Time for All Ages
Who knows the story of Noah's Ark?
Is the story factually correct?
Here's something to consider: before having the tools for scientific discovery, early humans may have looked at the world, the wet jagged mountains and the arid, rolling desserts, and knew that something huge had happened. Something catastrophic that wiped out all life. And, when you think about it, that did happen. The world was covered with ice, and dinosaurs were erased from the face of the earth.
So, we know that the story of the ark isn't factually true, so what is the point of the story?
I don't think the point of the story about the Ark is to make us think that we are not or were not worthy of God's love. I think the point of the story was to show us that love - God's love in this case - can sometimes be a little stingy. We can all be a little quick to anger, and with great power comes great mistakes. God made a huge mistake and he knew it.
I think what's important in the story is that God grew up....humanity's idea of God matured. In the end, after Noah and his family and all the animals of the ark were safe, he told them that he would replenish the earth and give them free access to everything. It was all there's. He knew that they had learned about what it meant to care for what they had, especially when it was all so precious, so fragile.
More importantly, God made a promise: I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth."
12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind."
So the rainbow that appears in the sky is a reminder to us that we have a responsibility to care for the earth and each other, to remember that each of us is only a small piece of the universe and that we are all connected.
Responsive Reading #593 "Liberty is Costly," Desmond Tutu
Liberation is costly. Even after the Lord had delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they had to travel through the desert.
They had to bear the difficulties and responsibilities of freedom.
There was starvation and thirst and they kept complaining.
They complained that their diet was monotonous.
Many of them preferred the days of bondage and the fleshpots of Egypt.
We must remember that liberation is costly. It needs unity.
We must hold hands and refuse to be divided. We must be ready.
Some of us will not see the day of our liberation physically.
But those people will have contributed to the struggle.
Let us be united, let us be filled with hope, let us be those who respect one another.
Personal Reflection, Nancy Tozer
For those of you who don't know me, my name is Nancy Tozer. I'm a member of East Shore, and I'm on your Board of Trustees. I've co-chaired Stewardship a couple of times, and I taught RE (which was an awesome experience, and I highly recommend it). I was also one of the many folks who started that annual Blue Sky Folk Fest thing.
Many people here at East Shore have remarked that I always seem so happy - so full of good energy - always smiling. Well, that's because I am happy here, and grateful that I've found this spiritual home.
It wasn't always that way.
I'm going to share with you a very personal, very challenging, and ultimately, very uplifting journey that began right here in this sanctuary, a few years ago.
I suffered a Crisis of Faith. The details of what happened are totally irrelevant now, but the IMPORTANT part of this story is how I Made Meaning out of this experience.
A few years ago, a decision was made at East Shore - with complete and appropriate transparency and democracy, as it should be. It was a change that I disagreed with.
In fact, this change struck at the very core of my beliefs about how a Beloved Community works.
I did not complain. I did not argue. I just quietly, completely removed myself from East Shore.
I was filled with uncertainty. Was this really the Beloved Community I thought it was? How could it be if one of my core beliefs is contrary to that of the Community?
I spent several months shutting off anything and everything East Shore. I let myself go spiritually numb. I wish that I could say that I was actively doing productive, meditative inner work, but that's just not true. I was numb.
My numbness gave way to deep emptiness.
Now, with new eyes, I can see that I was actively mourning the loss of my spiritual and religious home. I was grieving the loss of the people, the messages, the inspiring ideas, and all that is our Beloved Community.
So, I am one of those people who takes the Order of Service, and chucks it into my purse, where it will stay until I clean out my purse. Well, in the midst of my self-imposed exile from East Shore ... you guessed it .... I cleaned out my purse.
I pulled out a months-old Order of Service, and my eyes fell upon the Bond of Union.
NOT TO THINK ALIKE BUT TO WALK TOGETHER.
And in that moment, I understood.
I understood that I was hurting only myself by avoiding my Community.
I understood that this is the nature of all honest and worthwhile relationships. Sometimes, we disagree, but that does not change the strength of our commitment to one another.
I understood that nothing else could fill the place in my heart that belongs to East Shore.
This Dark Night of the Soul - this Crisis of Faith - might happen for you someday, if it hasn't already. But let me tell you right now, with a complete fullness of empathy ... Believe that you are not alone.
Believe that we don't need to agree on everything. In fact, it's better if we don't.
Believe that you are a treasured part of the East Shore community.
So, here's the happy ending. I returned to East Shore. You all filled me up with joy and love and gratitude. You, collectively, filled that void of Beloved Community that I long for.
Thank you, forever, for that.
Reading "Beginning Again Always," by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB
Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.
Lent is a summons to live anew.
