Monday, June 15, 2015

One Morning

One morning we will wake up and forget to build that wall we’ve been building, the one between us, the one we’ve been building for years,
Perhaps out of some sense of right and boundary, perhaps out of habit.

One morning we will wake up and let our empty hands hang empty at our sides. Perhaps they will rise, as empty things sometimes do when blown by the wind. Perhaps they simply will not remember how to grasp, how to rage.

We will wake up that morning and we will have misplaced all our theories about why and how, and who did what to whom,
we will have mislaid all our timelines of when and plans of what and we will not scramble to write the plans and theories anew.

On that morning, not much else will have changed. Whatever is blooming will still be in bloom. Whatever is wilting will wilt.
There will be fields to plow and trains to load
and children to feed and work to do. And in every moment, in every action, we will feel the urge to say thank you, we will follow the urge to bow.

One Morning, a poem by Rosemerry Trommer as read by Paul Ward at 1stUUPB, June 14, 2015.

Swimming in Our Love

When we first fall in love, the powerful force of possibility grips us and pulls us along deeper and deeper into the days.

When first shaping the bonds of love, we look at each other with incredible freshness and appreciate who is before us. We stare into our new lover's eyes the way we might an overwhelming painting in which we imagine the secrets of life have been stroked thickly.

Inevitably, though, as we grow intimate, we begin to lose sight of each other, and there comes a day when we no longer see our loved one as others do. Now we see the inside of their face, up close. Now we swim in each other like a mysterious river in which we sometimes see ourselves, and sometimes soothe ourselves, and sometimes drink of each other.

Eventually, we climb into the painting we once stared at with our pounding heart, and from inside the painting, we can forget there ever was such a painting. This is how we can take each other for granted. This is how we can imagine that the magic is gone.

But, as the reward for being drawn to the sea is to swim with the waves, the reward for being drawn into the depth of another is to feel each other rather than to see each other.

This is the paradox of intimacy. On the way, we see what we dream of feeling, but once there, we feel from the inside what we can no longer readily see.

Swimming in Our Love, from The Book of Awakening, by Mark Nepo, as read by Larry Stauber at 1stUUPB, June 14, 2015.

Waking Up

Are you all awake? As I look around, it looks like most of you are awake but are you conscious? Are you really conscious about what is going on around you? Are you making decisions and making choices consciously?

Today, I am going to invite you to be more conscious and I hope to show you how.

As Sam Harris wrote in his book Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, “consciousness remains notoriously difficult to understand or even to define.”

According to neuroscientist Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario, “Consciousness refers to two quite distinct things — wakefulness and awareness. But the problem for people working on consciousness is that none of us can agree on what it actually means.”

I have many academic definitions in my files, but today I want to keep it simple. I am going to describe being conscious in three phases: noticing what is going on around you, setting intention, and acting responsibly.

Let me share a story about Mahatma Gandhi.

"One day Gandhi stepped aboard a train as it started to move, and one of his shoes slipped off and dropped on the tracks. Unable to retrieve it, he calmly took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first. When an amazed passenger asked why he had done that, Gandhi smiled and said, "The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use." With the eyes of his imagination, Gandhi saw a man with bare feet, saw him coming across a lone shoe and desperately searching for the other, and saw the disappointment on his face when he didn't find it; seeing these things, Gandhi did what he could to help."  (Donald McCullough in Say Please, Say Thank You)

Gandhi was noticing what was going on around him.

So, NOTICING is about becoming wide awake, it is about waking up, waking up to what is going on round you.

So, what are you noticing? As you look around you today, what do you see? What are you sensing? Sensing is about listening deeply using all the senses; being alert to changes in our environment, in people, and in ourselves; recognizing the need to stop what we are doing to be mindfully aware of our surroundings without judgment. Conscious people see more and they exclude less.

I want to invite you to really notice what is going on around you. This is going to be the audience participation segment of this morning’s service but it will be a silent participation. In a moment, I am going to invite you to stand, not yet, in a moment. I am going to ask you to find a partner, next to you, in front of you, behind you, wherever you find a partner and if that person is sitting down, sit with them. I am going to ask you to look deeply into each other’s eyes without speaking; to notice what is going on.

So, let’s do it. Stand if you are able, find a partner, -- have you found a partner – now, without speaking, look deeply into the other’s eyes. Notice what is happening. Keep silent… Keep looking… Keep noticing. …  Okay, when you are ready, thank your partner and sit back down.

Thank you! Now, I am going to ask you some questions. Answer them inside, there is no need to speak. So, what did you notice? What did you notice in your eye-gazing partner? What did you notice happening to you?  Be curious. Learn from the experience, be fully aware of what is going on around you. Be in the moment, live in this moment.

