Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

September 16, 2007: “Bridge Over Transitional Waters”

This is another transitional year for both you and me. Transition is, of course, another word for change. Most of us have problems dealing with change; we all get set in our ways, in our thinking, and it’s not easy to accept change, especially when they mean change of family, friends, even home. Let me share a parable about change:

A man riding in a camel train across a large desert, but during a sudden, brief sandstorm, he became separated from the rest of the train and after a time trying to regain his bearings he realized he was hopelessly lost. After two days, his water supply ran out and he was starting to resign himself to the fact that he was about to die.

While in reflection during his last moments he had a final wish. He wanted to kiss the lips of his beautiful wife. Well, obviously she wasn’t there. He looked around and the only thing that was there was his camel. So he decided to kiss his camel. As it turned out the camel didn’t like that idea so it took off running. So the man took off chasing the camel and chased it for some distance. All he wanted to do was kiss his wife. The camel headed for what looked like, miracle of miracles, an oasis. Lo and behold as he ran into the oasis, out came his beautiful wife who had been looking all over for him. She looked at his worn and tattered husband, clothes torn, feet burned, lips chapped.

She threw open her arms and said, “Honey, look at you. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yes,’ he said weakly, ‘help me catch my camel.”

Change comes more difficult for people when they’ve already made up their mind. Times of change or transitions can be portals of possibility through which we hold hands stick together, look both ways and enter through. You are in transition time. Together we can build a bridge to go across the river of time. Or we can decide that it is too risky and try to turn around or just stay where we are; it’s then perhaps, that we realize that we can’t stop change any more tan we can stop aging!

Some people are like the ship captain who, the story goes, saw one night at sea what looked like the lights of another ship heading toward him. He had his signal man blink to the other ship:

“Change your course 10 degrees south.”
The reply came back: “Change your course 10 degrees north.”
The captain answered “I am captain. Change your course south.”
To which the reply was, “I am seaman first class. Change your course north.”
This infuriated the captain, so he signaled back: “I am a battleship. Change course south.”
The reply came back, “I am a lighthouse. Change course north.’

As part of the church leadership we gather to share the ministry of this church. So we talk about herding cats, shoveling smoke, pushing a rope to explain the difficulty, yea occasional impossibility of church leadership. Yet those who have served, given of time, energy, finances, occasionally, even sanity, will tell you that it IS not only worthwhile, but incredibly meaningful. Oh, not at all times with all people in all situations, but during those times in our church life when we work together to transform each other, our church, our city, our country, our world, even and especially our God, Goddess, or Great Spirit or Spirit of Life seems to be found in the working and worshipping together in community.

Gail Sheehy, in her book, Passages, talks about the almost predictable ages when we are most susceptible to crisis, even depression. But there’s good news; we can survive, even thrive!

‘We are not unlike a particularly hardy crustacean…With each passage from one stage of human growth to the next we, too, must shed a protective structure. We are left exposed and vulnerable — but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before. These sheddings may take several years or more. Coming out of each passage, though, we enter a longer and more stable period in which we can expect relative tranquility and a sense of equilibrium regained.’

Remember, as someone said, ‘A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.'(William Shedd). A church is not built to be safe, either, it is also built to sail, to fly, to reach out to those who are looking for us and don’t know it! It is also built by us every year to nurture us, some of us for decades, some for only months or years. Forgive us our change as we forgive those who change around us.

The Unitarian scientist, Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution rather that a six day divine creation caused much consternation over the last century, right up to today from the Orthodox Church, wrote: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’ He waited almost 20 years before he published his theory, because he thought it might mean the end of belief in God, and after all, wasn’t the fear of which and his punishment created our moral fabric.

One of my favorite folk songs is ‘Bridge Over Troubles Waters,’ and I couldn’t help thinking of it when we are about building bridges. We are always building spiritual and social justice bridges. They may bring us safely over the transitional, changing waters of life.

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I’m on your side. When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water/ I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water/I will lay me down.

When you’re down and out/When you’re on the street,
When evening falls so hard/I will comfort you.
Ill take your part/When darkness comes
And pain is all around,

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

Who is the ‘I’ in the song? God? You or me? Since Jesus or church, but I want to argue that we could use that metaphor. We need never be alone if we have our church. Those who believe in God will see God as never leaving them, but I see fellow humans, fellow church members who will help.

What a great humanist UU hymn by Saint Paul Simon and Saint Arthur Garfunkle. It should surely be in our hymnal, because it says the way over troubled waters, over the transition of change is to share our love ands support with each other, and I would add, which then, to me, is the same thing as God. In traditional religious language we would ask God to help us build that bridge over troubled waters, but Sts. Simon and Garfunkle make it seem like the deep bond of true friendship, the love of one another, the willingness, even the risk of letting go of our ego of selfish individualism, and bring the light to one another, bring the warmth and comfort that humanism teaches us IS us! You and I are part of the bridge over transitional waters; we are also the builders of the bridge. It is the very special friendship of religious relationship which saves many of us.

