The pastor was standing at the church door welcoming people at the Easter morning service. He shook the hand of one man and said, “Let me introduce myself. I’m the pastor of this church. We are pleased to have you visiting with us today.”
The stranger said, “Now, wait a minute, pastor. I’m a member of this church, not a visitor.”
The perplexed pastor said, “But I’ve never seen you here in the five years I’ve been here.”
The stranger retorted, “Well, I never said I was a fanatic.”
A few years ago when I served a church in San Antonio there was a big religious ad sensation- New public service billboards created by a Dallas advertising agency Dallas AND in the awards annuals. Here are some variations of the "God Speaks" billboards. They were simple black background with white text. No fine print or sponsoring organization was included.
Let’s meet at my house Sunday before the game. -God
C’mon over and bring the kids. -God
What part of “Thou Shalt Not…” didn’t you understand? -God
We need to talk. -God
Keep using my name in vain, I’ll make rush hour longer. -God
Loved the wedding, invite me to the marriage. -God
That “Love Thy Neighbor” thing… I meant it. -God
I love you and you and you and you and… -God
Have you read my #1 best seller? There will be a test. -God
Don’t make me come down there. -God
Dr. Forrester Church, who recently died, was Sr. Minister at the 2nd largest UU Church in the US- All Souls UU Church, in Manhattan, spoke in in one of his many books, of going to a dinner party and being introduced as a Unitarian Universalist minister. And, as has often happened to me, all the people hear is the word "minister" and begin to feel uncomfortable. Church tries to explain that his religion is liberal, etc.,-you know the feeling. Then he describes how he and his wife feel that they must continue to explain: "Sensing at this junction that perhaps we may not have made ourselves quite as clear as we might, we triumphantly announce that Unitarian Universalsim is unlike other religions. There is no dogma. We are reasonable people. To question is the answer, as we say. We agree to disagree. We are not fanatics. We are neither superstitious nor conspicuously pious. In short, we let it be known in no uncertain terms that, whatever we may believe, we pose no threat to the delicate balance of a successful dinner party. Everyone is much relieved. In fact, several guests announce that they too feel just as we do about religion, which is one of the reasons they do not attend church." Do we have to go to church to be religious? Traditional Christians believe that, of course, but most of us don't. We attend because we WANT to, because we feel a need to, but not usually-' because the bible tells us to!'. Kenneth Callahan, a Methodist minister and author of a number of books on church psychology and organization, is a well-known church leadership consultant across the country. He says that there are 5 primary motivational resources that draw people to a church-"compassion, community, challenge, reasonability, and commitment." He further states that there are three things that people are seeking in a church-"help, hope, and home". Notice he does not say that people are looking for a specific religious doctrine, but very simply, what we are all looking for in a church is "help, hope, and home." Some people find these things in the Baptist church, some in a Jewish Synagogue, others in a Buddhist temple. We find it, or hope to find it, here in a Unitarian Universalist church; frequently after trying all of these other places and finding ourselves somehow unsatisfied. Yet we continue to yearn for help, hope, and home in a religious community where we can feel comforted as well as challenged- spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, psychologically- or to sum it all up in a word, religiously. I want to argue that if one changes some language and loosens us some metaphors, perhaps, that we come to church for very religious reasons even though we might not call them that! My colleague Dr. Laurel Hallman, retired minister of First UU Church in Dallas writes about why she thinks people come to our churches: 'In my experience, people come to us for very simple reasons:
They are broken, through divorce, or business failures, or illness.
They need encouragement, inspiration, reminders about how to live meaningfully and fully in times of joy, but also in the midst of tragedy.
They are worried about how to raise their children religiously, without fear…
They want a place apart from their daily lives to worship, to reflect, to seek the inner self and its deep connection to God.’ (or what I would call, more ambiguously, the Holy)
They want a place to belong in the midst of an alien world. Many come to us lonely…
They want to be deepened spiritually, and stimulated intellectually.
They want to serve. Sometimes this means service in the church. Sometimes they want to serve outside the church, and we help them find their place.’
