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Is Passion Over-Rated? — UU Sermon from Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013
March 28, 2013, 2:57 pm
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Unitarian Universalist Society                        Sacramento, CA

Hymns:  #51, #299, #16, #151

Brief Personal Reflections  From Terry, Kirsten, Ron.

Sermon

 

Living lightly on the environment.

Helping others to be happy, productive and generous.

Good health, the way nature intended.

Cycling city streets in the sunshine. 

Antiques.

Music, music, music, music, music, music.

 

            What are your passions?  What I just read aloud are a few of the responses I received from congregation members, colleagues and friends last week.  I asked about passions on our Facebook page and at an Adult Enrichment class here at UUSS.   Last Friday morning, as I sat reading the newspaper in the lobby of the YMCA, one of my friends asked me:  “So, what’s the sermon this weekend?”

            I said:  “Is passion over-rated?” 

            He paused.

            “You mean like Love?” 

            Well, perhaps.  “Or do you mean March Madness?”  I hadn’t thought of that one, though I should have.  Back home in Indiana, basketball tournament season brings the diagnosis of Hoosier Hysteria, whether at the level of high school basketball or the NC Double-A.   I often think of a passion as an all-consuming drive, burning obsession, irresistible delight, and a possible source of heartache.  So yes:  March Madness works for people.  But not for me, since I don’t follow basketball.         

            What comes to mind when you hear the word “passion”?  My dictionary says passion can be any powerful emotion or appetite.  Or passion is defined as the abandoned display of emotion.  Outbursts of anger sometimes lead to acts we label “crimes of passion.”  These definitions are why I’m wary of passion. 

            I can be uncomfortable with displays of passion.  I can shy away from people who are “fired up!”  I don’t trust people with a lot of charisma or cockiness.  In politics and religion and social causes, I am slow to trust the true believer, the crusader, the propagandist.  I am skeptical even about passions displayed in the causes that I support.  If someone proclaims a truth with enthusiasm, I think about the opposite claim.  I try to examine their assertion in my mind, study it, take it apart before accepting it. 

            Of course, I do have my own convictions and commitments, though I arrive at many of them analytically and philosophically.  But passion?  I’ll have to get back to you on that.

            For much of my life I did not feel that I had any passions to speak of–no hobbies, not things I built, nothing I collected, no expertise in music and no training, no skill at sports and little interest as a spectator.  I felt I was just observing life.  I didn’t sense that fire in the belly I was hearing about.  I decided that I was passion-deficient.

            Twenty-two years ago, when I was a regular member of Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, a friend named Karen led a group worship service about passion.  It happened on Palm Sunday.  Four people spoke about their passions.  After speaking, each one would set an object that represented their passion on a table.  As each person did this, I felt skeptical, and increasingly boring as a human being.  Karen was the last one to speak.  After speaking, she sang a solo–one of her own songs!  Yep, I was pretty boring all right.

            Several years ago while preaching at a UU ministers’ meeting and retreat, I confessed my passion-deficiency to them.  At mealtime, a few of them teased me:  “You need a hobby!”  Since they wanted to help, I said: “Okay.  I’m collecting two-dollar bills.  I will take all that you can give me.”  Nobody took me up on that.  

            One guy said he collected vintage labels from fruit and vegetable crates, those works of commercial graphic artists, with vibrant colors and striking scenes of people, animals and produce.   He offered to get me started collecting labels.  I don’t remember engaging his offer with much enthusiasm.   However, a week later in the mail I received a padded envelope of vintage labels, a gift, a starter package.  Ever since then, when I see that minister, he says, “Roger, how’s your fruit label collection coming along?”  I have not enlarged it, but I’ve kept it, even framed a few of them.  They look nice, but they are not my passion.  I am happy to have them but they do not evoke “a boundless enthusiasm,” as the dictionary says.

            Another definition for passion is … suffering.  The root of the word passion, in both Greek and Latin, means suffering.   Artists have a reputation for passion.  Stories abound of painters, writers, composers and sculptors going through pain and sacrifice in their drive to create something new and beautiful.  A book about the life of the great Michelangelo is entitled The Agony and the Ecstacy.  As a boy, my older brother built model airplanes and model cars.  I built one model car.  It was agony.  That’s all.

