Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10 Questions

Recently a high school student from Christchurch School in Middlesex, Virginia contacted me for help with a school project.  She was arguing in favor of marriage equality and, as one of the requirements of this project, had to contact someone who could be considered "an expert on the philosophy on this subject."  She thought that a Unitarian Universalist minister might just fit the bill.  (She thought this especially after she'd driven through Charlottesville on vacation and seen the "We Support Equal Marriage Rights" banner that hangs proudly on the front of our building!)

Tonight I answered the 10 questions she sent me as our interview.  I thought I'd share my answers here as well:

~ 10 Interview Questions ~

Why did you choose to be a minister at a UU church?
I was raised within the Christian tradition(s) – specifically Presbyterian and Methodist – but was exposed to a wide variety of religious/spiritual teachings growing up:  Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Wicca, Shamanism, the teachings of Carols Castenada, Transcendental Meditation, etc.  When it became clear that it was time to act on my long-recognized sense that I wanted to be an ordained minister, I discovered Unitarian Universalist and could see no other tradition that provided the same room and, in fact, encouragement for such an eclectic gumbo of religiosity.

What is the UU view on homosexuality?
Unitarian Universalists recognize homosexuality as one of the ways we humans naturally express our sexuality.  It may be statistically less prevalent than heterosexuality, but no less “normal.”

What is your view on gay marriage?
I find it astonishing that, once the disparity is pointed out to people, that it is not immediately obvious that the current view of “marriage is between a man and a woman” is inherently discriminatory.  I see no convincing – nor even coherent – argument that justifies limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, while I see myriad reasons for expanding our “definition” to include all couples – of any gender arrangement – who want to make a commitment to their loving relationship.

What, religiously, has influenced your view on gay marriage?
Unitarian Universalism is not a creedal religion – that is, we do not organize ourselves around specific sets of belief.  Rather, we are a covenantal religion – our faith communities are organized around shared commitment to certain principles of behavior.  The first that we enumerate is our covenant to “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of each individual.”  I don't see any wiggle room or exceptions in that.

How do you think gay marriage fits into an American society? (ex, do you think it meshes well, do you think it’s necessary) 
It was not so long ago that Blacks and Whites were not allowed to marry, yet as we evolved as a culture we could see that these anti-miscegenation limitations were truly harmful – both for the individuals involved and for society at large.  The same, I believe, is becoming true of our attitudes toward same gender marriage.  Once again we are learning that “separate is not equal.”

Do you know of any arguments for gay marriage that I probably wouldn’t find in my research?
This is something that I wrote as part of an editorial several years ago:

As a minister, and as a husband, I am very much concerned with the sanctity of marriage.  I view each wedding at which I officiate as a holy event, and pray that no one may tear asunder those “whom God has joined.”  I agree with those who call marriage a sacred institution, and I believe that something much deeper is happening than the mere conferring of legal recognition and status.  As a traditional wedding reading puts it, “This celebration is the outward sign and token of a sacred and inward union of hearts, which religion may bless and the state my register and legalize, but which neither state nor church can create nor annul, a union created by loving purpose and kept by abiding will.”

I am confused, though, why politicians are concerning themselves with the “sanctity” of marriage, which means its holiness or sacredness.  Those are religious concepts.  The issue of the sanctity of marriage is the province of the church or the synagogue, the mosque or the ashram; it’s not the role of government.  As our nation’s founders noted, the only reason governments exist is to secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That’s it.  Governments can be concerned with the legal and societal aspects of marriage, but its sanctity is none of their business.

And as odd as this might sound, it’s not even really any of my business as a minister.  The sanctity of a marriage is something between God and the couple.  Whether or not a union is holy does not depend on whether I or anyone else says it is.  It doesn’t depend on whether a book or a community’s traditions says it is.   The only thing it does depend on is whether or not it is, in fact, a holy union.  I’ve had the privilege of officiating at the unions of several lesbian couples whose obvious love and commitment demonstrated to me that theirs was a holy union indeed.  And I’ve know many heterosexual couples whose dishonesty, disregard, and outright abuse of their spouse made their so-called “sanctified” marriage anything but.   

What about against gay marriage?
Sorry, but I can’t really think of any, as I noted above, convincing or coherent arguments against gay marriage.

Why did you choose to work in a UU church in a state where gay marriage is illegal?
Three reasons:  Firstly, the job was offered to me.  (And I have seen no healthier nor more exciting congregations than the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church – Unitarian Universalist.  How could I pass it up?)  Secondly, our congregation has taken a very public stand in support of the marriage equality movement, among other things hanging a banner on the front of our building that boldly declares our position.  Thirdly, having served a congregation in Massachusetts, where same-gender marriage is legal, I somewhat relish the opportunity to work on increasing the number of states where that is so.

How important is the issue of legalization gay marriage to you? Is there a different aspect about gay relationship legal logistics that is more important?
To be sure, there are many aspects of heterosexism that are in need of being addressed.  I am personally drawn to the issue of marriage equality for several reasons.  My Universalist ancestors declared their theology in the simple three-word phrase, “God is love.” I am then, if you will, in the “love” business.  I believe that the right to enter into a committed relationship with another person is one of life’s great gifts.  It is an unparalleled environment in which to embody this divine love and to nurture not only your own spiritual development, but also another’s, and that of the so-called “third partner,” the marriage itself.  That individuals are being denied this right simply because they love someone whom our culture currently deems to be “the wrong kind of person” offends me deeply.  Further, I find the fact that the language and veneer of religion are used to defend this discrimination – this limitation of love – is abhorrent.

How can gay marriage fit in well with major religions? (Big, broad question, I know. With vast opportunities for long answers!)
I recognize that there are interpretations of certain passages of scripture and certain elements of tradition in many different religions that appear to support a prohibition of same-gender marriage.  I am also aware that there are passages and traditions in these religions which appear to support slavery and ritual murder, as well as prohibiting working on Sundays and (a personal favorite) the wearing of clothing made from mixed fabrics.  At the same time, it seems inescapably clear that these same scripture and traditions hold up again and again the values of love and compassion.  If God made us all then we are all God’s children.  If all sentient beings have Buddha-nature than it does not matter whether you marry someone of your own or of another gender expression.  If all things in creation serve Allah by fulfilling their own nature, then this must be as true for homosexuals as for heterosexuals.  I see no contradiction with what I understand to be the core teachings of any of the great religions humanity has developed.  As the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has summed up the primary teaching of religion:  “If you can, help people; if you can’t do that, at least don’t harm them.”

