This was the benediction I gave at the interfaith MLK service last night in Bedford Hills. The sermon, given by my colleague the Rev. Matthew Curry of Mount Kisco United Methodist Church, asked us not only to lift every voice in song, but to train our ears so that we might understand the need to listen.
Rev. Dr. Michael Tino
Interfaith MLK Day Service, Antioch Baptist Church, Bedford Hills NY
January 15, 2012
Spirit of life and love, God of many names and beyond all understanding:
We gather here tonight as living witness to a dream.
A dream that all people might one day be equal.
A dream that violence everywhere would one day cease.
A dream that no child would grow up in poverty, not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
For that dream, we are profoundly grateful.
As we sit here tonight in all our diversity, we summon the power of relationship. The power of human beings committed to bridging our differences. The power of people dedicated to building the beloved community in our midst. The power you have given us to do your work here on Earth.
For that power, too, we are profoundly grateful.
Beloved creator, “thou who has brought us thus far on the way,” as we prepare to leave this sacred place tonight, may our hearts return here often, whenever we need a reminder of what is possible.
May our eyes, opened by our experience here tonight, see what Dr. King called the “giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism” wherever they run amok in our society.
May our voices, emboldened by today’s message, be lifted in song and speech to glorify you, and may our ears be tuned to the harmony necessary for beloved community.
God, give us the strength to pray for justice, for equality, for dignity, and for freedom not only with our words, but with our hands and our feet, that together we might build the world that Dr. King spoke about, sang about, and dreamed about.
In your many holy names we pray; Amen.
This morning, our congregation gathered for worship as it does every Sunday. The 2nd Sunday in September is traditionally our “ingathering” service, in which we celebrate our community with a common UU ritual of pouring individual water into a common vessel. Of course, this Sunday was not just any Sunday (especially in the New York metropolitan area), and so we needed to pause for a moment on the 10th anniversary of 9-11-01.
This was a very full service, and so I wrote only a short homily. Here it is.
Rev. Dr. Michael Tino
September 11, 2011 – Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester
© 2011 Michael Tino
Human beings are relational creatures. We exist not as isolated individuals but as people connected to everything and everyone around us. What happens to someone we’re connected to affects us.
I believe that goodness in our world is a result of connection, of real and right relationship that helps us act not as individuals but as a community. When we see ourselves as connected to others, we are more likely to do things that make their lives better.
I believe that evil happens in our world when we break those connections—or refuse to form them in the first place. When we separate ourselves from others, we are more likely to do things that affect them badly.
Small bits of badness come from broken relationships between individuals. I say something on purpose that hurts your feelings. Siblings strike each other in anger when they’re frustrated. People tell lies to one another because they think they won’t be caught. Someone steals from another who has something they want or need. These things can be healed when the relationships are healed.
Larger systems of immorality and wickedness come from severely harmed relationships between groups, sometimes magnified through time and history. We allow people in our very midst to go without shelter, food, medicine in a nation of riches. Oppressions are handed down from generation to generation—racism, sexism, classism and others. These things take serious amounts of work to overcome—whole networks of relationships need to be rebuilt.
And unthinkable acts of evil come from true brokenness. Murder, rape, war, terrorism. I honestly cannot imagine how someone can be so completely disconnected from the feelings and experiences of another to even contemplate something like this. I certainly cannot fathom what goes into the hatred that makes someone do something like what happened on September 11, 2001. Such evil can only be faced and destroyed with unthinkable amounts of love—amounts of love that we are not be capable of by ourselves as individuals, amounts of love so great that even this one community is not enough; we need to enlist others in creating it as well.
It falls to each of us to engage in the work of creating connections and love in our world as a response to the immense evil we witnessed ten years ago.
Each of us is asked to respond to the pain and suffering in the world by sharing some unique part of us with others. Perhaps we see systems in a way that helps us dismantle injustice. Perhaps we grow vegetables that nourish others. Perhaps we express ourselves—or help others express themselves. Perhaps we make ourselves vulnerable by sharing our own experiences of pain and loss. Perhaps we have (or make) the time and patience to listen.
