Sunday, November 24, 2013

Turning Toward the Morning

This sermon was introduced by a rendition of Gordon Bok's song "Turning Toward the Morning".

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Nov. 24, 2013, PUUF

            I remember discovering this song that we’ve just heard at a fairly bleak time of my life. It was late fall in Colorado, the golden aspen groves on the mountain slopes were now starkly bare of their leaves, we’d had two feet of snow on Halloween, my marriage was over, my son was struggling, my paycheck barely lasted from month to month, and I was dreading the cold Rocky Mountain winter ahead.

            One of my great pleasures in life then was attending the monthly acoustic music jams of the Denver Friends of Folk Music. And one Saturday night, a fellow folkie requested this song, and its words resonated with me and my anxious mood.

            I was curious to know where the song came from. I was familiar with the New England composer Gordon Bok’s work and looked for something from Gordon Bok about why he wrote the song “Turning Toward the Morning”. Here’s what I found.

"One of the things that provoked this song was a letter last November from a friend who had had a very difficult year and was looking for the courage to keep on plowing into it. Those times, you lift your eyes unto the hills, as they say, but the hills of … November can be about as much comfort as a cold crowbar.
You have to look ahead a bit, then, and realize that all the hills and trees and flowers will still be there come Spring, usually more permanent than your troubles. And if your courage occasionally fails, that's okay, too: nobody expects you to be as strong (or as old) as the land." - Gordon Bok”

            I liked that idea, of not dwelling too much on the bleakness of today’s troubles and deliberately looking ahead to the brighter days of spring.

            But I also liked another, less obvious, theme within this song and that was the idea that this man took his friend Joanie’s sorrow seriously and gave her the one gift he felt he had to give: a song that reminded her that he cared about her sorrow and, with his music, might help her lift her sight from the icy mud of her surroundings and offer her courage and support by pointing to the simple fact that the world is always turning toward the morning.

            Late fall can be a hard time of year, as the days grow shorter and shorter, sunny days are few and far between, and the darkness consumes more and more of our waking hours. It’s cold and often rainy and windy; we worry when the power goes out, unsure of how long it will be out and whether we will be able to stay warm. And the season seems to grind on and on. Often the upcoming holidays just add to our anxiety and gloom.

            Spring seems very far away in November. The holidays can distract us, but we need more than distraction sometimes. We need people and places we can depend on. We need to find the truths about the world that sustain us, give us hope, give us reason to keep pushing on, even when life’s troubles have overcome us and we see no easy way out.

            Sometimes the only way out is through and November is like that.

            I thought of friendship as a theme for this service because Thanksgiving signifies the beginning of a season of waiting for the light, of celebrating, in various faith traditions, the hope inherent in the change of seasons at the winter solstice, the sustaining grace of a menorah that never goes dim, the sweet joy of a child’s birth, all occasions of growing light and diminishing darkness.

            These relics of  legend and history represent the truth of light and warmth and survival, of the mystical and the pragmatic, of the life process that includes both birth and death, both darkness and bright splendor.

            Remember that old camp song “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold”? Or Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. All these songs speak of the faithfulness and kindness of friends, the human need for friendship and connection with companions, the need for friends to see us through tough times.

            I used to be kind of wary of making friends, never quite sure I could count on them. Even best friends have a way of occasionally letting us down or hurting us. Sometimes we learn that a person we thought of as a friend really doesn’t like us very much or inexplicably disappears from our lives.

            Sometimes there are exclusions that deliver a message---you’re not our kind of people, so we’re not inviting you to the party, to our church, to our inner circle. Ouch! I suspect we’ve all had a few moments like these.  And some of them we brush off because they’re not important; others make us feel rejected at a deep level, make us wonder if we are worthy of friendship.

            I was talking with a person awhile back about an experience she’d had in which she felt excluded---possibly unintentionally, but….she wasn’t sure. And it stirred up old feelings for her, of times when she’d felt similarly excluded or watched others being excluded. Even though she was long past those experiences, the reminders stung.

            What are our experiences with friendship? Where do we find our closest friends and comrades? How many of us here still have some contact with friends from our early days, maybe even elementary school? How long have you known your longest-term friend? (?????)

            Why do we maintain contact with some of our earliest friends? What keeps us coming back to them?

            Erin and I talked a bit about the common characteristics of our favorite friendships: both of us noticed that there was a deep comfort level with these friends, a sense of mutual understanding, both spoken and unspoken.  These were mostly long-term friendships, deepening over time.  There was always an aspect of fun, of zaniness that was allowable with these friends.  And there was, too, a serious side, when we supported each other through tough times.

