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April 5, 2015: “Easter and Other Springtime Passages”

Reading “And a side of fried okra, please…” by Patricia Smith

How’s this for poetic inspiration? At about 3 a.m., when I should have been snoozing contentedly, dreaming stanzas, I was in the back seat of a cab hurtling toward Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles because-

I’m in Atlanta, where they fry everything but chairs.

I’ve always been fascinated by the pairings-hot, sweet, crunchy, doughy, syrup, Tabasco.

I’m at AWP, which seems to have brought out some giddy, reckless muse/scoundrel (I call her Caldonia), who doesn’t surface until I’m away from home and surrounded by 20-year-olds who think a good ol’ hefty helping of potential heart attack at 3 a.m. is “fun.

I think there’s a book somewhere that lists chicken & waffles are a black person’s rite of passage. If you can handle ’em, you can keep your membership card.

Now it is 10:20 a.m., and I am reminded approximately every 23 seconds of my early morning feast. It was best tiny death I’ve ever consumed. I must write about what is happening to my body.

Or my body will win.

Homily “Easter and Other Springtime Passages” Rev. Denis Paul

The Easter story is a compelling one, isn’t it? A man, from humble beginnings with a teenage mother, born in a barn, grew up to be a make everybody angry.

The Romans, the occupiers of the middle eastern land hated him because he upset their whole world view. It was bad enough that he was a Jew, a monotheist. In a world where success could only happen with the blessings of the gods, where ignoring those gods of love and war, the sea and the skies, could mean failure, dissolution or

They couldn’t have cared less that he called himself the son of God, or that some people were claiming that he was the Messiah, the one who would deliver the Jews from the oppression of the Romans.

What they cared about was that he did something radical. He cared for criminals, prostitutes and the sick, people who brought their fate on themselves with their shiftlessness, laziness and moral corruption. If they just adopted the ways of the healthy, successful Romans, they’d be healthy and successful, too. This man was disrupting the system.

The Romans hated him for feeding the hungry, and frankly the Jews, his own people, hated him for it, too. The Jews were just getting to the point where they had some social capital. Among them were teachers and lawyers, a social system the Romans tolerated, and he was upsetting that delicate balance with his talk of feeding the hungry and healing the sick and rethinking the old laws of Leviticus.

The Jews needed him gone, even if he was one of their own. It was too risky to just leave him alone. So Romans obliged by killing him the way they killed any common criminal, on a cross, nails through his hands and feet, a crown of thorns on his head. He was laid to rest by a kind man who showed him mercy, laid to rest in a small cave. And the most incredible thing happened. Two days later, he was gone.

The stories about him were big before his death, but afterward, they were even bigger….and they got bigger over the following years. He’d ascended directly to heaven to be with God. By the fourth century, he was God. By the fourth century, even the Romans believed.

It’s a compelling story. And even though there may be countless interpretations of the story, everyone seems to have their own opinion about why it happened, opinions they gladly share with their children. And when their children ask about not only the details, but the meaning of the story, those children get clear answers, either from their parents or from their ministers, Sunday school teachers, televangelists, or countless movies made for the big screen or the small screen. They find clear, simple answers.

As a minister, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about faith from children and youth, about what it is Christians believe. Or Jews. Or Buddhists. Or Hindus. Or….Unitarian Universalists.

I’ve also met a lot of adults who grew up in a UU congregation, people who no longer consider themselves UU, and when I’ve asked them why they left us, almost always I get the same answer. “When I was a kid and I asked questions, all I got was more questions. What I really wanted was answers.”

The thing is that as UUs, we don’t like to think that any of us has THE answer. We were generally the kinds of kids who asked questions. A lot of questions. So we encourage our kids to ask questions, and to find their own answers. And that’s great. It encourages critical thinking. But I’m afraid if we don’t answer them when we can, we’ll lose them.

Now, when I was 8 years old, on Easter, I received communion for the first time. I’d been giving a whole lot of information about how that wafer I would be eating, and the wine the priest would be drinking, were not representations of the body and blood of Christ, they WERE the body and blood of Christ, and we would eat it the way he directed us to do on that very first Maundy Thursday, the night before he died.

The whole thing never made much sense to, this eating of the host. But I did it, because it’s what my people did. It would be another 13 or 14 years before I was initiated into a ritual of eating that made more sense to me, something all French Canadians do in Quebec: eating poutine at two in the morning after a night of dancing. Mmmmm. Poutine. French fries with cheese curds on top, swimming in brown gravy. The best tiny death I’d ever consumed, and more importantly, part of a long tradition of occasional joy followed by a moment of hedonism. What was there to ask about? I had all the answers I needed right there in that bowl.

