety requirements for high speed, like a parachute and flame retardant material. He didn’t even have brakes!

In a trial run, Munro amazingly broke speed records and so they let him into the competition. His lifelong dream was realized because of years of devotion to his craft of rebuilding the bike to make if faster and faster, and his sheer determination to find out exactly how fast it could go.

So here’s a man who had an avid hobby for years and in his sixties traveled halfway around the world to see if his particular dream could come true. Some of his personal determination is attributed to the fact that Munro lost a twin sibling in childhood and often reflected on the life he might have shared with them.

Munro set a world record in 1967 and it has yet to be broken. Anthony Hopkins did a delightful job of portraying this man and his exuberant spirit. The byline for the movie is  “It’s never too late for the ride of your life.”

Well we know that not all of us can lead such adventurous lives as this….

But we can allow our lives to take the shape of our long held dreams and find both personal inspiration and satisfaction choosing a path less traveled for ourselves that makes all the difference.

Another poem by Rilke comes to mind as I close—

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Don’t search for the answers which could not be given to you now because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

May it be so for each of us.

 

“Questions of Faith”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

One thing you can say about Unitarian Universalist with confidence is—we do love our questions!

In some ways, I do believe, this quality unites us more than any other.

For example, if you get a group of UU’s together and start talking about our personal histories, it won’t take long to find out that starting out back in our individual childhoods—we were the ones who were daring to ask questions. In Sunday school, at home, or maybe just in the privacy of our own thoughts.

We were the ones who for some reason simply did not blankly accept what was told to us as true.

We were the ones who paused and pondered. We were the ones who felt a tug of resistance within ourselves and found a way to honor this subtle interior signal by giving ourselves permission to question things, even when that permission was withheld outside of us.

Does this sound familiar?

For those of us who resonate deeply with this quality of tenaciously needing to think and decide for ourselves, we cherish the principles of UU that support our natural proclivity with “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and “acceptance of one another and encouragement in spiritual growth in our congregation.” We also love “the right of conscience.”

Our UU principles support the personal practice many of us brought with us to Unitarian Universalism. We love our questions and like the line in the beloved hymn “We laugh, We cry”, we can gratefully sing together that “to question truly is an answer.”

This quality of loving questions has another cousin quality that is often found in UU’s: that is a generally higher than average personal comfort level with complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty.

As natural explorers, we tend to move forward into unknown territories with a greater ease than many people can muster. And this is also why fundamentalism and fanaticism, which is so prevalent in our world today, not only mystifies us but also disturbs us deeply.

Simply said—we see too much to think that there are any easy, clear-cut answers that apply universally.

As UU’s, we are a courageous minority who agree to walk together on the uncertain path of continuing truth seeking, over the comfort of clearly defined beliefs that create a creedal bond with a vast majority.

Now in true UU fashion, I must pause here and ask the question—what is this vast majority?

Well, we know as Americans that we live in a predominantly Christian culture, although within that culture there is a great diversity among Christians.

We also know as Americans that there are millions of people who are not Christian. They may practice other faiths or practice no particular faith at all. So when we locate ourselves as UU’s, either within or outside of this Christian context, either way we are a minority but not really that small of one.

Quite the contrary I propose, the combined minorities who fall outside a hypothetical unified Christian majority represent a substantial amount of people, regular everyday people all around us, who are just like us in that they are trying to find their way in this world the best that they can.

This brings me to the second part of my message title for today which will begin a series of sermons over the coming months—“Questions of Faith.”

Now UU’s may be very comfortable with the word and concept of “questions” but you’re likely to get a much different read of UU’s with the word and concept of “faith.” This word is actually on the list of words that make a lot of UU’s squirm in their chairs and look for the door, almost as if the mere mention of the word was an attempt to sign you up for a New Year’s health club membership.

Faith is one of those words that remind us of the vast Christian majority and in an area like Pensacola can catch us off guard like the question after first meeting someone—“what church do you go to?”

