Saturday, September 27, 2014

Beyond the Gates of Struggle

Struggles whether for a group of people or for us individually, is part of the human condition as the Buddha observed 3000 years ago.  Struggle born of not having enough, struggle born of worrying about the future, struggle born of disease and heartache.  Struggle is real but it is not the totality of our existence.  Struggle is the gate we pass through in order to make ourselves anew.  I think too often we see our future as the gate itself instead of what lies beyond it.

Anne LaMotte put it this way:  “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”

You wait and you watch and you don’t give up.  That’s  what moving beyond the gate of struggle looks like.  Last week the Los Angeles City Council increased the minimum wage for hotel workers to $15.37 an hour, the highest in the country.  You think that just happened?  Nope.  That was the result of thousands of people storming the gates of struggle to get to the other side. 
There is always another side to struggle.  With a little stubborn hope we will get there.
With Grace and Grit,  John

Friday, September 12, 2014

Holding Up Astonishing Bridges

“Just as the winged energy of delight

 carried you over many chasms early on,

 now raise the daringly imagined arch

 holding up the astonishing bridges.”

The soaring imagery of Rilke’s poem might strike some of us as fanciful and unrealistic.  I would ask you to begin with me remembering what it was like to play as a child.  Imagination was and always will be our very best friend.  It was mine.  My younger brother didn’t arrive into our house until I was seven and so for the first years of my life, and many more beyond that, I kept company with an imaginary friend.  I called him Rocco.  I don’t know why I called him Rocco, except perhaps I knew such a friend in a previous life or I lived in a town inhabited by Italian and Irish immigrants who came to build the Hudson River rail line.  But Rocco was, and occasionally still is, my confidant and the wings of delight.  I speak to him out load still to this day.  And in those early years we imagined ourselves, building cities, saving families and soaring on imaginary wings over the chasms of reality that all too often weigh us down, certainly by the time we become adults.  In many ways my entire ministry has been about re-awakening in others those early winged energy of delights in simply living and being together that take us over the drab chasms of bills, children, parents, jobs and relationships.  The actions we are called to do, the company we enjoy are the wings that help us soar to deeper understanding over the chasms of barren reason and a world in such pain. 
And lest you think that this is just not the reasonable faith of Unitarian Universalism, let me remind you that Emily Dickenson, Buckminster Fuller and Kurt Vonnegut were all Unitarian Universalists. Count among you, poets and dancers and musicians and cooks and caretakers and story tellers along with engineers, and teachers and creators.  All of us have been holding up the most astonishing bridges.  While we might lose sight of how good we are at meaning making by what troubles us, I only ask that you look deeper; each of you is an original blessing of creation.  And we are not alone; indeed we ride in the wake of an emergent spiritual renewal.

With Grace and Grit, John

Friday, September 5, 2014

Love Beyond Belief!

It’s been a long and hot summer.  It’s been hard for many of us personally. as well.  And then there is the world theater, the Gaza strip, Ebola, Ukraine and the gruesome event in Iraq under ISIS.  One young person this week asked me if this is the world as it will be.  I answered I didn’t think so, but for now this is the world as it is.  Much of this heartache has been brought on by religion or politics masquerading as religion. 
It’s a challenging time to be a religious person these days.  Faced with fundamentalism on the right and the lack of relevancy on the left is it any wonder that so many see religion as the enemy of civilization.  A wonder perhaps but sadly so wrong.  The reality is that every day millions of good meaning people with nothing but their religious faith do all they can to make the world a better place.  These acts of justice, and so many more are done in the name of religion.  Our religion.

What is broken for me, and the vision I see for our future, is not religion but the beliefs that invade our religions.  Here I am not talking about restrictive teachings about homosexuality and abortion so much as the myopia that keeps people of different beliefs from talking with one another.  I remember keenly when I was trying to enlist the help of one fundamentalist church in building with Habitat for Humanity.  The associate pastor told  me that not only would they not associate with me, a heathen and atheist (neither of which is true, well… at least I am not an atheist, a heathen I might be) he would not allow his people to support an organization which believes there are many paths to God, quoting the Gospel of John 14:6  “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
As the president of the UUA Peter Morales claims:  “Belief is the enemy of religion… Religion is not about what you or I or Baptists or Catholics or Jews or Muslims or Hindus believe… We are so immersed in a culture that views religion as a matter of what people believe that we think this the way it has always been. It isn’t. As Karen Armstrong wrote …all of this emphasis on what someone believes is actually very modern and very western.” ("Beyond Belief", preached UU Church of Arlington VA, Feb. 2014)

We get so lost in our beliefs.  We get lost in our doctrines or even our cherished principles. This is not what religion is for.  Religion is for living out our faith of what is right and good in the world.  And more importantly, to do it with people who are not like you.  Because here is the brutal fact:  If we don’t start working aside other religious people to change the world, we will die in our little ghettos of belief.  We like being around people who are “like us”.  But young people who may even share our values aren’t coming here to be around people who go to church.  They are out in the world making a difference.  One of the organizations I work with, the Chalice Oak Foundation, a social justice group recently advertised for a new Executive Director, we got over 10 applications, all of them young people under forty, all changing the world and all but two having no religious affiliation at all.  Being around people just like us is killing us and our world.  We have to get beyond belief, and get into relationships with Jews and Muslims and Baptists and Buddhists and yes, even Mormons. On 9/11 many of us good meaning religious people will be out working for the common good; showing the world that we can love beyond belief.  Will you join us?
With Grace and Grit, John