Traveling as an act of faith

We’ve been driving the Durham-DC corridor monthly for the last 2 years (almost). Normally, even with rest stops, it takes about 4.25 hours. On Friday, it took an extra 2 hours due to traffic along the route. (The last-minute vacationers must be out in force.) Surely, it could have been worse, but arriving 2 hours later than normal definitely tests your patience and faith.

Faith enters the scene as you rely upon your fellow drivers to be nice on the road, not to exhibit road rage or other forms of aggressive driving, and trusting that when you do arrive, the anguish of sluggish traffic will quickly fade away.

My sister’s boyfriend, Donald, always reminds me of his drive from Columbus, GA to Charlotte, NC in 5 hours. It’s an impossible timetable no matter how you slice it. Moreover, claiming that you can cut an hour off a trip is the opposite of faith: over-certainty. It’s a denial of truth, too! But people constantly do it.

I wonder how many accidents are caused by people trying to break land speed records that don’t really exists while traveling the highways. What is really gained? A few minutes give or take?

There seems to be something in our human relationship with driving a long distance that makes us want to imagine that we’re better (read: faster) than we really are. It’s as if there is some real human achievement in being able to say we made it somewhere in less time than the herd. I see nothing worthy of boasting in said feats.

True accomplishment with regard to traveling is being able to exercise patience, enjoying the scenery, and co-existing with your travel companions in a considerate way. The life of faith is similar. No matter how difficult life is, we are better off developing capacity for accepting certain realities, appreciating our struggles, and nurturing relationships along the way.

Coming home from DC was another slog, though not as bad. Luckily, Tamara was there to drive the majority of the trip since I was exhausted from duty. Another longer trip is on the immediate horizon. We’ll be putting our faith to the test, again. No rush here!

Peace & light,

xk

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Sources for Unitarian Universalists

One of the best things about being a UU minister for me is the plethora of sources that I can draw upon for sermons. While I love reading the Bible and preaching from scripture, I’m not bound by it. I can choose as my sources of inspiration the same sources that you choose for your inspiration, then preach from it.

For this reason, I read a variety of materials for my personal and spiritual edification. Most recently, I borrowed a book of poetry by Elizabeth Alexander, whose poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” was written for President Obama’s 2nd inauguration. I’ve also been working my way through various passages of the Bhaghavad-Gita the sacred Hindu scriptures. I used a text from the Gita in two recent sermons. Both of these texts both have enormous wisdom for the world contained within them. I love science, too.

In the world of Unitarian authors, few stand as tall among contemporaries as Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed. He wrote the seminal work about black ministers who pioneered the way into Unitarian Universalist ministry and the many obstacles they faced. Last week, I preached from a more recent text he penned about his own life.

The difficulty of using these liberating sources is that they don’t appeal nor resonate with people like me, other people of color, who often regard the Bible as the only sacred text worthy of preaching. I’d prefer to be able to reach more people of color when I share a word. So, this is a struggle, or chasm, for me; one that I’d like to bridge. The UU faith needs more ethnic and cultural diversity to realize its mission in the world. This ought to be a moral imperative for us.

The official “word” on UU sources is that we have six. Like many traditions, we begin with direct experience. From there, we make a distinct departure to include human prophecy, humanist teachings, Christian & Jewish scriptures, world religions, and spiritual teachings. UUs love this diversity of sources! I do, too. But, the breadth of sources is a liability for us because we tend to choose those we like and throw out the others.

Some congregations are strictly humanist. Others lean heavily upon Buddhism. You might call this “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” For me, no tradition has more authority than any other. All are sources of wisdom and part of my role as a minister is sharing this conviction. I realize that non-UUs who visit our congregations need to hear something that resonates with their faith structure. I believe UU ministers should pay attention to this reality.

I hope that you’ll beckon the doors of a UU congregation in the near future. And when you do, my prayer is that the readings and sermon move your spirit. Then, I invite you to come back. We need you!

Blessings!