The Unitarian Universalist Association had a publicity campaign for growth a few years ago called "The religion that puts its faith in you." In our church, we ask that all of us take responsibility for religion, for discovering what it is we do believe. We encourage doubt, but not for its own sake, not for a cynical put-down of others religious beliefs, but for an intentional search for our own. We even have an adult Religious Education curriculum called "Building Your Own Theology". We offer help here, human help as well as the encouragement of the search for a concept of divine or higher power help. We don't insist it be called God, neither should we insist that it can't be called God. Personally, I find the Native American concept of "the Great Spirit" to be a helpful metaphor, but recently read where it can also be translated as' the Great Mystery' and like that even better. But here we will help to discuss God and no-God concepts, letting each member choose his or her own concept. We offer hope here, hope that despite our suffering and sorrows that we will also experience joy and pleasure together. Hope that someone cares, someone will share through rites of passage like a memorial service, through wedding ceremony, through child dedication, through a coming of age ceremony, through pastoral counseling and care, as well as with one another caring and helping. We offer hope that one can have a meaningful worship experience in a religious community that welcomes theological diversity. We offer a home here, not where parental authority figures will tell you what to believe, but where you will be welcome to share your doubts and search your questions. We offer a home that we all contribute to, we all help support-emotionally as well as financially. We offer a home as a religious community, continually searching for the right words, the understandable metaphors, to describe our respective spiritual journeys. We offer one another our own translations of religious terms. Home is where the heart and the mind is; where our flaming chalice becomes a symbol for the flame of the hearth and the life-giving ball of fire- the sun - as well as the sharing of the fruit of the vine of life. Home is where we realize that we are all relatives, all related, but by choice not by birth. Home is where growth takes place, nurtured by one another. Home is where religious discoveries and/or psychological breakthroughs can happen in our common religious search for meaning and truth. Psychologist Martin Seligman, who specializes in depression, performed a study which showed that if you were born in the last 60 years, you have 10 times more chance of being seriously depressed than if you were born in the 60 years before that time period. He proposes: 'A more hopeful possibility: a balance between individualism, with its perilous freedoms, and commitment to the common good, which should lower depressions as well as make life more meaningful.' Indeed, I think the case could be made that the reason we baby boomers are the most depressed generation is perhaps because we are the first one who could afford to be selfish. " Now many of us balanced that with a commitment to social justice for the common good, but many of had left traditional religious institutions, especially if we had been in youth groups! The reason conflict develops and indeed sometimes can permeate the church is a reluctance to compromise the individualism and the needs of the wider community, even if it is something like coffee hour! " Some people get a little too hung up in their, what I call ,'me-ology' rather than the theology' whether it be Baptist or Unitarian Universalist. A religiously healthy church can disagree with love. Psychologically healthy people are not threatened by disagreement whether it be theological or the color of the curtains in the minister's office. Indeed, in order to grow, the first requirement is a healthy church! In her book, LovingKindness, written as one word and subtitled, The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, Buddhist writer, Sharon Salzberg says that over the door to the Insight Meditation Society in Barre. MA in large letters is this word - metta, Pali for 'lovingkindness.' The Dalai Lama, the SPiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism has said 'My religion is kindness.' Imagine summing up one's religion so simply,
yet I will argue that Jesus could have done the same thing if he were being interviewed today; he might flash the same beatific smile as the Dalai Lama and say, ‘My religion is love.’
'Throughout our lives,' Salzberg writes:' we long to love ourselves more deeply and to feel connected tom others. Instead, we often contract, fear intimacy, and suffer a bewildering sense of separation. We crave love, and yet we are lonely. Our delusion of being separate from one another, of being apart from all that is around us, gives rise to all this pain. What is the way out of this? Spiritual practice, by uprooting our personal mythologies of isolation, uncovers the radiant, joyful heart within each of us and manifests radiance to the world. We find, beneath the wounding concepts of separation, a connection both to ourselves and to all beings. We find a source of great happiness that is beyond convention. Freeing ourselves from the illusion of separation allows us to live in a natural freedom rather than be driven by preconceptions about our own boundaries and limitations.' Churches, indeed all religions, should simply be about love, kindness, help, & hope, and we should feel like we are finally home. I think that's what salvation is- the realization that the meaning of life is about love and then finding out the best way to love and be loved, to share love by working for social justice. The particularities of the religions and their sages, saviors, prophets, teachers, preachers, may come together under the commonality of the idea of a God, the force of Love, or in the case of Eastern religions, the sense of one-ness of interconnectedness and compassion for all living things. The whole idea of church is a place, a time even, a sacred portal, a religious dimension through which we might pass to become religious people to learn how to live better lives, and the idea of keeping the Sabbath as a sacred time where we contemplate the holy, where we rest on the seventh day, where we take just one day out of 7 and how many of us can even do that? to dwell in the house of the holy, however many different ways we might interpret that! Indeed, Jews begin Sabbath in the home on Friday at sundown by the lighting of the sabbath candle by the mother of the house, a sacred event that signals the beginning of Sabbath, when work becomes forbidden!
Jewish poet Marcia Falk writes:
Three generations back my family had only to light a candle and the world parted. Today, Friday afternoon, I disconnect clocks and phone. When night fills my house with passages, I begin saving my life. (Falk, Marcia. 'Will' from The Book of Blessings by Marcia Falk. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996.) I like to think of lighting the chalice like that, like parting the world and letting the sacred enter or is it more like letting our truer selves emerge and becoming aware of our interconnectedness with one another with a love so deep and compassionate that all conflict seems petty and we become ashamed and ask for forgiveness of one another for any hurt we might have caused. That's my idea of sin, hurting someone by our language by our insensitivity, because it means we have not loved, so let us love instead. Who among us does not want help or would refuse to give it? Indeed we are here to help one another.
And hope? May it always be preached here.
Home is where the heart is, then surely this home, but ah, if we will but give our heart to it, and by that I mean giving up our 'me-ology' our hubrisism, our need to be right all the time, our desire to have our own way, and instead give all to the beloved community. Home is where we also pay the bills! And if we truly want make this be our home, I think we must actually join the family if we haven't already. We come here for religious reasons, which I believe are also psychological, that we all have our own God-talk, with metaphors and translation into language that inspires us. I'm probably more of an 21st Century Emersonian Transcendentalist these days, finding the wisdom of Jesus, Buddha, and other great sages and prophets instrumental in guiding my life. I am UU because it is within this tradition I find my self feeling spiritually connected, and I am the minister of this church your minister, because I felt at home here, like we belonged together, we matched.
May we go from here recharged, inspired with love of ourselves, of each other, and the world to continue the journey of the every day life, but also to find a way to help make the world a better, more loving and just place for our having lived here.
May we laugh often, and cry as we need to.
May we pray, not to avoid problems, but for the strength, inner wisdom and friends to solve them.
May we live our lives the best that we can.
May we love the best we can.
May we gather strength from holding hands.
May we be generous givers as well as receivers.
May we meet one new person every Sunday.
May we go now in the peace, which passes all understanding, and in the love that makes it all worthwhile.
Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity with me greets the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. ‘Vaya con Dios’ is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is ‘Go with God,’ So I adapted it to say ‘Vaya Con Su Dios, ‘Go with your idea or interpretation of God.’
Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios