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January 6, 2008: “Forgiving the Past, Co-creating the Future”

Happy New Year; may it be better than last year! Indeed maybe we should just ask fir it to be different than last year! Here’s a word about medical progress


2000 B.C. – Here, eat this root
1000 A.D. – That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 A.D. – That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1940 A.D. – That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1985 A.D. – That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
2000 A.D. – That antibiotic doesn’t work anymore. Here, eat this root.

A blessing for the new year from my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”

Confucius say, “When you are angry at neighbor, walk a mile in his shoes. Then you will be a mile away from him, and you will have his shoes!”

I miss the wisdom of the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, now that its creator, Bill Waterman, has retired. So to start the new year let me share one of his past strips; call it a seasonal rerun. Calvin philosophically says to Hobbes,

“Everybody makes the wrong kind of New Year’s resolutions. All they do is promise to stop bad habits and start good habits. It’s not enough to change a few little habits. Everybody I know needs a complete personality overhaul. …That’s why I’ll be spending the remaining days of this year telling people what I hate about them and how they should change.”

 Hobbes: "Some people would like to reciprocate."  
 Calvin: "Sorry. My resolution is not to change a bit."

What are YOUR resolutions? Many of us say we want to change, but then find we feel like we can’t! To a distressed person who came to the Teacher, the Teacher said, “Do you really want a cure?”

  "If I did not, would I bother to come to you?"
  "Oh yes. Most people do."
  "What for?"
  "Not for a cure. That's painful. For relief."
   To the disciples the Teacher said: "People who want a cure, provided they can have it without pain, are like those who favor progress, 
       provided they can have it without change."

At the New Year’s eve service, I talked about letting go of our psychological ‘baggage'( if only the airlines could lose that for us!), and that often includes resentments, anger, depression, even hatred. Actress Carrie Fisher said in her book, ‘Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’ Holding on to past slights, fights, etc. prevents us from a fully realized future.

This is a time when the portal of potential for change seems more open, as if by magic, myth, or metaphor, because everyone is talking about changing or the new year.

We hope for peace on earth this year, as if there has ever been a year without it., Yet the Taoist sage Lao Tzu reminds us:

If there is to peace in the world,
There must be peace among nations.
If there is to be peace among nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.’

It all starts with us, with peace and love in our hearts, minds, words, and actions. It starts with our letting go, with our forgiving the past, whatever we have suffered, however righteous we are in all of this.

The poet, Stanley Kunitz writes:

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Life is so full of heavy burdens on all our shoulders that surely we would be glad to lighten the load by letting go of the excess baggage of grudges, resentment, anger and/or spite. Think of the Mad Magazine section which used to draw creatures to illustrate a saying, so that there would be a picture of someone carting this large grotesque creature, and the picture would be entitled:

‘ Carrying a grudge.’ The ‘grudge’ becomes concrete, a literal monster., and it is indeed a heavy burden. Yet no one forces us to carry this grudge monster; we choose to. Forgiveness allows us to put it down and be done with it.

So too, our guilt can become a heavy load, and that too can be exorcised- by confession, by admitting our mistakes, by apologizing, by getting them off our chest, out of our minds, and letting them go, not allowing them to drag us down. So must our religion help us with handling this load -lightening, so could our relationships be strengthened -family church, work- even as they give us strength.

”Forgiveness’ is one word but not one act alone,’ writes UU minister, Greta Crosby, in the meditation manual, Tree and Jubilee, ‘ ‘Forgiveness is the process we live through in order to restore a relationship. Forgiveness is the process of coming back together again with another or with oneself after a separation based on wrongdoing or grievous shortcoming. Sometimes the wrongdoing is the separation. Forgiveness involves the acknowledgment and, where possible, the mutual recognition of what went wrong, of what we are doing to right the balance, and especially of the meaning and importance of relationship. Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is anchoring a wrong in its own time, letting it recede into the past as we live and move toward the future.’

From the home of our headquarters-

BOSTON , MA ”This New Year’s, an unconventional resolution may be one of the healthiest you can make ‘ learning to forgive more easily. According to an article in the January issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch , forgiving those who hurt you can improve your mental and physical wellbeing. ‘Five for 2005: Five Reasons to Forgive….’ five positive health effects of forgiving that have been scientifically studied:

It may come as a surprise that forgiving is a skill you can hone, and that granting forgiveness may actually do more for you than the person you forgive.

  1. Reduced stress. Researchers found that mentally nursing a grudge puts your body through the same strains as a major stressful event: Muscles tense, blood pressure rises, and sweating increases.
  2. Better heart health. One study found a link between forgiving someone for a betrayal and improvements in blood pressure and heart rate, and a decreased workload for the heart.
  3. Stronger relationships. A 2004 study showed that women who were able to forgive their spouses and feel benevolent toward them resolved conflicts more effectively.
  4. Reduced pain. A small study on people with chronic back pain found that those who practiced meditation focusing on converting anger to compassion felt less pain and anxiety than those who received regular care.
  5. Greater happiness. When you forgive someone, you make yourself’rather than the person who hurt you’responsible for your happiness. One survey showed that people who talk about forgiveness during psychotherapy sessions experience greater improvements than those who don’t.’