 

            These days, business consultants and executives talk about the need for workers to feel passion for their work.  This use of the word passion implies full engagement, that all-consuming drive.  A friend of mine works long hours at a small company where the owners urge them: “Let your passion out!  Show your passion.”  My friend wonders:  “What if you don’t want to use up your passion at work?”  Some people just want it to be a job. 

            What if, instead, you want to devote your energies to your loved ones and to your community?  Or if you are unemployed?  Does passion become irrelevant then?  Or is passion needed then more than ever, needed to sustain you until you until you land another paying position?

 

            Today is Palm Sunday, one week before Easter.  Another name for it is Passion Sunday. Here is the Palm Sunday story:  Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, receiving cheers from the crowd, with his friends around him.  This is a big, bold move.  Up till now, Jesus has focused his ministry in smaller towns, in familiar places.  But now he’s taking his message to the big city of Jerusalem, the seat of imperial power in Palestine.  Jesus probably knows that going to the city will be his end, but he is compelled to go, called to go, destined for it.  He takes his radical message of justice too close to the power structure, and the empire strikes back.  He is betrayed and arrested, convicted and tortured.  The suffering he undergoes will come to be known as the Passion of Jesus. 

 

            Such a story naturally leads to my question, “Is passion over-rated?”  Is it worth it?        

I do accept and use words like devotion and duty, conviction and commitment.  I like those terms.  But passion sounds… too hot to handle.  People who get too passionate get burned, don’t they?  Sometimes they get burned at the stake, but mostly they just get burned out, don’t they?

            Of course, I am devoted to the work I do in ministry, and I love this congregation.  Going to church, singing in church, working in church, helping to make church happen—it’s all fulfilling.   I love our Unitarian Universalist movement.   Even so, I am reluctant to say I have a passion for all of this.  If I say I am passionate then… I will need to act fired up about everything, won’t I?  If I’m passionate, I might have to be less reflective, rational or skeptical than I want to be.  If I’m passionate… won’t I get burned out or feel beaten down?  Passionate people are those who make history… even if they are history-making failures.  They flare up like a comet; they light up the whole world, or they die trying. Can I claim to want that?

            Remember that service I attended in my UU church before I was a minister?  When people gave testimony to their passions, and I felt so boring…  The presenters brought an item to lay on the table, a visual representation of their passions.  My friend Karen sang a solo of a song she had written.  Then, silently, she took off her sandals, placed them on the table, and walked back to her seat.  Walking is one of her passions.  She walks countless miles around her city, often walking home from work instead of taking the bus or train.  I can see how that fiery, fierce musical artist has a quieter passion too.  I would not have thought of walking so often, taking such long walks, going step by step, as a passion, but I could see that now.  I could see it in the well-worn sandals that she put on the table. 

            Seeing things from that perspective helped me look at my own life in a different light.  I could see that some things were important to me.  I could appreciate my own interests, my own commitments and convictions.   I could appreciate what gives me joy.  I could see what matters, what feeds me, stretches my abilities, delights my soul.  So what, if I can’t say that my commitments and interests look like the dictionary definitions for passion.  Maybe other terms fit better.  How about you?  What matters to you?  What feeds you, stretches you, delights your soul?

 

            This is what I asked … on our Facebook page and in class last Tuesday:  What is a passion or a calling or a commitment of yours?  Not your ONLY one, but one that you can claim? 

 

            People who answered me were parents, musicians, engineers, cooks, counselors, civil servants, UU ministers, professors, custodians, volunteers, retired people, students, working people, unemployed people.   I asked for answers in six-word phrases. 

 

 Reviving ancient music, art and wisdom.

Respectful and fulfilling workplaces for everyone. 

Providing comprehensive sexuality education to youth.  

My family, my home, my dogs. 

Teaching second grade boys and girls.

Striving toward fully connecting with others.

 

            Friends have said to me that they admired my passion for my work.  Oh!  I didn’t know you noticed.  Because I had not noticed, or not seen it as passion.   I just thought I was doing the work.  And it felt right.  Doing the work has its ups, its downs, and its steady-as-you-go stretches of time.  It has full and rich moments and moments of tedium.  It has times of gladness, and hope, and heartache.   At the end of some days, I fall into bed sleepy but satisfied; I wake up the next morning with eagerness, perhaps with inspirations and sermon ideas.  Other nights, I am restless, waking up worried at three o’clock in the morning, with faces flashing in my mind, as the mind re-runs old conversations or does a rehearsal of a conversation that I need to have.   My mid-morning time of meditation is interrupted by my to-do list and by worries.  I trust that I am not alone in such experiences.  I trust I am not the only person here whose commitments, cares and concerns yield some sleepless nights or doubt-filled moments, as well as moments of joy, richness and a sense of connection. 

