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Bread and Rainbows
 

Service Leader: Jo-Anne Elder-Gomes

The Unitarian Fellowship of Fredericton, Fredericton NB

October 8, 2006


Words of Welcome
Chalice Lighting: 'O Great Spirit' by Sarah Anala
Congregational Readings: Words of Thanks
Hymn: 'For the Beauty of the Earth'
Story for all Ages: 'The Coming of the Corn' read by Carlos Elder-Gomes
Joys, Sorrows and Thanksgivings
Hymn: 'As We Come Marching, Marching'
Talk: Bread and Rainbows
Offering
Call to Action
Announcements
Closing Hymn: 'We Are a Gentle, Angry People'

Congregational Readings

(these passages about thanksgiving were given out to different people and read during the service)

As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence ... I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity ... of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. Thomas Mann (1875-1955)

Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a Providence to an humble and grateful mind. Epictetus (AD 55? - 135)

In our daily lives, we must see That it is not happiness that makes us grateful, But the gratefulness that makes us happy. Unknown.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
Jacques Prévert, translator?

No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find
The best of now and here.
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92)

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. John R. Wooden

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936)

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)

Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses.
Alphonse Karr

There is always something for which to be thankful. Charles Dickens (1812-70)

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice. Johannes Meister Eckhart Eckhart (1260?-1327?)


Opening Words:

I welcome all of you here, in the hope that our hearts, as well as these doors, will be opened wide to welcome many strangers as well as many friends. Our doors swing open to welcome the underpaid workers of our country and of our world. We welcome people born into poverty in our communities, and those whose pasts in other countries have been devastated by war, famine, and natural disaster. We welcome those who are misunderstood, who are disempowered. We offer a safe place to those who are afraid, who hide their hearts and souls behind closed doors. We want to be able to open our doors wide enough grow hearts large enough to welcome all these strangers as our guests. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have tables large enough and pantries full enough to sustain these guests celebrate, here, the joy of giving bountifully to others.


Joys and Sorrows:

The heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; and thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burdens of the past. --Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Before we commit our joys and our sorrows to memory, we relieve and magnify them by sharing with those in our community who have committed to supporting us in our daily and lifelong journeys. I invite you now to place your expressions of sorrow, as well as your praises of thanksgiving, on the altar of our compassion.


Talk:

This is a day of thanks for many reasons. Today is our Thanksgiving Sunday, and many of us will enjoy the fruits of the harvest, whether or not we have contributed to growing them, with our families. On October 16, we recognize World Food Day. The recognition of the tragedy of world hunger and the need for food security and clean water is important, and we need to be conscious of the imbalance between the lives of those who enjoy comfort and those who do not. There is also another day of importance to us, Coming Out Day, which is on October 11. In fact, I was encouraged to call this service Emptying Our Cupboards and Closets... but in fact, I will be talking mostly about filling the world, not emptying it.

In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving around the time of the actual harvest. The Potato Break upriver ended only a little over a week ago. Historically, when people had gathered in the crops, they paused a little before the work of preserving fruits and vegetables, placing root vegetables in the cool dark, filling the freezer and the pantry, baking pies with the surplus fruit and perhaps, as at our house, eating fried tomatoes for breakfast when my mother considered that finally enough tomatoes had been stewed and jarred and shelved in the fruit cellar.

Rev. Tess Baumberger, a minister with the UU Congregation of Franklin, N.H. and whose words I'm borrowing liberally for this talk, invites us to look at harvest as a dance... Traditionally, the physical movements of this season are about storing up, saving, and preserving ... part of that dance would include motions of drawing inward. Emotionally and spiritually, many of us also turn inward at this time, as the days grow cooler and the nights grow longer. We turn toward reflecting, quieting, pondering. However, this season also includes quite a different type of movement. As we appreciate the fruits of our labors, our hearts fill up and overflow with gratitude, and our spirits are moved to generosity. Even as we take in the harvest, we give out thanks. This means that another part of the dance of the harvest involves motions of sending out, of giving, of praise and celebration. There is balance, in the dance of the harvest, between taking in and giving out.

Many other religions celebrate the generosity that moves us to share our bounty with others. The Jewish tradition teaches that if 100 beggars come to your door and only one is truly in need, you must give to all 100 for the sake of that one. A Buddhist teaching about charity says that a person can be like a drought, a local rain, or a rain that pours down everywhere. It calls each of us to become like a gentle, global rain. The Jain tradition teaches that charity is the spring of virtue. Islam honors those who provide for the needy, the orphan, and the prisoner out of love for the divine, without wish of reward or thanks. In Christian scripture, we are told: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.

