“Words are Alive”

 

I just returned from a week of vacation in Albuquerque, NM at my sister’s celebrating my Mom’s 80th birthday.  It was a full week of touring the region.  My sister is an artist so part of the time we spent visiting the Art Galleries in Santa Fe and looking at all of her works that she houses in her studio.  It was a good time.  We also went to Chimayo to visit the  El Santuario a very old Catholic church with a mystical history of a glowing crucifix and sacred dirt that heals.  While in the village we met a vendor who was selling various dried chilipowders.   He was having people try his concoctions by placing a pistachio in the mouth to get the mouth watering then taking a shellful of the chili elixir.   Those of you who know me, know that I claimed to be highly allergic to pistachios and told him this.  To which he responded, ” You mean, you used to be allergic to pistachios. You are no longer.”  No, I told him I am allergic, to which he politely disagreed and asked me to repeat after him, ” I used to be allergic to pistachios.”   I did so. 

He did not insist that I take a pistachio  but did allow me to try his green chili mixture with out the required nut. It was wonderfully blended.  I was the last one to purchase his wares.  So he began chatting with me about his insisting that that I used to be allergic.  He stated that words are alive.  They only offer two things to the world, blessings or curses.  We have control over what we offer.  And we tend to believe what we say  to be true.  So why would we state things that are curses?   When we state things that are negatives, we are cursing. When we state things that are positive we are offering blessings.  Which would I prefer to receive?  Well, blessings of course.  So for me to state that I am allergic to pistachios is a curse that I offer to myself.  Yes, he said, I had a reaction to them years ago, but my body is constantly renewing itself, couldn’t it have renewed itself no longer allergic?  Why propagate something that may no longer be true?  Well, he had me.   So he asked me to repeat the affirmation that “I used to be allergic to pistachios.”  He threw in an extra flavor  of chili seasoning in my bag for my willingness to listen to him and sent me on my way. 

A few days later, my family was eating lunch in Old Town Albuquerque at High Noon Restaurant.  It is a wonderful cafe.  When our lunches were delayed in coming, the cook had the staff prepare a salad for our table with apologies.  It was a delicious green salad with a feta and green chili vinaigrette dressing.  As we are eating, my mother announced, “Fred, there are pistachios in the salad.”  I had already taken several bites of the salad so it was too late.  I stated, “I used to be allergic to pistachios.” and continued eating.  Years ago, I would have gotten deathly ill.  This day, I felt fine.   Was it the words of affirmation and blessing, the vendor had me say?  Was it the sacred dirt from El Santuario?  Was it simply that a childhood allergy had been outgrown?  I don’t know.  I am simply grateful that I am well and my time with my family was spent in well-being. 

Blessings,
Serenity Home

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Published in: on August 30, 2008 at 7:47 pm  Comments Off on “Words are Alive”  
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ICE Raid in Laurel, MS: employees clapped

USAToday (August 26 2008)  reported that when ICE and Homeland Security raided Howard Industries in Laurel, MS taking away as many as 600 employees, (other reports stated ICE arrested 350);  the employees response was to clap.  

This is how deep xenophobia exists in Mississippi.  It is fear that the media and state government in Mississippi have propagated and nurtured.  This is the state that when a murder occurred in a trailer park outside of Jackson and the investigating police discovered the neighbors were undocumented the headlines conflated the two events, making it sound like the undocumented citizens were the alleged murderers.  The murder was committed by a white citizen. 

What is sad and what the clapping employees do not yet realize; is because  of this raid Howard Industries, if convicted of hiring undocumented workers, will not be allowed to do business in Mississippi for one year and no public contracts for three as the result of a new state law that went into effect on July 1.   

Further Howard Industries is obligated to create 2000 new jobs as per a contract awarded in 2002 of over 31 Million dollars.  If Howard Industries is unable to meet employment goals, it will be fined $3,000 for every job below quota.  

The clapping will undoubtedly turn to tears in the weeks and months ahead if Howard Industries is unable to continue contracted work.  This will mean lay offs in a region already reeling under the still yet to be declared recession.  And because the media has failed to write reports that truly inform the public and not just bias them against undocumented workers, there will probably be increased anger and prejudice aimed at the wrong people in this failed system of immigration. 

