“Embodiment”

Worship Script 4


Embodiment
Worship Script (4 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

Let us rejoice

We are breathing!  We are here!

We have a chance to do better!

To build on what’s right!

Let us rejoice!

We are stronger together,

When we join our lives,

When we gather as one.

Let us rejoice

Because the story of life

Has not yet concluded,

And we gather in the tradition

That says that Love wins in the end.

Let us move forward.

Let us be as one.

 

HYMN #168 One More Step

 

FIRST READING
“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.  The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena….Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

Carl Sagan

 

SECOND READING
“The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyong reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.” 
― Edward Abbey

 

HYMN #77 Seek Not Afar for Beauty

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Well over a hundred years ago, naturalist Charles Darwin explained how the long process of evolution, over time, selects the characteristics of living things, ensuring their adaptation to their environment. But before the scientific model of evolution, almost every culture had the tradition of explanatory stories, to explain how various creatures and landforms became as they were.  Simply because they don’t fulfill the scientific role of explanation doesn’t mean we should discard them, because they help us hear a playful and attentive relationship to nature and relationships that can still instruct us today.  So, hear this story from the San people of the Kalahari desert in Namibia!

So, how did the Zebra got his black stripes, or is it white stripes? Well, let me tell you the fable.

Long ago, when animals were still new in Africa, the weather was very hot, and what little water there was remained in a few pools and pans.

One of these remaining water pools was guarded by a boisterous baboon, who claimed that he was the 'lord of the water' and forbade anyone from drinking at his pool.

One fine day when a zebra and his son came down to have a drink of water, the baboon, who was sitting by his fire next to the waterhole, jumped up and barked in a loud voice. 'Go away, intruders. This is my pool and I am the lord of the water.'

'The water is for everyone, not just for you, monkey-face,' The zebra's son shouted back.

'If you want some of the water, you must fight for it,' returned the baboon in a fine fury, and in a moment the two were locked in combat.

Back and forth they went fighting, raising a huge cloud of dust, until with a mighty kick, the zebra sent the baboon flying high up among the rocks of the cliff behind them. The baboon landed with a smack on his seat, taking all the hair clean off, and to this very day, he still carries the bare patch where he landed.

The tired and bruised young zebra, not looking where he was going, staggered back through the baboon's fire, which scorched him, leaving black burn stripes across his white fur.

The shock of being burned, sent the zebra galloping away to the savannah plains, where he has stayed ever since.

The baboon and his family, however, remain high up among the rocks where they bark defiance at all strangers, and when they walk around, they still hold up their tails to ease the smarting rock-burn of their bald patched bottoms.

 

MEDITATION

Spirit of Life, Source of All,

We gather here as imperfect people,

Strong in hope, but not always sure

How things in our lives will turn out.

So let us be renewed this day

In our willingness to live in the in-between,

In our ability to stay with what we can’t yet know

Let us be those who understand ourselves

As instruments of the holy

Bearing forth the possibility

That love will prevail

And let us understand that this will require

Of us some measure of risk

And some measure of courage

Let us feel peaceful in that ambiguity

Knowing that we are borne, now and always,

In the Spirit of Love.

So may it be.

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

  "Tender" by Rev. Tim Barger, Minister at First Unitarian Church of Toledo

In his letter to the Galatians that is in the Christian Testament, Paul says “it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not

scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” He does not state what the infirmity was, but whatever his sickness might have been, Paul was ministering as a wounded person. Paul spoke of his wounds more than once and used them to tell his story, to testify about Jesus. Jesus’ own wounds are an important part of the Christian story, a story depicting torture prior to Jesus’ execution, the story of his sacrificial ultimate wound suffered to heal a wounded world, and the story of Jesus’ triumph over death from his mortal wounds.

Wounds are central to religious roots. Think of the story of Jacob in the Hebrew Bible.

Jacob wrestled with a being overnight and wouldn’t stop until he received a blessing. Was this being God, or an angel, or even another man? The story implies that when the struggle was over, with Jacob’s thigh injured, God bestowed a blessing and renamed him Israel. The wound that Jacob/ Israel suffered is the testimony to his story.

