the vision I shared on canvass Sunday (3/7/2010). March 24, 2010Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
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Capture the Wonder of Tomorrow
Hymn #1003 Where Do We Come From
Homily “Where are we going?”
Today, we join together to capture the wonder of tomorrow and to make a commitment to that future that we envision. But in order to do this, we must have an inspiring vision of tomorrow – a future that gets us going, gets us excited.
I have only been your minister for seven months now, but I have many visions for this congregation – visions that come out of your many, many strengths. Visions based on what I have heard you long for this church to be. What I share with you this morning is one of many possibilities. I share it as a way to prime your vision.
Imagine you walk through the doors of the church on Sunday morning and you are struck by all the activity. Children are running around, making themselves at home. People are milling about, talking with one another. Some folks you recognize, others you don’t. You make a note to introduce yourselves to those you don’t yet know.
When the music starts, people become quite and enter into the sanctuary to join those already there. You look and see that the music today is from a group of gifted teenagers who are generously sharing their talents with the congregation.
As you look around at all the familiar and new faces, you marvel at this historic congregation – how it has changed over the years. You think about the vibrancy of the past, of the difficult years of turmoil, and how the congregation came out stronger – came out with a deeper sense of what it means to be a liberal religious community.
In your hands, the order of service is quite full. It seems as though there is more and more going on at the church each week. Small Group Ministry groups are starting up again. Your participation in the group brought you closer to the congregation, and helped you to enunciate your own faith a little better. The service project your group decided to do for the church was to wash dishes on chalice night, and you never realized how enjoyable it could be to provide a service like that to your beloved community. You know you will be signing up for that again and are excited about who might be in your group this time, who you might get to know better.
You read that there is a caravan heading to Frankfort for lobbying. Last month, 20 people from the church went. Kentucky is still a long ways from passing a civil marriage bill, but the church has been getting some good publicity around how we stand on the side of love. You can tell that the cultural conversation is beginning to shift away from fear and more towards compassion, and it is so nice to know this church is a part of that.
And you notice that there are continuing conversations going on about what to do with the disbursements from the endowment, once they resume. You wonder at how we ever through we couldn’t live without that money, especially now that there are so many good ideas about what to do with it. Your own favorite is to use the money as grants for members in the congregation who have a creative idea to further the mission of the church.
As the service progresses, the children are remarkable – some stay in their seats, listening and interacting with the service. Others are sprawled on floor pillows at the front of the sanctuary. Some are working on little UU workbooks that are available for busy hands. There is a rugged area off to the side that has some books, rocking chairs and even some beanbags and you notice that a number of the children are quietly reading or drawing. Having them in the service the whole time has been a big change, but so much nicer than you ever expected.
People of all ages participate in the service as musicians, storytellers, chalice lighters. The choir, which has swelled to over 30 people now that youth can participate, sounds amazing. Again, you marvel at how involved everyone is – and remember that you need to return an email to the Storyteller Coordinator to let her know you would be delighted to read a Story for All Ages piece in the coming weeks.
The service has something for everyone – some of it doesn’t appeal to you, but you take comfort in knowing that what you don’t like is almost assuredly someone else’s favorite aspect of the service.
After the service, there is a fellowship meal. It is simple food, at a very reasonable price, and oh so good. You sit at the table with a few visitors and talk to them about the service – their impressions of it. Most people stay for the meal, because most people stay for what comes after. It has grown to be one of your favorite aspects of Sunday morning. You especially like it when you end up at a table with one of the young families here – UU children are so articulate and curious!!! Or a table with visitors – you are getting better at sharing what how important this place is to you.
Once the meal has been cleaned up, it is time for the Religious Education hour. Your small group ministry group meets during the week, but a number of your adult friends have their groups during this hour. The children go to their classrooms – you have heard that the preschoolers are doing Spirit Play and you find yourself thinking you might volunteer to teach that next semester. There are a number of adult religious education offerings, too – drop in classes and on-going ones. You shake your head and again are astounded at how many rich opportunities there are to deepen and develop your own faith.
