Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


sermon: Putting Your Whole Weight Down

 

February 13, 2011

UU Society of Sacramento

Rev. David Takahashi Morris, guest preacher

He is Co-Minister, Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, Walnut Creek

One of the members of the church my spouse Leslie and I served before we came to California two and a half years ago was a retired clergy colleague familiar to many here in the West.  The Rev. Gordon McKeeman has a long and distinguished history as a Universalist and then Unitarian Universalist minister, including a few years as the President of Starr King School for the Ministry.

Gordon told us a story once about his mother.  She was born just before the end of the 19th century, and she regarded many of the new inventions of the early 20th century with considerable skepticism.  In particular, he said, she was not interested in flying.  It made no sense to her that airplanes stayed up in the air, and she had no intention of trusting her life to one of those implausible contraptions.

She was well into her 80’s before the desire to visit grandchildren finally overcame her resistance, and she found herself getting into an airplane for the first time in her life.  “I am quite sure,” Gordon said, “that she never put her whole weight down.”

I saw a wonderful image when I heard this story, of a dignified and adamant New England matriarch, dressed in her Sunday best and hovering about a half an inch over the airplane seat.  I can’t imagine that she got much joy from her first experience of flying free of the earth.

I know that feeling.  Do you?  It’s the feeling when you’ve decided to take a chance, but

 

 

 

 

 

some part of your being still isn’t convinced that this isn’t a crazy thing to do.  Maybe if you’re a skateboarder or a  snowboarder you feel it the first time you decide to flip.  Maybe you’ve felt it on a hike in the mountains, when the only path to the place you’re trying to reach feels awfully close to the edge of that gorge.  Maybe you feel it when you’re about to negotiate an intersection with a walker or a wheelchair, where there’s no curb cuts and a lot of traffic.

A few weeks ago when Leslie, our 11-year-old son Liam and I were on a short trip to Chicago, Liam and I made a trip on a snowy evening out to Harold Washington Park, a huge park on the South Side with a small lake surrounded on two sides by woods.  The park was deserted, and the lake was frozen solid, or at least it looked solid, so of course Liam wanted to walk on it.  So we went to the edge, and set a foot out tentatively, then walked along the shore where the water wouldn’t have washed over our shoes if the ice had broken.  After a while, though, it was clear we needed to get right out there on the ice.  You’ve never seen two people trying so hard to be weightless as we worked our way out there, before we finally realized the ice was more than six inches thick.  We walked on out to the middle of the lake and looked across at huge old trees surrounding us, with the lights and towers of the city in the background glittering as the snow fell thick and fast. . . .

Put your whole weight down.  Sometimes it takes an act of trust if you want to experience all the richness a situation has to offer.

Maybe you’ve had that kind of experience in another setting.  It’s especially common at the beginning of friendships and romantic relationships, when you know that for things to progress you have to trust this person with your most tender, fragile feelings. . . and you want to be sure but you can’t ever be sure. . . until you trust enough to try.  It comes in other places, too:  When we wonder whether to dedicate our life’s energy to an issue of social justice even though the outcome is uncertain, for example, or when we’re on the verge of committing ourselves to our work, not just as a job but as a calling central to our lives.

Over and over again—if we want to experience everything life has to offer, we have to decide to put our whole weight down.  The higher the stakes, the greater the risk and the commitment that is asked of us.

We have to decide whether it’s worth it.

Last Wednesday I had to opportunity to witness a Naturalization Ceremony for 1000 new American citizens in Oakland.  Our church’s Maintenance Coordinator, who emigrated from El Salvador, had invited us to come.  I’ve never seen this ceremony before, and it was a powerful experience.  It’s simple enough; a very personable official from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency offered greetings and congratulations in 5 or 6 languages, the national anthem is sung and one of the new citizens leads the Pledge of Allegiance, and the applicants swear an oath renouncing their former citizenship and promising to uphold the Constitution and institutions of their new country.  Before the oath, the names of the countries represented by the applicants was read—99 different nations.  Listening to the list and watching people stand as the name of their former country was called, I was suddenly struck by everything these new Americans were willing to leave behind.  This was no casual choice for them; it was not simply a matter of looking for some personal gain.  These thousand people—and thousands more like them every month—had made a deliberate choice to become part of something new, and it was clear that they took their new commitment very seriously.

