Sunday, May 27, 2018: The Folly of Binary Thinking

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“…dividing the mind into “biological” and “psychological” is as fallacious as classifying light as a particle or a wave. The natural world makes no promise to align itself with the preconceptions that humans find parsimonious or convenient.”

(by Thomas Lewis)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Garin B.

CALL TO WORSHIP: “Finding What You Didn’t Lose” (by John Fox)

When someone deeply listens to you

It is like holding out a dented cup

You’ve had since childhood

And watching it fill up with

Cold, fresh water.[1]

When it balances on the top of the brim,

You are understood

When it overflows and touches your skin,

\You are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you,

The room where you stay

Starts a new life

And the place where you wrote

your first poem

Begins to glow in your mind’s eye.

It is as if you had been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you,

Your bare feet are on the earth

And a beloved land that seemed distant

Is now at home within you.

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Anna and Lily R.

We light this chalice,

Remembering all who went before us.

We light this chalice,

Glad for all who share our lives today.

We light this chalice,

That we might lovingly prepare the way

For those who come after.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: “Yonder Come Day” ( * )

OUR COVENANT:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.

SONG OF ASPIRATION:

From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.

Amen.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Rev. Anita

Rev. Anita will betalking about having different, even conflicting, feelings at the same time, e.g. excited/scared and happy/sad and how we might all be feeling that way now, with end of school coming and with the changes in the church

SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace, go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

DIVERSITY TOPIC: GENDER: “Why It Matters To Me”, by Duncan M

OFFERTORY

ANTHEM: “Never One Thing”

READING: “The Place Where We Are Right” (by Yehuda Amichai, Israeli poet)

From the place where we are right

flowers will never grow

in the Spring.

The place where we are right

is hard and trampled

like a yard.

But doubts and loves

dig up the world

like a mole, a plough.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

where the ruined

house once stood.

HYMN: “Open My Heart”

SERMON:

The Folly of Binary Thinking

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (copyright)

SUUSI, the Southeast Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute, is an intergenerational summer gathering of about 1000 folks, mostly UU’s that has been going on for nearly seventy years. For many years it was held on the campus of Virginia Tech, and it is there that the story I am about to tell, has been told and retold. It was told to me by my colleague Meg Barnhouse about one summer when she was participating in SUUSI. This is how she remembered the story being told to her:

There once was a teacher who used to come to the camp every summer; a man who would become Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Theodore Parker. He would bring his class to sit under a large oak tree out on the quad, and the conversation would range over history, philosophy and theology. Summer after summer, folks would look forward to that class, to sitting under what they came to call “the wisdom tree.” They would look forward to having the kind of conversations in which you hear and say things that surprise and delight you.

One summer night, during the church camp, a storm came through. As the people slept, winds and rain whipped the campus. Lightning flashed and struck hard. It struck close. In the morning, daylight revealed the wisdom tree scattered on the ground. As the grounds crew came to clear it away, church people came from every corner of the campus to circle round. One by one they asked to take a piece of the tree home with them.[2]

Apocryphal no doubt, but charming, and as is often the case with such stories, important, and profoundly true. The wisdom tree was shattered into a thousand pieces, and rather than being the demise of wisdom, that breaking open became the opportunity for it to be shared. Each person took a piece, a piece they could take home with them to cherish. But every piece was different. Did each one now have the whole of wisdom?

From the place where we are right

flowers will never grow

in the Spring.

The place where we are right

is hard and trampled

like a yard.

But doubts and loves

dig up the world

like a mole, a plough.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

where the ruined

house once stood.[3]

Did they each take home a piece of wisdom?

Hmmm. And that reminds me of another story. As told by Anthony de Mello, it goes like this:

The devil once went for a walk with a friend. They saw a man ahead of them stoop down and pick up something from the road.

“What did that man find?” asked his friend.

“A piece of Truth,” said the devil.

“Doesn’t that disturb you?” asked the friend.

“No, it does not,” said the Devil. “I shall allow him to make a religious belief out of it.”[4]

People have been in search of truth for as long as there is a record of our ways, and we have longed for wisdom. We have been uncomfortable with the not-knowing of things, wanting to capture what is known, declaring it definitive, as “The Truth.”

