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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lay Down Your Burdens

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Bettie Young, Worship Associate, Solo dance by Sharon Werth, Director of the Chalice Dancers

Lay Down Your Burdens

A sermon by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

November 24, 2013


Many of us can relate to the circumstances of the daughter of our Worship Associate: home from work late after a tense meeting, young children to feed and homework to supervise, all in the short hour until their bedtime, and possibly, just possibly, after cleaning up and getting ready for the next day, some downtime before fleeing to the welcome horizontal surface of your bed?


Many of us can relate to the Worship Associate's own crazy-busy lifestyle, feeling torn between wanting to DO and wanting to just BE for a while. As she said, there are so many interesting and useful things to do in this life.

And, also, each of us has needs to meet, desires to fulfill, and ways we hope to grow – all of which take time. As well, we see human injustices and environmental challenges, and we want to lend a hand or put our shoulder, with others, to the slow wheel of change. The pressure to DO is too much!


Can you recall a time when you, or someone you love, were stressed nearly to the point of breaking? What does a person’s body feel like at that time? What’s the chatter in a person’s mind saying? What feelings do they have, do they even know how they feel?


What did that five-minute respite do for her daughter? What would a five-minute breather do for you, or your loved one, in that tense kind of time? What should you do for those five minutes? Nothing, but lay down your burdens and breathe. Or you may meditate, pray, say a silent mantra, or count repeatedly to ten in your mind – anything to slow your monkey mind down. Eyes closed, body still, feet flat on the floor, and hands resting in your lap palms-up, following your breath, is the calmest position I know.


Five minutes is not very long. If you have a smartphone with a timer or a kitchen timer hand, set it for 5 minutes. You’ll see what a difference it makes.


This is a pause that truly refreshes, costs nothing, and is easy to come by wherever you might be, whether you are at home, in the parked car, at your desk or wherever it is that you work, in the mall or in the gym. Feeling tense? Set your timer for five minutes. If you don’t have a timer, just sit still.


Ten minutes twice a day, even when you’re not feeling tense, is even better, as PBUUC member Raman Pathik teaches in his Quality of Life class that he’s been offering at the Spirit of Life Center. But, five, when you’re tense, is at least a start.


Preparing for my sabbatical during my previous settled ministry in Canton, a Boston suburb, I called a neighboring colleague, the Rev. Kirk B. Jones, to invite him to preach. He is the author of a book with a great title Addicted to Hurry: Spiritual Strategies for Slowing Down, an African American Baptist minister and seminary professor. When he called me back, he got my answering machine and heard my recorded message, in which I explained (as I do on my voicemail here at PBUUC) that Monday is my day off and on Fridays I work at home preparing for Sunday. In the message he left me, he accepted the invitation, and said it was refreshing to find a minister who wasn’t addicted to being available 24/7. 


Being compassionate toward others is nigh unto impossible if we are not compassionate toward ourselves. Lay down your burdens.


What are some other kinds of burdens that get in the way of being compassionate?  One is the burden of grudges, as we encountered in the Together Time story this morning, about a town called Grudgeville, whose inhabitants were saddled with backpacks of grudges, even ones passed down from one generation to another. A stranger passing through, observing how unhappy everyone seemed, suggested five words that would lighten their loads:  “I’m sorry. I forgive you.” They tried it. They found it to be true.


Lay down your burdens.


Past hurts in our lives, for which there were no apologies, are like open sores. We carry these hurts inside us thereafter. Subsequent similar interactions, however unintentional, resonate with those earlier hurts. We can find ourselves directing the old anger, which should have been expressed at the time of the early hurt but couldn’t be or wasn’t, against someone in the present moment who has no clue as to why our reaction is so intense. As a woman, I’ve done that to my husband, I know. People of color may do it to white friends. Gay people to straight. And so on.


Those of us in a minority status, who have experienced personal and institutional slights and injustices due to that status, are likely to have such hurts in our pasts. And those of us in a majority status are likely to have the associated guilts in our pasts. They can be sources of friction between us today. It may happen in our homes, workplaces, across the proverbial back fence, and in our congregation.


If compassionate relations are actually desired, those of us in a majority status position need to hold the other person’s anger, stay in relationship, and seek to understand how our own behavior and today’s institutions may result in hurtful resonance for the other person, and make amends and take action, rather than fleeing or becoming defensive. We must come to see that sometimes our impact isn’t what we intend it to be. *


If compassionate relations are actually desired, those in a minority status need to offer compassion to ourselves as a balm of healing for those hurts, stay in relationship, and seek to understand how our own behavior and today’s institutions may result in hurtful resonance of our past hurts and make amends and take action, rather than fleeing or attacking. We must come to see that sometimes our impact isn’t what we intend it to be. *


Lay down your burdens.


Compassion and justice require us to lay down another kind of burden we tend to carry. Our stereotypes. To illustrate this, we are going to try out an activity. I’m going to pick a societal conflict and we are going to explore the stereotypes around it. I’ll need two volunteers, who need to do nothing more than come forward and stand here, looking at each other, from some distance apart.


So, X, you represent a militant atheist. And Y you represent a religious fundamentalist. Create space between you for 10 or so people to stand.


Now focus on one of these identities and think about what kinds of things might the other side think or say about them. So what do the religious fundamentalists say about the militant atheists? And what do the atheists say about the fundamentalists? Raise your hand if you can think of a phrase, statement or accusation made about religious fundamentalists or about atheists by the other.


Come forward and stand in front of the identity that your response was about, facing the other side. (So a stereotype about the atheist would stand in front of the atheist, facing the religious fundamentalist and vice versa). Get 5-6 stereotypes for each.


X and Y, can you see each other? (No!). This is what bias prejudice, and preconceived notions do to us. They get in the way of seeing the other person as they are. Notice the stereotypes come from both sides. They are like a wall. Rarely, if ever, are bias, prejudice and preconceived notions a one-way street.


X and Y, please take two side steps toward the congregation. Now, can you see each other? Why? What happened to the stereotypes?


For those who are standing in the stereotype wall, what was it like naming out-loud bias, prejudice and preconceived notions? Was it difficult to say, or to hear? Can you think of any commonalities between X and Y that would be more apparent when stereotypes aren’t obstructing the view? Let’s pause here to take in what we just saw.*


Now let’s lay down that stereotype wall! You all may be seated. Thank you.


[Five minutes of silent reflection]


Let’s lay down our burdens.  Our personal burdens of busy-ness, worry, trouble and sorrow. Our grudges, our hurts, our guilts, our stereotypes. Lay them all down!


This is an act of compassion toward ourselves, of course. Who wants to be laden with the weight of all that baggage?


Laying down our burdens frees us, more and more, to act with compassion toward and with others, making this a more loving, just, and better world for all.


Amen. So may it be.


HYMN #1031Filled with Loving Kindness 


*The idea that “intent does not equal impact” and the Stereotype Wall exercise are from Who are Our Neighbors?, an intercultural communications curriculum developed by Beth Zemsky and Phyllis Braxton for the UU Ministers Association.

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