Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

August 3, 2014: “Flip or Flop”

Sounding of the Singing Bowl (Justin)

Prelude Welcome, Welcome Clif Hardin (Choir)

Welcome and Announcements (Dick Hurwitz) 

Opening Hymn #1017 We Are Building a New Way

We are building a new way (3x)
Feeling stronger every day
We are building a new way

We are working to be free (3x)
Hate and greed and jealousy
We are working to be free

We can feed our every need (3x)
Start with love, that is the seed
We can feed our every need

Peace and freedom is our cry (3x)
Without these this world will die
Peace and freedom is our cry

Call to Worship (Denis)
We gather this morning in Unitarian Universalist fellowship. We come from different places, which is appropriate, because we are all on different journeys. 
In coming here, we pledge ourselves to religious freedom, which transcends all creeds. 

We gather knowing that we do not have to think alike in order to walk together. 

We gather in the tensions of differing beliefs, and are held together in that tension, the way a suspension bridge is made stronger by the arcs of its cables. The cables of our structure that bridges understanding is our covenant, and that is what we celebrate this morning, the new way that we are building, together. 

Chalice Lighting #131 Love Will Guide Us 
For a few years, I was an outreach minister with the Faithful Fools Street Ministry in San Francisco, where one of my favorite responsibilities was facilitating Thursday morning Bible Study. It was usually a raucous and intellectually stimulating event, attended by many folks who are typically labeled homeless. We always began with a song, Usually Love Will Guide Us, which was when I would take a moment to light a chalice.

Would you honor me, and the people in those streets, by opening your hymnals to #131, and singing Love Will Guide Us?

Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
Hope inside us, will lead the way,
On the road from greed to giving,
Love will guide us, through the hard night.

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you cannot speak before thousands,
You can give from deep within you,
You can change the world with your love.

Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
Hope inside us, will lead the way,
On the road from greed to giving,
Love will guide us, through the hard night.

Time for All Ages The Drowning Priest 
I would like to invite all of the children and youth to come forward. So I can get a good look at you. And so you can get a good look at me.

My name is Denis Letourneau Paul. You can call me Rev Denis.
Can you say that? Denis? 

No, not Denny. Denny is spelled D-E-N-N-Y, and Denis is spelled D-E-N-I-S. It’s also my father’s name. It’s French, so the S on the end is silent. 

Here’s a good way to remember it. Not da head, not da elbow, but da knee.

For those of you who have not yet guessed, I am a minister, and I will be serving this congregation, at least for the next three years. Hopefully more than that. Now I use the word “serve” very intentionally, because I’m not here to boss anybody around, or to pretend to have some special insight or power nobody else has. I’m also not here to work for you, like an employee. I am here to serve this place, East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, and the Unitarian Universalist faith. It’s a big job that is very….humbling.

Do you know what humble means? It means that you don’t make yourself bigger or more important than you are. Being humble doesn’t mean that you make yourself less than you are, it just means that you are right sized. You know what you’re good at, and you know where you need to grow. Being truly humble is something to strive for. Maybe someday I will be truly humble.

That reminds me of a story I told the congregation in San Francisco on the day they ordained me a few years back, about a Mulla. A Mulla is a teacher in the Muslim tradition, and the most humble of them all was Mulla Nasruddin. He was so humble that people sometimes thought he was a fool, an idiot. But, he was the smartest of them all.

One day Mulla Nasruddin saw a crowd gathered around a pond. A priest with a huge turban on his head had fallen in the water and was calling for help. People were leaning over and saying, “Give me your hand, Reverend! Give me your hand!” But the priest didn’t pay attention to their offer to rescue him; he kept wrestling with the water and shouting for help.

Finally, Mulla stepped forward. “Let me handle this.” He stretched out his hand toward the priest and shouted at him, “Take my hand.”

The priest grabbed Mulla’s hand and was hoisted out of the pond. People, very surprised, asked Mulla for the secret of his strategy.

