“Walking Toward Trouble”
Ingathering on the Common
September 7, 2014
Rev. John Gibbons:
You know this story: It’s dark and the fellow is in bed with the covers pulled up around his head, when his mother comes into the bedroom and throws open the curtains. “It’s late! You have to get up! It’s time for church!” Blinded by the light, he whines in response, “I don’t want to get up. I want to go back to sleep. I’m tired! It’s too early!” “You have to get up,” his mother insists but again he whines, “I don’t want to go to church. I don’t like church! I don’t like the people and the people don’t like me!” Exasperated, his mother ends the argument: “You’re going to church! After all, you’re the minister and the people expect a sermon!”
So, like it or not, here we are, ready or not. Blinded by the light. Tempted as we are to stay in bed, the good thing is that we really do like one another.
Indeed, we are called together, called to this place, called to the purpose of nurturing lives of joy and meaning. We may not always feel like it, but we get up and we answer the call.
Hey, if bagpipes don’t wake you up, well, you’re dead. And I’m here to tell you you’re not dead yet! And so if you’re up and awake and alive, I’m here to tell you that as heirs to this religious tradition that’s been camped out on this Common since 1729, as guardians of progressive values of free-thinking and reason and inclusivity, there’s only one good thing to do when you get up in the morning and that is to walk toward trouble. When you came here today (whomsoever you may be), you came walking towards trouble! It is religious work to walk towards trouble!
The bagpipes wake us up and when it comes to walking toward trouble, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet from these juggling guys.
But here’s the backstory about walking towards trouble: Last June when thousands of Unitarian Universalists met for our General Assembly, many of us heard a rousing lecture by Sister Simone Campbell. Sister Simone is one of those Roman Catholic Nuns on the Bus who criss-crossed the country to call attention to the religious issues of immigration reform, economic justice, and health care for all. Along the way, someone told her, “Sister, it seems like whenever there’s trouble, when most people walk away, you walk towards it!”
She then realized, she said, “that all of our spiritual leaders, when there are broken hearts or pain in our world, they have walked toward it. They walk towards the pain in order to embrace, touch, heal. If that’s what the high-level leaders do, isn’t that the witness that we all try to follow?”
She told a story from when she was in the 3rd grade and had a really bad teacher who didn’t treat his kids fairly but only called on a few students. She thought that was wrong, that he ought to take turns calling on everybody. And so, in her 3rd grade way, she tried to show him what he ought to be doing. And she wrote two school plays, and her class put on the plays for the rest of the school. But her thing that was so important was that everyone had a part in the plays. Everyone was part of the story.
This was her first radical feminist action and it brought everybody together. She learned, there’s room for everyone!
Sister Simone told lots of stories of people who walk toward trouble. She quoted Pope Frank (that’s what she affectionately called him): Inequality is the source of all evil!
And she told heroic stories of women and men in Lebanon and Syria and people struggling for a living wage here in the US (like those fast food workers who walked toward trouble last week). By listening to other peoples’ stories, she said, “by being open to every one, we hear perspectives that we would not hear otherwise.”
And so, when we at First Parish say “the most radical thing we can do is to introduce ourselves to one another,” that means we don’t pull the sheets over our head but instead we walk toward trouble.
And when we do, we also walk toward community. We do not walk alone. In the land of “we the people,” individualism is an unpatriotic lie. Sister Simone said, “Hope is a communal virtue that we only know together.”
Well, almost wherever you walk these days, there’s trouble.
There’s trouble in Israel and Gaza, and anyone who works for peace and justice for Palestinians and for Jews is walking toward trouble.
There’s trouble in Iraq and Syria; the earth itself is in trouble.
There’s been trouble in Bedford, too, and if we’re to embrace diversity, well, we’ve got to walk toward trouble, not turn back.
There’s been trouble in Ferguson, Missouri and we’ve been asleep too long. The average black household income in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household.” And while the incomes of the most affluent 10% of Americans have increased over the last three years, the other 90% have declined and the incomes of the poorest Americans have declined the most! That’s deep trouble and we’ve got to walk toward it.
Hey there was trouble this summer at, of all places, Market Basket and a lot of folks walked toward trouble! And it was worth their trouble!
And how many of you took the ice bucket challenge? Well, that too was trouble!
Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City.
There’s trouble right here among us and in our own hearts and minds and spirits. And every time we face the truth, we walk toward trouble. We got outta bed this morning so we can embrace, touch and heal…and be embrace and touched and healed.
Classical pianist Arthur Rubenstein lived into his 90’s and was known for musical exuberance and daring. He said, “If you play with a feeling of ‘Oh, I know this,’ you play without that little drop of fresh blood that is necessary.
I don’t know what’s gonna happen next in life and neither do you. Those juggling guys may yet spill some blood this morning, but we’ve gotta walk toward trouble.
A ship, they say, is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for!
And so, First Parish, we set sail yet again…in the direction of trouble.
Give it up for our most troublesome Parish Minister, the Reverend Megan Lynes!
Rev. Megan Lynes:
At the start of this church year, I stand here beneath these ancient trees and beside our beloved church, with all of you. Your faces are pools of warmth. As we gather again on the threshold of a new year, I am reminded how it is in community that we experiment with changing ourselves and our world. “Don’t be too timid or squeamish about your actions,” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said. “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.”
We came here today to hug the people we missed and marvel at how the children grew so tall, delight in bagpipes and acrobats, eat sandwiches created by youth workers at the United Teen Equality Center, and mingle the waters from our summer adventures. We bring with us the burdens of our lives, hoping to lay these burdens down. We are sad, and yet we sing. We are joyful and yet we cry. We’ve heard it said that our joy is our sorrow unmasked, and comes from the self-same cup. In this age of wisdom and foolishness, we gather here on the Common because the world is harsh, perhaps harsher now for many than ever before in our lifetimes.