I imagine you noticed a lot…
I hope you were practicing our first UU principle, noticing the inherent worth and dignity of the person into whose eyes you looked. I invite you to keep noticing what is going on around you.

So noticing is about sensing what is going on, using all your senses; it is about learning, being curious, and it is about being mindful, being in the present moment. But noticing is not sufficient, Gandhi was mindful of losing his shoe, but his intention was that the person finding his shoe would benefit and have a pair of shoes, and he acted responsibly.

Let me tell you about the surgeon and the burglar, a Story of Intention from Christopher Titmuss in Mindfulness for Everyday Living.

The surgeon, working in the operating room on a major operation, and the burglar, stealthily going from room to room, have something in common. Both show an extraordinary degree of mindfulness from one moment to the next. Both remain completely absorbed in their work. What separates the surgeon and the burglar is the intention — and that intention makes all the difference, even though in both cases the quality of focused attention is extraordinarily high. The burglar generates suffering that even an insurance policy cannot redress. The surgeon, on the other hand, works to relieve suffering for a patient.

Authentic mindfulness takes into consideration the intentions behind our actions. Intention matters as much as mindfulness. Together they have the power to transform our lives. Our intentions act as a governing force behind our actions. Even if we make mistakes and the results do not work out the way we want, we can take note of our intentions. If we know, deep in our heart, that our intentions are wholesome, then we should take comfort in this knowledge.

I am reminded of the saying attributed to Plato or Philo of Alexandria: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is engaged in a great struggle.” What did you see as you looked into your partner’s eyes this morning?

So, for me, SETTING INTENTION is about possibility thinking – Thinking positively; believing in possibility not obstacles, in abundance not scarcity. It is about exploring opportunities and being purposeful.

It is also about committing to action -- clearly defining intent; committing to acting responsibly.

I would like to share a poem…

Are you a Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime?
Reason, Season, or Lifetime
People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.
When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.
Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.
Author Unknown

Today, notice with intention, the people who are in your life, whether it be for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

Setting intention means clearly defining our intent and committing to action. Let me share some personal experiences.  

Let me share a personal story

While attending a spiritual retreat a few years ago, I experienced one of those rare moments of real awakening. Despite being intensely goal-driven at times, my awareness of a long-practiced habit was heightened dramatically during one of the meditative exercises, a habit of running away. 

I suddenly realized the number of significant situations I had run away from: I ran away from home; I ran away from the church that was an anchor during my formative years; I ran away from a failing marriage; I ran away from numerous jobs that had become unexciting, some might say I ran away from England. It was not always easy to leave and, in leaving somewhere, I was always heading towards another place but, all too often, without a purpose other than getting away from a bad situation.

Our lives are full of transitions but are we running away or are we running towards something?  I am not saying don’t run away but I am saying, ‘start running towards something.’ In any case, running away or running towards, we need to know why. This takes me the “big why” -- our purpose or calling.

My friend and guide Richard Leider, in his book The Power of Purpose, writes: “Purpose is fundamental to human life. Purpose gives us the will to live or to persevere. It gives us the reason to get up in the morning. Purpose gives us courage.” We all have a purpose whether we know it or not. Have you discovered your purpose? Can you describe your purpose in ten words or less?

Neale Donald Walsch, known for his Conversations with God, says, “There is no blackboard in the sky on which God has written your purpose, your mission in life. That blackboard just doesn’t exist. Your purpose is what you say it is, your mission is the mission you give yourself.”

Running towards our goals is so much better than constantly running away. Living purposefully is what gets you out of bed in the morning.

Linda Linder in her book, Waking Up, says: Telling the truth compels responsibility. Taking responsibility requires taking authentic action. When we can speak truthfully and take action our lives unfold, blossom, ignite and we “Wake up!”

So, with clear intent, we can then move to the third phase of being conscious and that is acting responsibly. This means speaking candidly, practicing integrity, and taking responsible action.

Three Kernels of Corn Parable (author unknown)

Three young men were once given three kernels of corn apiece by a wise old sage, who admonished them to go out into the world, and use the corn to bring themselves good fortune. The first young man put his three kernels of corn into a bowl of hot broth and ate them.

The second thought, I can do better than that, and he planted his three kernels of corn. Within a few months, he had three stalks of corn. He took the ears of corn from the stalks, boiled them, and had enough corn for three meals.

The third man said to himself, I can do better than that!
He also planted his three kernels of corn, but when his three stalks of corn produced, he stripped one of the stalks and replanted all of the seeds in it, gave the second stalk of corn to a sweet maiden, and ate the third.

