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Sunday, September 22, 2013

So Many Causes

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Worship Associates Jonathan Mawdsley and Noel Monardes, and the Choir


Many Causes

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Univeralist Church

September 21, 2013

PART ONE

We Unitarian Universalists espouse the expression “deeds not creeds.” When someone signs the Membership Book, we don’t inquire about their beliefs or ask them to ascribe to certain doctrines. Instead, we expect them to affirm the Principles by which we endeavor to live. In fact, typically, we don’t even ask if they DO affirm them, we just expect that if they want to officially join, they’ve come to the conclusion that they do.

This may be one way in which we are too easygoing for own good, but it suits our open-minded nature. (As my husband, who was raised as a Unitarian Universalist so feels he has a right to complain, says, “sometimes UU’s are so open-minded, their brains fall out!”)

These Seven Principles are printed on the inside of the cover of the Order of Service and Bulletin every Sunday. Most of us, hopefully, can recite the first and the last, but few – not even your minister – can reel off all seven in order. Yet, they are the epitome of what drew me to this faith tradition.

I invite you to find them on the Bulletin cover and read along with me now, or listen if you prefer. The principles we covenant to affirm and promote are:

The first time I encountered the seven principles, I experienced a surge of relief:  here is a religious tradition that doesn’t expect me to believe doctrines that defy reason and instead asks me to commit to a way of life I’m already trying to live, for which I could definitely benefit from the support of a congregation and wider faith community of like-minded people of all ages! I’m in!

That was about thirty years ago. While I DO feel I have been true to that covenant, lately it’s been more difficult. True, I no longer have the energy or health I had as a thirty-year old. But it’s more than that. My generation has been at the helm for a while now and things are a mess, a complex mess with very powerful, entrenched interests anchoring the status quo for their own benefit, in my view. Congress just voted to cut 40% from food stamps? While the top one percent pull in annual incomes of how many billion dollars????

Gun violence, climate change, universal affordable health care, the chaos in the Middle East… how do thinking, feeling people resist the temptation to put on blinders and just focus on our selves, our families, our friends, our work, and our own leisure pursuits (if we have time for any)?

Those of us who believe in God or in gods, can turn there for support, and can trust that God will act for good in our lives and in our world – we don’t have to fix everything ourselves. Those who believe in God or in gods know that they are called to serve, to create the realm of God on earth, with help.

Does the Spirit of Life, of which we sing at the end of each worship service, function that way for you? Do you somehow draw on the Spirit of Life to guide and energize you in your deeds affirming our covenantal principles? Does the Spirit of Life “sing in your heart the stirrings of compassion for those less fortunate”? and does it “move in your hand - does it move your hand - to give life the shape of justice”? Does the Spirit of Life call your name? Does it draw you out of complacency or confusion or discouragement and into engagement and… deeds?

{As we sang a few moments ago] Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name… Sounds like justice…somebody’s calling my name…

In his Chalice Reflection, Jonathan Mawdsley mentioned “the magic of serving on the Nominating Committee” and said that for him part of that magic is “helping individual people in the church to connect with volunteer positions that enable them to use their time and talents to help build our church community.”

Another part of that magic is helping people to find involvements that they can undertake with “grace” – ones that will spark their own personal or spiritual growth, deepen their connections with others, or somehow feed their souls. Sometimes running a church involves tasks that don’t seem “spiritual” to some but for the right person are sources of pleasure – in discovering and nurturing new talents, or using gifts that have been dormant, increasing known abilities, or delighting in doing well an essential function.  I, a board member or just about any lay leader here would be glad to help you discern what involvement is right for you.

It is a sign of spiritual health to do “gracefully” – without resentment, grandstanding, control-freaking – the roles and responsibilities we take on. A congregation of people serving gracefully may not accomplish everything on its TO DO List but what is accomplished will be cooperatively achieved and celebrated. 

What if we looked for that “graceful” quality in how we choose among the many worthy causes to support with our time and energy? What if we chose just one of these principles to “serve with grace”: inherent worth and dignity, justice, compassion, the right of conscience and democratic process, peace, liberty, and the interconnected web whose home, the Earth, is heating up at an alarming rate? What if we sought involvements that feed our souls and suit our natures?

In the book about Unitarian Universalism that I recommend to newcomers, A Chosen Faith – on sale in the foyer where you can also sign up for our introductory class – author John Buehrens asks a similar question, “How can an individual or a religious community attempt to live in the spirit of…prophetic women and men?” (page 69).