But religion isn’t quite like that is it? It’s so complex we have to pay attention and ask questions of ourselves and each other. About what we believe. About what we do together, and the meaning behind those rituals. If we do it right, we can approach all of our religious experiences the way Halcyon did…noticing everything, reserving judgment, asking questions later.

Figuring out for ourselves what makes sense and setting the rest aside. For now. Not throwing it away, but allowing for the answer to come some time in the future. And sometimes we just need answers.

So during this weekend when so many Christians are welcoming their 8, 9, and 10 year olds into the rituals of their faith, we are about to do the same. We’re engaging in a rite of passage that won’t include eating chicken and waffles or carrying statues through the village. We’re going to initiate them into the practice that makes us who we are: asking questions of each other. And we are going to honor them by actually answering those questions.

Halcyon Domanski, your Director of religious education; Jason McCann, the chair of your board of trustees: and I, your minister, will do our best to answer their questions. And they are good questions. Fairly tough questions, actually.

So, let’s begin.

Third Grade Rite of Passage

Jason: Mia’s question

Halcyon: Kendall’s question:

Rev Denis: Cloe’s question:

Cloe is

Answer Cloe’s question is a two-parter:
    Why do we have religion? And why are there so many churches around here?

Life was harsh for the first humans on earth. They had to move across great distances to find food, and make it edible. After a while they figured out how to make tools, and farm food, and build shelters, they settled down and began to sit around a fire at night, for warmth and light, and they started asking questions. Big questions, like:

Where did we come from?
Did someone or something make us? 
And if so, why? 
Will she or he judge us if we do it wrong?
What are we supposed to do with our lives?
What happens when we die?
Why is our climate so harsh sometimes, and so pleasant at other times?
And what does it all mean?

As they lived in groups all around the world and asked these questions, some among them came up with answers, in the form of stories that could be told over and over again.

They were stories of Gods, like wise grandfathers who knew everything and controlled the weather in or to teach lessons to humans. They were stories of the sun and the moon as living creatures whose moods affected the behavior of humans and animals. They were stories of goddesses giving birth to all the creatures that populated the earth, choosing some as their favorites and rejecting others.

The stories helped people understand who they were and how they were supposed to behave toward each other and the earth itself. The stories were the basis of their religion. They created rituals that they hoped would keep them safe and happy, and more importantly, keep the gods and goddesses happy.

These groups got larger, and the stories defined them, told them who they were, bound them together. If you were a member of one of these groups, you knew you were safe because this god was looking out for you, and you did this dance, and sang this song, and ate this food, and honored this animal because it made your god happy and made you part of this group of people. The stories and rituals were their religion, the things that bound them together.

Well, you can imagine that at some point, people would move around and encounter other people from other groups, people who believed different things and had different practices. Sometimes, they’d hear each other and just agree to disagree. They’d walk away laughing, saying, “wow, those people are crazy! How could they believe that the world was created by a woman when she woke up and yawned!?

Everyone knows the world was created by the sun that watches over us every day, and that he’s a man!”

Sometimes though, people were threatened by the beliefs of others, and figured they had to go to war to prove they were right. Some religions died away, and a few grew. Some grew to be huge, like Judaism and Hinduism. They were so huge that people within those religions started thinking that something wasn’t quite right, so they formed new religions, new groups of people bound together by a set of practices and beliefs that were just slightly different.

Some Hindus became Buddhists, and then Buddhists developed a bunch of different practices by different names. Some Jews became Christians, and later some became Muslims. About 500 years ago, Christians divided up between Catholics and Protestants, and protestants started dividing up into smaller and smaller groups, as they looked for answers that make sense to them.

And that’s what it’s all about. We want to be with people who ask the same kind of questions we do, and who have the same kinds of answers.

Some people are very concerned about the god that created them, and where they go after this life. Others, like Unitarian Universalists, are more concerned about how we can be peaceful and helpful. So, we come together once a week to learn from each other new ways to be peaceful and helpful, and remind each other through our practices that that’s what we want to do.


Now, I would like to invite Mia, Kendall and Cloe and their parents up to our altar to relight the candles we extinguished on Friday night, as a symbol that after the even the worst horrors, we have faith in the promise of children, and will always count on their light to shine in the morning.

As they light the candles, I ask each of you to read the congressional response printed in your orders of worship.

Congregational Response It is our faith that each child is born one more redeemer. By this Rite of Passage, we recommit ourselves to support your parents and nurture your spiritual development, as we promise to answer any questions you ask of us.

Denis: And dear, Mia, Kendall and Cloe, we encourage you to listen to our answers and determine for yourselves what it is you believe, as Unitarians and Universalists have for hundreds of years.