our new puppy arrived! yesterday. 10 weeks old and away from all he knows- parents, siblings, home. I wonder what that is like for him. he cries when we leave him alone in his crate. I feel bad for him. I remember when Matthew was 3 months old and he too left behind everything and everyone he knew. We made a family, which is good. At the same time I know he knows that loss. Will the dog know it too?

here he is – say hello to Jampa (loving kindness in Tibetan).





Reading: The Reverend Linda Anderson

Columnist Linda Weltner tells this very comforting story. “My husband,” she writes, “plays the tuba badly. No, wretchedly. Execrably. With unforgettable inexpertise. After my husband played ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ at my older daughter’s wedding, as a way of welcoming our son-in-law’s Irish family, his father created an award for Jack that read, in part, ‘for a spontaneous public performance which demonstrated an originality so stark that it stunned the audience, rendering them incapable of meaningful response.’

This did not hurt my husband’s feelings. He knows the impact his music has. This is a man for whom practice means playing all the notes, right or wrong, at least twice. His tuba, purchased at a yard sale for $100, looks as if it’s been run over by a truck. His entire repertory consists of five songs which run the gamut from ‘Happy Birthday’ to ‘So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You.’ Still, the phone rings and people ask him to do a gig at some special event, an occurrence which happens more frequently than I might hope. He doesn’t get nervous or decide to polish up his technique a bit. He glows. He basks. He’s unabashedly delighted. And delightful.

At his first note, audiences burst into hysterical laughter, and the more earnestly my husband attempts to render a recognizable melody, the harder they laugh, until they leap to their feet, choking and cheering. I understand why he’s in demand.” He dares to be imperfect. And people love him for it.

Falling Short: The Reverend Linda Anderson

I love the story of the tuba player. I love it because I’m the sort of person who has high standards for myself. I want to do the best I can, which is a good thing. However, attached to that is a desire to do everything well, which is not particularly a good thing. I’m an only child, which may have something to do with it. Only children have no siblings to compare themselves to. They have adults and when children expect themselves to behave and achieve as adults do, it can be a set-up for disappointment and feelings of failure because those expectations are not realistic. I am still learning that doing everything well is not the same as doing the best I can. I am still learning that sometimes my best is just not very good. This desire to do everything well brings me dis-ease and discomfort in those times when I want to do better than I’m doing. I don’t want to have my imperfections so obvious to everyone. So obvious to myself. And it only increases as I get older.

Which is why I love the story of the tuba player. There are times in our lives when we will not meet our own standards, our own desires, much less those of others. For some those times start early, with learning difficulties in school. For others they come on the job. For still others they come in sports. For many of us, limitations show up as we age. We simply cannot do what we used to do well. How do we deal with that? It takes courage to allow ourselves to be imperfect, and by that I mean to allow ourselves to do our best, even when the outcome is not very good. It’s a lesson I learn over and over again, imperfectly. How about you?

A number of years ago I went to Arches National Park in Utah. I went for the beauty of the land, which I found to a stunning extent. I also encountered, also to a stunning extent, my own inability to do something as well as I thought I could; as well as I wanted to. In other words, I encountered my own limitations. I encountered so many of them at one time that the story bears telling.

The first thing I do in a national park is go to the ranger station and see what’s what. I stamp my passport and peruse the ranger programs and guided hikes. In Arches I found something called the Fiery Furnace hike and I asked about it. The ranger looked me up and down and took out a sheet with some pictures on it. First, she said, You have to have good shoes. I do, I said, here they are. (Holding up hiking boots.) She said, You have to have a backpack and carry water. Okay, I do that when I hike. Actually, I’m a careful hiker, always carrying a poncho and a hat and a flashlight and a knife and a first-aid kit as well. Then she showed me the pictures. You have to rock scramble; see those people on their hands and knees? You can’t be afraid of heights; see those people on the ledge? You must be willing to jump over crevasses, also. I began to waver, inwardly, a tiny bit, but I assured her I was okay with all of it. I mean, this was my only opportunity to walk down into the furnace, into an unmarked area that was not open to hikers except with a ranger, or a special permit. And I could do it. I hiked. I did weight training and aerobic exercise. It was only two miles – a comfortable distance. Okay, it was billed as a moderately strenuous hike, but I optimistically focused on the moderate part, paid my $6 and pocketed my ticket. I showed up the next day, 4 pm, in the Fiery Furnace parking lot, suitably booted and backpacked. The ranger counted heads, 22 of them, and off we went.