His one full stalk's worth of replanted corn kernels gave him 200 stalks of corn! And the kernels of these he continued to replant, setting aside only a bare minimum to eat. He eventually planted a hundred acres of corn. With his fortune, he not only won the hand of the sweet maiden but purchased the land owned by the sweet maiden's father.

And he never hungered again. I think he became a conscious capitalist!

Acting responsibly is an opportunity for us all. We can act responsibly first for ourselves; remember, the airline requirement to put your mask on first before you help others.

We can then act responsibly for those we are in relationship with, for the people we care about, and for the causes we care about.

So, I invite you to combine the consciousness practices we have explored this morning

I believe this reflects our 7th UU Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

So, at least for today, I invite you to:

Notice what is going on around you, listen deeply with all your senses

Clearly set intentions for your actions, get clear about your purpose

And act responsibly by speaking with candor, practicing integrity, and taking responsible action.

May it be so.

Waking Up, a sermon delivered by Paul G. Ward at 1stUUPB on June 14, 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Measure a Year

There are 525,600 minutes in a year. That answer is right for most calendar years.  A leap year (with February 29 tacked on) has 527,040 minutes. But the time it actually takes the Earth to travel once around the Sun is about 525,948.76 minutes. (That translates to 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds.)  So what?  For me this is the opposite of what comes to my mind when I think of measuring a year.  Try doing research for a sermon tilted “Measure A Year.”  If your research on measuring what matters most you find yourself sifting through measuring performance, investments, marketing, digital measurement plans, wealth, who’s the skinniest, the smartest, the most attractive, and many other self indulgent measurements. 525,600 is a lot of minutes to do something more meaningful with. What have you done with your minutes this past church  year, or today for that matter? How do you measure a year in your life?

A popular song from the musical RENT, Seasons of Love, is probably one of my favorite songs ever because it tells many truths about life, especially how to measure a year in life. Jonathan Larson offers many possible ways to measure a year, but the most remarkable one he mainly focused on was measuring a year in love. Measure your life in love.

 Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
 Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
 Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
 How do you measure, measure a year?
 In daylights, in sunsets
 In midnights, in cups of coffee
 In inches, in miles
 In laughter, in strife
 In five hundred twenty-five thousand
 Six hundred minutes
 How do you measure
 A year in the life?
 How about Love?
 Measure In love
 Seasons of Love

 Five hundred twenty-five thousand
 Six hundred minutes
 Five hundred twenty-five thousand
 Journeys to plan
 Five hundred twenty-five thousand
 Six hundred minutes
 How do you measure
 The life of a woman or a man?
 In truths that she learned
 Or in times that he cried
 In bridges he burned
 Or the way that she died!
 It's time now
 To sing out
 Though the story never ends
 Let's celebrate
 Remember a year in the life of friends
 Remember the  love!
 Share love, give love, spread love

Ultimately, this song is asking how we use our time; our talents; our treasure. How do we find purpose and meaning in our life?  Everywhere we look, people are all trying to sum up a year in the easiest way possible. There are plenty of different ways to go about summarizing. One way is to go over everything horrible that happened. That might be the easiest path and the likely path for many to take. But what do we get out of that approach? Other than an extremely depressing list that could give any sane human being nightmares, not much really.  Or, if you’re going for the more optimistic approach, you go look at only the good things that happened. While this one’s a bit trickier, it’s much more gratifying. This method can give you a more positive outlook on life, but it may not give you a realistic one. That is why you will see a particular picture on the cover of the order of service that reminds us of the mountain highs and the valleys low.  It's realistic and while it may not be the most interesting way to measure it, is the most important.

In some ways, the song's lyrics parallel words in the New Testament: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  It is calling us to bear fruit; called to invest our lives in those around us. And we are asked how we will measure our fruit. Yes, on a supermarket scale, but not this time. (That was a joke!) No we will measure our fruit by turning back and asking if those we encountered are better off as a result of time, care, and faith. Can I get an Amen, Chorus?

But life can be long and difficult at times. It is hard to invest in others all the time. It's hard to invest in others all the time. In the passage I just mentioned we are given a hint of how to be consistent in bearing fruit. “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”  To use another metaphor, bearing fruit is not an individual sport. It’s a team sport. A player on a team needs to listen to the coach, do what they say; not just to get playing time, but to be a better player, to help the team win. To produce fruit we must remain in the vine.

525,600 minutes!  525,600 journeys to plan. 525,600 minutes.
How can you measure the life of a woman or man?