In the days following September 11, 2001, artists responded to the pain that they were seeing by creating beauty as a gift to a world where ugliness was running rampant. My friend Sarah Dan Jones wrote When I Breathe In, from which comes the hymn we know as Meditation on Breathing. Bruce Springsteen wrote The Rising—but not until after he was called on to sing something he had already written for a telethon.
He chose his song My City Of Ruins, which was originally written for his adopted hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey, a city that faced depression and devastation, and was just beginning to revitalize itself. In the song, he describes this destruction and emptiness, and he asks, “Tell me, how do I begin again? My city’s in ruins.”
His answer? “With these hands.”
With these hands, we pray. With these hands, we heal. With these hands, we reach out to others and comfort them in times of mourning. With these hands, we build a new society.
“Come on, rise up,” Springsteen sang that evening to a nation in mourning. Rise up from the devastation using your own hands to rebuild our society, to rebuild our city, to make justice in our world.
Among the signs of ruin in Springsteen’s song was a church whose doors were open, “but the congregation’s gone.” The picture we get of an empty church is a striking one to use to indicate something’s wrong. I don’t think that Springsteen meant that he longed for a society that adhered to a specific dogma or creed.
Rather, he understood that empty church as a religious institution, and a religious institution, whether church, synagogue, mosque or fellowship, is a place of connection. Connection with other people. Connection with something greater than ourselves. Connection with the holy—however you experience or name that holy.
This religious community creates goodness whenever it comes together in community. We create goodness when we worship together. When we sing together. When we learn together. When we dance together. When we work for justice together. When we discuss and debate together. When we play together. When we sit in silence together, we create goodness.
Whenever we come together as a community, we are building relationships. Relationships that make possible compassion. Relationships that make possible beauty. Relationships that make possible love. More and more and more love. Until that love expands far beyond our walls and embraces everyone, asking them to add to it, to multiply our love again and again.
Our religious response to evil and ugliness in our world, then, is community. It is coming together, despite our differences, to build the world we want to see. With these hands.
And if we do that, we will see it rise up from the ruins around us. May it be so.
Last Saturday, it was announced that UUFNW is the 2011 O. Eugene Pickett Award for congregational growth from the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. This award recognizes not only our numerical growth (from 99 to 141 adult members and from 20 to 78 children and youth since 2007), but also our involvement in the wider denomination and our service to our local community. It is an amazing honor.
It is also a challenge.
On Easter Sunday, I told a story of a caterpillar that did not make the leap to transform into a butterfly. It died. This story was meant to inspire personal transformation, to be sure, but also to sow the seeds for the institutional transformation that needs to happen. Our Fellowship has the choice of doing the hard work of changing our culture or undoing all of the gains that we have made in the last five or six years. We can create systems suitable for more than 150 members or we will find ourselves with 80 members again. The culture that we need to create is one in which members and friends are inspired and spiritually fed. It is one in which everyone steps up into participation and leadership as an expression of their commitment to our Fellowship–and also as an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. Butterfly or dead caterpillar: this is our choice.
The Pickett Award for congregational growth is a clear sign that the Metro New York District and the UUA both see a bright, beautiful butterfly emerging here in Mount Kisco. To be sure, neither the District nor the Association are privy to our day-to-day challenges. They are, however, watching us. It is up to us whether we want to live up to the promise that is so clearly evident here.
I see a butterfly, too, but first we need to spend some time in a chrysalis, doing the hard work of transformation. I know we can do it–we’re an award winner, after all!
Today in worship, we honored the ancient Persian celebration of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which happens on the first day of spring. It is one of the many celebrations that are part of the cultures from which our Fellowship community comes. I look forward to honoring the cultural traditions of other families in our Fellowship in the future.
