claiming our power. March 29, 2012Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
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Claiming our Power
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley, delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on March 25, 2012.
Listen to the sermon here.
Beginners, by Denise Levertov
Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla
“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea—“
But we have only begun
To love the earth.
We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.
How can desire fail?
— we have only begun
to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision
how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.
Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet—
there is too much broken
that must be mended,
too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud.
Notes/Outline (which I hold on to and rarely reference so they don’t really resemble what I say that well!)
- Denise Levertov “So much is in bud”
- Spring buds – full of potential energy, can’t just hoard it
Kinetic means “to move”
- Time for us to release some of this energy, to get on the move!
Types of Power
Starhawk, Truth or Dare identifies 3 types of power
- Power over – Can be parental or boss/employee
Comes with love/respect
Can be domination
Controlling people not coming from a place of love but of fear
Control is what abusers/batterers do to try to feel powerful
- Power Within –
Arises out of our sense of connection with each other, our bonding with other human beings and with our environment
- Power With –
Among equals, the source of the power is a willingness to listen to each others ideas
Willingness to listen indicates a willingness to be challenged and changed
Denise Levertov “We have only begun to know the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle”
Claiming our power
- Best to be aware of the type of power we have, claim it, and ascertain how best to use it.
- My own example – CPE, being told I am “intense”. Could decide to deny it – doesn’t lessen my intensity but it makes it impossible for me to consciously use it for good ends.
- With great power comes great responsibility
Our mission statement alludes to that power we want: First Unitarian Church is a church of reason and spirit that witnesses for our progressive faith, nurtures our community and transforms our world.
That’s all We are just about transforming the world.
The phrase that gets me is “witnesses for progressive faith”
- New member ceremony – why do we join a church – in part we join religious communities to cast our lots with one another; to form a deep community, united in purpose.
- Witnessing – give evidence of the power of progressive faith in our own lives. Not through words only, but lived, real, tangible.
- 17 years ago, on March 26, 1995, my 24th birthday, joined a UU church, my parents were there. I cried. Now my mother has joined. I did not foresee that.
- One year ago, First U provided a powerful witness to the variety of religious expression – not quiet, meditative, but loud, explosive, physical. Roller Derby service. Still holy, and powerful. The video has been seen by over 100,000 people!
Unitarian Universalism has, at times, let our light shine brightly – abolition, women’s suffrage, when we speak truth to power and published the pentagon papers.
- Dan’s video – where else can you be free to express/share/challenge and be challenged?
This is powerful! But we have to claim it in order to best use it. If we don’t claim it, if we deny our ability to transform ourselves and the world, we will lose our power.
What happens if we lose our power
- And make no mistake, others are trying to use power OVER – to dominate
- fear, fear of losing power, fear of losing control
- Conservative religion is infecting politics, trying to control government at all levels, renew oppression of women, control what our children are taught in schools, and much more.
- Can’t help but think of the distopia in the Hunger Games, where everything is controlled and our children are pitted against one another. Are we already there, as a colleague of mine suggested?
So let us not deny our power!
- Not easy, but absolutely necessary.
Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”
Does a tulip dither about whether or not to bloom? NO!! So we should not as well.
But her quote does not end there. “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
May we be about the business of liberating others, of witnessing for a progressive faith, for transforming the world. May we claim our power. As Denise Levertov wrote: “We have only begin to imagine the fullness of life. How could we tire of hope? So much is in bud.”
where are we going? March 28, 2012Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
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Where are we going? A stewardship sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on March 18, 2012.
Listen to the sermon here. Please note, there is an error in the sermon. I said that the Bowling Green church has twice the pledge budget that First U does. This is incorrect!
Notes/Outline (which may or may not follow what I said )
- Feels good to give to a good cause – human beings wired biologically for altruism
- Eggs from story part of a miracle and embody a miracle
- life just waiting to happen
- Egg, once fertilized, can only become one thing – where it is going is obvious
- Not so easy/obvious with a church
- Where do we come from; what are we; where are we going?
