Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist
Sermon for February 11, 2007
by George Peterson
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Bits and Pieces or A Little Here, A Little There
It’s been quite a while, probably well over a year or year and a half, since
my last “Bits and Pieces” sermon, and since both you and I seemed to enjoy
the exercise, I thought it was time to repeat it once more.
Here goes: This is one of the more interesting side-bar items I’ve seen
in ages. Do any of you recognize the name, Andrea Jaeger? Well, at
the age of 16, back in 1991, Andrea was the world’s second-ranked female
tennis player. Today, she’s an Episcopal nun. She recently said
this: “I’m free. Now people know I’ve had this personal
relationship with God.” In her heyday, Jaeger was a sensitive soul,
miserable because she didn’t have a professional’s killer instinct.
“I was sitting in my hotel room all night going, ‘Well, everybody thinks
I’m great because I won, but what about the person I beat? How’s she
feeling?’ I was tormented.”
It was her hard-driving father, she says, who pushed her to achieve.
Things came to a head during the 1983 Wimbledon finals. Following a fight
with him, her father shut her out of their rented London house. Jaeger
knocked on the door of the only person she knew on the street, her opponent,
Martina Navratilova, who gave her a place to sleep. The next day, Jaeger
let Martina beat her in a mere 54 minutes. “I never could have looked in
the mirror if I went out and tried my heart out and won,” Jaeger says.
Soon afterward, a shoulder injury ended her career. “When I was injured,
to be honest, I was relieved. I thought, ‘Finally, I can go and be
me.’ God gave me a gift to play tennis, but it wasn’t my right to say
whether I had it for five years or 50 years. It was His right.”
Wow, what a story!
As most of you know, I am a lover of poetry and often use it to complement my
messages to you. This poem is from the great early-20th century Irish
poet, William Butler Yeats, and is entitled The Four Ages of Man:
He with body waged a fight,
But body won; it walks upright.
Then he struggled with the heart;
Innocence and peace depart.
Then he struggled with the mind;
His proud heart he left behind.
Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.
Speaking of wars on God, the author and scientist Richard Dawkins has certainly
been in the forefront of societal debate, discussion and dialogue with his
latest book, The God Delusion. In a recent interview published in Time
magazine, Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research
Institute since 1993 and a forthright Christian who converted from atheism at
age 27, said this: “God’s existence is either true or not. But
calling it a scientific question implies that the tools of science can provide
the answer. From my perspective, God cannot be completely contained within
nature, and therefore God’s existence is outside of science’s ability to
really weigh in.”
Collins then went on to say this: “Faith is not the opposite of reason.
Faith rests squarely upon reason, but with the added component of revelation.”
Some food for thought, there. And while we’re on the subject, the United
States is overwhelmingly a nation of believers. We just don’t believe
the same things. According to Time magazine, more than 85% of Americans
follow a Christian faith, but that strong majority is built of dozens of
denominations that diverge on the most basic questions: What role does God
play in the world? What does God want of us? What does the Bible
66 percent of Americans say, “I have no doubt that God exists.” 14
percent claim that they believe in a higher power or cosmic force, while 11
percent say they believe in God, but with some doubts. Five percent of
Americans do not believe in anything beyond the physical world.
What’s really interesting, and in several cases scary, however, are some of
the following facts: 41 percent believe that ancient civilizations, like
Atlantis, once existed; 37 percent believe that places can be haunted; 28
percent believe it is possible to influence the physical world through the mind
alone; 25 percent believe that some UFOs are probably spaceships from other
worlds; 18 percent believe that creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster
will one day be discovered; and, finally, when asked about their belief that
astrologers, palm readers, tarot-card readers, fortune tellers and psychics can
foresee the future, 8 percent of men, and 18 percent of women, agree!
Did you know how much time, on average, it takes to make $1,000 in the United
States? Well, a high school teacher has to work some 43 hours, on average.
A police officer, the same, 43 hours. A doctor, a General Practioner, has
to work 13 hours and five minutes to make a thousand bucks. A janitor on
average has to work 103 hours to make the same amount. And, finally, what
about the average chief executive? 2 hours and 55 minutes. Kobe
Bryant, the famous or infamous basketball player? Five minutes and 30
seconds. Brad Pitt, the actor? Four minutes and 48 seconds!
And finally, Howard Stern, the radio host? Just a mere 24 seconds of work
to make $1,000.
Some of these statistics are wildly amusing, but there is nothing funny about
the general state of our economy on those who are least fortunate, as the
President’s latest budget proposal reflects. I hope that you are as
outraged as me that almost every single social program, including medicare and
medicaid, will be drastically cut if this budget is approved.
This week, the Bush administration sent to Congress a $2.9 trillion budget for
fiscal year 2008 that includes nearly $1 trillion for the military and short
changes successful programs to help low-income people put food on their table,
keep warm in the winter and see a doctor when they are sick. Under the
president’s proposal, the U.S. would spend more on the military next year than
the rest of the world combined, begin funding new nuclear weapons development
and cut 300,000 families off food stamps.
It’s easy for us to tire of such things. It’s easy to get battle
fatigue and to throw up your hands in frustration and say, “But what can I
do?” But ladies and gentlemen, we cannot sit idly by and permit this
overt neglect of our fellow human beings, our fellow Americans.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “So much attention is paid to the aggressive
sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that
too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy and laziness,
which in the long run can have a more devastating and destructive effect upon
our society than the others.”