First, she went too fast. I mean she downright galloped into the furnace. The kids loved it. Right away I found myself at the end of the line. I do walk slowly, so I expected this, even if I didn’t like it. With me at the back of the pack were four others: a man from New Orleans, who wanted to linger so that he could take photographs; a man from Australia who obviously hadn’t gotten the word about sturdy shoes and wore Teva sandals to this hike and needed to proceed gingerly; a young guy named Matt, another slow walker; and a friend whom I had run into unexpectedly on the hike. It was fine until everybody seemed to disappear into a hole in the ground. It turned out to be a crevasse that you lowered yourself down into by gripping the rock with your fingernails. It was kind of exhilarating, but my backpack kept getting in the way. A liter and ½ of water, flashlights and first aid kits and ponchos get heavy. Plus I had my camera, with a big telephoto lens. So Matt took the backpack, somewhat to my chagrin because I wanted to do it myself, but mostly to my relief.

Next we squeezed our bodies through an opening in the rocks that made any MRI tube look spacious, only to find ourselves in an open-air cave whose roof was an arch above our heads. Magnificent. I retrieved my camera just as the ranger galloped off again, but the five of us stayed behind to rest and take pictures. Mistake. In order to get out of the open-air cave, we had to proceed, spider-like, across two rocks about two feet apart from each other with nothing solid that I could see between them. This time the man from New Orleans took my camera as I propped my back and arms against one of the rocks and my feet against the other and inched my way across like a sideways crab. I looked up and my Good Samaritan was taking pictures of me with my own camera. The man had a sense of humor.

They call this area of the park Fiery Furnace because the sandstone, already pink in color, turns red in the later afternoon when the rays of the sun light it from an angle low down in the sky. Anyway, emerging from the crevasse, we reached the bottom of the furnace. We stood at the base of the sandstone, looking up at the red rock and the almost unbelievably “true blue” of a sky, as e e cummings puts it. Every now and then a raven would add its blackness for contrast. We walked along comfortably in the sand for an all too short amount of time and then we began climbing. We climbed on rocks that held no foothold, no toehold and no handhold. The ranger and quite a few of the other hikers turned into mountain goats at that point and skipped up the rocks. But not me. I got on my hands and knees and literally crawled up. Two hours and ten minutes into a three hour hike. I was shaky. This hike was a challenge. At this point the ranger was periodically calling back to us to ask if everything was all right. The guy from New Orleans always said yes. I wondered.

Something happened to me then. I was finished. My whole body started to shake. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the heights or the scrambling or the jumping as much as, 2 ½ hours into the hike, I was tired. The pace was too fast and so I never fully rested before we set off again. My heart rate never slowed down enough. I was probably dehydrated. My pals told me to drink water, but it nauseated me. About this time the ranger called back to see if we were okay and the group said yes, but they looked worried. My friend had some Gatorade and it stabilized me for the last leg of the hike, a series of ups and downs over the rocks. The ups weren’t bad, but the downs were steep. I took them sitting down. As we approached the end, the man from New Orleans put his arm around me and said I had a lot of courage. He took one last picture of me with my camera and we parted ways. The ranger cheerfully waved goodbye and once more I was safe and sound in a paved parking lot above the Fiery Furnace.

Has it ever happened to you that you have not been able to do something very well, something you wanted to do well, either because of a lack of aptitude and/or a lack of knowledge and/or circumstances beyond your control, or perhaps because your body simply could not do it? Have you ever been among the pack in the back; the ones who can’t keep up? What was that like for you?