Faith and “The Man”

When I was growing up in the hood in the 70’s and early 80’s, people frequently referred to the police as “the man.” Even when there were two officers in the car, we said, “Here comes the man.” Supposedly, the man had authority and power that demanded respect.

The term, “the man,” has become passe over the years, but the power wielded by police officers has not. It is largely perceived as out of control. Even when citizens vote in local elections for officials they believe will have their best interest at heart, the reality has proven them wrong.

What is a person of faith to do aside from participating in protests, writing their elected officials (who often seem complicit through inaction), and hoping that God will make it alright? I’m beginning to wonder if there is anything that we can do. As a minister, this brings me great despair and frustration.  I’m supposed to be a person of exemplary faith, even when the cards are against us. It’s extremely difficult to hold out hope under these circumstances.

It seems that police officers, such as those who Freddie Gray in North Charleston and Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati, have watched the same videos that I’ve watched about white cops killing black people. What about Sandra Bland being detained for a traffic violation? Surely they’d say to themselves, “I can’t let that happen to me under any circumstances.” Instead, each video conveys that the killing of black citizens by white officers is getting easier to carry out and there is no sign of restraint.

People of faith are still called to hold out hope, but continue to caucus and search for solutions. We must continue to show up at the polls informed about who will best represent us. We must pray and meditate. We must support the good police officers and demand more accountability in police departments.

We must not lose our faith because of “the man.”

The View From Chautauqua

This week, we’ve been living at the Chautauqua Institution in NY state. It is a lovely place to visit, if you like serenity, placid lakes, pristine weather, and idyllic living. The Institution has been a place that people come to for stimulating ideas, friendly people, beautiful scenery, and spiritual growth since 1874.

Every summer, there are nine weeks of programming with a different theme each week. The programming consists of a potpourri of religious worship, science, politics, arts, culture, and fun of all types for the family. What makes the place special is that it is a community sort of closed off from the world. When I say community, I mean it is a town within its own walls.

Once you come into the gates, you are in this town where everyone walks from place to place. There are shuttles if you can’t walk or you can use an electric cart. There are denominational houses, an amphitheater for lectures and shows, shops, restaurants, theaters, gyms, and a gorgeous lake for water sports. Since you have to have a pass to enter, the community is secure and a bit worry-free.

This week, “irrationality” is the theme with Dan Arielly as the headliner and Rev. Frank Reid as the chaplain of the week. We’ve been learning how human behavior consists of doing things that are often in contrast with our beliefs and values. Dan has been laying down some heavy ideas. Likewise, for Rev. Reid, who has been preaching it up.

We watched a film yesterday called “(Dis)honesty,” which challenged me to think of areas in my life where I can be more forthright. (I do pay my taxes accurately!) The documentary discussed how human behavior is typically characterized by cheating in all spheres of life.

It is easy for us to over-characterize ourselves as honest and better-than-average. In all likelihood, each of us takes advantage of that extra change or freebie given the right circumstances or environment. It is worth reflecting on this in order to improve our lives in a real way.

Namaste,

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Could You Be A Unitarian…And Not Know It?

I often meet people who say that they are spiritual, but not religious. They may have grown up in the church and later found themselves no longer attending services. Some have simply found little need to do the “religious” things from their youth. This would include praying, paying attention to the Bible, or even having “religious” friends. Even still, they have a spiritual connection with the world or with God. Another group of people have a really good life without being religious, but feel something is missing.

If you find yourself in either of these situations, there is a big chance that you might enjoy attending a Unitarian or Universalist worship service. If there is one near your house or along your route to work, you ought to consider stopping in one Sunday morning and checking things out. (Just look for the church sign that looks like a state park!) Once there, you’ll probably feel immediately like you’re at home! It happened to me, too.

The denomination known as Unitarian Universalist, or UU for short, is made up of people who come from a variety of other denominations and traditions, but want to take their religious experience to a different level. By “different” I don’t necessarily mean better. Instead, I believe they need a different fit, something that is spiritual, but not overly Christian, Evangelical (something like being born-again), holy-roly, and/or judgmental feeling.