I think that this is a pretty good explanation of where I stand.
In Gassho,


Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Speech of Angels

A week or so ago I heard an interview on National Public Radio with the theoretical phsycist Michio Kaku.  Beyond his many television appearances and published works, Kaku’s real claim to fame is as one of the creators and developers of what’s known as Superstring Field Theory.  Superstring Theory is an attempt to take Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity – which deals with the force of gravity and large-scale structures such as galaxies – and the various theories of Quantum Mechanics – which deal with the other four fundamental forces of the universe and structures at a sub-atomic level – and put them together.  This unification of these various theorems is sometimes called, not so humbly I’d point out, “the Theory of Everything.”

To try to explain String Theory, Kaku reminded us of how strings work in the world we know – think of the strings on a guitar.  If you pluck one, it vibrates.  It creates a tone, a note.  Pluck a string of a different thickness, or length, and you get a different note.  A different tone.  A different vibration.  This “Theory of Everything” posits that the basic, fundamental reality, if you will, of the universe consists of “strings” floating in space/time.  These strings vibrate and their vibrations, their notes, are the various basic elements of creations – bosons and fermions.  Everything in the material world, then – the sun, the moon, the stars, the starfish, the moon pies, and even you and me – all of it, can be described as, fundamentally, vibrations of these strings.  You and me and everything we can see and feel around us are the harmonization of these strings.  We are literally notes in the symphony of life.
Cool, right?
And one of the reasons I especially love this new science is that it ties in so nicely with one of my favorite old myths.  It’s a creation story, but not any of the ones passed down in the oral traditions of the many Native American Nations, nor the Scandinavian story written in the Elder and Younger Eddas, nor even the foundational creation myth of the Jewish and Christian traditions, recorded in the Bible.  No, my favorite creation story is the one recorded in The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.  (Published posthumously in 1977 but begun back in 1914.)
According to this tale, Eru, Ilúvatar, The One, sings a chord, a theme, into the void.  The Ainur, perhaps the closest analog we’d recognize would be “angels,” then essentially improvise a melody around this chord.  Discord is introduced, so Ilúvatar offers a new theme and the Ainur continue their improvisations.  This happens three times, until finally Eru sets forth a theme which incorporates and completes everything that came before.  Eru then commands their Ainur to open their eyes and see what they’ve created with their song . . . and they see the universe we know and love.  Here, in this tale, is the truth scientists are only just discovering – the universe, and everything in it, is physicalized music.  
I love music.  Always have.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in a musical family.  My brothers and I were all singers when we were younger, and Pat played a mean guitar while Paul played a smoking bass.  I played the French horn.
And there was nearly always music playing somewhere.  The 60s and 70s rock my brothers listened to.  Jazz, both classical and avant garde.  Actually, just about anything and everything.  After my parents died my brothers and I went through their record collection.  There was an album of Scottish Bagpipes next to Oscar Brand’s Baudy Sea Shanties next to the Oscar Peterson trio’s rendition of the music from “West Side Story.”  Carmina Burana next to The Grand Canyon Suite next to Carmen.  Everything from Aaron Copland to Frank Zappa – if it was music, we listened to it.
And we’re not alone in responding to music’s magical charms.  While working on the sermon I found this quote from the abolitionist, suffragist, and Unitarian Lydia Maria Child: 
“While I listened, music was to my soul what the atmosphere is to my body; it was the breath of my inward life.  I felt, more deeply than ever, that music is the highest symbol of the infinite and holy. . . .  With renewed force I felt what I have often said, that the secret of creation lay in music.  ‘A voice to light gave being.’  Sound led the stars into their places.”
The renowned author Ursala K. Le Guinn has asked,
“What good is music?  None . . . and that is the point.  To the world and its states and armies and factories and Leaders, music says, ‘You are irrelevant”; and, arrogant and gentle as a god, to the suffering [one] it says only, ‘Listen.’  For being saved is not the point.  Music saves nothing.  Merciful, uncaring, it denies and breaks down all shelters, the houses [we] build for [ourselves], that [we] may see the sky.”

The poet George Eliot said,

“I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music.  It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain.  Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.” 
An anonymous commentator once said, “Music is what feelings sound like.”
And Thomas Carlyle wrote (in words that give this sermon its title), “Music is well said to be the speech of angels.”
And, of course, a pre-eminent theologian of the twentieth century once said, famously:

Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands 

(That is, of course, from Stevie Wonder’s magnum opus, “Sir Duke.”)
Of course, not everyone likes music.  Or, at least, some people say that they don’t like music but in my very unscientific survey it seems to me that what these people are usually saying is that they don’t like some particular kind of music.
Take the playwright Virginia Graham who said, “There are some composers—at the head of whom stands Beethoven—who not only do not know when to stop but appear to stop many times before they actually do.”
Or the English author Dodie Smith who said, “The one Bach piece I learnt made me feel I was being repeatedly hit on the head with a teaspoon.”
Or the actress and writer Maureen Lipman who said (and this is my favorite), “To Jack (my husband), his violin is comfort and relaxation.  To his inky wife, it’s time to put her head down the waste disposal unit again.”
One of the reasons some people don’t like music is that they are convinced – usually because someone told them so at a young age – that they are “musically challenged.”  “She can’t carry a tune in a bucket,” is a phrase that comes to mind.
My dad couldn’t carry a tune if it was put into a gift-wrapped box and stapled to his forehead.  But that didn’t stop him.  That didn’t stop him from initiating – initiating – the annual singing of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” with his three award-winning choir member sons while we trimmed the tree each year.  That didn’t stop him from breaking out into the song – “Many brave hearts / are asleep in the deep / so beware. / Beware.” – at any opportunity.  That didn’t stop him from joining a choir during his adult life.  He loved music, and he loved making music at whatever level he was able.
There’s an old proverb from Zimbabwe – if you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing.  I want to say this morning – this Music Sunday during which we’ve hears such lovely song – I want to declare this morning that each of us can make music.  And maybe that’s because each of us is music.  If Michio Kaku and his colleagues are right, then we are quite literally embodied music, music incarnate.  Let that thought vibrate through you for the rest of the day.