According to the Unitarian-Universalist Assocation, “Working for a just
society is central to our faith -- a faith based in the creation of justice and
peace here on earth and among the members of our shared world community.”
“The UUA seeks an economically just society and world in which government and
private institutions promote the common economic good and are held accountable
and in which all people have equal opportunity to care for themselves and their
families. Unitarian Universalism’s vision of the world as an
interconnected web challenges us to turn from self-serving individualism toward
a relational sense of ourselves in a global community, and toward practices that
help create economic structures designed to serve the common good.”
The president’s proposed budget does not serve the common good, and neither
does it promote equality and economic justice. Mark Morrison-Reed has said
this: “The central task of the religious community is to unveil the
bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship
discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others.
Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice.”
And so, I challenge you this morning to become inspired to do something about
this issue. Have any of you present already acted in any way against the
budget proposal? Do you have a social concerns committee? Perhaps
the committee could convene to discuss your response. At the very least, a
concerted letter-writing campaign to members of Congress – especially
Hodes, Carol Shea-Porter, Judd Gregg and John Sununu -- should be initiated, but
there may also be some other avenues of public protest and defiance.
So at the least, send a message to your Representative urging him or her to
support increased funding for the social safety net and oppose any budget bill
that further guts human services funding. Do you have a missions giving
committee? Are there social service programs in the area, such as
Women’s Supportive Services, that you could provide funding for?
In two weeks, our members of Congress will be home for the President’s Day
recess (February 19-23). The Friends Committee on National Legislation,
which Martha apprised me about this past week, has a good recommendation:
Get together with your friends and make an appointment to visit with your
representative or senators while they’re home. You can find out more
about how to schedule a lobby visit on the Friends’ website. If you’d
like, we can discuss this after the service during our coffee time together.
And speaking of outrage over the lack of any social or economic justice
whatsoever, did you see or hear the reports this past week of the missing $12
billion? It seems that way back in 2003, once we had achieved a clear and
decisive victory in our invasion of Iraq and Paul Bremmer was installed as the
civilian head of administration there, our great government airlifted some 370
pallets of $100 bills to help finance reconstruction efforts. The total
came to some $12 billion.
An interesting thing happened. No one, not even Bremmer himself, can
account for a single penny of the shipment. Despite a congressional
hearing this past week where a number of current and former officials testified
under oath about the $12 billion shipment, no one -- no one -- can explain or
provide any answer whatsoever as to what happened to it. Think of the good
that that money might have accomplished here, let alone the good that it might
have done for the poor suffering people of Iraq!
There’s just no accountability anymore -- anywhere. An editorial cartoon
by Pat Oliphant which appeared this week in the Washington Post features a group
of senators sitting and standing around at a new conference. A journalist
asks, “Tell us, Senator, why did you vote in favor of war in Iraq?”
Hillary answers, “If I knew then what I didn’t know I knew or not, then I
would never have voted in that manner. All other considerations
Other responses from other senators include: “I never really thought
about it knowingly.” “Hey, nobody told me folks would get killed and
all like that there.” “I was hampered by the unknowingness of not
knowing what I knew or didn’t.” “Why, if they only told me what I
didn’t know when I didn’t know I knew it, well, then . . .” “It
seemed like a good idea at the time.” “I was misinformed by being fed
untruthiness which negatively affected my judgment on the matter at hand.”
And finally, “I didn’t know I’d be asked this question!”
Some time ago, I gave a sermon on music and spirituality and how the two are
very much linked. We’re very fortunate to have a musician the caliber of
Martha Woodward. I appreciate Martha’s music ministry to our fellowship
here, and I feel that oftentimes on a Sunday morning, she brings me to a closer
relationship with my God. So here are a few quotes that I hope Martha, and
you, will appreciate:
St. Augustine once said that “he who sings, prays twice.” Aldous
Huxley said, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the
inexpressible is music,” while the poet Sidney Lanier said that “music is
love in search of a word.” Thomas Carlyle said this: “Music is
well said to be the speech of angels. In fact, nothing among the
utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to
the infinite.” And the cellist Pablo Casals once warned musicians this:
“Don’t play the notes. Play the meaning of the notes.” I guess
a paraphrase of that is a good place for me to bring this to a close:
Don’t just pray the prayer. Live the meaning of it!
Let us pray: Dear God, you manifest yourself in so many different ways to
us, but it is perhaps in your cloak of love and justice that you bring us
together and unify us. We who gather here are a people forever exploring,
searching and traveling. We don’t profess to have all the answers, but
we do profess an eagerness to be open and to listen.
In these times when the boundary between the haves and the have-nots gets bigger
and bigger, we know we are called to go to places that challenge us, even
frighten us. We recall the response of many great prophets, who initially
have felt unworthy, imperfect, unskilled and inferior. What can we, as
individuals or as a small group, possibly do to make the world a better place in
which to live?
And you answer, by instilling in us a sense of emboldenness, that we can do big
things, that we can think big things, if we just let ourselves. Thank you,
God, for this gift of grace, and we pray that in the days ahead, we will
continue to be a people who do the right thing, who actively work for economic
and social justice, in the greater Kearsarge Valley and the world way beyond
these four walls. Amen.