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Many times in my life, I have heard the question, “So why do you celebrate Easter, anyway, if you don’t believe in Jesus?”  Well, first, let me get the assumptive part of that question out of the way: It’s not that we don’t “believe in” Jesus.  We believe he existed, and it appears he led an exemplary life that we should study, admire, and take as an example.  We also happen to believe he was a mortal man.

As for Easter, well, that requires a little more explanation when I’m speaking with someone who connects it wholly with the resurrection.  Although Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian denomination, UU’s are very cognizant of the fact that we are descended from Christianity and, thus, from Judaism.  We, on the whole, therefore choose to honor that heritage by celebrating, or at least acknowledging, the celebrations dear to those religions.  (And dozens other religions from around the world, all of whose teachings we believe to be relevant and important.)  Since most UU’s come from a Christian family background, it’s common for them to have a stronger association with Christian holidays.  This is why you see more of us hunting for Easter eggs than hosting or attending Passover Seders.  We don’t think one is more important than the other, it’s simply what we’re used to.  (However, you’ll probably find that most UU congregations do host Passover Seders these days, as well.)

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This is the case in our household.  I was raised UU, but my parents are from a Christian heritage, so we always identified with and celebrated Christmas and Easter as a social, family holiday.  Jason was raised a Catholic, so he obviously has similar (albeit more religiously-inclined) holiday memories from his childhood.  We love these holiday times and remember well the joy they brought us as children, so we enjoy sharing the same with our kids.

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So, what are we ‘celebrating’ on Easter morning?  Well, we do like eggs.  And bunnies.*  In all seriousness, what we’re truly celebrating is the renewal of the earth.  In pagan religions, this is typically celebrated on or around the Vernal Equinox.  In the same way that the Church chose to annex the pagan sun god’s birthday for the celebration of Christmas, we choose to delay our Equinox celebration until Easter…everyone’s off work and school, the celebration “time” is already acknowledged by society, etc.  (And the bunnies & eggs are readily available!)  This is an amazing time of year – the flowers are in bloom (and the pollen is making itself more than well known), the birds’ eggs are hatching, and everything seems a little fresher, a little newer than at any other time of year.  Just think how amazing this time was to early men and women, who in many parts of the world had just come through a dark, dismal few (or many!) months.  Imagine that cold and darkness dissipating, and the relief they must have felt when Spring made itself known each year.  Talk about a reason to celebrate!

The other reason for celebration on this day is the same for every holiday – family tradition.  Building traditions and memories for our children and ourselves is more than enough reason to celebrate.  We are giving them happy events to look forward to and great things to remember.  We’re also giving ourselves memories that will be well-cherished after they have grown.  Yes, we build these memories on a daily basis, but building them around an annual framework of holidays and celebrations offers a kind of grounding of those memories, I think.

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And there’s always the eggs.  And bunnies.

*Jason’s response when I asked him if I should add anything to this post on his behalf.  Ha!

It really wasn’t a surprise yesterday to hear a sermon discussing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and our President Elect.  I didn’t really know what to expect out of the sermon (text and audio can be found here), but Anthony came through, as I knew he would.

There was a lot to think about (again, no surprise), so I’ll focus on the main idea I drew from the morning, society and history’s tendency to immortalize our heroes, to rob them of their humanity and foibles, and thus to do them and ourselves a great disservice.

We remember so many people from our past inaccurately.  Or, perhaps not inaccurately, but incompletely.  We see them for one event, or a series of them, and we forget that they were born of a human mother, had slips of the tongue, experienced massive self-doubt and cynicism, and sometimes just screwed up royally.

A story from Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father shared a time when he was overcome by cynicism and overwhelmed by the difficulty of a task, a time when he vowed never to make a speech again.  A friend of his set him straight, basically telling him to get his head out of his rear end and focus on the people who needed help.

Another story told of the Montgomery Bus Strike, and the request put to Dr. King to lead it.  He hesitated, not wanting the responsibility, until set straight and reminded of his abilities and the change he could make by Ralph Abernathy.

The latter story would be shocking to many who stopped to think about it.  THE Dr. M.L. King hesitating over leading a strike?  The event that would essentially launch his leadership of the civil rights movement?  But…that’s so human!