In the end, you wind up in the class for OWL trainers. This has been a growing outreach effort for the congregation – taking our comprehensive sexuality education out into the community. It was difficult to work out some of the kinks, but the church stuck with it. There are now weeknight classes teaching parents how to talk o their kids about sex in a healthy way, at various ages.
As you leave Sunday afternoon, you find that you have been nurtured in so many ways. Your spirit has been fed, as has your body. You have done something to make the world a better place, connected with dear friends, and learned something. It has been a good day. You are so thankful that this is your church.
Vision Sharing (at each table)
You have heard my vision – or at least part of one of them. But what about yours? Where do you see this congregation in a year or two? Does the vision inspire or excite you? I invite you now – all of you, of all ages – to share with the others at your table what your vision of this congregation is. Write down some of the key words, draw a picture – be creative. There are no wrong answers here! You will have 10 minutes to share with one another.
Homily “How do we get there?”
Now that you have had a chance to talk about and explore your own visions of where you hope this beloved community is going, the question remains – How do we get here?? Certainly, we can’t do it without the time and talent of a horde of fabulous volunteers. But this is canvass Sunday, so let me be explicit – we also can’t do it without money.
Its not glamorous to think about, and indeed we often get uncomfortable talking about it, but the fact is that we need your financial support. We need money for the essentials: to keep the lights on and the bills paid. For some, this is reason enough to give, but for most, that’s not a very inspiring vision – giving just to keep the lights on.
Our programming also costs money – if we want our religious education program to lead the way into the future, that will take money. If we want our music program to stay as robust as it is, that takes money. Look again at your vision – were there staff people involved? Were there outreach efforts? Leadership training? Participation in marches on Washington, DC? These all require financial resources.
Is your vision compelling enough, big enough, broad enough, to inspire you to dig deep and give? If not yours, is someone else’s?
Because this year, it better be. How do we get there, to the place where your vision comes to life? This year, it all rests on you. How much is this liberal religious community worth to you? As much as a coffee per day? What about going out to lunch every day? Is it worth more to you than that? What about season tickets to the Louisville Orchestra, or Actors Theater? How does what you get out of being here compare to what you get out of being there?
The board is committed to giving you a balanced budget to approve at the annual meeting. This year, there is no capital assets fund to borrow from, there will be no endowment distributions. The members and friends of this congregation will be responsible for approximately 85% of the income of the church – which, actually, according to church professionals, is a very healthy number. But it is a substantially higher percentage than it has been in recent years past. This year, it all comes down to how much this community means to you, and how much you are willing to give.
Now, if you have heard me talk about this in one of the many meeting I attend, you have heard about how excited I am by this opportunity. For a while now, I think this church has been living in a murky future. The idea a number of years ago was that we needed to increase staff for growth – growth which didn’t happen to the degree expected – to the degree necessary to fund the increased staffing brought on. We have lived beyond our means, taking money from the capital assets fund in order to balance the budget. We have tried to be a 300 member congregation, when, in reality, we are closer to a 200 member congregation. But there is nothing wrong with being a 200 member congregation! In fact, its a pretty awesome thing.
We have lived beyond our means trying to be something, that, frankly, we aren’t. At least not right now.
Which may sound dreary, but really, its not. This is a fabulous time to figure out who we are. Why put on the size 300 pants if the size 200 looks better and feels more comfortable??? This is a time to figure out who we are – not just in terms of a budget, but in terms of a compelling mission.
I am excited by the opportunities this canvass presents. This year, the board is committed to giving you a balanced budget. Even with the loss of endowment and capital assets income, we are committed to fiscal responsibility.