            Some would say that this is what passion looks like and feels like.  We can call it that, or we can say it’s a calling.   The word calling to some could seem limited to certain activities, or certain people, such as ministers or teachers.  But it’s not.     All of us can be open to a sense of calling.  Indeed, your calling may not be your paid work.  It may be what you find enriching, challenging and important—whether it’s your official occupation or some other way that you express your talents, commitment, longing and joy.  

            The word calling is an inclusive one. All of us can be open to hear and feel that we are called.  The writer Frederick Buechner says: “The place you are called to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

            Here are some callings, told to me in six words, in response to my questions:

 

Teaching love amid sorrow; hope endures. 

Helping others who are staying sober.  

Sharing belief in everyone’s inner wisdom. 

Share, support, organize.  Listen, love, give. 

Learning about human struggle and equality. 

Creating order and beauty amid chaos.  Whoever you are, please come by my office next week.

 

            In a congregation I served before this one, a woman who was retired from teaching said that she felt a calling to tend the flower garden in front of her house.   Of course, she was generous with her time in church work and other volunteer activities.  But when I asked a question about calling, she said it was her flower garden.  It gave her pleasure to imagine the people who would drive and walk by, enjoying the blooming plants that resulted from her labors and her cooperation with Mother Nature.  Perhaps the flowers would make someone’s day a little easier, she said. 

            “The place you are called to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

            Watching people making community. 

            That’s only four words, not six, but I wrote it, so I can approve it.  First:  Watching people  is a joy of mine:  watching people of all ages, from a distance, or just a few feet away, is fascinating.  Being in the midst of people, is a joy. 

Second:  Making community, watching it happen, and helping it happen, are sources of love and joy for me. Watching all of you making connections and building community with one another, makes me smile.  It restores my hope.       

            It inspires me to work and serve among people who think about important questions like: 

What is a passion, commitment or calling of yours?  It inspires me to be with people who give answers like these: 

 

Living lightly on the environment

Special Needs Parenting:  Total Commitment Required. 

So much to love about life

Defending and liberating all beings.  

Shaping the future, mindful of heritage.

Making the world a better place.

 

            My vision of religious community at its best–my vision for us–is that we provide a place for everybody to explore our personal passion, commitment or calling—to explore it and appreciate it.  In small settings and in and in large-group gatherings, we help one another to seek “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”   We encourage one another in this work of a lifetime.

            The people in this place clearly show a sense of purpose and calling, whether or not we choose to call it passion.  We have commitments.  We are called.  And we need encouragement and reminders.  The reminders are all around.  Let’s notice how blessed we are.  Let us help one another to notice.               

           

            Is passion good?  That depends on what we mean by passion.  A violent outburst is not good.  The agony of a person trying to create something new might not feel good, but it can yield beautiful results.  Actions based on love and connection are surely good.  They are something to get fired up about.

            However we might name our commitments, and however we discover them, each of us is called to make them.  Whether you name it a calling or a passion… or just a pretty good thing, every choice you make, every act born of love and connection will be something to get fired up about.  So may it be.  Amen, and blessed be.

 


 



Personal Passions– 1 of 3– from UUSS Worship– Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013
March 26, 2013, 3:55 pm
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            I am a Montessori elementary school teacher, and helping children realize their potential is my passion. The foundational philosophy of a Montessori education is that every child is treated with respect and dignity, every child is on their own path, and our job is to prepare the environment and encourage the child’s exploration. Hmm…sound familiar? It’s no wonder the UU in me embraces the Montessorian in me.

            My son is a 2nd grader in Spirit Play; I love that Spirit Play is UU teachings in a Montessori-inspired format, and I admire the incredible passion the volunteers and advocates bring to the program. For me, after teaching all week, I admit to not feeling especially passionate about giving lessons and managing behavior on the weekend, andso I volunteer on the coffee committee.