Laid in a Manger

A while ago I was reading the book Francis:  the journey and the dream, a beautiful blending of biography and meditation on the life of St. Francis of Assisi by the Franciscan priest and poet, Fr. Murray Bodo.  In it I found this wonderful reflection on Francis' understanding of Christmas:
"At Christmas it was the infant Christ who was born again in human hearts, and it struck Francis that God came to earth as a baby so that we would have someone to care for.  Christmas was the dearest of feasts because it meant that God was now one of us.  Flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, this child we could approach without fear.  We could be silly and uninhibited as we sought to make Him laugh.  We could be totally ourselves because a child accepts us just as we are and screams with delight at our little performances on his behalf.

Someone to care for, someone to try and please, someone to love.  God, a helpless babe; God, a piece of Bread.  How much trust God had in creatures!  In the Eucharist and in the Nativity, we group up, because God places Himself in our care.  We come out of ourselves if we are aware, because we now have responsibilities for God.  Not only the earth to till and creation to subdue, but now God to care for."
History has it that the first nativity scene was created by St. Francis in 1223 because he wanted to encourage people to really engage with "God [the] helpless babe."  This seems to have gotten lost in all the hubub and hullabaloo surounding the holiday.  Yet even those who would have us "put the Christ back in Christmas" seem to be totally focused on the adult Jesus, even the crucified Christ.  But what about that baby?  That little, helpless baby for which we "now have responsibilities"?  What would it mean to your spiritual life if you spent this Advent season not so much preparing to receive God as preparing to take care of God?

In Gassho,


Monday, November 28, 2011

How Large Is The Circle

Yesterday after a couple of moving services at church I received an e-mail from a congregant.  He'd brought a friend with him and something had happened during the service that had made his friend feel unwelcome and had embarrassed him.  The issue was something that was said during the welcome:
"We are an intentionally inclusive congregation and we welcome everyone to our church regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, gender expression, theological perspective, and even political party. The circle is large."
The problem wasn't with the words themselves, to be honest.  It was the fact that after the words ". . . and even political party," people laughed.  It happened at both services.  And it has been happening, at both services, each week, since this language was introduced nearly a month ago.
I understand that for some it's an example of "nervous laughter."  There are things that we Unitarian Universalist have generally made an unspoken agreement not to talk about in our sanctuaries -- theological perspective and political affiliation are two of the biggies.  So to hear both of these things named in the same breath, well, there was bound to be a nervous giggle or two.
And, too, most Unitarian Universalists self-identify as liberal/progressive folks and it's taken almost for granted that most also self-identify as Democrats, politically.  There is, again, a largely unspoken assumption that Democrats are liberal and Republicans are conservative and, so, why would a Republican even want to come to a Unitarian Universalist church?  And, so, a chuckle at this seeming incongruity.
And yet . . .
And yet there are people who are liberal theologically, or socially, yet are conservative fiscally.  (For instance.)  There are people who, for any number of reasons, vote Republican and align with the majority of Unitarian Universalist in all sorts of ways.  Many of these people are Unitarian Universalists; some of them are members of our congregation.  And these people hear the laughter that follows our statement of inclusion and wonder if this church really is open to including them.
And then there are other folks who have family or friends with a different political perspective than their own who bring these people to church and they, too, feel the sting of that laughter.  It's like we put out our hand in welcome and then pull that hand away just before the other person can grasp it.  And then we laugh at our clever joke.  It's humiliating -- for that other person, certainly, but it should be for us, too.
Now I want to be clear, I'm not trying to slap our collective hands, here.  I wrote those particular words and was virtually certain that they would elicit some laughter.  I expected it the first week; I even anticipated that there'd still be a reaction the second week.  By now, though, these words have become a mirror, one that it may be uncomfortable to look into.
I have used words like this at some point in every congregation I've served.  (Although, to be honest, the specific challenging category has been different in each one.)  One of my jobs, as a pastor, and one of our jobs, as a faith community, is "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable."  It is really pretty easy for us to affirm that "[our] circle is large."  It is harder, though, to keep reminding ourselves that it is not yet all-inclusive, nor even as inclusive as we'd wish it would be (if we're being honest).
There is always work to be done.  As inclusive as this community is -- as truly warm and welcoming as it is -- there are just so many people who have been marginalized, who have come to expect marginalization, who anticipate being unwelcome.  There is so much brokeness, and pain, and fear out there.  And "church" can be a really touchy place for people.  As I've mentioned in earlier posts, being truly welcoming involves a whole lot more than merely allowing people to come in the doors.  It means that we -- the ones doing the welcoming -- must be willing to change, to be changed.  Not an easy thing.
So I'm going to work on tweaking the language of our welcome to soften the "trigger" that elicits the laughter.  And I will continue to search for ways to challenge each of us -- and I certainly include myself in that -- to live more fully into being who we know we can be.

In Gassho,


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gratitude – What Comes Next?

Preparation for the Sermon:  “From you I receive, to you I give, together we share, and from this we live.” It’s true.

We’ve been sharing thoughts on gratitude this month. Today we’re exploring “What happens when ‘thank you’ becomes not just our continuous prayer but also our way of life?” I wish I could share with you my experiences as someone who has mastered thank you as my way of life, but I haven’t. Not even close.

I have been practicing gratitude more intentionally for the last few years. My partner Jamie introduced me to a gratitude game—one in which I remind myself how truly blessed my life is at those moments of frustration and annoyance—those times when I am feeling particularly un-blessed, ungrateful. It is a very good game, a good practice. I’d like to say I’m really good at it now, but I’m not. I guess that’s why they call it a practice. I know that’s one of the reasons I come to church. Being here, with all of you, helps me practice being my best self.

Our exploration of gratitude, though, has me thinking about the role of “thank you” in my life. When Meister Eckhart said, “If you can only manage one prayer in your life, and it is ‘thank you,’ it will suffice,” exactly WHO are you saying thank you to? Because it’s a prayer, I’m assuming he meant God. That makes sense when you are saying thank you for some great cosmic miracle—the incredible beauty of nature or the birth of a child. Thanking God doesn’t work for everyone, though, particularly the atheists among us.

