Monday, September 22, 2014

That's All I Can Stands, I Can't Stands No More: Finding Your Still Small Voice In Overwhelming Times

Delivered September 21, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version) 

Sometimes being a Unitarian Universalist feels very freeing.  I don’t have to choose from any specific scripture which for today will allow me to explore a line from popular literature, Popeye the Sailor.  The line is “That’s All I Can Stands, I Can’t Stands No More”  and he usually uses this line when he has reached the edge or limit of his ability to deal with a situation and it is right after he says this that he eats his can of spinach which gives him super strength.  This made me think of what it means to be on the edge of not being able to stand any more.   This is a time when it is so easy to feel overwhelmed with what is going on in the world.  Events and catastrophe, scandals and conflicts come flowing past us at an unbelievably high rate of speed.  Just when you think one crisis is over another one begins.  Just when you think one flare-up of tensions has subsided, another one heats up. And it is hard to know how to deal with all of that in our public lives together.   What do we do, do we take to the streets, do we huddle quietly in our homes and pull the covers over our heads? 

I have talked before about being overwhelmed, a couple of years ago I spoke about what happened when I saw that people couldn’t stand what was going on in the world anymore and it seemed they often dealt with it on-line by going into an electronic rant.  They would take that anger, frustration and hopelessness and zing, it would come out online. At the time I said I felt bombarded by it.  Some days, all that venting would come flying through my Facebook newsfeed at a dizzying rate so much so that no matter how righteous the thoughts were being expressed, my eyes seem to glaze over as I viewed the many angry words surging through my field of vision.  This can be true with my email box as well, whether from well-meaning friends or organizations like which I have to say I have moved on from.  What I have found is that all this new media, all this electronic communication, has given us a completely new way of venting our anger or frustration, hurt, wounds or pain.

Of course, politics and all the news isn’t all that can drive us to the edge of all we can take.  It can be dealing with children, or parents.  It can be stress at work.  It can be money problems or relationship problems. It can be just the constant flow of what to do next in an incredibly busy life, or the lack of busyness in a life that once was much busier. And, of course, the point is that when you are on the road to the edge, what can be done to help make sure you are not going to go over it?

One of the things I know that can sometimes send us right up to the edge is what I call the 95% - 5% rule or the 5% rule for short.  The 5% rule is when 95% of your life is pretty amazing but the 5% that is bad or challenging at the moment seems to take up 95 % of your brain space. It happens when you let that 5% blow out of proportion and encompass everything, then it seems like your whole world is revolving around that 5%.  Sometimes this is totally understandable.  If you have a sudden major diagnosis or illness, it doesn’t matter if you have the most fabulous life in the world.  Even if you wake up every morning filled with gratitude and joy, when you get a call and the news on the other end of the line is that sudden kind, the kind that rocks your world, it can easily fill up 95% of your consciousness.  I think this can be true with many things that take us by surprise, they can end up taking a disproportionate amount of space in our consciousness and they stay there until we deal with them one way or another.

This is related to another version of the 5% rule that comes from my interpretation of Family Systems Theory.  Family Systems Theory talks about how when a system is moving along a path it is important for the system to stay grounded and centered along the path taking into account the long term health and happiness of the entire system.  In these systems, there will always be 5% that will somehow demands attention and the challenge is not to have the whole system move off course to deal with the 5% that is the loudest, most often heard from or the one that most consistently demands attention.   Let me give you an example. Let’s say there is a family with two parents and six children and they are on a summer trip in a station wagon across the United States.  They have two weeks to get from Madison, Wisconsin to Disneyland.  Five of those children, are mostly pretty happy and do have their occasional issues or differences of opinion but never exhibit behavior that demands for the parents to stop the car and pull over.  One child however, let’s name this child, #4, demands a great deal of attention. #4 knows that every time they cause a problem, the whole system will come to a halt and deal with them so, they often cause problems and each time they do, the parents pull over to address the problem. This is a version of the 5% rule. In this scenario, our final meet up with Mickey Mouse is being threatened because, and understandably so, it is almost impossible for everyone to think, talk or pay attention when #4 is screaming as the station wagon is rumbling down the road.  I didn’t ever say this was going to be easy.

Let’s take this example and apply it to our everyday lives.  In our everyday lives, maybe this looks like a conversation we had at work.  In general, our job is fine.  We may love it or not love it but in general, we are happy and things are about as good as they can be.  Then at 4:30pm on a busy day, right before you are ready to go for the weekend something happens, it could be a conversation with a supervisor, it could be a task that was not completed, it might be an email you shouldn’t have sent and then it happens, you are filled with remorse or regret or fear and child #4 starts screaming for attention in your head, it wants you to pull over your car, it wants you to move the whole system to the edge.

It can be really hard, we have all been there in one way or another.  Maybe we have said something ill-advised to our spouse and then left the house for work. Maybe we have been on a date and told the wrong story.  Maybe we have just not done something that you really feel you should have done to help someone along the way.  It isn’t easy, and it can be very complicated but part of our ability to cope in a healthy way is our ability to not be pulled and sometimes dragged into short term actions that satisfy or help make us feel better about the immediate needs of this 5%.  Our  ability to take a longer view, to gain and keep some perspective, really can help us to understanding what behavior helps us stay on course and what behavior stops us from getting to Disneyland.  If we always react to each problem with actions that pacify the immediate issue, we can be giving into things that lead to short term comfort but threaten our long term health and happiness.

So when we get to a place where that’s all we can stand and we really can’t stand any more, what do we do?  Well, one way to ask that question is, what is your spinach?  What is the thing that you can consume that will help you overcome that 5% that is trying to take over 95% of your brain?  What gives you strength?  What do you rely on? What helps you be your best self?

There are of course some pretty logical, reason-based and therapeutically healthy answers to this.  Things that we use to help us cope, that take a longer term view like therapy or exercise.  They can be hobbies like surfing or making art.  Maybe you journal or maybe you like to cook. These are all pretty healthy and positive ways to deal with that long trip across country. When I mean healthy, I usually say that in opposition to short term solutions that might comfort us but threaten our long term happiness like excessive drinking, substance abuse or other overindulgences.

And short term answers often don’t help us escape the cycles in which we can find ourselves caught.  In some ways I feel sorry for Popeye.  I am sorry that he is in a cycle that seems to be about having relative calm and happiness in his life, then something happens and he feels threatened or he feels the need to act because he gets to the edge of all he can stand and then he can’t stand any more.  When this happens, thankfully he is able to down that can of spinach and although it does help him get past this edge, he always seems to get back to this point again and again and again.