As John said a moment ago, problems these days abound… wealth inequality, access to health care, rising sea levels, immigrant children crossing the dessert alone, the incredible cost and moral injury of war, and is it true that the Fukushima power plant is leaking again? During his time in office, our President’s hair has turned gray and our national debt is beyond shameful. Worldwide, we see violence in Ghaza and Iraq and Syria, among other places. In the US we worry about those who are targeted because they are Black, or teenagers, immigrants, or Muslim, or gay, or because they are poor. These beloved ones are among us today.
Here we are again, in our new season of hope, to do as we always do at Ingathering – to look one another in the eye and tell our stories. We ask, as the Masai warriors ask upon greeting one another, “and how are the children?” We gather today and in the months to come, to celebrate and learn, ponder and serve. In doing so, we listen for the stories of strife or challenge or trouble in the broader community. A community like ours needs to be a place where we gain the courage to speak up, even if our voices shake.
So it’s here in community that we find companions to trust or a stranger in need of compassion. Here we experience the importance of thrashing about and searching for a way forward. It is in community that we learn to pay attention to trouble on a local and global level, and where we practice walking toward injustice, with our minds set on freedom. Here in community we experiment with the mysterious and marvelous unknown journey we call life, we call justice, we call hope, we call sanctuary, we call faith.
There are a thousand ways to be an active citizen, but it is hard to do without stories of hope. Reuniting again today, we must remember to tell each other these stories. We tell about the rabbi who spoke passionately in our sanctuary of peace in Israel and Palestine. We tell about the trust that grew in an AA meeting and how a church basement can feel like the safest place on earth. We tell about the fields of wind power we saw on a road trip. We tell about the young man whose best friend donated a kidney to him before it was too late. We join in the weekly peace vigil out here on the Common. We marvel that women and people of color run for office, and nowadays can win! We tell of the veteran who became the best substitute teacher in the high school because he taught about real life and everyone knew it. We tell about a trip to a zen center, temple or mosque we went on with our Neighboring Faiths program and how good it felt to understand another person’s way of life and share our own. We dump ice water on a friend to raise money for ALS research. There are always people who are doing good in our community if we look, or if we ourselves act. These stories give us a foothold of hope and clarity in an age of incredulity.
Today, as we meet old friends, and welcome new friends among us, we acknowledge the context of this age. Never has the world been in such disrepair. Never have we been called to rely on our conscience more. Terrible situations can be faced, addressed, mourned, dispelled and changed, through good leadership and good organizing and this community with lots of good smart leaders. Think about who you know, and what ideas you’d like to see happen this year… Your Parish Board, your ministers, committee chairs, in fact our whole community is listening. How shall we walk towards trouble? The kindness of strangers, the love of good friends, and the power of good intentioned well organized groups does make all the difference in the world.
This is why we return to religious community each year, and why we welcome the new folks among us; we come to tell our stories, to listen with a loving heart, to celebrate a milestone or find hope or guidance. We return to First Parish to forgive one another and ourselves, to experiment with collective activism in service of our vision, to learn and give thanks, to love and be loved, to be and become.
Here we unite our stories, find collective wisdom, experiment with trouble, and last but not least, have some fun together. Welcome home, everyone.
And now, how about some more trouble?
Offering for Ingathering 2014
It has become a tradition at First Parish to designate half our offering once a month to a project we wish to support. In recent years we have partnered with Habitat for Humanity and the New Life School in Uganda. This past year our Parish Board solicited suggestions from the congregation and decided upon not one, but two partnerships, one with an urban community near us, and one with a rural Unitarian school in India. Both partnerships support young people. So in a minute when the ushers come by I invite you to be as generous as you can, because these organizations change people’s lives and it’s a privilege to be a part of that. Let me tell you about each one for a minute.
Our local commitment is to the United Teen Equality Center in Lowell. UTEC for short. UTEC’s mission is to “ignite and nurture the ambition of Lowell’s most disconnected young people to trade violence and poverty for social and economic success.”
The Teen Center provides a safe place to get off the streets, get a GED, join the work force, find a mentor or a transitional coach. UTEC’s nationally recognized model begins with intensive street outreach and gang peacemaking. UTEC engages youth in workforce development and alternative education. Social justice and civic engagement are embedded in all programming, with special emphasis in youth-led grassroots organizing, locally and statewide. Youth learn skills that allow them to systemically address the problems and inequities that they see in their communities. UTEC empowers and inspires. Each time I’ve visited the Teen Center I looked at the faces of the young men and women I met, and thought: this is what dignity looks like. You can find out more about the United Teen Equality Center by visiting https://www.utec-lowell.org or by talking to Nancy Schiovone or other workers, at the tables about the program. There will be food to try for free, and food you can purchase, made by teen employees in their catering business, and the money you spend goes to UTEC in full.
Our other partnership is with a community far away in the Khasi Hills, in India, called the Margaret Barr Memorial School. This Unitarian elementary school is in Lawsothun, on the outskirts of Shillong in North East India. The school has 8 teachers, and a Head Teacher. The head teacher is paid by the government, but the rest of the teachers split the monthly salary $261. We’ve been sent the list of student names, and you can see great photos of all the kids in their red uniforms at a table in the back, hosted by the Partner Church Committee. Students at Margaret Barr School learn Khasi, Hindi and English, and we are excited to start exchanging correspondence soon! There will be plenty of opportunities to hear more and become involved in the weeks to come. Do stop by both tables and ask questions. Thank you to all those volunteering at the tables this morning, and thank you to everyone who contributes as much as you can today, to support the lives of youth. Let us do what we can in this troubled world.