Hopefully those of you who are not visitors received a letter in the mail inviting you to this service. In that letter, you were introduced to the idea that, in 2015 – 5 years from now, we hope that a vast majority of you will be contributing to this congregation at 5% or more of your adjusted gross income. We won’t get there overnight, of course, and this is a brand new initiative, so this year, we are hoping that most of you will be generous enough to give at 2% or more of your AGI.
I believe that our message is even more valuable, more important, and more life saving than the message of churches that get 10% off the top of their members earnings. And so John and I are putting our money where are hearts are. We are pledging to give 5% of our AGI.
I know some of you don’t like hearing that. For many of us, money is something private, not to be talked about. But as with so many other issues, if we don’t take it out of the closet, the issue will continue to haunt us. I know firsthand how our cultural silence around money hurts – in my very first job out of college I found out I was paid substantially less than a less qualified, less experienced male coworker. When I brought this to my boss, it was immediately fixed, but I was only able to help them do the right thing because my coworker and I had broken the taboos on talking about money. I believe that we need to start talking about money, as hard as that may be to do. In fact, over lunch, I encourage you to talk to others at your table – if you raise your pledge, and particularly if you give at 2% or more of your AGI, let others know you are doing so – and why! I know it might seem difficult at first, but the more we stretch ourselves, the easier it will become – and the more inspiring we might be to others.
Take a moment to get settled in your chair. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths.
Imagine. Imagine that you are here, in this room. The year is 2015. The pledge cards have been handed out. You take yours out of the envelope and look at it. In the past few years, our pledge has meant some sacrifices on your part- but they have been worth it: they help bring your life more into alignment with your values.
Once everyone has filled out their pledge cards, those who have given generously at 5% or more of the AGI are asked to come to the front and drop their pledge cards in a basket on the alter. You hesitate before standing up – not wanting to call attention to yourself. But then you see others begin to rise and move forward. Many, many others. In fact, it looks like almost the whole congregation is giving as generously as you just did. Again, you are filled with joy. You rise and bring your pledge to the front.
Visitors look around in wonder – amazed at the love and generosity they feel from the congregation. They can tell that this is a special place – something that they want to be a part of.
When everyone is done, beautifully wrapped boxes appear in front of everyone. You gently unwrap the box. To your surprise and wonder, in the box is all your hopes and dreams for this church. As well as the hopes and dreams of all the others here. You feel yourself filled with joy. As you look around, you see that same joy and wonder in the eyes of everyone around you.
Your generosity, and the generosity of those around you, brought your hopes and dreams to reality.
Take a moment now to slowly come back to the present. Consider what this congregation means to you. How much are you willing to give in order to bring your vision to life?
We don’t ask you to give out of guilt, or out of fear of damnation. Instead, think about this church and ask yourself if it has made your life better – helped you on your journey? Have you been accepted and loved here? What is that worth to you?
Now that you have taken a few moments to consider where you want us to go in the future and what this congregation means to you – I invite table hosts to now distribute the envelopes. As you will see, there are two pieces of information for you today – first, there is a directory update form – we want to make sure we have accurate information to contact you.
The other card it the pledge care. If you need help filling it out, your table hosts will be able to help you. I ask that you please note the checkbox that indicates a pledge of 2% or more of your AGI – please don’t forget to check this box!
Hymn #402 From You I Receive, To You I Give
my service on Avatar. March 10, 2010Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
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February 28, 2010 Celebration of Life at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY
Lessons from Avatar
“[He] stood up, the strongest and the fiercest spirit that fought in heaven, now fiercer by despair.” -John Milton, Paradise Lost
Call to Worship
By Robert T. Weston
There is a living web that runs through us to all the universe
Linking us each with each and through all life on to the distant stars.
Each knows a little corner of the world, and lives as if this were his all.
We no more see the farther reaches of the threads
Than we see of the future, yet they’re there.
Touch but one thread, no matter which;
The thoughtful eye may trace to distant lands
Its firm continuing strand, yet lose its filaments as they reach out,
But find at last it coming back to him from whom it led.
We move as in a fog, aware of self
But only dimly conscious of the rest
As they are close to us in sight or feeling.