When thinking about this cycle, I couldn’t help but reflect on what we can do to not keep coming back to the same place, some way to keep us on the path for the longer journey and I found myself thinking about what we can do to stay on what some call, the balcony, in other words being able to remove ourselves from being immersed in the pressures of the moment and doing what we can to keep navigating down a healthy course by seeing the larger picture.  Remember, we don’t always know the final destination, but I think it helps us to try and keep our trip as healthy and meaningful as possible.

That is why I use the terms staying centered or grounded.  Being centered or grounded isn’t about being inflexible or about being sure of yourself.  To me being centered means working to understand who you are by understanding what it is that you want in life over the long term and continuously revisiting that as you travel your path. It means trying to understand what is your “stuff” (the stuff that you are responsible for) and differentiating that from what is the “stuff” of others.  It also means opening ourselves up to listen the still small voice inside. This phrase still small voice isn’t from Popeye, it is actually from one of the parts of the Hebrew Bible where I have found meaning.  In 1 Kings 19:11-13 it reads, 11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: 12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?”

Although many of us here today may not believe in God and many may not believe that God will speak to anyone in a still small voice, it doesn’t mean we should discount wisdom where we can find it and I believe that it is wise advice for us to listen for our still small voice, the voice of what centers us, the voice of what grounds us to this earth.  To me we listen because in the midst of all the noise, in the midst of all the Facebook posts, in the midst of all the daily challenges and changes that we face, we need to find a practice, find people and find ways to remind us of who we are at our core and what we strive to be when we are being our best self.  We need to take time, schedule time and have time to reflect on what is important to us, on our own humanity, on the respect and dignity of those around us and how we are living our lives in a ways that brings out the best in us no matter what we face. Grounded doesn’t mean unable to change, in fact grounded means we can change and that we actually keep asking ourselves how are we willing to change as we strive to connect to that deep sense of self. Whether prayer or meditation, beach walking or running, fasting or writing poetry, sitting in silence or singing in jubilation, part of the practice of any spiritual community is to listen for our still small voice, that voice that calls us to our best selves, that voice that reminds us of the common good, that voice that moves us to hope, that voice that connects us to each other, that voice that helps us remember to stay on the path for we are in this for the long run.

Amen and may it be so.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Walking Back from the Edge – A World Overcome with Posturing

Delivered September 14, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(quickly edited version) 

Last week I talked about the edge as a place where we need to go.  The edge I was talking about in last week’s service was about taking chances and risks based on the needs of the world and the urgency for which it is calling us to walk towards trouble and reach out in love.  Today it is a different edge I am talking about.  It seems like there is another edge that consumes us.  It is an edge that we walk up to and frequently refuse to back down from, motivated by pride or inflexibility, an edge where it seems so hard from which to withdraw.

I remember this story from my house in my childhood but it was a story that I am guessing many of you could identify with.  Oh let’s say there was a child of a certain age, 5, 6 or even 7.  That child perhaps comes to dinner and sits down at the table and as the meal progresses, refuses to eat his or her, insert food choice here, but most likely vegetables. After a discussion with the person in charge, a food eating boycott begins with the consequence being that someone doesn’t get dessert unless that eat their vegetables.  Time passes and things escalate.  Perhaps there are loud expressions of unhappiness.  Perhaps something is thrown. Either way the tensions rise and soon, there is no going to bed until those vegetables are eaten.  Remember, this isn’t a hunger strike to end war.  This isn’t a work stoppage in order to unionize.  This is interweaving of childishness, stubbornness and pride.

Here is how I view the results of this for the most part.  No one really wins.  The vegetables will probably begrudgingly get eaten anyway, or perhaps they will be thrown away after another punishment is dished out.  Stress for all rises creating disharmony in the relationship and everybody is really tired the next day from the sleeplessness that occurred on both sides, both the punisher and the punishee. This is all well and good when it occurs with a 5 year old, even perhaps an inevitable opportunity for boundary setting, teaching and learning as a child grows through fairly standard stages of development.  It is a much different story when this happens between two grown men at a bar, refusing to back down over a misstep or far worse, a 20th Century super power with nuclear weapons trying to reclaim their authority in Eastern Europe.

I think this happens a lot in geopolitics.  Lots of national pride, lots of cultural pride, lots of posturing that becomes portrayed as weakness if we “back down.” This reminds me once again of the Fiddler on the Roof quote where a Villager says: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth! and Tevye replies: Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless. Walking up to this kind of an edge and being unwilling to back down always seems so pointless to me.  It doesn’t ever really address the underlying problems.  It rarely if ever leads to long term solutions. It just seems to be an endless cycle of challenges, punishment and sleeplessness that just leads to us all being very very tired.

A few years ago I was thinking about this and I came up with the saying “in order for real change to occur someone must blink first and I am willing for that to be me.” Now, what did I mean by that.  What I meant was the only way to solve these situations isn’t really about backing down and giving in, it is more about another path where to evolve the situation someone is to be willing to blink, willing to come back from your edge, be willing to let go a little to the inflexible pride telling you that you have to stick to it.

Listen, I march every year in the LGBT Pride Parade.  I get the need for groups that have been systemically marginalized to stand together, firmly giving each other strength, not giving in to their desire and rights to be treated equally and justly. I get that pride.  I get that during the Memphis Sanitation Strike in 1968 signs were made for men in the black community that said, “I am a Man.” I get that. Pride bring a sense of empowerment to communities.  I have a harder time with hate groups associated with the term White Pride for instance because those are catch phrases for hate, inequality and injustice.  So I guess the way I think about this, pride happens,   it happens for so many reasons, and no matter what causes or motivates the pride, when pride over comes us and moves beyond supporting healthy behavior, pride can become what some might call a deadly sin.  To me pride completely fails when it becomes posturing and by that I mean, to act in an affected or artificial manner, as to create a certain impression. We see this on so many borders of so many conflicts, which is true of the picture on the front cover of your order of service. Every day at dusk for many years, Indian and Pakistani border guards put on a show of one-upmanship at the Wagah border crossing near Amritsar, Punjab. The elaborate ceremony was the height of posturing where the decades long conflict came down to a highly choreographed dance that demonstrated the animosity between the two countries. It was a perfect example of national pride and posturing.  My understanding is however, that in order to deal with lowering tensions in the wake of cross border crime, the ceremony has been toned down.  In some ways it was fun and in fact had to be choreographed I am guessing by both sides together because it was so coordinated, however it didn’t demonstrate that cooperation, only animosity.

I can’t help but think what would happen if we all toned down our pride and our posturing.  How many times have we taken a posture, not necessarily based on principle but based on selfishness, pride, anger, or stubbornness?  How many times have these things gotten in the way at work, in our family relationships with a sibling or partner? How many times has pride, anger or selfishness led to loss of love, loss of friendship, loss of peace, and maybe even loss of yourself?

