Sunday, March 31, 2013

Language of Reverence: Resurrection (March 24, 2013)

July 4th No encouraging word can be spoken in behalf of universalism in this vicinity. A few young people are keeping the Sunday School alive, and that is about all the evidence of our existence as an organization.. The exceedingly hard times furnish some excuse for ministering to the imperious demands of the physical rather than to the spiritual nature.”
 June 20. Rose Sunday. The church was beautifully decorated and the day was fine. All nature seemed to smile on the day set apart by the Universalist church for observing the solemn rite of baptizing our children and may adults took advantage of the occasion to receive the beautiful ordinance. A large concourse of people was present.”
The trustees of the Society have entered into a contract with Rev. Brunning to preach once in two weeks, and are to raise the sum of $150/ He is to alternate with Litchefied, preaching in Athens every Sunday morning. He draws out a good congregation and things look encouraging. His sermons are practical and to the point ...
During the winter the ladies held two parties called New England Suppers, realizing the sum of $69, out of which sum they have put new windows in the church…
The society is dead and has not enough vitality left to get up a respectable funeral. Sunday School closed with the Christmas exercises, and has not reopened. Nor has the church been used for divine service since that time. 
There has been quite an awakening from the Rib Van Winkle sleep of the society, and some young blood has been added, which it is hoped will redound to its good. Bro G.A. King aided by Rev. G B Russell of Athens and Rev. Leonidas Polk of Towanda, held a series of meetings during the winter which resulted in increasing membership and interest. 29 persons were baptized and received into full membership in January.
Our prospects are favorable for success. We have an attendance of 50-75. The YPEU is in a flourishing condition. Financially we are quite poor but with much zeal.  It was decided to build a shed for teams which is slowly advancing.
June 14th Children’s Day was observed today with appropriate ceremonies. The church was handsomely decorated with evergreens and flowers. The Sunday School numbers 70 on the roll with 50 average attendance. The attendance a t church this evening was 172…
August 28th  The society and all seem to be working together in harmony. Peace and quiet reigns.

The spring equinox this year was mostly grey -- the trees, the skies, the earth, everything in our part of the world so very grey.  There is one window I check every morning, pulling back the curtain to see if the birds are back at the birdfeeder, to see if the crocuses have made any progress. There is nothing like the tiny brave bloom of a crocus to give us hope that someday we will throw off our wool mittens and thick long coats and drink lemonade under the lush green shade of a tree. Without the crocuses, it’s hard to be hopeful when the forecast calls for another week of freezing nights and grey days.  

Just as there are seasons in the natural world, there are seasons in our beloved community.  The excerpts Jack and Diane read from our church history remind us that our Universalist community has also known periods of new growth out of grey, seemingly barren earth. Reports of church life in 1877 lament:
“No encouraging word can be spoken in behalf of universalism in this vicinity. .... The exceedingly hard times furnish some excuse for ministering to the imperious demands of the physical rather than to the spiritual nature.”
It turns out that 1877 was near the end of what is called “The Long Depression” an economic depression that effected the US and Europe and was only outdone by the “Great Depression” of the 1930s. In 1876 the unemployment rate peaked at 14%.  (This Great Recession we ourselves have so recently experienced had a peak unemployment rate of only %10.)  I feel for the trustee who wrote that report 136 years ago who could think of “no encouraging word.” The church was in a deep grey despair.

Just 3 years later, in 1880, the history gives an exuberant description of  Rose Sunday. “The church was beautifully decorated and the day was fine. All nature seemed to smile on the day set apart by the Universalist church for observing the solemn rite of baptizing our children” The church hired a new minister and put new windows in the church. Resurrection!

But grey times returned: just 2 years later they despaired that “The society is dead and has not enough vitality left to get up a respectable funeral.” Then silence-  we find nothing at all in our little church history until 1895 when it reads “There has been quite an awakening from the Rib Van Winkle sleep of the society.” Resurrection!  This season of growth and renewal seemed to be more lasting, as the following year the leaders still felt that “Our prospects are favorable for success. We have an attendance of 50-75... Financially we are quite poor but with much zeal” And as if to help me with my sermon they noted that “Children’s Day was observed today with appropriate ceremonies. The church was handsomely decorated with evergreens and flowers.” The season of growth and blooming follows the grey season of dormancy.  

