Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why Hope?

Delivered January 11, 2015 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version) 

(Minister's Note - This is last Sunday’s Sermon.  It was one of those that was hard to write after another very public act of violence.  The experience of it will be different on the blog then it was in person, still I hope you find it meaningful.)

Sermons, don’t always come all that easy. Sometimes I am inspired and they just flow out of my head, through my fingers and right to the screen.  Other times, I feel not as connected, I can struggle with what I want to write or what I need to write.  When I am struggling more often than not, I am not feeling connected to the thing that moves deep within me and moves deep in us all, that common thread of humanity, that mystery known by so many names, that core of who we are.  When I feel disconnected in this way, there are a few techniques I use to try and get into the space where I feel that deeper connection, where I feel moved.  One of those techniques has been running around my brain this week on its own. It was strong and I couldn’t ignore it.  Sometimes when I struggle to find my place of connection, I listen to the theme music from Schindler’s List. Let’s listen to a little of it together now. (for those reading on the blog, I invite you to close your eyes and listen for a minute or so.) 




The power of music in our lives can be incredible. This theme represents so much to me. It represents pain. It represent the absolute horrors that we as a species are capable of inflicting on each other. It represents creativity to overcome adversity and not the least of all, it represents hope. As it often is, what I write is often influenced by the events of the week.  This week the world was again rocked by the very public deaths of in France and the not so public deaths of many others at the hands of theologies or philosophies of fear and hate. As I watched the events unfold this week, especially as I watched the siege at the kosher market in France, the Schindler’s List theme found its way into my head. This time it wasn’t a sermon writing technique, it came from a place somewhere deep within, at a moment where I needed to hear that music that so often connects me to that that common thread of humanity, that mystery known by so many names, that core of who we are.

There are times where I understand the battle between despair and hope. We can live that battle in our personal lives and we can live it together in our communal lives.  Things can feel dark sometimes. This isn’t news to any of us.  Despair comes in the early hours of the morning as we lay sleepless with doubt or worry. Despair comes when we see great problems in the world and watch the political ships of state pass each other in a sea of need. Despair can some at the hands of a gun, whether a gun used in terror or a gun used in hopelessness. It is understandable how many can fall victim to the forces of despair.

It is no surprise to me why so many people are so fascinated with theologies and philosophies that predict the end of the world. People have been predicting the end of the world for a very long time. I don’t think I even want to go through the list.  A short list would have to include things like the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, which many have been the beginnings of apocalyptic thinking in our western tradition.  But there have been many times in more modern history where we have had unbelievably valid reasons to think that we had lost our grip on the fragile and precious nature of life on earth. Certainly living through the World Wars were times where many felt that the world was threatened.  I remember my mother talking about being a child in WW II and worrying about the future of the world.  Certainly during periods of the cold war with the reality of the strategy of mutually assured destruction bringing us to the brink a couple of times including the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Certainly during my life I have felt fear for the future of the world, as the Towers fell and the war machine churned into gear.

But, as much as it has been a realistic fear, it often seems that we have now taken this to a whole new level. We seem to be a culture continuously fascinated by the prediction of the end times. Among the ways to judge the cultural zeitgeist or collective thought is to look at our movies and movies about an apocalypse or post-apocalyptic world seem to have increased since WWII. I went to look up movies that focused on this subject and according to the list I found of apocalyptic films, before 1950 there were 4. From 1950-1959 there were 11 including the Day the Earth Stood Still. From 1960-1969 there were 20 including Dr. Strangelove and Planet of the Apes. In 1970-1979 there were 33 including one of my all-time favorites The Andromeda Strain, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Mad Max. In 1980-1989 there were 32 including the Terminator. 1990-1999 there were 34, in 2000-2009 there were 58, and since 2010 there have already been 42 and we are just halfway through this decade. And of course there is a television show that I admit to being hooked on, the Walking Dead, which feeds our seemingly insatiable need for end-of-days zombies roaming the earth.

And although I am worried about this seemingly pervasive feeling in our culture, I too must admit that I am worried about the line of no return regarding our growing climate crisis while still trying to be careful about how much I connect the dots from our current level of threat to complete annihilation.

So with all of this I have to ask the question, why hope?  Why do we think that hope is possible?
Writer and theologian Rebecca Ann Parker wrote an article for the UU World titled, “We are already in paradise, There is no land promised to any of us other than the land already given, the world already here.”  There are many world views about the afterlife, heaven, hell, reincarnation to name a few, in the article Rebecca talks about one of the reasons I am compelled to choose hope when she writes, “Where are we going?” “What is the purpose of existence?” “What is the horizon to which our lives are oriented?” Eschatology, from the Greek eschatos (last) and logos (word), is the theological term for “speaking of final things,” and popular forms of Christian eschatology abound: The end of the world will come in a cosmic battle of good and evil, and God will rescue the true believers. Popular versions of this eschatology capture the interest of millions of people, as evidenced by books such as the Left Behind novels.

Progressive people of faith have critiqued this version of Christianity and have created positive alternatives in three major forms. For handy reference, these three alternatives can be identified as Social Gospel eschatology, universalist eschatology, and radically realized eschatology. Each can be captured in a sentence: “We are here to build the kingdom of God on earth,” “God intends all souls to be saved,” and “Paradise is here and now.”

In her further exploration of the third eschatology, Radical Realized, she pretty much captures, my theological thoughts as a Unitarian Universalist.  It goes a little against the grain of what we often talk about which is hope for a better world.  It contains an incredibly important nuance. She says, “Radically realized eschatology offers a third way—one that holds promise especially for those who have found idealistic belief in progress, too fragile a foundation for sustained social activism. It begins with affirming that we are already standing on holy ground. This earth—and none other—is a garden of beauty, a place of life. Neglecting it for some other imagined better place will be a self-fulfilling prophecy—it will make earth a wasteland. There is no land promised to any of us other than the land already given, the world already here.

If we can recognize this, our religious framework can shift from hope for what could be—for a “better world” to come—to hope that what is good will be treated with justice and love and that what has been harmed will be repaired. This is a different kind of hope. It could be called responsive hope, hope grounded in respect for what is here, now. “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” Rumi wrote. Our framework of meaning can begin with appreciative and compassionate attention to this world, rather than imagining an ideal other world. Our first prayer can be one of thanks. Instead of striving to get somewhere else, our goal can be to fully arrive here and greet each day of life with gratitude, expressing hospitality for the mysterious goodness that is new every morning and engaging in compassionate care for the present realities of suffering, injury, and injustice that call for our active response.”