Today, then, I want to talk about the more mundane, the quotidian events for which we are grateful. Take, for example, an omelet. I’m not talking about just any omelet, but the most amazing veggie omelet I had the other morning at Café Cubano. Hmm. I can taste it now—mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic. This is an omelet to savor, which I was doing quite vocally. My dining partner also enjoyed his omelet, but he took his gratitude one step further, stopping the passing waiter to say, “Please tell the cook that this is one of the best omelets in Charlottesville.” I imagine the ensuing conversation between the waiter and cook, who might well have been grumbling about having to work on Thanksgiving morning, but who was cooking with great care and delicious results. At the very least, I imagine the compliment elicited a smile.

I can imagine her reaction because I’ve had it myself. When someone thanks me for doing something, especially for something I love to do, it reminds ME to be grateful. I think of the time a student said to me, “Ms. Philips, thank you for teaching us.” Really, a middle schooler said that. As you might imagine, this is one amazing kid, so my only response could be, “Thank you, it is an honor to teach you.” Which it really was. But his gratitude, and more especially his taking the time to share it with me, makes me want to be an even better teacher.

The same is true for the work I do in this church. For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve filled a few roles in this church—serving on the board of trustees and a few other things. For the most part, these have not been thankless tasks. I’ve been stopped short after a meeting, a class, or a service—when one of you has come up to me and said thank you. I’ve especially appreciated those thank you’s that come at difficult times—when we’ve had to do the messy and hard work of being in community. The thing that I like most about those expressions of gratitude for what I do, though, is that they remind me how grateful I am. It truly is a gift to be able learn and grow within the embrace of this community.

Thank you.

“From you I receive, to you I give, together we share, and from this we live.”—these words resonate deeply for me, because I know them to be true.    (Pam Phillips)

* * *

Thich Nhat Hanh – yes, another Tich Nhat Hanh reference, and I thought I’d get it in real early this time – tells the story of walking through the community in France where he lives and seeing a beautiful smile on a little boy who was also walking there.  “You have a beautiful smile,” the monk said to the boy.  “Thank you,” the boy said to the monk.  But reflecting on it later, Tich Nhat Hanh decided that the little boy shouldn’t have said, “thank you.”  He should have said, “you’re welcome.”  Because the smile had been a gift to him.

From you I receive, to you I give, together we share, and from this we live.  Giving and receiving intertwined.  Gift and gratitude inseparable.  “Thank you” and “you’re welcome” as mirror images.

You know those visual tricks where the foreground and the background have been so designed that if you focus on one you see one thing and if you focus on the other you see something else?  There’s the two faces looking at each other and a candle stick or a goblet in between them.  There’s the old hawk-nosed woman with a headscarf who’s a vital young woman in a fur wrap if you change your focus. 

What if giving and receiving were like this, too?  What if gratitude and generosity were really the same thing with the difference being merely a difference in focus?

I want to take what might seem an odd tack here, but bear with me.  Okay?

Over the years I’ve heard people complain about God.  Oh boy have I heard people complain about God.  Lots of the folks who find their way to Unitarian Universalist churches – not all, of course, but quite a large number – have some serious issues with the religious tradition in which they were raised. 

And one of the things that a lot of these folks have a problem with is the idea that God – if there were such a thing – would require people to be good because they were afraid of being punished if they were bad.  That kind of God – the one that “puts the fear of God into you” – just doesn’t make sense to these folks.  And being good out of fear of what’ll happen to you if you’re bad just doesn’t seem right. 

This is the theme of Anthony Burgess’ fantastic 1961 novel A Clockwork Orange and the film adaptation Stanley Kubrick made ten years later.  For those who aren’t familiar with them, the main character, Alex, is the leader of a teen gang who engage in petty crimes and “ultra-violence.”  While in prison he is subjected to an extreme form of aversion therapy that makes him virtually incapable of any kind of negative behavior.  The prison chaplain reflects that this makes Alex’s apparent newfound goodness nothing more than a mechanistic response, like a clockwork orange that would look like the delicious fruit but would in reality be nothing more than a machine.  The book is, among other things, a meditation on the question of whether one is truly good if she or he is only good out of a fear of what will happen if they’re bad.

My only problem with this critique of God is that I don’t believe that this is really what God is all about.  Oh, for sure, there are people who’ll tell you that this is what God is like.  There are even churches that’ll teach this, but I don’t believe that this is what the idea of God is all about.

My reading – and I know that I’m not alone in this – is that, far from doing good out of fear of punishment, we’re supposed to look at the world we live in, to recognize all of the miraculously beautiful things that surround us – from sunsets, to smiling children who say “thank you,” to really great omelets, to great music in church on Sunday morning – and that we’re to respond to all of these gifts by giving gifts of our own.  It is our response to an awareness of how truly blessed we are – not a fear of how punished we might be – that is supposed to generate our goodness, our own giving.

From you I receive, to you I give . . .  Giving and receiving intertwined.  Gift and gratitude inseparable.

Like Pam, my gratitude practice is spotty at best.  Still, if I were to wait until I had perfected this practice before moving on to the next, well, then I don’t expect that I’d be moving on any time soon.  Yet the question comes up for many of us – what comes next?  After gratitude, then what?  Because it seems clear that if all we do is sit around and feel grateful for all the good things in our lives and in the world that that’d be a pretty dangerous practice.  After all, can’t you imagine that a continual focus on the all the good things in your life might well just lead to a sort of pride?  A sense of entitlement?  Of “more grateful than thou?”  (Come on, we know ourselves here; let’s be honest – it’s possible, right?)

That’s probably why pretty much all of the religious traditions I know anything about say that the remedy to such a take-over by pride is to respond to gratitude with generosity.  “Wow!  I’ve been given so much!  What can I give in return?  How can I share from my bounty?”

I’m jumping the gun a bit on our upcoming pledge campaign, I know, but I really can’t help myself because this is what I think those things are all about.  Oh, I’m sure we’ll be talking about numbers and needs – how much money the church needs to keep doing this and that – but I really don’t think that that’s why we should engage in a pledge drive each year.  If that were our real motivation then we’d be no different than NPR – “you know you listen so why not chip in?”