The experience of my own limitations, so glaringly obvious among a group of people without the same limitations, taught me a lot. To a large extent, we measure ourselves against one another and a part of our self-esteem rests upon those comparisons. I learned what it feels like to fall short of my own hopes for myself. I expected that I would have found the hike easier. I assumed that I would have done better. I wanted to do better. I hated that I was at the back of the pack and everyone else seemed to do better than me. Also, I felt frustrated. Frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how to negotiate the rocks and I didn’t have the benefit of seeing how people in front of me did it because they were too far ahead. I was frustrated that the ranger didn’t slow down, despite our asking her to. And finally, I was frustrated because the hike was so hard for me. It was so hard. I had expected a challenge, but not Mount Everest. I felt surprised and kind of embarrassed at such a manifestation of my own limitations.

Having limitations, though, is not the same as failure. J.K. Rowling, in a Commencement Address to graduates of Harvard University some years ago, noted that “Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.” Many of us can feel inadequate when we don’t measure up to the standards set by the group we’re in, whether they are academic, or physical, or social, or work related. It is not a comfortable feeling and it causes us to doubt ourselves. At the same time, no one of us can indefinitely keep up with someone else’s pace. In order to be at our best strength, we have to find our own pace and if we can, a group whose pace fits our own. It may happen from time to time that you find yourself at the back of the pack, but if you’re going too fast for your natural pace, slow down. Accept it and be true to yourself. Perhaps the failure lies in refusing to recognize, accept, and take care of our own limitations.

When we’re finding footing to be uncertain, we have to pay attention. Even if others have no trouble negotiating it, an uncertain path requires our concentration. One of my disappointments on the Fiery Furnace hike was that I had trouble where most of the others did not. But just as in the case of trying to move at a pace set by someone else, I needed to stay within myself and I needed to pay attention even if the others did not. That’s so hard to do. I think many of us look around and make assessments about ourselves and others. I can cook better than you, you can do carpentry better than me. To some extent we place ourselves in the world through such comparison. It’s particularly difficult to find bumpy a path that everyone else seems to find smooth, to have trouble with footing when everyone else seems to have none. At such times it’s hard to pay attention because it means we have to face up to our imperfections.

The real lesson is that our limitations are not a measure of our worth as human beings. We cannot measure our own value solely by comparison to others. We have inherent value and worth, imperfections and all. All too often we forget that. The lesson remains. When the footing is uncertain for us, we have to pay attention, regardless of how certain or uncertain others find it. If we don’t hold to the integrity of our needs, our footing becomes even more uncertain.

Let others help; even when we’re feeling reluctant to accept help. Sometimes, often I believe, help is there when we need it. That back of the pack crew, especially the man from New Orleans, whose name I don’t even know, greatly affected the quality of the hike for me. Their companionship, kindness and help were priceless and their presence allowed me to marshal my own resources in order to complete the hike. Sometimes, and I would venture to say often, the help of other people is there when we need it.

For exposing our limitations brings benefits. If we will not allow ourselves to do anything badly, how will we ever learn new tricks? How will we ever grow and develop? If we cannot accept our limitations, learning to carry on with them and finding ways to compensate for them, life will become harder and harder, for age brings limitation. If we demand some sort of perfection from ourselves and everyone around us, what becomes of our relationships? How will we accept the limitations of our friends, family, and those we care for? Accepting our imperfection rather than ignoring it or fighting against it or trying to hide it teaches us to persevere and it teaches us to take risks. We can surprise ourselves.

It takes courage to let ourselves be imperfect. To try something and find we do not, or cannot, do it very well, and then stay with it anyway. To stay with all the discomfort involved in showing our imperfections to the world. We learn from this; we grow. Living our imperfection can bring us pleasure, challenge, adventure, fun, and the glorious perversity of a tuba played badly. Life drags us through a fiery furnace at one time and another. In those times, especially in those times, we can’t walk at another’s pace and we can’t measure our self-esteem in comparison to how well others are doing in the furnace. We need to center and ground ourselves, recognize and try to work with whatever in us limits us. Persevere, and accept the help of others in order to get through it. Again, J.K. Rowling from the Harvard Commencement address: “Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.” Learning to accept and work with limitation is life work. May we have the humility to hold our limitations and not only survive, but meet life’s vicissitudes head on, imperfect though we are. May it be so.

