Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

All the Ways We Grow: Roger & Doug sing till it hurts

Pledge Drive Kickoff Song and Sermon in 3 Parts,  Feb. 7, 2010

Hymns:  #1010 “We Give Thanks,” #16 “Tis a Gift to Be Simple,” #162 “For the Earth Forever Turning.”

1–Introduction and the Pledge Drive Song — by Roger

This congregation is in the midst of its annual pledge drive.  Unless you just walked in the door for the first time, you probably know that!  Also known as the stewardship campaign, this is the time when members and friends make pledges of financial support for our programs and staff in the next budget year.  Using the results of our pledge drive, the Board of Trustees will propose a church budget, and congregation members will vote on that
budget at our business meeting on May 23.   This is an important process.  In an independent congregation like this one, it’s up to all of us to raise the funds to pursue our goals, support our values, maintain the buildings and grounds, sustain programs, and pay staff salaries.  This is a long process, and it takes a lot of work. We give thanks to all those who are giving time and effort, including our campaign co-chairs, JoAnn  and Ginger.  Not only are they taking signups today for the Cottage Conversations; they are facilitating those conversations, and they produced the materials for the pledge drive.  So we thank them. And of course we give thanks to you for your generosity.   And now, we present the pledge drive theme song.

“Giving’s Gotta Hurt (Just a Little Bit)” words & music by Beth Hilton, sung by the Krafty Jones duo

I was cooking up burgers for a party of four.

On my way to the table, one dropped on the floor.

Well no one had seen it and they’d never detect it.

I was ready to serve it when my conscience objected.

And I tasted that dirt just a little bit, and giving’s gotta hurt just a little bit.

Can’t say it’ll get me into heaven, but it keeps me a little farther from hell.

And giving’s gotta hurt just a little bit, if giving’s gonna make me feel swell.

I was shopping for a good friend who was turning 43

I found a beautiful sweater that was perfect—for me.

Well, I searched for another, but I had no success

So I gave him that sweater, that I should possess.

And I still think that mine was a better fit,

And giving’s gotta hurt just a little bit.

Can’t say it’ll get me into heaven, but it keeps me a little farther from hell.

And giving’s gotta hurt just a little bit, if giving’s gonna make me feel swell.

I was walking in the city when a fella came up

He told me he was hungry and he held out a cup

I fished in my pocket for a nickel or a dime

But I pulled out a 20 — it was all I could find.

I was going to take Roger out to dinner.

I guess giving’s gonna make him a little thinner.

Can’t say it’s gonna get me into heaven But it keeps me a little farther from hell.

And giving has gotta hurt just a little bit If giving’s gonna make me feel swell.

[raucous ovation ensued.  or were they running for the doors?]

2–“Growing in Trust” by Roger

I’d love to tell you this story I heard about Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune newspaper in the mid-1800s.  In addition to being a newspaperman, he was also a political leader. He would have run for president against Ulysses Grant but he died before the election. Religiously, he was Universalist, a very active church leader.

Once Greeley received a letter from a good Universalist lady somewhere, probably from a church on the East Coast.  She said that her church was in bad shape financially.  She wrote:   “'[We have tried church fairs], strawberry festivals, oyster suppers, box socials, mock weddings, grab-bags, and lawn fetes. Would Mr. Greeley be so good as to suggest some new device to keep the struggling church from disbanding?’ His answer was brief: ‘Try religion.'”

That is what we are doing here, now, in our Stewardship Campaign: We are trying religion. We are putting our trust and our faith in one another–not in any outside source of money, not in gimmicks or devices–simply in one another.  We trust one another to give to the best of our financial ability to support our spiritual community.

