"Persistence"

Worship Script 3


 Worship Script (3 of 4)

Persistence and Resistance

 

OPENING WORDS

“It’s Good to Be Together” by Allison Wohler

 

With thankful hearts we have come together this morning
to celebrate the bounty of the day,
to bask in the warmth of this community,
to share with friends the tides of our lives,
to entertain, perennially, our hopes for a better future.

We join together, this morning as always, to resist
injustice and inequality, wherever they may be found.

Our hearts are touched by the human need we feel around us,
whether far away or within reach of our hand.

We come here, to be together, because this is how we believe our lives are best lived:

in questioning and in conversation,
in compassion and in service,
in gratitude and in joy,
in companionship, and in love.

It is good to be together with you this morning!

  

HYMN #160 Far Too Long, by Fear Divided

 

FIRST READING
“So There”,  by Naomi Shihab Nye

Because I would not let one four-year-old son
eat frosted mini-wheat cereal
fifteen minutes before dinner
he wrote a giant note
and held it up
while I talked on the phone

LOVE HAS FAILED

then he wrote the word LOVE
on a paper
stapled it twenty times
and said

I STAPLE YOU OUT

*

memory stitching
its gauze shroud
to fit any face

he will say to his friends
she was mean
he will have little interest
in diagramming sentences
the boy/has good taste
enormous capacities
for high-tech language
but will struggle
to bring his lunchbox home

I remember/you
you're/the one
I stared at in the/cloud
when I wasn't paying/attention
to people/on the ground

*

the three-year-old wore twenty dresses
to her preschool interview

her mother could not make her
change

take some off her mother pleaded
and the girl put on a second pair of tights

please I'm begging you
what will they think of us

the girl put on all eight of her pastel barrettes
into her hair at once

she put on
her fuzzy green gloves

she would have worn four shoes but could not
get the second pair on top of the first pair

her mother cried you will look like a mountain
who has come to live with me

she had trouble walking
from the car up to the school

trouble sitting
in the small chair that was offered

the headmistress said
my my we are a stubborn personality


SECOND READING
Resistance Is Futile by Doug Kraft

“We want to give you an update on our progress,” the captain said over the PA. A silent groan went through the passengers: the word “update” meant the problem wasn’t fixed.

I was on a plane sitting on the tarmac trying to get to the East coast where I was officiating at my nephew’s wedding. We took off nearly an hour behind schedule. My itinerary gave me an hour in Houston before a connecting flight left. I’d hoped to get something to eat. Instead I barely made the plane.

I like to look out airplane windows. The woman by the window closed the shade so she could watch a movie. The woman right next to me had three martinis and laughed constantly as she watched the movie.

I wasn’t interested in the movie. I read a little, slept a little, worked on my computer a little. Nothing was satisfying. There was nothing left for me to do but meditate. I didn’t want to meditate because there was so much aversion inside me about all the things that hadn’t gone the way I wanted.

When I closed my eyes, I was too worn to fight the aversion. So I didn’t try. I just felt the cranky thoughts and relaxed.

The aversion wasn’t that pack of grubby monsters I’d feared. It was like a four-year-old complaining that dad had cut the crust off the bread of his sandwich: it was sad but kind of sweet and endearing.

I remembered that crucial meditation lesson: resistance is futile. Fighting reality—wanting things to be different than they are—is what Jean Houston calls “schlock suffering.” Life has its unavoidable discomforts. But it doesn’t turn into anguish unless we have the hubris to think it should be different just because we want it to be different.

Aversion is like an ocean wave rolling toward us: We can try to run from it, but it’s likely to catch us from behind, sweep us away, or knock us flat. The Buddha recommended turning toward discomfort and getting to know it even if that means diving into the wave. Then we experience its true nature: water that passes by in a rush—not so bad after all.

Sitting on the plane I learned this again for the one-thousandth time. Old habits of turning away are deeply conditioned; I have to learn it over and over until relaxing into the wave becomes a deeper habit.

It was almost midnight when my sister picked me up at the airport. I was worn, tired, hungry, and unexpectedly light in spirit.
 