            Last fall, Spirit Play reached out for help and as I hit the reply button to send a “sorry, not this time” email, my personal email signature caught my eye; a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Action expresses priorities.” We prioritize what we are passionate about. Helping children reach their potential is my passion, so…as I sat in Spirit Play Volunteer Training and discussed procedures and materials, I saw that room 7/8 is not the inviting space we are charged with providing for our children. Our church community agreed, and the April 13th project titled A Splash of Paint for Spirit Play was born.

            It’s true that when you give to a child, you get back tenfold.  Last Sunday, the Spirit Players voted on the color they want their room painted. As I left service, my son came running up to me, eager to announce the results. Apparently, it was a close one with blue beating out green by a vote of 8 to 6. A real nail-biter! He was so excited and proud to be involved in the decision-making process, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude that the people of this congregation are passionate enough about the well-being of our children to prioritize their needs. 

            If you also have a passion for helping children, I encourage you to volunteer or donate to A Splash of Paint for Spirit Play. Thank you to those who have already signed up. And thank you to those who will visit the RE table after service to see how you can help.

You know, the universe has a way of reminding us to act on our passion…usually by rewarding us for doing so.



A Handful of Rice Or Learning to Ride a Bicycle — Sunday, March 17, 2013– Pledge Drive Touchdown Sunday

UU Society of Sacramento, CA.  Given by the Rev. Vail Weller, Guest Preacher, Special Assistant to the President for Major Gifts, Unitarian Universalist Association.

The bike I choose for my daughter’s 6th birthday is purple and glittery with butterflies on it. I sort of wish that mine looked like that, but in any case. She has outgrown her older bike, it was time for a new one, and so I pick out this purple glittery bike and present it to her on her birthday. She is very excited to receive it…that is, until we go outside the next day to go for a ride. That’s when she discovers it is bigger…much bigger than her old one was. She is afraid. “I don’t want to ride it. I don’t want to ride!” We reassure her that riding it is the same as riding her old one, and that this one is better suited to her size. After all, she has grown and is now a big girl, and this is a big person’s bike. “I don’t want to. I don’t think I can!” But we reassure her, and remind her she already knows how to ride. She is very leery, but with wide eyes, she gets on and wobbles into a starting position.

At first, we guide her, walking beside her with a hand on her back to help her feel our presence and to know she is not alone. And so she rides. Nervously. But she rides. Then, life gets a bit busy, and we don’t go out on the bike again for quite a while.

Many weeks pass. A beautiful day dawns. I suggest a ride. She is as nervous as if she had never ridden the big bike before. I remind her of how big she has gotten, and assure her that it will be even easier this time. She moans. She groans. But all the while she is getting on her jacket and making her way out to the bike. She does really want to try again. She does really want to ride.

And it’s like magic. She *has* grown, remarkably. She *does* remember how to ride it, and much better than before. She rides along, now bravely turning and even going down hills. She is beaming brightly, sooo proud, feeling her own growth and maturity.

There is no way to learn how to ride a bike other than to do it. Reading the owner’s manual will not teach you how to ride. You just have to climb on and try. You will likely fall a few times when you are new at it, and it is tempting to give up at that stage. But if you persevere, you will be rewarded by actually learning to ride the bike.

There is a joke told about Unitarian Universalists – perhaps you have heard it. Outside the pearly gates, there are two signs. One says “heaven” and points that way, and the other says “discussion about heaven” and points the other way. The joke is that the Unitarian Universalists will choose the discussion of heaven rather than the real thing, every time.

This joke really does point to something true about us! We like to think about ideas. We like to learn. We like to discuss (and it’s true, we even like to debate). But the point of the religious life is not to learn about being kind; it is to BE kind. The point of the religious life is not to intellectually consider theories of love; it is to BE loving.

The point of the religious life is not to read about being generous; it is to BE generous. But, like riding a bicycle, we cannot read a manual and “get it” – in other words, we don’t learn to be generous by learning about it in theory. We learn how to be generous by doing it, in practice. The only way to “get it” is to do it, to be generous.

How is it that we, who have so much, can act as if we have so little when it comes to giving? We live in a culture, of course, which tells us that we can never have enough. That we can never KEEP enough. But the goal of religious life, as all of the sages have told us through history, is to experience an unclenching of the fist, an unlocking of the heart, an opening of the hand, to share. There are many ways to practice the art of generosity.

Be generous with your attention. If you are busy making dinner and your child is trying to talk with you, pause from the cooking and turn to your child as if they are the most important person in the world and listen for 3 minutes. Or when you are standing in the airport, put down your phone, and look around you. Make contact with the real live human beings all around you. Give the gift of your presence.

Be generous with your spirit. When the temptation arises to be angry, or stay angry, with a co-worker, a friend, or a family member, experiment with stepping out of the emotional stream. Cultivate a sense of compassion for them, and for yourself. You are both sacred beings, sometimes wounded, but always precious. Gift the gift of softening your own heart.

Give the gift of your money. I invite you to do something uncharacteristically generous this week. If you go out for lunch after church on your way home, leave an extra-generous tip. The point of this experiment is to do much more than you would ordinarily. See how it feels. Buy a co-worker’s lunch. Pay for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop and leave without them knowing you did so. Again, give with a level of uncharacteristic abundance. See how it feels.

Find ways to practice the art of generosity. These are practices which will nourish your spirit. The poet Maya Angelou says, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

In Northeastern India, we have a huge number of Unitarian churches. In this very humble setting, they have found a way to support the church financially that is quite inspiring. Before cooking each meal, a handful of rice is put aside. At the end of each month, a representative from the Unitarian Women’s group visits each Unitarian home, and collects the gathered rice, which is then sold.

(75% of the money from the rice collected goes to support the local church, and 25% to support the national Unitarian body, the equivalent of the Unitarian Universalist Association.) If each household had been asked for money, they would have struggled. Yet we all have something to give. Carley Lyngdoh, the (former) General Secretary of the Unitarian Union NE India says: “Even the poorest families feel proud that they [can] offer something out of their daily food to the works of God.”

The villagers in North Eastern India surely don’t have much disposable income. They have far, far less than we do, of that I am sure.

And yet, even in the most humble of circumstances, they take a scoop of rice out first, before feeding their own family, to support the faith movement that has enriched their lives. “Even the poorest families feel proud that they [can] offer something out of their daily food to the works of God.” Can you even imagine giving that generously? I am still working with this one. Recently, I had cause to stop and think about it, and I realized that I have never felt my heart so opened that I have given from the core of my being, and not just from the cream on top, and I am the poorer for it. I think we have a lot to learn from the level of generosity practiced by our Unitarian friends in NE India.

(An aside: Did you know that statistically speaking, Unitarian Universalists are the second-highest earning religious group? That is statistically, now. And do you know where we fall compared to other religious folks in terms of our giving to support our own faith? Want to guess? DEAD LAST. We can do better. We must do better.)

When I served as parish minister in San Mateo, California, we had a partner church in the Philippines, and I was fortunate enough to travel there to visit.

You can’t imagine a more rural setting. In the village, there is no running water, no electricity, no passable road. There are no diapers for babies. I also visited the Unitarian Universalist congregation that meets in the slum area of Manila. The setting there is anything but rural, but the poverty is just as extreme. When I met with both of these groups to worship, we sang Spirit of Life, listened to prayers and a sermon, and when the time came for the offering to be taken, every person present put money in the plate. Every person! I wondered what they were doing without in order to support the church. And I also realized how much it meant to them to be able to give. They gave joyfully, and proudly.  Giving is part of the way they express their faithfulness, open-heartedly enriching the spiritual community that nourishes them.

Theologically, the Unitarian Universalist church of the Philippines brings freedom in an overwhelmingly catholic culture. Our Universalist strain which historically emphasized the love of God is mostly what I heard preached on in the Philippines.

I understand that living in a harsh reality with the constant presence of violence and poverty must make the presence of a loving god extraordinarily welcome. The local church also provides learning for their children, character education in the form of teachings based on our principles, and food. The church in our village runs a meal program, which ensures that the people in the village – not just the church families but all families – eat a nutritious hot meal once a week. Their bodies and spirits are nourished, and they give of their abundance, truly generously. Our Unitarian Universalist friends in the Philippines are great teachers for us.

My colleague Rev. David Usher told me about when he was sent by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists to visit with the UU group in Kenya, Africa.

(When a group somewhere in the world discovers Unitarian Universalism, and goes far enough into our tradition to want to actually affiliate and call itself Unitarian Universalist, the ICUU sends someone to meet with them, to help them with leadership development, get to know them, and generally help them to learn more about what it means to be Unitarian Universalist.)

These folks discovered our faith within the last four or five years. They were nearly all unemployed or just scraping by. They are on fire about Unitarian Universalism! They are so excited that they are free to believe what they believe, and not be told what they have to believe. They can be fully who they are. It is life-giving, life-affirming, live-saving for them. They are on fire! They want everyone in Africa to know about this faith they have found, and they are doing their best to spread it, as evangelism comes naturally to them and (again) is culturally expected. In Kenya, religion is central to the culture.

It is core to their identity as Unitarian Universalists to do for others. They run schools, orphanages, cottage industries of all kinds, micro-lending groups. Again, let me repeat, they are all nearly unemployed or just barely scraping by. And these justice and outreach efforts are not “in addition” to whatever else they do, it is absolutely core to their identity.

Rev. Usher confessed to me that he felt embarrassed when they had asked him how many members he had in his local church, how many social justice projects they ran, how much money they gave to the local church – not because his congregation wasn’t doing anything, but they were much much larger than the Kenya group, and their tangible service to the world didn’t hold a candle to what the Kenyan Unitarians were accomplishing. He came home from that trip realizing that while ICUU had sent him to help the Kenyans learn more about what it meant to be Unitarian Universalist, they had actually been the ones who had been teaching him. (I love stories like that, when our expectations are turned on their heads.) The Unitarian Universalists in Kenya are great teachers for us.

David Bumbaugh is Professor of Ministry at Meadville Lombard Theological School and Minister Emeritus, the Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ, and he writes about the invitation that Martin Luther King, Junior had sent out to clergy, asking them to come to Selma, Alabama to help with voting rights.

“I did not for a moment believe he meant me,” Bumbaugh writes.

It never occurred to me that an invitation to the clergy to come to Selma meant me, too. I did not go.

Then came the terrible news that James Reeb, one of our Unitarian Universalist ministers who did respond to that call, had been clubbed to death in the streets of Selma. Another call went out—this time from the Unitarian Universalist Association, urging as many ministers as possible to go to Alabama for the last stages of the march from Selma to Montgomery. I read the call, but once more, it never occurred to me that I was included.

The next Sunday, as I was about to enter the sanctuary, two members of my congregation stopped me and asked if I was going to Alabama. I must have looked very confused. I explained that we had a small child and another child on the way, and I really did not have the money to spend on a plane ticket, and…. They interrupted my ramblings to say, “We have the plane ticket; will you use it?” And suddenly I knew that all the sermons I had ever preached, and all the sermons I would ever preach, would be hollow and empty unless I walked through the door they had just opened for me. And so I went to Alabama.[1]

Isn’t it true that we live like this, so often? While hearing the latest news about global warming, we think to ourselves, “Someone should do something about that!” When we are reminded of an injustice, we think, “Someone should do something about that!” When pledge season rolls around and we hear that the church is asking for generous support, we think, “Yes. Yes!” But I am not sure that our agreement always translates into our own generous giving.

My ministry now focuses on Stewardship and Development. I travel around the country and meet with generous, committed Unitarian Universalists to help their dreams come true.

When people have resources to give, and they care a great deal about our faith, they WANT to use their money to support their highest values. People assume this is unpleasant work. Nothing could be further from the truth! I have found that people love to give to something that they care a lot about. When pledge time rolls around, we are invited to give out of our core, to reflect on how central the community is in our lives. Then we are asked to stretch – to be truly generous – to pledge from the heart, to match the place the church and the faith have in our lives.

It is not a coincidence that I am involved in stewardship ministry and I have also done a lot of international work. Meeting fellow Unitarian Universalists from around the world – from Transylvania in Eastern Europe, from the Khasi Hills of India, from England and Germany and Africa, from the slums of Manila in the Philippines – meeting fellow UUs from around the world has taught me first-hand just how much we have to give.

My international work inspires me to experiment with greater generosity in my own life, and to preach and teach about stewardship in this context, which is in a culture that tells us over and over again that we don’t have enough, we can never have enough, we can’t possibly have enough, yet finds us easily adopting the latest technology, traveling regularly, purchasing many things without a second thought, barely registering the level of abundance that we are blessed with.