            I’ve often noticed that shared loss can create a bond. Long years ago, one of my best high school friends, Audrea Montee, died of liver cancer. Audrea and I had palled around all during grade school and high school; she was a crackerjack softball player, smacking that ball way out into left field and then trotting leisurely around the bases as fielders scrambled after the ball which was often lost in the weeds of the far outskirts of the diamond. Audrea was pretty chubby, which slowed her down a bit as she rounded the bases, but she was the home run queen of our class.

            She and I were friends partly because we were both kind of teenage misfits, me because I was a preacher’s kid and a brainiac and she because she was heavy and had to wear matronly clothes, instead of the popular Pendleton reversible skirts that were a hot item in high school. I didn’t have such a skirt either, so we had that in common, but mainly we just liked each other. She was funny and smart and shrugged off the teasing she got because of her weight; I learned how to do that from her.

            When she died at about age 50, a consciousness of mortality seemed to hit some of us McEwen High School grads hard. Out of our tiny graduating class of 20 or so, eight had died young, some in farm accidents or car wrecks, some by cancer or other disease. And so it became important to us who still lived to find each other and hang on.
         When I moved back to the PNW in 1999, we started getting together, sometimes in Athena, sometimes at each others’ homes. And a core group of six women formed that has become one of the most important friendship groups I’ve ever experienced.

            The interesting thing is that we weren’t close friends in high school, though we knew each other well. All of the other women in the group were part of a different crowd. They could date and go to the movies or go dancing; they had boyfriends and were cheerleaders. I didn’t and I wasn’t. My social life consisted of Baptist Youth Fellowship and other church activities. My school achievements were Honor Roll and Student Body treasurer. Not the stuff of high school dreams!

            But in our later years, when we were all in our fifties, we needed each other because our world was changing. No matter where we lived, what our careers meant to us, whatever our different circumstances had been in high school, the people who had been part of our lives for such a long time were dying.

            We couldn’t keep that from happening, but we could forge bonds of friendship that honored our long association and the common memories of growing up together in our small community.

            Not long after Audrea’s death, another friend, Donna Myers, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. And what had been just a vague idea in our minds became a project. Donna’s grandson, Riley, was in Doernbecher Children’s hospital in Portland with leukemia and the family had no health insurance. Could we help Donna’s family?

            Somebody discovered that a softball tournament in Pendleton was being organized as a fundraiser. Maybe we could participate! How long had it been since any of us played softball? How good would we be without our slugger, Audrea? It didn’t matter.

            So on a chilly November Saturday almost ten years ago, “Donna’s Team” formed and played the crummiest softball you ever saw. But luckily, it was one of those jokester games where all you had to do was pay off the umpire and get a re-do on your strike-out or your being tagged at home plate. We played with toy bats and hollow plastic softballs. We actually won one game, thanks to my son Mike’s willingness to play and be one of the goofier, more entertaining players on the field.

            I still have my Donna’s team t-shirt and hat, mementos of a time when friends fought back the dark for a little boy whose Grandma had been one of us.

            We need each other, sometimes, to fight back the dark. Sometimes friends come to our aid when we have an emergency; they take us in when the power goes out; they cover for us when we are ill. They take us up to Portland when we have an emergency. They buck us up by listening understandingly (or just by listening, whether they understand us or not!), even if they can’t do a thing to help.

            We receive countless gifts from our friends, intangibles we can hardly name. And what do we give, what can we give, in return for this kindness and support?

            The thing is, friends give their presence and their aid without any expectation of return. It’s not a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, much of the time. It’s somebody stepping in when there are few other alternatives; it’s somebody seeing our need when we are reluctant to admit our neediness.

             It’s not, usually, a “calling in of a chip” as we hear in the gangster movies on TV. “He owes me a favor” seems more like a business deal than an act of friendship, though I imagine sometimes that’s what we need.

           What have been some of the gifts you’ve received in the past months? Thanksgiving has become a time to express our gratitude for blessings received. Because of the economic uncertainty in our country, our blessings may have morphed from material things to generosity measured in a different way.

           What are the gifts you have received recently from others? Let’s take a moment to reflect and then share some of those gifts. (think, share)

           The generosity of both friends and strangers, plus our family members, is a sweet thing to consider. These gifts of time and energy fill our hearts and give us strength for the cold days ahead.

