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Roots of Democracy

Posted by on Jul 7, 2013 in Worship Services

The Opening Words and Chalice Lighting are adapted from the traditions of the  Haudenosaunee – the Iroquois

Greetings, Friends.  Hold fast for in union there is strength.
Greetings, Strangers.  Welcome the stranger and give them shelter for the stranger may become a prop to your house.
Begin this day in love.  Bury old hates and let them be forgotten, for if old stories are to be revived there can never be an end to war.

May the flame of this chalice be a fire for peace, ours to tend throughout our lives.


At the Six Nations Indian Museum in Onchiota, New York, a stone monument on the museum grounds bears this inscription:

To America’s oldest ally The Iroquois Confederacy “People of the Longhouse” Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas – to whom were later added the Tuscaroras constituting the Six Nations founded by the Peacemaker and Hiawatha who planted the tree of peace at Onondaga (Syracuse) sometime before the coming of Columbus. They excelled in statesmanship and the art of diplomacy.  After the white man came, during more than a century of intercolonial strife, they loyally protected the infant English colonies, showed them the way to union, and so helped prepare the American and Canadian people for nationhood.

As this nation’s annual celebration of July 4 comes to a close, I want to tell you the story behind that inscription.  I do so to honor this nation’s oldest ally and acknowledge the connections between the “13 fires” of the English colonies and the “6 fires” of the Confederacy.  I also tell it mindful that Unitarian Universalism has its roots in this democracy and so acknowledge our connections – however distant – to this same story.  The current state of much of our politics adds a kind of wishful thinking to this telling.

The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) say that it happened a long time ago and was accomplished in five days.  Sometime between 1390 and 1450 and taking perhaps decades or even generations to complete, a United People was created out of five nations – Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas.  A sixth, the Tuscaroras, joined about 1710.  This union was more than the establishment of a central government.  A Basic Call to Consciousness – a series of papers presented to the Non-Governmental Organizations of the United Nations in 1977 by the Six Nations – said it was the creation of a United People specifically to prevent abuse of human beings by other human beings through the cultivation of a spiritually healthy society and the establishment of peace.

The people with whom the Peacemaker shared his vision some 600 years ago lived in land where all rule and order had broken down, except that of the “headhunter, a rule under which the pendulum swing was from random violence to undeclared war.  Into this chaos, the Peacemaker came. . . He found survivors of the violence and. . . talked to them.  Clearly. Carefully. Slowly. Patiently.  Persuasively.  Logically. He spoke about the human capacity for reason and the human desire for peace – both gifts of the Great Creator.  He spoke of a society in which strength would be found in union (not revenge) and thought and action guided by reason, righteousness and peace (not fear and hatred.)

Though the people were frightened, so weary, and often very angry, the Peacemaker again and again encouraged them to put aside fear, put aside prejudice and privilege, put aside their sense of superiority and recognize that creation is intended for the benefit of all equally.  All have a right to those things they need to survive.  No one has the right to deprive another of those things.  (Call to Consciousness page 8)

When white settlers from England and other European countries encountered the Six Nations, they encountered a culture and tradition grounded in a sense of equality, democratic social ideals, and healthy skepticism. When these settlers began to consider making of themselves a new nation, they turned to the Six Nations for guidance.

In 1744 the Six Nations chiefs gathered at Lancaster, Pennsylvania to meet with the Governors of Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania.  The Chiefs advised the governors to create a union like the Haudenosaunee.  The Chiefs spoke a plain truth, that “one arrow will break, six arrows do not.”  The secretary for that meeting was Benjamin Franklin.  He had, in a way the Governors did not, a vision for a nation free and unified. A decade later, in 1754, Franklin called a meeting in Albany.  Again, the Chiefs of the Six Nations were invited to discuss with colonial leaders a Plan of Union, to talk about what is required to create a strong and lasting confederacy.  In 1775 the Continental Congress met with the Six Nations Chiefs and told them, “Now we are going to take your advice and plant a tree of peace in Philadelphia.”

Sounds encouraging – colonial leaders seeking to learn from those who had success in doing what they now sought to achieve for themselves.