And consider the story of a woman in grief asking the Buddha for comfort, and his instruction was to go door to door until she finds one who has not suffered, who has no wounds. She does not succeed. She realizes that none of us escapes suffering, that we all are wounded people.

The theologian Wendy Farley writes in her book The Wounding and Healing of Desire,

“Like all beings gifted with any degree of sentience, we suffer. The good suffer along with the bad; the weak, with the strong; the young, with the old. We flee this fact in our lives and we justify it in our theologies, but it remains a foundational truth of our experience.”

As a Unitarian Universalist humanist who has served as an interfaith chaplain, from time to time I speak to the suffering, to people in crisis, about science and medicine and technology, about how the miracles of this advanced knowledge make healing, cures, and procedures possible that we wouldn’t have dreamed of even recently. Sometimes patients, their families, and I have talked about the possibility of something miraculous taking place. But I also speak with compassion about ourselves and our wounds, about suffering, that sometimes we don’t respond to efforts at treatment, that whatever humans have discovered still does not defeat death. I speak of wounds and healing, mine and theirs and society’s. Our knowledge doesn’t change our essence—our humanity—and we are not perfect in our health or our living.

As a journalist, I have reported on links between spirituality and health, not so much in the realm of what's claimed to be faith healing, but more on how people who have religion—any kind of spirituality, really, not a favored faith—also have the potential for better medical outcomes. There are many factors for that, I've learned, that can include better care of one's body when living in a nurturing community and a more positive mental state having trust in others.

I stand before you at a tender time. It's literal; there's a place on my body that is tender to the touch. It's emotional; both my wife and I are very tender in our feelings today. And it's figurative; my tenderness has resurfaced as I prepare for treatment of what we think is a recurrence of a disease.

To continue with the wording of wounds, I am already a wounded man. I bear marks on my body from seven years ago. I have told my cancer story several times, then gotten less specific. I realize that most in this congregation don't know all the details about my injuring my back when boarding a train, being taken to an emergency room in an ambulance, hearing a doctor's accusation that I was lying just to get painkillers, then as paralysis started to materialize after almost 24 hours on a gurney in the hallway in the emergency department, the doctors realized that my backache was real, my vertebrae were broken, and emergency surgery would happen that day.

It was during the operation that the doctors discovered a tumor wrapped around my spine. So I didn't know I had cancer until I woke up, and was told they'd go back in the next day to clean that up and get me cancer-free after a couple months of radiation therapy. It was tough to hear, from Jewel then a doctor, that I had cancer but they already took it out.

In my work as a religion editor, I recently interviewed a minister who has experienced two house fires, and he has said how unusual it is to be referring that way, to the first fire or the second one. Almost inconceivable, he said. Just a few weeks after that, here I am struggling with how to address my own suffering, it being very possible that I'll be referring not to my cancer story, but my first and second episodes of having this too-common disease, and trying to explain the paradox of if you're going to have cancer, this rare form of blood and tissue cancer I have, called plasmacytoma, is one of the good ones because of its being isolated, not systemic, and can be completely eliminated from my body and my then having no evidence of disease—until, I've discovered, my genes could decide to start the process all over again at a different location.

With that, I’m fortunate to have these marks of healing, two big scars and three dots that are medical tattoos, and I'm grateful that this country has programs to help those of us who do not have the means to pay for healthcare—I had to turn to the government and charity to cover my care. Thank you, my fellow taxpayers.

The priest and religious author Henri Nouwen writes, “A minister who talks in the pulpit about his own personal problems is of no help to his congregation, for no suffering human being is helped by someone who tells him that he has the same problems.

Remarks such as, ‘Don’t worry because I suffer from the same depression, confusion and anxiety as you do,” help no one. This spiritual exhibitionism adds little faith to little faith and creates narrow-mindedness instead of new perspectives. Open wounds stink and do not heal.

He continues, “Making one’s own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all [people] share.”

Cancer is all too common, but the human condition is even broader.