It seems that wherever I see a negative discussion of posturing and pride, I always see another word come into the conversation and that word is humility. Humility can be thought of as thinking of yourself lower than others but that isn’t how I mean it.  My dear friend, the minister of the Phoenix UU Congregation, Rev. Susan Fredrick Grey in her sermon titled, At Nature’s Mercy said it this way, “It would be better to live a humility that causes us to live more gently, gratefully, and mindful of the ways are lives are bound to one another and to creation. A humility that leads us to find some hope beyond present tragedy and calls us to kindness in the midst of suffering. But learning this way of humility make take some redefinition.”  Some redefinition because humility, like so many things has many meanings attached to it.  As Susan lifts up, humility in many religious traditions is thought to be a virtue. “In Christianity it is typically described as humbling oneself before god, the image of the humble servant or the message of self-sacrifice. In Islam, one definition of humility is explicit in the name. Islam means “submission”, as in submission to God and Muslim means “one who submits.” Then there are the powerful lines from the prophet Micah in the Jewish scripture, the Torah, that reads, “He has told you what is good, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

She continues, “Many rightly cringe at definitions of humility dependent on humbling ourselves before a deity. We are wary because far too often humility has been defined by self-sacrifice and submission to oppression. When I talk about humility, I am not talking about meekness, I am not talking about self-deprecation or self-denial or denigration. Too often religion overly emphasize self-sacrifice, suffering and meekness while ignoring the virtues of doing justice, and the demands of love, and the strength we must cultivate in ourselves to do this work. A false definition of humility has been used to make people feel they should accept oppressive systems, that they are to blame for tragedy. Too often the virtue of humility has led people to act small, to hide their strengths, to settle for something less than equality, less than our dreams. Sensitive to the damaging consequences of theologies that tell us, to shrink, to not ask questions, we are rightly suspicious of calls to be humble. It sounds too much like be quiet, accept less, act small.”

Susan suggests we do away with that kind of reading of the concept of humility for something more like the words that are found in the traditions of the Navajo Nation:
Beauty is before me, and
Beauty behind me,
above me and below me
hovers the beautiful.
I am surrounded by it,
I am immersed in it.
In my youth, I am aware of it,
and, in old age,
I shall walk quietly the beautiful
In beauty it is begun.
In beauty, it is ended.
As she says, “This is a humility grounded not in submission but immersion. A humility not grounded in self-denial or meekness, but in quiet beauty, in wholeness.” And to me, this is a deep understanding of not how to stand on some edge of pride or some edge of submission, but one that more deeply calls us to beauty, to reconciliation, to cooperation, to reflection on our actions and an overwhelming longing to overcome our natural human desires to sit at the table not eating our vegetables to prove a point.

I am going to do my best to be bold as your minister this year.  In our services on Sunday, there will be time for reflection, there will be time for connection, there will be pastoral services to help us be together in love, calm and beauty and there will also be services that I hope challenge you.  Today I am going to issue a challenge.  I challenge you to reconsider the edges in your lives that you have walked up to and from which you find it hard to back down.  And, I am asking you to join with me, especially if one of those edges are how you talk and think about religious life.  I have been doing this job for a while now and I will tell you, I think we are in more need of affirming and connecting religious life than ever before. And I am not talking about some traditional religious observance that we find untenable, I am talking about religion as in this reading “Impassioned Clay” by Unitarian Universalist Minister Ralph N. Helverson

Deep in ourselves resides the religious impulse.
Out of the passion of our clay it rises.

We have religion when we stop deluding ourselves that we are self-sufficient, self-sustaining, or self-derived.

We have religion when we hold some hope beyond the present, some self-respect beyond our failures.

We have religion when our hearts are capable of leaping up at beauty, when our nerves are edged by some dream in the heart.

We have religion when we have an abiding gratitude for all that we have received.

We have religion when we look upon people with all of their failings and still find in them good; when we look beyond people to the grandeur in nature and to the purpose in our own heart.

We have religion when we have done all that we can, and then in confidence entrust ourselves to the life that this larger than ourselves.”

I stand here today asking you, my congregation, to join together in this religious quest of walking back from whatever edges in your life that have been motivated by stubbornness, pride, anger, frustration, defensiveness, wounds and fear where perhaps we have said too much, or gone too far, or been unwilling to blink and look upon people with all of their failings and still find in them good; and look beyond people to the grandeur in nature and to the purpose in our own hearts.

This year, let us walk together in beauty and humility. In this congregation, let this be a posture free zone where we practice this with ourselves and each other.  In our lives, let us religiously be authentic, be vulnerable and be open. And let us bring forth beauty as much and as often as possible, let us be surrounded by beauty, let us be immersed in beauty, let us travel in beauty, let us be humbled by this beauty and then let beauty be our legacy when we leave.

Amen and so may it be.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Walk Towards Trouble, Reach Out In Love and Stand Together On The Edge

Welcome back, welcome to the new congregational year.  Welcome back to the new Religious Education classes.  Welcome back to the new small group program.  Welcome back to a year where we honor the traditions of the past and work together to plan the future of UUFSD.  I say welcome back and as I do every year, I return to this pulpit where although much looks the same, and even though the passage of time has been relatively short, many things have changed. For one thing, for the millionth time, this summer I discovered that I am human.  In fact it happens on a pretty frequent basis.  This summer I had a strong sense that I have more of my life behind me than I have ahead of me.  This summer I begrudgingly came really really close to giving up the hope of ever losing 20 pounds and more importantly, this summer, I have had many days where the news has brought me to a place of despair rather than a place of hope. This summer, I have been deeply in touch with some of the human longings that I believe bring people to tryout a congregation like ours, the need for connection, the desire for peace, a hope for a better future, trying to provide some grounding for their children, and a deep desire to love and be loved.

My connection to all of this was one of the reasons that my trip to our General Assembly this year was particularly meaningful. I left here in June, as I always do, and traveled to General Assembly.  General Assembly this year was in Providence, Rhode Island.  It was interesting and unique as is each General Assembly which is why I am going to be encouraging you through the rest of this year to consider attending the next one which will be held in Portland, Oregon next June.  I had many profound, wonderful and thought provoking experiences.  This year’s GA theme was Love Reaches Out. It was a theme that I increasingly needed to hear as we dove into a summer filled with an historic drought, ISIS, Ferguson, Missouri, the backlash in a nation of immigrants towards children needing refuge from a storm, the ever present Mideast unrest and the increasingly frightening realities of the climate crisis.

