Then my other senses took over, and I heard talking. Then someone realized I was awake. I was told to stay calm, and why is it that when someone tells you to stay calm, that your anxiety increases exponentially. What they meant was don’t move. And when I stopped moving, they slowly pulled the patches off my eyes. And the light was blinding at first as I had gotten used to the darkness…Then it was blurry and I could make out some shapes, then clarity came back to my vision and the first thing I saw was a stack of books next to my hospital bed. The top book I remember was Mary Poppins. Thus began my love affair with books and Julie Andrews. And although the operation was a success, it left me with some side effects
Then my other senses took over, and I heard talking. Then someone realized I was awake. I was told to stay calm, and why is it that when someone tells you to stay calm, that your anxiety increases exponentially. What they meant was don’t move. And when I stopped moving, they slowly pulled the patches off my eyes. And the light was blinding at first as I had gotten used to the darkness…Then it was blurry and I could make out some shapes, then clarity came back to my vision and the first thing I saw was a stack of books next to my hospital bed. The top book I remember was Mary Poppins. Thus began my love affair with books and Julie Andrews. And although the operation was a success, it left me with some side effects.
The operation left me with monocular vision. So now you know my deep secret. This means I cannot enjoy a 3-D movie, and has left me with no depth perception. I have blamed this for years as the cause of the poor state of golf game. But truthfully, I never gave much thought to not having depth perception. Now when I am driving, my wife Jan gives it significant thought when I stop very close to the car in front of me. But somehow my brain just adapted to the change because I didn’t have a choice.
I learned to appreciate my vision in the literal sense when I was very young. I learned to appreciate all the little and large things that I could take in with my vision. Both the beauty and the tragedy that comprises life. The sights of flowers in bloom, and as often the case with me the site of my plant dieing, the sunrise and the sunset, the skyline of city, the majestic ocean, the burnt out buildings of the Bronx, and the flowing river that ran through the Bronx Zoo, the faces of others, smiling babies, grieving parents, cheering fans, the desperate look of the homeless person. I learned at a young age to notice things. When you lose your vision, and you think you may never have it again, when it returns we realize the importance of it. It is often only when we are in the dark that we learn to appreciate the light. And often when we are in the dark, we stop looking for the light or lose hope in finding it. But it is there.
We have to constantly reclaim it and let it shine on us and shine through us. Although we all have personal visions, so do we as a congregation have a vision and a mission that we can see ourselves through, to guide us to where and who we want to be. Sometimes the way might not always be clear, and when it isn’t this is something to point to, to guide us. For people who don’t know of us, it is a statement that can help them discern, if this congregation is in line with their religious and spiritual journey. I think every action we take as a congregation should be an act that fulfills the vision and mission of this congregation. And if it doesn't, we should either re-consider the action or reconsider the vision and mission.
And I think it is a good idea to periodically reconsider the vision and mission as a matter of good policy. It has been five years since we created our current vision and mission. Since it was first written and voted on by the members of the congregation, we as individuals have changed, and we as a congregation have changed, we have had new members and Friends arrive since they were written, and of course the world within which we lived has changed. I am not saying that we need to change Page 2 the vision and mission, but I am saying we should look to see if we have moved towards fulfilling it, and whether it still has meaning to us.
If it doesn't have meaning to us, if it is not how we live in our congregational lives, then they are just words on a paper and we will seem inauthentic to guests who visit us and to the larger community.In our vision you write of being recognized by the community as a beacon on a hill. This phrase always reminds me of the old story about a communication between Canadian and United States authorities. It is a very foggy day at sea and the American Boat seeing the light of another boat in the distance on the same bearing as them sends a radio message:
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision
Americans: This is the captain of a US Navy Vessel, I say again, divert YOUR course
Canadians: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course
Americans: THIS IS THE UNITED STATES CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE ATLANTIC FLEET, WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS, AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE TAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP
Canadians: This is a lighthouse, its your call
I do think this story has a number of important message. First, it is a message in how we communicate. Lets be upfront about who and what we are. The Canadians could have said up front they were a lighthouse and could have avoided a lot of angst for the people in the boats. Secondly, the hubris of power demanding it gets it way even though they may not be aware of all the circumstances. I think the message here is that we should be discerning and educate ourselves and others before making declarative statements. And lastly, how can we let ourselves be seen and known in the fog that is life. We are a bright shining light. And we are physically built on a hill. But many people have never heard of Unitarian Universalism. Many people may pass by and see us but have no idea who we are or what we stand for. Many people, just like the ship captain who mistook the light because his vision was blurred, don’t know or understand the light and love and freedom we bring to religion. Let us remember this concept of a City built on hill was proposed by Jesus in the Book of Matthew
chapter 14 where he says:
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”
But then it goes on to say and this I think is an even more important statement:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.”