HYMN #157 Step By Step the Longest March

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Clara Barton, from Tapestry of Faith

Clara Barton was born on Christmas Day, 1821, in Oxford, MA, into a Universalist family.

She was living in Washington, D.C. when the U.S. Civil War landed at her doorstep. She began nursing wounded soldiers in her sister's home, visiting the army camps, and was soon orchestrating the delivery of supplies from numerous Ladies Aid societies. After a short time, she began working on the front lines, delivering supplies and tending to wounded soldiers. Despite occasional bouts of illness, she continued her efforts, working alongside a host of women volunteers that included Dorothea Dix, Frances Dana Barker Gage, and Mary Livermore. Frances Gage became a close friend, and when Barton expressed frustration at the barriers women faced in her line of work, Gage introduced Barton to the women's rights movement. Barton and Gage also discussed their shared Universalist faith, which they both credited with influencing their work.

After the Civil War ended, Barton visited Europe and learned of the International Red Cross, an organization which had been established by the Geneva Convention. She returned home determined to start an American chapter, struggling against the prevailing political mood to advocate for the organization. In 1881 the American Red Cross was founded, but the first few years of the organization's existence were difficult. Barton's own health was often compromised by overwork, and although she was a passionate advocate for the agency's relief work, her lack of administrative skills often caused problems. She persevered, however, and served as the President of the Red Cross until 1904, when she retired at the age of 83. She died eight years later in 1912.

Here is an excerpt of a letter to her friend Frances Gage, written in 1870:

My Dear Fannie,

I can never see a poor mutilated wreck, blown to pieces with powder and lead without wondering if visions of such an end ever flitted before his mother's mind when she washed and dressed her fair skinned baby. Woman should certainly have some voice in the matter of war, either affirmative or negative and the fact that she has not this should not be made the ground on which to deprive her of other privileges. She shan't say there shall be no war—and she shan't take any part in it when there is one, and because she don't take part in war, she must not vote, and because she can't vote, she has no voice in her government, and because she has no voice in her government, she isn't a citizen, and because she isn't a citizen, she has no rights, and because she has no rights, she must submit to wrongs, and because she submits to wrongs, she isn't anybody, and "what does she know about war—" and because she don't know anything about it, she mustn't say or do anything about it."

 

MEDITATION
Now, I Love You,. Now, I Witness by Teresa Ines Soto, adapted into a Prayer by Emily DeTar Birt

“I know sometimes you get cranky,
And sometimes your tea gets cold
Before you can drink it. Sometimes
The news is too much. The resistance
Seems too little. That's real. But we are
Here. Imperfect and together and reaching.
You can hold my hand if you want. I washed
It with soap. It's OK. In this kind of time,
Now is better than later. Now, I love you.
Now, I am sorry it hurts. Now, I witness
Your struggle, and mine. Sometimes
One answer is to be a yes in the face of
Every no. I am a yes for you. Now and again
Later, if you need me.”

 

Let us be each other’s yesses.

Let us imperfectly be together

And reach for the future

Created from our love.

May it be so. 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

Persistent or Resistant, Or Just Plain Stubborn, by Sue Browning

I love the images in this poem. It’s fun to imagine being this three year old, pushing limits and taking charge. She is doing what she can to resist authority and she does get labelled as stubborn. It’s easy to root for her. She’s winning. Well, sort of. Barely able to walk as a consequence of her choices, and I’m guessing a bit warm under the layers, she holds her head high.

The mom plays out her hand, pleading, begging, and crying, to no avail. This child is not open to input, further solidifying her position with each appeal.

It’s cute (sort of) in a three year old. Ever see this type of stand-off between a two adults? At times just as blatant, and often a tinge more subtle, we too dig in.

Our theme this this month is ‘Resistance.’ It’s a chance to explore individual and community level experiences of resistance. For those new or not aware of our monthly themes, over the last year and a half we’ve joined with other UU congregations across the country that are a part of the Soul Matters network. Topics are chosen for each month and we explore how this theme plays a part in our lives, our congregation’s life and in the broader society.