It is so easy to get swept away by all that, something that I will be talking more about in sermons to come, but this summer, it seemed to consume the news and almost everyone I know.  It is important in times like this that we seek and find moments to fill us with inspiration, hope, spirit or whatever brings forth life.  This happened to me when love reached out from the lectern at General Assembly in the words of, strangely enough, a Catholic nun, Sister Simone Campbell who was the keynote speaker for the Ware Lecture Series, always a big night at GA.  This series has included such folks as Jesse Jackson, Daniel Ellsberg, Van Jones, Kurt Vonnegut and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In UUA President Peter Morales’ introduction, he said, “Sister Simone is one of America's most articulate and effective advocates for compassionate public policy. Sister Simone is a religious leader, an attorney, and a poet who has been a passionate spokesperson for immigration reform, economic justice, and health care for all. Two years ago she was instrumental in organizing the Nuns on the Bus tour as a way of drawing attention to the effects of the Ryan budget on people in need.  Last year she led a cross-country Nuns on the Bus tour focused on comprehensive immigration reform.”

I am deeply indebted to those who use their actions and words to inspire good in the world and I know I need to hear it. She fulfilled this need in a way that has really stuck with me and I recommend that if you have time go to the UUA Ware Lecture on the web and watch the whole speech it would be well worth it.  For whatever charge any of us have with traditional religion or words like spiritual, prayer or the divine, I have come to really embrace the word faith.  I am a minister in this faith tradition with a long and meaningful history and I have to believe that my faith in the power of love and goodness has made a difference in me and can make even a bigger difference.  Sister Simone started with talking about faith and the difference it can make, (slightly edited to remove asides to the assembled)  “…this afternoon, I'd like to reflect with you on the journey of faith as walking towards trouble. Hmm. Because, well, when I was on the bus, the first bus trip, Bill Moyers program—actually it was Judith Moyers, Bill's wife, who saw that it was going to be something. So she insisted that Bill send a full-time photographer, videographer, on the bus. And Andy Fredricks was our videographer, and he was interviewing me and we were almost done with the trip, and he asked me this question. He said, well Sister Simone, it seems like whenever there's trouble, you walk towards it. Most people run away.  And I got thinking about it. And I realized that all of our spiritual leaders, when there are broken hearts or pain in our world, they have walked towards it. They walk towards the pain in order to embrace, touch, heal. Now, that means if the high-level leaders do that, isn't that the witness that we all try to follow?”

Since she said that, I have thought about people of faith who have influenced in my lifetime and I got what she said, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, John Lewis, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, all walking toward trouble, toward pain, toward injustice and in fact, leaning into it knowing that there would be risks to mind, body and spirit.

And listening to Sister Simone I could tell that this wasn’t just a strategy, it was a calling from a place of our shared longing and it was a place of significant risk as she told us, “But what you have to do is you have to let it sink down from the head into the heart. And if you are going to walk towards trouble, one of the first troubles that you have to walk towards is what I refer to as holy doubt. Holy doubt is an essential element of holy faith. If we do not reverence our doubt, then we become the measure of control. Of God, of living in our world, trying to hold on and control everything that's happening. When you walk towards trouble, you open—my experience is, that I open myself to questions, to uncertainty, to risk, to knowing that I am not the measure or in control of the situation. It is critical in our world at this time that we have the courage to walk into doubt, as much as we walk into faith. Because quite frankly, if we don't have doubt, we don't have faith if the only thing we have is certitude, I mean the absence of doubt with faith is certitude. And that leaves us in a very righteous position. Walking towards trouble means we're willing to open ourselves to the surprise. To the 100% who have a different story. To different perspectives. So” Sister Simone said, “the importance of being uncertain means that I live a life that is slightly disturbed, if you want to know the truth.”

So as we walk toward trouble, as we walk to meet the needs of human pain and human healing, we walk with doubt and with the risk of the unknown and to me that is where we come to the edge.  That place where doubt meets faith, that place of leaving certitude behind, that is the edge and the edge is a place where we find discomfort and the edge is the place where we grow. This summer has led me in many ways to the edge. I am afraid that business as usual is no longer enough.  Although I understand that we will continue to do the things that we do, this summer was a serious reminder that we are in urgent need of new and creative solutions and activities.  We are at the edge of crisis in how we live together with each other and with the planet.   I am deeply worried about the growing climate crisis and our ability to rise up now to make a difference. I am at the edge when it comes to the struggle between fundamentalism vs. reason. We are on the edge of how we practice religion in this world as fundamentalism is growing in opposition to other fundamentalism and the response worries me as much as the original problem.  I am on the age when I think about our government’s inability to come together and solve problems. I am on the edge with how we can learn to live with, let alone love and embrace, difference in our communities.  And, I am on the edge regarding Unitarian Universalism as it has been practiced over the past 50 years and its relevancy as we struggle to understand how to meet the needs of a growing discomfort with traditional religious communities and new generations defining community in very different ways than the times and communities that many of our congregations were born to serve.

This brings us to the third part of today’s sermon title, which is how we reach out in love. Reaching out in love implies moving beyond our traditional borders, including the borders we have placed around meeting our individual needs, and radically reaching out to those who may be searching for whatever we have found, and what we may be able to offer the world including those who are needing to find help for their human longings. Reaching out in love was the theme of General Assembly this year and it really struck me deeply and asks us to think about what does reaching out in love actually mean?  First, it is about reaching, reaching out past the edge of our traditional comfort as individuals, and as congregations. It is totally understandable that we look for and hope for a community that wraps us in the comforting blanket of familiarity and reaching out in love can challenge that equilibrium.  But radically reaching out in love can also challenge the systems and structures that have brought us all to Ferguson, Missouri, that deny and complicate our climate crisis, that continue the political stalemate the impedes us coming together to solve problems, and that feeds the growth of fundamentalism that threatens long-term peace.  I know this is hard to do and over the next 4 weeks we will be also exploring and reflecting on how to crawl back when we get too close to the edge, how to care for ourselves and each other when the edge feels really scary and how to deal with the unknown when we reach the edge of what we know or have known.

But still, there are times throughout history where, as Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” As UU’s in San Diego County, I believe this is one of those times when we need to build a new model and be reaching out to each other in the San Diego UU cluster of congregations.  When we are struggling with how to evolve or adapt our programs, systems and ways of doing things, we should be communicating and sharing ideas with other congregations so we are not treading ground already covered and can rely on the wisdom of many.  When we are reaching out to the world with the values and principles that we cherish to address the threats to our ecosystem, we should be mustering the strength of members throughout the county so more voices can be heard.  When we stand with those who are oppressed due to sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, race, religion, or any other identity, we should be doing that arm-in-arm and shoulder to shoulder with other UUs, other faith communities or partner organization who may not share our faith but certainly share our values. And, when we stand before a city council with a resolution on gun violence, there shouldn’t be three UU’s in the room, there should be 300 standing against the forces of fear and wearing shirts that boldly state that we are willing to stand with anyone on the Side of Love.