New objects loom up for a time, fade in and out;
Then, sometimes, as we look on unawares, the fog lifts
And then there’s the web in shimmering beauty,
Reaching past all horizons. We catch our breath;
Stretch out our eager hands, and then
In comes the fog again, and we go on,
Feeling a little foolish, doubting what we had seen.
The hands were right. The web is real.
Our folly is that we so soon forget.
This morning, may we remember.
by Elizabeth McMaster
We light our flaming chalice
To illuminate the world we seek.
In the search for truth, may we be just;
In the search for justice, may we be loving;
And, in loving, may we find peace
Hymn #1014 Standing on the Side of Love
Story for All Ages
Contemplation “Pandora Discovered”
The Movie “Avatar” was released in December. Since then, it has been seen by millions upon millions of people around the world. Directed by James Cameron, Avatar became the first movie to gross over $2 billion, and it has been nominated for 9 academy awards including best picture and best director.
The movie takes place on the world Pandora. The brief piece we are about to watch is narrated by Sigourney Weaver, one of the films stars. This vignette is not in the movie, but it provides helpful background on the world of Pandora, and human earthlings involvement on it.
Sermon “Lessons from Avatar”
The story of the movie’s creation is, itself, the thing of legend. Before Titanic, even before Terminator, Avatar was the movie that James Cameron wanted to make. But the technology didn’t exist for him to share his vision the way he wanted to share it. When people talk about how Avatar will revolutionize film-making, they are talking, in part, about how Cameron brought amazing new techie stuff into being precisely so that he could bring his vision to life. As I hope you were able to see from Pandora Discovered, the effects alone make this movie worth seeing.
But there’s more to the movie than the story of how it’s made. There are lessons to be learned from how people around the world have responded to the content of the movie.
The story takes place in the year 2154 on Pandora, a lush, Earth-like moon. The RDA corporation from Earth is mining a valuable mineral on Pandora called unobtanium. Earth’s resources have all been squandered and so we had to look elsewhere to supply our continued, conspicious consumption. The world is inhabited by the Na’vi, who are ten-foot-tall blue-skinned humanoids. Technologically, the Na’vi have nothing on the humans – their most advanced weapon is a bow and arrow.
Spiritually, they leave our culture in the dust. The Na’vi live in harmony with nature, worshiping Eywa – spirit of the moon itself, which resembles a large nervous system. In fact, the Na’vi can plug into this nervous system and use it to communicate with other life-forms that are part of the planet. There are more than a few similarities between the Na’vi and indigenous people of this planet.
To facilitate relations with the Na’vi and to research Pandora’s biosphere, earthling scientists grow Na’vi-human hybrid bodies called avatars that are operated via mental link by genetically matching humans.
Jake Sully, a paraplegic former Marine, operates an avatar. During an outing, an animal attack separates Jake from the group. Neytiri, a female Na’vi, rescues Jake. Seeing portents from Eywa that she does not understand, she brings him to Hometree, where her clan live. Neytiri’s mother is the clan’s spiritual leader. She shows interest in the “warrior dreamwalker” and instructs her daughter to teach Jake the Na’vi ways. Very convenient!!
Meanwhile, Hometree is on top of massive deposits of unobtainium, and RDA wants the site. They enlist Jake to help them, but ver three months, Jake grows close to Neytiri and her people. He eventually rejects RDA’s destructive agenda, but it is too late and Hometree is destroyed. Many Na’vi are killed.
It does not end there, of course, but I don’t want to give too much away to those of you who have not seen it. It will suffice to say that the good guys win, the earthlings leave, and the Na’vi get their world back – albeit bruised and battered.
Much criticism has been heaped upon Avatar. David Brooks, of the New York Times, called it a White Messiah Fable. And there is some truth to that. Certainly there are similarities between Avatar and movies such as Dances with Wolves, or even with the animated Disney flick Pocahontas. However, dismissing it as a white messiah fable is neither entirely accurate, nor does it tell the whole story (but thats a sermon for another time).