These words from Ben Franklin are reflective of the more prevalent attitude among our “founding fathers”. “It would be a strange thing if Six Nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such a union, and be able to execute it in such a manner as that it has subsisted for ages and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies to whom it is more necessary and must be more advantageous. .” (PAWW page 3)

While Franklin disparaged the Six Nations as “ignorant savages”, he knew good political advice when he heard it!  Colonial leaders could have no better advisers that the Six Nations Chiefs whose ancestors had, hundreds of years before, struggled to create “a more perfect union.” (PAWW page 34)  Here are some of the qualities and commitments of that Union:

In the Iroquois Confederacy:

  • each Nation’s way of life was to be preserved – no great cultural melting pot but unity and diversity;
  • hunting grounds, food and raw materials were available to all so that national boundaries would not be the cause for one nation to go hungry while another had plenty;
  • each nation practiced its own religious tradition without fear of persecution from its neighbors;
  • freedom of speech was symbolized by the Council fires and each nation, clan, family and women as well as men were full partners in democracy; ground rules created what we today might call “a level playing field” by, for example, limiting Council times to daylight hours and allowing no public discussion on an important proposal on the same day it was introduced in Council.

Those who lead the Confederacy and its member nations are responsible for cultivating a spirit of unity among the people.  Courage, patience and honesty are the virtues most important to the Chiefs responsibilities.  The Peacemaker who planted the Tree of Peace among the Six Nations more than 600 years ago is said to have told the Chiefs this, “When you administer the law your skins must be seven thumbs thick.  Then the magic darts of your enemies will not penetrate. . . This is to be strong of mind, oh Chiefs: Carry no anger and hold no grudges.  Think not forever of yourselves, O chiefs, nor of your own generation.  Think of continuing generations of our families, think of our grandchildren and of those yet unborn. . .“ (PAWW page 43)

As this 4th of July passes, as governments and leaders around the world struggle with injustice, struggle to be just, I would offer only this prayer – not advice but a prayer for the leaders of this nation, for all nations.

May you cultivate unity; practice courage, patience and honesty.

May you think of continuing all the generations of all our families, our grandchildren and those yet unborn so that the story they tell of their inheritance, the story of what we bequeathed them to sustain their lives will echo these words of the Peacemaker – the land will be beautiful, the river shall have no more waves, and one may go everywhere without fear.


A Basic Call to Consciousness – a series of papers presented to the Non Governmental Organizations of the United Nations in 1977 by the Six Nations

The White Roots of Peace by Paul A.W. Wallace (textual reference PAWW), University of Pennsylvania Press, 1946; republished by Chauncy Press, 1986


Among the Haudenosaunee the word for peace and the word for law are the same.  Peace is law – both means and end.  May the patience, persuasiveness and perseverance of the Peacemaker be ours, that our world may yet know peace as law, a world where people of all nations are united in Reason which is soundness of mind, in Health which is soundness of body, in Righteousness as law which is justice codified, and Power which is confidence that justice will prevail.

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Love and Freedom

Posted by on Mar 31, 2013 in Worship Services

Easter Sundays in my childhood were a sweet mix of Spring celebration, family tradition, and very special church.

The Spring celebration meant there was an Easter basket waiting for me when I got up. Through the cellophane wrapping I could see chocolate eggs of varying sizes with different fillings, jelly beans of many colors and a large hollow chocolate Easter bunny that would soon lose his ears!  As much as I would have loved chocolate for breakfast, the basket was set aside and saved for the afternoon.  (Is there a basket or a chocolate bunny waiting for you?)

The family traditions were waffles for breakfast, hot off the griddle, followed by getting dressed in Easter finery for church.  Easter was the only Sunday of the year that meant new clothes.  I got a new dress, a new hat, new shoes and new gloves to be worn first on Easter and then only for Sunday at church thereafter.

Very special church on Easter meant special music.  The choir sang bigger and stronger, with a joy appropriate to the Easter message.  There were Easter lilies all around the sanctuary.  And often there was a baptism  full emersion  during the service.  It was also special because of the Sunday School lesson for that day.  There was no story from the daily lives of ordinary people showing how Jesus had touched them, taught them, changed them in some way.

