Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

March 4, 2018: “Hardiness and Heartiness”

Monthly Theme: Being Mortal

Call to Worship & Chalice Lighting, Rev. Denis

Can you hear them? 
Can you hear the whispers of the ancestors?

We remember.
Their stories are in the walls, in our bones, in the air that we breathe.
Their stories are in the touch of a calloused hand,
In the melody of songs that we hum while washing dishes,
In remembered faces.

We hear the whispers of ancestors how their stories touch our lives and call us into becoming.

___________, would you come up and light our chalice?

This chalice is the symbol of the promises our ancestors made to each other, and to us, their progeny. Ancestors we knew and loved. Ancestors we never met.

So I would like to invite you all to respond to each line of this reading by Lewis McGee, with the words “we hear the whispers of the ancestors.”

In this religion of social concern,
    we hear the whispers of the ancestors

In this religion of intellectual and ethical integrity
    we hear the whispers of the ancestors

In this religion that emphasizes the dynamic conception of history and the scientific worldview
    we hear the whispers of the ancestors

In this religion that stresses the dignity and worth of the person as a supreme value
    we hear the whispers of the ancestors

And goodwill as the creative force in human relations
    we hear the whispers of the ancestors

This religion can and ought to become a beacon from which this kind of faith shines, because
    we hear the whispers of the ancestors

Reading Nancy Tozer

Our reading this morning is an essay called “Know Your Own Worth,” from The Gift of Anger and Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi. Arun spent two years living with his grandfather, whom he called “Bapuji.”

Bapuji didn’t think it was wrong to want economic success – he just thought it was wrong not to lift others up with you. He didn’t care about money for himself, [but]…he realized that if he charged a small fee of five rupees (less than a dime today) for every autograph, he could raise money for his social education programs.

The first time I went on a trip with my grandfather, I was given the job of collecting the autograph books and money and bringing them to Bapuji in a bundle to sign. I was thrilled! I felt very important to be close to Bapuji and doing something for the bigger purpose. …. After a few days, I decided I too wanted to get my grandfather’s autograph. But I had no money, and I didn’t know if Bapuji would make an exception for me.

No way. [I tried to slip my own untidy little autograph book into the stack, but] grandfather was absolutely meticulous about every dime he received. [He refused to give me an autograph for free.]

“A rule is a rule. If everyone has to pay, you have to pay. No exceptions for anyone.”

My ego was hurt. I wanted to be special! So I blurted out, “You’ll see, Bapuji, I will make you give me an autograph for free. I’ll keep trying, no matter how long it takes.

“Is that so?” Bapuji’s eyes twinkled and he laughed. “Let’s see who wins this challenge.”

The game was on. In the weeks that followed, I used every strategy I could think of to pester him into giving me an autograph. My favorite technique was to burst into the room when he was in meetings with high officialsand world leaders and wave my book at him, asking him to sign.

Our competition continued for several weeks. One of Bapuji’s high-level guests became so irritated by my interruptions that he essentially took up my cause. “Why don’t you just give him the autograph so he will leave and stop annoying us?” he asked, exasperated.

Bapuji wouldn’t let him set the agenda for our relationship. “this little challenge is between me and my grandson,” he replied calmly. “You need not get involved.”

Bapuji never lost his temper or ordered me out of the room. He had immense control over his anger, in spite of my attempts to provoke him.

I was starting to understand his message. After a few more days, I finally stopped hounding him. But instead of feeling defeated, I felt proud. I knew that out little contest hadn’t really been over a scrawl of ink. Instead Bapuji was giving me a lesson in value. Since he had decided that his signature was worth five rupees, it should be worth that to everyone. If he gave it away to me for free, he was lessening his own value. Equally important, our challenge showed me that even if I didn’t have five rupees, I had great value. My grandfather was wiling to treat me with the same respect he paid heads of state. He didn’t undermine me in front of them or treat me as a distraction. My needs were as real as theirs and worthy of attention.

Sermon Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
“Hardiness and Heartiness”

In my neighborhood of 50-foot lots, the deer are amazing. They’re everywhere, roaming the streets in packs. As much as I love seeing two fawns playing in my front yard, or a big old buck standing in my driveway, they are a pain in the butt.