I feel tender from revisiting my challenge of seven years ago, and now feeling my wounds again. My wounds are not unique. There’s a commonality that I can share or just keep quiet about and know we’re bonded by our wounds, not to say “I’ve been there, too,” and not to say “look how much I’ve improved,” but to be with another, to have empathy and compassion from my own experience and to help the other if Ican. And, I'm finding, to let my disease serve a good function by uniting in commonality and being a focus for some.

I'm not the only person in this congregation who has faced major health issues. I'm not the only one who has returned to as normal as can be, then faces another health crisis. If we haven't felt cancer ourselves, I'd bet we know it in our families or close circles.

Those wounds touch all.

When I was in seminary, I was introduced to the concept of the wounded healer, which Henri Nouwen wrote about in the 1970s. “Since it is [the minister’s] task to make visible the first vestiges of liberation for others,” Nouwen writes, using gender grammar of his time, “he must bind his own wounds carefully in anticipation of the moment when he will be needed. He is called to be the wounded healer, the one who must look after his own wounds but at the same time be prepared to heal the wounds of others.

“He is both the wounded minister and the healing minister….”

When I read Nouwen’s book as I was recovering from my operations in 2009, I found that he was much more encompassing in addressing the wounded healer’s ministry: it’s not just the personal, but taking on how she or he has been affected and afflicted with society’s wounds, and how to relate to the world in response.

After Nouwen, I came across psychologist Arthur Frank’s book The Wounded Storyteller. “Because stories can heal,” Frank writes, “the wounded healer and the wounded storyteller are not separate, but are different aspects of the same.

When I describe Unitarian Universalism, I say that though we’re all on religious and spiritual journeys, we may not have the same route or even the same destination, but it’s a joy to travel together when our paths meet, to share stories along the way, and to support in our seeking and sometimes finding. We all have tales to tell

—I thank Geoffrey Chaucer for pointing that out in his story of a sacred pilgrimage—and my story has become more focused from the wounds I have suffered.

As my ministry has been getting its grounding, I have come to emphasize the importance of story to people and to religion. I have been preaching about stories as well as telling a few—and I’ve been listening to the stories of people I meet. I hear of so much illness among us. There is sorrow there, but the sharing brings us together. I ask you to think about the stories behind your wounds and how those wounds affect you—how are each of you wounded healers?

Arthur Frank states, “The wound is a source of stories, as it opens both in and out: in, in order to hear the story of the other’s suffering, and out, in order to tell its own story. Listening and telling are phases of healing; the healer and the storyteller are one. … The sufferer is made whole in hearing the other’s story that is also hers, and in having her own story not just be listened to but heard as if it were the listener’s own, which it is. The illusion of being lost is overcome.”

I know what it’s like to lie lost in a hospital bed, in despair and not knowing what might be next. I know about having no job while trying to heal physically, appealing to the government for some healthcare help. And now, I'll be learning much more about health insurance and coverage, as this time I have an employer's plan. I know about having to turn to others even though I’d rather make my own way. And from the response to my first health crisis, I now know about others wanting to care for me, to minister to the minister, and what a blessing that is. This journey of injury, illness, and healing, the story of my wounds, opened my emotions in the way that only personal experience can access.

Yes, I’m wounded. We all are. Our wounds and our suffering are one way we relate to one another. We realize there are times when it's good to expose our tenderness. 

Our turning to religion, whether looking outward to a higher power, looking across to our fellow humans, or looking inward to essence and soul, is one way to seek strength in the face of our suffering. We look for healing, we look for empathy from others, we look for patience. We look for good news, for gospel. We relate, telling our stories and hearing the stories of others.

The stories that our wounds tell can testify to make the world a better place and try to make the people in it well.

Our wounds can heal.

HEALTH UPDATE: Soon after the sermon Rev. Tim Barger had a new form of radiation treatments that weren't successful, and in September went old school with surgery, and now is cancer free again.

Selected Sources

Farley, Wendy. The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

Frank, Arthur W. The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,  1995.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society.  Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1979.

 

HYMN # 121 We’ll Build a Land

 

BENEDICTION

As we go from this place,

Let us go strengthened

For the work—and the joy—

Of creating a better world,

With more love and more justice,

For the generations who are yet

To be born.

Go in peace.