“Change”

Worship Script 3


CHANGE
Worship Script (3 of 4)

 

 OPENING WORDS

We come into this light,

This new day,

As those who are ready to change,

And as those who are resisting it

With everything that we’ve got.

We come as those who have known change

And those who have grown from it,

Given thanks to it, and maybe in some way,

Regretted it or mourned some of it.

Let us gather not as those of any one

Fixed agenda

But as those who are open

Who are awake

Who are changing

Even now

And becoming more and more

Of ourselves

In the light of love.

Let us worship together

 

HYMN #38 Morning Has Broken

 

 FIRST READING

“In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.” 

 Stanley Kunitz,

 

 SECOND READING

The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling, or changing, or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo – even when it's not working. It attaches to past and present and fears the future.” 
 Richard Rohr,

 

 HYMN #123 Spirit of Life, by Carolyn McDade

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

The Cocoon and the Butterfly

Many of us know that a beautiful and colourful butterfly comes from an unappealing worm! Here is the story of a butterfly that was never able to live its life as a normal butterfly.

One day, a man saw a cocoon. He loved butterflies and had a craze for its wonderful combination of colours. In fact, he used to spend a lot of time around butterflies. He knew how a butterfly would struggle to transform from an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful one.

He saw the cocoon with a tiny opening. It meant that the butterfly was trying to make its way out to enjoy the world. He decided to watch how the butterfly would come out of the cocoon. He was watching the butterfly struggling to break the shell for several hours. He spent almost more than 10 hours with the cocoon and the butterfly. The butterfly had been struggling very hard for hours to come out through the tiny opening. Unfortunately, even after continuous attempts for several hours, there was no progress. It seemed that the butterfly had tried its best and could not give any more try.

The man, who had a passion and love for butterflies, decided to help the butterfly. He got a pair of scissors and tweaked the cocoon to make larger opening for the butterfly and removed the remaining cocoon. The butterfly emerged without any struggle!

Unfortunately, the butterfly looked no longer beautiful and had a swollen body with small and withered wings.

The man was happy that he had made the butterfly come out of the cocoon without any more struggles. He continued to watch the butterfly and was quite eager to see it fly with its beautiful wings. He thought that at any time, the butterfly might expand its wings, shrink the body and the wings could support the body. Unfortunately, neither did the wings expand nor the swollen body reduce.

Unfortunately, the butterfly just crawled around with withered wings and a huge body. It was never able to fly. Although the man did it with a good intention, he did not know that only by going through struggles the butterfly can emerge to be beautiful, with strong wings.

The continuous effort from the butterfly to come out of its cocoon would let the fluid stored in the body be converted into wings. Thus, the body would become lighter and smaller, and the wings would be beautiful and large.

If we don’t want to undergo any struggle, we won’t be able to fly!

 

 MEDITATION

Spirit of Love, Source of All,

Precious Life amidst Life,

We open our hearts this day

To the presence of suffering,

Within us, among us, and beyond us,

Throughout the world.

We yearn for great changes,

And yet in some ways feel unsure

Of just how to proceed

Let us find courage here

Let us find direction

Let us find the next step, the next move,

Down the long path we are traveling

And let us be reminded of our companions

On the journey

Those who bolster our spirits

And warm us on the way.

Let us be strengthened

That we may strengthen others

Blessed be

And amen.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

CHANGES OF HEART by Rev. Barbara Child, St. John’s Unitarian Church

Once upon a time during a seminary course, I was asked to write about my “conversion experience.”

“Excuse me,” I wanted to say. “Unitarian Universalists don’t do conversion.” Conversion made me think of Saul of Tarsus being transformed into the apostle Paul. He was breathing threats against the disciples when a heavenly light flashed around him and the voice of Jesus spoke to him and he was blinded for three days.

Unitarian Universalists don’t tend to read such a text literally. We’re more likely to speak of some new idea that hits like lightening. We know it’s a figure of speech. It’s not about real lightening. It’s what happens when we find ourselves challenged to reconsider something we thought before was a certainty.

Still, that is a change of mind, not a change of heart. For the Christian-hating Saul to become the apostle Paul took more than that. It took a change of heart.

When the non-UU seminary professor asked me to tell my conversion story, I of course told how I became a Unitarian Universalist after about 25 years as an Episcopalian.  The year I began teaching English at Kent State University, the Akron prosecutor and a group called the Citizens for Decent Literature went on a censorship binge. I was so enraged by their violation of freedom of speech and academic freedom that I wrote a letter to the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal.

Which led to my being asked to speak at the Unitarian Universalist Church, which I had never heard of, and where the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union met on the first Thursday of every month. Which led me to discover what the ACLU was really like, unlike what my father had always told me.

Which led to my convening a new ACLU chapter in Portage County shortly before a Kent State student was arrested on pornography charges for distributing a flyer advertising a film sponsored by the Students for a Democratic Society. Whereupon it began to be clear to me that censorship of “pornography” might really be censorship of political ideas that the local ruling class did not want to become popular. And so my turning into a civil libertarian and into a Unitarian Universalist were all of a piece.

The transformation happened gradually, and it was not simply a matter of changing my mind. It involved my heart, beginning with my passionate refusal to let the censors come even close to preventing me from teaching William Faulkner and my horror that one of the brightest freshmen I knew could be ground up by the legal system for handing out flyers in the Union Building.

At the time I probably would not have said all this had anything to do with religion. In fact, I probably would have fiercely denied it.