As you will know if you have tried to grow tulips in a more moderate climate, without the dark frozen ground of winter, the tulips cannot return in the spring. One of my dear mentors, Til Evens, who was not only a shining star of Religious Education, but also was a talented gardener.  Each year after the tulips were done blooming and the leaves began to die back she would dig up all her tulips and put them in the refrigerator during their dormant season, because the winters in Santa Cruz were not harsh enough, and if the tulips were left in that warm moist soil they would not come back in the spring. One of the great spiritual truths is that you cannot skip over the dry grey season.

Just as there are seasons in the natural world, there are seasons of the soul. There are many different ways of thinking about these seasons, but the controversial theologian Matthew Fox describes a four-fold path.  Drawing on a  mystical tradition which extends back to the 13th century mystic and teacher Meister Eckhart, he names these paths, the Via Positiva, the Via Negativa, the Via Creativa, and the Via Transformativa. It is the Via Negativa I want to talk about today. This is the time of uncertainty, of darkness, of letting go. Sometimes we think “If I were a better, more spiritual person” or “if we were a better church” then there would be no uncertain, grey times for us. But when you read the great mystics, the great spiritual teachers, they all describe dark, uncertain times. During such times it can feel like there is a palpable absence of God.  Instead, Fox argues, were are seeing a different aspect of the divine, a different, but still important,  aspect of the soul. 

Consider the summer garden here in the twin tiers; during this season of frantic growth the main job of the gardener or farmer is to weed and to harvest. One pumpkin or squash plant can quickly take over a garden bed where just a couple of months before hundreds of tiny crocuses grow.  Our minds, our souls are like that summer garden. We have so much knowledge, so many ideas about how things are and how things should be, that there is no room for new life.  In the season of the Via Negativa our senses are cleansed of all we think we know. The vining fertile growth of summer dies back to the bare soil of winter  to allow space for clarity, to allow time for renewal. The Via negative reminds us that as Fox says “the ground of the soul is dark.”

For many people, these dark seasons have a feeling-tone similar to depression, and so in our culture we often medicate these symptoms. As a culture we want to rush toward spring, skimming along the surface of life, afraid of what we find in its depths. And mostly that hunger for light and growth is an instinct that serves us well. 

In my own cycles of fall into winter into spring, I notice that I often experience  a rush of energy and activity in the fall, so much to do-- so many exciting and necessary tasks!  By the time we get past the Winter Solstice, my inner season has turned as well and I crave quiet stillness. I feel like my blood itself is thickening, is asking me to slow down and just be still. I want nothing so much as a quiet evening at home with an afghan draped around me and a dog on my lap. Those great ambitions of the fall overwhelm me and make me feel inadequate. Whether it happens in the solar winter or in some winter of our soul, the best advice is not to fight this quietude.  Fox says what needs to be done in such seasons is simple:
Let go of images
Of the busy-ness of ideas
sinking down into yourself
Realizing you are already home
like the crocuses dying back in flower and leaf, pulling all their energy into the bulb, hidden in the dark cold earth, having faith that someday they will flower again.  We have all seen what happens to plants that burst forth too soon when a late frost hardens the soil overnight.  Sometimes remaining dormant and still is the wise choice. The Via Negativa is a path that requires tremendous courage and faith – faith that there is some important gift in the stillness and in the dark, even as grey week stretches into grey week. Without this quiet, dark, dormant time, Fox explains, there can be no Via Creativia – the soul’s season of rebirth and creativity. Without the dark time of the womb and the difficulty of labor, there can be no birth. Without the dark frozen winter, there are no tulips in spring. 

This first Sunday after the Equinox, after day has finally become longer than night, when furtive bits of green appear in the landscape for those with eyes to see, we remember resurrection. My current home in Ithaca we purchased one fall, and as far as we knew the garden beds were bare of everything but the bushes and landscaping canvas which had been put in when our hundred year old  home was renovated. Imagine our amazement when first snowdrops, then crocuses, then tulips, Star of Bethlehem and great old stalks of Solomon’s seal emerged from that grey, seemingly barren soil.  A whole garden lay there dormant all winter long, and not one hint showed above the ground.  Both the Pagan and the Christian traditions celebrate Resurrection during this season because in the Northern hemisphere there is no more powerful argument for hope than when what looked for all the world like hopeless barren death shakes itself awake and life springs forth.  And we too emerge, blinking in the sun, called back out into the world. If we have spent our dark time well, something new can be born.