Part of the meaning of Schindler’s List to me isn’t about creating a better world, it was about hope that what is good will be treated with justice and love and that what has been harmed will be repaired, and part of it is about, engaging in compassionate care for the present realities of suffering, injury, and injustice that call for our active response, active response: (Blog readers, please play video, very sorry I can't avoid the ad at the beginning) 



         It's Hebrew. From the Talmud it says, 'Whoever saves
                         one life, saves the world entire.'

                                     SCHINDLER
                         I could've got more out...

                                     SCHINDLER
                         I could've got more... if I'd just...
                         I don't know, if I'd just... I
                         could've got more...

                                     STERN
                         Oskar, there are twelve hundred people
                         who are alive because of you. Look
                         at them.

                                     SCHINDLER
                         If I'd made more money... I threw
                         away so much money, you have no idea.
                         If I'd just...

                                     STERN
                         There will be generations because of
                         what you did.

This didn’t take place in a different world, it took place in this complicated and difficult world we have right here and right now. It is a real story of hope in the middle of the absolute horrors that we as a species are capable of inflicting on each other.  How can we do anything but choose hope? I don’t mean fool ourselves into believing things are different than they are, I mean making a conscious choice that we will do whatever we can to breathe life into hope, to practice hope, to act in the world with hope and to preach hope from the lowest valleys to the highest peaks.

What would it mean for all of us to have to have a kind of radical fervor of hope as others do with fear or despair? This week I came across a quote from Bob Marley in December of 1976 after an attempt was made on his life, two days after that attempt he performed in a concert. When he showed up for the concert someone asked him what he was doing showing up to do the concert and he said, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?” 

How can I? 

How can we?  




Monday, December 22, 2014

Some Thoughts on What Jesus Really Meant from a Jewish Unitarian Universalist Minister

Some Thoughts on What Jesus Really Meant from a Jewish Unitarian Universalist Minister
Delivered December 21, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version)

As I have said many many times, I was raised Jewish. Christianity was a foreign thing to me. I grew up going to Hebrew School I think two or three times a week after public school before I was Bar Mitzvahed, but I can’t really remember, it was a long time ago and I barely remember what I did yesterday. When I was young, before I went to high school, in my neighborhood there just weren’t that many Christian families. My next door neighbors were my Christian friends and I would go to their house every year to decorate the tree. We did live on a steady diet of Christmas programming and Christmas music my house however. Every year we watched the various Christmas specials, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas. 

One year here at UUFSD around Christmas time, I was writing a sermon or something and I used the speech that Linus uses at the end of the Charlie Brown Christmas, it actually wasn’t written by Linus, it is from the annunciation to the shepherds scene from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 8 through 14, here it is as translated by the King James Version of the New Testament:

“8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.” Then Linus says: "...That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

That always stuck with me, the feeling, the depth, the tone, the hopeful meaning, it always stuck with me. It always made me feel that in this little cartoon, shown every Christmas, there was a little reminder about what Christmas was supposed to be about, it was what I took away from all the messages of the songs, feelings of the TV specials, the bottom line of all the movies, essentially that the birth of Jesus and the story of Christmas and Christianity was supposed to be about love and maybe most of all peace on earth.  It stayed with me through my childhood.  Here I was, I little Jewish kid from Chicago, always enjoying the celebration of Christmas, because it was about goodness and love and most of all peace on earth.  I enjoyed Hanukkah, but that wasn’t the message of Hanukkah.  To me at that young age, Hanukkah was about oil lasting 8 days instead of one and spinning tops.  It was a nice holiday but I didn’t particularly find it all that interesting or deeply meaningful and I didn’t even hear about any other holidays like solstice or Kwanza until much later in life.

Then I grew up and I started to study religion.  Here are a few things I learned, first of all I understood something I had never really thought about, Jesus was Jewish.  He was never a Christian. In one of the very first sermons I ever wrote, I talked about the context that Jesus was born into: “Jesus was born into an empire of enormous proportions. It spanned from Western Europe to the heart of Africa and possibly as many as one in four people on the planet lived under its rule. The Roman Empire was a huge institution with a matching bureaucracy. There was a sophisticated methodology in place for governmental functions like tax collection and management of the far off lands. In the early years of the Christian movement, Christianity was just a part of a myriad of religious or other kinds of social groups. According to one of my seminary textbooks, Christianity: A Social and Cultural History, “In the ethnically, geographically, socially and culturally complex world of the Roman empire, people with similar interests banded together in voluntary associations to preserve a sense of identity. They met in homes, taverns, or club rooms, drawn mostly from the lower classes, (which constituted the vast majority of the empire), they would designate some deity or deities as their patrons and honor these gods in formal ways as protectors and helpers.” This in part was because this world of the Roman Empire was so often defined by domination and power. People felt a need for protection from among other things, the forces of the empire itself. But the birth of Jesus, the way I believe it was meant to be told, was an entirely different story that was a contrast to the power of Rome and the ways of the day. I remember a professor in seminary once said, the story of the Hebrew bible in some ways was a story of our relationship to God. The story of the New Testament is a story of our relationships with each other. My textbook actually states it well when it offers that this story, the birth of Jesus, calls people to “a new mode of life in which the traditional human and religious values are overturned. Instead of retaliation in kind to those who mistreat them, they are to love their enemies, to give generously to those who beg or even steal from them, acting in love toward all other humans as they would themselves like to be treated.”

This is what I wrote after studying religion, but I also learned some other things about the institution of religion.  It seems that whatever the good intentions or messages of those who have brought forth religion to our world, the interpretation of those messages is always done through the eyes of humans and in most cases in the last couple of millennia, male humans.  And if you think about it, any human interpretation comes with the biases, frameworks and motivations that are present in humans at the time they are interpreting.

A great example of this, or perhaps a horrible example of this was the crusades.  I learned about this while I was doing that studying of religion, I remembering studying that in 1096 Pope Urban the Second called for the first crusade. This first crusade was a bloody battle which ended with the capturing of Jerusalem in 1099 and the deaths of over 40,000 Muslims.  These battles didn’t end there, they continued for the better part of the next four to five hundred years and although the Crusades ended those many years ago, the verbal battles continue to this day.

The debate of the righteousness and legacy of the Crusades is of course based on one’s perspective.  Perspective in this discussion is influenced by race, nationality, religion and geographical cultural heritage. There is certainly a different perspective on the righteousness of the Crusades depending on where one is standing.  Hugh Goddard in his book, A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, provides valuable insight to these different perspectives.  He makes the observation that: “What is absolutely clear is that even modern Westerners continue to see the Crusades as positive examples of heroic and self-sacrificial enthusiasm for a good cause.”  For years the West has used the word Crusade to imply a holy and positive action.  The word and the concept have become a part of the popular Western culture.  Perhaps the best, or one might say, the worst example of this, is President George Bush’s response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.  In an article from The Nation magazine, James Carroll writes, “A few days after the assault, George W. Bush did this. Speaking spontaneously, without the aid of advisers or speechwriters, he put a word on the new American purpose that both shaped it and gave it meaning. "This crusade," he said, "this war on terrorism."  Without a doubt, here almost a thousand years from the beginning of the first crusade, the self-identified Christian President of the United States was using the language of the 11th century.”

What I think this helps to illustrate is that we take what we know or have been taught and through the construct of our lens of the world, we interpret religion however we interpret religion. There was another word for this I learned in seminary, it is called proof-texting or taking text from the pieces of scripture that proved the point that you wanted to make.  So for example those against equal marriage or civil rights or any of a myriad of subjects can find text that supports their side as well as those who support the same issues could find scripture verse that support their side. That is one of the reasons why, not really ever having studied the bible, I was fascinated by it in school. It is unfortunate that my schooling didn’t require me to study it more than I did because I would have liked to have started earlier and become more of a scholar.  Although certainly not a scholar, one of the things that did stand out for me was trying to understand the intent of the words of Jesus and not so much the words of Paul. 

As I said, I really unfortunately haven’t had all that much study in the bible, I know that may sound strange coming from a minister, but as a Unitarian Universalist, although I did have to study it, I really didn’t have to know it all that intimately.  There certainly are a variety of verses that I love, like First Corinthians 13, which is the beautiful poetry about love. And I love Amos 5 where it says, “But let justice roll down like waters, And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” I love those texts, but there are also parts of the bible full of death, condoning of slavery and very strange rules about touching pigskin. It was written for its time in its time for reasons I don’t think we can fully understand.  I do think there are some timeless thoughts and lessons and just like everyone else who interprets it, I have narrowed down the part in the New Testament that I think is most important and that is the Beatitudes that are attributed directly to the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.

Here is what they say from Matthew chapter 5, verses 3-12: 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Once again, this was a change in teachings from the Hebrew bible, this was about compassion and love, humility and justice, those who are meek and those who are merciful. These teachings were about a transformation of relationship and power.  These were teachings that were meant to be a game changer of how we can live together in the world and I believe one of the most important messages, was the message about peace.

Changing the way we do conflict in the world is at the core of the message Jesus.  Listen to Matthew 5:38 - 44 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

I know there are probably 100 out of 100 pastors in a 100 mile radius right now that know much more about scripture than me. I know that there are all kinds of things that they could find for all the things they would want to prove, so for me, I am going to say, that this is what Jesus wanted from his followers.  He didn’t want to be an idol, he didn’t really like those. He didn’t want to slaughter people in the crusades. He didn’t want to drop weapons that caused pain and suffering to unseen human lives.  He didn’t want us to shoot each other based on fear, lack of cross-cultural understanding or prejudice. He didn’t want us to hoard guns. I am guessing he didn’t really want us to solve problems, either personal or in the public arena with violence. And I am pretty sure he wouldn’t want to put more resources into defense spending when his fellow humans don’t have enough to eat or clean water to drink. 

You can be atheist, theist, pagan, Christian, Buddhist Jew, Mormon, Muslim or anything beyond or in-between and these still would be timeless words of wisdom for a world that too often is at the whim of those who use the words of religion for power, revenge and personal gain.  History has taught us that humans will use the words of any religious tradition to meet their own needs but that doesn’t mean that all the words are worthless. I am a Jewish Unitarian Universalist Minister who appreciates the words of a Jewish teacher of over 2000 years ago who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  I believe when he talked about peacemaking, he meant it. If we are going to celebrate his birth, let us remember that his message was of love of neighbor, love of stranger, love of other, love of those who need help, love of those with love in their heart, love for those who crave justice and love for those who make peace. 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host saying on earth peace and goodwill towards all.

Please let this be so, blessed be and Amen.





Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Resistance is the Secret of Joy"

Delivered December 7, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version)

I began this joy service my 2nd year at UUFSD because I felt that we all needed more joy, and when I say we all, that includes me, UUFSD as a congregation and the world in general.  I have always thought this time of the year calls to us to be joyous whether we actually find our way there or not, and I wanted to do what could to support that as much as possible, so we started a joy service that now always takes place on the first Sunday of December.

Until today’s service, nothing really has made me think how hard it would be to have a service on joy when I am not feeling particularly joyful. I understand that there is a wide range of both awareness and thoughts on the current stand of racial issues in America.  I understand that people have different opinions about what is happening across the country, what did the grand jury evidence say, who really saw it and what did they see, who is right and who is wrong?   I want you to know that as a minister in a tradition that heeded the call of Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Selma and that is very connected to social media, it is hard not to be inundated and frankly overwhelmed with the volume of information and opinions surrounding these issues.  I have been trying to sort all this out for a couple of reasons, one certainly is to understand it myself, and the other is that I take my calling as the minister and spiritual leader of this congregation incredibly seriously.  Taking it so seriously, I feel a need to understand what to do with all this information when it comes to my duty to you, this congregation that I serve, to the broader faith tradition of Unitarian Universalism which I also serve and perhaps most importantly to my conscience.

So I think to myself, here we are in a pretty affluent area of the country compared to many, with wonderful people that mirror the average demographics of many UU congregations, pretty well educated, middle to upper middle class and almost entirely made up of Caucasians. And then I wonder, with all the information, opinions and suggestions I am reading and hearing about how to deal with the recent grand jury decisions and resulting upheaval, as the spiritual leader, should I comfort the congregation, should I challenge the congregation, should I push the congregation to the limits of their comfort, should I hit the streets in protest and see who joins me?  These are all questions that I have pondered.