The wisdom traditions throughout time have taught us that being generous, truly madly deeply generous, is a fundamental aspect of nourishing the spirit. “Giving liberates the soul of the giver,” the poet says.

And so, I invite you to try it. I am not inviting you to talk about it, or read about it, or even to do a lot of thinking about it. I am inviting you to be generous. And like the call to Selma that David Bumbaugh didn’t think was for him, let me be clear: I am talking to YOU. To ME. To US.

For the sake of people we have never seen, will never meet, and can only imagine: we must strengthen Unitarian Universalism, to help heal this hurting world. We must do this! The stakes are very high.

There is no way to learn how to ride a bicycle without just getting on it and starting to ride. No matter your circumstances, it is possible to scoop out a handful of rice. Just try it, and see how you begin to see the world, and your own life, differently. I close with the words of Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry.

Your gifts

whatever you discover them to be

can be used to bless or curse the world.

The mind’s power,

The strength of the hands,

The reaches of the heart,

the gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting.

Any of these can serve to feed the hungry

bind up wounds,

welcome the stranger,

praise what is sacred,

do the work of justice

or offer love.

Any of these can draw down the prison door

hoard bread,

abandon the poor,

obscure what is holy,

comply with injustice

or withhold love.

 

 You must answer this question:

What will you do with your gifts?

Choose to bless the world.

Friends, your lives are a blessing.

This community is a blessing in your lives.

Your gifts, generously given, serve this community

which in turn helps to transform the world.

Choose to bless the world.

Get on that bike and ride!

Amen!

Let us sing together hymn #151 – I Wish I Knew How.


[1] From “Cherish the Dream” available online at http://www.questformeaning.org/page/reflecting/how-do-i-live-a-good-life



What’s this pledging stuff all about?—Brief explanation of the annual pledge drive

Sustaining Our Vision–From Year to Year and From Generation to Generation!

Every winter a volunteer team invites other members and friends of the congregation to make pledges of support for the coming church budget year (2013-14).  Our church budget year starts July 1.  This happens every year at this time so the Board of Trustees can reliably develop a budget for income and expenses for the budget year (fiscal year).

All our pledge commitments for the coming year are crucial for this planning process.  Our yearly operating fund’s budget depends overwhelmingly on pledge contributions from members and pledging friends.

The operating budget includes compensation and benefits for all our ministerial, administrative, custodial, education, and music staff music.  It funds our utility payments, building and grounds upkeep and maintenance, supplies, refreshments, security, online maintenance, and our dues to the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Every pledge is important.  Please bring your 2013-14 Pledge Form to UUSS so our budget will be accurate–and happy.  If you have already turned it in, thank you!

If you don’t plan to make a pledge for the coming church year, just fill out $0.00 on the pledge form.  That will save our volunteers the task of making a reminder phone call.  If you do plan to make a pledge now for the coming budget year, please know that every pledge is important.

Pledge Visits--Anyone may request a visit by a trained Stewardship Team pledge visitor—in your home or at a café.  In addition, we will contact a limited number of Members and Friends for in-home visits for this year’s pledge drive.  We try to reach out to some portion of the congregation every year to connect, hear feedback, and relay questions to lay leaders, ministers and our staff.  This year of big changes surely has many of us thinking deeply about UUSS.  If you would like to request a visit by one of our Pledge Visitors, let us know stewardship@uuss.orx

For inspiration regarding our theme and the fiscal year to come, read below for testimonials given at recent services by dads, moms and youth in our congregation.

  I loved all of them!



Charlotte’s Pledge Drive Testimonial at UUSS– from the March 10, 2013 service

CHARLOTTE IS A TEENAGER IN OUR YOUTH GROUP AND IS ACTIVE IN RETREATS AT OTHER UU CHURCHES.  

SHE GAVE THIS TESTIMONIAL TODAY FOR THE PLEDGE DRIVE FOR THE 2013-14 FISCAL YEAR.  

HER DADS ARE BOTH ON THE PLEDGE DRIVE STEWARDSHIP TEAM.

I have been at UUSS since before I was born.

When I was a baby, I was welcomed into this world by the congregation right up here where I am standing today. There I was given a flower and the promise of a spiritual home to grow up in. I was too young to remember this, and I can’t actually recall my first memory of UUSS because this community has simply always been for me.

