Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

September 9, 2007: “Homecoming, Ollie Ollie In Free”

Since we are coming to the Jewish High Holidays of Yom Kippur and Roshhashanh, I thought I’d share this story: Sidney telephones Rabbi Levy.

He says, “Rabbi, I know tonight is Yom Kippur, but tonight the Yankees are in the playoffs. Rabbi, I’m a life-long Yankees fan. I’ve got to watch the Yankees game on TV. “Rabbi Levy replies, “Sidney, that’s what video recorders are for.”

Sidney is surprised. “You mean I can tape Yom Kippur?”

During his ordination examination a Presbyterian seminary student was being asked a series of doctrinal questions by an elderly conservative minister. He came to this question: “Do you believe in the Doctrine of the Total Depravity of the Human Soul?”

His immediate smiling reply. “Yes, but I find it very difficult to live up to!” —

The former Presbyterian seminary professor, and philosopher and popular writer Sam Keen, sounds more like a Unitarian Universalist when he says in his recent book, Hymns to an Unknown God: Awakening the Spirit in Everyday Life, as if he were speaking specifically to us:

“You and I are destined to live out our years in the middle of the Great Paradigm War, a worldwide conflict between three mythic systems — the technological-economic myth of progress, authoritarian religion, and the emerging spiritual world view.

Hymns to an Unknown God is based on a hunch and a working philosophy I gleaned from a cartoon that showed a bearded prophet carrying a sign that said: ‘The world is not coming to an end. We will have to learn to cope.”

From our Universalist heritage comes that belief that a loving God would not condemn people to either utter depravity or a predestined hell. Many of us now believe that Love is another name for God and further that it is the most important thing Jesus taught. Not just love God, for there are many different interpretations of that word and concept, God, but more practically, ‘Love one another!’ Both our Unitarian and Universalist heritage began to view Jesus as a fully human but incarnated love and spirituality. I often say that we believe in the teachings OF Jesus, but not the doctrines and teachings ABOUT Jesus, and that there are many paths up the holy mountain or maybe even a sacred mountain range!

There is a story of several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, where a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished. At its grand opening, the people gathered and marveled at the beauty of the new church. Everything had been thought of and included. It was a masterpiece.

But then someone said, “Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It is really quite dark in here. How will the church be lighted?” The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship.

“Each time you are here,” the nobleman said, “the place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here, that place will be dark. This to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark!” — James W. Moore, SOME THINGS ARE TOO GOOD NOT TO BE TRUE, (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1994).

In the Congregational survey that you all took before the search committee could look for a new minister, you find this religious community important to your lives, and not just on Sunday mornings. Of 159 Surveys returned , 43 % of you attend church 3 or more times a month and 24% 1 or 2 times a week. Why? Well the traditional answer which 140 of you gave was ‘Intellectual stimulation, but close is ‘Community 138.’ but when asked what is most important to you for a worship service, ‘Celebration of Common Values’ rates higher than Intellectual stimulation, and next is ‘Sense of Belonging.’ How important are these objectives for worship? The answer you gave was ‘Help us understand ourselves better; self reflection.’

Ohio was settled, as most of you know, by New Englanders gone west in the 19th century. Growing up in a small New Hampshire town I always looked forward to the August holiday that still survives in small towns, called ‘Old Home Day.’ There was parade and children dressed in costumes and marched; there were prizes and my parent’s imagination in costuming often won us those prizes. My wife has a couple of old black and white pictures from those days that she found in an old album. I’m about 3 years old and dressed as small sheep, while my older sister is, of course, Bo-peep!

There was usually speeches at the veterans monument, and a barbecue dinner in the town hall. Its purpose was to invite back those who had moved away, and since most people took vacations in August, it was a good ay to come back and visit old friends! When we moved to a small city in NH, they had stopped those celebrations before WWII.

So ‘homecoming’ at high schools and colleges a time for reunions and remembering when. So home coming for this church is to gather back together after a summer off, perhaps, a time to start a new year, a time to remember why we love this community.

Having recently attended my 40th high school reunion in NH, I lovingly remembered the times and people that helped shape me to who I am. Even the old girlfriends. It was a time of a certain kind of community as well, obviously secular, but part of who we are. So this homecoming is an opportunity for old members to return as well as calling even the most active back. Not that the church shuts down in summer, but it is a time off for many folks. Now, vacation is over; it’s back to work, worship, and learning to love one another and the world.