And that’s where we do ourselves and our world a disservice, because here’s the thing: We are all just as capable of making a change in the world as Dr. King or President Elect Obama.  We are all made of the same flesh and bone.  They made mistakes in their lives, and since Mr. Obama has many years ahead of him, he will probably make many more.  Just as we all will.

So, the perfection of our heroes cannot be an excuse on our part not to act for that in which we believe.  It is the responsibility of every one of us to be stewards of our fellow humankind, our planet, and our resources.  “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not smart enough,” and “I’m not a good speaker,” are no longer valid excuses once we realize that every person we idolize was or is as human as we are.

We all have our strengths and our resources and our convictions.  I may not have income to share with needy organizations at the moment, or the focus of mind to organize rallies, but I have a voice and a gift with words (and a blog, and Facebook, and Twitter), so I can share that.  For now, it will be enough.

What are your strengths and resources?  What are your convictions?  How will you use them to carry on the dream of peace, equality, and an end to suffering?

Three things I want to remember about today’s service:

1. The sermon…the role reversal between adult children and their parents.  I see this being a while out for us, but as Anthony said, it’s never too early to begin to think about and plan for it.  Starting a dialogue before your parents “need” you is the best way to make the eventual transition easier.  I’ve already told Mom about the sermon, and I guess that’s a good a start as any to a decades-long dialogue.  I like that Anthony addressed the sermon both to the parents and the adult children, giving example of how each can make the process easier for the other.  One word: Compassion.

2. The meditation…Anthony opened the meditation with a focus on two events of note in our country.  First, Tuesday is Veterans’ Day.  (I’m planning to talk about that more on Tuesday).  Second, the election.  He offered a prayer/thoughts for President-Elect Obama and for successful guidance in leading the country.  This is when I lost it.  I’d begun to tear up when he was speaking of our brave veterans, but as he spoke about the change our country is going through, I couldn’t stem the tears.  I had surprised myself Tuesday night…while I was misty-eyed during Obama’s election and speech, the dam didn’t burst like I thought it would.  Today it did.  After our silent meditation and the sharing of Joys and Concerns, he remarked that – regardless of our political affiliations – this has been a historic week for our country.  And we ended with a big “Hip Hip Hooray!” followed by a lot of applause.  And a song I’ve grown to love in the two times I’ve sung it with my congregation:

When you walk from here,
When you walk from here,
Walk with Justice,
Walk with Mercy,
and with God’s humble care.
(I don’t know the composer; please let me know if you do, so I can credit him/her.)

3. Our visitors…we had musical guests from Russia today.  First was an aria by an amazing mezzo soprano.  I’m really not a fan of opera, a fact that makes me feel badly.  I appreciate its beauty, and I’m amazed at what operatic performers can accomplish, but, sadly, the music doesn’t keep my attention.  That said, it was gorgeous!  The second song was by Zabava, a Russian folk singing trio.  This, I loved.  The joy in the woman’s face as she sung, the feeling behind the words, the accordian, the music itself – all was fabulous.  If I’d had more notice, I’d be dragging Jason to the church for their evening performance.

Today’s sermon was entitled The Possibility of Life After Death.  In it, Rev. David shared his personal spiritual journey towards a belief in life after death. This is not a subject often broached in Unitarian Universalism.  It’s one of those subjects, like God, that is danced around but rarely directly spoken of, in anything near certain terms, by name.

This is one of the reasons I like Rev. David so much.  He broaches these subjects, offers his own beliefs and explanations thereof, and invites the congregation to ponder.  The sermon explains his research into this branch of his spiritual path, and I’d like to share my own path.

I was a happy agnostic until the age of 25.  By “happy agnostic,” I mean that I didn’t know what the truth about life and death and spirituality was, and I was content in that unknowing.  I had a strong feeling that my own personal truth would develop as it should, and one day I might know.  Then again, I might never “know,” and that, too, was just fine.

I had a lot of ideas, though.  Things I thought just might probably be true.  I was one-hundred percent sure in the nonexistence of Hell, although I was unsure what I thought about Heaven.  I was about 95% sure in the existence of ghosts, and consequently, an afterlife.  I didn’t have many concrete reasons, but for my own experiences with what were probably supernatural beings and my trust in my own intuition.