“It is very simple,” he replied. “I knew this miser wouldn’t give anything to anyone. So instead of saying, ‘Give me your hand,’ I said ‘take my hand,’ and sure enough he took it.

I am a kind of priest, and a kind of Mulla. My job is to reach my hand out to folks in the congregation, including you. Believe it or not, you are one of the biggest reasons I am here. You will help me be humble. So I look forward to getting to know each of you. 

Joys and Cares (Justin)

We will have a period of silence where we hold the joys and cares shared and unshared in our hearts. When the singing bowl sounds, please join in lighting a candle to remember a loved one, mark an event, or because you feel moved to do so. (Justin will sound the singing bowl.)

Lighting of Candles with Musical Interlude (CD/Recorded)

Offering of Gifts (Denis)
As I begin this new ministry, as we begin what I hope will be a decade or more of work together, I am keenly aware that I am building on something you all have started. It’s a project whose history I know only a bit about, history you will share with me in the coming months. It’s a unique story, as unique as this facility.

The project of East Shore is also pretty typical, from the parking lot with a greater than average number of hybrids, to the sensible footwear on our scent-free bodies. Unitarian Universalists are….consistent, to a certain extent.

One thing that is absolutely consistent is that each of our congregations is self-supporting. That means we get to choose our ministers, decide who to ordain, and build whatever we want wherever we want without input from some central body. As you know…that takes money.

So please, in the interest of keeping this place alive, as a beacon of religiously liberal hope, give as generously as you can. And if you are a visitor here his morning, please let the collection plate pass you buy. Your presence is our gift. 

This morning’s offering will now be accepted.

Offertory #123 Spirit of Life 
(Choir sings through once, then the rest of the folks join in for a second round)

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

Credo Justin Simons

Anthem Fount Malcom Dalglish

Reading from Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (Justin)
This Morning’s reading is from Walden, by Henry David Thoreau:
Before winter I built a chimney, and shingled the sides of my house, which were already impervious to rain, with imperfect and sappy shingles made of the first slice of the log, whose edges I was obliged to straighten with a plane.
I have thus a tight shingled and plastered house, ten feet wide by fifteen long, and eight-feet posts, with a garret and a closet, a large window on each side, two trap doors, one door at the end, and a brick fireplace opposite. The exact cost of my house, paying the usual price for such materials as I used, but not counting the work, all of which was done by myself, was as follows; and I give the details because very few are able to tell exactly what their houses cost, and fewer still, if any, the separate cost of the various materials which compose them: —

Boards$8.03 1/2, mostly shanty boards.
Refuse shingles for roof and sides$4.00
Two second-hand windows with glass$2.43
One thousand old brick$4.00
Two casks of lime$2.40 That was high.
Hair$0.31 More than I needed
Mantle-tree iron$0.15
Hinges and screws$0.14
Transportation$1.40 I carried good 
part on my back.
In all$28.12 1/2

These are all the materials, excepting the timber, stones, and sand, which I claimed by squatter’s right. I have also a small woodshed adjoining, made chiefly of the stuff which was left after building the house.
I intend to build me a house which will surpass any on the main street in Concord in grandeur and luxury, as soon as it pleases me as much and will cost me no more than my present one.

Sermon Flip of Flop? (Denis)
One of the stupidest things I have ever done was buy my first house at the age of 20. Oh, I made plenty of money… it doubled in value so it was a good investment. 

What was stupid about it though, was that I missed my college years. While my cohorts in architecture school were traveling to see the great buildings of the world, sleeping on EurRail with their youth passes, I was going to school full-time, working part-time, and remodeling a 2,800 square foot two-family Victorian in Providence, Rhode Island. 

I missed my youth. I can’t go back and be 20 again. 

My father, like Justin’s, is a skilled and clever man. He taught me a lot when I was growing up. When I was 14 years old, I worked on his framing crew, hauling lumber and back-nailing acres of plywood on floors, walls and roofs. As I labored I got to watch craftsman practice, stick building the frame, installing plumbing and electrical systems, installing drywall and taping it, laying tile, and painting. 