We feel uncomfortable because we feel we’re being held against a generalized presumption that doesn’t fit for us and that the presumption also carries a moral measure with which we will be judged. We simply are not comfortable with the unambiguous question of—“are you in or are you out?”

We want to assert that faith is a personal matter and not one that is easily displayed on our shirt sleeve. Our human identities do not easily fit into the category of “I am a” fill in the blank.

We are so much more as human beings than any one or more of the categories with which we may identify.

Faith is a personal matter that is not like checking blocks with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a questionnaire but which emerges rather from the personal struggling each of us flounder through in the complexities of our own lives.

Faith, like religion, confronts each person with the most critical options that life presents to us. The death of a loved one, the birth of a child, the choice of a life’s work or a committed relationship, the trials of health crises or financial hardships. The call of faith is to confront reality and discern our way forward. The call of faith is to face the depths within ourselves and to determine all the resources of our being.

A Catholic archbishop in Zaire, Bakole wa Ilunga, tells us “Faith is not a momentary feeling but a struggle against the discouragement that threatens us every time we meet with resistance.”

This is not only the resistance we feel when encountering the difficulty that life presents us but also the resistance we may meet when unexpected good fortune befalls us, as well. We crave for a sense of security, for a safe place in which we can trust.

Questions of faith emerge at each of the critical structures of our lives. Throughout the thrills of falling deeply in love and in the precious moments of impending death.

Matters of faith come down to what each of us feels that we know in the core of our being and simultaneously how we are present with all that we simply do not know.

To paraphrase Alexander Schmemann, a Russian Orthodox priest, “Faith is a touching of a mystery. It is to perceive another dimension to absolutely everything in the world. In faith, the mysterious meaning of life comes through. To speak in the simplest possible terms”, he says, “Faith sees, knows, senses the presence of (something greater) in the world.”

Each of us arrives at what we know and what we don’t know by navigating a complex web of questions, obstacles, doubts and even contradictions and paradox. How do we make sense of it all? Much of the time, we don’t and yet…we still try to.

Jewish theologian Martin Buber writes: “Real faith means holding ourselves open to the unconditional mystery which we encounter in every sphere of our life which cannot be compressed in any formula.”

In the coming months, I will bring before this congregation to explore several big questions of faith. Together we will look at the questions that are involved in what is known as systematic theology: What is the nature of reality, of creation, God and what has saving power? What is the nature of humanity, of evil, of time and human destiny?

I will ask you to consider your own beliefs. We will encourage questions but we will also invite our own personal answers. I think it’s too easy for many of us UU’s to continually hide behind the questions themselves and to shrink from taking a stand of our own, even it is qualified as being temporary and in process.

Great Unitarian religious educator Sophia Fahs reminded us that it matters what we believe. What we believe shapes the course of our lives and the qualities of all our relationships. What we believe about life and ourselves creates the foundation on which we place our personal commitments. These are the priorities that serve as a compass through our daily activities.

“In good times or in tempests, may I not forget that to which my life is committed…Keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve.”

As we explore together questions of faith, we will look at what the world’s wisdom traditions offer in terms of philosophical perspectives as well. Beloved educator of world religions Huston Smith includes secular and ethical teachings in the world’s wisdom traditions.

He notes that despite distinctive differences that the traditions hold, there are three main common themes to be found, beyond the usual ethical guidelines.

One is that the world and its infinite parts are more integrated than we normally see. Second is that despite the challenges, sufferings, and contradictions, the world offers more possibility for human growth than we normally see. And finally the third theme throughout the world’s wisdom tradition is the presence of mystery. We know there is much that we simply do not know.

We are constantly discovering that there are more dimensions to life than what is often obvious to us. Our struggling with faith helps us to live with the obstacles, doubt and paradox that we find in the world. May we continue to faithfully embrace the deep questions of life and living while as Martin Buber said “holding ourselves open to the unconditional mystery we encounter.”

