Sunday, October 1, 2017: Humbled and Stronger Together

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“All of us need all of us to make it.”

(by Theresa Ines Soto)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS

CALL TO WORSHIP:

This day is ours –

Its beauty, its promise –

Its weight of sorrow and disappointment,

The brightness of its opportunity for doing and achieving,

Of its opportunity for the deepening of love and understanding.

This days is ours, even as we make it ours

By the readiness and warmth of our appreciations;

For from it, we shall receive according to the measure of our giving.

Let our giving then be of ourselves, and from the heart.

May there be laughter in this day.

And if there be tears, then generous tears.

Another day?

Ah, yes, a day.

(by Rev. Vincent Silliman)

Come, let us worship together!

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Calla G. and Kate S.

May this chalice light our morning

With love and learning

And send us forward

With new wonder and hope.

(by Rev. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: No Other People’s Children (see insert)

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

How many of you have lit a chalice for us here on Sunday morning?

How was that?

Was it hard? Was it easy?

What made it hard? What made it easy?

Different for different folks, isn’t it?

Some things that are hard become easy as we learn how to do them and do them more often and some things still are hard, and while we get better at them, we may never get as good as some other folks, and that’s okay too.

When I took piano lessons, I got better, when I practiced, but I was never going to get as good as my piano teacher, for whom it came easier, and who practiced much more than I ever would. And that was okay.

Each of us has things at which we are good and things we are not. Luckily we are not all good at the same things and terrible at the same things, so we can help each other and get everything done that needs to get done.

So we are going to be spending the rest of the month learning about different things at which people are good and things at which they are not so good, and how we can manage things so that everyone can participate and do well together.

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

READING:Inhabiting Vulnerability” (by David Whyte)

Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without; vulnerability is not a choice. Vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature. The attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not, and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, refusing our vulnerability, we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential … foundations of our identity…

The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance. Our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.

EXPLORING ABILITY: WHY IT MATTERS TO ME: Mary H.

Hi, my name is Mary H., and I’m an occupational therapist. Because of that background, I was asked to chair a working group to address our church’s first of five diversity topics on “Ability”. But this topic is not only my work, my occupation, but it is very personal for me. My masters and doctoral degrees are in occupational therapy, but my greatest learning has come from personal experiences.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted 27 years ago and is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities (both visible and invisible) in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

Twenty-two years ago my first husband, Steve, who was a PhD seismologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory was diagnosed with ALS. For a year, his disability was invisible, with weakness and inability to walk very far. People with invisible disabilities are often judged with skepticism. For example, after parking at the airport with our placard for accessible parking, we once were accosted by someone, who said, “You don’t look disabled. Why are you parking there?”

Two years later, Steve’s disability was highly visible, using a power wheelchair and a ventilator. Most strangers didn’t look him in the eye; he was often ignored and, instead, I was addressed. “What does he want to order?” I’d be asked by waiters. People with visible disabilities are not looked at, looked at with pity, or seen as cognitively impaired.

I believe, as do many people, that Steve and others are primarily disabled by the environment and by societal attitudes rather than by their own bodies. Luckily, Steve worked for the Los Alamos National Laboratory post-ADA and luckily he was a physicist/seismologist. (Who do you think of when you hear “physicist with ALS”?) Stephen Hawking paved the way for Steve H. His group leaders knew that he could contribute as a scientist and they created an accessible social and work environment. They knew that, like Stephen Hawking, he just needed the right tools to access his computer. Through technology, an accessible physical environment, and open minds, they knew he could do his job. He worked for five more years with quadriplegia and while using a ventilator to breath. He made a significant scientific contribution to his group.

Although the ADA doesn’t apply to religious organizations, the UUA is leading the way with the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry (AIM) program that focuses on welcoming, embracing, integrating, and supporting people with disabilities. AIM is not just about expensive building modifications for users of wheelchairs, but gives guidelines and ideas to begin the work of including people with all types of disabilities.

Steve was also enabled by the Los Alamos Unitarian Universalist Church to contribute to church life. The church was so supportive of Steve and our family during the years that he was a member, and after, for me and our 3 daughters. No, the upstairs classrooms were not accessible, but the sanctuary was and our minister and others were creative in including him in committee meetings and classes that he wanted to participate in.

To my fellow Los Alamos UU church members, Steve was a person first; he was a contributing UU church member, a seismologist, a husband, a father, a friend, and – oh, yeah – you may recognize him as that guy who uses a wheelchair.

So let us begin this path to understanding diversity by opening our hearts and minds to those who are “differently-abled” and let us recognize their worth and dignity. Let us accept and encourage their spiritual growth in our church community and know that they will contribute to our spiritual growth as well.

OFFERTORY

ANITPHONAL READING:We Need One Another” (#468)

HYMN:From You I Receive” (#402)

SERMON

Humbled and Stronger Together

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

When I was a young child, kindergarten age I’d guess, we’d walk to the park most days where there was a playground that had, in addition to things for us kids to do, a wonderful canopy of shade trees that well suited my fair skinned mother. It was a four or five block walk along Broadway, and about 2/3 of the way to the park was a green grocer’s shop. Out on the sidewalk there would be large, beautiful and colorful displays of fruits and vegetables. Neat pyramids and wooden crates chock full, too many fruits and vegetables to count I was sure.

Each day I would walk by and look at them. The conversation I had with myself was predictable. “Anita, there are so many apples. They are practically spilling out onto the street. The man who owns the store is inside with customers. No one would ever know if you just reached out, grabbed a small apple and slipped it into your pocket. No one would ever know.”

