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Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Crazy Quilt Religion

Presented by Guest Ministers Revs. Barbara and Jaco ten Hove, Rev. Diane Teichert with Jonathan Mawdsley, Worship Associate, And Erica Shadowsong, Director of Religious Exploration, and the Chalice Dancers


A Crazy Quilt Religion

A sermon by former co-ministers Revs. Barbara W. & Jaco B. ten Hove

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

March 10, 2013

Opening Words

Barbara: Good morning, dear ones, it is such a blessing for us to be among you on this March morning. We want to thank your minister, Diane, for her kind invitation for us to be in this pulpit today.

Jaco: As some, but maybe not all of you know, we served as co-ministers of this wonderful congregation for nine challenging, terrific years. And it was almost exactly five years ago that we made the decision (and a very difficult decision it was) to leave Paint Branch and move back to the Pacific Northwest to start a new ministry as co-ministers at Cedars UU Church on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle in Washington State.

Barbara: At our leave-taking ceremony, in the spring of 2008, this church gave us a lovely parting gift. It was created from scraps of fabric written on and decorated by many members of this congregation, then turned into a beautiful Crazy Quilt by a number of artists here at Paint Branch. That quilt hangs on a prominent wall in our stairwell at our home on the other side of the country. Every time we walk up and down the stairs we look at it and remember our abiding connection to this beloved community.

Jaco: Our journey from here in 2008 did take us far, back to a part of the country that is dear to us, but this place also remains tucked beautifully in our hearts as well. It is, as we like to say, a bothandian dynamic. We’re both happy there now and happy we were here with you for that good stretch of meaning-making together. And we got really happy as soon as we hit upon the idea of using your gift quilt as a guiding metaphor for our sermon with you shortly.

Barbara: Today, as we gather in worship with you again after almost five years, we give thanks for the ongoing legacy of religious life and the many ways that congregations and ministers become a part of each other. It is good, indeed, to be here with you this morning.

Jaco: So let us Celebrate the Web of Life in song, Hymn # 175.

 

Sermon

Jaco: Both Barbara and I grew up UU, and though it was, in most ways, a blessing, there were things about it that weren’t always easy. For instance, even stalwart young UUs such as the two of us could nonetheless find ourselves tongue-tied when asked about our religion. At times we spoke clumsy words that could be misconstrued, and too often someone would casually remark, “Oh, you

can believe anything you want, right?” or “UUs aren’t really religious, are you?!”—to which we too often struggled to respond coherently.

Perhaps because of this, we would grow up and find as one part of our ministerial voice the desire

to better articulate Unitarian Universalism in ways that both made sense to us and could be heard by those who maybe knew next to nothing about our faith. Some of you may remember that it was here at Paint Branch that we expanded a workshop for Young Adults that we had done at the annual

UUA General Assembly and turned it into the popular 2003 curriculum Articulating Your UU Faith. (Anyone here remember field-testing that or taking it later?)

We like to think we’ve continued to grow in our understanding and appreciation of both the simplicity and the complexity of our faith. Though we do strongly believe that there are simple precepts that can be articulated easily by speaker and listener alike, we also recognize that part of what makes our religion so beautiful is that it is complex, and dancing with this intriguing dynamic is part of what brings people through the doors each week.

We don’t necessarily come to church looking for easy answers, but we do hunger for inspiring spiritual meaning that frequently doesn’t fit the patterns we’re often told are the only ways to be religious. So it can help to have some guiding metaphors and powerful patterns to point out productive pathways that provide purposeful persuasion promoting peace and personal prosperity…

 

Barbara: And that brings us to the Crazy Quilt. How many of you have seen a Crazy Quilt? Despite my complete inability to sew, I’ve become something of a connoisseur of quilts. That’s because one thing I do each fall with my Bainbridge Island friend, Dee, is to go to see the quilts at the Western Washington State Fair, one of the largest such fairs in the country. We love to see the extraordinary variety of this traditional art form. There are gorgeous ones made in well-known patterns of boxes and stars. There are others that actually create a picture in fiber, looking more like an oil painting than something you’d put on your bed.

And, then there are the Crazy Quilts. Not many people make them anymore so at this display each year there may be only two or three. But looking at them you are struck by the stories each piece is the quilt must tell. And you wonder at the creative minds that were able to pull all those disparate themes together to make quilts so beautiful they make you sigh.

The quilt that you all made for us is that lovely. Each day when we walk past it, I see a glimpse of who we were with you and who you were with us. Sweet little comments like young Julia’s (written when she was barely able to read): “Will Your Journey Take You Far?” A cloth photo of the

Chalice Dancers and words from the choir remind us of the artistic gifts so warmly given in this

creative community. Squares that say “Huzzah!” and “It’s a beautiful thing!” tell us that our time with you was full of joy. And we are always seeing something new in it that we missed before. It is a gorgeous visual reminder of a very rich era in our lives.