They eat everything.

So last year, instead of watching my herbs and greens get eaten once again, I decided to plant them in deep, flat containers on a second floor balcony on the sunny south side of my house. Kale, lettuce, basil and oregano.

I kept pinching it back and using it every couple of days, so the basil got really high and thick. The lettuce did fine, well after the first frost when the basil died. The kale did even better. We were eating it til December.

The oregano, though. That stuff has been an inspiration. Even with a few weeks of bitter cold, heavy snows, blistering winds and soaking rains that left a lake in the back yard – twice – that oregano has survived. It’s still thick and green, alive and growing. I use it every week, at least once.

That’s hardy. Oregano, aside from being a symbol of love and happiness, has been used throughout the centuries to promote health and tranquility. It’s also known for its hardiness.

Mahatma Gandhi, of course, is known for his heartiness….that is the size of his heart, symbolically.

His grandson Arun shared the story of how his Bapuji taught him to get past his rage and use his anger effectively, and how the great Mahatma’s patience and fairness became the major characteristics of his family.

He tells one story I particularly love. Gandhi had been encouraging all Indians to do everything they could to peacefully promote their own independence from England, from spinning fiber and weaving their own fabrics, to planting their own food and even extracting salt from the Indian Ocean.

Arun’s mother grew a spectacular garden that yielded more produce than their little family could readily consume, so she sold the excess to local families for just a couple rupees. Less than Bapuji sold his autographs for. It made no sense to Arun why his mother would sell her goods for so little.

Why not sell it for more and make money? 
Or just give it away?
The mother explained to the little boy that if she were to sell the produce for any ore than a couple rupees, their neighbors would not be able to afford it. And if she were to give the produce away for free, she would give them the message that she and her work had no value.

By charging something, she preserved her own value, while preserving the value of others. She was earning something for her efforts, and they had the dignity of being able to buy her produce, rather than receiving charity.

That’s what I’d call heartiness….having to do with the heart, the symbol of human strength, care and love.

Those two things, the hardiness of oregano on my balcony and the heartiness of produce from Arun’s family garden have something in common.

It’s something brilliant that I came up with earlier this week, when I was hopped up on flu meds. It really is brilliant. I just wish I could remember it.

I think the point I wanted to make had something to do with a conversation I had with Dan Bond on Tuesday.

The first time I had a good conversation with Dan Bond was almost four years ago. I was visiting East Shore, and I had just met everyone for the first time. Dick Hurwitz and Dan and I met over breakfast to go over the contract, and Dan and I kept talking about theology as Dick tried to steer us back on topic. I figured then that I would be having those big discussions with Dan every month or two.
That hasn’t really played out. There’s just too much work to do and talk about, especially since he became treasurer of the board. Again.

I asked Dan a while back to schedule a meeting for Tuesday, just to talk. We were long overdue. In fact, it had been more than two years since our last one to one conversation that wasn’t about the business of East Shore. It was all theology, philosophy, even politics.

We explored the idea of self-reflection – both personal and collective – and tried to find the line where it crosses over into self-indulgence.

We explored the tension between individual rights and our responsibilities toward each other and the whole, especially as it relates to guns and our current state of national affairs.

We talked about covenants, the big promises we make to ourselves and each other about how we will behave together, and whether or not the constitution is a covenant or a set of laws.
You know. Little topics.

Now the thing is, it would have been a much easier conversation to have in a lot of ways if Dan and I agreed more. We come from pretty different places, and have had very different sets of experiences in the world, and that has made us two very different people, with different understandings of how to get things done in the world.

Don’t get me wrong. We agree about a lot. We both hope for the same things: that all are safe and healthy, that all have the freedom to pursue happiness, and that nobody be oppressed by others.

We agree on the primacy of human experience in determining the values and lessons of events in our lives. We agree on the seven Unitarian Universalist principles, even though they aren’t a creed that requires our buy-in.