In 1947 the Athens congregation, called the “Church of the Universal Brotherhood, had been meeting since 1849- almost a hundred years. They no longer had enough members to maintain this building and so they sold it to the Christian Scientists for $2000. The group then met at the Sheshequin church until in 1960 when they dissolved the congregation. Imagine the heartbreak and the grief. A grey, difficult time for beloved community.

The Sheshequin Congregation had struggles of their own. Because of the antiquated heating system the congregation had stopped holding services between Christmas until Easter.  I asked Nell Allen, who was a committed steward of the church for many years, what she remembered of that time, and as you can imagine she said this winter hiatus made it difficult to get a good Religious Education program going for the children.  Jill Worthington, who had joined the church in 1989(?) and remembers that we were renting a space in East Athens for the winter months since Sheshequin was impractical.  She recalls “We had a sizable bunch of kids & they used the basement for their YRE; we used it for after services Social Hour also since it had a kitchen down there & large area with tables.  Upstairs where the services were held, was a nice gathering hall.  But it wasn't our own. "

Nell sent me some excerpts from her archives including a passage from the 1991 the president’s report to the annual meeting which reads “In late Spring we learned that the Christian Scientists were considering selling their building.  After a congregational meeting we formally notified them that we were interested in purchasing it.  In the Fall arrangements were finalized.  After another congregational meeting, we offered to purchase the church for $62,000.  The members of the Christian Science Church have accepted this offer.”

Because over 40 years had passed since the Church of the Universal Brotherhood sold their building, Jill remembers that the leaders of the Sheshequin church who came together to purchase the building in 1991 did not know the history of the building- did not realize that this had been built as a Universalist church! It was not until the title review that they understood that they were reclaiming a piece of our Universalist history.  Jill recollects “When we found our current Athens church with it's prior UU historical ownership, I think it confirmed for most of us, this was meant to a destiny kind of way.”

An invitation went out reading:
“In Joyous Celebration
 A Service of Rededication
 After forty years the former
 Athens Universalist Church has been/ returned to Unitarian Universalism.
 The Sheshequin Universalist Unitarian Church
 invites you to share in rededication this building
 112 North Street, Athens, Pennsylvania”
The Rededication Committee reported to the annual meeting:  “A Service of Rededication was held on Saturday, September 14, 1991 at 7:30 p.m.  Members of the congregation gave happily of their time and talents to clean, decorate and bake for the big event.  Chrysanthemums and luminaries graced the entrance to the church; large arrangements of fresh flowers flanked the pulpit.  The service, while incorporating greetings from former ministers and various denominational groups, was primarily based on the seven principles of the UUA.  The Rev. Harry Thor led the service…The service was simple yet moving.  An open house followed.” Resurrection!

The following year the congregation added a kitchen, and our own David Porigow did the renovations. It was because of this ambitious purchase that the congregation began having an annual pledge campaign, a practice which continues to this day, even though the purchase and renovations of our building are long ago paid off.

Out of despair- resurrection. Out of the sad disbanding of the Universal Brotherhood and the struggles of the Sheshequin congregation to maintain a community and their historic building through the cold dark months of winter, we – the beloved congregation gathered here today in this cozy home – we are the tulips that bloomed. 

Our journey as people of faith, as a beloved community is not one that avoids the path through darkness, the Via Negativa, nor do we build our homes in the dark grey places. When our journey takes us through a season of the soul that seems dry and barren, let us have the courage find the core of who we are, to find the dark home of the soul, and when spring comes as it always does, to burst forth and bloom.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What shall keep us from love? (March 17, 2013)

I want to tell you about my theology professor from seminary- Bob Kimball. By the time I got to Seminary he had been teaching generations of ministers, and had served as president of the seminary. He was ornery in all the best ways. 

He was my adviser, and when the other new students and I met with him for the first time, he tried to explain to us how truly radical his trust in us was. We had these orange registration cards that had to be signed by our adviser, and he said “just give them to me now and I’ll sign them blank. You are in charge of your own learning.” He also said “if you find that anyone has a rule restricting your choices here, you let me know and I’ll fight to get rid of it.”