Another criticism has been around the main character, Jake Sully. While James Cameron has wondered why people aren’t commenting on the fact that the main character is a paraplegic – the first for an action movie – people are commenting on how Jake escapes into his Na’vi avatar as a way of rejecting the paraplegia of his human body.
Even institutions that don’t usually lower themselves to the level of popular films are also getting in on the act. The Vatican has come out against the movie. Though Pope Benedict has been nicknamed, by some, as the “Green Pope” for his environmental advocacy, the vatican came down on the side of warning about Avatar. They assert that the film “gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.” Similarly, Vatican Radio said Avatar “cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium.” The Vatican’s concern seems to be that in Avatar, “Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship.”
Even more surprising criticism, perhaps, is that the Chinese government recently eliminated all 2-D theaters that can show Avatar. The claim is that they are afraid that the movie will cause political unrest. Some Chinese have pointed out that here is a parallel between the story of Avatar and how Chinese property developers’ routinely evict households and farmers in China to make way for new buildings.
But while many criticize the Hollywood behemoth, others are finding it meaningful and even inspirational. Though it’s meta-story is one that has been repeated over and over in different ways, ala Joseph Campbell: it is precisely this mythological concept that makes it so accessible, and so meaningful to some. Many environmental groups have been encouraging their members go and see it, again and again. Writing in the Cumberland, Dave Cooper connects the themes of the movie to strip-mining and mountain-top removal. “For those who live in Appalachia near strip mines, the story is all too familiar. For all of the third world countries around the world who have had to deal with US corporations or other colonial powers, this film speaks loud and clear: corporations, backed by the US government, are destroying the planet.”
Bob Spichen, editor of Sierra Magazine – the publishing arm of The Sierra Club, wrote that he thinks “Avatar–as naive and weirdly misanthropic as it is in places–will bump the discussion of our shared fate to a new level, just as its animation has nudged entertainment technology up a notch.”
Unitarian Universalists, too, have picked up on the theme of the movie. Not long after it came out, people start talking about how the nervous system of Pandora, Eywa, was an amazing example of an interconnected web of existence.
Indeed, when 20th Century Fox executives read the script, they asked James Cameron to take “some of this tree-hugging, FernGully crap out of this movie.” Cameron’s response lends credence to the connections between environmentalism and the film: “No,” he said, “because that’s why I’m making the film.”
The connection between environmentalism and Avatar may have been one reason to make the movie, but I would guess that Cameron had no idea how deeply some people would feel that connection.
Some fans come away wishing that they could live on Pandora – the beauty is so real and intoxicating. Others come away feeling disgust with the human race and our wanton destruction.
A large enough number of people have come away from the film experiencing depression and even suicidal thoughts, that there is a name emerging for the condition: Post-Avatar Ecological Depressive Disorder.
Reports one sufferer: “When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning…. I still don’t really see any reason to keep … doing things at all. I live in a dying world” he wrote. When pushed for the source of his depression, he continued: “One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much wanted to escape reality.”
Many a reasonable person that I have talked to has walked out of the movie feeling a sense of sorrow, or even something deeper. It has awakened something in many of us – a despair and helplessness that we had sucessfully suppressed, but that can suddenly no longer stay dormant. Read this account from Ryan Croken, who knows of what he writes. (excerpted in sermon)
This is different than depression. This is existential despair. The movie touches a deep yearning in many of us. We know that life as we have it today it is not how it could be, how it, perhaps, should be. We know, intuitively, that we are not in touch with our world, in touch with each other. We look around and see consumerism, radical individuality, hubris, and a sense of entitlement– these characteristics are not what is best in life but are, unfortunately, what is most obvious. These characteristics drive us as a species, and separate us from the force of life.