I was talking about this with my wife Alice the other day and she reminded of a quote from Possessing the Secret of Joy, a very challenging book from Alice Walker that I have read about but haven’t read and the quote says, "resistance is the secret of joy." Having read about the book, the story and the intent of the line, my interpretation is that the secret of joy is the birthing of a new way through resistance to the ways that have brought us to pain, anguish and broken relationship.  My understanding of this line is that the way to joy is resistance to the systems that always bring us back to the same point, that keep an unjust status quo, that keep us ill-informed, that favor unearned privilege, that cause pain and inequality, and that value a white life more than a black life.

We have had a number of joy services and we have had fun and we have been silly and we have also been serious at times.  In 2011 at the Joy service I said, “Opening to joy actually does come with another question for me.  A question that has deep meaning, and for me is one of the most essential questions of the world, the question is, “what in life really matters?’ We are facing substantial challenges in this world, but I really think we can't let these challenges, just like the news we watch, read or listen to, overwhelm the joys that come to us all the time in our lives. Sometimes, life is about just being able to keep perspective about what really matters.  Perspective is such a valuable thing.  Perspective and taking stock of what truly matters isn’t easy and doesn’t happen all that often.  We get so caught up in the details of our everyday lives that sometimes we find it hard to break our patterns.”

Well, I would like to augment that today, and in some ways apologize for saying that because I really am reflecting on the question “what in life really matters” today much differently than I did in 2011.  Today I am thinking that dealing with the challenges we are facing in the world are the things in life that really matter.  Can you imagine the joy we would feel if we had social and political agreement on climate change and took actions that reversed the degradation of our planets’ ecosystem?  Can you imagine the joy if we all were able to open up about race and deal with hundreds of years of systemic oppressions in this country?  Can you imagine your joy if women were paid equally to men?  Can you imagine the joy if every American had good health care and it was affordable?   Can you imagine if you personally went to bed at night and said, I really did something today where I resisted the forces of hate or fear, oppression or racism, or any of the deepest divisions that cause us such pain, anguish and broken relationships in this world?

I have to tell you, in thinking about this and in reflecting on this sense of the deepest joy, there have been a couple of time in my life when I have actually gone to bed with that incredible sense of joy and if I were willing to take the risk, I think there could be many many more. I am not specifically saying go out tomorrow and march as allies with the African American community protesting police violence, although you could.  I am not specifically saying go out and get arrested protesting the keystone pipeline, although at least one of among us has.  I am not saying run for office to make sure your Unitarian Universalist voice is in the public arena, although our congregation has a good deal of representation in Encinitas. I am not specifically saying you should become a teacher of small children, a doctor, a social worker, a volunteer board member for a non profit or so many other things that so many of you have done to live your values, contribute to this world and hopefully reap a deep sense of joy. What I am saying that we are at a moment in this country on a couple of very very important issues and of those issues what may be the hardest, the most challenging for us personally, and certainly at the top of the list is the culture of violence in which we live, highlighted by systemic racism and injustice that persists in institutions of power and authority like police departments all over the country.

What I am also saying is that I have decided that I should do all of the above;

I should comfort the congregation in times of need when the flashpoints of violence, racism and tragedy rise to the surface,

I should challenge the congregation to respond with resistance to the ills that plague the world,

I should push the congregation to the limits of our comfort, comfort around our own thoughts and assumptions as well as our activities and our actions,

And, I should challenge myself to stretch beyond my own limits of comfort which may include hitting the streets in protest and then see who joins me.

For those of you who have worked on civil rights issues in the past, guess what, however good the work has been, however far we have come, there is still a long way to go.  This social illness has raised its ugly head in a big way and the movement is mobilizing.  The issue of our culture of violence in this country, both non-institutional and institutional has been brought to the surface.  The pain and anguish of the constant loss of human dignity of people from communities of color has always been bad and is continuing more publicly today.  We are Unitarian Universalist, our very first principle is about the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  For a long time that was focused inward about our individualism within a congregation.  It is time to send that focus like a laser beam outward to each and every person who suffers oppression from the systems that privilege one skin color over another. There is a small group of people who have expressed interest to me about coming together to discuss our next move.  Some of us our going to meet today at 1:00 here in the hall.  If you are interested, please join us.

Next Sunday the 14th, after hosting the Interfaith Sandy Hook Anniversary Candlelight vigil here at UUFSD, I hope to lay my head on my pillow at the end of the day knowing that sense of deep joy that comes from resistance.  I will do that in part through the persistence of one person who has challenged his own comfort level and mine, Steve Bartram whose desire to do something about this culture of violence had led us to hosting this vigil.

All this brings to mind another quote, this one is from Rumi and it says, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” It is time for us to do this work of the soul, this opportunity to feel that deep sense of joy. A joy that comes from saying, “I really did something today where I resisted the forces of hate and fear, oppression and racism, I resisted the deepest divisions that cause us such pain, anguish and broken relationships in this world?” These times are calling for us to resist, the universe is providing us an incredible opportunity to do the work of the soul and fill our lives with joy, and as Unitarian Universalists, people who place the inherent worth and dignity of each and every person as a primary focus of our faith, we all have the ability and the responsibility to come together and help heal the world.

May that be so and Amen.




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Complications of Healing - A Post 2014 Midterm Election Sermon

Delivered November 9th, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version)

When I was preparing to write this sermon, my thoughts drifted back to childhood and a time when I fell off my bicycle. I remember the skinned knee and the attention from my mother with the ever present Bactine and Band-Aid.  I was pretty young at the point, maybe 6 or 7.  At 6 or 7 you shake that stuff off pretty quickly and that wonderfully smooth young skin just heals right up, maybe with a little scar, but it sure doesn’t seem to take long.  Now, I can’t even imagine the damage it would cause if I fell off a bike today, that is of course if I could even still ride one. Like most of us, there have also been scrapes of the spirit from childhood that weren’t always so easy to heal and have taken more time, effort and intention.

The subject of healing is so vast and deep.  We all have physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual scars that range from small scraps to wounds that never seem to heal. In exploring healing and forgiveness, the theme for this month, it seems that they are two sides of the same coin. I guess part of my healing from scraping my knee on my bicycle would be forgiving myself for falling, but maybe I was riding my bicycle in a risky way because I was being teased about how I ride by my brothers or friends on the block. Or in some childhood homes it possible that the one riding the bike was being yelled at by a parent about being uncoordinated.  All of these scenarios lead to vastly different kinds of wounds and can create complicated layers in the need to heal.