Kimball’s theology class was very popular, but he kept a tight limit on the number of students in that class, because he wanted an intimate number that would fit around his desk in his office. Folks would argue powerfully with him when he said the class was too full and he couldn’t take any more students. “Why can’t you just teach it in a classroom?” and Kimball would say “if you can’t tell the difference between a conversation in a circle of folks in my office and a seminar in a classroom, then this class isn’t for you.”  Because for Professor Kimball, this was the essence of all that was important and good in the world; a conversation, a REAL conversation where people genuinely connected, was a sacred event. And any rule or regulation or registration form that got in the way of genuine connection between people, or connection with one’s own self, or with the divine, this was something akin to evil.

In his course description he would quote from Romans (and let me say this is the first time in 15 years I have ever preached on Romans)

Who shall separate us from the love? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
…For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love. [Romans 8:35-39]

I was so impressed by this quote that I had to go looking for it in the bible. And those of you who know this passage will notice that what Kimball has changed; the original says “love of God” rather than just “love.” At the time I assumed he made this change because he wanted to be inclusive to the Humanists. But now I think that for Kimball, there is no difference between the Love of God and Love itself. As it says in 1 John 4:16b “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  If God is love, then the most important thing that a theology class could do is gather a few students in a circle where real connection, real conversation could happen.

If God is love, then God is not up in the firmament somewhere, God is in this room right now. God is like a web connecting each one of us to every other. Think about our UU conception of an interdependent web of life of which we are all a part. Consider how you cannot step outside of it even for a moment. Every breath you take connects you to that web. What if love is like that? …This is the radical good news of our Universalist heritage.  This was the radical message of our founding fathers and mothers like Hosea Ballou, a Charismatic Universalist preacher who helped spread our good news who asked in 1805:
 Is [God] not perfectly joined to his creation? Do we not live, move and have our being in God? …to take the smallest creature from him, … you have left something less than infinity… to say that he did not intend good to all whom his acts concern, would be limiting his goodness and an impeachment on his justice.” (Treatise on atonement P. 81-82)

So it was Ballou’s contention that it was not possible for us to be separated from an infinite and loving God.
Closer to our own generation, Universalist minister and social Activist Clarence Skinner wrote in 1915 “The Universalist idea of God is that of a universal, impartial, immanent spirit whose nature is love. It is the largest thought the world has ever known; it is the most revolutionary doctrine ever proclaimed; it is the most expansive hope ever dreamed[i]

This is the leap of faith that my theology professor was asking me to make, this is the leap of faith that Unitarian Universalism invites all of us to make. It is our good news. It is what Bob Kimball called the “radical yes” - there are no parts of our world, of our being that are excluded. As the hymn says: “God’s love embraces the whole human race” 

But that is a leap, isn’t it. Some days that seems like an impossible leap to make. Some days it’s not just that I can’t believe that we are held by a love that will never let us go, it’s that I don’t even believe that I am loving.  Reflect with me- what in your  average week what makes you lose track of the love? [pause]
For me it can be something as simple as trying to get dinner on the table in time to rush off to  an evening meeting can make me forget I am a loving person.   The unanswered e-mail that causes me to be late for reading with my son at bedtime. What keeps us from love? “Shall tribulation” And what small tribulations those are. “or distress…”

Then think about the profound kinds of distress that we experience that have kept us from love. [pause] We have heard members of this congregation drop a rock in this water telling us about families in terrific fighting and fracturing as they prepare or grieve the death of a loved one. 

“What shall keep us from love? …persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” It’s starting to sound like the apostle Paul might be a little out of touch, right?  Because we do know these things keep us from love. 

Paul  goes on to say: “…For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers…”  I like this one- principalities and powers.  I think of principalities as those kinds of national or tribal divisions that pit one group against another. Republicans against democrats, Israel against Palestine.  Kimball used to talk about this. To him these “powers” were those systemic powers that are hard to put your finger on. The kind of powers that would restrict our educational choices at seminary. They were forces like Racism and Classism, homophobia. (Ironically, the words of this very same apostle are used to keep people of the same gender from being legally married to one another.) These forces too often keep us from love.

What shall keep us from love? Here’s another power- consumerism. Our desire for new things, the latest phone, a new piece of gear, a certain standard of living that often keeps us from being the most generous loving people we can be.

But Paul, the unlikely source of my Unitarian theology professor’s good news, assures us that “things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love.”

