To the graduates of the Crisis Chaplaincy Program

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Crisis Chaplaincy Program Graduation
April 13, 2013
The Reverend Dr Linda Anderson

I want to tell you that it is my pleasure and my honor to be here. I’ve been in ministry for twenty five years, serving congregations and more recently serving as a chaplain and educating others to be chaplains. It’s a special calling. First, let me offer my congratulations to you upon your completion of the Crisis Chaplaincy program. For the past ten weeks or so you have learned, not only about the role of a chaplain, but also about yourselves and what you are capable of. Now you will go out into the world, as volunteers, to respond to the spiritual and emotional needs of people in crisis. That is no easy task, as anyone who serves as a chaplain knows. So secondly, I want to offer my gratitude to you. For every day and every night that you are called to an emergency and you stop what you are doing or you get out of bed or up from the dinner table, or you turn off the TV after an already long and tiring day, and go out into the unknown to help a stranger, I thank you. We all thank you.

As you embark on your chaplaincy, I have three things to ask of you. Number one: don’t ever forget that you make a difference. When things seem completely awful, devastated and broken beyond repair, when it looks like the wounds are too severe for any healing to take place, when too many people have too many needs to attend to, don’t forget that you make a difference. Don’t lose faith in the value and the goodness of what you are doing. I tell you this because sometimes crisis feels overwhelming and you are just one person and you can’t possibly do everything. Don’t forget that what you do matters to someone.

Have you ever heard the story of the Starfish? Star fish live in the sea and instead of blood they have water circulating in their bodies. They come in many colors and some of them have more than five points to their star shapes. They are not fish, despite their name. On their undersides they have feet, which allow them to walk along the bottom of the water and hold onto rocks and the like. So the story goes that a young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” (adapted from the Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley)

We make a difference to someone. And even though we wish we could do it all and even though we stand helpless in the face of disaster and crisis, our efforts make a difference. Don’t lose faith in the goodness of what you do, even when, and especially when, it never seems like enough.

Number two: don’t lose faith in the goodness of other people. You will be called to emergencies and some of them will have resulted from accidents and some will have resulted from the acts of destruction that we human beings can inflict on one another. We can be cruel and mean, thoughtless, stupid, and the consequences of our actions can do untold harm. As a crisis chaplain you’re going to see the effects of human beings at their worst. But you are also going to see human beings at their best. Shortly after September 11, 2001, Stephen Jay Gould, a professor wrote an editorial in the New York Times and he said, “every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ”ordinary” efforts of a vast majority.” 10,000 acts of kindness. I have held onto that saying these past eleven years because I have needed to remember it. The acts of hatred seem big and their effects devastating. I get to thinking that all we are is cruel. It’s easy to overlook the smaller acts of kindness. Half the time we don’t even know the person who did them because they remain anonymous. The person who called 911. The one who waited to make sure the responders arrived. The one who brought coffee to the family in the waiting room of the hospital. Or a blanket. Or a shoulder to cry on. The passers by who said a silent prayer at the scene of the accident. The one who stayed after her or his shift was over, just to help a little more. 10,000 small acts of kindness. When the world seems to be nothing but crisis caused by the carelessness, the ignorance, the violence of other people, look around for the acts of kindness. When life itself seems to be too risky, when bad things happen to good people and you have no answer for the suffering that comes, look around for the acts of kindness. Look for the helpers. You will find them. They are always there. You are not alone. Let the kindnesses you find lift you and inspire you in your work. Don’t lose faith in the goodness of people.

Some people say the starfish story does not end where I ended it. They say that when the man heard what the little girl said, he came up beside her and started picking up the starfish himself and throwing them back into the sea. Soon other people on the beach joined them and lots of starfish were saved.

Finally, number 3: don’t lose faith in the necessity of taking care of yourself. It can be exciting and deeply gratifying to serve as a chaplain, to help people in times of crisis. It’s what we are called to do. Caregivers are terrible at taking care of ourselves. In our great desire to serve and to help we can forget about ourselves. We can forget that we need to take a break and rest. We need to be cared for. We need someone to tell our stories to. We need to spend time with our families and our friends. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are indispensable or that nobody else can do it as good as you can or that you cannot stop because there’s so much to do. The beach is always going to be full of starfish washed up on the sand. You make a difference to the ones you throw back in the water. But you can’t do it alone and if you try you will do harm to yourself and the people who love you. Others will come and stand beside you and throw the starfish back into the water as well. It is not selfish to respect and honor yourself. Don’t lose faith in the necessity of taking care of yourself.

I want to end with a poem by a minister in my tradition. Choose to Bless the World by Rebecca Parker

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.

The choice to bless the world is more than an act of will,
A moving forward into the world
With the Intention to do good.
It is an act of recognition, a confession of surprise, a grateful acknowledgment
That in the midst of a broken world
Unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.

There is an embrace of kindness that encompasses all life, even yours.

And while there is injustice, anesthetization, or evil
There moves
A holy disturbance,
A benevolent rage,
A revolutionary love,
Protesting, urging, insisting
That which is sacred will not be defiled.
Those who bless the world live their life as a gesture of thanks
For this beauty
And this rage.

The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
To search for the sources of power and grace;
Native wisdom, healing, and liberation.

More, the choice will draw you into community,
The endeavor shared,
The heritage passed on,
The companionship of struggle,
The importance of keeping faith,
The life of ritual and praise,
The comfort of human friendship,
The company of earth
The chorus of life welcoming you.