Different wounds can also require different types of healing.  Our meditation today lists some of those it says: “Have forgiveness in your heart for anything you think you've done wrong.”  This is such an important subject we are devoting next week’s service to it. Then it says, “Think of your parents. Forgive them for anything you have ever blamed them for.”  This in part will be the subject of our pre-Thanksgiving service but another important topic. Then it asks you to “Think of your nearest and dearest people.” People who are near and dear are usually people we have let in, people we have been vulnerable around and people where there has been some risk involved.  These people are the obvious candidates to cause wounds that are hard to heal because family and those near and dear can cause pain and wounds, but the one I want to concentrate on today is this one listed in the meditation where it says, “Have a look again and see whether there's anyone or anything, anywhere in the world, towards whom you have blame or condemnation.”  I was thinking about this one as I was watching the Fox News election coverage.  I will tell you, the glee and smugness, the joy in what I perceive to be voting for in many cases a couple of years of anti-climate, anti-science, anti-healthcare, anti-compromise, anti-anything Obama, just seems so petty and small and I have to admit that I had some condemnation in my heart.

I thought deeply about this and I worried about the future of our country and the future of the planet. And then, like we have talked about so many times before, I got on Facebook. I saw a great deal of angst and anxiety about the election from my clearly mostly liberal democratic friends, all kinds of anger, frustration and in some cases lashing out.  I went to bed and the next morning, this was one of the first things I saw from a friend in Orange County, she said, “Note to self: stop reading political Facebook post comments. I've just been reading up on what was happening while we were camping with no cell service during the election. (We voted by absentee lest someone jump on that) I am repeatedly appalled at the hateful speech, judgment, racism, sexism and superiority online. My friends, we have lost more than an election. We are losing our kindness, our right relations, our compassion, our civility, our inherent love and dignity of one another. Worse than election losses, we are losing our very humanity. Ok, off the soapbox and onto kitten videos. For now. My mind is working on the next steps, but for now...kitten videos. Other animals are so very much wiser than we (and cuter too!) Spread love.”

This has had me thinking all week, not about kitten videos, although they are really cute, but about healing, how are we ever going to heal this country?  And I must admit I am conflicted about it. I have struggled with what healing in this case would actually mean and whether or not healing will really accomplish what I want because I am one of those people who are fed up with politics, and angry, and really frustrated.  I often wonder what the best thing is for getting the things done that I care about.  Should I quit ministry and become a community organizer?  Should I get more radical than that and join an anarchist group? Should I go to law school and put corrupt and unscrupulous politicians in jail? Should I run for office myself, and speak my truth no matter if elected or not?

The interesting thing about all of this is that there certainly been times as bad as this if not worse in our political heritage.  The New Deal faced fierce critics. Presidents from both parties have to deal with the opposition that sometimes said and claimed horrible things.  Corporations and capitalism has always influenced policy through lobbying, corruption an influence peddling. I guess in part, this is why I supported the Occupy Movement to some degree.  As disorganized and unfocused as it was, I saw for the first time in my life, people rise up in peaceful protest and really point to the broken nature of the political and capitalistic system in this country.  Like the economic focus that Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had at the end of their lives, the occupy movement saw the system itself at the root of the brokenness in the country.  I know that in 2016 the pendulum will swing back like after most midterm elections in the last 100 years or so but that is not the issue, swinging back and forth doesn’t help heal a broken system that is far too influenced by the powerful, the corporations, and the rich.

So I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. I believe in all the things I have read to you in sermons before. I agree with Matthew 18:21 - 23 from the New Testament says, “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church* sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven* times.” I love the teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who says, “our capacity to make peace with another person and with the world depends very much on our capacity to make peace with ourselves.” I have studied the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” I have taken to heart the words of modern day profit Maya Angelou when she wrote "We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate --- thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising."

I have taken these words in to my heart and I am working on the complicated work of healing from the anger that rises in me when I read articles about the ploys of enacting voter registration laws that claim to be addressing fraud when everyone knows that is complete and udder BS, because all it is meant to do is to stop minority voters from voting.

So with a system that at its heart really does think about fairness and the common good, but has long since been molded to be just free and fair enough not to tip everything over, what do we do to heal this country?  Of course, I don’t have a great answer for that because it often feel like there isn’t that much we can do.  But no matter what we do, I agree with my friend, that we really do lose if we become what we are standing against, if we lose, “our kindness, our right relations, our compassion, our civility, our inherent love and dignity of one another,” we lose are our very humanity.

I don’t want to pretend that there aren’t deep divisions but I also don’t want to tell the self-fulfilling stories that these are the worst times we have ever faced politically, although I am guessing they are pretty close.  I don’t want to believe that anarchy and violence are the only ways to change system. I also don’t want to invent a story that I have somehow been personally wronged by the Republican control of congress.  I have amazing privileges in this world with all kinds of freedoms that a huge portion of the people on this planet don’t have. I am free to travel, eat, waste natural resources, love who I want, vote, live how, where and however I pretty well can afford. I am not oppressed and I am actually pretty happy. I think about the level of my freedom and I bow deeply to the words of those who haven’t always lived in a system with these freedoms and have had to do some really serious healing from much deeper wounds than I, wounds I hope I will never carry with me, wounds of the flesh and spirit. I bow to the words from people like Bishop Desmond Tutu who said that both "Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing."

Our honest confrontation, our honest reality is that maybe the system has never really been as good as it can be.  The system is just like humans who don’t always live up to our best selves and need to be reminded of that, held accountable to that, shown new ways to get there and how to love like hell even when we fail miserably. I am not sure how it would be to sit in a room and talk to John Bohner or Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz, we seem to come from such different perspectives, but I can’t image healing the rift between us by shouting at the top of our lungs while they shout at the top of theirs.

I haven’t talked about this but after we went to the city council with the Gun Control resolution a couple of years ago and after the Fox news story was done about me and the gun store owner trying to have a honest conversation about things we could agree on, and after having a very nice lunch where we talked about those things, he abruptly sent me an email that basically said he wasn’t interested in talking any further.  I try not to make assumptions about things that I don’t know about, but I have to admit, I have made an assumption and my guess is that after that news story aired on Fox News he somehow was pressured and felt it could harm his business.  I have NO idea if this is the right assumption, but I have no further information and to me, it was a very sad thing.