Katherine M. Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., discusses forgiveness and how it can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

When we hold on to pain, old grudges, bitterness and even hatred, many areas of our lives can suffer. When we’re unforgiving, it’s we who pay the price over and over. We may bring our anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Our lives may be so wrapped up in the wrong that we can’t enjoy the present. Other signs that it may be time to consider forgiveness include:

* Dwelling on the events surrounding the offense
* Hearing from others that you have a chip on your shoulder or that you're wallowing in self-pity
* Being avoided by family and friends because they don't enjoy being around you
* Having angry outbursts at the smallest perceived slights
* Often feeling misunderstood
* Drinking excessively, smoking or using drugs to try to cope with your pain
* Having symptoms of depression or anxiety
* Being consumed by a desire for revenge or punishment
* Automatically thinking the worst about people or situations
* Regretting the loss of a valued relationship
* Feeling like your life lacks meaning or purpose
* Feeling at odds with your religious or spiritual beliefs'

Forgiveness is a religious as well as psychological exercise in building or cocreating relationships, but is not easy. We must seek out religious and psychological help, whether it be in the form of reading, talking, praying, mediating, and even talking it out with people we may be having trouble forgiving. Remember, however, that our working out forgiveness is not dependent on another person; it is up to us.

An article entitled “Serious Stuff or Fluff?” in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, July/August 1996, p. 12., by University of Wisconsin’s Robert Enright, Ph.D. and Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D. spoke of the letting go of forgiveness:

“In one study, when Enright and Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D., interviewed a group of incest survivors, none expressed any desire to forgive their perpetrators. The duo assigned half of the women to some forgiveness workshops anyway–and not only did all eventually forgive, but a year later they reported far less anxiety and depression than a nonforgiving control group. ‘I have never seen such strong results with incest survivors,’ says Enright.

Forgiving, however, does not mean letting the guilty party off the hook. ‘ It’s not excusing or forgetting–it’s giving up resentment that you’re entitled to,’ explains Enright. The paradox, he says, is that ‘by giving this gift to the other, it is the gift giver who becomes psychologically healed.'”

We are healed by the letting go of the past, of our or another’s sin, of the abuse, of the countless mistakes and bad judgments which we humans are heir to. To live our potential into the future, to find the religious dimension for our selves we must first be emptied of what is filling us up, of what is holding us back, of the baggage which is slowing us down, of the religious or psychological abuse we might have suffered, we have to let it go, and get going with our lives. Save us all from religious guilt which we don’t deserve; we certainly should have enough already for what we do deserve! As we age into the future, let us remember the quip- ” pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” We have all erred, all made mistakes. Love is the answer, forgiveness the task, of ourselves and others.

In 2004, in one of those many magazines around the new year that list famous people who have died was a 13 year old boy named Mattie Stepanek, who suffered terribly from a terrible form of Muscular Dystrophy. Yet every picture I have seen of him shows him smiling, and the picture shows him in his wheelchair, but with his legs crossed on his lap, buddha style, and a round face and glasses with that beatific smile that reminds me of a cross between Buddha and Harry Potter. He has written inspirational poetry since he was about three and once he got a computer turned out out at least 2 best-selling books of poetry which was truly inspirational. He talked about a video time capsule he had made saying ‘What matters most to me is that I wake up each day and take a breath. I appreciate watching the sun rise and set, knowing that they are gifts, not things to be assumed.’ and a poem he wrote from 2 of his books of poetry which both became best sellers on the NY Times list! This was from January 2000 and his book, Journey Through Heartsongs:

About Wishing

‘Some people think that/ Wishing is childish./ But, wishing is / for everybody./ Wishing can help the/ Old feel young, and/ wishing can help the/ young grow into the/ wisdom of age./Wishing is not/ prayer or magic,/But somewhere in between./ Wishing brings optimism,/And wishing brings hope./And like prayer and magic,/Wishing brings new ideas,/ And sometimes,/the touch of a new life./ And that, is essential for our future.’

Yes, it sounds simplistic, yet here was a young teen who was cursed – can we describe it differently?- with being born with a terrible disease and whose short life was spent in pain and strife, yet he found a way to overcome the anger, resentment, etc. of it all and wrote poetry instead. As if his life might have been intended, if I believed in a God who intended such things by putting us through hell, to inspire others who often suffered much less than he. He forgave the universe, if you will, and co-created his future, as short as it was. Imagine, He died at 13, yet had been a best-selling inspirational author inspiring thousands!