As part of this celebration, we thought about how we can renew our lives and the relationships in them, how we can forgive ourselves and others, and how we can commit to doing better to keep resentment, hatred, bitterness and evil out of our lives in the year ahead. We thought about family relationships (chosen and not) that have become distant and need to be brought closer.
One Iranian tradition on this day is the reading of poetry by Hafiz, the 14th century Persian poet. The poem below was our opening reading, and it has been going through my mind all day. ”I know the way you can get when you have not had a drink of Love,” writes Hafiz. And indeed, we all know how we get when we have not been imbibing large enough quantities of love.
It strikes me that one of the very best ways we can commit to reducing the evil in our world–to reducing hatred, resentment, bitterness and brokenness–is to make our love flow like an endless fountain, quenching the thirst of all who seek it. This is my wish for all of us in the coming year: May our love reach all who need to drink deeply from it.
I Know The Way You Can Get
From: ‘I Heard God Laughing – Renderings of Hafiz’ Translated by Daniel Ladinsky
I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:
Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.
Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
And into one’s self.
O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:
You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.
You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.
You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once
I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love’s
That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so playful
Just wanting to help.
That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me.
For all I care about
Is quenching your thirst for freedom!
All a sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!
Today, UUFNW is the host for a day-long consultation on building multicultural communities. We happen to be mid-way between the two congregations involved in the consultation–in Cambridge, MA and Germantown, PA. As I type, the ministers and leaders from these two congregations are discussing how their congregations can better mirror the diversity found in the communities they serve. And so, I am dreaming of how UUFNW might engage in this work as well.
First, I think we need to celebrate the diversity we already have. Our people come from different backgrounds and cultures, and this should be made visible (audible and tangible, too) in our worship, in our congregational life, and in our actions as a community. I’d like to celebrate all of our cultures here–to make it clear that where you come from is a beautiful part of the intricate tapestry of our community. Every person who is a part of UUFNW should know that they are celebrated, that they are whole and that they are welcome to bring every part of themselves here.
Next, we should undertake to know our community better. Certainly, our involvement with Neighbors Link has connected us to the Latino/a immigrant community in Mount Kisco. But that’s not the only cultural group represented in our community. This afternoon, Irish culture will be celebrated at the Northern Westchester St. Patrick’s Day parade. Next week, our Coming of Age class will visit Temple Shaaray Tefila to learn more about Jewish worship and culture. What are the other cultural groups present in large numbers in our community?
But what comes next? I believe that the more we make visible our beautiful diversity, the more diverse our congregation will become. And then, we will reflect the fullness of the human rainbow and come closer to the dream of an undivided, multicultural human family. May it be so.
“All our lives we are in need, and others are in need of us.” -George E. Odell
It might not seem like it sometimes, but our Fellowship needs you.
We don’t need you to do lots of things (unless you are feeling called to do them). We don’t need you to give all of your money (though we encourage and expect generosity). We need you. Unitarian Universalism, you see, is something of a spiritual potluck dinner, and we need you to bring yourself to our communal spiritual table.
We need you to bring your joys so that we all might feel happiness for you. We need you to bring your sorrows so that we might know what it means to minister to you in difficult times. We need you to bring your perspective and experience so that we might learn to see the world through your eyes. We need you to bring your diverse identities so that we might know the wholeness that comes from sharing ourselves. We need you to bring your compassion so that we might engage in the work of justice together. We need you to bring your questions so that we might share our answers; we need you to bring your answers so that we might share our questions.
We need you to bring yourself to worship. Your very presence changes all of us. It changes how we experience worship. It changes how I deliver my sermons. It changes how the newcomer to our community finds a place for them among us. We need you to be here with us on Sunday mornings.
We need you to bring yourself to programs. Your spiritual pathway is important to us. Your longings are our longings. Your hunger determines our menu. We need you to be here with us when we offer something special for your spiritual growth.
We need you. There’s no simpler way to say it. And you need us, too.
See you Sunday?