On August 18th of this year, I presented my first-ever sermon, at my Unitarian Universalist congregation. The seeds for the service were stewing for the better part of a year before I forced myself to sit down and put the pieces together.
It all started with Harry Chapin’s song, Circle, but the song wasn’t sufficient to support an entire service, and I had to really think about what it was I wanted to communicate. I think I managed to convey what I wanted. Here’s a compilation of all the pieces, with links to the songs (as I heard in my head when I selected them), and the links to the articles under Readings.
Andy Williams / Moon River
We are Unitarian Universalists with minds that think, hearts that love and with hands that are ready to serve.
The Opening Words are from Late Lament /
Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues
Breath deep / The gathering gloom
Watch lights fade / From every room
Bedsitter people / Look back and lament
Another day’s useless Energy spent
Wrestle as one
Lonely man cries for love
And has none
New mother picks up
And suckles her son
Senior citizens / Wish they were young
Cold hearted orb
That rules the night
Removes the colours
From our sight
Red is gray and
But we decide
Which is right
And Which is an Illusion
The Moody Blues / Late Lament & Nights in White Satin
Hymn #16 / Tis A Gift To Be Simple
NPR.org: How Big Was It, Really? A New Way To Think About The News (December 07, 2010)
Hymn #413 / Go Now in Peace [Children leave for Religious Exploration Program]
Song: (Harry Chapin / Circle)
A day later, Neil Armstrong replied…
“Why the Moon Matters to Me”
I titled this service “Why the Moon Matters to Me”
because over time I have developed an affinity
for our nearest celestial neighbor.
I was five when my father woke me up
to watch Apollo 11 moon landing,
and that experience has stuck with me ever since.
For someone as a-religious as I was growing up,
coming to services every week
was a strange experience for me.
I began attending Goodloe services with my family in 2006,
after an awful year of loss.
This service comes amid another such year.
This afternoon my friends and I
will celebrate the life of my friend and mentor,
Marty Gear, who died suddenly in July.
When Marty’s wife, Bobby, died in June 2005,
her passage set off a long series of losses
in my circle of adopted family and friends.
In funeral after funeral I heard the ways
in which people tried to take comfort and meaning
from those deaths.
Some service leaders recognized our collective grief
but a few pointed their sanctimonious fingers at me
and said if I didn’t believe in what they did, I would go to hell;
that if I wanted to see the person I loved or missed,
theirs was the only way.
When a community loses one of their own,
the members come together to share stories,
try to remember the good times
and try even harder to put away any regrets
or anger they may have had.
They often rely on their religious leaders and shared beliefs
to guide them through the pain.
But what if you don’t share those beliefs?
It finally came down to a Catholic priest’s service,
just a few days into 2006,
for a 48 year-old co-op preschool teacher, Miss Marie.
There it was. Perspective.
A summary of Jewish beliefs,
a turn of phrase, and suddenly I had an epiphany.
I finally understood the 23rd Psalm:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
So. If Jesus was Jewish,
and he taught that he would get to his Lord’s place
by doing the right things, then if folks did what he did,
they would get there, too.
It was an interpretation I could live with.
We attended our first Goodloe service the following Sunday.
Unitarian Universalism, I felt, was a key to making sense
of the things I’ve heard with people who were also seeking
answers and community.
I joined Goodloe in April of 2006,
around the 28th anniversary of my mother’s death.
You may notice I have a thing about death.
But that’s another story.
Every time I come to a UU service, here or elsewhere,
I hear something that helps me refine my view of the world.
But when I’m asked, point blank, what I believe,
I find it next to impossible
to sum up my complex belief structure
in a single elevator speech.
I believe in community, and in sharing joy and pain.
I believe in treating ourselves and each other with dignity.
I believe that every creature has as much right
to a decent living as I do,
and to happiness and respect.
But beyond all these other things,
I believe in the moon.
The moon has been there for all the generations who preceded me,
as far back as the beginning of time as we know it.
The moon goes through phases every month.
It continues on its path every year,
circling the Earth, predictable.
Countless objects have struck the moon over the eons
but the moon remains solidly on its path.
It takes what it receives and it continues to move,
and I know in my heart that it will remain
long after my family and I are a distant memory.
The moon is a constant in a world of uncertainty.
It’s a rock solid anchor, the same wherever you go on this planet.
The moon is the same for everyone, whether they believe it or not.
A shared experience.
It is easier for me to define my beliefs by saying what I’m not.
I’m not Jewish, though both my parents were raised that way.
Joan, my mother, grew up in a conservative Jewish home
on Penn Street, in the heart of Willliamsburg,
a heavily Hasidic Jewish part of Brooklyn, NY.
Grandma Florence was a teacher of English as a Second Language.