This despair is a theological condition in that it speaks to our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. We know, in our hearts, in our souls, that we could be doing better. We could be better stewards of the environment, doing more to care for our planet for the seventh generation. But as James Cameron aptly points out, human nature is that if we can take it, we will. And we do – over and over and over again: colonialism, mountain-top removal. Its us versus them, over and over but what we yearn for, at our core, is a sense of “we”, of connectedness, of interdependence.
But Cameron does not want to leave us in a state of despair. “If you’re tuned in to what’s happening in ‘Avatar,’”, he says, “you start to feel a sense of moral outrage when you see the tree fall [destroying the Na'vi's home], and it’s a compassionate response for [the Na'vi].” And he continues: “Then you feel a sense of uplift at the end as good vanquishes evil. If you put those two things together, it actually creates a ripe emotional matrix for people to want to do something about it.”
To do something about it. That seems to be the cure for the despair many feel after watching Avatar. Do something about it. Ryan Croken, who wrote that moving explanation of his own feelings, believes that “The best hope people have for a long-term cure, is to actualize this vision in real life by taking the pathos and reverence they feel for the fictional Pandora and using that energy to actively participate in the restoration of the celestial body that miraculously sustains our existence right here on real, live 3-D Planet Earth.”
All around the world, this is what people are doing. They are following in the wisdom of Gandhi by becoming the change they seek. They are mobilizing – coming out of Avatar and feeling a renewed sense of energy around caring for our environment. And this part was a part of Cameron’s master plan. He intentionally had the humans represent aspects of human nature that are corrupt and aggressive. The Na’vi represent the way we want to be, a better model of ourselves: graceful and connected to our environment.
In this way, perhaps the Vatican’s worries are well-founded, that we will begin to care for our environment as though it were divine. But is that really such a bad thing? Would it be so horrible? What would we lose if we felt ourselves as part and parcel of this great, wonderous, mysterious planet? What might we gain?
I am reminded of a poem by Wendell Berry, called The Peace of Wild Things.
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Beyond its blockbuster status, beyond the legends of its creation, the myth of Avatar, and the response of many of us Earthlings who watch it, has much to teach us: About our capabilities to wantonly destroy, about our hubris as the most worthy species on this planet or any other; and about how, at our core, many of us know how wrong this all is.
How we yearn for a simpler life that is based on relationship rather than consumerism, living in harmony, rather than domination, with our surroundings.
How we yearn for a greater connection to our world and to each other! To rest in the grace of the world.
Do we dare to listen to these important lessons, delivered over an often disrespected media? Do we dare not?
May our longing for more help us as a species begin to make the shift towards being who we want to be.
Hymn #1068 Rising Green
When despair grows in us, and we wake in the middle of the night in fear for our lives, and the lives of our children, may we find comfort in the mystery and wonder of this beloved home planet. And in our despair, may we find strength to do what we know needs to be done.
May our feet carry days of old into new as we reimagine our relationship with the interdependent web of existence, of which we are a part.
And may our dreaming, and the dreaming of gifted storytellers, remind and inspire us to be who we long to be.
multigenerational worship. March 7, 2010Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
My newsletter column for March was on Multigenerational Worship.
In the vision I shared for Canvass Sunday today, I included a vision of children and adults worshiping together on Sunday morning, sharing a meal together, and then having a religious education hour where small groups would meet and all sorts of adult and children RE programming would occur.
I truly believe that this is the future, but there are many different ways to make it happen. I also know this can be a scary thing. Change usually is. But check out this Interconnections article. Read it, and then share your comments – is this something we could do at First? Do we want to take the plunge?
which came first? March 4, 2010Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
This article in Newsweek last week really blew me away. Particularly:
“Schmidt’s thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.”
Okay, forget that the author uses some outdated language (really? “mankind” instead of “humankind”??).
Instead, what if it is our search for truth and meaning that makes us human? To come together, and look for (or create) answers. And that civilization flows out of that need, rather than the reverse.
I love it! And I am not one whit surprised.