But just like everything else we do here I think that this, too, should be part of the tools and tips for spiritual practice that we offer our members.  The real question isn’t “how much has the cost of copier paper gone up in recent years?” or “how badly do we need increases in staffing or space?” but, “how grateful am I for what TJMC has brought into my life?  How grateful am I for these people and these experiences?”

The same is true of the Leadership Development Committee’s survey that they gave out last week and that’s in the Order of Service again this week.  It’s not really about “we have these holes in our leadership roster and need people to fill them.”  It’s really about offering each of us a myriad of opportunities to find ways to move our gratitude into generosity.

From you I receive, to you I give . . .  Giving and receiving intertwined.  Gift and gratitude inseparable.  “Thank you” and “you’re welcome” as mirror images.

Actually, this reminds me of something that one of my friends in Germany said tome.  She was always astounded that we, here, would respond to someone saying “thank you” with the words “you’re welcome.”  In German, the response to “Danke is “Bitte” which, I’ve been told, really means “please.”  So really the mirror might be “thank you” and “please” – a different feel.

And the really cool thing is that when our response to a gift – the “thank you,” an act of receiving – is “please” – an invitation – then we magnify the spiritual benefits of our gratitude.  Some of the most grateful people are those who give much, whether they themselves have much.  Generosity increases gratitude.

And, of course, if we practice rightly, gratitude increases generosity.  From you I receive to you I give, together we share, and from this we live. 

The truth is that we can’t have one without the other.  Gratitude without generosity begets pride; generosity without gratitude begets paternalism.  But the two of them together?  That’s the key to creating the Beloved Community we dream about.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gratitude in a Complex Context

Preparation for the Sermon:  Can you feel it in the air?  The Holiday season is just around the corner.  For some this is a time filled with stress, maybe with loneliness or with sorrow.  Or maybe even with anger at the commercialism which invades what used to be sacred space and time.  But for me…..  Wow!  Thanksgiving season is the beginning of a magical time.  A time of childish wonder and of rich traditions and memories!   Actually, you have most likely seen the picture of my childhood Thanksgivings.  Norma Rockwell painted it.  The grandparents, the table crowded both with people and with all the traditional dishes—mashed potatoes and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry salad, green beans, pecan pie and, of course, that beautiful golden brown turkey being carried in triumph to the table.

That was my childhood Thanksgiving.  A small Midwestern town. The big white house with the turreted front parlor, the wrap around front porch.  The coats piled in the entrance room on the bench, hats perched on the antlers of the Stag hanging on the wall.  And people….me and my brothers and sisters, mom and dad and my Grandparents, Aunts, uncles, cousins…and cousins….and cousins.  We could be a mass of humanity numbering 30 to 40 filling that big white house with the roars of greeting and the squeal of children wallowing in hugs and kisses from doting aunts and uncles and grandparents.

There was the baby grand piano around which we gathered to sing (Often in 4 part harmony), the living room where we crowded onto sofas and laps and spilled over to fill the oriental carpet on the floor for the stories and the now lost art of the parlor games.  There was the traditional touch football game in the sprawling side yard, and the climbing race to the top of the three story blue spruce in the back yard. And the aromas which filled every room with the hints of the dinner feast soon to follow.  It was idyllic.  Everything was perfect.  Everyone was perfect.  Life was perfect. And the world was perfect. 

And it remained that way until one day in college when I learned that my perfect Midwestern town was a hotbed for the Klu Klux Klan, and home to three John Birch Society chapters and that during the height of the civil rights marches, town fathers were on the roofs of the Elks and the Moose lodges on opposite ends of town with rifles and shotguns waiting for those people to try to march into our town.  The Norman Rockwell façade began to fade away as the realities of the underbelly of my perfect town were exposed. 

And with the passage of time and of childhood innocence, my perfect family began to take on more of the tarnish of common humanity.  I can now see that the holiday suits, dresses, perfumes and colognes only disguised the grudges and resentments and harsh criticism underneath and do not resolve them.  That, in addition to the hugs and the casseroles and the candies and the flowers, other things also come in through the door on Thanksgiving day.  My father’s and my uncle’s alcoholism.  My aunt’s mental illness.  My cousin’s teen-age pregnancy.  My sister’s rape.  My cousin’s drug dealing and drug abuse.  These were also present within the annual family gathering.  As a wide eyed boy I was totally oblivious to most of this history.  Even in adulthood it was never discussed –seldom even acknowledged openly. 

Yet this morning, I can still recall those Thanksgivings of my childhood and how they were filled with love, with music and laughter, the sense of belonging.  I no longer see the world as perfect or my family as perfect.  And, despite the erosion of some of my childhood naïveté, this remains a Norman Rockwell, magical time for me.  I celebrate with thanksgiving for the goodness that coexists in the midst of the imperfection.  It is a time to gather together, to remember, to celebrate and to be grateful.  Happy Thanksgiving.    (Bob Kiefer)                                                                                                   
* * *