The first challenge of Lent is to open ourselves to life. When we "rend our hearts" we break them open to things we are refusing for some warped reason to even consider. We have refused for years, perhaps, to even think about renewing old commitments that we've allowed to go to dust -- spending time with the children, visiting our parents, exercising, taking time to read good books. We've closed our minds, maybe, to the thought of reconciling with old friends whom we have hurt. We've refused to put the effort into reviving old spiritual practices like visits to church, meditation in the morning, the memorization of the psalms, that we allowed to die in our youth but failed to substitute for as we aged. We've failed to repent old abrasions, quick words, harsh judgments made in haste and expiated never. We have closed the doors of our hearts, as time went by, to so many of the things we need to live full and holy lives.
Sermon "Seeing Resources," Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
Maybe you know that Christians are observing the season of Lent right now, the forty days of spiritual preparation for Easter, the most important holiday on their calendar. The point of Lent has always been to live a little more simply, a little more prayerfully, a little more intentionally six days a week, in order to become a bit closer to the divine. Sundays have been excluded as the Sabbath, a day of rest and celebration, a kind of mini Easter each week.
In the early days of European Christianity, Lent was very pragmatic. It came during a time of year when the winter was waning.
Some vegetables were planted, and in the beginning of Lent, nothing was ready to harvest, so food supplies were lean as the winter meat ran low. It was an obvious and natural decision for a family to eat less meat. The church could direct people to a meatless diet, expecting care and intentionality, and get positive results.
There was an attainable symbology in a meatless diet. The observant Christian could make a reasonable, even necessary, sacrifice by eating something a little less luxurious than what they'd been eating all winter. They could suffer, a bit, so that they could feel closer to Jesus and more deserving of the sacrifice he made on the cross.
Over the centuries, as food supplies became more reliable and the growing middle class had more access to more kinds of food all year round, Lent became more about making bigger sacrifices, giving up the luxuries the faithful took for granted, even giving up vices that they probably shouldn't have been indulging in anyway.
When I was a kid growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, we did what the church told us we should do: we'd give up desserts (usually Jell-O) and arguing with our siblings, and on Friday, we wouldn't eat meat. We'd eat fish instead. I never really understood how fish was not meat, I mean whether it was a cow or a pig or tuna, it had been alive at one point, with parents and possible offspring. It never really made sense to me that fish was supposed to be a sacrifice, since we'd often go to the church's all you can eat Friday night fish fry during Lent.
So a few years ago, when I went to a Catholic Church just before Easter I was surprised to get one of the brochures that was handed out at the end of the service. It talked about how Lent was an opportunity to live more simply by eating like most people in the world: plain grains and legumes. Readers were encouraged not so much to give up red meat, but to give up animal flesh in order to be in solidarity with the poor of the world, and to send the money they would have spent to the Catholic Charity that delivers food to people in need around the world.
The brochure included recipes for Ecuadorian rice and lentils, Tanzanian bean soup and West African peanut stew.
Don't get me wrong. It's still not a perfect system, this selling of Lent. The old order still clings. We went just last week to a Friday Night All You Can Eat Fish Fry at the Greek Orthodox Church in Cleveland Heights where a friend's father is the priest. It's a great way to raise money for programming!
But there, right by the door where we came in, was this church's version of that brochure with simple recipes. It reminded me a lot of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee's Guest at Your Table program during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time when we're asked to put a little box in the middle of our dinner tables and feed it with the money we would have spent on a portion for a guest from part of the world ravaged by war or famine, and to eat as the guest might be eating at that moment. It's been a great way to introduce people to more reasons for eating less meat, and to consider becoming vegetarian.
You know, when I was 20, I went vegetarian for a variety of reasons: I wanted to be healthier and to leave a smaller footprint on the planet, but mostly I couldn't stand the way livestock were raised for food in the United States. I was a militant vegetarian, kind of judgmental. I didn't get a lot of dinner invitation.
At 30, I was living with a group of people who were definitely not vegetarian and I was the cook. I would make meat and not eat it, or I would make gooey, cheesy meatless dishes for everyone, which of course wreaked havoc on my stomach. Finally, it just seemed a little easier and a whole lot more sociable to go back to eating meat.
After a couple years, my stomach was a mess. I was having joint pain and psoriasis that a gastroenterologist told me would probably be reduced by a vegan diet, which I committed to for one month. It confirmed for me what I had suspected all along: My system does better without animal products. I'm healthier and have more energy.
One month became eight years.
But then I started working in the streets of San Francisco, eating frequently in soup kitchens with no vegan offerings, and staying with poor families around the world where everything was cooked with lard. I was vegan at home, living on rice and pinto beans, kale, carrots and beets, but outside of the house, I was a guestatarian: I ate what was put in front of me.
Until my beloved was diagnosed with diabetes. Suddenly most of the staples in our life were forbidden, high on the glycemic index, and he needed to be on a diet of vegetables and meat to be his healthiest. So now, we're back to eating meat at home a few nights a week. But breakfast and lunch are still vegan. And we never have dairy in the house.
The reality is that all of us make choices about what we consume based on the circumstances of our lives, the priorities of our lives, which for most of us are constantly shifting. Sometimes, they shift because of finances.