           But gratitude is a two way street. We receive gratefully from others, cherishing the thought and the generosity that those gifts of spirit entail. And we also give those gifts to others, grateful for the opportunity to be a giver of gifts of spirit.

           You and I have doubtless encountered many people who give only so they can receive something in return. There’s something uncomfortable about being either the giver or receiver with a person like that. The best gifts are given with no expectation of return; the best gifts are received with no expectation of payback. These are gifts of the spirit.

           What are the spiritual gifts you have to give to others? Let’s take a moment to reflect, once again, and then share some of those thoughts. (think, share)

            The gifts of the spirit are numerous and have often been incorporated as pillars of some of the world’s great religions. They are universal values and we all have them to impart and to receive.

           Here’s what I think, after considering how we might both give and receive the gifts of the spirit.  I want to tell you about seven gifts of the spirit that I have found valuable.

           One of them is wisdom. We seek wisdom from others and we are able to offer our own wisdom to those who seek it from us. Wisdom is the result of our own life experiences and can be both general and specific.

           Another is understanding. We strive to understand another’s life circumstances and to extend that understanding to those we meet. When someone really understands us and we know it, that gift is priceless.

           How about the ability to make good decisions? This comes from conscience, the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. We support others who make good decisions, who choose for the right instead of the wrong; and we receive from those who make right decisions, because we are better able to choose right behavior ourselves because of them.

           Then there’s courage, revealed in the strength of character that develops when we don’t back away from situations that scare us, when we accompany a friend on a journey through terminal illness, when we encourage another to do the hard, fearsome thing because it’s right.

           Knowledge is another gift. Our knowledge of the universe and of a life of integrity offers us a way to find meaning in life despite its apparent randomness. We can share knowledge when appropriate and we can receive knowledge gracefully, even when it contradicts a fondly held belief.

            Wonder and awe are a gift that is sometimes lacking in us worldly adults. We often let go of our ability to stand struck with awe at the beauty of the universe and of the human creation; children give us back this gift, many times over. But this is a gift we can give ourselves, as well as others, if we just take the time.

           Reverence is the final gift on my list, though there are many I haven’t mentioned. Our desire for rationality and empirical experience sometimes makes it hard to be reverent in the face of our knowledge of good and evil, especially when evil seems so much more in evidence than good. But reverence has the ability to infuse daily life with deeper meaning, like water on a withered plant.

           Gordon Bok sings his gift of spirit to his friend Joanie, “oh, my Joanie, don’t you know that the stars are swinging slow, and the seas are rolling easy, as they did so long ago, if I had a thing to give you, I would tell you one more time, that the world is always turning toward the morning.”

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that we have gifts of the spirit to offer to each other and spiritual gifts to receive as well. May we reflect upon the gifts we have to give; may we receive gratefully the gifts that others hold out; and may we hold fast to the truth, that the world, both literally and metaphorically, is always turning toward the morning. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Evolution of God

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Nov. 10, 2013

         It was a beautiful afternoon in fall on a Rocky Mountain  hillside, where I sat enjoying the blue skies and warm sun with friends who had gathered at the home of a fellow member of Jefferson Unitarian Church, my church home there in Golden, Colorado.

         I’d recently entered seminary and was beginning the school year excitedly engaged in studies of pastoral care, Old Testament, and Church History, surrounded by students from all different Christian backgrounds with a variety of doctrines and dogmas.

         I felt a little like an outsider at seminary; I was one of only a handful of Unitarian Universalist students, there at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, a very liberal Methodist seminary.  But I was loving my studies, feeling my brain stretch and my own theology grow clearer, as I compared it to the theology of my more traditional classmates.

         Next to me in a lawn chair, was an older gentleman named Jakob, who was interested in what I was studying at Iliff, and during our conversation, he mentioned that he was a pretty staunch atheist.  I’d known Jakob for many years and I knew this about him, so it occurred to me to ask him “what do you believe in, Jakob?”  He paused a moment and then…

         “Nature,” he said.  “Nature.  That’s what I believe in---the laws of nature, the way the universe works, the plants, the animals, the laws which govern life and how everything connects to everything else.  I don’t believe in God.  I believe in Nature.”

          In my grad school-induced arrogance, I almost said to him, “but Jakob, it’s just that your God is Nature”.  Luckily, I had retained enough of my mother’s teachings about respecting one’s elders to keep my mouth shut and just listen; consequently I went home that evening pondering Jakob’s words and marveling at their implications.  It was another step in my own evolution of an understanding of the power beyond human power, which some call God.