We may be best served by focusing on the little things, versus the big things. Everywhere I’ve looked, people are focusing on celebrities and politicians, and what happened in their lives. Instead of focusing on what effected millions of people, why not take a closer look at what happened to just one person? Someone made a friend. Someone got married, and someone else got divorced. A tiny child started kindergarten, and a not-so-tiny child started college. A person was hurt, and a person was healed. Children died in city streets, and a child was born. The poet Mary Oliver tells us that instruction for living a life are to pay attention, be astonished and to tell about it.  I’m not going too deep here as Paul Ward will deliver the sermon next Sunday titled “Waking Up” that will have everything to do with paying attention.

Besides the fact that lyrics of Seasons of Love just kicks my butt emotionally, it made me think of two things…how do I really measure a year, and is it  the right measure?  And second, the things I do measure do not hit the heart (in email, in voicemails, in hours commuting, in meetings, in conference calls, in Powerpoint decks, in airport security lines, in mantras recited to keep from freaking out in overcrowded places, in tweets, Facebook posts, on my smart phone, on my laptop).  Do these mesh with what I really like to measure (nights slept under the stars, days of silence, time, time with the divine and nurturing my spirit, time with my family, time with you in this congregation, time in the pub? Yes, ministers drink beer. Moments such as these will give you the energy and forward thrust to create the kind of life that you want to measure with the right metrics.  Time keeps rolling on … how are you measuring a year in your life?

Let me remind everyone that we measure this time of our year because historically Unitarians and Universalists left their homes in June and flocked to the sea for cooler air and summer revivals. The most famous being the Universalist revivals led by Quillen Shinn in Maine throughout the 19th century. And so we continue that tradition by slowing down, taking stock, and gearing up for a September return when we believe our next church year begins. I return to the question I asked a few minutes ago. What have we done with our minutes this past church year?

I’m elated that the chorus from the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in West Palm has joined us. One of their minister’s, the Rev. Kevin Jones, is a dear friend of this Congregation. Our chorus guests are our partners in justice. Francis David, a 16th Century Unitarian once said, You do not have to think alike to love alike.” Our two congregations are proof of that. Though our faith and theology may take different roads we walk together for justice. We’ve participated in and supported PEACE and have made strides in bringing down all that keeps marginalized communities down and have demanded action from our leaders.

  • This Congregation has packed thousands of meals that were delivered to families in our county who go without eating on a daily basis.
  • We’ve offered many grants to community organizations to help support their mission. Those funds came directly from you.
  • Some of our members can be seen at St. George’s distributing meals.
  • We’ve planted fruits and vegetables as a sign to our commitment to sustainability.
  • We’ve disappointed one another but are surely on the mend.
  • We’ve increased our ability to grow young Unitarian Universalists in our children and youth.
  • Our thrift shop brought in over $17,000 with a handful of volunteers that will support our congregation. A handful of volunteers.
  • We offer scholarships not only to people wanting to go to university, but to trade schools and will offer scholarships to those seeking their GED.
  • We support women’s health programs.
  • We support Haitian efforts to build a well in a community without accessible water.
  • We stand up for the rights of all.
  • I can tell you we are stronger than we have been in a long time -- committed to loving and leadership.
  • We have been transforming ourselves and the work has been intense.  But we’ve past the test.  We’re here.  We’re here.
I’d like you to rise and tell us of a success or challenge you’d like us to hold up from this past church year.

(Congregants rise and tell stories of successes and challenges)

We’ve mourned together, we’ve laughed together, we’ve tested one another.  Yet here we are ready to serve the community, honor our Unitarian Universalist roots of freedom, compassion, and reason.

How do we measure a year? Whether it be a church year or your year, we measure it in love. Our impact on the world and on our inner selves are the guideposts that measure the journey of the year. Paying attention, working to understand what is meaningful, nurturing the soil we stand in so we may bear fruit.

Let our 525,600 minutes be filled with love, commitment to change inside and outside of these sanctuary walls. Let our minutes be filled with partnering with others in our community because none of us can do it alone. Let us use our minutes to sit under the night sky and wonder, to stand in that protest, to walk in that march, to hold the hand of our youngest.  Let our minutes be used in developing meaning in our lives. The meaningful life involves difficult undertakings such as stress, struggle and challenges. However, while sometimes unhappy in the moment, we – connected to a larger sense of purpose and value – make positive contributions to society and to this Congregation.

Happiness without meaning is a shallow and often self-oriented life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided. The meaningful life guides us from the past through the present to the future, giving one a sense of direction. It offers ways to value good and bad alike, and gives us justifications for our aspirations.

From achieving our goals, regarding ourselves in a positive light, to a deep and rich spiritual grounding, a life of meaningfulness is considerably different than mere happiness.

May it be so.

Measure a Year, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB on June 7, 2015.