A pledge is a promise, and promises are at the heart of an ethical and spiritual community.  When we make a pledge we make a commitment–not an irrevocable one, not a do this or else commitment, but a free, thoughtful, sincere, realistic and responsible one.   The big leap of trust is this one:  Each one of us counts on abut 400 other persons to make pledges, and to come through on them, to the best of their ability.  We also expect that if something happens and your circumstances change, you will let us know.
When we give our money to a congregation, we also give it our trust.  We expect staff, ministers and volunteer leaders to be good stewards of our shared resources in serving and leading the organization.  We also trust that leaders will keep us informed, that they will let us know when our help is needed, whether it’s monetary support, our physical presence, attention to important issues, or the work of our hands.  For their part, the leaders must have faith that when they ask us for help, we will rise to the occasion.  We will show up.

Speaking of showing up, that’s what I did a year and a half ago.  I showed up here when I was hired on as the Family Minister.  When your board extended the offer and I accepted it, we both trusted that the financial resources would come through.  On my part, I was trusting that your stated intentions to work toward a stronger ministry to families with children and youth were serious intentions.  I didn’t know, but I trusted.  Of course, when any minister or staff member serves a congregation, we give it our trust that the people will come through.  I’ve seen much progress in the past year and a half, and now I know your intentions and goals are both real and reachable.

I would like to tell you today that I am prepared to continue serving with you next year.  (And singing a duet with Doug at the start of every service.)

This decision is a sign of trust.   If I don’t go looking to line up another job in another church, come July there will be one here in the coming budget year.  I’m trusting the process.  Trusting the pledge drive.  Even more important, I’m trusting the people.  That’s all of you.
In a time of economic uncertainty and stress, I want to trust that we will not let our anxieties drive our decision making.  We won’t let our anxieties keep us from being as generous as we really can be, as generous as– deep in our hearts– we really like to be.

I trust this congregation and its members and friends to rise to the challenges that we encounter. Facing challenges is one of the ways we grow.  In congregational involvement, we face challenges together. This is one of the ways we grow.

I grew up going to church with my parents in a moderate, middle-of-the-road, mainline Protestant congregation.  It was not repressive enough for me to rebel against it, and not inspiring or challenging enough to keep me.   As an adult member of Unitarian Universalist congregations, however, I have been inspired.  I also have been challenged, and this has helped me grow.

[I’ve been inspired by our values and heritage, worship services and educational programs, and by our people.  I haven’t rebelled against much, I guess.  Except when this faith has given me courage to resist the culture of fearful prejudice that persists in our country, rebel against religious ignorance and narrowness, and work to undo selfishness, isolation, and neglect of the common good.]

I joined my first UU congregation at age 25, in Illinois.  A year later, I was invited to teach Religious Education to children.  Who, me? I didn’t even talk to the children.  Besides, I wanted to hear the sermon. But I said I’d try it.  After all, Sunday School would be over by June and I could get back to the things I cared about. Little did I know, two decades later I’d be supervising a Religious Education program for 70 children and youth.  That early challenge led me to growth I could not have predicted–or even asked for.

As a young congregation member, I was challenged to support it–and the values and institutions I cared about–with contributions of money as well as time.  I was challenged to be more generous financially than I had had thought I could, and more generous than I had thought I wanted to be.  I started by giving away a modest percentage of my income over the year and then began raising that percentage each year following.

I had felt some resistance—I feared it would cramp my style or hurt my standard of living.  But it didn’t, and actually felt good to give more.  When I  first joined a UU congregation, I hadn’t imagined that I’d be asked to stretch this much.  Nor could I have imagined that I would end up asking other people to stretch–asking them to give generously to congrgegations that I would be serving in ministry.

I didn’t know that every year at this time–pledge time– I’d awaken early in the morning, with numbers haunting my dreams, dire scenarios dancing in my head, and rumbling in my guts.  So I say “Thank You, Unitarian Universalism for all the ways I grow.”

Thank you for inviting me, encouraging me, even for stretching me.