My, it was tempting.

And then the other voice would kick in. “Anita, if everyone who walked by this pretty stand did that, he wouldn’t be able to leave those displays out there anymore. And then we would no longer have that pretty display to look at every day on the way to the playground, and we would no longer have that good feeling that comes from knowing that we live in a neighborhood where people are good and don’t steal fruit from the store.”

And I would decide that I was not prepared to lose the beauty of the fruit and vegetable stand, or the sense of comfort and joy that came from living in a neighborhood where the green grocer could leave his stuff out unsupervised, and trust us.

I would keep my hands to myself, and walk on by.

I’d have to have that internal conversation every time I went by. The apples looked so good, and so easy to pilfer. And every time, the long term consequences, and the deep sense of loss that would result, were enough to stop me.

Why do I remember that? And remember it so vividly? Because it was hard, almost painful some days, to resist what seemed so easy to acquire, resist what was easy because it was not the right thing to do, because in the end, it would wreck what I loved about my life and my community.

The truth be told, when I really think about it, I have not changed that much. I still have that same internal conversation on a regular basis whenever I am tempted to break some rule or practice. It is not just can I get away with it? Will anyone notice? It is about the fabric of my society, the values I cherish. What is at stake, and who will be hurt? Does it really matter? Is the rule, or the law just? Who benefits? Who loses? It’s about the big picture, the picture that is more than the one little person I am, with my wants and needs and individual anomalies.

It’s about belonging, and community, and safety. I want to be part of a community, a people, who are honorable, compassionate, caring and trustworthy. And if I want that, I need to be that myself, at least as best as I can, always trying.

Why are those things important to me? The truth is, I feel vulnerable. It is one reason why above all else, I am a Universalist. I need to know that in the grand scheme of things, no one will be left out. Not even me. Not even you.

And the compelling theological truth of Universalism is really infused throughout our seven principles, and is, in my experience, the only religious truth about which I have no doubt. We are all, in fact, part of an interdependent web of life. And within that web each individual contributes. Each individual has inherent worth and dignity. Has something to bring to the wisdom of the world. Justice, equity and compassion derive their claim from the confidence that each individual has a role and a part to play in this intricate and connected web of life. And the democratic process is a way to insure our access and theirs to participation and contribution.

When it works.

When it works.

In practice, it doesn’t always work out that way, not in our country, and not even in our congregations, our Unitarian Universalist congregations, our Melrose congregation. It doesn’t always manifest in our own personal lives and stories.

When we have to engage with people who are differently abled from what we consider the norm, our norm, our own vulnerability surfaces. Maybe we don’t want to think about how that might be us, or of the many ways in which we too are vulnerable. Rather than recognizing the person who is differently abled as one of us, the temptation is to push away, to see them as different, as other, as not like us. Because if they are like us, and they are vulnerable, that would suggest that we too are vulnerable.

David Whyte astutely observes:

Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without; vulnerability is not a choice. Vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature. The attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not, and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, refusing our vulnerability, we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the … foundations of our identity…[1]

Three years ago I broke my ankle while hiking. I had to be rescued off the mountain. I was only a few months into my new interim ministry. The doctors told me it would be twelve weeks before I could drive, since it was my right ankle that had broken. The church I served was 60 miles from my home.

I live on the second floor of a two family house, up a steep flight of stairs. I was going to need help, and forbearance. A lot of it. And it came.

People went shopping for me. Home health aides and physical therapists came to the house. My daughter did my laundry. My mailman often carried my mail up to me instead of leaving it in the mailbox downstairs. People drove me to doctor’s appointments and on Sunday mornings drove me to and from church so I could preach- many of whom had never been to Unitarian Universalist worship. And the congregation experienced a minister who used a walker and later a cane to ascend the chancel steps, who then preached while sitting on a chair in the middle of the chancel, with her foot in a cast sticking out front, propped up on a box.

I was fortunate. I was cleared to drive after only nine weeks, not twelve. And when it was over I sat down and thought of all the non-professional people who had volunteered and helped me through. I counted them. Twenty nine. Twenty nine different people had voluntarily shared their time and care to shop, drive, cook, run errands, do laundry, so that I could function and be safe. Many of those people did more than one thing. It was humbling.

And I am not so scared of being vulnerable any more. I feel bonded to folks I’d hardly known who responded to my vulnerability with care and compassion. There is an upside to being vulnerable. You can let people in. You can be more honestly needy, more authentically human. You don’t have to know everything, or know how to do everything. And that’s a relief.

I am not good with electronic devices, so I am grateful for the IT team here at the church who save me over and over again. I am not good at music, even when I try. I love music, and I love that Tara is good at it, so that I can enjoy her skills that lift my spirit. But I am good at leading worship that is meaningful, and loving congregations into being their best selves, and that, that at which I am good, you have invited me to do here, with you.

And that’s how it works, in a world where we are invited to be our fully human, fully gifted, and always imperfect selves. Humbled and stronger together.

Share what you are good at. Ask for help with what you are not. It takes a dose of honesty, vulnerability, and humility. But the rewards are incredible. To stand before ourselves and each other undisguised, owning our gifts and acknowledging our needs, we could be known, we could be real, and we would be humbled and stronger, together.

May it be so. Amen.

CLOSING HYMN:We laugh We Cry” (#354)

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

[1] David Whyte, from CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.