Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rest in Peace

My Homily from Wednesday evening's "Valley Vesper" service on the theme of rest.

I just got back from a week’s vacation. Peleg and I took a cruise down the West Coast of Mexico. 7 days of sun, and pool and catching up on reading, and sleeping in, and somebody else to make all our meals and keep the room tidy. Talk about rest and relxation. I suppose I could call my entire trip research for this homily and write it off my taxes as a business expense.

Well not exactly rest and relaxation. Not entirely. I’m not sure how much it was in the news here, but off the west coast of mexico we ran into a little weather event called Hurricane Rick.

When we left San Pedro a week ago Sunday, Hurricane Rick was a category 4 storm moving north up the coast of Mexico while we were headed south. By the time our boat and the storm met somewhere between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, Hurricane Rick had a become a category 5 hurricane. That means winds greater than 155 miles per hour, and waves breaking well over 20 feet.

The cruise line dealt with the storm by skipping our stop in Cabo on Tuesday and firing up all 5 diseal engines to get us as quickly as possible all the way down to Puerto Vallarta. That allowed us, on Tuesday to position our boat hugging the main coast of Mexico while the storm passed us further west, out to sea. So although the storm was bad, we missed the worst part of it.

What we had on Tuesday was a day of heavy rain. And then we had a Tuesday night of even heavier rain, plus wildly rocky seas. The motion wasn’t just up and down but also side to side and back and forth. Kind of like a mild earthquake, but an earthquake that lasted all night long, and lots of crashing and creaking as the boat battled the waves. On Wednesday we pulled into Puerto Vallarta and had a gorgeous sunny day. And beside the one stormy day and night the only real consequence is that we had to skip going to Mazatlan, who had closed their port due to the storm, and spend an extra day in Puerto Vallarta. Boo hoo, right?

The gift of a extreme weather event like that is that it gives clear evidence of the power of nature, a non=human power that we so often do our best to deny or ignore, or compensate for. Last Tuesday night with the rain pounding against the cabin window and the sea rising and falling, and the huge boat rocked back and forth like a bath tub toy, there was no denying that while we were safe, we humans were very small, and the world is very large.

We humans are very powerful, so my theology firmly believes and my faith devoutly teaches. But we are not completely powerful. There are things we cannot do by and for ourselves. And we are not the only power in the world. There are other forces working hard and not always with our goals in mind. Sometimes there comes up in our lives waves that push us around, that we are not able to push back. Sometimes in our lives category 5 winds blow that can’t blow us right over. I know it’s true in your life, and it’s true in my life as well. Sometimes I’m just a small and frightened Reverend Ricky, standing against a fearsome Hurricane Rick.

Usually it’s good spiritual health to name on our power, affirm our power and to maximize our power to make change in the world. It takes our action to heal, to fight, to speak up, to protect, to comfort, to demand, to imagine, and to persuade. But sometimes, faced with a situation where we lack the ability to change the circumstances around us, it’s good spiritual health to name the limits of our power, and instead of striving in vain to assert ourselves, it’s good spiritual health to learn to submit.
What could I do against a category 5 hurricane? I didn’t curse the storm on Tuesday night. I didn’t stand at the bow of the cruise ship and yell. I went to bed. I didn’t tell myself how miserable I was and how our vacation was ruined. I told myself how interesting it was to have this experience and this story to tell. I didn’t scare myself with worries of what might happen. I went to bed, and as I went to sleep I told myself if the ship did get in danger surely they’d be an alarm that would wake me up, and someone with more power in the situation than me would tell me how to get off the boat and safely into a life boat.

I couldn’t change the world, last Tuesday. So I enjoyed what the world offered me. I couldn’t dominate, so I submitted. I couldn’t take meaningful action. So I choose the path of rest.

In the doxology in response to the offering we sang, “with resolve our purpose sing, for years of justice yet to be, when we a better world shall see.” But how do we get that better world? How do we get to those hopefully countless years of justice?

In Taoism we learn the principle of Wu-Wei, translated as inaction, or better “Actionless action.” It’s the principle of getting out of the way and letting the world take care of itself, with trust that because human beings are an element of the natural world nature tends to work on its own for the best. It’s the principle of not interfering in processes that are working themselves out, you’ll only make it worse. It’s not fussing around. Leave it alone. Don’t pick at it. Remove yourself from situations where your attendance adds nothing or only further aggravates a difficult situation.

Imagine trying to drink from a glass of water filled with swirling sand. You could painstakenly try to remove the sand from the water., and good luck with that. Or you could just let the glass stand by itself for a little while and the sand will naturally sink to the bottom of the glass.

So we get to that better world and those years of justice through a combination of doing, and not doing. Of adding what we can to the progress toward our ideals. And also from keeping faith that there are other sources of power out there doing what they can do, that don’t need our help. Sometimes we can add a lot. Sometimes we can be very helpful. And sometimes the best help we can be is to do very little, to withdraw, to wait, to watch. To say a little prayer. To go to bed.

As we approach this holiday with all its demands for doing, and buying, and arranging, and planning, and fretting, and compromising, and attending and hosting; (talk about a category 5 storm!) remember that more doing is not always the best path, for you personally, or for the goal you’re trying to accomplish. As we face in our churches troubling situations of a minister suddenly resigning, or hiring a new RE Director, or debate over how to spend money, or brainstorming ideas about how to raise money, or worries that a program will die if we don’t volunteer to take over as the chair, remember that sometimes you need to do, and sometimes you need to don’t.