Another way I have grown has been in the practice of gratitude.  Going to church as a child I heard prayers of thanks in services at my middle-of-the-road Protestant congregation.  At home I heard a mealtime grace at the holidays or when visiting other homes for Sunday dinner.  But I don’t remember a culture of thankfulness in my family.  I don’t remember that we had any practice of paying attention to the simple gifts of the day and giving thanks for our blessings.  Maybe there was such a practice of expressing gratitude when I was growing up.  If there was, it did not sink in.

I did learn it later.  I learned it from people like you. I have seen that even with our personal troubles, losses, regrets and struggles, people can affirm life and give thanks for our blessings.

In UU communities I’ve learned to appreciate that the mutual dependence of earth, animals, farmers, workers and other people that brings food to our table is nothing short of a miracle, and we can give thanks for it.   I have learned gratitude from people like you. I have felt it shine from the faces of elders and children.

Thank you for all the ways I grow, and all the ways you grow, too.  It’s a joy to grow together.  Blessed be.

3–“Awkwardness” by Doug

I delivered my first sermon when I was eighteen.

I was a member of the youth group of the Morristown, New Jersey Unitarian Fellowship. During my senior year in high school, the Fellowship invited us to lead a Sunday service.

I was excited by the possibilities. No one else in the group seemed excited. But I persuaded my friend, Steve, to join me. We agreed to each write a ten to fifteen minute sermon.

Our title was “The Quest for Self-Identity.” For the front of the order of service I found a drawing of Prometheus bringing fire to humans.

I worked hard on the sermon. I wanted to tell those adults what it was really like to form a self-identity. And tell them I did, with all the fire of Prometheus.

Then I sat down. And Steve stood up. He began with a long passage from J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye about a prostitute. There were a lot of four letter words in it. I thought, “Steve put a lot less effort into his sermon than I did into mine.” And I thought, “His is better than mine. A lot better.” In fact, I realized mine was pretty bad.

There were a hundred or so at the service that morning – the room was full. They didn’t flinch at Steve’s quoting profanity. And they didn’t yawn at my adolescent, rambling hyperbole. They listened respectfully.

After the service, as usual they went out, got their coffee and, as usual, came back for the talkback so in vogue in those years.

During the talkback no one told me my sermon had been wonderful and insightful. I was grateful they didn’t. False praise would have been humiliating. And no one thanked me for my efforts, as if to say, “Nice try, son. Too bad you blew it.”

Instead they asked about points I had tried to make. Some questions were probing. All felt respectful. They helped me clarify and illustrate things I had said awkwardly. They gracefully separated the wheat from the chaff. They found germs of meaning amidst my rambling and gold nuggets amidst the dross of my awkwardness.

I left feeling they saw me in all my clumsiness. And they saw things of value I hadn’t seen on my own.

This morning I want to talk about awkwardness. The theme of our stewardship drive this year is “All the ways we grow.” There is an intimate relationship between growth and awkwardness.

Think about adolescent growth spurts. Our feet grow two shoe sizes. It takes longer for our legs to catch up. For several years my brother, Reynold, hid his hands in family photos because they were embarrassingly large for the rest of his body.

Real growth – organic growth – is usually uneven. One aspect gets ahead, another lags behind.

There are probably as many ways to be awkward as there are ways to grow.

Some awkwardness is excruciating, like how I felt after that sermon.

Some is just embarrassing, like throwing ourselves into a Theater One play and forgetting our lines.

Some is poignant: a loved one dies or a relationship falls apart unexpectedly and we don’t know how to handle it. We stumble around trying to get our bearing.

Some is private like learning to meditate and seeing how enthusiastically our mind gallivants around out of control.

However, not all awkwardness is painful: we grow musically by trying to play a piece that is beyond our ability – it doesn’t sound so good until we learn it.

Some is pleasant. A few weeks ago, Lisa told us of joining Roger’s prayer class. She had never written a prayer but in the class she did. She may have felt awkward at first even if she enjoyed it.

In fact, some is fun – as in growing in joy by letting more energy than we are accustomed to flow through us.