Closing words — The Reverend Linda Anderson

20th century scientist Lewis Thomas “We have evolved scientists. . . and so we know a lot about DNA, but if our kind of mind had been confronted with the problem of designing a similar replicating molecule. . . we’d never have succeeded. We would have made one fatal mistake: our molecule would have been perfect. . . . The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.” Let the blundering begin. Let there be music.

Faith          The Reverend Dr. Linda Anderson

Talking about faith is like trying to explain one of those 3D pictures. You know the ones that seem to be all color in random patterns and all of a sudden you see a whole scene step out of the color chaos, almost as if it were alive. You can stare and stare at the picture and never see the scene. Your friends can tell you to relax and let your focus soften and for sure you’ll see the cow in the hot air balloon riding over the Long Island Sound. But hard as you try, you can’t make yourself see any of it. No one else can see it for you. But then, all of a sudden, you don’t know how or why, that cow slides over Long Island and into your view. Do you know what I’m talking about? That’s what faith is like. I can describe it, others can share their own experiences, but ultimately one has to know it for oneself.

Why is that important? Because faith is “the magnetic force of a bone-deep, lived understanding, one that draws us to realize our ideals, walk our talk, and act in accordance with what we know to be true.” (Sharon Salzberg, Faith) Realizing our faith acquaints us with the deepest assumptions and beliefs we hold about life. We need to know what these are so that we can discern how our faith helps or hinders our living. Whether or not it brings hope, joy, comfort, courage and kindness. Whether or not it makes us agents of peace, justice and love. We need our faith to lead meaningful lives. Unitarian Universalism is all about knowing your faith, articulating what you believe in, and then living it. Some religious teaching will tell you what is true and expect you to believe in it. Not us. Instead, we will ask you to name your own truths. It’s not anarchy though, (though at times it might look that way). We define our own faith among others who hold ethical values similar to ours. Thus your beliefs would fit into a value system that recognizes the worth of every person, that sees all of life as interconnected, the insists on each of us finding meaning in our lives, that asks we live with peace and justice.  So what you deeply believe about life and death, God and no God, human nature and the better ways to live affects the choices you make. I ask you then, what do you believe in? What is your faith? What are you teaching your children and grandchildren to believe in?

What is faith? The dictionary says it is “1. confident belief or trust in a person, idea or thing. 2. Loyalty, allegiance. 3. Secure belief in God and the acceptance of God’s will. 4. A religion.” (American Heritage Dictionary) The English word faith comes from the Latin fides, which means loyal or trustworthy. The basic core of faith is trust and loyalty. From that core, many descriptions of faith have grown. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, professor of comparative religion at Harvard, defined faith as “an orientation of the personality, to oneself, to one’s neighbor, to the universe; a total response, a capacity to live at more than a mundane level; to see, to feel, to act in terms of, a transcendent dimension.” Eastern religions add yet another way of understanding. The Buddha said that faith is the beginning of all good things. In Pali and Sanskrit the word faith means hospitality, to draw near, to set forth. To place one’s heart upon. From these brief examples, a possible understanding of faith emerges as a way of being with oneself and the world that rests upon trust and an inner quality that helps us to remain engaged with life, that keeps us swimming in the cream rather than drowning in it. The capacity for such is inherent in each of us and we can learn to recognize it and communicate with it.

In my work as a hospital chaplain I see this all the time. I see that inner quality that keeps people engaged with life even as serious illness brings them closer to leaving it. Just this week I sat with a family in the ICU and we talked about their father and husband. They remembered good times, and a few bad times, they expressed gratitude, they cried for what was to come. They talked about their belief in the afterlife and asked God for peace and strength. They were engaged.