Right now, there are reports of as many of 175 parents under arrest, leaving their children’s fate in limbo.  Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church attempted to contact the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the congregation mentioned in USAToday,  to see what supports could be provided and was told that the families “are all gone” and there was nothing to be done.   Our Home UU Church will continue to seek avenues of support that could be provided to the families impacted by this event.  

Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) based Jackson, MS is seeking to provide legal representation for the detained employees.  Jackson is about 100 miles to the northwest of Hattiesburg where the arraignments are taking place.  They are in need of financial support in order to attend to these families suffering from this indignity.  This includes donations for mileage and hotel costs.   Please consider supporting MIRA so these individuals get the due process under the law that they are entitled to.  What happened a few months ago in Postville, Iowa was that many of those arrested there were not informed sufficiently of their legal rights under the law. This resulted in many inadvertently waiving their rights and pleading guilty, not fully understanding what they were giving up.   This must not happen again here in Mississippi. 

And when employees clap at the enforcement of an unjust law, it is a sign that our sense of morality has deteriorated.  The injustice these immigrants face; the fearful interrogations they are confronted with, no one should be clapping… we should instead be horrified and outraged that our nation is using tactics that dictatorships use to maintain totalitarian order.  These tactics do not represent American values and ethics.  These tactics represent something far more evil. 

Stay tuned…

Blessings, Serenityhome

Rejoicing

   I have been reading No Time To Lose:  A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva by Pema Chodron.  This is her commentary on The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva. 

I was struck by the following quote in her book: ” Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others.  Rejoicing generates good will.  The next time you go out in the world, you might try this practice:directing your attention to people–in their cars, on the sidewalk, talking on their cell phones–just wish for them all to be happy and well.” 

Many of you know that in my spiritual journey I spent many years as a Charismatic Christian.  Rejoicing was something that we did a lot.  Usually it was aimed or directed towards God but sometimes it was because of the good fortune another in our community experienced and still we aimed it towards God.  It was one of the pieces of worship that I missed when I began attending Unitarian Universalist congregations.   Where was the rejoicing.  Where was the exuberance of thanksgiving when things went well. 

So when I read this quote, I thought here is how we can rejoice.  Stating our gratitude in others good fortune.  Thinking good fortune for the people we meet.  If our minds are thinking of others good fortune it is difficult for us to be thinking of anything else.  We can train our minds to express a rejoicing that taps into what Pema Chodron states is our “soft spot: a capacity for love and tenderness.” 

I can reclaim a rejoicing heart.  Blessings, Serenityhome

Published in: on August 26, 2008 at 12:15 am  Comments Off on Rejoicing  
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On writing sermons

Well, it is 11 PM and I have finally put to bed my sermon for tomorrow’s service.  I usually like to have my sermons completed on Friday so all I have to do is rehearse it and finish scripting the Order of Service.  Today I did both. And focused on several other things pertaining to ministry.  It has been a full day. 

The process of writing this sermon was longer than I expected.  Perhaps because it was supposed to be a homily because additional things are happening in tomorrow’s service like our annual water ingathering ceremony.  Well, the homily is 14 pages long as opposed to my normal 18 -20 pages. It was difficult to say all I wanted and felt I needed to say in less words.  I tried.  I cut severely and rewrote multiple sections several times. 

Plus, conversations occurred during the week that shifted the content a bit.  This is a good thing.  I believe sermons should be a reflection on the life of the congregation in some manner. Perhaps not entirely but in some manner it must connect to what is happening in the now. 

Sometimes it isn’t until I hear the words aloud that I go, O No… that is not what I meant to say at all.  Or realize that a sentence that looked good on paper simply reads poorly aloud.  Or worse, it makes no sense what so ever… I wrote what???   

This sermon is also going to be the first to be placed digitally on video and then burned to DVD and sent to the Mississippi congregations to be used as they see fit.  So my writing felt compounded a bit by knowing my audience was larger than the congregation that hears this tomorrow.   How do I write a sermon for six congregations?  All of them different in theological diversity and in developmental growth as congregations.  I never deliver the exact sermon twice.  So even if I do recycle a sermon I always re-work it with the congregation I am speaking to in mind. Re-working a sermon sometimes takes just as long in hours as the original writing did.   Not to mention that I might have grown or shifted in my own theological point of views on the subject.  So to deliver a sermon that will be heard live by one congregation and by memorex by several others is a new challenge.   So some of what I ended up writing was for these other congregations in mind. 