Amen and Blessed Be.

 

“The Promises We Make”

Rev. Julie Kain

This afternoon, after our service today, and the Religious Education Committee meeting, and a lunch with the co-chairs of Social Action here at church, I will be embarking on a personal pilgrimage.

This afternoon I will get into my car and head north. I have a sacred destination before me. No, I am not returning to my Yankee homeland. I’m not going nearly that far north but I am returning to the state that was my chosen home for thirteen years. I am going back to North Carolina. The Mountain is welcoming me back home.

No, this is not Dr. King’s mountain and it is not even Little Scaly mountain. The mountain that I long to see, the mountain in whose presence I long to be, is the UU retreat and learning center called The Mountain, just outside of Highlands, North Carolina.

From Monday to Thursday of this coming week, I will be attending the South East UU Minister’s Association (SEUUMA) fall meeting at the Mountain. Although the date has been looming on my calendar since our arrival from California in mid-August, it’s just been these last several days that I have begun reflecting on what it’s like for me to be returning to a place I love after my first visit in 1997 and my last visit six years ago.

I was invited to go to the Mountain in the summer of 1997 by my home church, my first UU church, Eno River Fellowship in Durham, North Carolina. I’d been a member there for six years and had gotten progressively more involved in a variety of activities, ranging from sound room attendant, occasional guest musician, workshop and class participant, and even office volunteer. But it was my service on the worship committee for four years that eventually led me to becoming chair of that committee in 1997 and it was time for me to be sent to the Mountain for Leadership School.

Now I really had no idea what to expect of UU Leadership School. As a young person I had been to Girl Scout camps and even church camps, and I had wonderful experiences there but it had been over twenty years since I had done anything like that!

When I got to the Mountain I discovered more than fifty other people who had also been sent there from all over the southeastern region of our country. Usually one or two people each from congregations of all sizes and kinds and locations, from rural to small town to big city. This week was very well planned out for us participants by an eclectic and devoted faculty which was comprised of a nice mix of outstanding UU district leaders and a few ministers, as well. Our curriculum ranged from UU Heritage and Values to Worship Arts to Group Leadership Teams and Credo Groups. A good portion of the day was scheduled with presentations and group activities, but there was also a morning and evening worship service, and time for socializing, too. We got just a little bit of “down” time.

The setting is beautiful. Once you leave the little highway that takes you there, you drive up a curvy paved road into the woods. You pass some playing fields, an obstacle course, and various outbuildings. You keep going and then you see a rustic parking lot and signs showing the way to various lodges, cabins and of course – the mess hall.

I’m not sure if it’s still scheduled this way but when I was at Leadership School it used to coincide with the Youth Camp. That was really great. While there were sixty of us adults clustered around one lodge there were over seventy-five teens from all over the southeast clustered around the other main lodge. We enjoyed some meals together and one amazing worship service.

It’s a fantastic setting of hiking trails and grand vistas provided at lodge decks, overlooks, and the fire tower.

A lot of things happened for me at the Mountain that first year, but most significant was the love and commitment that had grown within me for my home church over the six years of being a member, was now expanded to a burgeoning love and commitment to our wider UU movement. Now even though we have these nice bright blue bumper stickers advertising Unitarian Universalism as the “Uncommon Denomination”, technically we are not a denomination but a free association of congregations, united by our common principles. We are really a religious movement rather than a centralized denomination.

And while we’re on the subject, you sometimes may hear of the time we became Unitarian Universalism in 1961 when the two denominations joined together as a “consolidation”, but really it is more accurately called the “merger”. This acknowledges the distinct strains of our Unitarian and Universalist histories, and the distinctive characteristics of their congregational personalities.

Leave it to UU’s to be enthusiastically specific about our non-creedal approach to religion!

