Tuesday, April 27, 2021

From You I Receive, to You I Give

I admit to you that sometimes I feel very small. I wonder- does anything I do really matter? The problems of the world seem so big, the needs of the community seem so great. Most of us are not Senators, are not on the coordinating team of the Movement for black lives, are not Greta or Malala. Most of us are, as in Mary Oliver’s poem "I Want" , not the tiger lily, but one of those sweet blades in a clutch of curly grass. Grand heroic acts make up only a small part of the fabric of life which is an infinitely complex web of tiny acts, some so small we can’t even see them, like the thin filaments of fungus that help trees share resources and communicate. Most of life, most of the time is woven of small acts, of giving and receiving.

The UUCAS Board of Trustees has been learning about white supremacy culture, and one article we read explained one of the characteristics in white supremacy culture is that “little appreciation is expressed among people for the work that others are doing; appreciation that is expressed usually directed to those who get most of the credit anyway -- more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate” In Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups aythors Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun tell us that the antidote is to “develop a culture of appreciation “noticing and appreciating what is given. What a lovely way to unravel white supremacy! I think as a congregation we do pretty well at seeing the contributions each of us makes, but some contributions are easier to see than others.

I know that a kind word from a friend can make a big difference in my day, but it’s harder for me to believe that my small actions matter. So today I want to invite us to practice seeing not only the eye-catching lily but the blades of grass, to practice seeing how vitally important are all the ordinary and often invisible ways we give and receive.

At the start of the pandemic, the slow wheels of government could not respond quickly enough to meet the changing needs of people, so we turned to one another. Powder blue Sharing Cabinets sprang up all over Ithaca, the city where I live, and a network of ordinary people bought extra groceries or harvested extra produce from their gardens and helped fill the gaps of larger food pantries flummoxed by the pandemic and by increased demand. Across the country Mutual Aid societies have bloomed into being, people helping one another directly with basic needs unmet by agencies or nonprofits. Neighbors are helping neighbors as humans have done long before there ever was a formal safety net. This past winter the Mutual Aid list on Facebook was full of folks asking directly for what they needed, and then sharing with us what they received- “my son’s first Christmas tree” “a science kit for my daughter” “decorations for the home of my grandmother who lives alone” “sheet music so I can play my new piano.” Together all these little acts not only add bright spots to those who receive, and a sense of meaning to those who give, but the very smallness of those acts allows us to get into the nooks and crannies of need and care invisible to larger organizations.

When I think about the struggle against racism, the struggle to bring accountability to police and justice system, I feel hopelessly small. The verdict this week in the trial of the former policeman who killed George Floyd shows us that change is possible. The death of unarmed black men and women at the hands of police is an old, old problem, but this is the first time a white officer has ever been charged in the state of Minnesota. It is sad but true that holding this first police officer accountable marks a change, and what made that change possible, were the thousands of ordinary people, most of whose names we never know, showing up. The sea of black and white and brown faces showing up all over America, tiny shapes in a sea of protest, that is what gives power to the spokespeople who are invited to speak on television, what powered the legislation like the George Floyd Justice in Policing act now before the senate. Without all those voices, all those bodies, such legislation would never have been passed by the House of Representatives.

We see the lilies, like Stacy Abrams, a great hero of voter rights activism, nominated for a Nobel prize, but her work relies on thousands of activists, of poll workers, of election monitors, of hundreds of thousands voters who stood in line for hours. Today we notice with gratitude to all those ordinary acts that make great change possible.

The fabric of life is woven of thousands of tiny threads, small acts of generosity and kindness. When you visit a loved one in the hospital, bring soup or send cards to those recovering from illness. When we listen compassionately to a burdened heart, we are a sparkling life-giving thread in that fabric. In the village green of Homer, near our Cortland congregation, artist Liz Sharp asked the community to fold paper cranes for hope and peace. Her ambitious goal was 2000, but so many schools and groups got involved, that 5000 cranes were folded, and hung across the town green in honor of loved ones and essential workers, to express wishes for peace and unity. “This pandemic has brought all of us down — now we have to lift each other back up and turn the negatives into positives.” The artist said. A clergy colleague there described it as a beautiful meditative space, with neighbors pausing contemplative in that transformed green. Cranes folded one at a time, by hundreds of hands, making their small contribution to a public expression of beauty and generosity.[i]

Notice that each time we come together as a community we create something that none of us could do alone. There are 9 people on the worship team this morning, some whose contributions you can easily see, like Jill who lit the chalice, and some whose contributions are totally invisible, like Chris who made the slides, and Andria who makes sure we can see and hear what we are supposed to see and hear. That doesn’t even count the people who wrote our hymns and readings, nor the software developers that made zoom happen. And anyone on the team would agree that each one of you who logs on whether you are nodding along and typing in the chat, or just listening with your camera off, magnifies the spirit of our time together. Each of us is a unique and precious thread in the fabric of our community.

I’d like to take some time now for reflection- on moments when you have received or experienced something that made a difference in your life, to your spirit, to your community this past year. You are welcome to grab a pencil and paper if that helps you think. Consider practical things that made your life a bit easier, or intangible things that lifted your spirit. Consider things you received perhaps from this community, perhaps from a friend or neighbor, perhaps from the non-human beings who are part of your ecosystem. I’m going to give us a couple of moments for reflection. You will be invited to share in the chat one or two of these after the time of reflection if you choose....
-Pause for reflection-

I hope this practice of sharing has helped us notice the gifts small and large we have received, even and especially in this challenging year.

In sharing let us begin to see the vast and beautiful weaving we are part of . Let us notice that in ordinary acts of showing up, of giving, of kindness, of beauty we will impact one another. May this noticing also help us have faith that each of us has in our own way contributed. May we have faith that our own thread is there, even when we can’t see it.

Now I want to enter one last time of reflection. This time i invite you to reflect on the things you have given this past year, that you hope have been received, that you hope have helped. The things you gave from the heart.
-Pause for reflection-

 Whenever we are feeling small, and the problems and sorrows of the world too large, let us practice noticing the power of small contributions. Like a single paper crane, a single blade of grass, a single voter patiently waiting to vote, a single thread in a beautiful tapestry, we are woven into a vast, beautiful and powerful web of life.

[i] https://cortlandstandard.net/2021/04/12/lifting-the-communitys-spirits/

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