I could have been angry about this, I could be furious about the elections, I could be enraged that the Senators about to take over the environmental oversight committee in the senate is a climate change denier, but I am not sure how effective my anger is at helping people change and I feel like unless we engage people in ways other than anger and this constant back and forth tug of war of the American political system, the system itself will never really be healed and we will never really move on.

There is another quote that I have used before, I love it and I find it to be true and insightful, Frederick Buechner said “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” This country and this world have systems supported by assumptions, distrust, frustration, superficial understandings, cultural differences, and deep and complicated wounds from generations of pain and suffering.  Violence, anger and an eye for an eye will never ever lead to healing.  I believe it has never been more important to listen more deeply, tell our stories to each other more often, be honest about the personal and societal issues that keep us apart, but radically engage the other in conversation from a place of love, kindness, deep understanding and a willingness to change and be changed.  We must change this broken system, we must engage with our minds focused on healing.  I am convinced this may be the most complicated healing for us to do but perhaps the best and only way for us all to move forward together.


Amen

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Like Sands Through the Hourglass, So Are the Days of Our Lives

Please listen to this James Taylor song before reading the sermon, it was the meditation preceding the sermon and is woven into the sermon.  It was sung live by the wonderful muscian Peter Mayer - http://www.petermayer.net/news/



Delivered October 19, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version)

Yesterday we had an event here called the Death CafĂ©. Here is the description from the website, “At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Our objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'.”  And if you haven’t heard this news, I am sorry to be the one breaking to you, but yes, all of our lives are finite.  All of us, no matter how rich or how poor, our body type, the color of our skin, whether we went to Harvard or the University of Utah, will at some time cease living in the world as we currently know it. 

Will there be something else? Well, until there is some sort of scientific proof, or massive verifiable religious event, or even some sort of mass consciousness exploding experience, there will continue to be many debates and discussions about anything that may come after this life that we now are consciously sharing together.  We each can and probably do have a little different opinion about all of this but since this is a UU congregation that’s ok. We also all have a bit of a difference of opinion about what living this life actually means and I find that to be true specifically with those I have had the amazing privilege to walk with as their journey on this earth reaches its end.

Although through my training and my personal experience with being with people as they journeyed through their final days was informative and meaningful, I learned so much more about this after entering the ministry.  Frequently, as people are getting ready to die, they take stock in lives.  They revisit moments and experiences, feelings and thoughts, which sometimes hold great meaning and others times are just trivial details or events.  They remember songs or movies, books they’ve read or people they once knew, loves made and loves lost.  These are the stories I hear when I sit in the room listening to those who know they are passing from this life, these are the stories I hear no matter where they think they are or aren’t going.

In fact, when I sit in the room and talk or sometimes just listen, I can tell you what I think has never come up.  Not once did I ever have a discussion about anything political. Not once. Not once have I gotten into a debate about religion.  Not once.  Sure there has been expressions of regret, or “I wish I had done this or that” as many look back, take stock of their lives and think of the roads traveled and untraveled, but mostly what people seem to remember and want to talk about are the stories, the stories of their lives.

In preparing for memorial services, sometimes I know the story of the roads traveled and sometimes I don’t.  Often when I think I know much of the story I discover that I know virtually nothing.  I sit like the rest of us, listening to stories that come to us from the different angles and perspectives of those involved in these life stories.  Sometimes at memorial services I talk about how impossible it is for any of us to know the complete story of a human life. Even if we are spouses, daughters, sons or parents, we can only really know a portion of each story, the portion that we know, have seen or heard about.  Rarely is that the whole story of a human life.  Human lives are amazingly varied and complex weaving through times, people and places that is hard to track and even harder to completely understand.

And these human lives are all so unique, everyone stands out for one reason or another, but there are some that stand out to me a little more.  This story is about a memorial service I did for someone who lived a very long time.  I sat and visited a lot with this person as they came to the end of their life, a life that was sad to me in many ways.   We talked often about their regret of not having a bigger impact on the world. It was consuming to them no matter how much I tried to lift up all the wonderful things that they had done. At some point I understood that they had lived a very hard life with much tragedy and came from a home that valued work and a stiff upper lip more than anything else. It didn’t matter what I was lifting up because they just were going to review their life from a framework of a long life of stories in their own head of never being good enough and I found my role to be listening, comforting and trying to reassure them of their impact on, if nothing else, me. At the memorial service, there were many stories that reaffirmed the challenges experienced, the struggles and tragedies of this life, but there were also stories I hadn’t known of warmth and love, openness and vulnerability. These pieces all came together to create a storybook full of depth, complexity and wondrous tales.  It was just confirmation that we can never really know the totality of one life including the totality of our own.

All of this is a long explanation why I asked the wonderful Peter Mayer, who is gracing us with his gifts and talents today, to sing a song he didn’t write. I know weird eh. I did that because as I was driving to work this summer, the song, The Secret of Life, came on the radio.  I sort of remembering hearing the song before, but of course, my life travels brought this song to me at the right moment for me to hear it.  Sometimes when I hear, see or read something I think to myself, maybe the congregation will be fine if this is the sermon for today.  It is exactly what I want to say and if I use it, I can play golf or go see a movie on Friday instead of writing all day.  Hearing this James Taylor song was kind of like that:
(Peter Mayer sings)  
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it, there ain't nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.
But since we're on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.

I didn’t enjoy the passage of time much this summer. I have talked about this a little, but one of those memorial services I attended was one of my best childhood friends.  I have suffered a good deal of loss in my life, but I am guessing not that much more than people my age and of course, dealing with loss is a part of my profession, but personal loss that weaves its way past my training, my defenses and deep into my heart is hard.

It was after I returned from attending his service that I heard this song and when I reflected back past his death, through the good and challenging times of our relationship, I found I really could really enjoy and appreciate the passage of time.  My memories are filled with bits and pieces of our lives together starting from our first meeting in 6th grade through our final meetings during the final years of his illness walking slowly together through the streets of my hometown. I Remember sitting by the fireplace in his house on a cold winters night listening to James Taylor, for the first time. I remember being introduced to fluffernutters a concoction of marshmallow fluff and peanut butter on wonder-ish type bread, in his kitchen followed by copious amounts of milk. I remember endless games of ping pong, bicycle rides and us being together at the little neighborhood park meeting the girl from whom I received my first kiss.

These are memories that stick out in a lifetime of remembrances for it was a long a full relationship, that lasted over 40 years. I think about him often and I am grateful that I have the memories I do, for they are precious and I wouldn’t want this journey that we shared together to have been any other way.

