Welcome: Rev. Eric Meter
Good morning everyone. Welcome to the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in Racine, WI.
I’m the Rev. Eric Meter, the congregation’s interim minister.We gather together this morning as best we can
to restore both our courage and our faith as we face the world as it is. We are more when we are together,
wiser, more resilient and more able.Ffinding inspiration in the struggles of the past and courage for what lies ahead. Because of this OBUUC, as the congregation is known, is a vibrant congregation.
Prelude: Fantasia in D Minor by C.P.E. Bach, Anna Kojovic-Frodl, organ
Chalice Lighting words adapted from those by the Rev. Kathleen McTigue
You who are broken-hearted,
who woke today with the winds of despair
whistling through your mind,
You who are brave but wounded,
limping through life
and hurting with every step,
You who are fearful,
who live with shadows
hovering over your shoulders,
This [time together] is sanctuary,
and it is for you.
You who are filled with happiness,
whose abundance overflows,
You who walk through your world
with lightness and grace,
who awoke this morning with strength and hope,
you who have everything to give,
This [time] is your calling,
a riverbank to channel
the sweet waters of your life, the place
where you are called by the world’s need.
Here we offer in love.
Here we receive in gratitude.
Here we make a circle from the great gifts
of breath, attention and purpose.
Our chalice is lit.
Hymn: We Give Thanks, OBUUC Choir
Time for All Ages: The Secret of Saying, by Douglas Wood with illustrations by Greg Shed
Centering Words: Three Gratitudes (For Thanksgiving) by Carrie Newcomer from A Permeable Life: Poems and Essays
Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I am grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The story she told me,
The frost patterns on the window,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,
Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.
Time of Stillness and Reflection:
Reading: from The Heart of Our by Rev. Galen Guengerich
The idea of faith as a discipline may … sound like heresy to many Unitarian Universalists. Unless our faith is mere intellectual affectation, however, the defining element of our faith must be a daily practice of some kind. What kind of practice? For Jews, the defining discipline is obedience: To be a faithful Jew is to obey the commands of God. For Christians, the defining discipline is love: To be a faithful Christian is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. For Muslims, the defining discipline is submission: To be a faithful Muslim is to submit to the will of Allah.
And what of us? What should be our defining religious discipline? While obedience, love, and even submission each play a vital role in the life of faith, my current conviction is that our defining discipline should be gratitude. In the same way that Judaism is defined by obedience, Christianity by love, and Islam by submission, I believe that Unitarian Universalism should be defined by gratitude.
Why gratitude? Two dimensions of gratitude make it fitting as our defining religious practice. One has to do with a discipline of gratitude, and the other has to do with an ethic of gratitude. The discipline of gratitude reminds us how utterly dependent we are on the people and world around us for everything that matters. From this flows an ethic of gratitude that obligates us to create a future that justifies an increasing sense of gratitude from the human family as a whole. The ethic of gratitude demands that we nurture the world that nurtures us in return. It is our duty to foster the kind of environment that we want to take in, and therefore become.
The two forms gratitude takes in our lives (a discipline and an ethic) are natural outcomes of the two elements of religious experience (awe and obligation). The experience of awe leads to the discipline of gratitude, and the experience of obligation leads to an ethic of gratitude.
Reflection: Thanksgiving by Rev. Eric Meter
Before I offer my own reflections this morning, I have a second reading to offer you. These words, titled With Eyes that See, are from Marta Valentin:
Looking away from my computer screen, my day becomes suddenly arrested by the glory of the maple tree, with its yellow and orange leaves. I see the sun showing it just so. For a moment, it seems to be on fire, the barn beyond it starting to smoke.
I laugh, grateful to be halted from mundane things, jolted into the splendor of the natural world. I pause to express my gratitude. Dropping into my heart, I remind myself that even as I behold this splendor, a more spectacular sight, a greater vision of true art, is to see other people. Unlike the marbled kind that fill museums, the real art – the kind artists strive to imitate – sits peacefully right next to us, or yells in our faces. The real art is in all the shades of skin, all the textures of hair, all the shapes of bodies. Which ones do you notice first?
We see what we want to see and accept into our vision of community what is most familiar. But the true exercise in seeing others as works of art in our communities is to look for who is not there, and should be. When we open our eyes and truly see, we become one with the universal living museum that embraces the beauty of all.
I love that. For the last weeks as I prepared for this morning, I knew there was something I needed to remember and couldn’t put my finger on. Marta Valentin’s reading was what was in the back of my mind the whole time.
And now, some reflections on giving thanks:
Every now and then my mother would explain why she did what she did or said what she said. These were gifts.
She told me once that when she was growing up and would leave the house, whether in the morning on her way to school or in the evening for a night out with friends, her father would say to her, “Have fun,” while her mother would say “be good.” Both were expressions of love, but the two presented my mother with a rather mixed message.
At some point mom decided to parent a little differently than that herself.
I’m not sure if she made it up, or picked it up somewhere along the way, but when either my brother or I headed out to school in the morning she would always say, Make it a great day.
