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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Life's Longing for Itself

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Don Mitchell, Worship Associate; Erica Shadowsong, Director of Religious Exploration; Guest Pianist, Audrey Andrist, and the Choir conducted by Allison Hughes


Life’s Longing for Itself

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

May 13, 2012

Mother’s Day is such a hard day for preachers. Because, in any congregation of a hundred people or so like ours, there will be some people who still feel mainly anger toward their mothers. There will be some mothers who are angry with themselves, and others who are angry with their children. There will be women who wish to be pregnant and women who fear they are pregnant; women who are contemplating abortion or perhaps just had one. There will be women who regret becoming mothers and women who wish they’d had children.  And there will be fathers who are not inclined to sing the praises of the mothers of their children. And, of course, there are some folks who plumb forgot that today is Mothers’ Day and didn’t even buy a card! And, others who don’t buy into the holiday at all.

We are complex and very varied people, and Mother’s Day is loaded.

So, this is not a Mother’s Day sermon. This is a sermon about parenting and about how our Unitarian Universalist congregation can be a haven for families, and more.

This past week, when the President of the United States of America came out in support of gay marriage…. my favorite moment was when he talked about his family’s dinner-table conversation. First of all, even the First Family sits down together for dinner? That’s amazing. If they can squeeze it in, ever, certainly we can sit together over a meal most days of the week. Second, they talk to each other? No television, no cell phones, smart phones or hand-held games while eating? Thirdly, they talk about meaningful things, from which the parents admit to learning from their children.

President Obama says that his children accept the gay parents of their school friends. He said, “Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. And I-- you know, there have been times where Michelle and I have been sittin' around the dinner table. And we've been talkin' and-- about their friends and their parents. And Malia and Sasha would-- it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them. And-- and frankly-- that's the kind of thing that prompts-- a change of perspective. You know, not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated-- differently, when it comes to-- the eyes of the law.”

Not wanting to defend something their children know to be wrong… Other parents of school-age children across the country are having that very same experience around their own dinner tables. How powerful is that? The President echoed their thoughts and feelings:  my kids are okay with this…should I be too? Why shouldn’t my kids’ young friends whose parents are gay have the same protections my kids have, as the children of a straight couple? How can I any longer justify such unfairness?

One of the things I love about my own mother is that she learned from her children’s acceptance or advocacy of things that she had previously opposed or misunderstood. And here is the President admitting to learning from his kids, too.

I lived in Massachusetts when marriage equality became the law of the state. I’d been a supporter, but I had no idea that our then seventeen year old son was following the issue, until I came home from work on November 18th, 2003 to find him at his computer, as usual, and he turned around with happy excitement, “Mom, did you hear, the SJC ruled in favor of gay marriage?!” He referred to the Supreme Judicial Court, which found on that day, that the state may not "deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.” And gave the State Legislature 180 days to "take such action as it may deem appropriate" and begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Unfortunately, the struggle for marriage equality in Massachusetts didn’t end with the SJC decision, although it did pave the way, and as everyone knows, after a lot of tenacious organizing (just as we will be doing between now and Election Day to defend our new Civil Marriage law), it did eventually have a happy ending, but that’s a story for another day. My point is that the younger generations often intuit what the future requires.

On the other hand, we are the grown-ups. We have to teach them right from wrong, provide routines for their days and nights, have clear and high expectations, and find within ourselves the strength to be the best parents we can be.

Yet, it’s true, as Kahlil Gibran wrote in our Reading (his poem “On Children” from The Prophet) this morning, “their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.”

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

For gay parents, the conversations after the kids are in bed may be more difficult than the Obama’s dinnertime talk.

Imagine that your son is in pre-school and wants to invite not just family friends - but, for the first time, also school friends - to his birthday party. Conversation:  “But most of the families don’t know he has two fathers.” “Yeah, we don’t want them showing up at the door, we open it, they see the two of us, and they walk their kid back to their car.” “Well, let’s send a party invitation that has space for the parents’ names, not just our address. That way, they’ll see it in writing, two men’s names, and have a chance to decide ahead of time if they are going to come anyway.”

