From Beginner to Bad*ss – Sermon Edition
Our theme this month is “Renewing Faith.” Join us this Sunday as we expand on this month’s Minister Newsletter article HERE. We will dive into what it means to live a spiritual life, to be a spiritual community, and how, particularly in times of trouble and change, a place like this could hold you, save you, challenge you…and begin to change how you see everything.
To view the service click HERE.
Click HERE to view the OOS.
Our reading this morning is by Annie Dillard
When people come to church, they should not be handed an order of service with a smile, but should be given hard hats and life preservers, because church should be a dangerous place, a zone of risk, a place of new birth and new life, where we confront ourselves with who we truly are and who the church is calling us to become.
What if a place like this could save you – change you, make everything better (a little or a lot), make everything more real, more beautiful, more true.
What if this place could help you become more of who you are, invite you to courage, and help set you free?
What If participation in a community like this, that encourages spiritual practice, relationship practice, practices of service, what if practicing your principles with place like this could begin to change how you experience everything?
Recently I participated in a spiritual exercise around thresholds. About change. About reimagining all the transition happening around us – as an invitation to step through a door of change ourselves.
The exercise had two parts. The first part was: look at your past. Reflect on what has gone before, the ins and outs, the highs and the lows, the good and the hard in your life. Not to dwell on any of it, but to look back and see what stands out. Some pattern or way of being you want to leave behind, or some important part of yourself you want to be sure to take with you. As you step across the threshold of change. Through the door that separates the past from the still unfolding future.
It was a powerful exercise. First, there was time to reflect, then to look at a scattered selection of photos – pick the first image that strikes you kind of thing. A photo of two hands barely touching stood out to me immediately. Here’s what it affirmed for me, something I was already feeling: I need to think less and connect more. Prepare less and be present more. Worry less and be bold more. Less focus on how things look and more on the state of my heart. Put relationship first. All great, not always easy.
So then there was the second piece of the exercise: Imagine the future. Here’s a door. You’re about to step through it – what is calling to you from the other side? What is pulling you forward? What is compelling, important, resonant, meaningful? And, what will sustain and energize you when you’re on the other side?
This time, it was a lightning bolt that caught my eye. And the realization – there is an enormous power available to me and to any of us, and it is not within my direct control.
Our theme this month is renewing faith. It feels very apropos in these times when so much is testing us. The war in Ukraine. Providence white supremacists, not to mention inflation, and the hard to believe two-year anniversary of this exhausting pandemic.
But to me this theme also goes back further, it’ ‘s not just a renewing something today or this year, but can be about a renewing that is deeper, older, more powerful than just keeping our heads above water in the present.
So what do I mean by a deeper, older renewal?
There is a cartoon that a colleague of mine shared with me showing two children playing together in a room full of toys. [Show slide] [Liz will show that in a moment] The caption has one child saying to the other: what do you want to be when you give up. Which might sound kind of depressing, or perhaps a little cynical, but I share that cartoon not because I think giving up once you grow up is the end of the story, but because I think it gets us into another story. A bigger story than the one we have been living. A story that points to the potential to recover something really important from way back when.
Because we don’t even always realize what we’ve lost, don’t even notice the ways we have given up. We just know that life doesn’t feel or look as shiny as we vaguely remember it once did long ago. The polish wears off slowly, gradually, as we grow up. As we learn hard lessons and shrink our vision. Maybe we fall short on certain ways we want to be, or maybe others made things too hard, either way, there’s not enough support, we can’t seem hold on to who we really want to be, people around us look discouraged and we too settle, we compromise, we fall down, skin our knees literally or figuratively, and it can be hard to get back up.
It took me a long time to realize I don’t have to stay there. Several years ago I found myself making commitments to accountability buddies: I ungive up. I ungive up being true to myself. I UNgive up being more honest and more real and more connected to other people. I UNgive up feeling like I don’t know what to do around racism. I UNgive up feeling like I don’t know what to do about poverty or homelessness or how to be present to it. I un give up. And then I fall down again and give up again and thank God for a spiritual community where I am invited, and as the minister I will say called, to come back to it over and over again, this place where we practice spiritual practice, relationship practice, practice of service which I believe can help us recover parts of ourselves we didn’t even know we had lost.
Recovering parts of ourselves. Ungiving up.
Makes me think of the story of a friend of mine that she gave me permission to share.
My friend had been estranged from her sister for years. Their childhood had been difficult, their parents had been dysfunctional and when my friend left the home for college she did not look back.