- November: Where do we come from (soteriology) – what brings us here, keeps us coming back, feeds, nurtures, makes you feel whole?
- December: What are we? What is our mission in the world? What do we want to incarnate? (missiology)
- Now: Where are we going? Our ecclesiology – how do we structure ourselves as a church in order to live out our mission?
What is our mission?
- Draft: First Unitarian Church is building a compassionate community that values our differences; serving our larger community in love; witnessing for a liberal religion with faith in humanity; guiding ourselves and the next generation in hope, love, and peace.
- After much feedback, team will be meeting to process and incorporate the feedback you have given this month (not too late to fill out a form by volunteer desk!)
- Eager to hear! On the right track.
Our Responsibility to Fulfill our Mission
- Can’t just write it an forget about it. Embody it.
- As we do, it will transform us, and our church community.
- Capacity to transform the town/world:
- Ripples from our vote to request minister to not sign marriage licenses last fall
- Saving influence in people’s lives
- So many people have described feeling saved by Unitarian Universalism.
- Thousands of people here in this area yearn for a liberal religious home.
- Empty space inside they want to fill.
- Place where truth can be spoken – video last night
- We are called to be the best we can be, live our mission as fully as possible.
- What about you? Has First U been a saving presence in your lives? Has it been a miracle? If so, shake your eggs.
- Every-time you hear miracle, shake those eggs!
Practically speaking, how do we fulfill our mission?
- How do we build a church that is capable of fulfilling our mission?
- Resources! Time, commitment, money
- Budget is a Moral document. It shows what treasure.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson:
A person will worship something–have no doubt about that.
We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts-but it will out.
That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and character.
Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.
- What are we becoming? What do we treasure?
- Dan shared – 12 minutes per day is 2.5%
- Let us be like an egg – an embodied miracle that knows how to do what must be done, how to become what it must become.
- Budget reflect our desire to live our mission – not just to fund the building and staff but to bring us into who we can be.
- For many people, finding First U has been a miracle. Who else is out there looking for us?
- Bring a friend Sunday next week – maybe you can help a miracle happen in someone else’s life.
Magnifying our Miracle
- Theme of our stewardship campaign this year.
- Dinner last night
- What are some of our miracles?
- Youth (it was UU youth that saved me once upon a time)
- For so many people, First Unitarian Church is a miracle. I have faith that it could be a miracle for so many more, too.
Faith in Ourselves/Mission
- Faith in our mission, in who we can be (growing behind the shell, you can’t even tell!)
- Faith because, in part, I know other churches do it (Bowling Green, smaller, larger budget)
- Faith in our miracles – each of you!
- Our feet carry days of old into new: We are moving forward – no turning back.
- Dreaming shows us the way.
- Wonderous our faith – GROUND us.
- Faith that for so many people, First Unitarian Church will be a miracle in their lives.
- Are we all that we can be right now? Epitome of First U? Full embodiment of our mission?
- Still forming, growing.
- May our stewardship campaign this year remind us of how First U is a miracle in our lives, and may we affirm that lovely altruistic feeling by helping to magnify our miracles so that we can better live our mission as a saving, transforming, miraculous force in peoples lives.
faith. March 7, 2012Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
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A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on March 4, 2012
Listen to this sermon here. For context, we had a family who lost much in the recent tornados share their story. We did a collection for the Red Cross Disaster Relief.
The sermon notes below have some overlap with what I actually preached on Sunday morning (read about what happened at my earlier blog entry), but if you are trying to listen and follow the outline at the same time, you will get lost. Also, I will have to save my story of my Grandmother and her faith as a formative presence in my life for another time.
If you are looking for something more spiritual, listen to the sermon.
If you are looking for something intellectual, the sermon notes section below has more “information.”
The tendency to equate faith with doctrine, and then argue about terminology and concepts, distracts us from what faith is actually about. In my understanding, whether faith is connected to a deity or not, its essence lies in trusting ourselves to discover the deepest truths on which we can rely.