On resistance, it’s tempting to jump to the ‘protest-type’ of resistance, the ‘speaking truth to power’ images of resistance. The resistance where we effectively challenge injustice, defending what is right. It’s early in January, and we will have time look at what it takes to speak up and advocate for change. That will be next week, and the following week.

For today, we’ll look inward. What do you resist?

Resistance is defined as the “refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.”

What does resistance feel like for you? When you are resisting something, or about to resist something where is your head? Where is your heart?

Things we resist…

Sugar, snack foods ….resisting temptation…maybe with some inward scolding? Attempts to resist by distracting yourself? By looking at a bigger picture. There is a sense of yearning – a commitment to eat every single one of the dark chocolate candy kisses. As we delay gratification, it’s resistance that pulls at us. At times ending in triumph; at times a reality check.

Other things we resist…How about advice? What does it feel like when suggestions come our way? Let’s start with uninvited advice…uninvited personal advice. Antennae go up, alert systems ready, then maybe, maybe we’ll consider.

How about resisting change? If resistance is seen as struggle, opposition, and even obstruction, what does it mean when our gut reaction to new ideas is resistance? Are there times we initially oppose change with a sense of self protection in favor of the known? A sense that one change could lead to cascading changes.

The reality about change is that it will mean loss. We resist, first at the gut level, and as the sense of panic eases, we move our resistance to our heads, developing flawless, logical arguments of resistance. We defend and debate, at times obstinately so, assured of our need to be right. The input valve on others’ perspectives, tightly shut.

There is a fine line between this ‘lock and argue’ stubborn, and a sense of deep conviction that keeps us determined to meet a goal, or to stay true to our values.

There is the story of the parrot in the flood.

One day, a storm broke…lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and a dead tree, struck by lightning, burst into flames…and soon the forest was ablaze. Terrified animals ran wildly in every direction, seeking safety from the flames and smoke.

The little parrot in the forest called, “Fire! Fire!”  …Flapping her wings, she flung herself out into the fury of the storm, and, rising higher, flew towards the safety of the river. But as she flew she could see that many animals were trapped, surrounded by the flames below, with no chance of escape.

Suddenly, a desperate idea, a way to save them, came to her.

She darted to the river, dipped herself in the water, and flew back over the now raging fire. … Twisting and turning through the mad maze of fire, the little parrot flew bravely on. At last, over the center of the forest, she shook her wings and released the few drops of water which still clung to her feathers. ….

…the little parrot …flew back through the flames and smoke to the river, dipped herself in the cool water, and flew back again over the burning forest. Back and forth she flew, time and time again… Her feathers were charred. Her feet were scorched. Her lungs ached. …But still the little parrot flew on.

At this time, some of the Devas, gods of a happy realm…happened to look down and they saw the little parrot flying through the flames. …Between mouthfuls of honeyed foods they exclaimed, “Look at that foolish bird!” …How ridiculous! How absurd!” And they laughed.

But one of those Gods did not laugh. Strangely moved, he changed himself into a golden eagle and flew down, down towards the little parrot’s fiery path.

The little parrot was just nearing the flames again when the great eagle, … appeared at her side. “Go back, little bird!” said the eagle in a solemn and majestic voice. “Your task is hopeless! …Cease now and save yourself — before it’s too late.”

But the little parrot only continued to fly on through the smoke and flames. She could hear the great eagle flying above her as the heat grew fiercer, calling out, “Stop, foolish little parrot! Save yourself! Save yourself!”

… Advice! (cough, cough) I don’t need advice. I just (cough) need someone to help”

And the god, who was that great eagle, seeing the little parrot flying through the flames, thought suddenly of his own privileged kind who were still laughing and talking while many animals cried out in pain, … grew ashamed…he just wanted to be like that brave little parrot and to help.

“I will help!” he exclaimed, and …began to weep. Stream after stream of sparkling tears poured from the eagle’s eyes. Wave upon wave they washed down like the cooling rain upon the fire, upon the forest, upon the animals, and upon the little parrot herself.

Where those tears fell, the flames died down, and the smoke began to clear….

Both the little girl and the parrot are by any definition stubborn. Yet, there is a fine line between her “I will not” and a productive “I won’t give up trying” determination.