I’m not sure how often I was able to live up to that sage advice, but that saying of hers is one of the things I hold most precious about who my mother was.
Make it a great day.
What was it Rabbi Hillel said about the Torah? That the main message is “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another, the rest is commentary – now go study.” Well, make it a great day ranks right up there in my book. I’ve been doing my best to be a student of that philosophy my entire life.
But today is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and we’ve got a little time still, so let’s talk a bit more about gratitude.
The reading Andrea offered us earlier is an excerpt from an article from the Spring 2007 issue of our denominational magazine. Rev. Guengerich adapted it from a sermon he preached at All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan where he then served as associate minister. He is now senior minister of that congregation and this summer he published a book titled The Way of Gratitude that expands on what he wrote those years before.
While I remembered that article from back in 2007, I likely did so at least in part because of a letter to the editor that was published in the subsequent issue that took issue with Guengerich’s claim that gratitude be seen as the central discipline of the Unitarian Universalist faith.
I respectfully disagree with his opinion that Unitarian Universalism should be defined by gratitude, wrote Andrew Cameron from Nashville. A state of gratitude is a state of complacency. It will not help us fulfill our mission of promoting our principles. Our faith should be defined by wisdom.
Beyond his questionable claim that a state of gratitude is one of complacency, Cameron misses something critical. Guengerich calls for a defining practice of our faith. In Judaism it is obedience, Christianity – love, Islam – submission.
Cameron’s claim that our defining practice should be wisdom doesn’t fit the equation. How do you practice wisdom?
There’s also some hubris in what Cameron writes. Who says we’re all wise?
Furthermore, wisdom is culturally defined, and therefore a relative thing.
As much as it is right and good for us all to strive for wisdom, it is not a reasonable defining practice for any faith. What we’re looking for is a verb. Not a noun.
Early in my ministry, I realized that just about every time I picked up the phone it was to ask a congregant to do something or other. This wasn’t okay. I had to go about things differently, relate to those I served differently, so I began striving to say thank you at least twice as often as asking folks to do X, Y or Z.
While I haven’t always met that goal, doing so remains the bar I strive for.
And then there are the realities of this year, especially with the holiday season just beginning.
Even with Thanksgiving this Thursday, we may be feeling anything but grateful right about now.
This has been the most challenging year I can remember.
This year, contact with many loved ones will be mediated more than ever through speakers and screens instead of families and close friends being together, working together in the kitchen, old helping young set the table.
Many of us will be physically alone, perhaps for the first time in years, for Thanksgiving and the coming winter holidays. Traditionally, these are celebrations of togetherness, of being with loved ones. With the rise of Covid cases nation- and world- wide, however, it is wise to keep our gatherings as small as possible, choosing to sacrifice a little togetherness for lasting health and safety.
Put another way, we are making the decision to trade some joy for a higher cause.
So it may be more helpful than ever to count our blessings, and practice the art of saying thanks.
Some time this week do yourself a favor. Take a few moments just for yourself and begin to count your blessings.
What do you have to be grateful for?
Answers may come quickly, or may resist any invitation to show themselves. There’s no penalty for starting small. Stay with it for a while. You may need to come back to it a day or so later.
What are you grateful for?
Strange as it may seem, I think of my parents as much on the anniversary of their respective deaths as their birthdays. My father died in late October almost 30 years ago, and the 11 year anniversary of my mother’s death is in early December, so recently I’ve been thinking of them both. I mentioned my mother’s gift earlier. My father gave me the gift of questions no one else was brave or brazen enough to ask. Those questions prompted me to look at what I wanted most in life and turn myself more fully in that direction.
What, and whom, are you most grateful for?
As Melody Beattie put it,
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
With the challenges, if not the outright struggles, losses and wounds of life in mind, complacency doesn’t enter into the equation when it comes to what results from a developing spirit of gratitude. Far from it.
I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, even if this season proves a bittersweet one.
Together, let’s remember to keep practicing the art, in order to discover the secret, of saying Thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
The Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church is a community of generosity and abundance. Especially now, in this challenging time, your generosity is what keeps this community as vital as it is, a beacon of respectful engagement and faith in the power of love.
Each month we share the generosity of our collection with a local partner. Our outreach partner for November is the Root Pike Watershed Initiative Network. For more information on how to donate to OBUUC and Root Pike WIN, please visit the church website.
Offertory Bagatellen Op. 33 No. 4, Beethoven, Anna Kojovic-Frodl, piano
Benediction: words from Kathleen McTigue
What question do you think you need answered
in order to wake to the morning and step into your life with joy?
Listen: the dark branches scrolled sharp against a pure sky
are the only map you will ever receive.
When you look at those lines, when you
attend to them
until you feel yourself lifted
by their dark runes into the clear winter sun
or the dimming light of evening, there is your guide.
When gratitude rises as the only prayer of your heart,
you are learning, at last, what it is to be fully alive.
extinguish the chalice flame
This morning’s chalice is extinguished, but our connections and faith remain.
Postlude: Blue Green Hills of Earth, OBUUC Choir, Douglas Clum, instrumentals