Of course I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t still believe that I and we can make a difference in this community and this world. I truly believe we can do this. There is such a deep human longing for freedom, for peace, to connect and to love and be loved. Sister Simone says that her version of faith challenges her radically reach out and “to radically accept everyone, because,” she says, “every time I let my heart be broken open, and hear a new story, I hear something new. …I heard something new from Jason the entrepreneur, or Robin the clothing-store worker. I hear something new from Margaret's family. Radically accepting also means that I hear something new from Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, all the people I have on my mistake of God list.  As people of faith walking towards trouble, we need to embrace them too.’ She said, “Because what I have discovered, unless I hold them in my care, unless I, in my way of expressing it, acknowledge and love the God in them, I am at odds with the God in me, the challenge is to be open.”

In one of these moments where doubt meets faith this summer I wrote this which I titled, Don’t Give Up, “Instead of feeling overwhelmed today with the chaos and lack of love in the world, I am touched by the incredible efforts being put forth by so many. There is so much good, there is so much love, there actually is so much progress, we have come so far with so much more to go in what may be a shorter time than we think. Don't give up. Find sources of strength and sustenance. Be willing to appreciate tradition and yet, being willing to let go of things as they have always been done. Our time is craving creativity, calling for it like never before. Love and sustainability still can prevail as we continue to walk towards trouble, reach out in love, and stand together on the edge.”

My love and blessing to you all, it is so so good to be together again,


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Thoughts From A Challenging Summer

I have never posted a blog like this. I usually use this for sermon postings which will begin again after this weekend through next June.  For some reason, I just wanted to have them all in one place, so here are some of the short Facebook posts I have written this summer: 

Growing at the Edges 

I have come to understand that in part, growth in congregational life (and hopefully other places) comes when we create safe and sacred spaces to understand ourselves, our boundaries, our gifts and our limitations in relation to others. The solo practitioner of spiritual/religious life, can only grow as far as they can imagine. When you introduce others, we can have a broader and deeper understand of the world and our place in it. In congregational life, if we are only interacting with “like-minded people” at some point it continues to limit our ability to grow. We grow at the edges of our understanding but also at the edges of our comfort. We grow when our traditional understandings are challenged. We grow when we have to examine and reflect on things that we have always thought or done that we find is both different or in fact the same as those from other walks of life. We grow when we are open to engaging. We grow when we are willing to be vulnerable, to listen, to be open and allow for the mysterious, unknown and unknowable to challenge our certainty.

A Prayer for the New Congregational Year 

As Unitarian Universalist Congregations gather again for a new congregational year, the world has profoundly changed. As time passes it will always profoundly change and a question we must always ask is how can we honor the past, understand our history and linage, provide a place of spiritual grounding and yet adapt congregational life to meet the changing needs of a rapidly changing world. 

The world and all of its challenges often finds so much struggle in one place, the question of how we can somehow care for the well-being of those not in our immediate circle. How will we reach across difference with respect and curiosity, open to what may come and be willing to listen more than we speak? 

May the love of other truly enter our hearts and our places of worship.

May the ability to reach out in love flow through our outstretched fingers to touch a hurting and troubled world. 

May the desire to honor the past not impede the need to be relevant in this time of rapid change. 

May we stand as a beacon of love, not on our own, but together with all those who believe in justice, equity and compassion wherever they stand. 

And may we travel through this congregational year with this sense of purpose and urgency infused in our programs, our worship, our interactions and our lives together. 

Amen and may it be so.


This morning the alarm rang and I had a decision to make, should I go to the gym, should I go for a walk, or should I just stay home and have a peaceful morning. I didn’t have to worry about another sleepless cold night spent on a mountain in a desert waiting for food to be dropped from a plane. 

This morning as I got dressed to drive to work, I wondered what radio station to listen to and what route would have less traffic. I didn’t have to think about wearing a clergy collar or bringing an ID with me that said I was a minister because I am white, and I have no fear of being stopped by a police officer for any reason. 

This morning no matter what faces me during the course of the day, I will not think that this could be the day that I want to end my life because I just can’t see a way through the pain and darkness of another day. 

This morning I awoke to an alarm on a clock rather than the alarm that comes with a rocket or laser guided bomb. 

This morning, I have the freedom to sit at my computer and compose this message rather than worry about a tear gas canister exploding on my front lawn. 

I guess I could wake up, go for a walk, eat my breakfast, drive to work, and spend my day in privileged bliss, I certainly know some who do, but every day, we have choices to make. 

What are we doing to understand the privileges we possess in part by the choices we are able to make? 

What are we doing to know our place in the systems of interdependence? 

What can we do to contribute, wherever we can, to the changes we wish to see? 

This week, as much as any other time in my life I have come to the conclusion that we must have an open, aware, ever stronger and more interdependent contract with each other for anything else will be unsustainable for us all, even those who are steeped in their own privilege. I am also aware that this will take a firm and bold stance on behalf of equity, compassion, justice and love. 

As my colleague the Rev. Meg Riley wrote this week, “Love is not everything, but I still believe it is the best we can offer each other. It is the clearest path I have found to walk. Knowing that it holds no guarantees. And knowing that my heart will be broken every day.”

I don’t know, it seems like today would be as good a day as any to walk towards trouble, reach out in love and stand together on the edge.

Don't Give Up

Instead of feeling overwhelmed today with the chaos and lack of love in the world, I am touched by the incredible efforts being put forth by so many. There is so much good, there is so much love, there actually is so much progress, we have come so far with so much more to go in what may be a shorter time than we think. Don't give up. Find sources of strength and sustenance. Be willing to appreciate tradition and yet, being willing to let go of things as they have always been done. Our time is craving creativity, calling for it like never before. Love and sustainability still can prevail as we continue to walk towards trouble, reach out in love, and stand together on the edge.

Reaching Out 

I have been watching colleagues and others this past week struggle with the constant flow of violence and death. I have lived 55 years. In the 60’s, I watched tape on the nightly news of violence and horror in Vietnam as we ate dinner. Today, as I ate dinner in front of the evening news, I watched as children in Gaza and Israel crouched in fear and bodies were returned home to the Netherlands from attacks based in a kind of violence that will never solve the underlying issues that face the warring parties. 

I am tired of politics by death. I don’t ever stop wondering about a world where money, time, and creative energy were spent on art, dance, music, poetry, education, scientific discovery, exploration of other, sharing of cultures, love and the pursuit of joy. There will never be ideological purity. I am doubtful that any one way will ever be the way that everything is. The planet and the universe lives through the daily wonder and the ever-changing miracle of diversity and we continue to struggle as we deny, violate and pretend it isn’t so. 

