Our theme this month is returning to our core. Today we will focus on returning to our heart and soul as individuals, and next week we will focus on returning to the core values that we hold as a congregation and as Unitarian Universalists. It bears mentioning that next weeks topic will be accompanied by our annual water communion ceremony. A few people bring back water from near and far. I encourage you to bring water as a symbol of some way that life has touched your soul this summer.
The task of moving or returning to our core as an individual and the task of getting to the core of our UU tradition are not unrelated. At the core of our tradition is a knowing that the most important beliefs are the ones that we actually believe. The beliefs we espouse are important, but our behavior tells us and others what we really believe. That's where UU abides. It sends us to the truths that rule us, the truth of who we are and that which we truly or actually believe.
Our tradition places great value upon soul searching, looking inside to find the truth. We trust and have faith in the value and wisdom of discovering and accepting our nature. We reject the doctrine of original sin, at least in its formal sense. To the contrary, we profess that we have what Mathew Fox calls “original blessing,” that is, we are blessed with the miracle of life. We are embued with tremendous qualities.
For most of us, the ultimate, the sacred, God, the eternal is not something outside and removed from us. The perfection, beauty and intelligence of life evolving exists inside each of us. Like other traditions we say that we were created in the image of the divine. To encounter the holy, we need only come to know our true nature in its deepest sense.
If this sounds very serious, then we may need some humility. It might help to admit that we haven't found awakening to our true nature to be such an easy task. We would do well to keep a sense of humor about it all. Then we might find wisdom in the simplest of places, even in the inane world of knock knock jokes.
Listen carefully as we go there together.
Barry the treasure and no one will find it.
adore is between us, please open up
usher wish you would let me in!
theodore is closed, please open up and let me in.
Sherwood like to meet you
Lisa you could do is let me in!
Olivia, so I am coming right in.
Ear you are I've been looking for you.
Yes, today we hold up the challenge sometimes referred to as the quest for the sacred self. Why is the self sacred? Does this imply a worship of the personality? The wisdom traditions are in consensus that there is something greater. Our tradition refers to this as the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Who are we anyway?
Let me tell you some answers to this question, common ones that are incorrect. At least they are not the ultimate truth, not the final answers.
Your name. Your name is something given to you at birth. Some people change their names when they get married, or just because they can. A name is a very convenient tool, but it's not who you are.
When asked “who are you? We may answer something like “I am the son of Jane and John Doe. We might say that we are the father or mother of our children.
That's not who we are. Anyways there is more to us than this.
These are roles that we fulfill. Yes They are probably very dear and important to us, but there are parts of us that don't fit into that role.
Being a minister is a great example where the “job” and a person's identity tend to get welded together. I was taught that being a minister isn't just something you do, its something you are 24/7. Fortunately, This role gives me permission to be myself in some deeply satisfying ways. Sometimes in fulfilling my responsibilities, I get a sense that I am doing what I am here to do.
I know I'm not the only one to identify heavily with their job. I've heard it when people tell me they have a hard time imagining retiring. And as much as we may identify with it, our work is what we do, not who we are.
Another way we identify is by religion. I had a religious identity crisis that led to my joining this religious denomination. I had been taught to think of myself as Jewish. But my mother was Catholic. I flirted with the idea of identifying as a Christian. But the definition of Christian presented to me at that time was unacceptable. Then I learned the history of the Unitarians and the Universalists, and I said to myself these were my kind of Christians.
So when I first left NJ to attend seminary in California, I considered for a short time throwing away my Jewish identity. Had I done that I would have had plenty of company. I know many U Us who identify as former Baptists, or identify as having grown up Catholic. I've heard many identify as having Jewish heritage. I am not putting down these people, but that route wasn't right for me. Even if I were to completely abandon the religious beliefs and practices, which is far from what I have done, I wouldn't stop identifying as Jewish. It's part of how I identify in this life.
BUT I realize that it is an acquired identity. It's NOT who I am.
Even the term Unitarian Universalist, … as much as I want to see you claim it, … is not who you are. It doesn't express the fullness of who you are. Religious identities so often divide. Our religion has helped me to reject the divisions between us are in some way false.
Labels are part of a story you tell about someone, and you are not the story you tell about yourself. Sorry that's not who you are. That's a character you have created, and you can choose to play that character. But there are plenty of times when you are out of character. The people closest to you will confirm this truth. In fact, they will regularly point out to you that you are not who you claim to be.
My guess is that so much of our anxiety, so much violence in the world is a result of a fear that we will be found out not to be who we claim to be. If we aren't who we say we are, than who are we? It must be bad, right? Well, in some ways we are probably not as good as we pretend to be. But in more ways we have no clue of how good we are.
You are not the story you tell about yourself. The more you are attached to the idea that you are the story you tell about yourself, the more suffering you will experience and the more you will create. When people won't buy your story, when they tell a different story, you will perceive this as a threat.
A real danger comes when we believe the stories that people tell about us. Chasing after the gold ring, the good grades, the certification, the degrees, we often lose touch with our soul. We become addicted to seeking external validation, caught up in the habit of trying to gain the approval of others..
Chasing after external validation makes it likely we will fall into line. We begin to be like the witch's guards in the “Wizard of Oz” (chants) Owee oh, eeeyoh ah...