When I was in seminary, making almost no money and paying a fortune in tuition and insurance, I got involved with an organization called the People's Grocery, dedicated to bringing fresh, locally grown, organics to a food dessert in Oakland California, a neighborhood with hundreds of liquor stores, convenience stores and fast food outlets but not one grocery for 40,000 residents. I wanted to give them money to support their mission, but I wouldn't stop pledging to my church, so I decided to fast every Thursday. Once a week, I would forgo breakfast and lunch. I sent the money I saved to the People's Grocery.
It was a great lesson in seeing the resources that were available to me, even when I was sure there were none. Previously, it had been fairly easy for us to pledge $8,000 a year when our income was $160k. We felt it, we had to make choices, but it was still relatively easy. But now that we were so strapped financially, there was still a way. We were still giving 5% of our income to the church, but I figured out a way to give a little more to another organization that mattered.
Now that we have steady jobs with reliable salaries and decent healthcare and a home we can afford, we could have a little more luxury in our lives, but we've continued the commitment to give 5% of our salaries and housing allowances back to our congregations, which means making a sacrifice.
Joe and I are people not far removed from our roots. All the men in both our families have big trucks and Harley Davidson motorcycles. We'd love to have a pickup truck we could easily take to the lumberyard or throw the kayak in the back of; and a couple of bikes for tooling around on our time off, especially during the summer with the wind running through what's left of our hair.
Instead, we have 10 year old minivan, and mess around with the seats. And, we have a 30 year old Volkswagen Rabbit. But it's convertible. Our egos are strong enough that we can shrug off being laughed at at by the guys driving the trucks we wish we had.
Those are the choices we make when we decide to pledge at a stewardship level. Nobody is asking us to make a decision between paying the rent and eating. Nobody is even asking us to do something that feels as extreme as fasting once week. But giving at a stewardship level invites us into "becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life ... right now." As Joan Chittister said about Lent, stewardship is "a summons to live anew ... to open ourselves to life."
Stewardship is about more than just giving something up, it's about daily breaking our hearts open to changing our understanding of what it means to be comfortable, engaged, and making space to expand the vision and reach for the stars here at East Shore. Stewardship is an expression of our love of Unitarian Universalism and our belief in the power of our congregations.
We're like Noah. It may look like what we have is limited. And sometimes it may seem like the great God of the American Way, Almighty Dollar, has forsaken us, and begun the flood without warning.
But the truth is that we have a covenant that reminds of just how much we really have. Maybe what we have is just enough, a fragile storehouse of the bare minimum to survive, but really, it's everything we need.
It's enough because we know that at our churches, everyone has a capacity for generosity and the imagination to wonder what it would take to stretch ourselves a bit just to be able to pay off our debt. And if that debt were paid off, what it would take to stretch ourselves to the next level, to dream about investing in our own future.
What would it take to be able to really reach for the stars:
We could have outreach programs that could make a real difference in the world; We could fund a shelter for women and children who have been abused;
fund an international project to keep the oceans clean;
make microloans that could change the lives of the poor around the world;
host an international symposium on peace making;
support communities that are so struck by unemployment that they are willing to allow high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing or massive canal building to irreparably damage the earth and their own water supplies.
Or right here at church,
We could have a regular paid musician, so Marj could focus on what she really loves, which is directing the choir
We could have such a strong cash flow, that the poor treasurer doesn't have sleepness nights? This, by the way has been one of those times. Two weeks ago we cancelled Sunday services because of the threat of deadly weather, and I'm afraid that was enough to throw the whole system out of whack, basically pushing income back one week, while expenses just charged ahead.
When you're asked to give at a stewardship level, you're not being asked to change the world single handedly or to sacrifice your security in a future that looks more and more uncertain every year that goes by.
You're being asked to do what humans have done forever: make good choices that affect not only yourselves, but everyone around you. Maybe that means giving $200 a year or maybe that means $20,000 a year. The point is that you make choices about how you will spend your money, so that it can be used more effectively and more generously.
I'm glad that Nancy shared what she did this morning about her crisis of faith, that moment...actually that stretch of a few months...when she thought, "what am I doing here with these people I don't agree with?" She was Noah, she was that person who felt cast aside until she realized that what she had, what seemed so small during the darkest, rainiest days, was actually all that she needed. She realized that the connections, the relationships, the covenant she was asked to live into with all of us here, was what mattered. It mattered more than being right about one thing, and now she's here, with that smile, and all the amazing work she does on our behalf.
I just want to close with a word about the seating arrangement. We changed it for the Service we did on love with the youth, and got a lot of positive feedback. I love it. This circular arrangement has the effect of filling this large room more, while giving more space in the center. And, it gives you the chance to face each other instead of just my scruffy mug. It feels like a more effective use of space, one that's more symbolic of our democratic self-governance, our polity and our principles.
So, as a little evolving experiment, I'd like to keep it this way at least through Lent, which happens to coincide pretty closely with our pledge drive. Let this be a reminder to us to make an effort to see the resources that are right here in front of us and to use them effectively.