There are certainly days where I am at a loss and struggle myself to find the joy that I know exists in the world, but I know it does. I know it does because I feel it, I experience and I see it. I can’t help but think since the dawning of time there have been these opposing forces and that the greater strength is needed for those who stand on the side of joy and love for power, greed and hate can be potent in their seduction. 

Tonight I watched the evening news, most days I don’t, but tonight was a good reminder not to give up because when this world tips one way, we need a lot of help from each other to tip it back. This is what I am talking about. As some of you may have heard “Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) announced a proposal on Friday for two military facilities to serve as host sites for some of the thousands of undocumented Central American immigrants who have come into the U.S. in recent months, saying the move falls in line with the country’s tradition of helping children in need. ‘We have rescued Irish children from famine, Russian and Ukrainian children from religious persecution, Cambodian children from genocide, Haitian children from earthquakes, Sudanese children from civil war, and New Orleans children from Hurricane Katrina,” Patrick said. “Once, in 1939, we turned our backs on Jewish children fleeing the Nazis, and it remains a blight on our national reputation. The point is that this good Nation is great when we open our doors and our hearts to needy children, and diminished when we don’t.”

This is what I am talking about. We all need to do this, to find what is good in ourselves and in each other. To not get sucked into blame, fear, retribution, resentment and the ever present seduction it carries. 

On my bad days, I promise to reach out. On your bad days, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We can only tip the balance if we walk towards trouble, reach out in love, and stand together on the edge.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fail!! - The Worthy Lessons of Failure

Delivered May 11, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca

Some of you may know that the word fail has become part of the lexicon in America.  I track the modern meaning of words online at the Urban Dictionary website and here is what the entry for fail says, “Fail - either an interjection used when one disapproves of something, or a verb meaning approximately the same thing as the slang form of [a more crass version of stinks]. Using it in a sentence would sound this way, 1] "you actually bought that? FAIL" 2] "this movie fails."  There is a worse version of this, it is called epic fail – which is the “complete and total failure when success should have been reasonably easy to attain.”

Today’s topic could just as easily have been titled “what we learn from our mistakes,” but the concept is sort of the same which is, we will try all kinds of things in life, some of them will succeed and some of them will fail, some of them will be noble and valid attempts and some of them in hindsight may turn out to have been mistakes, of course the $64,000 question for today is, when we fail or when we make mistake, what do we learn?

Since scheduling this sermon for today, I was initially unaware that I was going to be talking about this subject on Mother’s Day, I have been made aware of it a number of times by, you guessed it, women who are mothers. I have never done a sermon specific to Mother’s Day or Father’s Day and I don’t really think about that when planning them, so I didn’t really have much to say about that until one of the mother’s talked to me a little about both feeling like a failure and the stress that comes with seeing your children fail.

These are both great examples of what we all can face at some time or another, feeling like a failure and seeing those we love struggle and/or fail.  I love what she said about having to watch your children fail.  She basically said that you spend so much of your life trying to make sure that they are fed and clothed, that they do their homework and try to make good choices in life and then they get to an age where you can help as best you can, but you can’t follow them around all the time like you did when they were three.  At some point, they will fail, they will make mistakes and they hopefully will learn valuable lessons.  Parenting books are filled with how to do all of this so I leave your further study to those, however I will say that millenniums worth of parents have struggled with this conundrum and as much as I could say about it, or you could read about it, it feels much more real when it is happening in your life instead of reading it in a parenting book.

The other thing that I think is pretty universal is the fear that we are somehow failing, and we are doing that somehow in an epic way where complete and total failure comes when success should have been reasonably easy to attain.  I have to be honest with you.  I struggle with this as your minister.  I want this to be a loving, healthy and vibrant congregation and care deeply about all of you, and yet I often worry about making mistakes and failing myself and you.

For example, we have a vision statement for this congregation and this is what it says “Inspired by our Unitarian Universalist principles, we are a vibrant, intentionally diverse congregation that models and promotes both locally and globally: love, spiritual growth, service, right relations and sustainable living.” Although I think in many ways we are embarking down the road that we had hoped for when we went through the process of creating it, I know that very few of you could even say a version of this without first finding where it is written and then reading it.

Let me tell you what the plan was when we started the process of creating a vision statement. The plan was that we would be enriched by the process by working together and getting excited about producing something that was bold, flowed deeply though our hearts and motivated our collective actions for years to come.  The plan was that it would be easy to say and easy to remember so that everyone in this congregation would know it, understand it and hopefully embody it.  The plan was that we would finish that process and be ready to filter every single decision about congregational life, about our programming, about our budget, about our strategic plan and about our building process through this visionary statement.  And, the plan was that I would help promote this, not get distracted by all the other demands of ministry at least enough to keep it in the forefront of our minds and hearts.

Of course I thought I could do this because I have been leading board retreats for about 20 years and have been consulting with people and organizations on how to do this very thing for a long time.  Based on my experience, I thought I surely could help facilitate this statement for us and have it really be moving and motivating.  I admit to this being part hope, part desire for our collective sense of being inspired, part my faith that we could find something that we all could grasp on to and of course, and leaning into my discomfort and vulnerability, part ego.

It isn’t always easy for me and for maybe some others in the world to admit to our visions of self, that level of expectations that we set or demand from our own efforts which can make it even harder to deal with failing and to live up to those visions in our own and anyone else’s mind.  It is a place of discomfort and certainly can be a place of vulnerability.  Discomfort and vulnerability is a place that we often try to avoid.  Last week I talked a little about this; we can often build walls, false fronts, and even systems that can cover our discomfort and vulnerability.  These systems can be used to deflect, attack, defend, repel, blame, shame, detach and more.  At times they also can stop us from being honest with ourselves and others, being understanding of our shared frailties, or being forgiving.  These protective systems of comfort can also keep us from stretching our comfort zones by being bold and taking chances.

So one of the lessons I have learned from any sense of failing I have is that it helps to lean back into the discomfort and lean back into the vulnerability for those are where the areas of growth are.  I don’t think growth comes when we use systems designed to deflect, attack, defend, repel, blame, shame, and detach not that we are always responsible for everything, we are not.  There are certainly cases when others can contribute to failures because as much as some of us like to be responsible for everything in this world or want to control it, we can’t.  These cases do however call us into some deep reflection in order to understand our part in the process.  And of course there are times when what has happened, whether in small or large part, is the result of something of our own doing and as exhausting as it can be, it is a time for us to lean into that which challenges us and may help us move beyond.