This love, whether we understand it to be God’s love, or the embrace of the interconnected web, or as Kahlil Gibran put it “life’s longing for itself” this love is there all the time, waiting for us, ready for us, never letting us go. That love can survive even the worst imaginable disaster, and will be there for us when we turn to it. That is why I love the story of Kali, who is usually the loving nurturing Shakti, or Devi- the divine mother, (remember Vivekananda’s words from a few weeks back, explaining that Hinduism is not a polytheistic religion, but one that considers many aspects of the divine) So here the female aspect of the divine turns into this monster as an act of love- as part of her calling to save all live from that destructive monster, but drunk with the adrenaline of that destructive power- have you ever felt this? When you are just on a rant, consumed with anger, righteous or not, and it continues even after the threat id gone? And so her partner Shiva lays down at her feet, knowing that if she doesn’t pay attention, that if her rage can’t be stopped she will destroy him to. But he has that faith in love, in their love, that when she sees his fragile form she will stop. That their love is even deeper, and stronger than her violent rage.  And when she puts her foot right on his body, she does in fact remember. I want to be really careful about this metaphor, because so much abuse has been perpetuated in our society for asking us to submit to abuse as a loving act. The love I am talking about here is fundamentally not abusive. This is the love so powerful that it stops the rage of war. Shiva knew that his partner would be called back to her higher self when she saw this courageous vulnerable act of love.

I propose that we have been part of this force in the Christian Tradition for hundreds of years. Ballou wrote over 200 years ago:
"… they have exercised, toward their fellow creatures, a spirit of enmity, which but too well corresponds with the relentless cruelty of their doctrine, and the wrath which they have imagined to exist in our heavenly Father. By having such an example constantly before their eyes, they have become so transformed into its image, that, whenever they have had the power, they have actually executed a vengeance on men and women, which evinced that the cruelty of their doctrine had overcome the native kindness and compassion of the human heart."[ii]

Let me translate. Ballou is saying that when they imagine a “wrathful heavenly father” they are transformed by that image and they themselves become vengeful and cruel. Ballou believes that the image of an infinitely loving and compassionate God brings out the kindness and compassion already in our hearts. By remembering this web of connection that will never let us go, by daring to believe that it is in its nature loving, we ourselves become more kind, more compassionate, more loving. As it says in our hymnal “ That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”[iii]

When we remember the good news of Universalism, that nothing can separate us from love, we are called by that love to embody that the good news- the persistence of love despite all: a real connection in a group of theology students, a story read aloud at bedtime, a profound act of peace in a whirlwind of war.

I think that Paul’s long list of things that DO keep us from being fully present with love, from doing the things that we know to be the most compassionate, the most loving is not made lightly. Paul’s life was not an easy one, he knew what it was like to struggle.  But he is holding out for us the belief that even the worst hardships you can imagine cannot ultimately separate us from love. Universalists grew up in the wisdom of the Christian tradition that goes all the way back to the earliest days, the tradition from which we inherit the conviction that love is always there, available to us. We just have to remember. WE are called to be like Shiva, to not only call ourselves back to love, but to call our community, call our world back to love. To say, even to the powers who were called into being to slay thing that needed slaying. Come back to love. It’s time.

Universalism is not an indifferent faith, it is a faith in love. This is our good news. It is not an empty or superficial faith, but one that sees love past the trials and tribulation of our busy lives. We see love past the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the classism  built into our societal structures. Our faith sees love past the divide of nation against nation. Our faith sees love in the body of Shiva laid on the battle field calming the rage of war. And the best way to share this good news is through embodying it in the world.  Each act of love, large and small shares our good news. The way to share the good news of Unitarian Universalism is to answer love’s call.

[i] (From “The Social Implications of Universalism” BY CLARENCE R. SKINNER)

[ii] Hosea Ballou Casara p. 154

[iii] -Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Seven Generations (March 3, 2013)

After they retired and moved away, we would stop and visit our friends Sam and MaryAnn whenever we drove up to see my Dad in Seattle. Their new home in Oregon was cozy and their hospitality was generous.  They always greeted us with warmth and the smell of elegant home-cooked food. Usually Sam was in the kitchen making, for example, a Bearnaise sauce for eggs Benedict and MaryAnn had set a beautiful table of antique plates and cloth napkins, a different pattern at each place, and probably a fresh flower at the center if flowers were in season.  We would sit over coffee and the delicious food talking for hours about their lives, about our lives, about what it meant to live a good life.