As we thought about our return to visit you today, we kept going back to that meaningful quilt, and

as we did so its metaphorical possibilities leapt out at us. Our religion, particularly the way it lives out in the lives of each individual person and each congregation has a lot in common with a Crazy Quilt. And we’re here this morning to once again help us articulate our UU faith, this time through a poetic and physical metaphor that means so much to us, since we inherited it from you.

I’ve never made a quilt, but I’ve looked at a lot of them and have a general idea of how they’re created. We’re going to use three of the elements of a quilt (and fabric artists, I know I’m simplifying this for my purposes so please forgive me!) The first is the quilt back, the fabric on which the whole thing is hung. Then there are the various pieces, the small sections of fabric that come together to make the front quilt design. And finally, there is the thread that sews and holds it all together.

We think the quilt, in particular the Crazy Quilt, is a fabulous metaphor for our complex yet simple faith. So this morning, we want to explore this particular one, in hopes that it may give us yet another tool to share our faith with others, something we feel strongly about…

Jaco: I begin with the quilt backing. You can’t make a sustainable quilt without a strong piece of underlying fabric that holds it all together, onto which the individual pieces are attached. The abiding fabric that sustains our faith is the powerful concept of Unity, or Oneness. It is an unseen force, often beyond—or behind—our perception, but an essential element with its steady, unifying presence. It is, of course, at the heart of our Unitarian heritage: one Godhead, one underlying fabric of reality, one unifying spirit of life, one-ness.

Meanwhile, an overarching image that subtly dominates the diverse front of the parting gift quilt you gave us—in the same way it subtly dominates the diverse universe—is the circle, which might look like a zero, but actually models the ultimate oneness of life, which eternally organizes itself in circles and cycles. On the quilt are many circles of the earth and sun and faces, plus rings around a variety of flaming chalices. The circle is a reflection of the grand unity of all life that runs through time in its notorious, if reassuring cycles.

And I like the fact that while the uniform backing of the quilt as a whole might be rectangular, which denotes our often right-angular ways of living, it holds together all the dynamic circles that animate our world. We necessarily move among both hard angles and circles; it would not do to have only one or the other. But so often we allow the sharp edges to govern, while softer circles hide out in the background, underneath. However, one need only begin looking for circular meaning to see the pervasively round nature that constantly breathes through life. All life breathes in a cycle that unifies us.

I can almost feel the way the spectacular front pieces of our quilt breathe underneath into their unseen but supportive backing, pulling from it the strength to carry on. Thus does the grand Unity and Oneness, full of both hard edges and softer circles, carry us on its back—through good times and bad, in and out of relationship, down the corridors of time…

Barbara: With a strong cloth on which to hang our faith, each of us then creates our own image, an image that reflects the individual nature of each person. While there are certainly legitimate concerns about UUism —that it focuses too much on individualism, say—it is certain that one of the strengths of our religion is the freedom we each have to forge our own spiritual path. It’s a rare UU church that doesn’t include among its members people who have diverse religious beliefs and practices.

Let’s take a quick moment to see how this is true right here among us. How many here were raised UU? Protestant Christian? Roman Catholic or Orthodox? Jewish? Unchurched or something else? OK, we already see that our paths to this church came from many places.

Now, what about current spiritual practices? How many here find meaning in the messages and practices found in Buddhism? In Paganism? Christianity or Judaism? How many of you journal? Meditate or pray? Use music in your spiritual practice? Read books that stimulate your mind and heart? Come to church regularly?

We not only come from diverse backgrounds, we have diverse beliefs and follow diverse practices. Now, I actually believe that this is true of most religious people and groups but in our religion we intentionally celebrate the many paths we follow and the many ways we believe. In other words, we not only have these beliefs and practices, we honor them. We recognize that each of us brings to our own life different gifts and experiences, different ways of understanding the Holy, different ways of creating a meaning-filled life.

We don’t invite you into religious community then tell you that you have to piece the quilt of your life together in a pattern we choose for you. We not only allow you to create your own spiritual patterns, we encourage you to do so.

It’s why the Crazy Quilt is such a great metaphor for this. Unlike quilts that follow a set pattern, our faith—as individuals, as congregations and as a religion—invites us to piece the quilt together in a unique way. And it’s not static. The Crazy Quilt of Unitarian Universalism has evolved and continues to evolve in creative ways. To push the metaphor, some patches are large and sturdy, and are likely to last a long time. Others are fragile and, if they don’t hold us, get replaced with new

ones that work better.