         Several years ago, I entered a 12 step program to find peace of mind after a number of experiences with alcoholic friends.

         In a 12 step program, one is asked to find a Higher Power and use its strength to change one’s behavior.  I’d outgrown my “old white guy on a throne” concept of God and when they told me that my Higher Power only had to be something stronger than myself, I thought of my hours of hiking up steep trails in the Rockies, defying and yet using gravity to get stronger every step of the way, and I decided to use Gravity as my Higher Power.  There seemed to be a connection there.

         When I had my conversation with Jakob, I was ready to grow again and his concept of Nature as Higher Power was very appealing to me.  In fact, I’d already realized that gravity was only a piece of my higher power, that the entire universe seemed to be an infinite power that included much, much more, most of it mysterious and only partially understood by science.

         In my former congregations we’ve talked about “the driving force, the creative force in the universe, which many call God”.   With you here today, I’d like to consider how human understanding of that power beyond human power, that which drives the universe, creates the universe, has evolved over the millennia of recorded human history.  

         It’s interesting to me that human history reveals, both in the larger sense and in the more personal sense, a concept of “God” that has generally evolved from a figure of parental-type authority to loving presence to independence from a fixed image.

         In the earliest reaches of human history, the power beyond human power, or God or Goddess, was revealed in weather, in seasons, in drought and flood; it was a force to be appeased, bargained with, sacrified to.  Whether that force was seen to be male or female, it mostly was a rule-maker, a boundary keeper, a teacher.  I can imagine mythical and metaphorical Mother Earth and Father Sky giving instructions:  “Now, children, wind and rain and snow can kill you; so make shelter, and, by the way, use fire when you discover it as a gift of weather. 

         “It will be hot for a period of time; it will then cool down; it will get much colder for a period of time (of course I’m excluding the tropical zone); then it will warm up again and the cycle will repeat endlessly.  Each season will bring certain kinds of weather, mostly unpredictable; learn to cope.”

         Humans tried to influence the weather, the seasons, the drought and the flood, using prayer, sacrifice, bargaining with the seen or unseen Gods and Goddesses.  Some of it seemed to work; when it didn’t, it was assumed that the deities were displeased or busy elsewhere or had a different plan.

         Across the globe, human beings were generally polytheistic, ascribing power to the sun and moon, earth, stars, trees and animals, considering them the beings which controlled their lives, sent the weather, governed the seasons, controlled fertility, birth and death, and were only partly predictable.  Female deities were common and Mother Earth was seen by many to be the primary Deity.

         So reverence for a God or Goddess figure was initially, and logically, attached to nature.  Not so different from my friend Jakob’s perspective, though Jakob, as a scientist himself, had a lot more academic knowledge to call upon to make that judgment.

         Interestingly, ancient peoples often argued with their gods and goddesses, threatening to withhold sacrifice and obedience if the deities didn’t shape up.  And intriguing rituals accompanied some of these interchanges.   Robert Wright, in his book  “The Evolution of God”, recounts a ritualistic “interchange” between a Siberian native man and the wind, in which buttocks are bared to the breeze and incantations shouted at the wind, in an effort to stop the wind’s incessant and damaging blast. 

         Lest any of you be tempted to try this, it probably worked about as well as our own hopes and prayers when a wind storm is predicted!  Mother Nature, whether by indigenous or modern standards, is notoriously hard to influence.   Me, I just pray that I can cope, if the power goes out.  And that some kind family will take me in once again.

         Eventually, polytheism began to lose ground to monotheism, to a powerful, all-purpose Deity who was jealous of other Gods and told his  followers (for by now God was a He) to follow his commandments or he’d get mad.  If they were good, he’d bless them, give them land of their own, harken to their prayers.  Early scriptures bear this out but the willful Israelites were unwilling to give up their old gods and goddesses completely and frequently invoked the One God’s wrath, causing Him to threaten and punish those He called His Chosen People.

         The Abrahamic religions---Judaism, Islam, and Christianity----are descendents of that God-form, having themselves evolved out of the experience and the necessities of human living in early times.

         But monotheism has had its own set of problems.  The God of Abraham was a top-down, moralistic, parental authority upon whom followers were to be utterly dependent.  This God was male in form and in language, which has encouraged followers to assume that God intended that human males be dominant and females be submissive.

        Patriarchy was the starting place for a triumvirate of Abrahamic religions that eventually dominated the early Western world.  God’s attributes were measured by human attributes, making assumptions about God’s opinions, God’s preferences, and God’s marching orders. 