The Easter story was told . . . and it was complicated, especially for a young child.  There were prayers in the night; a friend who turns against you; being arrested, questioned and beaten by those in power.  There was suffering and death.  And then there was this miracle.  Three from among Jesus’ followers went to the place where he was buried.  When they looked inside they found only an empty tomb.  Jesus’ body was not there.  Soon after, one of the three who loved him most deeply and believed in him most strongly, a woman named Mary Magdalene, saw and spoke with Jesus.  And in the Gospel of John it is said that Mary Magdalene then went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”

As sweet, as complicated and as powerful as Easter Sunday was for me as a child, there were other lessons l learned in church, lessons that didn’t rely on Easter.

When I was 4 or 5, I remember singing a song – maybe some of you remember it, too – Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so . . . . As I sang, I learned Jesus loved me.

In another song, I learned it was not just me. Jesus loved all the children of the world.  Maybe some of you remember this

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Then I learned it was not only for Jesus to love all the children.  I was to do the same – love them all, red and yellow, black and white as the song said – just as Jesus did.

When I was older, a teenager, trying to make sense of my faith in the world of the 1960’s, a faith tried by the assassinations of King, Malcolm and two Kennedys, the struggle for civil rights and a seemingly endless war, these few words in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 25, verses 35-36) gave shape to the love I was to show to others. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

More recently, words from the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, speak of the shape of love.  Bishop John Shelby Spong writes, “Jesus is … for me the conduit through which the love of God was loosed into human history. Jesus lived the love of God. This love was and is … embracing love, inclusive love. It is a love that overflows every human boundary, a love that overflows every human boundary.  That is why Jesus was portrayed by the Gospel writers as stepping across the racial divide to heal the Samaritan; or as stepping across the cultural divide to engage the woman at the well in conversation; or as stepping over the cultic purification laws to embrace the lepers….”(1)

I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, without clothes, sick, in prison and you reached out to me  a love that overflows every human boundary.

“The world in which we live,” writes the Rev. Gordon McKeeman,”continually reminds us that the barriers that separate us  nationalisms, regionalisms, colors, creeds, sexual orientations, genders, languages, cultures  are the sources of our richness but also of our pain, frustration, cruelty, oppression and violence. Diversity is a given. Oneness (community) is an achievement.”  (2)

Oneness (community) is an achievement made possible by love that overflows every human boundary.

This holiest day in the Christian tradition celebrates the resurrection of Jesus following three days of grief and despair by those who knew, loved and followed him. It celebrates the hopeful promise of that miracle. It is also a time to remember stories from Jesus’ life and ministry, stories of a love that overflows every human boundary.  It is by these stories and as a teacher that he lives on.

I struggled with many things I was taught about Jesus.  Those earliest lessons in the language and practice of love remain.

This sweet, sacred time of year is also the time of Passover, when the Jewish people share the age old story of their liberation from slavery and their passage into freedom.  Told reliably, generation after generation, it is a fundamental part of the language of a people, celebrating physical freedom from bondage and the beginning of a communal religious journey.

Unitarian Universalism also carries a language of freedom – freedom of belief, freedom for the individual religious journey.  No one need pretend to believe something.  No one need hide doubts or questions.  No one need feel guilty about not believing.  No one need feel guilty about not coming to church.(3)

Sometimes we say ours is the “freedom to believe anything you want.”  It is not.   Freedom is always subject to limits  the dictates of reason, of conscience, of the heart; the necessity of living in community; the need to ensure the safety of others as well as ourselves.  (4) Within limits, we have freedom here to find our own path, to bring our whole selves, to express doubts, to ask questions.  We have freedom here made possible by mutual respect, respect both given and received.

To be of use to us, to endure among us, our freedom must be bound to love and bound in a particular way.  The Rev. Alice Blair Wesley says this.  Freedom is essential if we are to have in our lives one community among all those of which we are a part, where we can  with honest though sometimes conflicted hearts and minds  examine together our own deepest loves . . . to see whether we are living by right loves, or by some misplaced, inappropriate love for less than worthy realities.  Freedom in the church is not of much use or value unless here  here – it is used to explore, together, the realities of our lives we find most worthy of faithful love.