I am looking forward to tomorrow’s service.  I always have looked forward to the services.  I place my intentions that the congregation will receive what they individually and collectively need to receive… even if it wasn’t scripted into the service.  That is always the best.  Those moments when the whole combined equals more than the sum of the parts.  How does one write that into a sermon?  How does one factor in the experiences of lifetimes, brief or long, that are going to be present and hearing these words and filtering what is being said with that kind of life long filter.  That is the amazing thing for me in writing sermons. Having those transcending moments occur unbeknownst to me as the preacher are simply the gems that sermon writing engenders if done well.

Blessings,

Published in: on August 24, 2008 at 4:40 am  Comments (1)  
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Theology of Mary Oliver: Sermon research

I am going to be writing a sermon on the theology of Mary Oliver as she expresses it through her poetry.  If you are new to the poetry of Mary Oliver, her latest book Red Bird is from my humble perspective one of her best collections.  Mary Oliver also spoke as a Ware Lecturer at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in 2006.   She has touched a chord within many Unitarian Universalists that I thought it would be interesting to examine what it is about her poetry and the imbedded theology of her work that appeals to us, Unitarian Universalists. 

I would like to know from you what is your favorite Mary Oliver Poem.  Because of copyright, only list the title in the comment section and if you know the book it was published in mention that as well.   Say a few words about what that poem means to you.  I will in my sermon give credit for all the responses I receive here. And I will post the sermon on my blog as well so y’all can see what I have come up with in looking at her body of work.   Thank you in advance, my dear readers.  Blessings, Serenity Home

Published in: on August 20, 2008 at 6:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Another viable solution to Medicaid crisis in Mississippi?

I just read an interesting blog that proposed instead of taxing cigarettes that we tax soda to fund Medicaid.  Now before y’all start screaming about taking soda from the children because it is too expensive to purchase because of another tax… take a deep breath… and think about this. 

The author of the blog (and I don’t think he was simply lampooning this idea) states the reasons for taxing cigarettes is because we want to place incentives for people to quit smoking and to make the cost of cigarettes out of reach for young people to even begin smoking.  We know that smoking is harmful to everyone, those who inhale and those who don’t inhale but are in the presence of smokers who do.  Study after study has shown that smoking is the cause of many maladies that afflict the human condition in the 21st century.  We all know this.  The smokers know this.  The tobacco lobbyists, yes, Governor Barbour, even you know this.   Yet, if we are successful in reducing the numbers of smokers in the state what does that do to the tax revenues to fund Medicaid?  It creates another crisis.  So perhaps it is time to tell smokers, you want to smoke and increase your chances of committing suicide through cancer or heart disease or some other tobacco related death, go for it.  Your life is worth more, much more to us alive than dead, but if that is your choice to commit suicide, have at it. 

Let’s raise the funds for medicaid by taxing something that we all enjoy.  That as far as we know, has no slow suicide side effects and we can feel good about paying instead of thinking we are funding our future hospital stay for cancer.  So tax soda… better yet, place a penny tax on all foods. We already pay a tax on groceries in this state so what is one more penny.  Surely that would raise the amount of money needed and perhaps even allow Medicaid in this state to be expanded.  We can feel good knowing that we are being compassionate by helping our neighbors receive the medical attention they need when they need it. 

It would be a solution that would appease Governor Barbour’s tobacco friends and a solution that would honor our values for being compassionate to those who are poor and in need of medical attention.  If we really get creative, it could even be the beginning of funding universal health coverage for all of Mississippians.  Wouldn’t that be a grand idea and one that supports our Ole fashion Mississippi values of hospitality.   Why it might just place Mississippi at the top of a list of positive innovations in the country.  Isn’t that a wonderful thought? 

If you agree, write your state legislators and propose the idea to them.  It’s an idea that might just work. 