I couldn’t wait to apply those lessons in my own home, so I bought a cheap house the first chance I got. In the process of remodeling it, I learned that I’m really good with aesthetic details. I’m a good finish carpenter, and can paint a straight line without tape. And I learned I’m not so good with mechanical details. 

When it was done, that house looked great, but I cringe every time I think about the latex paint on the stair treads, or the botched electrical repairs. Like Justin, I look back on that youthful experience with sadness for the missed opportunities and the little failures, and gratitude for the relationships and connections made along the way. Providence, because of that house, will always be home to me. 

When I graduated from architecture school, I had this great idea: I would sell my old house, and buy another fixer-upper, again living in it as I worked. It wouldn’t be my job, just a way to make money, develop skills, and be creative in a way that I couldn’t be in my paid employment. 

Everyone who heard of my scheme thought I was nuts! “You can’t make that kind of money from old houses,” I heard over and over again.

Well, it’s 28 years later. The concept isn’t so bizarre now that flipping has become a household term. It seems every TV network has a reality show about some house flipper somewhere. And anyone who has bought an inexpensive fixer in the last ten or twelve years has been in competition with house flippers, whose goal is to remodel a house quickly, usually in fewer than thirty days, and sell it at a huge profit. Anyone who’s bought a move-in ready house has probably bought it from one of those investors. 

I’m on my eighth house in my fourth state, so I think it’s safe to say that I am the world’s slowest house flipper, so far averaging four years per project. But… I gave them all the love and attention of an artist. 

Ansel Adams, in one of his photography anthologies, is quoted as saying “Some photographers take reality…and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.” 

What Adams is saying – a concept he conveyed frequently in lectures and writing – is that an artist reveals what is already present. An artist is a loving reporter of the nature of the subject. The integrity of the artist is bound together with the integrity of the subject. 

The way I describe that concept in my architectural work is that I listen to the house. I don’t just storm in, gut the joint, and turn it into something trendy, I take the time to understand it, to know how the light and air move through it, how the people move from room to room during a party, what it was like when it was built, how it relates to its neighbors and the community. 

You might think this is nuts, but I believe there’s a spirit to a place, character that evolves over decades. I listen to that spirit. It tells me what colors to paint, what changes to make. The spirit tells me what to remove and what to spend time fixing and cleaning up. 

Sometimes listening to the spirit of the house means going back to what it was when it was built, by stripping ten layers of wallpaper and pigmenting the glass-smooth horsehair plaster beneath. Sometimes listening means making it what it never was, by removing the flat roof on a Massachusetts house, with its 17 layers of built up goo that was never going to hold back the water from the melting snow load, and replacing it with a pitched roof. The new gables on that house made the stained glass windows look better, giving them a sense of place and importance. The house went from looking like a chicken coop to being the beautiful craftsman cottage it should have been, if the builder hadn’t run out of money.

One thing I have never done is put an addition on a house. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve always felt like the houses were just right, just the way they were built, and as I’ve listened to the spirit of each place, I’ve been humbled by its history, its quiet service, and even its steadfastness. How can I radically change something that has been lived in and loved by so many other families before me? History is a building’s grace, and that’s what makes me want to be its steward. 

Now I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with additions. When I was designing and building in my family’s Connecticut business, we built dozens of additions every year for families who really needed the space. I just haven’t needed the space. Inspired by Thoureau’s experience living in a shack on Walden Pond, I want to live simply, and mortgage free, with less and less as the years go by. His material list, literally, has been a kind of prayer for me over the years.

So, what does any of this house flipping stuff have to do with ministry, and the work we will do together over the next few years?

Well, you can be sure that the first thing I am going to do is listen. I’m going to listen not only to this building and its spirit of the past, but to you…the people who make East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church what it is now. 
I want to know what it is that makes you tick, what it is you love, what it is that keeps you coming back and committing your time, treasure and talent to making sure it continues to exist for the next generation.