The love and commitment I had for my own home church was very easily expanded to this great group assembled at the Mountain, representing the wider UU community throughout the southeast.

After a wonderfully fulfilling experience as a student at Leadership school, I was understandably delighted to be invited to return and serve on the Leadership School faculty for the following three years, my first three out of four years in seminary.

It hadn’t been until I went to Leadership School that I discovered my home church was one of the flagships of the region due to its size and accelerated rate of growth. From the time I joined in 1991 to the time I left for seminary in 1998, Eno River grew from 300 members to nearly 800. I didn’t really know any different, until I was at the Mountain and realized this was an unusual success story.

Now…finally…in 2006 I am returning to the beloved Mountain, and this time to join my ministerial and district colleagues from all over the southeast.

Now…after eight years, four years of seminary and five years serving three different congregations in northern and southern California, I am back home and back home to stay as your newly called minister here in Pensacola. It’s been quite a journey and as this Thanksgiving approaches I have more blessings to count in my life than I’ve ever had before!

It’s been quite a journey, with its share of trials and tribulations, and treasured moments.  I will be thinking about the journey that has brought me to Pensacola quite a bit over the next few days as I drive toward and re-experience my time at the Mountain.

You know, when one becomes a minister a question you tend to hear a lot is – “why did you decide to become a minister?” or it’s more traditional variation, “how were you called into the ministry?” Well, in my case at least, there was no red phone and no historic phone call from on high.

My genuine interest and devotion to Unitarian Universalism grew steadily over many years. And once the opportunity to become a minister was apparent, the deciding factor for me became very simple. I compared the decision to a prior major decision I had made in my life.

Out of all my childhood and high school friends, believe me, I was the most unlikely to marry and have a child at a young age. But you know as it was happening I had this deeper knowing. It went against all common sense and the expectations of most people who knew me, including my family – that this was the thing for me to do, the path that was mine to take, laid out before despite all my internal resistance. There was a deeper knowing that even though I didn’t understand how this could possibly work out

I needed to trust that it would.

And there was something else beyond that. Not only was I being asked to surrender to the unfolding of my life in an unusual direction, I felt the need to commit myself to it. And for me that meant that even though I felt I knew nothing about motherhood, I made the decision that I would try my best, one day at a time, for the sake of my daughter. Her life was worth everything I could find in myself to give for her.

I was scared. I was resistant. But there was something much more important at stake and I just had to try my best.

By the time I was considering the ministry my daughter was fifteen years old. We’d seen lots of good years and a few very tough times mixed in them. My devotion to her had kept me in Chapel Hill, North Caroline for thirteen years so she could have what I hadn’t as a child – one place in which to grow up. The continuity of school, friends and larger community that I hadn’t known, having attended nine schools in three different states.

As I was considering the ministry the big surprise was that my daughter Caroline was the most encouraging. She was and has continued to be my “number one fan”, with my husband Rudy having now joined her as my second “number one fan”.

It’s really nice to be loved and to have the full confidence of another person. I know it helps me to push beyond my personal limitations and keep trying all the time to reach my best.

I was able to surrender myself to pursuing a path of Unitarian Universalist ministry once I had realized I had no idea of where it might take me but I was willing to commit myself to showing up each day and trying my best.

There is a beautiful saying from Estonia that says “The work will teach you how to do it.” And that’s really how it is in life.

Our hearts lead us into situations where we take on things beyond our knowledge or everyday confidence level. We find a way to get past our insecurities and anxieties, and we commit ourselves to some unknown path because even though we can’t explain why – it just seems to be the thing that’s good for us to do.

Surprise, Surprise!

In a few weeks from now, there will be an historic event taking place in the life of this congregation. The members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola will ceremonially install me as your first settled full time minister. I thought that I had to wait a long time to have a church of my own, but this community has had to wait nearly fifty years for someone like me to come along!

I am privileged and honored to receive your trust and I hope to fulfill the promise of a long and fruitful ministry among you.