Two pivotal events cemented this afterlife knowledge when I was 18.  On my eighteenth birthday, I was on a school trip to France (one of the perks of living in England as a teenager), and that day was the trip to the WWI cemetery at Verdun.  Upon entering the building on the grounds, I was overcome by physical pressure on every inch of my body.  It was as if hundreds of hands were pressing on my skin, and the overwhelming feeling was of extreme despair.  The experience was terrifying, and I wasn’t able to articulate it well for some time.  I’m sure my classmates were confused as I sobbed uncontrollably on the bus that afternoon.  Thank goodness for my sister’s presence and calm hand-holding.  It kept me grounded when I might have spiraled.

The second event of my eighteenth year was the discovery that my grandmother, an unreligious woman, had had a Near-Death Experience (NDE) at some point.  What this particular discovery verified in my mind is that salvation is not for the chosen few who commit themselves to a particular religion…that a peaceful afterlife awaits each and every one of us.

When Nicky was born, I was twenty-five.  For a brief time, I joined a local play group.  I never felt completely at home in the group.  Due mainly to Nicky’s severe developmental delays, and the comparatively rapid developmental progression of the other children in the group, I didn’t feel like he and I had much in common with the other families.  There was one woman who made an indelible impression, however.  In the online forum where we met, Belinda shared that she was a reincarnationist.  When I expressed interest in hearing her views, she loaned me a book, Journey of Souls, by Michael Newton, Ph.D.

I tore through the book (figuratively) in one night, and my life was changed in a few short hours.  Here, someone had published conclusions that matched all of my “this might be’s” and “I have a feeling that’s” in one place.  Every single thing about the source of life, our purpose on earth, and the afterlife that I had ever thought “just might” be true was in the book.  In retrospect, I have come to understand that Belinda and I were meant to cross paths for the sole purpose of this exchange of knowledge.

And just like that, I abandoned the label of agnostic and began sporting the new, but comfortable, label of reincarnationist.  By religion, I am a Unitarian Universalist; by belief, I am a reincarnationist.  It’s my truth, and as Rev. David said after sharing his journey today, I don’t expect that knowledge of how I arrived at my beliefs in the afterlife will convince anyone that it should be their truth as well.  I do, however, expect that it will help my friends and loved ones understand me better.

From here, I suppose I could type for hours on my ideas regarding the life force (aka God), the afterlife (aka between lives), etc., but I won’t bore you with that now.  Maybe later.

As promised, I’ve added the link to yesterday’s sermon in yesterday’s post.

And, I’ve just discovered that Rev. David has his own blog here on WordPress.  He posts his sermons on there, as well.

Note: I’ve updated last week’s post to include a link to that sermon. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled blogging…

I awoke this morning groggy, disoriented, and SO not wanting to go the effort of getting to church.  As I turned to Jason and voiced this, at the same time listing “good reasons” in my head not to go, he replied, “But you love church.  C’mon, I’ll help the boys get ready.”

So we went.

I’m glad, as usual!  The only problem was that this morning’s sermon was a two-coffee sermon.  I only had the one while driving in, so my thinking cap was somewhat askew.  After a second cup in the Fellowship Hall, I gradually realized while driving home that there is no way I will be able to summarize the sermon without leaving out some crucial element.  Here it is. I encourage everyone to read or listen to it…it applies no matter your religious affiliation.  So, since I can’t possibly do justice to the entire sermon, this post is simply going to have to be a collection of thoughts it ignited.  A bit of stream of consciousness.

Which leads me to the title of the post: We keep on waiting.  It’s a line from a John Mayer song, Waiting on the World to Change, which leaped to mind several times while we were singing one of my favorite hymns* this morning.  It (John Mayer’s song) is good, although I have a fundamental disagreement with it.  (How very debate-ish of me!)  It’s difficult for me to accept the attitude of waiting for the world to change so we can begin to be happy with it.  On the other hand, I completely understand why he wrote it, and I can’t fault him for it.  It’s a feeling of helplessness that has hit many of us over the past few years.  I hope that John now sees the hopefulness and that he and others like him who were waiting understand that we are the change we’ve been waiting for.  (Sound familiar?)  We’re being dragged like dogs over the wall, away from the electric floor.  (Listen to the sermon for the reference!)