The Thanksgiving legend begins in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  The original feast was probably held in early October 1621 and was celebrated by the 53 Pilgrims who survived that first year, along with the Wampanoag chief Massasoit and 90 of his men. Rather than the one day event we’ve become accustomed to – followed by the obligatory “Watching of the Football Game” –  this so-called “first thanksgiving” apparently lasted for three days and featured a menu including numerous types of waterfowl, wild turkeys, fish, and lobster, procured by the colonists, and five deer brought by the Native Americans.  (Right now there’s a debate among some of my friends on FaceBook about whether or not seal was also on the menu.)
Of course, now that I live here instead of on Cape Cod I feel compelled to note that many historians point out that the first thanksgiving celebration in what would become the United States was actually held here in Virginia, where Thanksgiving services were routine as early as 1607.  (Take that, Massachusetts!) 
Be that as it may, though, in the popular mind the “first Thanksgiving” took place in Plymouth, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has staged a reenactment of Thanksgiving each year since 1921 (which was the 300th anniversary of that 1621 harvest festival).  People gather in 17th  century costume at a church on the site of the Pilgrims' original meeting house. After prayers and a sermon, they march to Plymouth Rock. Not surprisingly, this annual event has become something of a tourist attraction.
1970 was the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival.  Wamsutta, a Wampanoag elder, had been invited to the festivities to speak on behalf of the Native peoples.  The planning committee saw a copy of Wamsutta's intended remarks in advance, however, and they expressed concerns over what they described as the "inflammatory nature" of the speech.  They actually went so far as to have a PR person rewrite it and they told him that he could either read their revision or be disinvited. 
So Wamsutta left the event and went to nearby Coles Hill, near the statue of Massasoit, and delivered his speech.  A plaque, the one pictured on the cover ofyour order of service, marks the spot.  This is, in part, what he said:
"It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.
Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry.
Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.
What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in the last 300 years?"
The Thanksgiving legend and the Thanksgiving reality do not always line up neatly.
In Steve Amick's book The Lake, The River, and theOther Lake, there is a scene which reminded me of something the theologian Fred Buechner said about the Christian Scriptures – it’s "not too good to be true, it's too good not to be true."  As far as I can tell, nothing like this ever actually happened, but it should have . . . and it most certainly has in countless imaginations.  The scene involves Chief Joseph One-Song, an apparently fictional Ojibwe chief who, as one character put it, "knew how to make a statement."  In  the story Chief One-Song is invited to speak before the U.S. Congress in January 1837 at the granting of Michigan's statehood.  Let me read a bit of the book:
"The chief's speech was actually only two lines – eight words plus a healthy helping of wheeze and spittle . . . In translation from the Ojibwe, roughly: "You have all been a great disappointment. When are you leaving?"
I can't find this anywhere in the history books but, as I said before, it should be.  It's essentially what Wamsutta said at the first National Day of Mourning, that Massasoit's "peaceful acceptance" of the Pilgrims was "perhaps [the Wampanoag's] biggest mistake."
Now I feel compelled to point out that the NationalDay of Mourning, itself, is not without its controversy, even within the Native American community.  Russell Peters, one-time President of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council has written:
"While the `Day of Mourning' has served to focus attention on past injustice to the Native American cause, it has, in recent years, been orchestrated by a group calling themselves the United American Indians of New England. This group has tenuous ties to any of the local tribes, and is composed primarily of non-Indians. To date, they have refused several invitations to meet with the Wampanoag Indian tribal councils in Mashpee or in Gay Head. Once again, we, as Wampanoags, find our voices and concerns cast aside in the activities surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday in Plymouth, this time, ironically, by a group purporting to represent our interests."
And so even the protest is protested.  Yet that makes the confusion greater not less, doesn't it?  Is the third Thursday in November a Day of Thanksgiving or a Day of Mourning?  Is it a day to celebrate universal brotherhood and sisterhood, or a day to remember broken promises and a history of oppression?  Should we feel grateful?  Or guilty?
These questions bring to mind for me some of my favorite words from the author E.B. White:
"If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
Because it's not just Thanksgiving Day that offers us such a conundrum.  It's virtually every day.  If you read the paper before heading out in the morning do you curse the world or marvel at the blue sky?  Do you despair about the world we're leaving our children, or wonder at the hope they innocently offer?
It’s often said that most ministers really only have one sermon that they keep repeating in different forms.  I think I have at least a couple.  And one of them is that we need to strive to retrain ourselves away from either/or thinking so that we can embrace the world as it is, which is both/and.  We are called to save the world and to savor it – both.  Life is full of sorrow and of joy – both.  The glass is half full and it's half empty – both.

Actually, I saw a great cartoon recently.  It shows a glass with water up to the midway point.  A line points at the bottom and says, “1/2 water.”  Another line points to the top and says, “1/2 air.”  The caption reads, “Technically, the glass is always full.”

Two weeks ago we talked about the importance of having a practice of gratitude, the development of an intentional awareness of the miracles that surround us.  And remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s saying that the miracle is not “walking on water or walking in the air but simply walking on this earth.”  Even without burning bushes we are surrounded by miracles.

Last week, though, we noted that sometimes life is hard – sometimes really, really hard – and it might then seem to be impossible to be grateful.  And yet, perhaps, it’s exactly at such times that it’s most important.

This week I want to make things a little more complicated because, of course, we live in a really complicated world.  Photons act as both waves and particles.  83% of the universe is something called “dark matter” that we’re not even entirely sure exists.  And, of course, the world is both challenging and seductive, in need of saving and savoring both.

So the question this sermon was advertised to be about – whether this coming Thursday is a Day of Thanksgiving or a Day of Mourning – turns out to be just one version of a question we face all the time.  It’s the same question as to whether Thomas Jefferson is a paragon of liberty or a paradigm for oppression?  It’s the question Bob brought home even more personally for us – does the family glitter or is it deeply tarnished?  Is this Norman Rockwell or Dorothea Lange?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  There isn’t an easy answer.  There isn’t some over simplification that will work out all of the ambiguities and contradictions.

Life is messy.  It just is.  It’s not always fair.  Even when it seems fair in hindsight we discover how unfair it really was; and sometimes when it seems downright mean-spirited we look back to discover tremendous gifts.  As Ian Anderson said so long ago, “Nothing’s easy.”

The world we live in is not “black and white.”  It’s not even “shades of grey.”  It’s multicolored, a rainbow, with every color coming in myriad hues and tones and shades.  And the religious tradition we share, our Unitarian Universalist faith, calls on us to recognize this complexity; to acknowledge it; to embrace it; and to live in it.

There is much suffering, and there is cause for celebration.  There is promise, and there is pain.  Can you hold that?  Can you live in that?  Can you love that?

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Weight of Our History

Ten years ago, while I was serving the First Universalist Church of Yarmouth, Maine, I wrote a sermon on "craving"  which ended with the following story:
A few days into his journey to the mouth of the Coppermine River, Thomas Hearne and his party were set upon by Indians who stole most of their supplies. You might imagine that this would engender feelings of fear or, at least, uncertainty about the rest of their journey, about their very survival.  But Hearne's journal entry is telling.  He wrote, simply, "The weight of our baggage being so lightened, our next day's journey was more swift and pleasant."