Does faith require “secure belief in God and acceptance of God’s will,” as the dictionary notes? I don’t think so. Faith does not depend upon a deity if one understands it as an inner quality that helps us maintain our trust in life. For some of us, some being greater than us may help us maintain our trust and hope in life. For others it may not. Nor does faith rest upon doctrine or dogma. Faith is not a commodity which you either have or you don’t have. Faith is not a definition of reality, not a received answer. Faith is not a litmus test for moral goodness, or political correctness, for that matter. Which is why the faith of no one particular religion should be legislated for the general populace if it does not also serve the common good. Faith is not blind belief. Faith is, rather, an active open state of being that changes and emerges and hides and emerges again, different. It’s a way of being that informs our thoughts, understandings, relationships and actions.

A way to approach faith is to listen to other people’s experiences of it. Sharon Salzberg, a writer and teacher of meditation, talks about a faith experience. “From her island in New York City harbor, the Statue of Liberty has welcomed countless immigrants, including my grandparents, at the end of their wearisome journey and the beginning of their life in a new land. . . . I’ve adored the Statue of Liberty for a long time,” she says, “and admit to having bought many photos and souvenir replicas of her from shops in New York City. As a woman bearing light, as a symbol of bottomless compassion, she has long been my personal icon. . . . In the days following the attack on the World Trade Center in September, 2001, I feared for her. Then a new image of her appeared in newsstands and souvenir shops – an image that is profoundly related to faith. She stands, lamp aloft, promising freedom to the tired and the wretched, while huge plumes of black smoke billow up from behind her. Beneath that smoke, in the rubble and the ruin of the World Trade Center, lay terrible tragedy. Yet despite the horror and destruction, she still stands there in welcome.” Keeping hope alive, she gave Salzberg faith that the light, the welcome, still stood.

Mother Teresa, as a young nun, recorded in her journals an ecstatic experience of feeling a deep connection with Jesus, to the point of having him present before her and receiving instruction from him about conducting her ministry in the poorest slums of Calcutta. She tried to persuade the higher-ups in her order that they should allow her to actually do this and it took her a while to get started. For about nine months she continued to feel the ecstatic connection with the divine and it propelled her to persevere through a difficult beginning and plant the seeds of a tremendous service to humanity. And then that ecstatic connection was gone. She lost it and it never returned. Years later, a priest went to see her and asked how she continued to do her work. What was the source of such great faith? He described his difficulties in remaining with his own ministry because he had lost his faith. How long had he been without faith, Mother Teresa asked. Seven years, he answered. She assured him that seven years was no length of time at all. She herself had been without faith for thirty years.

What kind of faith was she talking about? There’s bright faith, that time of love filled delight in all possibilities and eager joy at the prospect of actualizing, with the sure conviction that God, or whatever the source/object of belief, is walking by our side. It’s ecstatic faith. Hugely energizing and inspiring, although it does not seem to last forever. Often a period of doubt and questioning will follow bright faith. Even sometimes loss of faith. This is what Mother Teresa seems to have experienced. When this happens we go through a verifying period in which we question everything and agonize over our doubts. We examine the teachings, and the teachers, that inspired bright faith. Often, through that dark night of the soul, we come through with abiding faith. Faith based upon our own experiences of ecstasy and agony. Faith based upon our own understandings. Faith with eyes wide open regarding that in which we have placed our trust and to which we have given our loyalty. “Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth.” (Robert T. Weston) Mother Teresa might have lost her bright faith, but I imagine that she arrived at abiding faith. I don’t know how she could have done what she did without it.