Grandpa Hy was the neighborhood doctor
with an office in their four story brownstone
that served the neighborhood.
Lew, my father, was the only surviving child of two older parents,
Grandma Doris was from a Russian family
but she rejected much of her Jewish background,
changing her name from Dora
because it wasn’t American enough for her taste.
Poppy (Lewis Senior) was a salesman for Doxie clams,
Paas and a few other brands.
I heard he was an expert in Easter egg dyeing.
He was also from an Ashkenazi family but, to my knowledge,
never practiced. He wanted to be an actor
and was one of the most well-read men I knew.
both of them worked outside the home –
really quite unusual for the 1930s.
Dad was product of Flatbush Avenue,
and spent a good deal of his childhood
attending art classes at the Pratt Institute,
reading the classics like Treasure Island,
and being cared for
by the family housekeeper and cook, Bessie,
a comfortably well rounded woman with a huge smile
and genuine grandmotherly affection for my sister and me
when we came to visit.
Mom and Dad met at the Brooklyn school
where they were both teachers
and connected through their mutual love of theatre.
Mom made costumes for the Cornell Drama Club
and eventually taught French;
Dad taught English and Film but wanted to be a theatre photographer.
When I came along, they moved to Rochester
right after the end of school in 1963,
and I was born there,
just before JFK’s assassination in November.
Over time I’ve found out things about Mom’s family life
through my aunt and her cousins:
That Santa Claus was part of their holiday tradition,
because the other kids in school had him, too.
Mom was something of an artist and rebel,
and intensely smart.
She liked fantasy novels and theatre.
And she was a redhead, according to all her family.
The same year we landed on the moon,
Mom returned to Brooklyn for good, to live with her parents,
because her Progressive Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis
(once called Chronic Progressive)
was too much for my father to handle along with five-year-old me
and my three year old sister.
We spent most evenings and weekends watching TV.
When I wasn’t reading a book,
I was glued to the tube,
especially on Saturdays during the weekends
when monster movies, westerns and other classics
took over after the cartoons ended, around noon or so.
We could occasionally pester Dad into playing his reel to reel tapes
or put a record on the turntable,
but eventually he got us a stereo of our own.
There was always radio, AM or FM,
as long as it was Top Forty or Classic Rock.
Summers were spent on the road, first at our grandparents’ houses
while Dad would travel on his own,
and then eventually with him on the road.
We visited a great deal of the US and Canada.
By the time I was 16,
I’d been in all but four of the continental states.
We even walked into Mexico once.
It was an awesome way to grow up.
Sundays were always annoyingly free of cartoons
or other kid programming,
though I did enjoy Davey and Goliath,
but we found other ways to entertain ourselves,
including reading the paper (mostly the comics)
and watching more movies on TV.
What there wasn’t was religion.
Mom was living in her own apartment,
away from my grandparents,
when she and Dad met,
and I’m certain they left Brooklyn
to avoid the fight that would come
when we were raised without Hebrew school.
There was no difference for us
between the high holy days
and any other day at school.
Occasionally we would go to events such as Seders,
but with no regularity.
As I grew up, I felt constant pressure from Mom’s parents
to engage in the Jewish tradition.
From the other side I heard terrible things
about my mother’s parents,
that they knew she was ill but didn’t say anything.
I understand my parents’ decision too well in hindsight.
When Mom died, Grandpa Hy took pains
to explain the process of sitting Shiva,
covering the mirrors and such.
Dad told us to say nothing about our plans:
He took his bereavement leave
as an opportunity to tour DC and Williamsburg VA.
So, I’m not an observant Jew,
even though I am culturally Jewish by birth.
Not Quaker or Shaker,
though the hymns from these two faith traditions
speak volumes to me.
And, despite the title of this service,
I’m not Pagan, either,
though I have developed a healthy respect
for Earth-based worship,
from Native Americans, Druids and Wiccans,
all of whom I’ve encountered in my life.
Nope. What I am is Human.
I respect the beauty and wonder that is our world,
and I try to remember that we are all connected.
Every day of my life.
And I look up to the moon when I need to reconnect
with my world.
Offertory / Offering (Silent Joys and Concerns):
Van Morrison / Moon Dance
Spoken Joys and Concerns / Silence
Hymn #108 / My Heart Flows On In Endless Song
Extinguishing the Chalice and Closing Words:
#646 The Larger Circle, by Wendell Berry
We clasp the hands of those that go before us,
And the hands of those who come after us.
We enter the little circle of each other’s arms
And the larger circle of lovers,
whose hands are joined in a dance
And the larger circle of all creatures,
Passing in and out of live,
who move also in a dance,
To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it
Except in fragments.
Peace be with you till we meet again
Strength from joys rise up to hold you
Calm serenity enfold you
Peace be with you till we meet again