I remember these as they are close to my heart and also I think of these with an open heart for as James tells us that the secret of life isn’t only enjoying the passage of time:
(Peter Mayer sings)   
The secret of love is in opening up your heart.
It's okay to feel afraid, but don't let that stand in your way.
Cause anyone knows that love is the only road.
And since we're only here for a while, might as well show some style.

Maybe James, Peter and I can’t help sounding like a self-help book today, but I really do believe that a secret of life is in opening up your heart and lord knows, it is ok to feel afraid for opening up your heart and being vulnerable is risky. No matter what the risk however, opening up your heart is something I believe is essential to all of our life stories and actually to the ultimate connection we will have to each other in this world. M. Scott Peck, the author of the book The Road Less Traveled say it like this, ““There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.” Enjoying the passage of time, love and community, all important things in life and realizing that the sand is meant to keep flowing through the hourglass.  The sand doesn’t stand still.
(Peter Mayer sings)   
Now the thing about time is that time isn't really real.
It's all on your point of view, how does it feel for you?
Einstein said he could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space, the smile upon your face, welcome to the human race.

Time is really a relative thing.  Whether you think that this planet was created 5000 or so years ago or millions of years ago, our lives are really just one little piece of the puzzle, one grain of sand if you will.  In talking about this I need to walk a very fine line because even though we are here for a relatively very short time, each and every life is important and we especially think that if it is the life we are living.  It is however a part of the larger story of us all and all of these planets spinning through space, so many stories interdependent, intermingling, interconnected.

Something else I frequently say at memorial services is, “We never have any way of knowing how the joys or sorrows of the lives of others can touch our own, but they will.   We never have any way of knowing how what we do in this world can affect others, but it does. Life is precious and all that comes with it changes and evolves, is wonderful and painful and with every experience that touches us we grow.  As we leave here, this day, this week, this year becomes part of who we are and we will endeavor to soften to love and to hold these memories in our hearts as we walk together on this mysterious journey.”

Life is so very precious.  I mean that.  I know I am not the only one here today who knows this, but part of the experience of ministry is to see that we as humans are capable of sinking to the depths of pettiness or rising to heights of possibilities.  For the short time that we are on this planet we struggle with the delicate balance between mystery and understanding, self-importance and self-giving, taking ourselves too seriously and taking things seriously enough.  We have a choice about how we go through this world, of how precious we treat this gift.  We have the opportunity to make it so when our time comes to look back we can tell beautiful stories of love lost and love found, of books read and movies seen, of how we opened of hearts, of how we were effected by others, of people we have helped and contributions we have made, and of how we have enjoyed the passage of time.
(Peter Mayer sings)  
Some kind of lovely ride. I'll be sliding down, I'll be gliding down.
Try not to try too hard, it's just a lovely ride.
Isn't it a lovely ride? Sliding down, gliding down,
try not to try too hard, it's just a lovely ride.
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.


Amen

Monday, October 13, 2014

But We Have Always Done It This Way: Theodore Parker, The Doctrine of Discovery and Coffee Hour

Delivered October 12, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version) 

A famous line of Martin Luther King Jr. was, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  The origin of this line was by Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker born August 24, 1810.  According to the Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society, Parker was a preacher, lecturer, and writer, a public intellectual, and a religious and social reformer. He played a major role in moving Unitarianism away from being a Bible-based faith, and he established a precedent for clerical activism that has inspired generations of liberal religious leaders.

The origin of Dr. King’s line came from a collection of “Ten Sermons of Religion” by Parker in 1857 and actually said, “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Parker was an amazing figure in UU history and transcendentalism and I would recommend looking him up for further study, but perhaps the major thing that he is remembered for and the thing that all UU ministers have to study in order to be a UU minister is a sermon titled, The Transient and Permanent in Christianity. This is a benchmark piece of work that had a significant influence on the course and direction of Unitarianism and one of the reasons we are all sitting in a Unitarian Universalist congregation today.

Again from the, Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society, “Parker emerged as a major Transcendentalist spokesman in May 1841, when he delivered A Discourse on the Transient and Permanent in Christianity at an ordination in South Boston. Parker intended the main point of the sermon to be that Jesus preached the Absolute Religion. What made the strongest impression on Parker's audience, however, was his vehement denial of the factuality of Biblical miracles and of the miraculous authority of both the Bible and Jesus. Particularly outraged were three Trinitarian guests in the audience. They published an attack on the sermon in the newspapers and demanded to know if Unitarians considered Parker a Christian minister. During the resulting uproar, most Unitarian ministers, and a large portion of the Unitarian lay public, concluded that Parker's theology was not Christian.” Just like Emerson who had been banned from Harvard Divinity School for his heretical views that challenged the Unitarian Orthodoxy of the times, Parker was in the theological doghouse with the mainstream.

Here is a little of what that sermon said, “... Looking at the Word of Jesus, at real Christianity, the pure religion he taught, nothing appears more fixed and certain. Its influence widens as light extends; it deepens as the nations grow more wise. But, looking at the history of what men call Christianity, nothing seems more uncertain and perishable. While true religion is always the same thing, in each century and every land, in each man that feels it, the Christianity of the Pulpit, which is the religion taught; the Christianity of the People, which is the religion that is accepted and lived out; has never been the same thing in any two centuries or lands, except only in name... Let us look at this matter a little more closely. In actual Christianity -- that is, in that portion of Christianity which is preached and believed -- there seem to have been, ever since the time of its earthly founder, two elements, the one transient, the other permanent. The one is the thought, the folly, the uncertain wisdom, the theological notions, the impiety of man; the other, the eternal truth of God. These two bear perhaps the same relation to each other that the phenomena of outward nature, such as sunshine and cloud, growth, decay, and reproduction, bear to the great law of nature, which underlies and supports them all...”

What I think Parker was getting at was that he believed there was the core truth of religion which was permanent and unchangeable, and the way it had been used and interpreted since it was created, which was always changing and not changing in a good way but more in a way that met the needs of those who changed it, straying far from its original intent. This meant it had to be examined, it had to be explored and it was important to always be searching for a way back to the core meaning.