None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility waiting.

May you not lose faith in the goodness of what you do; may you not lose faith in the goodness of other people. May you not lose faith in the importance of taking care of you. As you have chosen to bless the world with the gifts of your chaplaincy, may you in turn be blessed. This is the prayer of my heart.
Thank you for listening to my words this afternoon.

Less is More

North Fork Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Jamesport Meeting House
April 7, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Linda Anderson

Welcome and Announcements

Prelude Donna Demian

Lighting the Chalice and Opening Words (#515 We Lift Up Our Hearts in Thanks)

Hymn #38 Morning Has Broken

Sharing of Joys and Sorrows
Spirit of Life Hymn #123

Message for Children

Offering/Offertory Donna Demian

Meditation (from Luke)
Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye? What does it profit anyone to gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Silence

Morning Message: Less is More The Rev Dr Linda Anderson

“What I want should not be confused with total inactivity. (Life is what it is about, I want no truck with death.) If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence could interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death. Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive. . . .” That is one of my favorite quotes from Pablo Neruda and to me it means less is more.

Less is more. Less is more? Think about it. We are taught by our culture, by our economy, by our history that more is better. When asked how much is enough, Donald Trump said “Just a little more.” Supersize it. Onward and upward; bigger and better; you can’t have too much of a good thing. If our civilization isn’t progressing, we are in decline. If a company doesn’t expand, it shrinks. If a person doesn’t make more and more money, he or she has less and less money. Even some religions teach that more is better. Religiously speaking, everyone boasts of the god with the most. The most power, the most knowledge, the most judgement, the most love, the most truth. My god is the best. My god knows all, sees all, controls all. My god is the only god. You’ve seen the bumper sticker “My god can beat up your god?” One draws the conclusion, then, that if more is better, less is worse. Less is inferior; less is unworthy. Who wants to have less under those conditions? Who wants to be less?

The picture on the order of service is from the Amazon region of Peru. There are only two seasons there: high water and low water. This, obviously, is high water time and the family who lives in this house was about to be flooded. We boated up to them and they told us something of their life. They had two rooms with only a table for furniture. At least seven people lived there, sleeping on the floor and using the river for all their water needs. There was no electricity and no running water or indoor plumbing. They fished and grew some crops like potatoes, which they sold. Our guide assured us of their happiness with the simplicity of their lives. I really can’t speak to that. I suspect he was not telling us the whole story, though I don’t know what the whole story is. To me life seemed poor and hard, but then of course it would, given where I come from. Is their less really more? Or is it truly less? I thought of me and Margie. We had come to Peru with two huge suitcases, which we were lugging around everywhere. You just never knew when you were going to need that extra pair of shoes or the fleece jacket in the Amazon, where it is always between 80-90 degrees. So why not take almost 90 pounds of luggage to Peru? In our case maybe the river people could teach us something about less is more.

Why do we cling to the notion that more is better? To strive for always more, always better defies our experience of the nature of life. To paraphrase poet Wendell Berry, we dance the circles of life, the cycles of the years. We can see the cyclical nature of life as day becomes night becomes day; as fall becomes winter becomes spring; as the young are born and the old die. We can experience the changes of our own maturity, of our own aging. In some ways we become less, in some ways we become more. Life seems to hold more and less in some kind of ever-shifting balance. We are both more and less at the very same time.

Why do we cling to the notion that more is better? On the large level, I think, we cling to more is better because our life is finite. Our time has an end. And we know it. Oh yes, we live as if it didn’t; as if we weren’t going to die. We deny the face of death, banish it to the corners of hospitals and nursing homes where most of us never have to see it at all. We wage war against time, defying its limited nature and longing for an unlimited supply. We stay young as long as possible so we don’t have to be old; we learn to do three things at once, racing from here to there, so that we can have more time. But deep down we know: we know that we can’t have more time. There are 24 hours in each day, no more, no less. But believing that more is better, and living that way, and accumulating more and more: more knowledge, more things, more people, more space, more wealth, more health, is one way to cope with, and at the same time deny, the finite nature of our lives. Having more provides some measure of illusory security. After all, life is risky. Nothing is guaranteed, we know that too. We could lose it all in a second. But if we have more, maybe it will protect us against the vagaries of existence.

All of which feeds a sense of scarcity, of not having enough. That’s why I had a suitcase almost as tall as I am. We brought three containers of bug spray for five days in the jungle. How many legions of mosquitos did I think I was going to encounter? It embarrasses me to tell you this, but fear of the unknown, fear of the uncertainty of the trip took hold. I didn’t know what I would find so I tried to anticipate every possibility so I could feel secure. And believe me, we were not the only ones with giant suitcases. More is better because we fear we won’t have enough. Less is worse because we fear we won’t have enough. Scarcity makes us hold onto that which we have all the more tightly, even as we want more, for scarcity breeds scarcity and if we come from a scarcity mind, then we will never have enough, no matter how much more we have. Scarcity breeds scarcity.