The metaphor of the elephant and the rider** is sticking with me.  (It’s in the sermon!)  It was the elephant speaking from my nice, warm bed this morning, while the rider was saying, albeit quietly, ‘but you SHOULD go.’  Jason’s urging appealed to my inner elephant by reminding it of the enjoyment church brings.  I struggle with how to balance my elephant and rider, mostly in regards to living a healthy lifestyle.  It bears pondering.  (So, I guess now I have an inner sheep, dog & elephant.  I’m a veritable ark!)

Something I learned today: The war between reason and emotion cannot be won.  They are controlled by the same area of the brain.  Not that I ever thought one should be discounted over the other, but it’s interesting to note.  There are too many people, in my opinion, who do discount emotion, favoring what they see as pure reason.  What they don’t understand is that reasonable reason cannot exist without emotion.  It doesn’t work that way.  As humans, we have the blessing (and curse) of being able (and required) to use both in our decision-making processes.  I suppose this is a large part of what sets us apart from other animals.

I love the metaphor of the multiple parts of the Self being like members of a committee.  It stands to reason (and emotion? LOL) that the committee members will often be at odds.

I apologize for the disjointedness of this post.  As you can see, I’m still digesting and muddling through what I heard this morning.  I will probably listen to the sermon once or twice more.  I promise I’ll let you know if I have any grand breakthroughs.
* There Is More Love Somewhere, a traditional African American hymn:

There is more love somewhere, there is more love somewhere
I’m gonna keep on ’til I find it, there is more love somewhere

There is more hope somewhere, there is more hope somewhere
I’m gonna keep on ’til I find it, there is more hope somewhere

[continue two more verses, with the words ‘peace’ and ‘joy’]

** Anyone notice that Rev. David’s been on a bit of an animal metaphor kick lately?  I love it!

I was probably an amusing sight in church this morning, scribbling all over my Order of Service with a nubby pencil borrowed from the hymnal holder in front of me.  Rev. David’s sermon (from which comes the title of this post) this morning was full of great soundbites, and I found myself outlining my thoughts and reactions on the program, so I wouldn’t forget the really great parts.  This was a sermon I needed to remember fully.  I think I will bring a notebook and pen to church with me in the future, both to ease the sound of scratching, dull pencil and to have room to let thoughts flow as they will.

The title of today’s sermon was “Befriending the Difficult Emotion of Fear,” and was a study of the 23rd Psalm (that’s the “The Lord is my Shepherd” one, for those of you – like me – not up on your Biblical studies).  Yes, we UU’s do acknowledge that our faith has a foundation in Christianity, even though many of us have separated ourselves from a good deal of Christian teaching.

Anyway, the minister held up the 23rd Psalm as a tool of comfort for those of us with fear in our lives.  (Yes, that would be all of us…many examples were given, with a certain focus on the current economic situation.)  He drew out the metaphor of people as sheep.  In [very] short, sheep are creatures of habit and will ruin their environments to their own detriment unless properly guided by the shepherd.  Hmm.  Lightbulb moment?  Definitely.

The question, then, for us non-monotheists, is what is our shepherd? Our shepherd, according to Rev. David, is anything and anyone that helps us walk through the dark valley and fear no evil.  There are several components he outlined, and I believe it is up to each of us to choose or identify those which work for us.

One – A healthy relationship.  A partnership.  Someone with whom to walk.  I don’t think this necessarily needs to be a romantic partnership, although that’s what he was discussing.  And in my case, it is the most important piece of the puzzle.  Jason is my shepherd, as I believe I am his. My difficult days are made infinitely better by the knowledge that we walk through them together.  Other shepherds in my life include my parents, my sister, and my children.  Family shepherding.  As it should be.

Two – The ability and courage to speak your fears aloud.  I’m sure this was intended to be part of Number One, but they are separate in my mind.  I see too many relationships that suffer from poor communication, or a complete lack thereof, for these two to be automatically defined as one.  And you don’t necessarily have to have a single, all-important relationship of this sort to voice your fears.  Voice them to yourself, to the universe, to your Twitter feed.  But voice them aloud, and acknowledge them.

Three – A healthy community.  Rev. David was talking about a faith community, a congregation, a church.  Immediately, however, what I thought of was not my faith community, but of the June Mommies.  This group of women I met online nearly nine years ago continues to be a source of strength, knowledge, love and comfort for me, as I hope they will for my whole life.  I fear so much less in their embrace – and in the embrace of certain other of my “in real life” friends – than I would otherwise, I am sure.