We often remark how few “born Unitarian Universalists” there are. We say that many of us have come out from some other religion. It’s interesting that we use the same slang as the term used for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people, who we say come out too. Of course, we UU’s who used to go to some other church were hardly closeted. But the analogy does help point out that transformations have some things in common no matter their particulars.

In fact, having a change of heart is one of our most universal human experiences. Think of it. The world is full of people who are ex-something or other. The list is very long. As well as the formerly closeted, it includes people who have chosen to divorce, parents who have chosen to give up custody of their children, early retirees, people who leave one line of work for another, recovering alcoholics and other addicts, voluntary ex-patriots and defectors, even people who choose to pack up and move from one state or city to another. And people who leave one religion and may not, or may, come to another.

I put more stock in gradual changes than sudden ones. the latter are more likely to be the product of whim or rebellion. They lose their appeal sooner or later. Fewer and fewer Unitarian Universalist churches leave their membership book out on some table where people can easily get carried away by something wonderful in a Sunday service and sign it – or sign it by mistake, thinking it is a guest book.

I believe true changes of heart begin in us long before we are conscious of them. Part of my distrust of sudden changes is disbelief that they are actually sudden.  In one of my former lives when I taught fiction writing, I used to make much of turning points. Bad fiction doesn’t have them. It relies on surprises such as the hero in the white hat who rescues the damsel from the railroad tracks seconds before the train roars past. Bad fiction likes to say, “Gotcha.” You thought the criminal was going to go free, or the groom wasn’t going to show up. Gotcha.

The trouble with all this is that it doesn’t tell us anything important about human beings. And knowing how the story is going to come out makes it not less interesting but more. We know all along what is going to become of Oedipus, Othello, and even poor Madame Bovary, all tangled up in her own clothes.

Turning points are often subtle. The reason they are credible is that they happen in life too. If you pay chose attention, you notice the momentary arch of the eyebrow, or the different tone of voice that comes and goes so quickly you can’t even be sure you heard it. For instance, you watch two people talking and become aware that in their posture they are mirroring each other. Hmmm.

But what about the turning points in our own life? I believe they too are discernable – if we know what to look for.  One place to look is at the constellation of phenomena we call “burn-out.” Long before you articulate doubts or stop standing up for what you were once passionately committed to, you begin coming home exhausted from work. Maybe you’re getting sick a lot or having insomnia. Maybe you have become accident prone, or you’re breaking the rules, accidentally on purpose, not knowing yet that you want to get caught. Caught drinking on the job or cheating on your partner. Maybe you’re eating more, and more often it’s junk food. And one day the words come out of your mouth: “Is this all there is?”

Another place to look is at cognitive dissonance. It’s that state of tension when you hold two contradictory perceptions of reality at the same time. The poet Rilke calls such times “the moments when something new has entered into us.” He says: “The future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens.” This is why the subtle, quiet moments are the real turning points, not the blinding flashes or noisy voices.  So “when on some later day” this change “happens,” it doesn’t just “happen.” Rilke says it “steps forth out of us to others.”

When we have such a profound change of heart that it amounts to a new role, a new status, even a new identity in the world, we are likely to take major steps that announce our change. We resign the old job. File for divorce. Seek out a doctor who performs sex change operations. Stand up in an AA meeting and say, “Hello, my name is Barbara and I’m an alcoholic.” Or sign the Unitarian Universalist congregation’s membership book.

The very public acts give us the sense of freedom and relief and energy we need to move forward. It is also natural for a time to be anxious, scared, at loose ends, and have a feeling of being neither here nor there. A sociologist named Helen Rose Fuchs Ebaugh – who also happens to be a married ex-nun – has written on this process. In a book called Becoming an Ex, she gives good reason for preferring slow transformations to sudden conversions. We do best at being someone new, she explains, if we built bridges to it before we left the old.

It helps to rehearse the role before going on stage. It helps to try out new values in small ways before urging them on anyone else. It also helps if we can manage not to wash our hands of our old selves, denying that they ever were, but instead bring something of them along with us.

I think Unitarian Universalists generally deserve some credit for not allowing ourselves to get stuck, at least not for long. We are more interested in process than certainty.

When I was teaching in law schools, I made much of certainty. The devil I sought to defeat was ambiguity. What I did not recognize for a long time was that this meant repressing my old love of metaphor. Metaphor, of course, is ambiguity writ large. When I left the law school and first went into the office of Bob Kimball, my advisor at Starr King School for the Ministry, I burst out laughing when I noticed a plaque on his wall that read: “Love and/or perish.”

I had just come from the land of “publish or perish” where I had been publishing my brains out. But it wasn’t the exhortation to love instead of to publish that set my laughter loose. It was “and/or,” my own special bugaboo. How many times I had insisted that law students not write “and/or” because it was ambiguous! They had to pick. They could have “and” or “or” but not both.

Those days seem to me long ago. You too, I expect, can look at your past, or your present, with this kind of awareness of change. At first imperceptibly, the lava at your center begins to surge. You feel yourself moving. It is a change of heart, happening gradually, and you will never again be the same.

Meanwhile we hold ourselves in an on-going ambiguity of not yet knowing, wondering, sometimes fearing, keeping ourselves from staying stuck. That is for me the sustaining faith of Unitarian Universalism. For the truth is, as Bob Kimball’s plaque forever reminds me: We will all love and/or perish. 

 

HYMN #118 This Little Light of Mine

 

BENEDICTION

As we go from this place,

Let us go giving thanks,

Aware of how precious Is this life we share.

Go in peace