When we make promises in our lives to other people or to the principles we hold most dear, we are entrusting ourselves to the fulfillment of our ideals. We are making a statement of faith in things yet to be seen, with a trust that our commitments will keep us steady in the times we are rocked by uncertainty or disappointment.

A promise is a pledge to stay for the long haul and a willingness to weather all that’s intertwined into our journey of life.

We know the heartbreak that comes when promises are not kept. There are good reasons for which promises should not be entered lightly. The vulnerability that we expose ourselves to is real and the stakes are high.

We need to be intentional about those relationships and principles to which we entrust both the best, and the worst of ourselves. Whether it is parenthood, or committed partnership, or even a genuine friendship that is hoped will endure the changing of the years. Whether it is a profession, or an avocation, or the choice to become a member of a religious community, we are wise to consider all the practical realities involved, and lucky to be foolish enough to take a chance on something great coming out of it.

We need to be careful not to let our insecurities and anxieties hold us back from growing into more of what we’re essentially meant to be – joyful in our uniqueness and accepting of our human frailties.

The promises we make are an affirmation that we commit ourselves to the best we have to give, and to receive. Our promises not only hold our ideals, but they hold us in account. They are a measure of what we say is most important in life.

In a few weeks we will be celebrating the promises we are making, I to you as your minister and you as a community that shares the ministry with me. We will be beginning a journey of our own and we can anticipate that all kinds of adventures lay before us. I look forward to our discovering this place to be as sacred as a mountain.

May we find it to be a place of community and hope, love and commitment, grand vistas and treasured moments.

May it be so.

“We Remember Them”

Rev. Julie Kain

Once a year in Mexico, death is celebrated in the midst of life.

Each autumn, the living invite their dead to join them in the festival of the Days of the Dead, Los Dias de Los Muertos.

Starting late in the afternoon on November 1st, families converge on the cemeteries to sit and wait for their arrival in the night. Candles are lit for their souls, marigold petals have been laid out to show the way, treasured belongings, food and drink are offered to welcome them back.

Strolling musicians play familiar and favorite tunes as families and friends alternately socialize and reflect upon the memories of their dearly departed. Families have already cleaned and repaired the grave sites in anticipation of their arrival. Decoration with paint and flowers have been added.

By midnight, the cemetery is filled with candles flickering in the windy autumn night. The beloved dead are invited to return home again.

People since ancient timese have made a ceremony of tending graves.

Can we make time in our busy modern lives to make a ceremony and a solemn commitment to tend our memories…to tend and clear and clean…the memories of those we love, our own beloved dead?

 

In the short time that I have been serving as your minister among you, I have seen that you are a loving people, a loving community of both memory and hope, and I see this in part by how you honor the lives of your loved ones who have died.

In the past year this community has known not a small number of deaths. We also occasionally suffer another kind of loss; we lose members, precious parts of our community, at times to their relocations to other places. We will know more of this loss in coming months.

Today though, as Unitarian Universalists, we celebrate the fullness of our community and the fullness of our individual lives by recognizing all of those who have helped to shape our lives and are no longer with us. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize the interdependent web of all life which holds us and which holds all whom we love.

I know that I have been changed by the loss of loved ones in my life. I know that not only have I been changed by this loss, but my life and its course have been dramatically touched and shaped by loss.

As it should be.

We all know that our time on this earth is relatively short in the larger scheme of things. But, wouldn’t you agree, that it isn’t until we are in a time of impending death or in a time of having just lost someone close to us that we become intensely aware of the preciousness of life?

It puts things into a different perspective, doesn’t it?  We are given the opportunity to notice just how much we take for granted in this life.

I feel strongly that one very important role our UU congregations have is to provide a place where we can be together with our questions and our experiences of death. Our culture makes it so difficult to grieve openly. So at the times when we most need the loving presence of others in our lives, we often find ourselves quite isolated.

