Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


“Safe Harbor” does not mean “Safe Bunker”: Doug’s great Stewardship Sermon for Celebration Sunday: “Resilience and Kindness”

Today we had one service, with nearly 300 in attendance.  Doug preached. Lonon gave a startling and moving testimony about his finding our church, ending with his thanks, and his encouragement to other newcomers that this is a good place.  I’ll try to post it soon.  Also today: the San Francisco/Oakland-based Sarah Bush Dance Project offered two liturgical dances.  We had a buffet sandwich/wrap lunch and two cakes afterward.   It was the day to turn in financial pledge cards for the next budget year.  Even before today began, we had received 74 pledges totaling $205,432!  The pledge forms that were brought up to the front and placed in a basket during our Celebration of Commitment ritual are yet to be tallied.  In any case, we are well on our way to the goal of $510,000.  It was a great day, and this is a great place to be.

Resilience and Kindness, by Doug

I start this morning with a few stories.

Story #1: A Meeting

I was standing in the back of the sanctuary greeting people after the service when I noticed Barbara Gardner standing in line. She was supposed to be opening the congregational meeting to vote on our 50 Year Building and Grounds Master Plan. What was she doing back here?

It looked like she was doing her best to look patient.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Jeff forgot his computer,” she said. Jeff Gold is our architect. He was going to be presenting the Master Plan itself.

“He has his PowerPoint presentation, projector and computer case. But the computer isn’t in it. He uses a Mac laptop like yours. Can we use yours?”

“Of course,” I said handing her the keys to my office. “I’ll go check with him to see if he needs anything else.”

By the time Barbara returned with my computer we had figured out that we also needed an adapter to plug it into his projector. My adapter was at home and too far away.

Hmmm.

Anne Bandy had approached me for help a few weeks earlier. She was offering a vegetarian cooking class. To project recipes and information, she wanted to connect her Mac laptop to the church’s projector. I told her the kind of adapter she needed and she bought one. It would work for Jeff as well.

I set out to find her. The congregation had spread out through the auditorium, lounge, library, religious education wing, office, patio and grounds. She could be anywhere.

I saw Ginger Enrico. “Can you help me find Anne?” Ginger turned immediately to go look. Then she came back. “Why don’t we call her cell phone? It’ll be faster.”

“Great idea!” I said. Ginger fetched her cell phone as I looked up Anne’s number.

Anne was on her way to church. “No, I don’t have my adapter with me,” she said. “But I’m close to home. It’ll only take me a few minutes to get it.”

Barbara started the congregational meeting with background of the Master Planning process. As she finished, Anne slipped into the congregation with her adapter and computer. As Jeff began to talk, I connected my computer to his projector. By the time he needed PowerPoint, the equipment was working smoothly.

I don’t think the congregation ever realized there had been a problem.

Story #2: A Vigil

On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, the World Trade Centers disintegrated. It was probably the most successful attack on America since the bombing of Perl Harbor. The fact that we were struck by a handful of terrorists rather than a nation left us feeling particularly raw and vulnerable.

What did it mean? What was going on? What would happen next? The future was foggy. I’m sure you remember the mood.

So on Wednesday evening, September 12, we gathered in this room. We sang. We meditated. And we invited each other to speak. The only guideline was that we weren’t going to tell each other what we should think or feel or do: no advice. We were just going to speak from the heart about what we were thinking and feeling. We were just going to share.

We didn’t solve the problems of the world. We just shared our hearts, our confusions, our fears, our hopes. We leaned on one another.

And that made all the difference. We had one another and knew that together we’d get through.

Story #3: A Cult

I grew up in Unitarian churches. So I took for granted the worth and dignity of everyone, thinking for myself and discovering my own believes in my own experience. I had friends who grew up in more rigid religious environments.

The cult of the Moonies was big back then. My non-Unitarian friends were more resistant to the Moonies because they were so attached to the beliefs they’d been taught. But once they got in, they rarely got out.