They were about a generation ahead of us- Eric and I were in our late twenties and Sam and MaryAnn had retired early. I wonder if they know what important role models they were to us- models not only of hospitality but of living your values? Here they had left the software industry in Silicon Valley to trade a modest retirement for the long hours of   a booming industry. They had gotten off the hamster wheel to craft a life they loved, and what they loved were books, and art and people.  They chose to live in a community where they knew and loved their neighbors. They took long walks visiting with local business owners. The life they made for themselves provided quiet time for thinking and writing, and a simple but charming home decorated with poetry and literary quotes writ large or hung over archways or next to a light switch.

For several years they had in their living room not a sofa with a television like we have in our own living room, but a circle of chairs facing a faux fireplace made with those cardboard bricks- a whimsical piece of imagination and casual art. The chairs, mostly wooden, were all different styles and sizes. MaryAnn explained that there were chairs in that circle for every shape and size of person. She pointed out the one her four-year-old friend favored, and another that really was only suited to the teddy bear who occupied it. She said she always wanted to have the right size chair for anyone who came to visit. And sure enough when we had a child of our own he found such a chair waiting for him.

Our beloved community, I believe, can be like that circle of chairs. All sizes and shapes, welcoming the tremendous diversity of persons. And as we live and grow and change shapes we move from chair to chair. In many parts of our life our generational difference separate us. Children grow through a school system with a separate class for every grade. Elders move into retirement communities with neighbors of their own generation. It’s true that when I was a new mom it was such a relief to hang out with other parents of young children who had already pre-padded their furniture and moved all the fragile things up beyond arm’s reach. And I admit it was also a relief when the children went to bed and the adults could talk about, well anything that took more than a few sentences to communicate. It is true that as we move through the cycle of life our bodies and minds change in what they need to feel at ease. The bean bag chair I loved as a teenager is an evil menace to anyone with tricky back or knees.

Despite our very real diversity, I agree with Religious Educator Jerome Berryman that our existential reality is really the same.  In the Fahs lecture he said that children of every age “are cretures who are born to die. No one can make the journey in-out, in-between for them. They need meaning ot make their lives worth living,a nd the meaning must be of their own creation since them must life ve it. Otherwise it feels like it’s pasted on: a vicarious living. There is no difference between us and children” he said “when it comes to the existential issues of life and death.” The point Dr. Berryman was trying to make, was that our existential limits, the existential issues of every person of every age and time are the same. These are the issues a religious community exists to serve.  This is why, though we segregate the 4 year-olds from the 5 year-olds when it comes to learning reading and writing, when we come together to make meaning out of our lives, we come together in one circle of all the generations who grow and change and learn and wonder why. This existential reality unites us. I remember wondering how to live knowing that someday I would die as young as 4 years old. I remember struggling for meaning as a teenager, and wondering what my life could be as a young adult. And now in midlife knowing this is the time to really live a life that means something, and trying to steer by that day to day. And looking to my elders to show me a way forward that is a life worth living.  I believe that we welcome children and teens and middle aged people and elders into our circle not just because we need each other in this meaning-making process. We need one another to understand the whole-ness of life.

            Let’s take a moment and think about those 7 generations and to welcome them into our circle.

The first I want to welcome is the “Great Generation”

the generation that came of age during World War 2.

These folks were born between 1901-1924.

This is also called the civic generation, because they could see the importance of contributing to civic structures of society.
Is there anyone here this morning from the Civic generation?

The next generation is the “Silent” generation, a smaller generation than the ones before and after.

These folks were born from 1925-1942.

This is the generation of Martin Luther King.

This generation, children of the great depression, was a generation for whom children really could expect to grow up to do better economically than their parents.

Is there anyone from the silent generation here this morning?

Next comes the Baby Boomer generation, so called because of the boom of babies born after ww2. 1946-1964.
This is the Woodstock generation,

the generation which has been creating policy and culture for the past decades

like Bill Gates and Bill Clinton

 and are now starting to retire.

Are there any boomers here this morning?

Then comes my generation- Generation x born 1965-1976.

So called because, like our “Silent Generation” parents, we are a smaller generation, a generation less clear sense of identity than the boomers who came before.

This is the generation who grew up during the nuclear arms race and the emergence of AIDS,

and the first generation to grow up with divorced parents.

This is the generation of Paul Ryan, tony Hawk, Tina Fey, Van Jones

Next comes Generation y or “the millennial” generation born 1977-1998 or “the echo generation”

because this was another pollution boom echoing the baby boomers.

This generation was born into the computer age. 
 This is the generation of Mark Zuckerberg- facebook founder.