Last week after District Assembly I posted this on my Facebook page, “I am so filled with the possibilities of this UUism after being surrounded by so many people with so much love in their hearts and so much yearning for the possible. I have felt like we are building a new way for a long time and today, I feel like the articulation of that new way is getting closer and closer. With each gathering of UU's I come away with hope. With each gathering I make connections that bring me joy. With each gathering I get closer to colleagues that deepen my love. With each gathering I feel jubilation when my congregants get filled with spirit from attending. My mind is swirling tonight with the possible, but I will rest well full to the brim with joy, love, hope, jubilation and spirit.”  As you can tell, I was moved and motivated by attending our District Assembly as I know others were in this congregation.  I think with staff included we had 10 people there.

Meg Riley the keynote speaker, the minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the online UU congregation, talked about how we must be willing to make big mistakes in the service of this faith.  I think the gist of what she was saying was that in order to move effectively into the future, we must be willing to try things, make mistakes, learn from the mistakes and try something else.

A couple of days after this, I was thinking about all this, discomfort, vulnerability, and making big mistakes and I posted this on one of the national UU facebook pages, “If you were going to do one really radical thing that you always wanted to do (or just thought of) that would change your congregation or Unitarian Universalism for (hopefully) the better for a very long time, what would it be?”  Here are some of the answers:

  • I'd shift to calling ordained UU people clergy (still Rev), but use term minister much more freely -- youth ministers, social media ministers, etc... Still need accountability, structure, supervision and job description. But we need to empower people to do ministry in way out the binary "your either a real minister or your not" culture.
  • We need to focus resources on planting a thousand new missions (some called churches) in a thousand different ways by 2025
  • Being more focused on society instead of our congregations.
  • I want UUs to be proud of the part their faith plays in making the world a better place, and willing to say so. That would be the best kind of marketing, in my opinion.
  • We need to learn how to invite people in besides the following: NPR listeners, Prius drivers, professors, the families of professors, local artists, former hippies, Humanists, Atheists & the list could continue. Not that these people aren't important to us & we should keep the doors open where they are concerned, but they already know we're here. There are SO many who do not, because while they may agree with our principles, they have no idea who we are or where to find us, & we make no effort to reach out to them because they don't look like us or participate in the same activities we do. Opening the doors & walking as far as your usual haunts is not outreach
  • Then someone replied, if we got all the NPR listeners, Prius drivers, professors, the families of professors, local artists, former hippies, Humanists, Atheists, etc., we would be a lot bigger and stronger than we are now.
  • And perhaps my favorite: I would wave my papal crosier and require, as a condition of membership in good standing, that each person develop a plan for becoming the best person she can be, that each person shares at least some of his goals and objectives with the community and that the community hold each person accountable for working the plan.

Can you imagine the risk of failure in some of these answers? Can you imagine how uncomfortable and vulnerable we might feel coming up with a plan for becoming the best person we can be, and standing up here on a Sunday morning and sharing at least some of our goals and objectives with the entire community and then, opening ourselves up to the community to hold each us accountable for working the plan.  Who is squirming in their seat right now?  But let’s take a minute and release us from all that might hold us back.  Let’s maybe even switch off for a minute those systems that serve to protect us. Let us just imagine if we can, what might be possible if we actually took the time, the effort and the risk to develop a plan for becoming the best person we could be, whatever that looked like and then had a community of people devoted to helping us work that plan.

After District Assembly one night a group of us went out for dinner and I ask a colleague of mine “If you were going to do one really radical thing that you always wanted to do (or just thought of) that would change your congregation or Unitarian Universalism for (hopefully) the better for a very long time, what would it be?” He said he would take his congregation out from the walls of the church and hit the streets to work with homeless children.  He said he wanted his congregation to understand that Unitarian Universalism has the power to save lives.

We may not all know the vision statement, we may not all yet be on the same page about the potential this congregation has for transforming this community, we may not all be creating plans to better ourselves, but let’s not fall into to the trap of thinking that we have reached some finite point in any of these efforts.  We can do whatever we can think of together, we can go boldly into the future.  If I said to you today that we were free to think of huge and unreasonable ideas, ideas that cost too much money, ideas that would take too many volunteers, ideas that might add too many staff people, ideas that take us streaming into this community to bring love to people in need, what would those ideas be?  What would change us and change others forever? What could we do together, as a force for good that would hit the national news, go viral and demonstrate our UU values in such an amazing way that there would be no doubt?

I can’t tell you today what this looks like.  I don’t know what this means to our vision statement our how we implement our strategic plan.  I am not even sure what this means about how we do congregational life moving forward.  But this is what I do know, this world needs us. It is in urgent need of healing.  Our political systems need healing.  Our nations need healing.  Those who are hungry need healing. Those who cross borders for economic reasons need healing. Those who cannot live without a living wage need healing. Those who feel lost, lonely and without community need healing and our climate is in grave need of healing.  How can we not risk big mistakes in the hope that we can help heal and transform the world?  So as we move forward from here, I ask that those of you on the fringes of congregational life get involved and come to the center, lend your time and talents, for this can be a vehicle for big ideas and vital healing.  So let us pledge to support boldness, let us not succumb to the seduction of our natural tendencies of critique and skepticism, let us be people of unrealistic vision, and let us be willing to risk the big mistakes on the always possible path to success. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Your Knee, My Shoulder - Aging and the Depth of Life

Delivered May4, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca

The title and the topic of today’s sermon has prompted some feedback from older members of the congregation even before it was written. I think the assumption is that I was going to write a sermon about being old. I never planned on writing a sermon about getting old although the title of the sermon came from a joke I heard somewhere along the way about two old Jewish men which I can’t remember, I can only remember the punch line.  The irony of that is not lost on me, the fact that I am writing a sermon on aging and I can’t remember the joke. The point of the joke was something akin to, whatever ailment you have as you age, I can always one up you with mine.  But once again, the point is this isn’t about older folks, it is about all of us because we are all aging all the time.

We are all aging all the time and we go through various developmental stages as we age.  My wife’s sister is a professor of child development and I am sure that there are some sitting here today that have some expertise in this, but I have only studied human development in terms of how to understand it as a minster, I am certainly not a scholar as some of you might have guessed, so I will approach it from that place--what I have seen and experienced as we travel through this community together.  I do this remembering that as we travel through our various stages there are no hard and fast rules because human development after all is based on humans and we are complex, interesting and at times, unpredictable creatures although there surely are some observable patterns.

I know that one of our patterns is something that I can fall victim to specifically when someone asks me how I’m doing, I can go into a litany of aches, pains and aliments. I do this often thinking that I didn’t talk about this when I was 25.  At 25, I could go out all night, have a bunch of drinks, grab about 2 hours of sleep and go back to work.  At soon to be 55, if I have two beers I feel stuffed and if I don’t get any sleep, I am close to useless and according some people around me, like my wife for instance, pretty cranky.