On the other hand, if we come from abundant mind, a way is found for there to be enough. Once upon a time a farmer died and left her land to her son and daughter. The son married and had seven children. The daughter remained unmarried. During a particularly hard and long winter, the daughter got to thinking of her brother next door and all of his kids and she decided to give him six sheaves of wheat from her storehouse, anonymously. So in the dark of night she filled her wheelbarrow and deposited the wheat beside his barn. Unbeknownst to her, her brother was thinking of her at the same time and wondering how she was doing alone. He decided to give her six sheaves of wheat from his storehouse, anonymously, and while the woman was carrying wheat to her brother, he was carrying wheat to her. Imagine each one’s surprise to find six sheaves of wheat beside their barns the next morning. Well, the winter went on. It got even colder. The brother carried twelve sheaves of wheat over to his sister’s and the sister carried twelve sheaves of wheat over to her brother’s. Then fifteen. Then twenty. Then, at last, on a moonlit night, while carrying twenty four sheaves of wheat, the paths of the brother and sister crossed. They realized the identities of those anonymous givers of wheat. They laughed and embraced and the next day made a feast together. Abundant mind brings enough.

If we can begin to believe that we already have enough, then we can share our resources more readily and most of us really will have enough. If we can courageously face our limited time and all the unknowns and uncertainties of our lives, and let go of some of our desires for absolute security, then more will no longer be automatically better; less will no longer be automatically worse. We will be satisfied with less, having put away the unconsidered, anxious craving for more. Less will be enough. Enough will be abundance. Less will be more. This is what I mean.

Years ago, as I began to pack for a wonderful 2 month sabbatical in Europe, my carefully crafted plan had been to bring all bags onto the plane with me. First because I didn’t want the airline to lose my luggage and second because I had to be able to move around easily from place to place. However, I am a packer, as you have learned. I always carry all I need, times two. It’s a kind of a security thing, stemming from scarcity mind and all that, but this time I wanted to travel light: for the reasons I just named and as a spiritual exercise in less is more. My plan was, alas, foiled before I left home when, after skillfully packing my cheerful blue carry-on with wheels and after stuffing my red backpack almost to bursting, I looked at my bed and saw a pile of stuff that still had to go somewhere. I looked at the suitcases, I looked at the stuff. I looked at the suitcases, I looked at the stuff. Very, very reluctantly I concluded that it was too much to disregard. Everything I had already packed was essential. Everything on the bed was essential. I would need another bag. A little disappointed I filled my small black duffel and began to prepare myself psychologically to check the blue case. All “essentials” were removed and put in the black bag. All non-essential essentials were put in the blue bag.

So, we arrived at the airport, where I learned to my dismay that both the blue bag and the red backpack were too heavy to carry on the plane. Oh no. That required some hasty re-packing at the airport. More essential essentials and non-essential essentials were moved around. I took a deep breath. I was ready to check in. The Dudley Moore look-alike at the British Airways counter, upon entering me in the computer, asked a colleague what to do when a person was going to miss her connection. Would that be me? He disappeared behind a screen, emerging some moments later to assure me that, although my flight was delayed, headwinds were auspicious and I should arrive in London at the same time I would have if the flight was on time. But, he said ominously, my luggage probably would not make the connection to Paris. What else was there to do but check it anyway? My friend Linda, who had driven me to the airport, tried to bargain with him. Alas, no, I could not take it all on board. But yes, I could choose to take one–blue or red. I chose red: it had more essential essentials in it. I waved goodbye to blue as it slowly bumped away on the conveyer belt. How prophetic that goodbye would turn out to be.

I did miss the Paris connection in London, but was booked on the very next two hours later flight. I thought the event would give my luggage enough time to catch up with me. When we arrived in Paris and I found my way to the baggage area, I learned that the baggage handlers at Charles de Gaulle airport were on strike and that there was only one person per plane to unload luggage. They were so sorry for the delay. Okay, no real problem, I had already missed my train to Bordeaux in the south of France. I heard my name called. In London they had said that someone would meet me in Paris and I thought it was my greeter. How nice. But noooo. It was an apologetic British Airways employee who said that my darling blue bag didn’t make it out of London. What? Not to worry; it would be on the next flight. They would deliver it to me, even in Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery hundreds of miles from Paris in which I would spend my sabbatical.

So much for promises. It did not arrive the next day, Saturday. It did not arrive Sunday. It did not arrive Monday, as promised when we called on Saturday. I missed my blue bag. I missed the sweaters and shirts inside of it. I missed my favorite clock and flashlight. I missed my new ll bean vest, my hand woven pink shirt, my other pair of black pants. I had with me only 3 shirts to wear for 48 days. I had only one warm jacket. I wished for my other clothes, yet . . .yet, I was learning to travel lighter. I was learning to let go of the clothes I loved and the notions of cleanliness I carried around. You realize that I had to wear all clothing for at least two days before washing because it took three days for anything to dry in the cold dampness of a southern French winter. I grew very tired of my blue jacket and I was chilled mightily. The nuns took pity on me and loaned me an old brown sweater, which I wore every day. My roommates and much of the community knew of my lost luggage and all offered their sympathy. A few offered their clothes. I was holding up. I felt sad at the loss of all my favorite and warm clothes, but as my roommate Lana said, despite the loss, I still looked like I had everything I needed. And I guess I did. Slowly it dawned on me. I really did have everything I needed.

Then one day my blue bag appeared. Just like that. Triumphantly I wheeled it back to my little room. Members of the community gathered around in celebration. I carefully steered it around the other three beds and tenderly parked it beside my corner. Then I left it there, unopened for the rest of my time in Plum Village. Cherished but unopened. You see, I really did have all I needed: one borrowed sweater, three shirts, socks, etc. In my abundance of clothing, I had enough. I learned that less is truly more. And then I forgot it again.

