Opening Words: Every Day, Caroline Joy Adams
We are given a thousand waking moments
A thousand opportunities to learn, to grow, to choose
Thus, in as many of those moments as you can,
Choose understanding and calmness rather than anger…
Gratitude rather than envy….
Compassion rather than judgment….
Awareness rather than denial….
Loving thoughts, words, and action
Over those that have the power to hurt…
And in this way,
Moment by Moment by Moment
We shall create harmony, healing and peace
Within ourselves…and for each other.
Sermon: Report From Kenya – ‘The Pitcher Cries for Water,’
The Mission Statement adopted by the congregation at our annual meeting is summarized in three words: inspire, connect and act.
Marge Piercy said it this way: “I want to be with people who submerge in the task…the pitcher cries for water and a person for work that is real.”
Our Mission and Marge Piercy’s poetic expression ‘the pitcher cries for water and a person for work that is real’ was expressed in word and deed by the clean-water project trip to Kenya this summer.
We had eleven missionaries who were acting on our behalf as well as their own; they were ‘submerged in the task;’ they connected with real people in a village in Kenya, Chepsaita, and by extension they connected the people of Chepsaita to us – they were inspired and they inspired us.
The word inspire in Hebrew is ru-ach, the breath of life. The creation story in Genesis says that God took a lump of clay, formed it into a person, an earthling, and he blew into it ‘the breath of life,’ and ‘man became a living soul.’
How do we become ‘living souls,’ as opposed to merely existing? How do we gain a sense of dignity…self-respect? It has something to do with inspiration – something to do with ‘the breath of life,’ the spirit.
Emerson put it succinctly: “Who does a good deed is instantly ennobled,” he said. To be noble, in this sense, is to possess high ideals characterized by a finely tuned sense of morality and ethics. It’s about that essential quality we affirm as love and human compassion.
The Muslim poet, Rumi, expressed it this way: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field, I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”
There are moments in life when we are able to transcend the confines of this single, separate life we’re living and to realize that we are connected in this ‘interdependent web’ of existence; this deep sense of connection is at the heart of what we call religion, or the religious experience. That sense of connection can happen with one other person or with a group of persons who become real to one another.
Recently our UUA President, Peter Morales, wrote in his UUWorld article titled Hand in Hand:
“While we offer many opportunities for service in our congregations, I have long wished our Association did more to offer options for volunteer service—opportunities that go far beyond what any single church can do. I particularly believe that we need to do more to help young people participate in volunteer work. Late adolescence and young adulthood are times of high energy and idealism. It is also a time when a volunteer experience can change a lifetime (change a life.)”
He said, “We Unitarian Universalists have always been a faith that seeks to bring healing to a broken world. We heal the world and grow our souls when we join hands and take action.”
There’s something in us that wants to be in meaningful relationship – that ‘something’ is the religious element.
Our Unitarian forebears referred to it as ‘salvation by character.’ The word salvation and is from salve, to heal or to be made whole…an ointment applied to a wound.
To be human is to feel a sense of compassion for those who are suffering; and we all suffer – to be human is to suffer in an existential way as well as a variety of physical ways.
We sense a kind of brokenness, a sense of being disconnected from the natural order as well as a sense of disconnection with one another and even a sense of disconnection with something in ourselves – from a vital center.
Religion, as a verb, is the lifelong process of re-connecting with that vital center, which some call God, and some, like the Taoist, say that the vital center is the essential thing in us and all living things that cannot be named, but is at the essence of all that we have named; the thing that cannot be told, but is at the heart of all that we have told.
That vital center, the soul, if you will, can become so damaged that the will to die overwhelms the will to live.
That’s precisely what happened to Tyler Clementi, the college freshman, the violinist, a ‘finely tuned young gay man,’ whose private life was exposed on the internet – and he took his own life.
He was one of five known suicides of young people who took their lives in September – how many others are there who are living lives of ‘quiet desperation?’
Debra Haffner, who heads up the Religious Institute, tells us about a study that was done recently “…found that 14% of teens in religious communities identify as something other than heterosexual. Almost 90% of them have not been open about their sexuality with clergy or other adult leaders in their faith communities. Almost half have not disclosed their sexual orientation to their parents. And non-heterosexual teens…were twice as likely as heterosexual teens to have seriously considered suicide.”
LGBT youth are highly vulnerable during middle school, high school and college years – the most sensitive developmental time of life. Too often school is not a safe place for gay youth, too often they are the recipients of verbal and physical harassment.
The mistreatment of these youth is so noxious that it results in higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, school dropout rates, depression, and the all-too-frequently, in suicide.
We need to be pro-active about this intolerable situation—we need to speak up and to speak out for them. They need to know that they are loved, that they are respected; they need to know that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.
When that vital center is humiliated, as it was in Tyler’s case, with a gross and horrifying invasion of privacy and criminal misuse of the internet our moral outrage should be heard.
Cyber bullying has become an epidemic leading to an epidemic of suicides by gay or questioning teens.
A few weeks ago my sermon was a reflection on the questions in the book of Genesis – after apple eating – the part where Adam hides from God and God asks him, ‘Where are you?’ and then turns to Eve and asks, ‘What have you done?’ Later, after Cain kills his brother, God asks, ‘Where is your brother?’
The tragic deaths of Tyler Clementi and several others who were victims of bullying, reminded me of those basic human questions: Where are we? What have we done? And where is your brother?
The internet provides a vast network, a web of connections, and it is subject to so much misuse, and so much damage.
Tyler’s roommate couldn’t resist the temptation – the apple hanging onto his computer, so he bit into it and no doubt he saw it as a practical joke, but to Tyler it was sheer unbearable humiliation.
I remember reading a story about the early days of the automobile, about a small town where there were just two cars, and eventually they collided at an intersection; thus the need for traffic signals and rules of the road.
We have the internet and video recording devices that are colliding at this intersection and there are no rules of the road. Fifteen states have enacted laws making cyber bullying a crime. More is needed.
The Genesis story is our human story told in a legend about our evolution from consciousness to conscience, from giving names to all the animals to ingesting the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
The human soul cries out for dignity, for self-respect, gained through authentic, caring relationships.
Marge Piercy’s metaphor says, ‘The pitcher cries for water and a person for work that is real.’ The soul – the human spirit – cries for respect and dignity – the parched soul will die from lack of compassion, no matter what age.
May we find ways to reach out to those who lack clean drinking water and cooking water and bath water, and may we be reminded again and again to have compassion for everyone we meet – we don’t know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone!
A story from the Muslim tradition says that a man came to the prophet and said, ‘My mother has died, what can I do for the good of her soul,’ and the prophet answered, ‘Dig a well that the thirsty may be satisfied – that you can do for the good of her soul’