On my calendar in my home office is an anonymous note I received after church one day that says simply: ‘Dear Rev. Severance, I don’t ever think you’ll know how a sermon can save a person’s life. Thank you.’ I keep it there to remind me of this lifesaving work we do together here in this liberal religious search called Unitarian Universalism. Yes, we literally save people’s lives, from what our youth tell us to individuals who hear a sermon that somehow gives them hope for a another trying day. I don’t remember which sermon it was and it probably doesn’t matter. I harbor no illusions that it was the best I had ever written. After all, isn’t each successive one the best? Nor do I think it was just the sermon. No, I think it was the entire worship service in the setting of the beloved community. We are not here to save souls which aren’t drowning, we are here to try to help us all through the craziness, the trials and tribulations, the loneliness, the feeling of meaninglessness, even the suspicion that we can’t be crazy now that we’ve found other people who believe like we do, or even don’t believe the same thing we don’t believe.

I don’t care what you do for your job, being active in church and/or Sunday school might be the most important thing you ever do! We may just save your life as we somehow did with the anonymous note writer. I have heard the teenagers at my church in San Antonio talk about how the church’s youth group literally saved their lives; they had actually contemplated it, but the love of the youth and advisor talked them out of it, or perhaps just listened to them. In their school, they had often been the only UU kid in a sea of fundamentalist or at least evangelical Christians. Some of them were gay, lesbian, bisexual or even just confused about their orientation. It wasn’t my sermons who saved them, because they rarely came to church. But it was the church youth community, their peers and advisors and some parents. I suspect that there have been lives saved here as well. Those within our church institution were there for them, even to saving their life!

Sometimes change comes from mistakes, comes forced upon us by society, culture, even country.

UUA President Bill Sinkford speaks about a trip to Japan. ‘While I was in Japan, I took a day to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park, the memorial to the 250,000 Japanese who were killed when we dropped a weapon of mass destruction on that city. And at a wonderful dinner at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine after our ritual Misogi cleansing, I finally found the question I needed to ask our Japanese hosts. ‘How could you possibly have forgiven us for our use of the atomic bomb?’ A member of the Grand Shrine Board, a retired nuclear physicist named Mr. Feruda, responded. ‘First, thank you for asking the question. No one has ever asked us that before.’ Imagine! In more than 50 years, no one bothered to ask about the most horrendous bombing in human history. ‘After thinking for a moment, he said: ‘Despite the horrific death toll and the devastation, we actually have come to see our loss as a blessing. You see, if we had not lost that war, the military government would probably still be in power and we would still be out colonizing and appropriating resources to fuel our industrial machine. If we had not lost, the attitude of arrogance that was a part of Japanese life during those times would still be with us, the belief that because we had the might, we had the right to do as we willed. You see, if we had not lost’ we would have become you. We would have become you and it would have crippled the soul of our nation.’

Think for a minute as how incredible Japan has changed since W.W.II. Do you suppose it was because they were forbidden to develop militarily they developed technologically instead. How many people here are driving a Japanese car? Many of them made here is the US using Japanese technology.

Let 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!

So we, who are always living change come to this church which is also always changing for many reasons, some known and some not. We often find it difficult to put concrete words to our beliefs, but we know there is something, a ‘the Force’ like in the Star Wars movies, or is it more of a beckoning, a call from the mystery of the universe to remind us we are a part of everything, or just simply love for one another and the world that we find here – no- that we co-create here? So we join in another year of bridge building over transitional, sometimes troubled waters and sometimes even stormy seas. Sometimes just a hug from another person can get us through a lonely week. May we all be bridges as well as beacons of hope, love, tolerance, reason, justice, and yea, religion.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, Namaste, Blessed Be, Namaste and Abrazos a Todos (Hugs all around)

CHURCH is for enabling us to seek and find some ultimate source of value and meaning. Our trust in this source outruns our knowledge. This reality is to be worshipped for its own sake, because it is worthy of our trust.

IN THIS RELATIONSHIP of trust and worship, the church is a reminder that we live in terms of a covenant and not in terms of a contract.

CHURCH is a living testimony that we live in the context of a mystery that far transcends our reason. We are born in mystery, we sense the impenetrable depth of mystery, 16 and we die in mystery. A sense of value without a sensitivity to mystery is one way of reducing the meaning of life.

CHURCH is for seeking as well as speaking the truth in love.

CHURCH is for the increase of stature, the enlargement of spirit, and the greater freedom of the self. Freedom is not an end in itself; it exists in order to enrich our communal life.

CHURCH is for encouraging us to actualize our most creative possibilities. It is also the critic of our limitations and our pretensions.

CHURCH is for understanding and being misunderstood.

CHURCH is for confession, for repentance, and for the compassion of forgiveness.

CHURCH is for reminding us that we are all members of the web of life, that no man is an island, and that no person is an individual outside the context of the web.

THE WEB includes more than the present: It includes the past.

CHURCH is an important agency by which great traditions become living presences in community,

CHURCH is the communal celebration of our elemental joys and sorrows, or our gains and losses, of great meanings. The church is for taking these elemental qualities and values of everyday life and of weaving them in to the very liturgy of the community.

Closing Words

May we go from here recharged, inspired with love the world of each other, and of ourselves, and the journey of the every day life,
May we 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 have fun in life.
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. A. Severance

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, Namaste, Blessed Be