Unitarian Universalists have been questioning orthodoxy and convention for a very long time. That may be why a little bell goes off in my head when I hear the phrase, “but it has always been this way,” because one of the things that Parker is educating us about is the way it has always been is rarely the way it has always been. It may be the way we have come to know it, but that may have come from a series of evolutions or events that formed things in a certain way that may never have been done all that intentionally, but now all the sudden they are a part of “our tradition.” I am not saying that tradition is all bad.  Traditions can be wonderful, can be grounding, can inform people and cultures to important aspects of their history and shared meaning.  But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be explored and examined.

There is a very important tradition that I observed as a child.  It was about the discovering of America.  In school, the way it was always done was to know the date of 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Generations were taught about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. What they weren’t taught was about the Doctrine of Discovery. “The Doctrine of Discovery is a principle of international law dating from the late 15th century. It has its roots in a papal decree issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452 that specifically sanctioned and promoted the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian territories and peoples. Hundreds of years of decisions and laws continuing right up to our own time can ultimately be traced back to the Doctrine of Discovery—laws that invalidate or ignore the rights, sovereignty, and humanity of indigenous peoples in the United States and around the world.” (UUA Website)  And as the UUA has noted, the reason this matters is that, “The Doctrine is woven into the fabric of United States law via nineteenth century case law that is still used as precedent. It is still the basis used by courts today to violate existing treaties with Native peoples and take away their mineral and water rights.” 

I don’t think that this papal decree of Pope Nicholas was the original Christianity that Jesus preached, so it isn’t always the way that it was done, but it now has been done this way for a very long time. As children, we were taught many things about the native people of this land, but it certainly wasn’t taught to us from their perspective.  And now, as awareness grows around the impact of this history to native communities, according to the year 2000 census data a Native American born today, compared to all other ethnicities and races has a:

 (Source: U.S. 2000 Census and Dept of Justice)

Educational outlook

50%will never finish high school
86%will never obtain a college degree
2.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence than any other ethnicity
80%more likely to die a violent death by accident, murder or suicide
1 in 3 native women will be raped or sexually assaulted at least once
86% of perpetrators are non-native, causing jurisdiction issues and no prosecution
Lower life expectancy - 10 years lower than the national average
2.5 times greater chance of committing suicide before 24
3 times more likely to suffer from illness (i.e. diabetes, heart disease, cancer)
6 times more likely to be unemployed
2.5 times more likely to live in poverty
5 times more likely to be placed and remain in foster care as a youth
6 times more likely to become homeless

“Theodore Parker saw slavery as the greatest obstacle to achieving industrial democracy. He denounced the Mexican War (1846-1848) as an attempt to expand slavery and led Boston opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act established a federal bureaucracy to catch slaves who had escaped to the free states. Most Boston Unitarian ministers either refused to oppose the legislation, or publicly supported it as a constitutional obligation and as a politically necessary concession to the South that would "save the Union" and "settle" the slavery issue. Some argued that catching fugitive slaves was sanctioned by Scripture. Parker pronounced the act a violation of Christian ideals and a threat to free institutions. In his Sermon of Conscience (1850), he openly called for it to be defied.”  http://uudb.org/articles/theodoreparker.html

There are all kinds of things that we have always done this way in our lives, at our work, in our communities, in our congregations and around the world.  Whether they have grown into something that corrupts the original intent, or conversely have come straight from a long established tradition, the way things have always been needs fresh air, light and examination.

I think it would be unfair of me to compare some cherished beloved tradition we may have here at UUFSD to slavery or the Doctrine of Discovery.  I am thinking coffee hour for instance wouldn’t be on the same level.  But just for fun, let’s take coffee hour as a more practical example of an organizational tradition to examine.  I guess we could get rid of coffee hour, but then maybe we wouldn’t talk at all after the service.  I guess we could expand coffee hour to be a catered meal for sale every week, but then we are running more of a restaurant.  It has been suggested that we have someone with an espresso cart and pastries for sale come in and we get a percentage of the take and a lot more choices of coffee.  These are all way to think of transforming coffee hour, ways that are all transient, ways that may change the way it has always been done.  But I think it is important to also look at what may be the permanent about coffee hour, or the questions that lie at the core.

For instance, what should we do after our service that gives people a chance to talk, connect and share this important Sunday experience in meaningful ways?  Or how can we transform our Sundays together to be opportunities of healing, wholeness and transformation, and what would that look like if we weren’t bound to have coffee and eating carbohydrates on a patio. What if something happened here on Sundays between and after services that fed you so deeply, that connected you so completely, that transformed the way you approached your life so much that no one cared if we ever drank another cup of coffee again.  I will tell you that some would leave because they would miss the taste and the simplicity of the coffee and others would come because they are looking for whatever replaced it that brought that deeper sense of connection and transformation.

I am not attacking coffee, as most of you know, I love a good cup of decaf and a little nosh on the patio, but what I am saying is we come from a long line of people who challenge the way things have always been.  We are planted firmly in a faith tradition that often challenges the meaning of faith and challenges the meaning of tradition. It can be unsettling, but it also can help us look at the structures and systems of injustice. It can help us overcome complacency and fear. It can move us in new a creative directions.  It can help us understand what holds us back and it can help us with our growing edges.

I don’t think it is helpful or useful to be questioning all the traditions all the time, and, I want to remind us all that sometimes we question them and we discover that they are exactly what they need to be, some of you may remember the whole new Coca Cola debacle for example. But I guess the point is, we shouldn’t be afraid to question them, to examine them and to decide if they are still serving the needs at the core of our purpose.

At the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ, delegates of the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and calling on Unitarian Universalists to study the Doctrine and eliminate its presence from the current-day policies, programs, theologies, and structures of Unitarian Universalism. "BE IT RESOLVED that we, the delegates of the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases having no place in the modern day treatment of indigenous peoples." http://www.uua.org/multiculturalism/dod/

And then, much like Parker did with regard to slavery, the UUA states, “As people of faith, we are called to understand and dislodge the Doctrine of Discovery and its present-day effects, and advocate for our government to fully implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an aspirational declaration passed by the United Nations in 2007 and to which the United States became a signatory in 2010.”

We are human and we are comfortable in patterns but sometimes those patterns need changing, need evolution, need fresh air, and in some cases we need to look at the facts of the world and although we may see a continual and progressive triumph of what is right we cannot pretend to always understand the moral universe, for the arc is a long one, and our eyes can only reach but little ways. We may not be able to calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but if we search deep enough, we might be able to divine it by conscience and if we keep working on it, we hope it will always in the end bend towards justice.”

May that be so.