The young girl I sense wants to make her autonomy known, and fight for her own survival and she’s locked in. The parrot’s determination was to somehow put out the fire, beyond individual needs. Both were locked into a mission.

Persistent and determined, the parrot perseveres, not locked into one method – the dipping of wings in water, but determined.

We often express our amazement and pride in this type of perseverance and determination – a sense of stubbornness used for the good.

A famous poster which still hangs our son’s bedroom wall is one of Cal Ripken, Jr. He is holding his hand up in a wave and the word ‘Perseverance’ is across the top of the poster. The caption at the bottom is the definition of ‘Perseverance’ – “1. to continue a course of action, in spite of difficulty, opposition or discouragement.  2. Remain steadfast.”

As an Orioles player, Cal Ripken, Jr. persevered. He broke the record for consecutive games played on Sept. 6, 1995 – 2,131 games. It ended Sept 20 1998 – 2,632 consecutive games.

In his memoirs he offers directions on perseverance – show up, do your part of the whole job, and learn as you look forward. Implied is a need to resist distractions, temptations and the easier way. It didn’t hurt for Ripken to have an adult height and weight of 6’4”, 225 lbs. It didn’t hurt that his father, Cal Ripken, Sr. was a coach and manager for the Orioles. He did have a strong start, which he wouldn’t deny. From his base he worked hard and accomplished much in a self-declared stubbornness.

His record did not come from an inflexible version of determination, nor an arrogance claiming he achieved all of this on his own. In his biography he shares, “I don’t think you can be successful in anything without the help, friendship, and goodwill of other people. Your teammates and colleagues rely on you, and you rely on them. More than anything else in the world, I wanted to be counted on by my teammates to be in the line-up every day.” (Get in the Game, 8 Elements of Perseverance that Make a Difference, Call Ripken, Jr.)

His streak of games played did not come without the challenges or others, or without his own discernment. Perseverance is like that.

Another example of leadership grounded in determination was Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. Born in 1821 to a Universalist family, leadership was not expected from a female. She was active, and loved to learn and at twenty was encouraged to begin teaching to overcome her shyness. Hints of leadership were early. When offered a full time teaching position, but as summer-school wages, Clara told the board of the school,  she’d accept only if she paid a man’s wages. She became determined that poor students be educated and put her skills toward removing obstacles. She pressed for free schools, grew schools for a decade but was denied the principal job.

In time she moved to Washington DC working a clerical job in the Patent Office. During the war she returned home to Massachusetts and was appalled by the inadequate services and facilities to care for the injured. The gap was reinforced in her travels to other war locations and she worked to establish adequate supply chains and routines of care. Year later (1877) she led the US accepting Geneva Convention (ratified 1882) and establishing the Red Cross (1881) which she led until 1904 when she was 84.

Driven by the need and not always a team player, at times she lost colleagues as she strived for the greater good. Paths of perseverance are often rocky, perseverance and resistance cousins of finding a path. Clara Barton was relentlessly determined as she followed her head and heart, breaking down barriers. She was continuously finding a path where the her passion and energy could be of the most use.

Other stories – the life and legends of Helen Keller, the stories of caregivers, the stories of determines leaders in this congregation. Where do you look to understand determination?

In our stories there is a fine line between a determined approach, and a type of obstinate blinder-ridden action that prioritizes the fight over the outcome.

Determined or obstante? A good question is to ask.

Is there opening for others influence me? my argument? my style? As I march toward what I believe to be important – to be right – is my persistence or resistance helping or harming me? others?

There is deep value in holding tight. Too, there is value to honoring the truths of others. Have I made space to hear others truths? Have I made space in my determination for the help of others?  Am I ready to change? What might I be resisting?

May we leave today with the wisdom of the parrot in the flood and fire. May we leave determined and passionate and ready to make a difference, while being open to possibilities coming from the most surprising places, even the tears of an eagle.

May It Be So.

  

HYMN #168 One More Step

 

BENEDICTION
by Barrow Dunham

 [And now], since the struggle deepens, since evil abides, and good does not yet prosper,
Let us gather what strength we have, what confidence and valor that our small victories may end in triumph, and the world awaited be a world attained.