We are blessed  and entrusted – with many sources for our faith.  We carry a language of freedom.  We carry a language of love. With love and freedom bound together we help each other find, over and over again, in a thousand varying times and settings, what is our own worthiest love and . . .  what it loves now requires of us . . . in what we do, in our actions, in the way we live”(5). . Together we find what love and freedom require of us as we put our will to work in the world, as we put our skill to work in the world, as we put our dreams to work in the world.

(1)Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes, Bishop John Shelby Spong p.332-334
(2)Starr King Scholl for the Ministry President’s Lecture, Rev. Gordon McKeeman, UUA General Assembly 2004
(3)Carrying the Language of Freedom, Jane Rzepka, CLF Quest Mar. 2013
(4)Freedom is a Funny Word, Michael Schuler CLF Quest Mar 2013
(5)Minns Lecture 1, The Spirit and Promise of Our Covenant Alice Blair Wesley p.12, 17-18


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Safe Home

Posted by on Mar 17, 2013 in Worship Services

Safe Home

My first year in theological school I met a number of amazing women.  One of them was D.  She was a first year PhD student and we shared a passionate commitment to feminist theology, feminist theory and feminist critique. We fast became friends and spent countless hours in that rich and glorious pass time of graduate school students  dialogue about things that could change the world.

Our friendship grew and when the chance to house sit for one of our favorite professors was offered to D, she asked me if I’d like to be her housemate.

Of course I would  the luxury of a house, a great friend to share it with, room for friends to gather . . . and the good karma of the space  what’s not to like.

As we walked along together, discussing what we needed to do to make this work, D stopped and said that there was something she needed to tell me.

I stopped.

I’m lesbian, she said.

OK, I said.

She looked at me in silence and I looked at her.  If I said anything else it is lost to memory now.  What else was there to say, I imagine thinking.  D is my friend and I care deeply about her.  Period.  We walked on together and she told me a little more of her story.

She asked me if I was really OK with sharing a house with her.

Of course, I said.

What I came to understand so much more fully was that my saying yes to house sharing was also saying yes to my obligation to create safe space for D. She had known such spaces, and she had known plenty that were anything but safe.  The house we would share needed to be a place where she could be fully herself; a place where her friends were welcome, a place where her pain and her joy were welcome out in the open, a place where the woman she was in relationship with would be welcome and safe.

Those of us with privileged identities  whether it be white, male, able bodied, heterosexual, . . .  those of us with one or more of these identities have  places, often lots of them, where we can assume safety, assume we belong, assume we’ll be welcome, assume we’ll be understood.

For people of color, for persons living with disabilities, for women, for folks who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer . . . the certainty of safety is neither guaranteed nor assumed.

Those of us with privileged identities are called to help create safe, welcoming and inclusive space . . . that was what I said yes to when I said yes to D’s offer of house sharing.  I said our house would be a safe place, a safe home.

Some say D was lucky to have a friend like me.  I don’t know about that. I do know that everyone deserves a safe home.

The Unitarian Universalist Welcoming Congregation program was launched in 1990.  A tipping point toward the creation of this program was the denial of call to a lesbian couple who were candidates for ministry with one of our congregations well known for its long standing commitment to diversity.

During the two decades prior to 1990, there had been numerous resolutions and statements in support of sexual minorities. Still there was a disconnect between what we said and what we did in our congregations. Ours was not yet a safe, welcoming and inclusive home for folks who are GLBTQ.

The moniker “welcoming” has become a symbol referring to specifically religious spaces within various denominations and traditions accepting of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. Religious spaces have been, and often still are, painfully unwelcoming and unsafe.  The Welcoming Congregation program is one way for us to change that.  It is one way to give Unitarian Universalist congregations tools to do more than talk the talk.

Today, 66% of U.S. Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations and 94% of Canadian UU congregations are recognized as Welcoming Congregations.