Our Puritan forebears left Europe to create faith communities that they thought would be faithful to God, to the Bible, to the eternal Truth. They rejected the old ways of receiving Truth and wisdom from the officials of the church.

No, they thought that God was democratic, that divine wisdom could be received and discerned by anyone if they were attentive and of honest intention. People should gather in small groups, in churches, study the Bible and discern what it meant and what God was saying to them today.

It worked for a while, until the inevitable happened; people did not discern the same things. They disagreed about what the passages meant, about what God was saying or intending for them. If you were going to affirm the priesthood of all believers, which we in the free church tradition do, then you must accept that there is going to be difference of honestly arrived at beliefs and opinions.

That was a hard one. It still is. The desire for certainty is strong and seductive. We will often give away our freedom in return for certainty, but it is a devil’s bargain. Certainty is almost always wrong, for truth and wisdom are dynamic, unfolding as we unfold. Consider for a moment all of the things you used to think but now you know or think differently. Was there a time when you thought your parents were always right? Long time ago. Maybe after that there was a time when you were sure they were clueless and knew nothing at all. Possibly you have found yourself now somewhere in the middle, somewhere along a continuum of assessment about the strengths and foibles of the people who raised you. Maybe that is wisdom – understanding that in most things there is not a simple right or wrong, good or bad.

There was a minister who was doing the children’s time, talking to the children about being good and bad. “Tell me,” he said to one little girl, “if blue was good and green was bad, what color would you be?”

The little girl thought about this for a minute, and then she shook her head. “I don’t know” she said, “I think, Reverend, that I’d be streaky.”

Life is streaky. We all are streaky. Human beings come in all kinds of variations. We stretch out on long continuums, shades of color, shades of sexual orientation and attraction, shades of talent and skills, shades of gender identity, even shades of cultural and ethnic identities. And this pesky aversion to unclarity gets us in trouble all the time.

This is the beauty and the great gift of our Universalism. God is love. And that love embraces everyone. Everyone. Even the people I don’t understand. Even the people around whom I am uncomfortable. Even the people I don’t like or with whom I disagree. Even the people who I think are profoundly wrong or misguided. There is no on/off switch to God’s love, to the accepting embrace of the universe. If you were born, you belong here.

I have known transgender people for a very long time. Some of them are highly esteemed colleagues and friends. Yet, I remember a time not that long ago, when a new person was added to the Board of a non-profit organization on which I also served. This person was transgender, which ordinarily would have been a non-issue for me. But there was something about this person that appeared to me as an incongruence that made me very uncomfortable. While she identified as female, her behaviors didn’t appear to me to confirm that presentation. I was aware of being annoyed and distracted during meetings by this unsettling experience of incongruity. Secretly I hoped she wouldn’t like us and would leave the board. Not nice. I know. I am embarrassed to say this, but it was true. Until, one day at a meeting, I was distractedly watching her. Just watching her, waiting for that familiar annoyance to surface. But instead something else happened. While I watched, I had the sense of her being enfolded. In my eyes she was transformed, but truly it was me who was transformed. I was confronted with the biggest truth, the one so very had to believe. That she too was beloved, a beloved person of the universe. That she belonged here as much as I did, and that my discomfort was irrelevant.

From the place where we are right

flowers will never grow

in the Spring.

The place where we are right

is hard and trampled

like a yard.

But doubts and loves

dig up the world

like a mole, a plough.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

where the ruined

house once stood.[5]

God is Love. That unconditional Love has no place for binary thinking, for sorting who is in and who is out, who is worthy and who is normal. You just can’t get out of it, out of that Love. And neither can anyone else.

…doubts and loves

dig up the world

like a mole, a plough.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

where the ruined

house once stood.[6]

And the whisper, my friends, is Love. It whispers all the time.

May it be so. Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: “We Would Be One” (# 318)

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community,

or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

BENEDICTION

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE:

May the long time sun shine upon you,

All love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE

[1] John Fox, Finding What You Didn’t Lose

[2] Meg Barnhouse, Broken Buddha, “the Wisdom Tree”.

[3] Yehuda Amichai, the Place Where We Are Right.

[4] Anthony deMello, The Song of the Bird, “The Devil and His Friend.”

 

[5] Yehuda Amichai, the Place Where We Are Right.

[6] Yehuda Amichai, the Place Where We Are Right.