They were putting their whole weight down—to become part of a new nation.  It’s worth it for them.

This week, as Doug so beautifully reminded us, we saw the culmination of a month-long drama in Egypt , as people who have lived 30 years and more under a repressive regime suddenly became willing in huge numbers to risk their safety, their security, their very lives to stand in the streets and call for change.  They wanted freedom—not only personal liberty for themselves, but the freedom of a nation, of a people.

They were putting their whole weight down—to bring change for themselves, for all Egyptians, and for all the generations to come.  It’s worth it for them.

In recent times, an increasing number of undocumented immigrants to this country have been willing to speak up and identify themselves, claiming their undocumented status.  I saw this happen especially a number of times during the campaign to pass the Dream Act.   These would-be Americans have been willing to accept great peril to themselves, not just so they can continue their own education or their employment at some arduous, poorly-paid job, but to call this nation to create a more just and equitable immigration policy, so that others like them will not be victimized by a machinery of deportation that has become increasingly inhumane in recent times.

They are putting their whole weight down—to call to the conscience of the country that is home for them.  It’s worth it for them.

The most important risks, the ones with the greatest power, are the ones we’re willing to take for something larger than our own satisfaction or our personal needs.

So what about us, here in this religious community?  What does all this have to do with us?

It’s no secret that I’m here this morning sharing the start of your spring financial campaign, and I know you’re hearing this sermon in that context.  It’s common at canvass time for us to talk in terms of what you’ve received from the church community, and I don’t want to downplay the importance of that.  I’ve looked at your website, I’ve talked with Doug and Roger; I know there a lot of good and important things happening here.

Maybe you’ve had a powerful, inspiring moment here in the sanctuary, or in one of the Ministry Circles or the Servetus Club.   Maybe you have discovered here that you are a leader.  Maybe you’ve been able here to put your hand to the healing of our world.  Maybe you can look around this room and see someone who came to your doorstep with a casserole when you had been sick, or someone who helped you through a crisis, or someone you’ve shared an important conversation with when one of you was facing a difficult decision.

When you think about things like that as you decide to make your pledge, it isn’t so much a matter of wanting to pay back for what you’ve received.  A religious community doesn’t have that kind of economy.  We’re not paying for our experiences here; we are creating the possibility that experiences like ours will continue to be available not just for us, but for others—people we know well and people we haven’t even met yet, people who may not come here for years.  We’re doing it for the good of the whole.

James Luther Adams, one of our movement’s great modern prophets, says that a church is free when it enters into covenant with the ultimate source of existence, that sustaining and transforming power not made with human hands.  He reminds us that above all a religious community is a source of connection:  It links individuals to each other; it joins us in hope, in courage, and in faith with the struggles and suffering of the world’s people who seek justice and freedom; it unites us all in the knowledge that we live in a seamless and interwoven fabric with all of humankind, with the physical universe, and with the ultimate sources of life, of love, of worth.

When we come together to build such a community, we are seeking more than the opportunity to bring some interesting ideas and experiences into our own life.  We are coming together because all our lives are better when there is a community where such powerful experiences can happen.  We are building religious community because the world is better when communities like this one are here to work for justice, to heal wounded spirits, to transform lives with inspiration, compassion, and hope.

That’s what we can accomplish for the good of the whole . . . if together we put our whole weight down.

Put your whole weight down. . . put your hearts in this holy place.  Let the flight of this community take you deeper into your own life, further out into the world, higher toward the ultimate reality that grounds our existence.

We are travelling together, all of us; may ours be a journey of compassion, of justice, of hope, of joy, and of beauty.  So may it be.

 

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