My Unitarian friends were more open to the Moonies. In church we’d learned to be open to other ideas and ways of thinking. So my Unitarian friends were more likely to go into the Moonies. But none of them stayed. They were so used to trusting their own experience and thinking for themselves, that once they learned what the Moonies were really about, they decided it wasn’t for them. And they just left.

Story #4: A Divorce

I was standing in our parking lot a few years ago as a member of our congregation told me she was going through a divorce.

“Would you like to sit down and talk about it?” I asked.

She paused. “Thanks,” she said. “I think I’ll tell my Ministry Circle first. Then I’ll let you know.”

She called a few days later and said her Circle had been great. For the moment, she had the support she needed.

This didn’t surprise me – she had invested in them and they in her. So they were there for her.

Story #5: A Fan

Walking into the office the other day I ran into Ricardo – one of our custodians. He smiled and showed me a blue wire that was charred on one end.

Apparently one of the exhaust fans on this building had stopped. A new fan costs about $600. An electrician could replace it for a few hundred more.

But Ricardo knows something about these things. Before calling an electrician, he climbed up on the roof. He discovered a burnt relay, which is what he was showing me.

He drove to the hardware store and, for a few dollars, bought another.

The fan works fine now.

Resilience

What do these stories have in common?

For one thing, they’re all about community. We’re stronger together than separate.

In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy holds up her fingers and wiggles them before Charlie Brown. “See these fingers,” she says. “By themselves each is weak and puny. But put them all together …” and she forms a tight fist that touches his nose “… and they are a power to behold!”

Yet the strength of community comes from more than brute power – a power that’s quieter and more fluid. It comes from resilience. When we’re together we’re more resilient than when we’re alone.

I walked into an interview with the Korean Zen Master, Seung Sahn. Next to him was a carved wooden Buddha with a rounded bottom. It sat on a little board. One end of a piece of elastic was stapled to the rounded bottom and the other end was stapled to that board.

Seung Sahn whopped the Buddha with the back of his hand. The Buddha fell back and lay down. Then the elastic spring it back upright.

Seung Sahn said, “Zen is the rubber band. It won’t protect you from getting hit. Life is like that. But when you get knocked over, it pulls you back up.”

Similarly, community and our congregation are rubber bands that help us recover. They give us resilience.

Nothing will prevent things from occasionally going wrong in meetings (story #1). Our architect, Jeff Gold, is enormously competent. But we all have lapses. The presentation went smoothly because Jeff was part of a team and that team was part of this congregation and together we had more resources and resilience to recover from a lapse.

Nothing can prevent the violence of the world from touching us like on September 11 (story #2). Our vigils are sometimes protests against specific policies. And sometimes they are just ways of coming together when we feel discouraged. As we come together we find the resilience to come back to center and face the next day with more heart, suppleness and intelligence.

Nothing can protect our kids from getting into trouble, making bad decisions or getting caught in unhealthy groups like Moonies (story #3). But I know that our children and youth programs – classes, Spirit Play, Youth Groups, sexuality courses, coming of age program – help our young people develop resilience through confidence in their own abilities to work things out by their own values. Our children and youth are more resilient because they are part of our Unitarian Universalist tribe.

Nothing can prevent that our loved ones from dying or protect us from getting sick or injured or insure our relationships will never change (story #4). These leave holes in our lives. But when we come together for memorials or Ministry Circles or just connecting in our various groups or Sunday services, we become more resilient. We see that all of us have holes in our lives. Knowing we aren’t alone shows us a deeper wholeness that makes us more resilient.

Nothing will prevent relays from burning out or buildings from aging (story #5). The fan was repaired inexpensively because collectively our congregation and staff draw on more talent than to any one of us have alone.

Harbor

Part of the theme of our Pledge Drive this year is “safe harbor.”