I'd found this story, with slight variations, on literally dozens of sites -- both in collections of sermon illustrations and within sermons themselves -- and I've used this story several times since, virtually unchanged from its original telling.  I used it again yesterday, as well.  This time, though, while the basic thrust of the story stayed the same the tone was a little different.

In the ten years since I first encountered it I've become considerably more sensitive to the need to look with a inquiring eye at such a seemingly simple story.  Who was Thomas Hearne?  When did this journey take place?  What was the behavior of Hearne and his party with the native peoples they encountered?  What is, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story?

So I did some research.  Wikipedia wasn't the only source I consulted, but I'll the first to admit that it wasn't exhaustive.  Still, I discovered enough to learn that, for instance, contrary to what was written on all the websites I'd previously looked at Thomas Hearne was really Samuel Hearne.  This story unfolds in the early 1770s.  And there is undoubtedly a lot more to the story.

Hearne joined the Brittish Navy at age 11, and at 21 went to work for the Hudson's Bay Company.  He made three trips north to find the copper mine the Inuit (and others) were using for their copper.  The first two attempts were complete failures.  It is most likely during the third trip that the story above occured.

On this third trip Hearne was the only Englishman.  His traveling companions and guides were a group of people from the Chipewyan nation.  Along the way this group was joined by a number of T'atsaot'ine, also known as "Yellowknife Dene" because of their use of Copper.  It is now thought that many of these Dene joined Hearne's party because their nation was in conflict with the northern Inuit and this journey provided them an opportunity to strike at their enemies.

And strike they did.  On July 14, 1771, Hearne's party reached the Coppermine River.  At 1:00 am on JUly 17th, Hearne's guides attacked an Inuit encampment downstream, killing approximately twenty men, women, and children.  This event became known as the Massacre at Bloody Falls.

It seems that Hearne was in no way involved, that this wasn't another case of European's slaughtering Native Americans, and that he was, in fact, horrified by the incident.  It was he who afterward designated the site "Bloody Falls" and in his memoirs he noted, "I am confident that my features must have feelingly expressed how sincerely I was affected at the barbarous scene I then witnessed; even at this hour I cannot reflect on the transactions of that horrid day without shedding tears."  He claims to have pleaded for the life of a young girl who feel literally at his feet, but that he was ignored.

Still, while I could find no reference to the attack on his own party, from whence the story comes, I can't help now wondering -- was that attack in retaliation for the attack at Bloody Falls?  Or was it another example of the conflict which led to that massacre on July 17th?  All I know for sure is that there is more to the story than there'd been when Samuel what Thomas.

The story's still a useful one -- lots of lessons can be drawn from that seventeen word journal entry -- but I can never tell it as simply anymore.  To do so is to dishonor the complexities of real life, real women, children, and men.  And so, yesterday, I told the story in a slightly different way:
I want to leave you with a story.  The story of Samuel Hearne, who in the early 1770s was leading an expedition to explore to the mouth of the Coppermine River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. At one point in the journey his party was attacked by a party of Native Americans who made off with most of their supplies. I don’t know whether this incident occurred before or after a group of his party attacked and massacred a group of Cooper Inuit at Bloody Falls.  But you can imagine the feelings after they were attacked and their provisions taken –in a foreign and unknown land, a dangerous journey still ahead, most of your provisions gone, the possibility of further incidents, the guilt, the fear . . .
Now I don’t know much about Samuel Hearne.  I haven’t been able to learn whether he had sisters or brothers; whether he’d had a family of his own.  He seems to have been a good man who was truly horrified by the massacre carried out by his own people.  Still, I don’t know much about Samuel Hearne, but I do know one thing.  I do know is that he was well practiced in the art of gratitude.  I know this not because of any commentary that survives about the man but because of the comment he made in his own journal the day after the raid.  With all of the uncertainty, the tension, the anxiety that must have surrounded him at that time, Samuel Hearne wrote these words:  "The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day’s journey was more swift and pleasant."
That’s someone who knew how to find the Gratitude Channel.  "The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day’s journey was more swift and pleasant."

There may be more "baggage" now in the telling, but some is worth holding on to . . . and holding up.

In Gassho,


Sunday, November 13, 2011

But What If Life's Hard?

If it were up to me, I might just leave our TV on the Discovery Channel.  After all, that’s where you can find MythBusters, and Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe; Cash Cab and Dual Survival.  It’s the home of Shark Week, and that annual extravaganza of mechanization and mayhem, Punkin’ Chunkin’.