        This God was rather cruel and autocratic much of the time.  This God kicked native peoples out of their lands so that the Chosen Ones could live there.  This God sent an avenging angel to kill firstborn Egyptian children, among other plagues, to allow His People to escape into the desert, even though they weren’t happy once they got there.

        The history of God as portrayed in the Hebrew scriptures is that of a strict and punishing male parent.  Scholars like Karen Armstrong and others have posited that when God created humankind, he (like all parents) found himself with unanticipated problems on his hands.  The Hebrew legends around the creation of humankind portray God’s children as independent thinkers whose curiosity landed them in trouble and eventually got them kicked out of Eden.

        This God got so upset with human behavior that he decided to drown all but a few and start over.  Hence the legend of Noah and the ark, with its male and female starter species.
         When Jesus began his ministry centuries after the Israelites established a monotheistic tradition, he had been raised and educated in the Jewish tradition of a God who demanded that certain purities be maintained, that certain customs were required of devout Jews, and that God was a Father figure.  Indeed, Jesus called his God “Father” and, in times of greatest crisis, even called God “Abba” or Daddy.

         Christianity modified the portrait of God to include a male parent’s loving side and brought a female near-deity into the family constellation.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, became a figure women Christians could identify with and even venerate.  But as the concept of the Trinity evolved, the idea that God was Three in One---Father, Son and Holy Spirit---in that scenario, Mary was merely the mother, albeit the mother of a God figure.  Mary was a mortal, after all, and had only been the recipient of God’s grace, not a God figure herself.

         We need to remember that monotheism, the idea that God is One, was at stake.  Even the doctrine of the Trinity, the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were identical to each other and were simply different functions of the One God, was a stretch for many, including our ancient Unitarian ancestors.

         Acceptance of the idea of the One God was pretty much universal in the world influenced by the Abrahamic religions for centuries after Jesus’ ministry.   There were skeptics, to be sure, particularly around the concept of the Trinity, but belief in God was unquestioned by most.  Heretics were punished, sometimes cruelly as in the case of our own religious ancestor, the young Spanish doctor Michael Servetus who was burned at the stake for his denial of the Trinity and Jesus as God. 

          But as understandings of the natural world grew and science became an influential resource to human beings, particularly to those with access to education, a period of time known as The Enlightenment in the eighteenth century brought huge wide-spread change and conflict about religious ideas and the very concept of Creation and the nature of the universe.

        No longer did every facet of human living depend on belief in God.  The earth revolved around the sun, not the sun around the earth.  Discoveries about any number of everyday things, such as plants and seasons and the movement of the stars in the sky, created new questions in human minds.

        Before this time, belief in God was taken for granted.  Not to believe meant abandoning any coherent world picture.  This was unthinkable to most humans in that time in history.

        But emboldened by new ideas and knowledge, thinkers of many stripes took courage and began to wonder:  what is the real authority of the church and why does the church demand human obedience?  Those who traveled observed other religious practices and saw that there was a larger world than the one which accepted the idea of One God with three manifestations; there were nontheistic religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism and there were polytheistic religions as well.

        Three different conceptions of God, through the lenses of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, called into question the idea of One God.  Each of these Gods had such different characteristics----how could they be the same God?  And yet again, humankind’s shaping of the idea of God was illuminated.  No longer was it so clear that God had created humans in his image; perhaps humans had created the God that they wanted to create.

         So---that’s a quickie rundown on the history of the concept of God up to about now.   It’s not exhaustive, it’s a little irreverent, and my knowledge is far from complete, but what I’ve tried to do so far is establish that as human understandings of the universe have progressed, humans have increased their questioning of the reality of God or Gods or Goddess.

        Part of it is due to our increased scientific understandings and discoveries.  Part of it is due to the relaxed insistence on belief in a Deity.  Part of it is due to our own mystical spiritual experiences which may lead us along non-traditional paths.

        I’ve collected some quotes from scholars and theologians about their own concepts of the power beyond human power.

        For example, Albert Einstein said this:   “It was the experience of mystery, even if mixed with fear, that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty. It is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude. In this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. Enough for me, the mystery of the eternity of life and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.”

        James Luther Adams, a renowned pacifist and Unitarian theologian, said and I am paraphrasing and pulling together a couple of related ideas: 

 “God is the power that holds the world together.  We are called by God to participate in holding the world together and we are seduced to return to the task of putting the world back together again and again.  God is the force in the Universe that calls us to love.”