Less can be more, materially and spiritually, when we find what is enough, what is important and pay attention to it and take satisfaction in it. Less can be more when we move our spirits from scarcity to abundance, from fear to trust, from grasping to giving. Less can be more and less can be more justice, more generosity, more caring, more peace, more freedom from the scarcity in our souls. May we find the simplicity we need. May we find the abundance that is enough and then may we share it with all who come into contact with us. May it be so.

Hymn #90 From All the Fret and Fever of the Day

Closing words (#681, adapted from Gaelic Runes) and Extinguishing the Chalice

Postlude Donna Demian

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Resurrection and Freedom

North Fork Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Jamesport Meeting House
March 31, 2013 Easter Sunday
The Reverend Dr. Linda Anderson

We need the sense of deity to crack our own hard, brown December husks
and push life out of inner tombs and outer pain.
Unless we move the seasons of the self, and Spring can come for us,
the Winter will go on and on. And Easter will remain a myth,
and life will never come again, Despite the fact of Spring. (Max Coots)

Welcome and Announcements

Prelude

Lighting the Chalice and Opening Words (by Wendell Berry)
I was walking in a dark valley
And above me the tops of the hills
had caught the morning light.
I heard the light singing as it went out
among the grass blades and the leaves.
I waded upward through the shadow
until my head emerged.
My shoulders were mantled with the light,
and my whole body came up. . .
. . . and stood on the shore of the day.

Hymn #61 Lo, the Earth Awakes Again

Not for Children Only — Daffodils

Sharing of Joys and Sorrows
Spirit of Life Hymn #123

Sermon, Part 1: Resurrection The Rev Dr Linda Anderson
In spring we stand on the shore of day. The holy days of spring: Passover and Easter, are times of standing on the shore of day. We stand on the shore and everything begins, seemingly, anew. Resurrection. The sun rises, the light lasts, the temperature warms, the plants grow, we walk to freedom, we are reborn to a new life. Don’t you sense a change now that there is color in the brown of the trees? Now that the crocuses have bloomed, the forsythia wakes up and the daffodils break ground? Don’t you sense a newness? A twitch of energy? A desire to spring-clean?

“As soon as April pierces to the root the drought of March, and bathes each bud and shoot through every vein of sap with gentle showers from whose engendering liquor spring the flowers. . . Life stirs their hearts and tingles in them so, on pilgrimages people long to go. . .” (Chaucer)

Spring sets the stage as it offers us rebirth and asks why are we hidden in the earth when it’s time to break out and greet the light? Why do we keep our gaze so deeply inward when the hope of the season would turn us to look outward? Passover and Easter ask: What keeps us down, entombed, and what holds us back, enslaved? What must happen before we can lace up our boots and make the changes we need in order to become more free, more strong, more powerful, more loving, more happy? What is holding up our own resurrection? Daffodils come and show us the way. Moses came and showed us the way. Jesus came and showed us the way. The way to freedom, the way to life, the way to love.

What is resurrection in this context? Listen to the ancient story of the exodus. “Refugees run for their lives, carrying heavy toddlers, fleeing to who knows what kind of a life. When the time came for the ancient Hebrews to leave Egypt, they couldn’t think twice and wait for the bread to rise. They just went. The journey was no spiritual metaphor for them, it was the harshest of concrete realities. . . . This escape from bondage to freedom is, of course, the story told . . . (at) Passover. For 400 years the ancient Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt. Moses was told by God in the form of a burning bush to lead his people out of Egypt. Moses paid Pharaoh a little visit, commanding ‘Let my people go.’ Pharaoh didn’t take kindly to the idea. So God sent plagues: frogs and locusts and all the rest, and finally, the horrific killing of the Egyptian firstborn babies, while the Hebrew babies were passed over. At this point Pharaoh finally set the Israelites free, and they fled in haste, before he changed his mind. But of course he did change his mind, and his troops chased the Israelites in chariots and on horses, and when the Israelites were tempted to give in, Moses, (through the help of God), parted the Red Sea, and the Israelites walked to freedom.” (Jane Rzepka) This is resurrection.

The courage to let go of the door,
the handle;
The courage to shed the familiar
walls whose very
stains and leaks are comfortable as
the little moles
of the upper arm; stains that recall
a feast,
a child’s naughtiness, a loud
blattering storm
that slapped the roof hard, pouring
through.

The courage to abandon the graves
dug in to the hill,
the small bones of children and the
brittle bones
of the old whose marrow hunger
had stolen;
the courage to desert the tree
planted and only
begun to bear; the riverside where
promises were shaped;
the street where their empty pots
were broken.
. . . .
We honor those who let go of
everything but freedom,
who ran, who revolted,
who fought,
who became other by saving themselves.
Marge Piercy, Maggid

This is resurrection. Letting go of the old, the familiar, in order to grasp something new. Not for the sake of newness, but for the sake of life. Leaving the old behind because the status quo was killing us. In Hebrew the word for Egypt is mitzrayim, which means the narrow place, the place that confines us, constricts us, that is too tight. That which holds us in slavery.