Whereas generation x were latchkey kids, this was a generation at what some call “the most child centered time in our history”

The next generation I want to welcome today is the Cyber generation, 1995-2012.

also called the Pluralist generation, because it will be the most diverse in our nation’s history

This is the generation of the folks in our Youth Religious Education program

Finally I want to welcome the generation just now being born, the generation that begins this year , 2013. The babies just being born, and those that will come after. This generation does not yet have a name.

As you can see – if we had 1 chair for each of the 7 generations in a circle, some of these chairs would be empty. 

Last week as the board was finishing our meeting, one of your young teens said to the board members as they cleaned up “I miss having children here.” We all told her how much we agreed, and that we had just spent a large portion of our board meeting talking about what might come next in our ministry with children and youth.  It is precisely because we know the blessing of having all generations welcomed into our beloved community that it troubles us to see those child-sized chairs in the nursery go empty for so long. We miss the thundering feet down the back steps at the end of religious education. We miss the energy and immediacy of experience our youngest members share with us. 

But what makes us the most uncomfortable, I think is the idea that there is no-one to wrap in our keeping quilt as they enter the world.  The fear that when Morgan and Nick – our youngest children now practically teen-agers -- when they cross the dais here for their bridging ceremony, there will be no one on the other side to wish them well on their journey. There will be no next generation to cherish our keeping quilt -- the keeping quilt that is Unitarian Universalism, that has sheltered and inspired generations. The keeping quilt that is our old Sheshequin building and all the history it holds. The keeping quilt that is this beloved community, how we know and love one another. It worries us on an almost biological level to think that this circle could be broken. And that’s a good thing. It’s good that we feel deep inside that something is wrong when  people are missing from our circle. When an elder stops coming because she is no longer comfortable driving. When Generation X questions the value of traditional institutions and never seeks out a community of faith. When school aged children and their parents have to choose between church and pee wee football practices held on Sunday mornings. It’s important for us to always hold all these generations in our hearts and to keep reaching out and welcoming in people of all ages who would be sheltered by our keeping quilt.

The Keeping Quilt from this morning’s story was more than just an heirloom to be preserved on a shelf. Each time it is wrapped around a baby, held over a couple at their wedding, or draped over a table for Passover dinner, it grows in meaning and value. The quilt is not valuable because it was made of fabric that came from Russia, but because it is used in a way that binds generations together.

Our Universalist faith was vital and important as a refuge for men, women and children 200 years ago who believed that each and every soul was loved by God. And it is still a refuge today for all who believe that each and every person has inherent worth and dignity: people of every race, every gender, every sexual orientation, whether they are part of the 99% or the 1%.  How Universalism moves in the world is different to every generation as politics and culture and technology change. It has sheltered and challenged us, and we will pass it on when the time comes to our children, whom we hope will change and be changed by it as well.

When I started thinking about generations, I was thinking of 5 generations- the 5 generations of persons now living. But remembered the indigenous traditions who think in terms of 7 generations, and noticed that by thinking of 7 instead of 5, we include those who came before us who are no longer living, and we include the generation who will come after us who is not even born. These generations we have never met are still tremendously important to who we are and where we are going. Consider the generation who built this building, or the even earlier generation who founded the Sheshequin church. We love this keeping quilt they made for us, even though we will never know them. The circle of generations is always there, holding us, even when we can’t see it.

I never forgot that circle of chairs at my friends house. When Nick outgrew his own little wooden toddler chair – the kind specially made with a wide base so you can’t fall out of it -- I knew this was the first chair in my circle. When Nick outgrew his trucks and blocks, we dedicated a cabinet in our living room to toys for young children so when the nieces and nephews came to visit they would know that we had saved a place for them in our circle.

In the same way the Jewish families are encouraged to set a place for the ancient prophet Elijah at Passover, I hope that we will continue to set out all 7 chairs, knowing that some of them will be empty, so that we will be ready for the diversity of newcomers that will become part of our circle as the years cycle by. These empty chairs help us hold a place for them in our hearts and minds. Never forgetting to wonder

“how is it with the elders who no longer come on Sunday morning?”

 “how is it with the generation of young adults who have not found their way to a faith community”

“how is it with the little children who are just learning about this world”

 “how are we preparing to welcome those not even conceived, what world are we preparing for them?”

The circle of generations is always there holding us even when we can’t see it. It is our calling as a beloved community to set out all those chairs in welcome and in remembrance.