When I was toddler, I would go to childcare and there I made one of my earliest friends. Together we explored the congregation and grew. We would run through the field and walked back as far as we could along the creek in what seemed a stirring and courageous endeavor at the time. The simple land of this society gave me adventures. Then with holidays, the fun would really begin here.

On Christmas, I had the promise of a gift hand delivered from Santa and lots of sugar. Probably way more than my parent s would have preferred. With school came religious education, which was very fun to me. When I look back, I feel they actually tricked me into learning things, because I was certainly never aware of any lectures or homework. Separate from Sunday activities, this congregation has given me and other youth unforgettable experiences by hosting events such as MUUGS, Youth “CONS”, and Coming of Age retreats. For those who don’t know, these three to four day retreats are profound and memorable. When this church hosts, it is at its own expense. The church isn’t being paid, and yet UUSS still allows hoards of teenagers to stay on its campus. It is all thanks to your contributions that other youth and I have been privy to these opportunities for spiritual growth.

However, this is also about what you can get from this community.

You can get a family if that is what you want, because this congregation is very loving and accepting. You can get thought provoking sermons, or participate in one of the church’s many groups to gain further spiritual growth.

Alternatively, maybe it is too early in the morning for you to want either of those and all you want is coffee. Well, you can have that here as well and be getting all the rest.

But especially in today’s society, everything takes money. Your contributions and pledges can help support this community currently and ensure its existence in the future. I hope UUSS is able to continue to give to the future generations as it has given to me.



UUSS Pastoral Prayer at the Start of Women’s History Month– Sunday, March 3, 2013

I invite you now to settle your bodies and notice your breathing for a time of contemplation in shared word and silence, and with music following.

Spirit of Life and of Love, fall fresh on us this morning.  Stir in us gratitude for all our blessings.  Grant us courage and wisdom for the living of our days.

We appreciate the diversity of sorrows, concerns, milestones and celebrations among us in this fellowship of seekers.   On our hearts may be those who have passed away.  Let us tell their names aloud into the space of our sanctuary. To these, let us add:  all those dying from gun violence, especially the young men of our neighborhoods and our nation. Two shepherd boys killed in Afghanistan, by accident by NATO forces.  The young taxi driver from Mozambique, lynched by eight police officers in South Africa last week.  We mourn every loss, and lament those taken by violence.

Let us call to mind all who need our healing thoughts and our care:  those among us with financial troubles or job worries, people with active addictions and those in recovery, those who are hungry for food, and hungry for love;

Those with troubling medical conditions, those burdened by pains of the body, mind or spirit.

In particular, we mention these people:  Marie, the mother of Jeff, who is the partner of our member Kevin, is in her last days of life, receiving palliative care.  Michelle, our member whose cancer has brought her to the point of hospice care, but who rallied herself last Sunday for one last visit for a service with us.  A mother requesting prayers for her son in residential treatment. Jose, brother of two of our custodians, paralyzed from the chest down after a fall at work.  He’s now in rehab.

Either whispering to ourselves or speaking aloud, let us now add other names and the needs on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

May healing and peace come to all who need it.

Life has its joyful milestones as well, and reasons for celebration and gratitude.  In particular, Fran, turning 90 last week.  Let us now speak more of the names or events on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

May one another’s good news give to all of us reasons for gratitude.

As Women’s History Month begins, we call to mind all those women, girls and transgender persons who have changed our world and our lives:  Margaret Fuller, Transcendentalist leader.  Olympia Brown, Universalist minister.  Malala Yousafzai, 15-year-old Pakistani student shot by the Taliban for going to school, who survives and vows to continue her activism.   Harriet Tubman, fugitive slave and slave rescuer.  Marie Curie, chemist and physicist.  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia.  Let us speak some of the names on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

We pray for the women and girls who are victimized and oppressed.  We grieve those taken by violence.  We give thanks for the activists, agitators, mothers, teachers, artists, domestic workers, factory workers, philanthropists, diplomats, …and everyone whose dignity and courage continue to inspire others.

May peace and healing prevail in places near and far, starting in our own hearts.

May we have the courage to accept ourselves as we are, with compassion, so that we can accept others for who they are.  Spirit of Life and of Love, fall fresh on us this morning, and bless us in the days to come.  Help us dare to be the people that we are called to be.  Blessed. Be.