From the outside, congregations can look the same when seen through the eyes of those who know what it means to risk personal safety and wellbeing for being who they are.  To push through the pain of past harm and the exhaustion of repeated disappointments, to dare hope that this place is different, to take the chance and come in . . . a simple symbol can make all the difference.

For the more than 600 Unitarian Universalist congregations recognized as Welcoming Congregations, including this one, the rainbow  whether a flag, a banner, or a sign  the rainbow says this is a place where you will be safe, you will be welcome, and you will be included.

This house is like the one I shared with my friend D years ago.

When we said yes we are a welcoming congregation we said this will be a safe place.  This will be a safe home, a safe religious home, for persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer.  Extending that welcome does not in any way diminish our welcome of others.  It expands our embrace.  It means that we are committed to more than talking the talk.  We are living the welcoming congregation.


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A Different Kind of Time

Posted by on Feb 10, 2013 in Worship Services

Reading: Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.


My Mom called Friday night.  She and my Dad had been watching The Weather Channel.  She sounded a little anxious.  “Are you home yet?”  In my head the answer was “Home yet?  Of course I am.  We spoke at 1:00 this afternoon and I told you I’d be home in 20 minutes.”  That’s not what I said.  “Yes, I’m home.  I’ve been home for a long time.”  Since she spoke to me last when I was on my way, as far as my Mom was concerned I was still on my way.

Though every once in a while something sticks  like me not being home yet,  my Mom and Dad are cut off from chronological time, without short term memory.  Sometimes they think they haven’t seen me for a very long time even though I was with them only a few days ago.  It all depends on when they remember seeing me last.  My Dad remembers that I always come home around Christmas time.  He asked me the other night if I’d be coming back to see them before Christmas. “This is February,” I told him as matter-of-factly as I could.  “I’ll see you on the 18th, on Monday February 18th.  Today is Tuesday, Feb 5th and I’ll see you on the 18th. ”

Neuroscientists are still trying to figure out how we humans perceive time and use it to make sense of our world.  What they know is every second we are conscious, a circuit involving three regions of the brain checks and cross checks incoming information and builds a logical sequence of events.  Our brains create our sense of time out of these multiple memories.

While there is still a lot to learn in this “science of time”, it appears that our grasp of long spans of time helps us apportion our energies.  One scientist described this as “evolution’s way of ensuring we mete out our attention and energy efficiently, rather than expending too much too soon and falling short at the end.”  At the other end of the time spectrum is that “tiny stretch of time we call ‘now’  the most important and fragile part of our internal clocks”  roughly 2  seconds, the span of our unconscious attention. Drivers, athletes, all of us see, move and react in this tiny increment of time that is now.  (Science of Time, Los Angeles Times, Melissa Healy March 9, 2009)

When Dementia, Alzheimer’s, other brain disorders or injuries, disrupt the brain’s circuitry, the world becomes illogical, a chaotic jumble.  When we cannot remember what happened in the past, we lose our sense of time. When we cannot remember yesterday or last night or five minutes ago, we don’t know what day it is or what will happen a few moments from now.  Short term memories must be ordered and stored by the brain if we are to have a sense of what will happen next.  Otherwise all we have is this present, fleeting moment. (Memory Loss Stops Internal Clock for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Sufferers, 11/3/10,

When I am visiting with my parents we often have quite a few medical appointments as well as in-home visits for physical therapy, baths, or a checkup by the home health nurse.  Neither of my parents can track these things, even with a calendar where appointments are recorded and a clock that shows time, day and date.  So there I am  trying to manage their schedule and my own for things like grocery shopping, banking and laundry.  The days I fly back to Boston are the hardest  not only is any doctor’s appointment a mystery; they can’t remember how long I’ve been there nor when I will be back.  All they have is now.  The best way I have found to deal with the schedule is to slow down, slow way down.  Move slowly.  Speak slowly.  Repeat what is happening.  As I help them get ready, I say over and over  “you’re doing just fine; we’ve got plenty of time”  as a way of reassuring them.