For some this will be a very different approach to faith. Many link faith to narrow-minded belief systems, lack of intelligent examination, or pain at having one’s questions silenced. Faith might evoke images of submission to an external authority. Historically, the idea of faith has been used to slice cleanly between those who belong to a select group and those who do not. To fuel their own embittered agendas, fanatics harness what they call faith to hatred.
I want to invite a new use of the word faith, one that is not associated with dogmatic religious interpretation or divisiveness. I want to encourage delight in the word, to help reclaim faith as fresh, vibrant, intelligent, and librating. This is a faith that emphasizes a foundation of love and respect for ourselves. It is a faith that uncovers our connection to others, rather than designating anyone as separate and apart.
Faith does not require a belief system, and is not necessarily connected to a deity or God, though it doesn’t deny one. This faith is not a commodity we either have or don’t have – it is an inner quality that unfolds as we learn to trust our own deepest experience.
What do you think of when you hear the word “Faith”?
1.”Other” Slayer on BtVS
2.George Michael song
3.Profession of faith (list of beliefs)
4.My grandmother (whose faith I admired)
Not Sharon Salzberg’s idea expressed in our reading.
That is changing – book challenges us to broaden our understandings of faith.
Not talking about Fowler’s 6 stages of faith development, which has virtually no correlation with how an individual lives their day to day life.
Faith, according to Salzberg, is what gets us out of bed in the morning. It motivates our actions, it grounds us, it is what we build our lives around.
This felt so amorphous to me, so my first task was to understand what “faith” means. I struggled to understand the similarities and difference between faith, belief, hope and trust.
Finally came to understand: Faith is the ability to act on an informed trust and hope. It is future oriented.
“ability to act” is very important. Faith implies movement, action. In Pali, Hebrew and Latin, faith is actually a verb.
Difference with faith and belief is the forward thinking action oriented. Belief does not necessarily cause you to act on the belief. Faith implies shaping your viewpoint.
Belief more intellectual
Faith is spiritual
Faith is the journey, not the destination. It is for this reason that it is a word that I believe has an important place for Unitarian Universalists, that we not just throw the word out. Because we are a people who understand that it is a religious impulse to search for truth and meaning. This search is a faithful act!
Faith says “I don’t know what will happen on this journey, but I will travel it anyway. Everything may, or may not be alright, but that is besides the point.”
When we don’t have faith, we may not be able to put our foot on the path, to start or continue the journey. We are likely to experience the opposite of faith: despair.
Those who have felt suicidal often feel a loss of hope. But those who complete suicide also often experience a loss of faith. When we have faith, our hope might falter but we trust that we might find hope again. When we lose faith that we might ever feel hope again, we succumb to the despair.
In the movie Hugo, George “Mel-YEZ” filmmaker – lost faith in industry, in himself.
Stuck for a long time. Broken.
When his faith was restored, he resumed his journey.
Faith moves, requires putting one foot in front of another.
But does not ask us to walk blindly: Doubt is an important aspect of faith.
This is what I am talking about when I mention “informed” trust and hope. Faith encourages us to ask questions.
Salzberg calls it “verifying faith”
Anglican Priest Kenneth Leech “True faith can only grow and mature if it includes the elements of paradox and creative doubt. Such doubt is not the enemy of faith but an essential element of it, for faith does not bring the false peace of answered questions and resolved paradoxes.”
This is the kind of faith my grandmother had, that I so admired.
- “Good Christian woman”
- Known her share of suffering
- devoted to her church
- Religious faith was the cornerstone of her life.
Yet she always questioned. She did not know the answer to many of my questions. Doubt was “like butterflies” flitting around her.
Blind faith, a faith we don’t question, is dangerous. Leads us to trust in things, people, that may harm us or others. Blind faith is unhealthy.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are not asked to have blind faith, but instead are encouraged to doubt, to ask questions.
“To question truly is an answer” we sing in one of our hymns that we will sing later this month.
Popular reading in our hymnal, by Rev. Robert T. Weston (minister of this congregation in the mid 20th century) reads:
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth. Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.