        In the 60’s, a theologian, John T. Elson, the religion editor of Time Magazine, wrote an article entitled “Is God Dead?” which illuminated the shifting sands of theology and belief as religion tried to accommodate scientific discoveries.  The article stripped bare the fact that there are multiple concepts of God and that the traditional “old man in the sky” was woefully out of sync with science.  Therefore, was it possible, even likely, that God as we knew God was actually dead.

        Elson wrote:  “Secularization, science, urbanization---all have made it comparatively easy for the modern man (and woman) to ask where God is and hard for the man (and woman) of faith to give a convincing answer, even to him or her self.”

        Henry Nelson Weiman, another Unitarian theologian and philosopher, offered this definition of God:  “God is an event, a Creative Event, an event of Creative Interchange.  God is Creativity.  God is trustworthy, reliable, and sustaining.  God is that which can transform and save humans in ways in which we cannot transform ourselves, provided that we understand and fulfill the requisite conditions.”

        Feminist theologians have illuminated the feminine face of the power beyond human power.  They cite the earliest evidence of deity worship as being the worship of Mother Earth, for female powers of reproduction, of community, and nurture, and many religious people today honor and revere the feminine attributes of the Goddess, rather than a male figure of God.

         Atheist writers who have become popular in recent years have primarily stated their rejection of the traditional view of God as an anthropomorphic figure, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent.  I have not heard much from them about other concepts of God or Goddess and wonder if they too are out of sync with new ideas of God.

        Yet quantum physics has revealed an entirely new possibility about the power beyond human power.  As the Large Hadron Collider lurches toward its grand experiment of recreating a smaller version of the Big Bang, the event which appears to have set the universe in motion,  it is possible that science may unveil the deepest roots of the universe yet explored, if they find the elusive Higgs boson, the subatomic particle dubbed “the God Particle”.

        And will they find God?  Well, probably not the God most people assume is the Ruler of the Cosmos. 

        So where are we?  Here’s what I think.

        I’ve noticed that the power beyond human power, which some call God or Goddess, can be viewed through many lenses.  Even as a parent or guardian can be called a mother or a father or a chauffeur or a cook or a teacher or a cruel tyrant or any number of other names, so can God and Goddess.

        There is the lens of religion: God as  a personal servant and ruler.  There’s the lens of physics:  God as energy.  Of psychology: God as  emotional need.  Of biology:  God as creator, God as mere brain chemistry.  Of evolution:  God as an orderly, purposeful system.  Of Love:  God as human connection and nurture.  Of parent:  God as protector, caretaker.  Of child:  God as rule-maker, guidance giver. 

        Of art:  God as designer, creator of beauty.  Of indigenous person:  God as nature and ancestral wisdom.  Of poetry:  God as metaphor and simile.  Of fear:  God as the punisher.  Of ethics:  God as source of the moral order.  Of the abstract:  God as ground of being, Ultimate Reality.  Of the concrete:  God as old white guy in the sky.

        I’ve probably missed your favorite lens and you can tell me later what yours might be or if you disagree.  But I think it all comes back to the recognition that there are so many ways to think of the power beyond human power, so many ways we have found to use that power both for secular and spiritual and religious meaning, so many names and faces for God, that it is useless to argue about whose version is right.

        A member of my Whidbey congregation, Ken Merrell, once spoke about a discovery he had made in his religious journey:  that when we encounter different language and ideas from our own, rather than dismissing them as useless or offensive, we might try translating those words and ideas into our own language and worldview, to see if we and those who are different from us have any common ground.  And I would reiterate Ken’s wisdom:  we all have different ideas about what the idea of God means.  Let’s share those ideas, rather than reject each other because we don’t speak the same language.

        The Evolution of God is a journey of countless millennia, from prehistory to the present.  The Evolution of our personal understandings of the concept of God has taken our whole lifetimes and continues to offer opportunities to change our minds.   Whether we are theists, nontheists, atheists or agnostics, we can learn from each other and respect each other’s language and experiences, both here and in the larger community.  As Ken has said, the key is to translate!  You too can be religiously bi-lingual!
         Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION:  Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that all humankind shares a reliance on the faithfulness of that power beyond human power, which we call by many names.  May we respect one another’s language and thoughts, listening carefully that we might learn from one another.  And may we offer to our children, our grandchildren, friends and family the opportunity to think large about what it means to have faith in these troubled times.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.