When you worship at a Unitarian church, or fellowship, you will feel reverence and the sacred in the atmosphere, but without the pressure to follow Jesus (not that that is bad thing) or any other religious figure. No one will say that you need “forgiveness of your sins.” You’ll pray, but not to the Triune God. You’ll sing hymns, but not “The Old Rugged Cross,” one of my favorites. You may have an opportunity for altar call, but to light candles for meditation instead of standing together as the pastor prays.

If you’re lucky during your visit to a Unitarian church, someone will invite you to the coffee hour after worship service so that you can fellowship with other members and visitors. If you’re really lucky, you’ll leave the church feeling lighter with some of your burdens lifted and joy in your heart.

Think on these things. You could a Unitarian and not know it. If you are, you’re missing out!

On my next post, I’ll talk about what Unitarians believe and our sacred texts. In the meantime, find a Unitarian church. If you’re already a UU, share this post with someone who is not.

May you have many blessings along your journey!

Faith and the Greek Financial Crisis

As a minister who is also a finance person, I’ve been following and reflecting on the Greek financial crisis. I believe it’s important to follow world events. Besides, these situations affect us all and are interesting. The Greek financial situation is a crisis of faith. There are estimates that the European Union will need to invest upward of 74B euro to cover the Greek debt. The Greeks are asking for about 53B euro ($59B). With the Greek economy in a recession, there is little chance the Greeks will work their way of out debt without a financial package. This a matter of faith because the Greeks have followed their political leaders for decades on blind faith. The Greeks have demonstrated a denial of faith in modern economic realities. They’ve placed their faith in alternative realities that are not aligned with sound fiscal policies and governance. Among these are unrestrained tax evasion (esp. among the middle-class), unsustainable retirement payouts, and rampant corruption in government institutions. People of faith should pay attention to Greece. The crisis reinforces our need to live according to the realities that we face and not turn a deaf ear to those parts of our experience that we’d rather not deal with. There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “faith without works is dead.” The early Church tried to censor the writer, James. Living in faith, however, means working through difficulties honestly…even through the hard times. Are you facing the crises in your life with honesty, allowing your faith to lead you? Do you face realities squarely? Or are you living in alternative realities? I encourage you to face your daily challenges with eyes wide open. Take honest action steps as situations demand. This may not avert every crisis. But, at least your faith will be grounded in truth and reality. May the choicest blessings come your way, x

Finding Spiritual Freedom

I learned from David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, about the importance of aligning the inner life with the outer life as a means of boosting productivity. The inner life has to do with your intentions and plans while the outer life is about the steps that you take to get plans accomplished. A similar principle plays itself out in our spiritual lives.

In our spiritual lives, we need to align our spiritual values with our spiritual practices. This alignment is the key to spiritual freedom. If you believe in the power of love, for example, develop a spiritual practice that promotes more love in your life. You might begin verbally expressing your love for family and friends, sending love notes to your beloved on a daily basis, or sending positive and loving thoughts to people that you dislike. These are just my first thoughts; you have to develop your own.

The key to alignment is making sure the value and action (step/effort) are relevant to each other. For example, love grows when you do loving things. The other key is practicing your action on a daily basis. Do it as often as you need to make it a habit. One time is probably not enough.

I will use the example of generosity. I’m a saver. And savers tend to hold on to their money. But, I had a desire to become a generous person, one who shares and gives away money. So, I began imagining myself as a saver and what that looked like. Then, I convinced myself that being generous was a virtue. Most importantly, I began practicing giving money to people and institutions in need, those that I believed in. I knew that I needed to do it enough that I had integrity in my identity.

Every now and then, I still have to push myself to be generous and not a cheapskate. So, when I feel myself resisting, I remember my values and the identity that I wish to cultivate for myself. Once I do that, I’m more prone to follow through.

You, too, can align your inner self with your outer self. It primarily takes intention and action. Once you begin, make it a daily practice. You’ll eventually discover that you are becoming spiritually free.

Shalom,

x