I’ve already begun contacting people just to talk, so don’t be surprised if I ask you to meet for no apparent reason. Now keep in mind there are more than 200 adults here, so it will take a while – probably a whole year or even more – to get to you all, but I want you to know that listening to you is my goal. 

Over the next two or three months, as this church reveals itself to me, I am going to be doing a lot more listening than talking. 

I don’t want to make big changes. I know you’ve all heard horror stories of brand new ministers coming in and immediately eliminating a beloved element of the liturgy, overhauling Religious Education into something completely unrecognizable, or firing all the staff. That’s not me. That’s not my style. The changes I make will come more slowly, and be more thoughtful. What those changes may be – if any – I can’t say… only time will tell, and each of you will have a say in how I understand this place.

One thing I know for sure, already: this is one big facility we have to grow into. That’s an incredible opportunity, but as you know, also an incredible challenge. And I can’t do that alone. We have to do that together. No minister can be solely responsible for numerical growth in membership. I’ve learned that from experience. And I think you have too.

For those of you who’ve explored my website, you know that my ministry experience has been like my home flipping experiences. Most of my jobs have been short-term, the longest only four years, which wasn’t a parish ministry at all. It was a job that sent me out into a different UU church every Sunday. The advantage this has given me is that I’ve seen a lot of churches from the inside. I know what they have in common – the pitfalls and the successes – and I know that each one is still unique. I’ve learned that quality growth, quality relationships, and quality worship take time, the time that comes from years of paying attention in love and compassion.

After years of flipping through ministries, making big changes and learning a lot, I’m ready to settle down and stay a while. I want this to be like me sixth house…the one I stayed in for ten years. That was the one I loved the most. It was also the one that was in the best shape when I arrived.

There is one big difference though between home remodeling and church work. I can do the work on my houses pretty much alone. Joe, my beloved trusts my skill enough to just smile at every evolving idea and say, “whatever you want, dear.” I know that won’t happen hear. Not that I would want it to! Ministry is collaborative. I learned as a young architect that design is 70% listening, 20% teaching, and 10% doing. It turns out that the same formula applies to ministry. 

Hopefully, we’ll all be doing a lot more listening than talking, as we learn and do together. And at the end of our time together, the product won’t be perfect – because really, in life, what is? But it will be something we can look back on with pride and affection, even if it is tinged with a bit of sadness, and know that every one of us here will have added to the spirit of this place, something for the next generations of stewards to listen to in humility.

May our work together be as thrilling and transformative as it is reflective and revelatory.

Please rise now, in body or in spirit, through the bond of Union. Our closing hymn is #121, We’ll Build a land

Closing Hymn #121 We’ll Build a Land

We’ll build a land where we bind up the broken.
We’ll build a land where the captives go free,
Where the oil of gladness dissolves all mourning.
Oh, we’ll build a promised land that can be.

Come build a land where sisters and brothers,
Annointed by God, may then create peace:
Where justice shall roll down like waters,
And peace like an ever-flowing stream.

We’ll build a land where we bring the good tidings
To all the afflicted and all those who mourn.
And we’ll give them garlands instead of ashes.
Oh, we’ll build a land where peace is born.

We’ll be a land building up ancient cities,
Raising up devastations from old;
Restoring ruins of generations.
Oh, we’ll build a land of people so bold.

Come, build a land where the mantles of praises
Resound from spirits once faint and once weak;
Where like oaks of righteousness stand her people.
Oh, come build the land, my people we seek.

Bond of Union – Church Covenant (unison)
We join hands in Unitarian Universalist fellowship, pledging ourselves to an individual religious freedom, which transcends all creeds, not to think alike but to walk together.

Postlude You Shall Go Out With Joy Stuart Dauermann (Choir)

Extinguishing the Chalice “Benediction” Robert Mabry Doss 
Denis: For all who see God, may God go with you. 
Justin: For all who embrace life, may life return your affection. 
Denis: For all who seek a right path, may a way be found. 
Justin: And the courage to take it step by step.