For many of us are enslaved, constricted. Probably we were not enslaved all at once; probably we lost our independence gradually, in increments. That to which we are enslaved seemed good at first, pleasurable, safe. Some of us have become slaves to money, ever in a state of “not enough;” some to the approval of others, ever in need of validation and applause; some to power, ever wanting to be in charge; some to security, ever trying to erase all uncertainty. Love enslaves some of us, as does hatred, as does self-absorption. Fear enslaves us in a vise of paralysis. We can become slaves to alcohol, drugs, food, you name it. Maybe our jobs are the narrow places and squeeze us into work that is too small for our spirits. Maybe the patterns of our relationships confine us and do not nurture our best, loving selves. Maybe our beliefs, assumptions, and values, like boa constrictors, are strangling us to death. What is your Egypt, your mitzrayim?

And can you, will you, free yourself from that which traps you? Sometimes this means a change in perspective, sometimes it means making peace with some person or some situation, sometimes it means leaving, sometimes it means staying, but with a different outlook. It always takes courage. What is your Egypt, your mitzrayim? Breaking out of such confinement is experienced as freedom. It is also resurrection, rebirth to a new life, standing on the shore of a new day.

I have several mitzrayim and one of the largest is fear for my health. After having developed pulmonary emboli, (blood clots in the lungs), a little more than a year ago, seemingly out of the blue, I just never know what my body might do and it scares me. This is a big deal for me. I had an opportunity to go to Peru this month and simply getting up the nerve to take the risk of doing it was an exodus from Egypt. I stepped away from the fear that threatened to paralyze me. I chose to take the risk, not knowing what might happen. I also took precautions, consulting doctors, buying medical insurance in case anything went wrong there. I went and I had a great time. In doing so, I feel more free, less fearful about my health. I stood on the shore of a new day in Peru. And I encountered several more narrow places in the course of the trip. More on that in a moment.

Offering/Offertory

Sermon, Part 2: Resurrection The Rev Dr Linda Anderson
Easter also asks us to let go of the door and shed the familiar. To walk out of our Egypts and into new life. Jesus, in the midst of a controversial ministry, in which he threatened religious leaders with his radical teachings and behavior, was drawn to Jerusalem. A lion’s den, as it were, where the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to kill him. His disciples were afraid, but followed him there. On the road into Jerusalem he received a tumultuous welcome from the crowds, who waved branches before him. In the city, he knew the danger he was in, but ate the Passover meal anyway. He brought some of his disciples to a garden to wait with him while he prayed, but they fell asleep. As he exited the garden the disciple who betrayed him led an armed crowd from the chief priests to arrest him. His disciples ran away and when confronted by strangers regarding their association with Jesus, publicly denied him. The chief priests questioned him and eventually turned him over to the Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, who asked the crowd whether they wanted him to free Jesus or crucify him, and they cried out to crucify him. So he was killed in this painful manner and buried. As it was the Sabbath, time needed to pass before some women followers returned to the grave, which they found empty. They were afraid. The male disciples did not believe at first that Jesus was resurrected, but when he visited with them and some of them actually asked him for proof, they came around. And the rest, so to speak, is history.

Easter reminds us how much courage we need because those who admire us will show themselves fickle while our friends will not understand and will desert us and betray us. Nevertheless we must persist because our path is the way to life, even when it seems to cross the valley of the shadow of death. As Howard Thurman says, “To love life is to be whole in all ones parts, and to be whole in all one’s parts is to be free and unafraid.”

And that is the point. Sometimes we have to take a journey even though abandoned by everyone else, in order to find our lives. This is the exodus to freedom. This is the journey toward hope and rejuvenation and love that goes beyond the self. This is resurrection. Jesus’ personal resurrection helped to create a resurrection for his community of followers. Even when our enslavement and resurrection seems ours alone, our movements toward freedom and rebirth touch the other people in our lives and can inspire their own resurrections.

Spring Song by Lucille Clifton.
the green of Jesus
is breaking the ground
and the sweet
smell of delicious Jesus
is opening the house and
the dance of Jesus music
has hold of the air and
the world is turning
in the body of Jesus and
the future is possible

The future becomes possible for everyone. Therefore the resurrection offered by the Easter story is not an individual matter. Resurrections, even when they occur primarily for the individual, inspire rebirths for others. In turn, the rebirths of others inspire our own rebirths. Resurrections have the strongest possibility of positive outcomes when they have the participation of others. We play a greater role in each other’s lives than perhaps we know, or take notice of. Know it. You matter. Your help, your friendship, your presence, matter to me, as mine does to you.

Also, although miracles exist in both the Passover and Easter stories, the resurrections are not miraculous in that they come solely from an outside transcendant being. The Jews laid the foundation for their rebirth and they took it when it appeared. They prayed for freedom. They identified their enslaver and they asked for a change. If they didn’t want their freedom, why risk their lives to follow Moses into the unknown? Once away from Egypt, they spent forever in the desert, where they had to learn, together and for themselves, what it meant to be a people in relationship with their God. Jesus’ resurrection, in the Gospels, is a miracle from God, but if his followers had not believed him and experienced their own resurrections of conviction, continuing to promote his teachings and tell the stories of his life, Jesus’ resurrection itself would have little meaning for humans.

