Sunday, September 16, 2012

Our Generosity, Our Future

Our Generosity, Our Future

UU Fellowship of Statesboro
September 2012

Let us create a prayer together:

At the center of the gathered community dwells the Holy.

We are the prayer, each and all.

One by one, we come to this place – whole and broken

Commencing and concluding, laughing and weeping,

And soul by soul the prayer begins.
Spirit of Life and Love…
Two by two, we greet one another – smiling, nodding, speaking, embracing.

And in relationship, the prayer continues.
Spirit of Life and Love, where we meet is a sacred space…
Moment by moment the circle builds, pulsing like four hundred heartbeats.

We fill the circle with our breath; we inspire. The circle fills us with wealth;

We are inspirited. The prayer rises on our very breathing together.
Spirit of Life and Love, where we meet is a sacred space
And we are inspired by one another’s presence…
The circle will not, cannot, go on forever, yet this circle will never die.

What each of us finds here is what we are not. It makes us whole.

It gives us strength to go out in the world beyond this holy community,

beyond this sacred space, to begin yet another prayer. Let us pray:
Spirit of Life and Love, where we meet is a sacred space and we are inspiredby one another’s presence. At the center of the gathered community dwellsthe Holy. We are the prayer, each and all. We are the prayer, each and all. Amen. 
– L. Annie Foerster

On the day that the festival of Rosh Hashanah begins, I want to open my message this morning with a quote from Jewish author Elie Wiesel: “Sanctuary is often something very small. Not a grandiose gesture, but a small gesture toward alleviating human suffering and preventing humiliation. Sanctuary is a human being. Sanctuary is a dream. That is why you are here and that is why I am here; we are here because of one another. We are in truth each other’s shelter.” (Buehrens and Parker, A House for Hope, 148)

I became a rebel in the 9th grade.

Glenn Hills High School in south Augusta in the late 1960s had a dress code, just like most other schools at that time. But times were a’changin, and so was what girls wanted to wear to school. We wanted to wear mini skirts, culottes, and blue jeans.
One day I wore a pair of knee—length culottes, and was sent to the principal’s office. It was not allowed. I didn’t understand why, and the authority of the Richmond County Board of Education was not good enough. I became a rebel.

Soon after, the board of education held a meeting at which the dress code was on the agenda. I wanted to go with a couple of friends – one of whom circumvented the dress code rules on boys not being allowed to have long hair by wearing a wig to school. I told my parents that they were coming to pick me up, and my dad said no way. I was not allowed to go. The board of education reaffirmed the dress code at that meeting.

The next year, the protest among us students began to swell across the city throughout the high schools, and soon we were planning a march, from the downtown post office to the Richmond County Board of Education headquarters on Heckle Street.

I knew better by now – and I had my own car! So I told my parents innocently that I was going out with my friend Mike. I drove my 1966 Ford Falcon station wagon down to the post office, and took part in my first protest. Of course, the one thing we failed to consider was that, once we got to the Board of Education building, we would have to walk all the way back to get the car! My feet had blisters and so when we got near to the post office Mike ran ahead and got the car and drove us back home. 

The next day when I got in the car I realized he’d driven all the way home with the emergency brake on, and it was shot.

But that was nothing compared to the sense of achievement, and the sense of solidarity, that I had. Within the year the dress code was dismantled. Our protest had not been in vain.

Why am I telling this story on the morning we launch our stewardship campaign? Because it was the first time I felt a ‘meeting of the minds,’ a common cause which drew diverse people together to fight injustice as we saw it.

But not every one of my protests was supported. I have, as many of you must do, Native American roots through my dad’s biological family. I became aware of this in high school, and aware of how modern-day Native Americans were marginalized in our society. The American Indian movement was formed in 1968, and the group carried out protests over issues such as poverty, broken treaties and police harassment. I decided that in solidarity I would not stand every morning in homeroom when we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and saluted the flag. I decided there WAS no liberty and justice for all.

This act of rebellion was noted, but not punished…until as a rising senior, I decided to run for Student Council president. I was ready to represent the nonconformists in our senior class while the other candidate was an athlete and a nice guy who was pretty conformist.
I was summoned to the principal’s office where a gang of teachers was waiting for me; they informed me I would not be allowed to run since I was unpatriotic. So the other guy won by default. 

As Jane Eyre would say, “Reader, I married him…” yes, Wil was the other candidate, so you could say I won in the end!

But when I was disqualified, I was alone; I was not a member of AIM; I had no one to back me up. I could have contacted the ACLU, had I known it even existed. There was no community to feel part of and in which I could seek solace or support. Only years later did I read of other students in other schools who have done the same thing in protest of the inequality they see as pervasive in this country.

What I really needed as a rebellious teenager was the Unitarian Universalist church! In March 2010 my aunt Babe died; because my dad was adopted, I never really got to know his biological family, and only met Babe in the last dozen years of her life. By then I was a Ministry Associate at the UU Church of Augusta. I was asked if I would co-officiate at her funeral service, and there I was introduced to other aunts and cousins I’d never met.