‘No one can live this religious life alone,’ wrote Unitarian Universalist Process Philosopher Henry Nelson Weiman: ‘We must have the fellowship of others who are trying to live in this way. This is so because the human personality above all things is a social entity. It is created by association and shaped by association. Interchange of thought and feeling with other persons is the very breath of life of personality. As the organism must breathe to live, so the human personality must communicate to live.”

Like the Gaia hypothesis that the world is a living organism someone has suggested the same thing about congregations, not matter what religion; this beloved community almost has a life of its own and we are just passing through, just taking our turns at the wheel. Interestingly enough the religious faith tradition besides UUism. See if you think that it is a teaching for us, for our beloved community. ‘was Buddhism with theological Christianity close behind. Many of us are turning to Buddhist practices and teachings because they tend to be so practical and humanistic. Buddhism has no God concept similar to Judaism, Christianity or Islam. I also find myself drawn there and the 2 most well known Buddhist practitioners are the Dalai Lama, and the popular writer Thich Nhat Hahn. I was recently reading one of his newer books and was struck by his description of the Buddhist ‘Sengha,’ or community, more like a monastic congregation, but found similarities in our trying to build a beloved community here. And since we are now coming home to begin a new church and school year, I find it even more appropriate. His book is titled; Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community: A Sangha is a community of people-monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen- who are walking together on a spiritual path. A Sangha has a great deal of strength; its members are able to protect each other, to help each other in every aspect of the practice, and to build the strength of the Sangha. We can take refuge in the Sangha in order to succeed in our practice. There are many things that are very difficult for us to do on our own, but when we live together as a Sangha. They become easy and natural. We do them without growing tired or making strenuous effort. The in order to succeed in our practice has a collective energy. Without this energy, the practice of individual transformation is not easy.

We also use the expression, ‘Sangha body.’ When we live together in the in order to succeed in our practice it becomes a body, and each one of us is a cell in that body. If we are not part of that body, we will be isolated , hungry, and needy, and we will not have a suitable environment for practice. We can visualize the Sangha body as a forest. Each member of the Sangha is a tree standing beautiful alongside the others. Each tree has its own shape, height, and unique qualities. But all are contributing to the harmonious growth of the forest. Looking at the trees standing steadily alongside each other like that, you can sense the beauty, solidity, and power of a sacred forest.

…We build the Sangha by coming back to ourselves through mindful breathing, and not by finding fault with others when things do not go well. Criticizing and blaming others instead of concentrating on our own practice takes away the peace and the joy of the Sangha and makes the Sangha more unsteady and unhappy. Although a Sangha may have weak points and shortcomings, it is still one of the three precious jewels- Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha- send it is a place of refuge for us. Our success or failure as practitioners and our happiness depend on whether we have the capacity to contribute to the practice of Sangha building …
…The most important ability a human being can have is to live in harmony with everyone.’

In music and in our lives, we seek harmony with the world and especially with each other, but also as individuals struggling with our egotistical needs to be always right or to be different from everyone else. Do we seek to build something more than place where intellectual stimulation can take place? More than social club for liberals? More, even, than just social action? More than becoming what someone has marvelously called ‘bliss-ninnies?’ If home is the place that when you leave has to take you back, then homecoming for this community is to welcome all here, is to start a new year, a new chapter, a gathering together again. That archetypical story of the prodigal son returning can be the prodigal congregation, maybe even the prodigal Jesus or God. We will gather together again in religious community, congregation, Sengha. We a part of the living, always evolving organism called East Shore UU Church, and it is up to us, to our hands and minds, our hearts and yes, our pocketbooks to co create this beloved community that asks, no demands of us living ethically and lovingly in this world sharing with one another and the rest of the world. As we come back home from summer vacations, come back to jobs, school, church, and church school we hopefully are refreshed, reenergized, recommitted to the building up of this community of all ages and life span religious education. I think it’s going to be a wonderful, growing at the edges new year, new chapter in the history we will co-create.
I am excited about becoming your new minister, and to finding out who you are and how we can grow together this loving and justice seeking community, how we can become better people, how we can enrich our relationships with each other, yea even ourselves and the world. Thank you for making me fell welcome here and may we all be welcomed home here. Let the new church and school year begin! Let the hugs be passed among us as we hold hands, look both ways and boldly go into the future.

Books noted:
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 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.