I never knew what they were saying, did you? To me it sounded like “Oreo Nabisco.” I think I saw too many commercials
There is a story of Mullah Nasrudin, the wise fool. In a modern version of this story, Nasrudin goes into a bank to ask for some cash. The cashier looking to see his license says “Can you verify your identification, please?”
Nasrudin reaches into his coat pocket. He takes out a small mirror and looks in it. Yep, that's me allright.
We have become accostomed at relying on that outside validation and verification. The state of TX recognizes you as.... married, a certified physical therapist, etc etc. But who are you anyway?
Many years ago, I had a very freeing experience. I was studying at the Option Institute in the Berkshires. I spent the summer surrounded with people boldly exploring their beliefs. There was some wild and wonderful exploration that went on around me. People really got the chance to examine there beliefs. They discovered beliefs they were carrying that had great impact on their life such as “I have been divorced three times. That must mean... My mother was an alcoholic. My father left us when I was 7. Watching people question their beliefs was an awesome thing. One night we had a night out on the town. I had my big religious ephinany in a bar of all places. and no I wasn't drinking, so don't even go there.
I was standing there, when it hit me. I realized that I could could continue to hold the beliefs that I had inherited in NJ. That I could continue to view my life the way based on the things that I imagined my peers would say. But I realized that I had a choice. I realized that it was completely up to me how I wanted to view my life. I chose my beliefs. In that moment, I got it, I knew that God loved me. It's not that I began believing that. It was my experience.
If the word god is too anthropomorphic for you, What is our relationship to the source of life? Or to that which is? To life itself? Do we believe that we are separate things, and that what will become of us is determined soley by our efforts and intelligence? that the only one that cares about us is our family or mate?
Do you know the difference between the beliefs of the Unitarians and the Universalists before they merged in 1961? The joke says that the Universalists believed that God was all loving, that God is too good to send us to hell. … And the Unitarians....
they believed that they were too good to go there.
Next week, I will flesh out more aspects of Unitarianism and Universalism For today, all we need to glean from our tradition is that the relationship between the source of life and ourselves is love, least ways it is supportive. Life follows life. Life gives unto life. Life supports life. We are alive. We are sewn from the fabric of the stars, embued with amazing gifts that enable us to be able to see, to hear, to create, to dance, sing, play and make meaning.
We are sewn from the fabric of the stars and embued with amazing gifts. Now we begin to approach who we are.
We would like to figure it all out. But all we need to know is that it is okay to be alive. It is okay to be who we were created to be.
And who are we anyway?
This is a religious question. Our tradition suggests to us that words are unable to fully capture the truth or meaning of our existence. This is as true of us as it is of God, because we have come from the eternal.
Our church says to you, You are alive! Our church asks us: “Have you noticed that lately?
Most of you know that I enjoy religious language, that I embrace words like God, not because I believe in a god, but it is a word that I use to refer to a Truth which is is beyond description and probably even comprehension. The truth of Life is something bigger than any of the wonderful ideas we have about it. That's something of what I mean by God.
Most of you know that I have a spiritual practice that I call “Compassionate Conversations.” One thing I've learned in this practice is a secular and less poetic way of referring to the divine. We speak of what's alive in a given moment. We pay attention to the life force and the way it expresses in a particular person and moment. I am learning to see beauty in people even when I don't like what they are saying or doing.
I've come to see that violence occurs when we are out of touch with this amazing and precious life energy. When we too much attention to what outside authorities or dominant leaders approve of, we ignore the needs of people, and great harm is done. We make moralistic judgements, and we lose touch with human needs. We believe that people deserve to be punished, and we accept or even enjoy violence.
We learn to make up stories about people, and these stories keep us from connecting to the beauty of the life that is in them. (Guesturing outward finger pointed) “Gay!” “Mean person!” “Ignorant person,” “Racist person.”
The enemy images we create of people cause us to lose touch with the beauty of the life that exists in them. We forget the beauty of human vulnerability and the need to reach out.
The healing begins when we can come home to our heart, when we connect with the awesome life force inside of us that seeks to live, grow, share, understand, be at ease, and be in relationship with others. Then we remember and connect with hearts.
Life happens in relationship.
A dozen years ago, I got to know a man named Wayne Schwab. He and his wife of 50 years were enjoying retirement. They were both active people but protective of their time together. They seemed to enjoy other. You know this doesn't happen to everyone, not all those who have been married a lifetime.
Some people find that retirement is really hard. They say I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch.
But Wayne, after retiring found that he was falling in love with his wife again. He expressed a sense of marvel that after 50 years of marriage he realized that he didn't know his wife. He wasn't complaining. He was expressing awe at the blessed mystery of life that had expressed itself in his wife. He realized that the miracle series of events that he refered to as Betty, was greater than the stories he had told himself about her. He was willing to be touched by the divinity, the miracle of eternal life appearing in a mortal form known to him as his wife Betty.
The question I wish to leave today is: “Can we open up to the reality that the same is true of us?” That you and I, and even the people that bother us to no end, are divine expressions of the One God, the eternal life that is everywhere? Can we remember that we are more than the stories we tell about each other, that we are more than the stories we've been telling about ourselves? That life is a mystery unfolding in and through our bodies, our minds and our hearts?