Blessings,
Serenity Home

Published in: on August 19, 2008 at 5:57 pm  Comments Off on Another viable solution to Medicaid crisis in Mississippi?  
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Visiting UUC of Oxford

As part of my ministry to Mississippi congregations this year, I will be visiting various congregations in MS providing a workshop or some other event on a Saturday and then preaching on Sunday.   This past weekend took me to the town of Oxford, MS, the home of William Faulkner, University of Mississippi (aka Ole Miss) and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford.

If you ever get a chance to visit Oxford, do plan on worshipping with these fine folks on Sunday.   As with all of the congregations in Mississippi, the Oxford congregation is a small congregation of about 60 members.  They are lay led with an occasional visiting minister on Sundays. 

I was asked to lead a workshop on Saturday on Unitarian Universalist transformative worship.  I used as my primary text  the wonderfully written text by Revs. Kathleen Rolenz and Wayne Arnason entitled “Worship that Works” This is a great resource that every worship committee should have a copy of as part of their arsenal for developing good solid worship services. 

I was amazed that 15 people came to this workshop.  I was told there would be ten in attendance which I thought was a phenomenal turnout, but then to have 15 blew me away.  It speaks to how important having quality worship is for this congregation.  We covered alot of things in the workshop.  Some of the exercises we did including a listing of what this congregation’s intent for worship’s outcome to be.  We talked about their most memorable service, UU and non-UU, was for them and what made it so memorable.   And we worked together in developing some components of a worship service and discussed why the hymns or readings we chose went where we had placed them.   The workshop went well and I look forward to hearing from them how they have thought about this information and incorporated their learnings into their services.

The Sunday service was a very warm and inviting one.  The greeters found out some small bit of information about the visitors and then the greeters introduced these folks to the congregation.  The music was on guitar this morning which added to the warmth of the experience.  Do stop by and say hello to these folks.

As a visitor was leaving, one of the members called out to them and said, “Y’all come back now, ya’hear.” 

Blessings,

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 8:51 pm  Comments Off on Visiting UUC of Oxford  
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For Lo the Days are Evil

I was driving from Tuscaloosa, AL to Oxford, MS to offer a workshop and saw a bill board message that read:  “Even so, Lord Jesus, Come, for Lo the Days are Evil.”   There has been a lot of contemplation within our Unitarian Universalist congregations about evil after the tragic shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Knoxville, TN.  Evil is a subject that we don’t handle well as a faith movement.  So when it strikes in such a personified and directed way, it is time we take notice and find ways to deal with the matter. 

What struck me about the billboard isn’t so much the statement of announcing the days are evil.  What struck me about the billboard is that the solution offered was an outside intervention, the return of Jesus, to remove the person or people from the evil days.  Rather than seeking divine guidance in dealing with the evil and reducing its impact and power, this solution was to pluck us out of the evil by the return of a Messiah to rescue us.  It was a let’s not deal with the evil we see and instead pray for the rapture as our get out of evil days card. 

It seems that Unitarian Universalists have something in common with conservative fundamentalist Christianity after all.  While we might not be praying for the return of Jesus, we do tend to look the other way in the face of evil and not call what is evil by its name.  We might call it racism or economic injustice or genocide or war but to label these as Evil would mean that we have developed a theology around evil that answers or attempts to answer questions such as: What is evil?  How does evil generate? How can evil be dismantled of its power?  Is it a power, an entity of force in the world?  Can someone be possessed by evil?  These are tough questions.  

Our Humanist inclinations are that humanity has the ability to solve the problems of the world.  If we only made a more concerted effort we could solve the problems we see around us.   We tend not to call these evils but rather as problems needing to be overcome.  Our Humanist inclinations get a bit fidgety when Evil is mentioned.  We have no problem in using the word love as being a universal force in the world.  But state evil as being a force and we find ourselves jumpin’ all around the subject.  

So  while our conservative Christian friends wish to be plucked out of the Evil they see around them, we would prefer to bury our heads in the sand when Evil with a capital E is mentioned.  I sense the events in Knoxville are about to change our thinking about this reality in our midst.  It is with some curiosity that I pause and wonder how we will begin to deal with the nature of Evil from here on out. 

Blessings, Serenity Home

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 5:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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