Four – A divine shepherd.  Here’s where you get into sticky territory as a UU minister, and Rev. David handled it beautifully.  With such a diverse faith community, ranging from atheists, to agnostics, to multi-deist pagans, to liberal Christians and nearly everything in between, it is impossible for everyone to want to hear the same message here.  However, it spoke to me.  My “divine shepherd” is not the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God but an energy – a life force that guides the universe.  I half-jokingly compare it to The Force, of Star Wars fame, because that’s the closest definition to my belief regarding the nature of the Universe that people can relate to.  Anyway, remembering that your divine shepherd is there for you to lean on, whether that be God, the Goddess, your Spiritual Guide, or The Force, and that It, whatever “It” is to you, is GOOD…that is an instrumental part or your shepherding.

So, the message, as I received it today: Embrace your inner sheep.  Acknowledge its existence.  Look fear in the eye.  Lean on your shepherds.  Return the favor and sustain that which sustains you.

Baaaa.

In RE (Religious Education, aka Sunday School) today, Kalen’s K/1 class learned about thresholds.  Of course, at this age, the focus was on literal thresholds…places where we begin and end various physical journeys, entrances into our homes, etc.  Of course, it leaves open the opportunity to segue nicely into a discussion about figurative thresholds, especially the threshold these little ones are on, beginning a spiritual journey that will last the rest of their lives.  I think, however, that this figurative interpretation is best left to the parents for the time being, at least in our family.  (Kalen’s response to these sorts of observations is usually something along the lines of, “Yeah, okay.  Hey, Mom, look how Lego Batman can drive this car…*insert appropriate vehicular sound effects*”)

One of the class’s explorations of the threshold lesson was a visit to the small labyrinth outside the church.  Labyrinths have an interesting spiritual history, dating (at least) to Ancient Greece and the story of Dedalus.  They are used to represent spiritual journeys, as a meditation tool, etc.  I was never one to discern symbolism easily on my own, but once the idea of a labyrinth or maze as a symbol for a spirtual journey was planted in my mind, I’ve never let go of that interpretation.  I love the vision of a faceless someone twisting and turning along life’s paths.

As I relaxed for a few moments this afternoon with a Sudoku puzzle, it occurred to me that the labyrinthine model can be applied to it – that there are possibly dozens of everyday activities that act as a similar spiritual journey for those that engage in them.  I thought about how I enter a Sudoku puzzle with a single numeral, and that numeral leads me to another, and another, and another, until eventually, with one final numeral, I exit the puzzle.  I find Sudoku to be a meditative experience.  Each puzzle contains many paths to completion, and gentle contemplation and perseverence will always lead to a solution.

Sudoku = Labyrinth = Life

This morning, I went back to church for the first time in about four years.  I belong to a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  A few years ago, I began working Sundays, and it simply didn’t work out.  Now that I’ve left the store, however, and the kids are getting to the age where they’re (a) asking a lot of questions and (b) being bombarded with religious points of view Jason and I don’t agree with, we determined that it was time to return.  There’s been a new minister installed since I last attended, and I am thrilled to report that I enjoyed his sermon immensely.  I look forward to hearing what he has to offer in the coming weeks and months.

Today’s sermon was entitled Turnings: The Amazing Story of John Murray.  (I’ll link directly to the sermon text when it’s uploaded to the congregation’s website, as it is much more eloquent than I can be. – Ah, here’s the place.)  The message I received from the sermon was, I hope, what Rev. David intended.  John Murray was the father of Universalism in America.  To paraphrase Rev. David, Universalists believe in abundance.  There is more than enough love and grace to go around, and spreading the light of these is a far better way to guide someone spiritually, and to govern, than is fear.

This is one of the main principles I was raised on (no surprise, as I was raised a UU).  It was a tremendous feeling to be in a sanctuary filled with people who felt the same – who agreed that love and peace and grace are the true nature of the universe.

In the benediction, after the congregation had joined in singing This Little Light of Mine, Rev. David reminded us of our ability and responsibility to spread this message of Universal Abundance, to let our lights shine for the world to see.  So here it is, my little light.

My boys

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