In this different sense of time there is no past except the long ago and there is no future, nothing to look forward to or plan for.   Time is the current moment  a little longer than the now of those 2  seconds of our unconscious attention.  When now is fast moving, when I get anxious about being late, when memory can give no meaning to or purpose for activity, things become confusing and frustrating for all of us.  Sometimes my Dad just stops, looks at me and says simply, “There is too much going on.  There is too much going on.”  And he starts to move even more slowly, asks more questions about what we are doing and why.  Slowing down is not my best thing. . . .

The current moment is the time my parents live in . . .except that every once in a while something sticks.  Like my Mom remembering I was not home yet at the time of her first call to me on Friday.  And like this, that my Dad remembered . . . The folks who live across the street from my parents (and have for 30 years or so) are neighbors we can count on.  They have done so much for us from grocery shopping to sitting with my Dad in the emergency room.  A week and a half ago, our neighbors had a death in the family.  After being told this news, for three nights my phone conversations with my Dad included him telling that “Tom’s brother died.”  He’d talk about what he needed to do.  I’m convinced he remembered this news because it tapped into his memories about what one does at a time like this.  He wanted to go over and see Tom.  He was sorry he could not go to the funeral.  The news of this death had a place to go and be remembered.

This week’s triumph of short term memory is my Dad remembering how to hold the phone so his hearing aid recognizes it and he can understand my part of our conversations. Loss of time and loss of hearing are a bad combination!

Dementia has a cruelty to it.  Poet Holly Hughes described her mother’s decline as a “slow process of subtraction, as we lost her one brain cell, one synapse at a time.”   As the editor of Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease, she posted an on line invitation for contributions.  From nearly 500 responses, she selected poems by social workers, nurses, physicians, teachers, even one insurance adjuster. Losing Solomon, a poem about his grandfather by a creative writing teacher at Arizona State, begins:

Things seem to take on a sudden shimmer
before vanishing: the polished black loafers
he wore yesterday, the reason for climb
the stairs, even the names of his own children
are swallowed like spent stars against the dark
vault of memory. Today the toaster gives up
its silver purpose in his hands, becomes a radio,
an old Philco blaring a ball game from the ’40s
with Jackie Robinson squaring up to the plate.

Dementia has cruelty . . . and there is also humor, sometimes with poignancy as in these lines from “Forgetfulness”, the Billy Collins poem I read earlier:

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag . . . . .

Humor is a survival strategy for me.  I do not laugh at my parents for their sometimes odd behavior.  I smile because time and memory are so different in their world than in mine.   The days I see my Mom read the morning paper over several times, I smile at the sight.  Each time she reads it, it is new news for her. In that moment we can sometimes have a brief conversation about what she’s reading. Like when there is news about President Obama  she remembers him and tells me she likes him and the good things he does.  Who knows how or why President Obama found a place in her memory?

Beyond the science of time and memory — there is another kind of time.  The Greek word for it is “kairos” – the right or opportune moment.  I seem always to be looking for kairos moments with my parents.  I am trying to catch the opportune moment to tell them something that I must out of respect and love even though they will not remember.  I am looking for the right time to suggest we start getting ready for the appointment.  In spite of the loss of memory and the different sense of time, they need to experience events as being right at a given time. Events need to be opportune and meaningful whenever possible.  Kairos is a time they can still live in.  No clock or calendar required.

Communities – including the community we call family and the community we call First Parish of Sudbury – communities have a shared and commonly observed sense of time.   Community time is complex.   It is about clock, calendar and schedule.  We show up at 10 a.m. on Sundays for worship and religious education. It is about memories  those from long ago (like the history of this meetinghouse), those we share (like the Music Sunday or last fall’s Harvest Fair).  It is about future (like the calling of the next settled minister), the memories we have yet make.  It is about the present moment  who and how we are together here and now.   And it is about Kairos  those right and opportune times full of meaning and connection to the surrounding world.