I think many of us tell stories that start, “well when I was your age,” or, “when I was that age,” and we make the stories sound so incredible.  It was as if we could leap tall buildings in a single bound. I have to tell you, although my body is certainly not able to function like it did when I was that age, I am so much happier than I was when I was 25, and although I just recently gave up my dream of being a professional baseball player, I still have some fun left in this weary frame.

I don’t really think that one stage of our lives or development is inherently that much better than another stage, they just in many ways are different and are what they are.  One of the benefits and challenges of being an intergenerational community is that there are many different stages of development and maturity all happening at once and all experiencing different needs at once.  Our children of course have needs and we care deeply about trying to fulfill those needs. We care a great deal about keeping them safe, about preparing them for a multi-cultural and intercultural world.  We care a great deal about preparing them to be good and ethical human beings that will contribute to the common good of our society.  We care and we do what we can to influence their lives because during these formative years, we have but a brief time to inspire them as they are learning about the world and about themselves.  That is their stage of development.  They are sorting through what it means to participate in the human family and we do our best to support that.

When children move into the high school years in the UU model of aging and development they are no longer called children, they are called youth.  My gosh, do I have to tell anyone here about high school, this challenging time in that strange place between childhood and independence.  It is a place of triumph and tragedy and that could come in any given day or hormonal minute for that matter.  It is the meat of the teenage years.  It is a time when much practicing of adulthood happens. With hormones firing and bodies and minds changing and growing, it is place of much learning even if it doesn’t always come from doing homework. It can be a very difficult place and we do our best to love them and support them as they navigate their choices.

Then comes Young Adulthood.  The official UUA designation is 18 – 35 but I have to tell you, my experience brakes that group down more like 18 – 23 and 24 – 35 for when you are at the younger end of this category, you can spend a lot of time just trying to figure out which way is up.  Balancing work, school, relationships and individualization, these are an interesting balance for any of us and seem even more interesting between 18 and 23.  Moving into the mid-20s, there is a progression of thoughts that relate more to career choices, relationship commitments, thoughts about creating families of one’s own and a deeper foray into adulthood.  This is where many choices are made about what kind of adulthood do I want to carve out for myself and how in the world do I actually make that happen? We have a great Young Adult group here at UUFSD.  Listening to the worship service they did earlier this year, and getting to know them it has been clear to me that they come here to process some of these needs and to participate in helping to create a better world.

So much is being written now about 40 being the new 30 or 50 being the new 40 or whatever, that you realize that nothing that I am talking about today are hard and fast rules.  I know parents in their 60s and 70s whose children have moved back in with them after many years of independence, and I know children in their 30s and 40s whose parents have moved in with them.  Economic and changing social environments certainly affect our situations but if you are a child in your 30s and your parent in their 60s has had to move in with you, that doesn’t mean that all the issues associated with your stage of development go away.  If you are thinking about marriage, family, career, you are still going to think about marriage, family and career, you are just going to have to do that in relation to the situation.

That said, we now move into adulthood which some call 35 to 65.  This is the time of life when we are frequently juggling all the “normative” societal expectations, let’s call these the “American Dream” years. Years with potentially a lot of pressure and a lot of joy.  Can I grow and launch my children?   How many jobs and career changes will I have? If I get married, can I stay married?  Will I be able to afford a house, or need and then buy a bigger house?  What about doing the things I like to do, can I have time to meet my needs?  How can I live a fulfilling and meaningful life with all of this swirling around?  All questions that come in these middle years.

At some point in this stage of life, I think we can take a turn, not always precipitated or resulting in a midlife crisis, where we start to think a lot more about mortality. Thoughts about mortality come and go.  They can come to us as children as the sun sets, as the seasons change, at death of a pet, or the loss of loved ones.  It often doesn’t speak to us directly but passes through us as it lands somewhere else.  In youth and young adulthood we can feel invincible as if our smooth skin and tight muscles will last us far into the future, a future we can’t see and often can’t imagine.  And then, we know not when, the thought start to linger that we too can and will at some point die.  This thought can be brought on by our inability to move the same way we used to, think as fast as we had or simply we come to understanding that all things must pass.  That thought often comes and sits next to us sometime during adulthood and it can sit next to us or pull up a front row seat in our minds that serves as a motivator for things from diets, to New Year’s resolutions, to career changes, to becoming a churchgoer. 

There is also something else that can happen, we can understand our own vulnerability in a whole new way. We spent a lot of time not admitting to our vulnerabilities, the things that lie at our soft underbellies.  We often hide them or protect them or at times even figure out how to suppress them and cover them.  We can spent a great deal of time thinking that if we show the right face or tell the right story maybe no one will see this side that can be hurt or scared more easily than feels comfortable.

Which does finally bring us to our senior years.  This is an interesting time of life. It can be a time of searching and introspection, it can be a process of grieving and letting go, it can be a time of deep thoughts of our legacy to the world, and it can be facing a redefinition of life from lives devoted to other purposes. These other purposes are the things that fall between the developmental stages of children and the years of senior living.

I think the patterns as we age are on some kind of a continuum, it is a continuum that deserves some serious reflection.  On one side is the realization of the vulnerability and fragility of life.  On the other side is getting so deeply set in our ways that the hard shell has completely covered any opening.  These years when our gaze often turns more to what is behind then what lies ahead, the choices about what lies ahead can be even more precious.
“What though the radiance which was once so bright         
Be now for ever taken from my sight,          
Though nothing can bring back the hour      
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;      
We will grieve not, rather find         
Strength in what remains behind.”
― William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations Of Immortality From Recollections Of Early Childhood

The lives we lead are not just defined by our high school victories.  The lives we lead are not only made up of the jobs we had or the children we have raised. In the end of course, I don’t think that many of us will be remembered for the things we bought or the money we have accumulated.   Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “It is not the length of life, but the depth.”  Which I wish to paraphrase be saying, there is a spectrum of color in any life, it starts the day we are born and it ends the day we die.  We can live lives with fewer colors, fewer colors are easier to paint with and can be replenished pretty easily.  Or we can live lives with multiple colors, splashed upon a canvas in some modernistic masterpiece that starts with an idea and ends with a beautiful collage of experiences, openness and exploration.

There is no need for this to be limited to any of the age groups I have talked about today and it certainly can be extended throughout our whole lives for each day is a day of decision, whether child, youth, young adult, adult or senior.  No matter where we are, our lives are no less interesting or no more important than any other.  We are unique blends of color that all come from a single palate.  This is, all of this is life, a place where beautiful and terrible things may happen, it’s what shapes us when we are heading forward and it is measure of our depth when it comes to an end and how we choose to respond to it all is what defines us.