We agree that all humans have worth and dignity, that we’re all interconnected, that the democratic process is required to protect our rights and responsibilities in our individual searches for truth and meaning. We agree that taking time alone to think, and taking time with others to talk about how we are and where we are going are the only things that will prevent us from becoming myopic.

We agree on our Bond of Union as the center of our covenant of right relationship, that what makes this congregation strong is the commitment we make week after week when we join hands and promise to stay in relationship with one another, especially when we have different ideas about how to bring our hopes to life.

Dan and I agree that this congregation has a unique role in each of our lives: it keeps us civil. It keeps us from being extrmemists, surrounded only by people who always agree with us. This congregation reminds us everyday that we are humans, just like everyone else, worthy of respect and dignity.

Maybe that’s where the similarity between oregano and Arun’s family garden comes in. This congregation is a combination of hardiness and heartiness.

It’s hardy because it’s like the container of oregano that has survived this crazy winter out on my balcony.

You know, East Shore was founded in 1956. 1956. That’s a significant year. During the presidential campaign season of 2016, when so many white people across the US started wearing those red baseball caps expressing a desire to make America Great Again, a bunch of reporters and bloggers started asking the question “When was America great? Can you pinpoint a year?”

Can you guess the average answer? 1956 or 1957.

When you think about it, that makes sense. Unions and the economy were strong, so unemployment was low and averages wages were high.

The federal government was subsidizing the purchase of new suburban homes and the construction of freeways to get to them from the city centers. Of course, redlining and blockbusting were still perfectly legal, preventing most black folks from leaving the inner cities, and Jim Crow was still alive and well in the segregated south.

Being gay or lesbian was still illegal. Women couldn’t have their own credit, still their husbands’ chattel.

But boy, in 1956 it was a great time to be a heterosexual middle-class white guy. Here at East Shore, the men were on the board of trustees. Men were the speakers each Sunday. Women made up the auxiliaries and committees that got the work done. Mrs. Lincoln Christensen chaired the ladies’ auxiliary that got all the work done, and Mrs. Neil Ranney welcomed into the Sunday School each week all the little girls in crinolines patent leather Maryjanes, and all the boys in crisp white shirts.

Disparities of race, class and gender weren’t lost on those early members. Creating justice, equality and fairness were central to their mission as they grew from a little fellowship to a full-fledged congregation. They were out to change the world, starting right here in the congregation.

But the population of greater Cleveland in 1956 was more than twice what it is now. And in those days, virtually everyone went to church, even the atheists, agnostics and freethinkers who made up the build of our roles in those early days. To not go to a church was unseemly. Unamerican. East Shore had almost 200 members in 1960.

Now? Fewer than one-quarter of Americans attend any kind of house of worship on any regular basis. And many of those are the Christmas and Easter variety. Twice a year they show up.

And yet, East Shore has survived. Our membership stands at about 153. It’s down, undoubtedly. But if we were to follow the demographic trends, we should be about 25 people.

That says something for us as a congregation and for Unitarian Universalism.

In fact, while every other denomination has closed multiple churches in Northeast Ohio since 1956, Unitarian Universalism has added a congregation in North Royalton. Our collective membership numbers have stayed steady in the last 62 years

Like that oregano on my balcony, our faith in general and East Shore in particular have survived, even thrived, because of what they represent: love and happiness and a promotion health and tranquility, all in the service of justice and equality. For 62 years now, East Shore has helped people like Jared, people like you, find sanctuary and meet your goals of personal growth while providing a support system in your lives, all while doing our best to make the world better.

East Shore has managed to be hardy by being hearty, by being the kind of place that affirms the value of all, no matter what they bring to the table financially.

But like Arun’s mother, we want to affirm the value of all, including those who have the least to give, and those who have the most.

We need you to pledge.

Pragmatically, your pledge allows the congregation to set a budget for the next year. If we know what everyone is going to give, we know how much we have to spend on everything from rubber bands and utility bills to payroll.

But more importantly, when everyone gives something, everyone’s value is upheld. We’re all contributing something and nobody is the recipient of charity.

Full participation in the pledge drive allows us to be a place of both hardiness and heartiness.