Sometimes these different senses of time clash and conflict.  Like on a night long ago when this took place.  Folks from the Ethiopian refugee community gathered at the Community Church of New York for a very special event.  It was on the calendar for 6-9 p.m.  Guests arrived, and continued to arrive.  At way past 6:00 the event finally got underway.  As it got later and later and the Sexton was having little success in getting things back on schedule for a 9 p.m. ending, he called and asked me to intervene.

That night the Ethiopians gathered in kairos time.  Their community was the most important thing and time was defined by what was right and best for the community  to begin when everyone is there and end when all that needs to be said and done is complete.  That same night, the sexton was living in chronological time.  Guided by the time on the clock and his work schedule, the event was running late and needed to end.  Who knows? Maybe the Sexton had bad memories of a past experience working later than agreed or a sense of the future and plans after work.

Communities inhabit a time made by all these things  past, present, future; memories; clocks and schedules; the right and opportune moment.  In my family, we’re learning how to live in time defined by the present moment and how to recognize right and opportune moments though they are few and far between.  For this community, the calling of your next settled minister is a time made of all these things. In this present moment, you are preparing yourselves to be the authors of the next chapter in the life story of this congregation. Build on the long and rich history of this place.  Draw on the wisdom of shared experience. Be bold in imagining your future.  Be open to the right and opportune moments that will come.

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This Great World House

Posted by on Jan 30, 2013 in Worship Services

This Great World House
In the visitor’s center at the King Center in Atlanta there is a statue of marchers on the highway from Selma to Montgomery.  Visitors are invited to join the marchers on the road, to imagine what it was like, or remember.  I was standing on that highway, and heard quiet voice behind me ask "Is it OK for me to be here?"  I turned and saw an African American girl, about 9 or 10  years old.  I was brought up short  silent, looking at her.  I finally mustered my voice back to audible and said  yes, it’s fine. Perhaps her question was the kind a child asks of an adult when the rules of the place are not clear, or seem to offer the chance to do something that "normally" is not allowed . . . no matter. . . .her question reduced me to tears.  Is it OK for me to be here?  Do I belong?  Do I have a place?

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? is the last book Dr. King wrote.  In it he challenges us to answer the question that young girl ask me with a clear and simple yes.  In every word, in every way, Dr. King was pointing us away from chaos and toward community.  He wrote, "We have inherited a large house, a great "world house" in which we have to live together  black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu  a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because, we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace. . . All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors."
There are many differences among the folks in our great world house, including differences in faith  in Dr. King’s words "Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu."  For Dr. King, faith was not a barrier to living the dream. It was a bridge. He hoped that in the great world house we inherited, it would be the same.  In his lifetime, Dr. King crossed that bridge many times.
While still a student for ministry, King learned of Indian Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi, and his philosophy of the satyagraha, the love force, from his mentor, the Rev. Howard Thurman, Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. Connecting this with his own understandings of Christianity, satyagraha would later provide Dr. King with strategy and tactics for the civil rights movement. Boycotts.  Marches.  Accepting jail time.  King said of Gandhi, he is "the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force."

There was the Rabbi who shared King’s love of the Hebrew Prophets and with whom King formed a friendship.  When the time came for the march from Selma to Montgomery, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel joined Dr. King on the front line, literally on the front line. In photos of the march, Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel are arm in arm.  Heschel later wrote, "Our march was worship.  I felt like my legs were praying."

There was Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk whose friendship was an inspiration to Dr. King in one of his most controversial and courageous acts  publicly opposing the Viet Nam War.  In his letter nominating Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, King called him "a holy man" whose ideas for peace "would build a monument to ecumenism. . . "

Dr. King wrote more about this great world house.  Its stability, he said, depends on a "revolution of values" in which our loyalties are to humankind as a whole. "This call for worldwide fellowship . . .  lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation." It is "a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all. . . This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality" is that love is the "supreme unifying principle of life."

Whether we turn to his personal spiritual journey, his prophetic leadership, his vision for this nation and the world, Dr. King viewed faith as a bridge not a barrier, as an inspiration to serve and connect, believing that we are better together, living in this one great world house.  Together we can create community as the answer to the question "where do we go from here?"  Together we can the answer the question "is it OK for me to be here?" with a yes filled with love.

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