This is the kind of faith that I think Unitarian Universals can work with: A faith that can be, but certainly does not have to be, connected with a deity. A faith that asks questions. That causes us to move. Faith as an ability to act on an informed trust and hope, knowing that the way may be hard, and the path unclear but that it is the journey that matters, not the destination.
Faith tradition vs denomination
As we search for truth and meaning;
As we accept one another and encourage each other on our journeys
May we have faith that it is so, and by having faith, may we make it so.
faith, tragedy and extemporaneous speaking March 4, 2012Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
I will upload my sermon outline and the audio from this Sunday later in the week. But in the meantime, I wanted to share my experience of this Sunday, because it was one of those days when the mystery and wonder in the universe leave me in awe.
This month, our ministry theme is Faith. And so I prepared my sermon, based on the book Faith by Sharon Salzberg. It is a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it. One month ago, I began speaking extemporaneously, but I noticed that my outline for this sermon was more notes than outline. I felt a bit anxious about it. Had I not processed the material enough? What was going to happen?
Then, on Friday, tragedy struck my area of the country in the form of multiple tornados. One of the families in our church suffered devestating losses to their farm, though thankfully the massive EF4 tornado that went by did not cause very much damage to their house. This same tornado leveled two towns.
I began to wonder about changing my sermon topic. Perhaps the congregation needed something of me in this area. But I did not know what. I thought about what I would say, and I felt utterly bereft of any theological reflection on the topic. We don’t believe in a God that points his finger and causes some people to suffer and others to get by unscathed. Unitarian Universalists are pretty practical that way. It was a terrible situation, but there was no cause (other than, perhaps, climate change, but I was not going to preach on that). I knew that if my congregation wanted anything, it would be something honest, from my heart. And they would want to feel useful.
When one of the members with the damaged farm suggested we do a second collection for the Red Cross, I thought it might come together. Rather than do a second collection, we decided she and her family would tell their story, and that this would be the introduction to the main offering – we would give away the entire plate to the Red Cross.
Coming in this morning, I was feeling like I had a bit of a handle on what was going on. And I proceeded to lose that handle. One thing after another went wrong, or went differently than I thought it would. I had totally forgotten that it was a multigenerational service and the kids were with us the whole time.
I warned the congregation before the prelude to just put down their orders of service, and to have faith that all would be well. We were going to play it by ear.
And we did. And it was. One member gave a heart-filled testimony on what the church meant to him (we are kicking off our yearly stewardship campaign). We had many joys and sorrows. And then it was time to introduce the offering. I learned that a good place to get shelter during a tornado (if you are out and about) is one of those car washes that I have behind my house (and which I now have more appreciation for).
And I heard about what it was like to be seperated from your loved ones during a tornado. One of the mothers was picking up their daughter while the other mother was texting constant weather updates. The mother who was still at the farm shared how hard it was to be seperated from her family as the freight train sound came through. She said she thought she would die, and that what got her through it was faith: faith in the love that she has for her family and that they have for her.
I sat there, silently weeping. When their story was told and the offering collected, I was left wondering what place a nicely outlined sermon had after such a testimonial. That had been faith, stripped of all pretensions. I decided to jetisoon the reading, put down the iPad (on which I keep my outline) and go with it. I prayed to the mystery of the universe to help me find the right words.
And I did. I used some of what I had planned on using, some that I didn’t. Some in a different order. I spoke purely from my heart. I encouraged us as Unitarian Universalists to become reacquainted with faith. The kind of faith we had heard about: the kind that grounds us, inspires us to keep going.
I had faith in my ability to give a sermon, to go with the flow. Thankfully, I had given a few extemporaneous sermons already which helped increase my trust in myself. I don’t know if I could have handled it so gracefully if I had felt bound to a text.
I also had faith in my congregation, to go with me on an unplanned journey. And it all worked out. Beautifully. It was, truly, one of those magical moments that I will look back on in times of difficulty to remind myself that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, all will be well. That you just gotta have faith.