What a week to be writing a sermon about families....having a grandchild brings everyone out of the woodwork!! My eight year old granddaughter, slightly put out by having another girl grandchild, was talking away about her successes in school, when suddenly she stopped..."Now, Gammie, tell me how your life is going. "Well, Silja, it is going very well...lots to do." "Well, Gammie, are they paying you enough for all the work you do at that church?" (I just thought I'd throw that one in)...She probably had been hearing my son and his wife worrying about whether or not I would have to eventually move in with them.
And there was my ex- husband calling about our fourth grandchild...who, often, when we are reminiscing, seems like such fun that I can't remember why we aren't together any longer, reminds me after fifteen minutes, by saying: "Now, don't get 'liberal' with me." Which brings me to our topic for the morning. Do we Unitarian Universalist families look different from other families? My former spouse would say "yes." He resents our religion, says we were fine until I became a Unitarian Universalist. Please look at the cover of your order of service. My first reaction is that I can't think of how we would draw a chart for our family values...we aren't "chartable," in the same sense that we aren't bound by a creed.
Instead of taking the time to contrast us point by point with the traditional family value chart, let's look at some basic ways of being family which I witness among us. We consider many people configurations as family...single parents and their children, lesbian and gay couples and their children, divorced individuals and their church friends. We say when we introduce our time of "joys and sorrows," "This church is a family, celebrating our joys and sorrows, hopes and failures, together" and, we seem to be growing more willing to expose ourselves to each other, to allowing others, here, into our lives in significant ways..to being vulnerable as in a family. We have no set pattern of how to relate...most often we are in partnership...we believe in power-with, not power-over. And, no matter what our theology, God doesn't have much to do with how our family connects.
Another observation to be made is that we take our families very seriously. We make choices which put our families first - all members, all ages are carefully considered. And, we are interested in building community for our families - one of the reasons we come to this church...we want to build support systems. Speaking of which, would you please help us in the process of building "zip code" groups by marking the line on the back of your order of service which asks for that type of participation. It was even suggested that we sit, this morning, in zip code sections...but we didn't know what those of you with favorite seats would do...become post souls? If we find enough of you interested in knowing who is in your neighborhood, we will go forward in planning ways for you to get to know each other better...inter-generationally, this kind of connection is special for all ages. In our UU families, we teach respect for diversity, respect for the care we take to treat one another with kindness.
In her wonderful book, The Shelter of Each Other, Rebuilding Our Families, Mary Pipher encourages us to teach empathy in our church, in our families. She quotes Simone Weil as saying "The only real question to be asked of another is 'What are you experiencing?' " Of course, this means turning off our televisions and, dare I say, our computers and being still enough to actually make contact, so that you can ask what someone is experiencing. One way of doing this slowing down, Pipher says, is to start counting wealth in a different way - How many sunsets has the family seen together this month? How many church social events have been attended? How many meals have been eaten together? How many hours has the television been off and the family has been reading together?
Another point UU families can learn is to work through their problems - this is for the church family too. We can learn to be more direct - with kindness - about problems with each other. Adrienne Rich wrote "That which is unspoken becomes unspeakable." I think Unitarian Universalists value openness with each other, but we know it is difficult. In thinking about family secrets, I was reminded of the time two years ago when my sons were with my mother as she was dying. Todd said, "Nan, we have a confession." I was sitting on the other side of the bed and my mother's back was to me so I couldn't see her face. Todd continued: "You remember those hood ornaments that were missing from the fancy cars in the beach parking lot at the Cape? - no one could figure out who was taking them. Well, it was your grandsons...we still have the box filled with them." Well, my mother, a very proper lady, indeed, who normally would have been mortified, shook with laughter for the first time in weeks. So, sometimes secrets, confessed, are just the thing. Usually, however, secrets are very destructive. To make an effort to have open dialogue is taking responsibility for our relationships and usually leads to enhanced connections with each other.
A colleague, Scott Alexander, whose ministry is with the church of the larger fellowship, is writing a book about spiritual practice. He defines spiritual practice as all "useful, transforming and worthy disciplines which are intentionally practiced on a daily basis." He asked me to write a chapter about my vegan diet and other UUs to write one about care giving, family life, and/or parenting, as well as chapters covering other topics. To me, concentrating on how you behave within your family, how you value them, is a worthy discipline to be intentionally practiced on a daily basis. It is a spiritual practice, appropriate for Unitarian Universalist families--all families, actually. It is a practice which can enrich, bless and deepen the lives of everyone involved.
We must not forget about humor. A family needs humor..."How many jokes have we told each other this week" is another way to measure the "wealth" of a family. I think a lot of adults really miss out on the perspectives of children, which are not only humorously refreshing, but insightful. I hope more of you will begin having relationships with our young people in this church family. They love to talk to adults who really listen to their ideas.
I'm one of the lucky ones because around here I get to enjoy the world views of our children and youth. There is the wisdom of one of our youth, when asked by a new group member about what to bring to youth conferences...he said, "Well, your toothbrush, your sleeping bag and no sexual urges." Or the little boy whose mother heard him tell his friends that he is a "Univerian." Now why bother to use "Unitarian Universalist" when one combined word, "Univerian," will do just fine? W.H. Auden remarked that "among those whom I like, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh." May our UU families be filled with laughter, even during the rough times.
In considering your family, what memories do you want your children, your friends, your extended family, to have about their various family connections? During our memorial services here, it becomes so obvious that the values of the deceased person have been made clear to all by how they lived their lives. And, as you have heard very often, I am sure people don't ever say that he or she didn't spend enough time at work. So, the way you live your life, the type of foods you eat and why, whether or not you care for the environment, if you have some special causes with which you work to make this world a better place, if you spend time having fun, if you are loving and kind, all of this will be remembered. It's even been suggested that each family, as does the church family, ought to have a mission statement...what is most important to us? The church family mission statement is: "to be a caring, religious community that: -helps people move through life better than they would on their own; -encourages the living of one's values through social outreach; -fosters spiritual growth in an environment that affirms and celebrates diversity; -is inspiring and joyful." What would your own family create as a goal for how to be with one another? Not a bad idea...a good way to find out what all family members are experiencing.
In another wonderful book, The Moral Intelligence of Children - How to Raise a Moral Child, Robert Coles quotes Henry James as saying: "Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind." A colleague, Barbara Merritt, has written about how the good church, in the Unitarian Universalist world, is organized around how we covenant to be with one another, rather than around theological creeds we all accept. The following is how she feels a loving community relates to one another: -"We care for one another in our limitation; -we allow for mistakes and extend forgiveness; -we welcome the truth of each individual; -we are kind;-we don't try to destroy one another;-we don't bully one another, or make advances at another's expense; -in circumstances of confrontation and conflict, there is no refutation of another person;- we don't exploit another's weakness; -we are called to promote and to prompt one another to the highest standards of mutuality, generosity, sensitivity and responsibility." May it be so, for your family and for our family, here.