We can choose to experience exodus, movements toward freedom, toward resurrection, and away from that which binds and restricts us. Even when we seem to make this journey alone, other people are influenced by our resurrections, just as we are by theirs. As I was saying earlier, I found other health mitzrayim in Peru, besides my hesitation to go there in the first place. We were up in high altitude, between 12-13,000 feet above sea level. I was having a reaction to it: light headed, heart pounding, fatigued, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping. So the day when our guide told us we would have to take a hike, steep in places, to get to the island people who were making lunch for us, my heart sank. I was so dizzy I could barely walk on a flat surface, much less climb. But the guide, a native to that area of Peru, was kind. He said try it. He would walk ahead of me and I could steady myself by putting my hand on his shoulder. We would go slowly. And so we did. Soon my partner Margie took over and gave me her arm. Step by step I climbed up the uneven stone path, into the mud, over the streams, up the last hill to the village. I was rewarded by the freshest, most delicious grilled trout I have ever had. What I learned was that my body is capable of more than I imagine. Without the help of Eliseo and Margie, my fear of what I cannot do physically would have kept me enslaved. With their help and acceptance of me I experienced a rebirth of confidence in myself, a loosening of fear. I stood on the shore of a new day. And my experience helped to cheer on others, who were also having difficulties getting around in the altitude.

The message I draw today from Easter and Passover is that resurrection is not a miracle. Nor has it only happened in the past. Resurrection can happen for us, right here and right now. And not just once. The possibility exists for us to turn to each other for help in freeing ourselves from what binds us, keeps us in too tight places. The journey toward freedom is our own particular work, yet at the same time we do not do it alone. When we taste that freedom, even if only briefly, even if in small doses, we experience resurrection. When we can identify to what we are enslaved and when we make a choice for exodus, we put ourselves on the path to resurrection. I believe that we help each other to find the resurrections we need. I believe that this does not come from outside of us, rather it comes from inside of us. It comes from our human longing to be free, to be whole.

What Egypts would you wish to make an exodus from? What holds you as a slave? What would a rebirth look like? What do you need in order to make changes? Whose help can make your resurrection happen? Believe it. It can happen. Maybe it comes at unexpected times and in unexpected ways, this gift. But it does come.

We have been created to be free.
We have been created to know joy.
We have been created to love.
We were not meant to be exiles. (David Blanchard)

Happy Easter. Happy Passover.

Hymn #270 O Day of Light and Gladness

Closing words (W.E.B. DuBois) and Extinguishing the Chalice
In these first beginnings of the new life of the world, renew in us the resolution to persist in the good work we have begun. Give us strength of body and strength of mind and the unfaltering determination to carry out that which we know to be good and right. Forgive all wavering in the past service . . . and make us strong to go forward in spite of the doubts of our friends and our enemies and in spite of our own distrust in ourselves. Out of the death of winter comes ever and again the resurrection of spring; so out of evil bring good, . . . out of doubt determination, out of sadness joy, and out of our hearts hope and peace.

Postlude

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Sloth

North Fork Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Jamesport Meeting House
March 10, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Linda Anderson

I hate a Roman named Status Quo!” he said to me. “Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. (Ray Bradbury)

(by Erika Hewitt – adapted)
As we enter into (this special hour), put away the pressures of the world
that ask us to perform, to take up masks, to put on brave fronts.
Silence the voices that ask you to be perfect.

This is a community of compassion and welcoming.
You do not have to do anything to earn the love
contained within these walls.

You do not have to be braver, smarter, stronger, better
than you are in this moment
to belong here, with us.

You only have to bring the gift of your body,
no matter how able;
your seeking mind,
no matter how busy;
your animal heart,
no matter how broken.

Bring all that you are, and all that you love, to this hour together.
Let us (gather) together.

Hymn #360 Here We Have Gathered

Not for Children Only —
In Indian lore, among the spirits, Coyote has forever been considered the clever one. The trickster, a bit lazy, but always depended upon to lead a lost warrior home. Around the campfires and in the lodges, the story of Coyote and the Rock was told. And so the story goes….

Many moons ago, It was Coyote who decided that fishing for salmon was taking up entirely too much of his time, and besides, it was hard work. So Coyote thought and thought. How could he catch his salmon without working so hard? Coyote considered the situation for a long time, and at last it came to him. Build a dam! He could build the dam right across the river and the salmon wouldn’t, couldn’t get out. And so that’s just exactly what he did.

He started out with the biggest boulders he could find. Setting them in place, he piled rock after rock on top. It took most of the first day and tired him out so much that Coyote slept very well that night until he heard a gruff and mighty voice calling from the bay, “Who builds across the river? The salmon belong to me.” “Huh, I don’t care what Sea Lion says,” said Coyote, as he continued to build his dam across the river. Tired from all his efforts, he fell asleep on the second night. And again, Sea Lion called in his deep gruff voice “Who builds across the river? The salmon belong to me.” Still unconcerned, Coyote steadily worked on his dam for the third day.

The dam was almost across the river nearly touching the other side when he fell asleep that third night. With the hills rumbling with the echo of his voice, Sea Lion came that night and roared at Coyote, “You cannot stop the salmon from going on their journey to the sea! You cannot stop the salmon from their spawning, you cannot keep the salmon from me!” And with that he raised up and smashed Coyote’s dam, destroying it all except for the part that is called Coyote Rock to this very day.