She threw herself into classes and new friends and activities and her desire to escape propelled her for a long time… in good ways and hard ways that led her to fall down and metaphorically skin her knees. Eventually she found her way to a 12-step program which is where I met her.
I don’t know all the details of her spiritual journey only that I imagine that one day she realized something didn’t feel quite right inside, some being true to herself, something wasn’t aligned. With the support of her spiritual community, she decided to turn back – she found some letters her sister had written to her right after she left and she read them. They said things like: it so hard here without you. These people, meaning their parents, are crazy. I miss you and when are you coming back.
My friend told me she could not remember a single one of these letters, she’s not even sure she read them. And she’s pretty sure she never responded.
When she finally reached back, her sister told her something else. One day, when she was 16 she had been was sitting on the living room floor trying to decide if she should kill herself. Then my friend walked into the room and told her, completely oblivious to what was going on for her sister, my friend happened to mention to her that she loved her. Her sister told her it was a turning point that changed everything for her.
Some years later, that same friend also decided to turn back towards her brother and her mother. Her brother had cancer. Her mother was elderly and becoming very frail. She chose to be there for both of them, helping care for them, in the last year of their life, which, because of her brother’s illness, was the same year. And, she said, they found each other. I love that way of expressing it. Something shifted, and after decades of being apart, they found each other. A precious gift to each of them.
Ungiving up. Finding more truth and finding each other.
And what about here, what about now, what about us.
The web of connection has gotten a beating these last few years – COVID has been shaking up, has weakened, and loosened the ties that bind. The forced isolation of the pandemic has stretched our relationships. Like looking through the wrong end of a telescope – some of our relationships that used to be central now seem small and far away.
And that’s had an impact on church. Not just here. Everywhere.
I think of those pie charts that life coaches want you to make – this slice is my job, this one is my kids, here are my friends, sports, entertainment, and this piece is my spiritual life. And, for many people these days that slice has become a sliver. It’s happened gradually, the shift from seeing something as important, to, like I mentioned in my newsletter article, to seeing church as a place where people drink tea and eat pastries and where everyone is just really polite.
Once in a while though, it hits me that without the great spiritual mystery that got us here, that pie chart wouldn’t be here either. Not the job, the kids, the friends the sports the entertainment – without that mysterious source, none of it would be here.
That great unknown also appears also to have the power to dissolve, reorganize, and flip our pie charts and well-laid plans completely on their heads. To upend everything: us, the job the kids, the friends the sports the entertainment – all of it — in a heartbeat or a day.
I think of the people of Ukraine where the bottom just dropped out of their world. Or people anywhere undergoing war, disaster, bias or hate – for many the bottom dropped out long ago.
But then… I also think of the incredible stories of resilience and courage. From where do those come? From what source springs the courage of Russian women who, with their young children, went to the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow to protest the war with heart posters at incalculable risk to themselves? From where springs the courage of a president who hears news of a 40 mile convoy, yet stays and projects messages of hope and strength to his people, while surely knowing that should be captured his fate is completely up in the air.
Not to mention story after story from all over, through all time, people – creating beauty, finding truth, and finding each other, from almost nothing.
Whatever the source of that kind of faith and courage and love is…. what would your life look like if you had that?
I think, when we lean in, we may find that unpredictable, immense, incalculable, fantastic, not-to-be controlled spirit right here among us.
We have an opportunity, right here, to encourage each other to go there, to places of risk and growth. To be spiritual badasses. Polite ones if we choose.
And right here, in this season of change, we can support each other when the unknown gets to be too much. We hand out hard hats and life preservers. Life is messy and we all need each other.
Distance may reinforce itself, but so does connection.
COVID may have weakened the web. But look with the heart and it never went away. And when we reach out to someone who we miss from this place or beyond it, we strengthen their web too.
Hope and investment can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And we can find make, recover or create a spiritual badass place right here.
Like next week for example when you will be invited to look back at what has been most meaningful about this place *for you*: what has changed, challenged, or birthed new life in you? What has been a life preserver? Whose life have you helped preserve? And, what are you feeling called to become? Who do you want Westminster to become?
You can come and speak, you can come and write, you can come and simply witness with your heart.
It’s a chance to take a practice taking a risk – to share something from the heart.
It’s a chance to practice investing in ourselves and in each other.
It’s a chance to practice envisioning a new way, a larger call, for yourself and for everything and everyone you love.
We cannot know the impact even one small act can have on those close to us or far away.
May we hear the call and may we answer.