When I was speaking to one of my newfound cousins about being a member of the UU Church of Augusta, she said to me, “Oh, when I was a teenager I actually went to that church a few times.” All I could think of was, “Why didn’t I know you then? I could have taken a shortcut through all my searching and I would have found the spiritual home and supportive community I needed then!” I would have had a sanctuary…

Back to Elie Wiesel’s statement about sanctuary: we all, at one time or another, need a sanctuary: “Sanctuary is a human being. Sanctuary is a dream. That is why you are here and that is why I am here; we are here because of one another. We are in truth each other’s shelter.”

You are here this morning because, at some point, you needed a sanctuary. If, like I did eventually, you came to the UU faith tradition and thought it was THE liberating force of your life, then you felt a sense of relief, of inner joy, of gratitude that remains in your heart even today. To be with people who understand your search, who welcome your questions, who don’t judge you, and who support your quest for justice and truth – for me, it was worth the search! My teenage search for justice was not in vain.

Rebecca Ann Parker know what that means when she says, “The progressive church holds a feast of life spread for all – it is ours to share with any who can find nourishment within our walls.” (Buehrens and Parker, 167) I hope that, whether you are a recent member or a veteran UU, that you believe this fellowship can nourish your spirit and enrich your life.

But the nourishment of our own selves is only half the story. We seek more, and we ARE more, than individuals going through life on our own. We covenant together, and we work together, to live up to the seven principles that we affirm and promote as UUs.

Again, quoting Parker:
The mission of progressive faith is to embrace the beauty of diversity and the diversity of beauty…to love one another and this earth as paradise, here and now, the place Jesus promised us we would be when he said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
…This mission requires each person to answer the question, What will you do with your gifts? And it requires vibrant commitment to life together in community. (Buehrens and Parker, 170)

We are blessed indeed to have a faith community that has the courage to look outwards instead of remaining inward-looking. This morning, when you recited this fellowship’s affirmation, you said as much. We have a mission that is honored when we look outwards.

The Aiken UU Church, where I am Consulting Minister, has this as their mission statement: “We are working together to create a welcoming and inclusive community which supports spiritual growth, ethical living, and open-minded exploration of religion.”
Our mission matters. Our vision matters…and we need to pass on that vision if our precious faith tradition is to have a future.

The author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, put it this way:
“In a house that becomes a home, one hands down, and another takes up, the heritage of mind and heart...It is needful to transmit the passwords from one generation to another.”

In my mind, one of those passwords should be ‘dream.’ The words of one of my favorite hymns urge us to “Come and go with me to that land”…we can dream of a better land right here on earth. The celebration of Rosh Hashanah is the start of a new year, a new chance to dream new dreams. You may not connect figures and statistics with dreams – maybe nightmares! – but this is exactly what your board and stewardship committee are doing this year.
Dreaming up a visionary budget requires a leap of faith. This fellowship looks to the future and what it takes to get it there, through the generosity of each of you in giving your time, your talent, and your treasure. And in L. Annie Foerster’s reading we heard the sentence: “The circle fills us with wealth; we are inspirited.”

When we give of our wealth to build up this community we are filled with wealth.

When we think of the UU legacy we are so fortunate to have – the rebels who sometimes gave their lives to ensure freedom of religious expression – we can feel honored to be asked to carry on the flame of our UU values.

If you can feel that this faith community has values and a purpose that you share, then, as so many here in this congregation do, you will commit to living out those values and that purpose in your daily life.

If you feel that you have received care, support, respect, freedom in belonging to this fellowship, then you’ll feel like you’ve received an abundance of nourishment.

When we are gracious about receiving, “it is easier to be generous givers. We see more easily what flows to us; we recognize and appreciate the abundance in our lives. When we feel abundant, and recognize the flow as unending, it is easier to give from a place beyond all reason: our values.” (UUA, FORTH Stewardship Education Ideas I)

After a long spiritual journey over more than four decades, I was amazed to find a faith tradition with values like the ones Rebecca Parker lifts up; when I worship on Sundays, I feel the abundant blessing of belonging to a community that tries to live out those values.

Do you see the flow of abundance in your lives? Your generosity can ensure the future of this fellowship and its values. We can – with the contribution each of us makes through our time, talent, and treasure – do more than just dream, we can reach our vision of the future, in which we stand as a proud beacon of progressive religious freedom and expression, diversity and radical hospitality for the Statesboro community.

May it be so, blessed be, Amen.

Gaye Ortiz
September 2012.

Works Cited:
Buehrens, John A, and Rebecca Ann Parker.  A House for Hope. Beacon Press, 2010.
Foerster, L. Annie. “Let Us Create a Prayer Together.”
Saint-Exupery, Antoine de. "From Generation to Generation." In UUA, Singing the Living Tradition, 1993, #649.
UUA. FORTH (Forward Through The Ages) Stewardship Development Program.