So I encourage you to shine your lights and your love, especially on the top of this hill let it shine, but not just on top of this hill, but to shine your light and your love in the community so that others may hear our liberating message, so that others may know and learn about this amazing religion. A religion with a welcoming, loving embrace where all people are welcome.
Let us share our light with others, and also, let us remember that sometimes, sometimes we are the ship’s captain, and we need to see more clearly and listen to the light that others have and to embrace that light to help guide us on the path that we are all walking together. In starting with a new minister I offer you a mirror to re-look at things with a second sight, to reaffirm our vision or maybe to see our vision in a new way, different than the past. Or to determine if the vision we once had is still a valid Page 3 vision. As I begin my ministry here, I want us to remember that we have a shared ministry together. Unitarian Universalism as a religion is very unique in this way. This shared ministry is the foundation of our congregational polity.
This shared ministry is the work of the people in the many ministries of the congregation. Just in my short time here I have seen it. I see it in many of the activities that you do. I have seen it in the smiles of the children through our wonderful religious education ministry, by all the work of the staff and volunteers that make that happen. I see it in the work that many of our members do at QCAD, I see it in the local food movement that is so active, I see it in the green sanctuary movement than many of you have talked to me about, which touches on just some of the many social justice ministries that so many of you are involved in. (Talk about social justice task force) I also see our shared ministry in the programs such as connection circles and adult religious education that do allow you to search for your individual truths as your mission calls you to do.
I see it in the caring of our members for each other, I see it in the fellowship that you create together. These are just a few of the moments where I experienced you living out the ministries of this congregation. I look forward to getting to know each of you and finding out what your passions are. What your hopes are for yourself, and for our community, and for the world. I look forward to finding out what the needs of the community are and hopefully we can match our passions and skills to where there is need. I want to hear about your struggles as well and remind you that you are not alone in your struggles. Ultimately it is my hope to walk side by side with you to continue to build the beloved community that can instill and fulfill our vision and mission.
And that is my hope for our ministry together. That together we will build a beloved community. To do so first and foremost I think it is critical to create an open and safe environment to allow people to explore their religious journey in a creative and nonjudgmental atmosphere that will allow all to connect with and build deeper relationships with others and the world around us. This doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree with each other all the time. For ours is a pluralistic religion, where we look for wisdom from multiple sources.
But how we agree to act with one another is the conventional nature that binds us together as a community To create a dialogue and not a debate where we not only speak our truth, but listen to others with the intent to understand and hear their truth with the assumption of the good intentions of others. Through transparency and accountability, we can engage each other and the larger community with creative dialogue and action. This will help us expand our relationships both within and outside our community. By creating such an environment, by being in right relationship with others, we are not only providing support for each other during the journey through life’s passages, we create a foundation that forms a commitment to something greater than ourselves.
We are capable of greatness, a greatness that will lift us up with wonder and awe for all the potential that is within us. I say this not because I know you all personally but because I believe it is there within every human being. The power of good, the power of love. Waiting to be released. Waiting to be awakened, waiting to be stirred. So let us focus on our vision. Let us ask ourselves Why does the congregation exist? What are we to do as a congregation? And I think as importantly How are we to be as a congregation?
As I did in my youth, when my eyes were going all over the place, we too can go through a process that will allow us to strengthen the focus on our actions. It may seem blurry at first, and we may not always be clear which way to go, but over time if we act with right intention and right action, we will find clarity. Just as I had to lose some abilities to gain focus, so to may we have to lose some things we have always done so we may fulfill our vision and Page 4mission. So I encourage you to think about our vision and mission in a way that lets us look at all things anew with focus towards living into its fulfillment. Let us reclaim our vision and mission.
As we move forward together I encourage you to engage each other with an open heart and open mind, and join in on this adventure and explore new ideas, and new ways of thinking and being and let your light and love shine brightly. And as the opening reading spoke to so eloquently, Let us summons our better selves, let us find our lostness, let us unite our fragments, let us heal our wounds, and let our muscles grow strong for the task.
May it be so.