Notice that it is not “safe bunker.” It’s not “perfect bomb shelter.” It’s not “a mighty fortress.” There is nothing that can shield us from the difficulties of the world. When our lives hurt, when we lose our job, when a loved one dies, when our confidence drains, it’s not necessarily because we’ve failed, sinned or done anything wrong. Stuff happens. Just ask Job.

The image of our stewardship drive is “safe harbor.” A harbor doesn’t stop the storm. The winds and rains come in. But the harbor does lessen the strength of the currents and the impact of the waves. It does give us a place to ride out the storms without being pulled to the bottom.

The bonds of community make us more buoyant. They give us resilience. They make it easier to heal, grow and thrive.

Beacon

The other half of our theme this year is a beacon of love and justice.

We don’t claim to be the sun that turns the night into day. We don’t claim to fix the world. We just want to play our part: to be a force for healing in the world. To shine a light into the darkness.

And what’s the nature of the light we shine?

I would suggest it is kindness.

Just look at our values statement. It is really a faith statement even though it says nothing about ideas or ideology: the nature of God, the universe, the after life, political preference, tax policies or the nature of the human soul.

It says we put faith in the goodness that can be found in anyone when we have enough openness and curiosity and love and courage. Our values statement says “we put our faith in the kindness.”

It’s a beacon of kindness, not a beacon of ideological purity. Ideologies start wars and motivate terrorists. Our beacon is about kindness, fairness, equality of opportunity, worth and dignity and the fact the we are all inextricably related to one another in the interdependent web.

Blind Spot

One of our weaknesses – a blind spot for religious liberals and progressives as well as pluralistic consciousness in general – is that we underestimate the power of a lighthouse. We value being out there taking care of the oppressed, the poor and the disenfranchised. We may forget to build our own resilience, to build our own community, to give bricks, mortar and power to our lighthouse, if you will.

It’s easier for us to take care of others than take care of ourselves. It’s all too easy for us to let our building get worn, our budget to get depleted, as we give to others.

Yet, I think we’re doing pretty well: recent repairs, new entryway, upgrades to the kitchen and library and lounge area. Our budget is getting stronger despite the recession.

We adopted the Master Plan without a dissenting vote. For a herd of Unitarian Universalist cats, that’s nothing less than a miracle. It says a lot about our trust in one another and the resilience that brings.

We have a stronger group of young adults than we’ve had in years. Our youth programs are large and feisty. We have lots of adult enrichment classes and groups. We have Ministry Circles, Men’s groups, book clubs, Family Promise. We serve meals at St. John’s shelter and Loaves and Fishes. We have a Palestinian Israeli study group, Lay Ministry, Friends in Deed, choir, vigils, family camp, games nights, and on and on. And we’re close to settling Roger here as our second minister.

Who is doing all this?

We have no sugar daddies. We can’t print our own money.

We have ourselves. And I’m glad for that. So take a look around. Go ahead, it’s okay. Don’t feel shy.

This is us –a good sampling of all of us. We together are the ones strengthening the harbor and powering the light. We are the ones creating the resilience and the kindness to shine into the world.

So this morning, we gather to celebrate all that we are – all that we’ve done – to pat ourselves on the back.

And in the process we consider our financial pledge to this congregation. For the tending of the harbor, for maintaining the lighthouse. For the sake of the kids, the elders and all the in-betweeners. For the sake of all we bring. For goodness, openness, curiosity, love and courage.

Pledging is an act of faith. It’s not blind faith. It’s faith born of experience. We trust one another. It’s faith that if we do what we can we’ll do well.

I know I’m one of the larger givers in the church. There are ministers who don’t pledge at all. They say they are employees and are not part of the congregation in the same way the members are. And there is something to be said for that point of view. But I value being a member of this congregation as well as one of your ministers. So I pledge as a member.

I want to thank all of you who help support all of us in so many ways. I trust that you give within your means – not more than you can afford and not less. I trust that you’ll take it to heart and pledge what you can. That’s all any of us would ever ask of each other. Know that every pledge helps.

So thank you. Thank you.

 

 

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