Here are some of the things I have faith in. They reflect the way I experience life. 1. Interconnection is fundamental to the nature of life. It means we, and everyone, are in relationship with everyone else.  2. Change is also fundamental to the nature of life. This means that our relationships are dynamic, flowing, changing. 3. Life is a process. It is not static. 4. What I know as God resides in the processes and holds all the possibilities. God is the order in the changes and the change in the order. 5. Human beings have free will, which means we make our own choices. We are capable of anything and everything. Which means that God does not know what we will choose. Nor does God preordain anything.  6. God is with us and together we co-create this life. 7. Human beings intrinsically know the better choices to make. 8. When we make them we move in harmony with this God and we experience our choices as goodness, love, peace, happiness, justice. Do you see how my faith leads me to be and to act in the world? At the same time my faith arises out of my experiences in living. Experience and faith have a mutual influence upon one another.

“If faith depends upon believing what we are told, when those beliefs fall apart, we are left with no where to stand.” Sharon Salzberg tells the story of a friend who “began to feel uncomfortable maintaining the Santa Claus myth with her growing daughter, and decided to tell her the truth. She explained that the presents under the tree on Christmas morning were put there by her parents. The child listened to this information, then sadly left the room. A few minutes later she returned to inquire, ‘Are you the Tooth Fairy too?’ Her mother said yes and again the child left, looking sad. Soon she returned with the question, ‘Are you the Easter Bunny as well?’ When her mother said yes, the child looked at her fiercely and demanded, ‘Is there a God?’ . . .” Don’t believe it just because somebody says it is so.

To be in conversation with our very own deepest truths, on which, knowingly or unknowingly, we base our whole lives – to be in conversation with our deepest truths is magnificent. It gives us the wherewithal to keep on going. Faith animates our hearts and stimulates a relationship with our own goodness and capacity to love. Faith enables us to make a choice for generosity, kindness and clear-seeing in our behavior. Faith allows us to see through the pretense of accident and find the connections within the randomness of a 21st century life. We seek to discover those deep truths upon which we rely because we need them. Nobody can tell us what to believe; we can’t even tell ourselves what to believe. Yet we believe something. It’s there, deep in our souls. What is it that you believe? Can you tell me the five most important beliefs you put your faith and trust in? What are the guideposts you reach for to convey a sense of meaning in your lives?

Sometimes we get to the ultimate concern, the deepest truths upon which we rely, through extreme experience, in those moments when we walk a little closer to the edges of life. Suffering is often a doorway to faith. In those places and at those times we also encounter fear. Faith is the opposite of fear. Faith is what enables us to give ourselves to what is happening in the moment, rather than giving ourselves to the paralysis of fear. Fear is about estrangement and disconnection; faith is about connectedness. Faith can turn fear into hope. Remember the young frog who almost gave up, so afraid was he. But he didn’t. He had faith in his friend who told him to keep hope alive.

Sometimes we’re shocked into the awareness of our faith. Sometimes we grow into it. A herd of cows arrives at the bank of a river. The mature ones see the stream and simply wade across it. The younger cows stumble apprehensively on the shore but eventually, tentatively, they too go forward and cross the river. Last come the calves, trembling, some just learning how to stand. But these vulnerable, tender calves also get to the other side. They follow the lowing sounds of their mothers. (Buddha) We might be like the younger cows, inexperienced and tentative. We might be like the calves, afraid and barely able to stand. But through the help, even the guidance, of trustworthy companions we have the experience for ourselves of crossing the river. Thus we begin to put together a way to describe our faith.

Such a basis begins with intention. If you wish to be in touch with your faith, with the deepest truths upon which you rely, with your ultimate concerns, then you start with the intention of connecting with such. You put yourself among people, in a community perhaps, that seems to be aware of such. People who seek to live faithfully, with loyalty to their own deep beliefs. People who will share their thoughts and their stories and encourage you to develop yours. People who will moo loudly enough for you to follow the sound of their voices as you make your own way through the waters. I think it would be a wonderful Sunday service if several people here shared their faith experiences.  Faith keeps us going. It particularly helps in hard times, but it is useful all the time. No one can give you faith or tell you where to place your trust and loyalty. Only you can do that. Where is your faith? In what do you have faith? The possibility of faith exists for each of us, if we want it.  May it be so.Image