Or, it’s the night before the annual Back to School Night at your twins’ elementary school and you’ve forgotten to get a baby sitter. Conversation:  “Most straight couples don’t feel like they both have to attend every school event. One stays home with the kids and the other goes. You can go.” “Yeah, but the twins’ new teachers need to know that their parents are lesbians. It’s up to us to let them know. It’s not fair to the kids to have to make it known to their teachers. They are only seven!” “But, it’s the night before. How are we going to get a sitter?” “Let’s call that girl in the Youth Group at church, the one who played the guitar for last year’s Youth-Led Service. She seems nice, and they live near here. It’s not too late to call.”

I have loved Gibran’s poem for a very long time, and when I first heard the composer Ysaye Barnwell’s setting of it for a cappella voices, I was completely enthralled me, and felt the poem speaking to me even more deeply. So, a long while ago, I asked our Music Director if the choir could sing it, perhaps on a Child Dedication ceremony Sunday, and so I’ve been looking forward to sharing it with you today, when the choir sings it in a little while.

In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.”

Don’t you sometimes feel that you are not just the child of your parents, but somehow the child of the universe, or child of God, or that you are one with the river of life? That you come from, belong to and will be some day be one with some amazing natural process much wilder than your parents seem to represent?

And for those of you who have children, aren’t they more than just your children? Yes, to be sure, if they are young or still dependent on you, you are responsible and must love them or, when that’s not possible, at least pay attention. But in some larger more cosmic sense, and certainly if they are adults now making their own way in life, our children do not belong to us, neither as possessions, nor as trophies or as servants, and not replicas of - or improvements on - us. They are their own people.

And, they are Life’s longing for itself, the poet says. The scientist in me would say it this way, “Biologically, evolutionarily, living things must reproduce.” But the poet’s words resonate, give purpose and meaning to the deep joy and hard work of parenting, and most of all, to the pain and loss of letting go that we must do with children if we love them.

Gibran speaks of that pain when he talks about bending the bow in order that the arrows may go swift and far. That bending is the pain of parenting - the commitment, discipline, effort, and – finally – the loss. But, let our bending be for gladness, for through our offspring we may bring good into the world.

“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

But, if our children are not our children, whose children are they? Parents are smart to look for a community of adults who share their deepest values to help them in the raising of their children. In American culture, the well-known African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” becomes “It takes a congregation to raise a child.”

So young parents come here – our congregation provides a haven for the raising of children because it is community of adults who will take time and care with other people’s children. They will … and these are all volunteer opportunities for which the Religious Exploration (aka RE) Committee will soon be asking you to sign up in the next few weeks… teach RE classes, help with snacks, volunteer to share a favorite hobby or expertise on Summer Sundays, mentor a middle school student in the Coming of Age Program from now through September, and serve as a Youth Advisor. As those who were here last Sunday for our annual Youth-Led Service experienced once again, our young people are special folks!

Plus, here the adults are interested in the lives of our babies, children and youth. Where else can a parent find a haven like that, and more?

And, so, that’s why we say in the Child Dedication Ceremony, “By bringing their children forward to be dedicated here today, these parents are asking us to support them in nurturing these children.” And that’s why the congregation is asked, “Here, today, do you dedicate yourselves anew to taking the time to know and care for them, to teaching them and learning from them, and to leading them in serving love and justice in our world?  If you do, say “I do.”

But we can provide more than a haven. We can “lead children and youth in serving love and justice in our world.” We do that some, but I think we can do better at it than we do. I hear often from parents that they are looking for opportunities to take action as a family. They have so little family-time as it is, they don’t want to be away from their children to attend a Social Action, Green Team or Diversity Anti-Racism Transformation Team meeting or event. They’d like to bring them along.

That’s why you see whole families in our kitchen serving dinner during Warm Nights, the week in January when we turn this Meeting House into a literal haven and provide shelter and meals for homeless people. That’s why you see parents and children showing up together for Buildings and Grounds Beautification Days (previously known as Work Parties) or in Annapolis for Marriage Equality Lobby Day.

I think we could do better at creating these opportunities – we could orchestrate family-friendly participation in the Walk for Hunger, Anacostia River Watershed clean-up days, lobby days in Annapolis, or rallies on the Mall. Not all in one season, of course – that would be over-whelming.

But over time, wouldn’t it be grand if our children and youth experienced their church not only as a haven – a Beloved Community – but also as a way to be instruments for love and justice, in the wider world beyond our lovely church in the woods?

So may it be. Amen.

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