Actually there is a basis in fact for the legend of Coyote Rock. Every fall when the salmon come into the Siletz on their way to spawn way up river, they seem to stop and wait just around Coyote Rock until the October rains come to tell them it is time to go, and in which tributaries they should spawn.
(Welcome to Coyote Rock from Ed and Lenora Walter)

Sermon: Seven Deadly Sins: Emphasis on Sloth
The Rev Dr Linda Anderson

I have a fascination with the seven deadly, or cardinal, sins. Remember what they are? Anger, pride, envy, greed, sloth, lust and gluttony. I must admit, the seven cardinal virtues interest me far less. Do you know what they are? Prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, charity. The virtues come from two sources: Plato and Aristotle gave us prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, gave us faith, hope and charity. The Church Fathers put them together as the seven cardinal virtues. Where did the deadly sins come from? The bible gives us several sin lists. The Book of Proverbs, (6:16-19), in the Hebrew Bible gives us these seven: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plots, Feet that are swift to run into mischief, A deceitful witness that utters lies, The one that soweth discord among others. Paul, again, in his letter to the Galatians, (5:19-21), has another list: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, “and such like.” It was Dante, in his Divine Comedy, and in particular the second part, Purgatory, who popularized the seven deadly sins as we know them now. They continue to fascinate us. Did you see the movie Se7en with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman? It’s about a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his modes operandi. How many of you watched the television series Lost? Various characters in the show exemplify each of the seven deadly sins. For better or worse, the seven deadlies provide an ethical benchmark in our culture.

But are they sins? It occurs to me that each one of these deadlies is double-edged, can function as both a strength and a weakness. Pride, envy and greed are born of a core response to the insecurities and insufficiencies of life. While they can serve as positive motivators for the individual, they can harm that individual, as well as the community, when exercised at the expense of others. Lust and gluttony have as their roots basic needs and evolutionary desires for species survival. When they get out of balance they harm the very survival they arose to protect. I do not consider that anger is a sin, per se, but rather that the consequences of anger can do great damage and might be called sinful. Calming our anger and not responding out of its energy can help us to choose either to express it or not. Either way we can learn to let it go effectively.

I would like to define sin, even if just for today, according to Process Theology as a choice, a voluntary failure to fulfill our best selves. Sin, then, estranges people from one another, does harm to the individual and/or the community, and obstructs the exercise of justice and love. We all fall into it at one time or another. It doesn’t mean we are bad or evil. We are imperfect people, works in progress. We can choose justice and love and when we do not we can look into ourselves to discover what factors led us away from our best selves. It’s important to examine ourselves in order to find, not how many of the seven deadly sins we carry around, but the unhelpful ways in which we express them. The deadlies are not sins because they exist in us, but rather because of the ways they come out of us. So today I want to spend some time with sloth. Are you ready?

What has three toes and two or sometimes three fingers? Nocturnal and solitary, what lives in the rain forests of South and Central America? What hangs from trees, even sleeping upside down? What goes to the bathroom but once a week? What is one of the slowest mammals, covering only thirteen feet per hour? Have you guessed yet? It’s a sloth.

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Sloth: another of the seven deadly sins. Sloth–the disinclination to exert oneself. I suppose the sloth is called so because it shows a definite disinclination to move. Perhaps it seems lazy. Does it’s continuous hanging out, literally, mean that the sloth is slothful? That the seven deadly sins apply to animals as well as humans? I hope not. Is it sinful to have laziness? In Plum Village, a Buddhist community in the south of France, Mondays are called Lazy Days. Days of nowhere to be and nothing to do. I remember one Lazy Day during which I did nothing but read and write, moving only for meditation and meals. Slothful? Perhaps. Sinful? No. Restful, refreshing, renewing. Creative. Important. Take a day off, just to do nothing. Sit and relax. Watch the waves from the ocean. Listen to music. Sleep. Lazy days are wonderful days and I would guess that many here do not get nearly enough of them. Sloth has a side that renews and each one of us needs regular renewal.

So what about sloth could be sinful, that is: destructive, estranging, preventing justice and love from thriving? Of course if everyday were Lazy Day the community would not flourish. Of course if we were slothful all the time nothing would get accomplished. But sloth would not appear among the seven deadly sins if it only meant the disinclination to exert oneself; if it only meant laziness. Notions of work and leisure are cultural constructs. In some countries workers have a month off. In some countries people take a siesta break in the middle of the day. In some countries children and adults both work twelve hour shifts. There is no universal context for sloth. What is slothful in our society may not be so in another. Sloth is not simply laziness. Actually, sloth has a number of different dimensions, from the social to the psychological to the moral.

20th century poet T. S. Eliot suggested that sloth is a condition of social consciousness in a spiritual and political sense. Observing events of the century past: World War I, Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, existentialism, surrealism, he wrote “Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock) Sloth, he said, is part of our response to the futility and anarchy of the times. It becomes a picture of the varieties of spiritual despair prevalent in that violent, killing century. It becomes a picture of the varieties of political apathy also prevalent, so very prevalent. Mental attitudes such as boredom and lassitude imply an orientation to a world beyond our control. Now, we live in another century, but we also have a form of social sloth born out of disappointment with the failure of religious beliefs, political ideologies and economic systems to address the real issues of our times, to bring about a more just world. There’s plenty of spiritual despair and political apathy to go around and it results in a reluctance to exert ourselves. A reluctance born of hopelessness. A reluctance that breeds sloth, which then only feeds our despair and apathy. Around and around it goes.