Attached to the strong backing of Unity and Oneness, we can explore our own path and find our own images, metaphors, rituals and practices that work. We share something powerful—an abiding belief in the Unity of all Creation. But, layered on that, we can and will create our own ways of experiencing life in all its impressive variety. One genius of our UU faith is the honoring of both unity and diversity, a deep quality of life that is ultimately sewn together with great threads of Love…

Jaco: That’s right—LOVE! Let me hear you say it: L-U-V, love! Yes, love weaves the threads that bind our diversity into unity. Say it again! LOVE! You can take all the various crazy quilt patterns offered by many people and lay them out neatly on top of a solid backing cloth, but without the threading action of loving hands, they’ll not adhere, and your design will slip away into chaos, my friends—chaos! Whisper with me that foreboding word: chaos!

No, no, no—we want to manifest the Love that is always at the center of our Unity; that great Love described and celebrated by our courageous Universalist heritage. But this is not a passive

affection that asks little of us—no! It is a radical hospitality of actively welcoming and weaving

those diverse bands of community into a meaningful, purposeful, healing whole.

One must also choose the right threads to use and then employ the right tools to sew together the patterns that become the quilt, and those materials reflect, in community, the activities that orbit around and within, say, a loving congregational sphere such as this one. We recall, for instance, how readily you all took to the idea of a programmatic Enrichment Hour instead of a second, repeated service, which happened to begin in 2001 right after the attacks of 9/11. We all hunger for enrichment, the often-colorful threads of activity that bind us one to another and build relationships that matter.

But love is not an easy row to hoe (or seam to sew!), if one brings to it the depth of value and awareness about love that were taught by Jesus and other important models of this unifying posture. Advocating universal salvation is a demanding, even dangerous path, and we can be inspired by our good Universalist ancestors who pioneered a religion that lifted up a radically loving God.

Love is a vigorous, industrious commitment to the ongoing tasks of weaving whatever brokenness inhabits our time into a recovered, renewed and reviving fabric. Our departure from the Paint Branch realm five years ago was not an easy step to take, for us or at least most of you. It was a break in the flow of what we had created together.

But as we all might know from our own journeys, love often requires closure. Your wise, dedicated creation of a crazy quilt of affection for us to carry away on our journey, however far it was to take us, demonstrated an intentional love toward not just us, but for your own community, too. This tangible activity of weaving threads of closure we think helped you all to breathe in the transition and change, and then breathe out the next, good steps that have continued your journey together so effectively.

We have watched quietly, gently from afar and you are clearly an even more loving community today, about to embark on newly ambitious aims. We honor the growth and connections that continue to swirl among you and with our new collegial friend, Diane.

If your own hands were part of the creation of that parting gift to us of a crazy quilt five years ago, please wave at least one of them in the air now. Blessings on these and all the loving hands assembled here on the shores of the mighty Paint Branch, then and now! We well recall the weekly mystery of that spring of 2008 as, during Enrichment Hour, we walked by the closed doors of the Kelley Room, notable for a curious “Barbara and Jaco Keep Out” sign posted, Sunday after Sunday.

Handcrafting is such a strong thread of this congregational life that we should have been able to guess what loving activity was unfolding therein. But mystery is such a strong thread of the grand Unity and Oneness that we were happy to let it arise in its own nature, in your own creative nature. We felt the love then and reflect it back to you still, as new threads of vital commitment and creativity are powerfully woven and rewoven into the grand design of this ongoing congregational fabric6

Barbara: It’s been almost five years since we left Paint Branch and we can assure you that you are never far from our hearts. We learned so much from you that informs our ministry today and we like to think we left a little of our spirit here among you.

In a few short minutes, after the service is over and we walk down that wooden deck to head off on yet another long journey, we will say good-bye once more, but this time it is with less wistfulness, for we have all moved on in new and good ways, bringing us to this day of joyful reunion and happy parting.

But first, let us join our voices in song again, with a very pertinent hymn: #22, Dear Weaver of Our Lives’ Design

CLOSING WORDS [partially drawn from hymn lyrics]

B: In “the tangle of our days,” a few things always emerge in the light of great meaning, and we do well to notice and honor them, especially together. That is one abiding purpose of worship.

J: We take up the “fabric of our lives’ design” and weave relationships, for instance, but the music we dance to will change over time, of course. So we constantly learn anew the steps that mend our “rav’ling souls” with “radiant spirit.”

B: We get to know only a fragment of the whole, which nonetheless holds us close in Unity and Love. Let all the kinds of Crazy Quilts that animate your world bring renewal with their sparkling diversity and creative construction.

J: And let our bones continue “to link stone to star,” as we take our next steps toward building the beloved community here and now, in all our ministries. Thank you and bless you all...

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