Of course, if we left the TV on Discovery then we’d miss out on some other family favorites – Good Luck Charley, iCarly, Phinneas and Ferb, Spongebob, and the kitty half-time show during the Puppy Bowl.  (Not to mention SyFy’s Eureka  and, okay I’ll cop to it, FOX’s American Idol.)
Why am I telling you all of this?  I’ve been referring a lot lately to the teachings of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.  I’m going to do so here again.  As anyone who knows his teachings can tell you, Thich Nhat Hanh puts a great deal of emphasis on smiling as a spiritual practice.  He has said, as do most Zen teachers, that it’s essential to put in two daily practice sessions of at least twenty minutes each.  He has also said, however, that if one can’t manage to do that that one session is better than nothing.  And if you can’t manage one twenty minute session each day, then you should aim for ten.  If even that’s impossible, then try and take five real breaths at some point during the day.  And if you can’t do even that, then try to smile one fully authentic and aware smile before getting out of bed.
Smiling as a spiritual practice.  He once famously wrote that it is true that the world is full of suffering.  This, after all, is the first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths – “life is suffering.”  But Nhat Hanh doesn’t stop there.  The world is full of suffering, he says, but it is also full of the blue sky and the eyes of a baby.  “It would be a shame,” he wrote, “if we were only aware of the suffering.”  Breathing in, I relax body and mind.  Breathing out, I smile.
But one day one of his students approached her teacher and said, “But what if my heart is full of sadness?  How can I smile?”  What if I’m going through a difficult period?  What if I’m angry?  Or grieving?  Or scared?  What if I’m trying to figure out how to keep everything from falling apart?  What if I can’t imagine how I’m going to make it through another day?  How can I smile?
I know this question.  I’ve known heart ache.  I’ve known pain – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual agony, not to put too fine a point on it.  I’ve known loss, and I’ve known rage, and I’ve known fear.  You have too, so we know this question – what if our hearts are full of sadness?  How can we smile?
Some of you know that I’ve been sick off and on for the past several weeks.  Some of you have been in classes or meetings that I’ve had to cancel or postpone; some of you have been wondering why I didn’t respond to that e-mail or phone message you’d left.  Some of you’ve seen me and just had the feeling that something wasn’t right. 
Most of you, I hope, haven’t noticed anything.  I’ve been here in the pulpit or in the office; in a class or in a meeting; and you haven’t had an inkling that there was anything wrong.  As I said, I hope that this has been most of you.  But some of you have seen something, and what you’ve seen have been the physical and mental manifestations of the Depression I’ve been wrestling with off and on for some time now.
No doubt the stresses of the move here – both the challenges and just the newness of it all – exacerbated something that’s normally quite well controlled.  As most people who deal with depression will tell you – those who have it and those who work with us – it can often be as innocuous as well-monitored blood pressure or well-medicated allergies.  But every once in a while it’ll flare up.  Mine has been flaring lately.
So I know the question of how can I smile when my heart is full of sadness, because I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately.  How do I deliver a sermon on gratitude when I’m feeling like this?  How do I offer inspiration or encouragement when I feel such a lack of both?  The answer is the answer Thich Nhat Hanh gave to his student, and it ties us back to my bit of personal revelation about my viewing habits with which I began this sermon.
Each of us, Nhat Hanh said, is like a television set.  We each have many channels at our disposal – perhaps as many as hundreds of channels we could have playing on the screen of our life.  Yet often we get stuck on just one channel – sadness, anger, fear, playing it safe.  Often we get stuck on just one channel – out of all of the channels available to us – and then we begin to think of ourselves as being that channel.
This, of course, would be like my television set becoming convinced that it is the Discovery Channel.  This is like me becoming convinced that I am my depression, or that I am my victimization, or that I am my hoplessness.  I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.
But the truth is far more complex.  (Isn’t it almost always?)  Like a television set I actually have hundreds of channels to choose from.  I may, for any number of reasons, be spending an inordinate amount of time on the Depression Channel, but somewhere on my dial the Joy Channel is just waiting its turn.  Somewhere there is the Enlightened Buddha Channel.  Somewhere there is the Christ Channel, and it’s just as much a part of my basic package as is the channel on which I’ve gotten stuck.
Because life is full of suffering AND it is full of the shinning eyes and impossible little fingers of babies; it is full of cries of suffering AND quiet calm, both.  And when my heart is full of sorrow, when my life has gotten hard, when the suffering overwhelms the miracles, then it is essential that I know where to find the Gratitude Channel and switch out my viewing habits so as to remind myself that life is more than the malaise.
This isn’t easy to do.  Sometimes it isn’t even possible to do, not right now, at least.  Like during Shark Week you really can’t change that dial right then.  Okay, that’s not my best analogy but I know you get my point.  Sometimes it’s too much to even pick up the remote and aim it at the TV; sometimes you just gotta lie there and watch what’s on.
But the time will come – often before you’re expecting it – that you can change the channels, and that’s where the practice of gratitude comes in.  Practice something long enough, often enough, and it begins to become a habit.  Practice noticing the things in our lives that we can be grateful for, and it begins to become a habit.  A habit we can draw on, an autonomic reflex we can stimulate, when we can’t do anything else.
One of my favorite Tich Nhat Hanh-isms has to do with just how important it is to make a practice of mindfulness, a practice of awareness, a practice of smiling, a practice of gratitude; how important it is to make this practice a part of our lives during the good times, the easy times.  Practice, he says, is like sewing a parachute, and you don’t want to begin sewing your parachute as you are jumping out of the plane.  You don’t want to begin sewing your parachute as you’re jumping out of the plane.  It’s important to develop the practice of gratitude when it’s easy to do, so that you will have the practice to help you when it’s not.
Last week, in the depths of despair, I was forced to consider the practice of gratitude because I’d promised to encourage you to consider it.  It’s hard to immerse yourself in the “attitude of gratitude” without at least a little of it rubbing off.  And then there were Wendy’s reflections, and Leia’s story, and Thomas’ ruminations (which he’d intended for this week but which I needed – both professionally and personally – then instead), and there was Scott’s music . . .  and there was the spirit of this community, a wildly healing balm of breathtaking beauty.   (And as those of you on FaceBook know, on the way home I blasted some Cream as loud as I could crank it.)
And the channel changed.  My mood changed.  The world I was living in – or, more precisely, my perspective on that world – changed.
You can smile when your heart is full of sorrow . . . because you can.  Because, at some point, you have to.  Because even if all you can manage is one fully authentic and aware smile at some point during your day, it is another stitch in your parachute.  And if you can keep up that stitching then when the time comes that you jump – or fall, or are pushed – out of that plane, you’ll discover that you’re not really falling as you’d feared you would be.  You’re flying.
I want to leave you with a story.  The story of Samuel Hearne, who in the early 1770s was leading an expedition to explore to the mouth of the Coppermine River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. At one point in the journey his party was attacked by a party of Native Americans who made off with most of their supplies. I don’t know whether this incident occurred before or after a group of his party attacked and massacred a group of Cooper Inuit at Bloody Falls.  But you can imagine the feelings after they were attacked and their provisions taken –in a foreign and unknown land, a dangerous journey still ahead, most of your provisions gone, the possibility of further incidents, the guilt, the fear . . .
Now I don’t know much about Samuel Hearne.  I haven’t been able to learn whether he had sisters or brothers; whether he’d had a family of his own.  He seems to have been a good man who was truly horrified by the massacre carried out by his own people.  Still, I don’t know much about Samuel Hearne, but I do know one thing.  I do know is that he was well practiced in the art of gratitude.  I know this not because of any commentary that survives about the man but because of the comment he made in his own journal the day after the raid.  With all of the uncertainty, the tension, the anxiety that must have surrounded him at that time, Samuel Hearne wrote these words:  "The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day’s journey was more swift and pleasant."
That’s someone who knew how to find the Gratitude Channel.  "The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day’s journey was more swift and pleasant."