Yes, of course, we must do more than wish for a fulfilling future, we must begin, to co-create it, to find our strengths, our capabilities, our gifts, and apply them to our lives, embracing change as well as one another. In the AA 12 step recovery program, which has proved to be one of the most successful change therapies ever, it is essential to both forgive those who have wronged us , and also to ask forgiveness from those whom we have wronged. We are all in various modes of recovery and forgiveness is one of the crucial 12 steps that will help us co-create a loving, healthy future. Think of the troubles of the present world in flames of hatred and revenge, and what forgiveness on a planetary scale might do to bring peace in the world. SO let it begin with us. Let us learn to forgive and to let the past go when it holds us back from a productive future.

Amen, 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 within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapdted 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.’

Opening Words-

We come together to worship a sense of the sacred, a religious dimension which we might describe by many names, but we might also simply call love- OK< maybe not so simple, maybe the most compacted idea ever, the most difficult to live up to, to remember, to believe in. The 10 Commandments of Love

The apostle Paul was one of the great organizers and institutionalizes of Christianity; indeed his writings were the very first of the Christina New Testament. I often argue with Paul and fins him too authoritarian at times, but his most spiritual wisdom was his letter to that troublesome church in Corinth, who were always arguing about doctrine and beliefs. That passage which I use in so many weddings, because it talks about how people should behave, how they should love.

It starts as I Corinthians 13:1-8, 13:

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….’

  1. Love is patient
    2; love is kind,
    3 love is not envious or boastful
    4 love is not arrogant
    5 love is not rude.
    6 It does not insist on its own way;
    7.It is not irritable
    8 Love is not resentful;
    9 Love rejoices in the truth.
    10 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. forgives all things.
    Love is religion’s start.

Reading: ‘Prayer as We Grow Older
(Which each of us does with every tick of the clock)
by John Corrado. minister of Unitarian Church, Grosse Pointe Michigan.

Dear tenderness at the heart of all things,/hold us close.
Incline us to hold one another close.
Our living plunges us from yesterday/to tomorrow
faster than we’re ever ready for.

We were kids on the playground/just a few minutes ago.
NOW look at us:/Kids in aging skin.

The story we have become with every second
seems as though somebody/is speed reading it.
We hardly have time/to bump against one another,
let alone make real connections./We grab desperately for meaning
in this haste we seem to be.

Hold us close./Slow us down./Give us, at least, a sense of pause.
Help us see each day/with grateful wonder
as if it were the first page of the story.
Hold us./Slow us./Help us.
But keep us going as long as we can.’

Offering reading ,from religious writer, specializing in Eastern religions, William Cleary | Source: From “Prayers to an Evolutionary God”
The Future Is Full of Promise
The future is full of promise, Holy Mystery,
if only because we discern your forces of evolution at work everywhere.
Every opening daffodil, every growing child,
every glimmer of human enlightenment, every bodily process of healing–tells us
the future is not fearsome but is full of promise.
Your face is hidden, your name unknown:
still we turn to you in faith and confidence.
Creating Spirit, we hear your comforting voice
in the steady music of the unfolding of creation.
We give thanks to exist,
and to be the joy of your heart. Amen.

et me close by sharing a meditation from black theologian, Howard Thurman:
“The Growing Edge”

All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born;
All around us life is dying and life is being born.
The fruit ripens on the tree;
The roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth
Against the time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green
fruit. Such is the growing edge!
It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung,
The one more thing to try when all else has failed,
The upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor.
This is the basis of hope in moments of despair,
The incentive to carry on when times are out of joint
And men have lost their reason; the source of confidence
When worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.
The birth of a child–life’s most dramatic answer to death–
This is the Growing Edge incarnate.
Look well to the growing edge!

John Hassler Dietrich 1878-1955

‘This be our aspiration: to accept the past in gratefulness and strive to add to the good of the future; to be honest in all our dealings and expressions; to worship and welcome every new proclamation of it: to advance the cause of freedom and justice; to maintain a free mind and an understanding heart; to live that we may die fearlessly, and to die in the knowledge that our lives have somewhat enriched the earth.


All our lives we have been told to seek that which is good,
to turn our faces from the dark and toward the light,
toward beauty, toward truth.

But the truth is that the world is not always good.
The light we seek casts shadows,
and there is brokenness amid the beauty.
Our world is far from perfect, as are we.

We strive to be in right relations with one another,
but there are times when we are left angry or disappointed,
even as we sometimes anger or disappoint others.

Whether it is the harsh words said by a loved one,
the loss of a friendship,
the carelessness of a stranger,
or the scars left by a childhood trauma,
Bad things do happen.

We cannot seek Truth, Beauty, and Light
without acknowledging
that which is false, broken, and in shadow,
for all of these exist within us as well.

In this moment of silence let us remember the wrongs we have endured
that we may forgive them, and forgive yet again.
And in the times of music and readings to follow,
let us write our resentments,
give form to our grievances,
and bring them forward to burn.

For like our anger, the flames may burn and destroy,
but like our love, the flames may also cleanse and purify.
Let us undertake the work of forgiving ourselves and each other,
that we may begin again in love.

                                    -- Rev. Thomas Rhodes