Even though we have broken through the taboo in our culture about talking about sex, it seems talk of death and dying is still nearly as taboo a subject as talking about money.

Despite the fact that my own life has been dramatically altered by the death of loved ones, I rarely talk about it. Frankly, the depth of their impact on my life is sometimes hard to consciously recognize at all. It has become a part of my internal landscape which has been altered by the events of time and somehow I have adapted.

It doesn’t cease to amaze me, just how resilient we humans can be. Not all the time, but as a general rule – we figure out how to go on even in situations in which we feel with every cell of our being that we just might not make it through.

Sometimes I think about the toll that war has taken on our lives, especially because like death on the whole, it can be an invisible presence in our lives, nonetheless affecting everything.

We have had generations of people whose lives were dramatically altered by the presence of war and yet most of those histories remain unspoken. The presence of current wars is difficult to even acknowledge. We almost never give people a chance to talk about how war affects them personally.

Since the time of my surrogate grandfather’s death in 1991, the death that was my first deep loss and which led me through the doors of my first Unitarian Universalist church, I have had other deaths that have touched me deeply.

The death of my father in 1997 to cancer gave me a big opportunity to address much unfinished business in my life. The strength and personal insight I gained through that difficult process eventually led me to one of the biggest decisions of my life, the risk and privilege of entering the Unitarian Universalist ministry.

Three years ago my sister-in-law Karen also died from cancer. To see a young person valiantly fight against a terminal disease also changed me. This year I am the age she was when she died. When my life seems weighted down by worries and responsibilities, I remember that she is no longer with us and I am grateful simply to be alive. I try to be grateful for the richness of the struggles I know, along with the simple pleasures of life; the crisp air today, the smiles and hugs when I come to church, the beauty of the changing seasons.

Another death that pushed me to my limits was the violent suicide of my former partner’s best friend, just a month after my sister in law had passed.

When I had done my pastoral counseling residence in seminary at a regional trauma center, the most difficult situation I found myself in was being with the family and friends of a young person who had attempted suicide and who did not survive the attempt, after spending several grueling days in the hospital.

And when my former partner was traumatized by the death of his best friend since childhood, I was pulled closer into a most painful process of soul searching, of trying to make sense of a situation that simply felt impossible to accept.

There are times, my friends, when the fabric of our lives is torn irreparably. Although some of us are fortunate to experience a gradual healing, the scars on our psyches are always there, always sensitive to the touch, always present in us with a painful longing for what has been lost.

Today in this room I doubt that there are many who have not experienced a deep loss in their life of someone close to them.

Although it can be painful to remember the difficult times, sometimes not making a space for that in our memories can actually lead to forgetting the good times, the precious moments, the deep connections we have shared with others.

For those of us who have walked the lonely road through our grief, eventually the pain subsides and what we continue to carry with us are the precious memories of our loved one.

I now invite each of you to bring to your mind’s eye and into the presence of your heart, the memory of a loved one who has helped to shape your life and who is no longer with us. Let us hold their names and at the end of the reading I’m about to share written by UU minister Kathleen McTigue – you will be asked to name them aloud.

 

 

#721 They Are With Us Still

 

In the struggles we choose for ourselves, in the ways we move forward in our lives and bring our world forward with us,

It is right to remember the names of those who gave us strength in this choice of living. It is right to name the power of hard lives well lives.

We share a history with those lives.

We belong to the same motion.

They too were strengthened by what had gone before. They too were drawn on by the vision of what might come to be.

Those who lived before us, who struggles for justice and suffered injustice before us, have not melted into the dust, and have not disappeared.

They are with us still.

The lives they lived hold us steady.

Their words remind us and call us back to ourselves. Their courage and love evoke our won.

We, the living, carry them with us: we are their voices, their hands and their hearts.

We take them with us, and with them choose the deeper path of living.

(Let us name those who l end strength in our lives.)

 

Amen and Blessed Be.