Recently I started changing the words on our sign every week. It had been the same for a long time, and I thought it would be nice to keep it fresh. Selecting the white plastic letters one character at a time is a much slower way of communicating than what I’m used to in our digital world, but it has its place. Right now the sign reads:
PEACE ON EARTH
It is ironic, then, that today I saw the news of someone stabbing five people at a Rabbi’s home in New York as congregants were gathering to celebrate Hanukkah—and then this morning (as we were gathered for our Sunday morning worship) a shooting at a Christian church in Texas left two people dead. Whenever an atrocious act like this occurs, people of faith everywhere must condemn it. As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to respect all religions and all believers—therefore we must speak up to say this is unacceptable.
And it’s natural to be afraid, to wonder if this could happen here at our Fellowship. Does our liberal religious and social stance make us more of a target for some crazy violent person? Perhaps. We have a safety team that is talking about protocols for violent intruders in the building, as any public institution should have. And I will not let fear of such an unlikely event stop me from being open and welcoming and outspokenly liberal.
While events in the news make it feel like we live in a violent time, I want to also share here a very optimistic piece that I read in the New York Times today. The author, Nicholas Kristof, uses the attention-grabbing title “This Has Been the Best Year Ever: For humanity overall, life just keeps getting better.” His point is that historically, through recent decades and centuries, life for humans on earth has been getting steadily safer and better. His two primary measures are poverty and literacy. Without saying that everything is good in today’s world, he says that statistically people are much less poor and much more literate than at any time in human history. This is worth noticing and celebrating, even as we dedicate our lives to improving human life for all people, ending religious violence, and spreading love and hope in the world. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Peace on Earth.
God of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement in New York,
God of the West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas,
God of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Michigan,
hear this prayer: May those who have been wounded and traumatized by violence know healing. May the world weep for those who have been killed—as surely as you, dear and unknowable God, are weeping.
Tonight and tomorrow and next week, may congregations gather in New York and Texas and Michigan, in Toronto and Mexico City and Anchorage, not in fear but in love and hope. May love and hope grace every house of God everywhere on Earth, every synagogue,
every dining room table, every household altar, every evangelical megachurch.
No exceptions. May love and hope be preached and heard in every corner of the Earth,
and felt in every heart.
Shalom. Amen. Blessed be.
This week I went on an outing with my partner to do some holiday shopping and to explore some Christmas-themed attractions in our new state of Michigan. I was raised in a family that celebrated Christmas, so I am drawn to things related to Christmas at this time of the year.
We had a nice day and we were driving home as the sun was setting. I was noticing the colorful light displays on houses and businesses as we drove. We were passing through Grand Rapids when I saw a really big light display, and on a whim, we suddenly got off the highway to check it out.
It turned out to be the biggest light display I’ve ever seen. It snakes through the parking lot and grounds of a minor league baseball park and takes nearly an hour to explore. We were told that a thousand cars were expected to visit that evening. There were whimsical displays of Santa and elves in endless scenes: in an airplane; going bowling; on a giant dinosaur. The experience was fun and frivolous. We laughed and oohed and aahed. We enjoyed the moment.
Other parts of the day had been planned, but this was totally spontaneous, and I think that made it all the more fun. I gave myself permission to be silly. The little boy within me got to enjoy the experience without a judgmental voice telling me not to waste my time and money on something so trivial and fleeting.
This experience of joy and wonder, connecting me to my childhood traditions, will remain a fond memory of this season. I’m glad that I took time to spend a day with my partner, and that we were open to a spontaneous moment that neither of us expected. Sometimes I chase after joyful experiences, but the most treasured ones are the ones that just happen.
Spirit of life and love, spirit of Christmas and other holidays that bring joy to children, be here now.
Blessed spirit, remind us to be open to joy. Remind us that each of us has a child within that needs to feel loved and safe, that yearns for joy and laughter. May we find ways to be in touch with our inner child. May we have trusted companions to share our laughter. May we know that joy and fun are part of life, not something we do only after perfectly finishing every task on our list.
May all children, and all people on the earth, know joy and laughter—celebrating Christmas, celebrating Diwali, or experiencing a regular day on earth in this blessed human lifetime that we all share.
May it be so.
My favorite sacred text is the Tao Te Ching, written around 500 B.C. and translated (in the version quoted below) in 1988. Each verse is rich with multiple meanings, which appeals to me as a lover of poetry and as a Unitarian Universalist. All UU’s are called to interpret what we find in the world using our reason, and to find truth and meaning through diligent search.
Here is verse 3 of the Tao Te Ching:
If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.
The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.
and everything will fall into place.
(Tao Te Ching, an illustrated journey, translated by Stephen Mitchell, published in 1999 by Frances Lincoln Limited of London)
I love the comments in the first few lines about great men and possessions. I think that we live in a society that has done both of the things warned against in the text: we look to famous and powerful people instead of empowering and improving ourselves; and we have elevated material possessions to have an undeserved place of reverence. I heard someone say that we should serve people and use things—and that if we start to use people and serve things, then we’re in trouble.
But the deeper spiritual lesson for me here is about the mind versus the “core,” which may be the body or the spirit. The author, Lao Tzu, tells us to empty our minds and fill our cores. And those who think they know things should be shaken up. This is a paradox for Unitarian Universalists, because we value our ability to reason. Indeed, my working definition for liberal religion is: religion which values reason and experience over scripture and tradition. If we value our reason in this liberal religion, how can we empty our minds?
My spiritual journey has called on me to appreciate the parts of me that are not my reasoning mind. We have the phrase “gut instinct” for a reason: there is wisdom in the body. We have feelings and intuitions. What Lao Tzu calls the “core” I think of as getting out of my head and into my body, my feelings, my spirit. This is not encouraged in our society, which places the highest value on intellect and thinking and logic. But I am learning to value these other parts of myself. The ancient wisdom from the sacred text of Taoism shows me that this is the path of enlightenment. Ironically, as a Unitarian Universalist I use my reason to decide that there is truth and meaning for me here.
Divine spirit, energy of the unfolding universe, you who were with the ancient ones just as you are with us now, hear my prayer.
May we all know the wisdom within our bodies, in harmony with the reason of our minds. May the spirit guide us. May we feel our feelings. May we trust both logic and emotion, finding the balance between the two that works for each of us.
Spirit of life and love, remind me not to think too much of “great men,” but to know myself, my family, my colleagues, my companions and to recognize what is good and worthy there. Remind me not to overvalue possessions, but to value love and experience and awareness as the truly precious commodities of my life.
May this prayer bless myself, my close circle, my community, my nation, and the whole world.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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