But even when growth is joyful discovery of talents we didn’t know we had, it can be unsettling because forces us to change our image of who we are or change comfortable habits.

Most of us would like to grow spiritually, intellectually, in joy, wisdom, generosity or other ways. We don’t resist growth per se. But we might resist clumsiness.

Well, it’s a package deal. We don’t get one without the other.

If we avoid awkwardness, we stunt ourselves – we hold ourselves back.

My point is that I can’t make you grow. You can’t make me grow. We can’t force each other to grow. Growth doesn’t start until we do something different ourselves. Growth starts from reaching out, trying something new, stretching, going beyond our comfort zone, stumbling into territory we aren’t familiar with.

However if we are willing to extend ourselves, there is a lot that we can do to support one another.

One of the things I love about congregations like our is that we offer a variety of settings and venues where people can exercise their talents or try out something new. Most institutions focus on one area, one task, one group of people or one type of setting. But we offer everything from ministry circles to leadership roles, from singing to helping the homeless, from transcendentalism classes to gardening, from book discussions to camping, from worship services to working with children, from giving to receiving, from supporting to being supported, from doing to being.

It’s a place where awkwardness is part of the vitality.

Another way we support one another is reflecting back the worth and dignity we see in each other. This is what the Morristown Fellowship did for me so many years ago. I was feeling so inept I couldn’t see anything valuable in what I had done. So they mirrored back what I couldn’t see in myself.

You do this for me here on Sunday morning. You listen so generously and openly that it draws depths or nuances that I never would have found on my own.

And I see so many of you doing this mirroring here with each other. That’s what I love about this congregation. I see it over and over.

I am grateful for the courage of all of you who risk and stretch yourself even when it feels awkward.

And I am grateful for all of you who so gracefully listen and honestly and sincerely reflect back the worth, dignity and goodness you see in each other even when this feels self-conscious.

It helps us relax into awkwardness. It’s a paradox. Reflecting back the depths we see helps us be more graceful in our stumbling, more joyful with our embarrassment, more at ease with our distress, wiser in our foolishness and more relaxed in our awkwardness.

Does it work?

Yes, it most certainly does. We may not see the growth from hour to hour or day to day because sustainable growth does not happen in a huge flash of insight, like Saul on the Road to Damascus. It comes from accumulating small stretches and small mirroring. To see this we have to look over many months and many years.

To show you what I mean, I’ll close with the writing by another eighteen-year-old adolescent, our own Shannon. She wasn’t trying to write a sermon – just fill out a college application. Here are some excerpts:

… one thing … makes me unique to the majority of all other people. I am a Unitarian Universalist. Born and raised… The older and more mature I have become, the more I have realized what being a UU means to me and how I’ve applied it to my morals and values. It has taught me that every person is entitled to have their own beliefs and that there can be more than one truth. I am definitely a nonconformist, and I don’t understand how some people of other religions are just able to accept something without any questions. There is nothing wrong with this, it is just that I was brought up in a religious community where questioning is part of our spiritual journey.

… I am also a huge advocate for people’s choice.  Especially with issues like abortion and when Prop 8 was on the California ballot, I realized how passionate I was to support people and the decisions they want to make that will affect their lives. …

As for same sex marriage, I see no problem whatsoever. … Love is love. Being a Unitarian Universalist, I was raised thinking the “definition of marriage” was just two people who love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together. It seems so simple to me. …

Unitarian Universalism defines who I am as a person more than anything else could. I am so proud to tell people that I am a UU … even though … I will most likely get … those curious expressions … It’s a special feeling I get when I explain that I have the freedom to make religious choices for myself. I can’t imagine being of another faith. Our principles are how I perceive myself as a person …. It just happened that the seven Unitarian Universalist principles summed up everything I would have wanted to be as a person. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It takes a village to raise a child.” Thank you for being that village. And thank you for being so deeply and honestly present to each other, even when if feels awkward.  Blessed be.  Namaste.


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