He describes four ways (pages 69-71), and I invite you to listen for the way or ways in which you are most comfortable doing the work of love and justice in our world. Like we did last Sunday, I’m going to ask you to be willing to stand, or to raise your hand if standing is difficult for you, when I name each of these four ways. But first I will describe them.

The first way is through “concrete acts of service.” This would be hands-on people-helping – such as giving food, drink, shelter, or clothing; visiting lonely, sick or imprisoned people, tutoring, mentoring, and so on. Or it would be hands-on earth-caring – such as watershed or invasive plant clean-ups, trash-collection, composting, recycling, reusing; vegetarian, vegan and/or local eating. So, that way is the way of service. Serving on the board of a service organization would fit here, too.

The second way is through teaching – informing ourselves about the causes and solutions to the social, racial, earth justice issues that concern us, and sharing what we learn with others. Study groups, discussions, and public forums are examples of this second way; also: blogs, films, art and music with a message.

The third way is through individual witness – taking public stands, writing letters to the editor and elected officials, lobbying, rallying, organizing, working at the polls.

And the fourth is through direct action – collective and confrontational action. These may be symbolic actions to call attention to an injustice, such as the Occupy Movement, boycott or picket line, or they may make specific demands of those with the power to meet them, as in an organizing effort by college students to push the campus food service to source locally and provide freshly prepared foods, or they may involve civil disobedience as in providing sanctuary to immigrants in danger of deportation.

Religious communities are known to encourage, or even facilitate, involvement in all four areas, of course, but the first – concrete acts of service – is most common, and the least confrontational. It doesn’t address the root causes of the needs being served, but often we learn to identify the root causes by engaging in direct service. For example, anyone serving food to homeless people on a regular basis will find out that the problem is not just a lack of affordable housing - often times mental health issues cause an individual’s homelessness, but the foreclosure crisis and failure of the minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living play significant roles. So, direct service leads to learning and teaching, to witnessing for changes in policy, and possibly to collective action:  such as showing up to protest an eviction.

Also, through hands-on service, we develop relationships with others with whom we can learn and teach, witness or do direct action in coalition.

So, in which ONE of these four ways are you most likely to be engaged – at THIS time in your life - in promoting and affirming our Seven UU Principles:  serving, teaching, witness or action? For sure, you may be doing more than one, but for now choose the ONE in which you are now most likely to be engaged for the work of love and justice in our world? Please stand or  raise your hand when I call it out. Serving, teaching, witness, action.

Now let’s go through them again and raise your hands (no standing) for any or all you’ve ever done: serving, teaching, witness, action.

And finally, think of the four ways again… I wonder if there is a way in which you feel DRAWN to be engaged but don’t know quite how, or maybe even why, you’d do it? Maybe you’d join in, if people here at PBUUC would lead you toward it or partner with you in doing it?

SING #1040 in the teal songbook Hush, four times, each with a different substitution for “justice”: “serving,” “teaching,” “witness,” and “action.”

PART TWO

For Unitarian Universalists, the motto “deeds not creeds” is a call to involvement in serving, teaching, witness or action. But sometimes we run out of steam. How do we find grounding and energy for the work of love and justice in our world?

The president of one of our two UU seminaries, Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA (who recently announced her retirement), Rebecca Parker, understands why we sometimes get discouraged. She says that if we "locate paradise in the ideal of what could be, of what God dreams, as voiced by the prophets:  liberation of the oppressed, food for the hungry, peace for all people and reverence for the earth…as hope for a future toward which we are impelled to strive, [then we are always stuck in] the tension between what is and what could be.  The hoped-for future perpetually condemns the present. Now is never enough…We have not yet worked smart enough, been well-enough organized, convinced enough people…The mountains of injustice are too high for us to climb." Some give up. Others don't try.

So, Parker suggests that we instead need to see that paradise is actually here, now, accessible to us, even though troubles, evil and pain is all around and within us, too. She writes, “Generosity and mutual care are the pathways into knowing that paradise is here and now. This way of living is not utopian. It does not spring from the imagination of a better world, but from a profound embrace of this world. It brings hope home to today, to this moment and its possibilities for faithful love." [in A House for Hope, pages 3-17]

We as individuals and as a congregation must choose our priorities. We cannot work on every one of the world’s problems at the same time. So we must discern which we feel called to engage, and how we can best be involved, and only go with what we can do with grace. And join each other in turning the world around. Amen. May it be so.

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