Sometimes you need to engage, and sometimes you need to say a blessing and withdraw. Sometimes you church needs you, and sometimes we really don’t. Sometimes you need to get yourself up and go, and sometimes we really need you to stay put. Sometimes there’s that one late night meeting you really need to attend. And sometimes the best thing for you and for the church is to make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and go to bed.

I wish there was a clear rule for knowing the difference between the time to act and the time to refrain from acting. There is no rule. Discerning which is called for is the essence of spirituality. Just know that in every situation there are two options. You can act, when acting is useful. And you can rest, when inaction is the better course. So rest when you should. Rest well. And Rest in Peace.

The Fun Theory

Love This:

The Fun Theory

Encourage people to do easy, good-for-them and good-for-the-world things (like taking the stairs, recycling, not littering) by making the activity fun.

Apparently good health and a clean sustainable environment isn't enough incentive. What does this imply for our churches? We preach about "bigger-than-you" values like justice, and equality, and saving the planet. We also preach about making choices that benefit in the long term like "seventh generation" thinking. Apparently what really gets people to change behavior is immediate, personal reward. No surprise there, but is there a way we can make use of that human selfishness and short-sightedness to still accomplish our goals?

federal hate crimes legislation passes

The Federal government has now added sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the categories of persons covered by hate crimes penalties. I have mixed feelings.

Hate crimes laws add additional penalties to crimes based on the motivation of the act. If I beat you up because I want to steal your wallet I get one sentence. If I beat you up because you're black or (now) gay, I get an additional sentence on top of the punishment for stealing. The motivation doesn't make the act more violent. The victim doesn't suffer any additional physical hurt. If the attacker is screaming "nigger" or "queer" during the act it may cause some additional mental suffering, but it is not, if fact, illegal, to yell "nigger" or "queer" (unless it's perceived as an actual threat to do violence). So the only act that hate crimes legislation actually punishes is not an act at all, but a thought: the mental state of the attacker, the contents of their mind.

The ability to think what I want to think is an essential freedom, even more important than the ability to say what I'm thinking (protected by the first amendment). So I cannot, and do not support the whole concept of hate crime laws.

However, hate crime laws have been around for decades, and there is zero chance, at least at present, that they will go away. So the practical question is: do I support adding sexual orientation, transgender and disability to the list?" Reluctantly I answer, "Yes." If there is a list of people who are subject to acts of violence merely because of belonging to a group, GLBT folks and disabled folks should be on the list. Hate crimes legislation is a means of recognizing that gay bashing occurs and that our government notices and objects. That's the only legitimate purpose I can see for hate crime laws.

But there are still two problems. Firstly, I don't like being added to a list of victims. If the Federal government really wanted to name GLBT oppression and move to end it I would rather they stop oppressing me - allow me to serve openly in the military, recognize my marriage - rather than permanently enshrining me as a person who needs special protection.

My final objection (another abstract objection that has zero chance of changing in the real world) has to do with the way we have learned to incrementally advance civil rights by creating lists. My legal protections and rights should not be contingent on whether my group has amassed the political power to get our name on a list. Governmental protections and rights should be based on general principles that apply to all people. Creating lists open up the perception that some group is getting "special rights" when all that's being done is affirming the same rights already existing be applied equally to all persons. It's always wrong to discriminate no matter what criteria you're using, except for the criteria directly relevant to the situation. We shouldn't have to wait for an ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) to tell us that there's no legitimate reason to fire an otherwise competent employee just because they're gay. And there's no need to have hate crimes legislation to recognize that violent crimes, regardless of the motivation, are unacceptable and will be punished.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

flu by any other name would leave me beat

It's been a bad couple of weeks for my physical health. First we had the local fires filling the air with smoke and ash. For a couple of days there at the end of August it was really thick. Public health officials encouraged folks to stay indoors with the air conditioning on. Then the fires mostly ended and/or moved east, but the Santa Ana wind pattern kicked in bringing hot dry winds from the east instead of the cooler moist air we get off the ocean. The change in winds meant breathing in a whole spectrum of desert pollens we hadn't had to deal with in several months. I got what I thought was an allergic reaction: itchy eyes and sinus congestion.

Well that may have been true, but over last weekend I moved on to something other than allergies. Whether it's a cold, or flu, and which flu, only a lab could tell me. But I do know my "allergies" got worse over Friday and Saturday and Sunday. I did a wedding Saturday evening and felt pretty well, but on Sunday after preaching in the morning followed by two back to back meetings in the afternoon, I came home completely exhausted and collapsed into a deep sleep at about 9 PM. Monday I did some housework in the morning and then drove off for a three-day minister's gathering, our annual fall retreat and UUMA Chapter meeting. I lasted through the afternoon "check-in" and then retired to my hotel room for a bath and some over the counter medication and a long sleep

Tuesday I got myself out of bed for some scheduled events I needed to participate in at the minister's meeting then came back to the hotel and slept and watched TV all afternoon and night. The sinus congestion started to ease but I was feeling feverish and weak and achey so it looked like I had the flu. Wednesday morning I felt a little better. I attended the last of the minister's meeting and then drove home, and then spent all that afternoon and evening in bed at home.

Today I'm definitely through the worst, and grateful that I have a day where the only work I need to do is some writing.