Is it an ethical issue to exhibit social sloth? The socially apathetic soul, is it sinful, then? It certainly, in its withdrawal, abandons the ship to other hands, which can result in much damage. It certainly does not seem to be a particularly helpful response, either for the individual or for society at large. Psychologist Susan Robbins asserts that sloth is “a culpable deficiency of care for one’s own moral character, beliefs, aspirations and actions. Not taking good seriously results in also not taking evil seriously.” You know, the Greek philosopher Socrates said that evil was ignorance of what is good. He thought that if we only knew the good, we would move toward it willingly. It seems not that simple. It’s understandable, though. How many times have we heard someone say, or perhaps even said ourselves: “Why vote, what difference does it make? Democrat-republican–they’re all the same anyway. My participation in this march, or through letter writing, or lobbying and so forth, will not change anything.” We know how much effort it takes not to fall into spiritual and political sloth, but to keep going. We know that sometimes we don’t have the strength to combat sloth. To keep our spirits up, our courage high, changing the world one person at a time, one step at a time. We know how alluring sloth can be as a response to our world. It’s understandable. So to all of you who work so hard to make the world a better and more beautiful place, I say bravo, and thank you. Thank you. I know it isn’t easy. Sloth is powerful.

Along with its social and ethical identity, sloth also has a psychological component. Medieval Catholics described sloth as a sluggish and torpid soul. Sloth “lays the soul low with sultry fires at regular and fixed intervals.” (Cassian) How many here have familiarity with a soul laid low, and not just as a response to our religious-political-social worlds, but as a response to our personal lives? It sounds like the blues, or hard times, or even depression. That sluggishness and torpor that seems to drain the energy, drain the enthusiasm, but won’t let us rest. How many here recognize the feelings described by poet Jane Kenyon, in excerpts from Having It Out With Melancholy?

In and Out Credo
The dog searches until he finds me Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
upstairs, lies down with a clatter but I believe only in this moment
of elbows, puts his head on my foot. of well-being. Unholy ghost, you are certain to come again.
Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life – in and out, in Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet
and out; a pause, a long sigh . . . . on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can’t
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can’t read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.

Depression. Sadness, melancholy, a shipwreck of the soul, to use William Styron’s phrase. The sluggish soul–is it sinful then? Are the blues immoral? Is depression a character flaw of some kind? Perhaps in Medieval times, when the seven sins were first catalogued, depression was neither recognized nor understood as the chemical imbalance we take it for today and so it might have seemed a willful mental attitude, disinclined to exertion. Thomas Aquinas wrote that sloth is a “sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good. . . (it) is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses (one) as to draw him (or her) away entirely from good.” I will not say today that psychological sloth is, per se, a sin or evil. Not at all. But psychological sloth is powerful and it can do harm to the person in its grip, as well as those around him or her. I don’t think we choose to have depression, or even the blues. We don’t choose not to sleep, not to eat, to feel tired and/or irritable all the time, unable to feel joy. Nor can we, by an act of will alone, simply snap out of it. Psychological sloth takes us in its hold and we are almost strangled by it until, with help and with time, it can loosen its power over us. Sloth is much more than laziness.

Sloth is a turning away: from each other and from ourselves. Whether we turn away in apathy and hopelessness, or in melancholy, our going leaves a void. To heal the wounds that cause this kind of sloth, we need each other. We need a re-turning, a turning toward rather than away from. “Here we have gathered, gathered side by side. Circle of kinship, come and step inside.” Once in the throes of sloth, it is very difficult to get through alone. And it is so very hard to re-turn, to reach out when in the throes of sloth. Medical intervention, therapy, twelve step groups, anti-depressants, a strong spiritual base, which means for some a belief and a relationship with god, however god is understood, address the psychological dimensions. Social activism, justice, equity and compassion in human relations, optimism fueled by clear spiritual springs address the social aspects.

All of the seven deadly sins are sins, not in themselves, but in the consequences of their acting out. Anger. Pride, envy, greed acted out at the expense of others damages community and the individual. Sloth, lust and gluttony, acted out at the expense of the actor him/herself, damages the actor and everyone close to him/her and ripples out to the wider community. We create harm, not by what we feel, but by how we show it, how we live it. And the harm we create, just as the good we create, touches us, touches those around us and moves out to touch people we don’t even know. Choose, therefore, to act for the good, if for no other reason than that it is in your own best interest. It is a way to happiness, peace and abundance.

Hear the words of the Koran, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammed by the angel Gabriel. “What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of a human being. To feed the hungry. To help the afflicted. To lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful. To remove the wrongs of the injured. That person is the most beloved of God who does most good to God’s creatures.” May we have our lazy days, days when we put down our busyness and burdens. Days that refresh us. But when sloth overtakes us and we find ourselves turning away into disappointment and despair, may we remember the words of the hymn we sang: “Life has its battles, sorrow, and regret: but in the shadows let us not forget: we who now gather know each other’s pain; kindness can heal us: as we give we gain. Sing now in friendship this, our hearts’ own song.” May it be so.

Hymn #16 Tis A Gift to be Simple

Closing words (Lindsay Bates – adapted)
With faith in the creative powers of life,
With hope for the future of life in this world,
With love for all others who share this life with us,
Let us go forward together in peace.
Our (gathering) has ended; let our service begin.

Lake Titicaca

12,500 feet above sea level, one of the highest navigable lakes in the world. According to legend, the founders of the Inca empire emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca.

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The lake has many islands. Floating Islands of the Uros people. Their language is Aymara.

When the Inca came they fled to the reeds and never left them.

The islands are human made of reeds. They still live there.

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Tribal life

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There used to be about 65 tribes living in the Peruvian Amazon jungle, but now there may be 40. The way of life is disappearing as the tribes move to live on the banks of the river. The Yagua tribe is trying to keep their culture alive, so they demonstrate their way of life to tourists. They still hunt with blow guns.

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