Rev. Baumberger notes that The wording about storing up treasure in heaven may not work for those of us who do not believe in such a place, but it can work if you think of heaven as the world as we would make it, the world in which we would like to live. The central message here is that the truly important things in life cannot be stolen, cannot rust or rot. What is really important cannot and should not be hoarded. This teaching cautions against consumerism, a useful message as we enter the season when consumerism is most rampant, she says. I would add that when the world is in such turmoil that we cannot help but think of the many imbalances caused by war, poverty and oppression, we need to be especially vigilant about sharing what is important with the world.

It is hard for me, sometimes, to get past the idea that our table cannot possibly be big enough for all the guests who need to be there. It is a struggle for us to ensure that just those in our home have the food they need and the treats I feel they deserve, and it is certainly a stretch to reach out beyond our walls. I am learning, though, that this is a stretch for many, if not most people, whether they live in situations of poverty or relative wealth.

Lately, I've been trying to accept my inability to help in any ways but little ones. Reframing my limitations through appreciative inquiry (a method which is surely be based on gratitude and generosity), I should say that I am learning to accept my ability to help in some small way. I am only one: you know the rest. Among my decisions has been one to balance the policy-making kind of volunteer work, which I see as acts of public witness and citizenship, and are often accomplished at the regional or national level, with acts of service at the micro-level. I struggle with this, because I actually feel that it is so much more useful to give one homeless person a loonie or a cup of coffee than it is to sit at a table trying to get more funding for arts organizations. Other people, I know, hold the opposite opinion, and they should be the ones at the table. However, they are often not able to get themselves there, for reasons that are complex and difficult to address, reasons that have something to do with the fact that stay-at-home mothers aren't the ones making policy about early childhood initiatives and social policy.

The trick, I think, is to try to stay close enough to what we feel is true and real, and free enough to design a life that feels like a work of the imagination. Somehow, it has to be possible for us to break our bread and eat it, too, to have food for thought but also enough to fill our stomachs.

So that's the bread part. As you have no doubt guessed, the rainbow part is about Coming Out Day. Now I have to admit that I have always found coming out a rather dubious phrase, partly because it reminds me of débutantes' balls and blurting out words that may be ill-reflected: come on, out with it! I wish it were Stand Up Day, or March Forward Day. Marching for bread and roses sounds exciting and empowering; I find the song we just sang optimistic and inspirational. We march in protest, march to take back the night, march against the soldiers marching off to war. We stand up for what we believe in. Right now, the End Poverty Now campaigners are asking people to stand up on October 15 to break a Guiness World Record for the largest number of people standing up against poverty. Obviously, this is only significant if those who have more stand beside those who have less, and that is the other reason the term coming out of the closet seems to me to lack something. It is not enough to recognize people who come out, or even to celebrate their presence on the outside which, paradoxically, seems to mean to become part of an in-group or at least means to participate fully in the world.

What I think we need is a world worth coming into, or coming out into. Letting or encouraging or even helping people come out and state who they are is not enough. We all deserve more than that. We deserve to grow and welcome each other, to change ourselves as well making the world a better place to come into, to live in, a fairer and more balanced place, a much more widely opened world in which we place and we find our treasures.

In our time of Thanksgiving, Rev. Baumberger says, we need to consider some difficult questions. She invites us to think about whether we may have overstocked our shelves, whether our nation, or hers (south of the border), has taken more than it deserves or needs. I would add that we need to think about whether we, as individuals, have overstocked our lives, whether we have taken on more than we need, tipped the balance towards doing and making and forgotten about the most fundamental needs of humanity. Like the Little Red Hen, we think it's all about baking the bread and sharing it fairly. Fairly, to her, means with those who have helped to bring in the harvest, to make the bread. In my version of the story, the pig who didn't help was lying on the ground nursing her piglets. The dog was busy looking for bones for his pups and fetching a ball for a lonely little boy. The cat who didn't help was lying on the ground staring up at the rainbows in the sky. And they all got plenty to eat -- in my version.

Now, rainbows are probably just as frivolous as the roses I usually talk about when I do my talk on poverty and hunger. And, unlike roses, rainbows can't even be touched or smelled. Our ability to even see them depends on the co-existence of rain and sunshine, which speaks of the double hook our lives catch hold of as we accomplish this bizarre and wonder-filled journey. And they have been studied, possibly more than roses have, in order to help us grasp the mysterious composition and function of light. Light is a strange notion indeed, involved in speed, energy, colour. It changes in the blink of an eye. It comes and it goes. It is something to look for, to follow as a spiritual guide; it is something that causes sadness and health problems if we don't get enough of it, and that distorts our vision and ruins our sleep patterns if we get too much of it.

Seeing a rainbow is often a child's first experience of wonderment, one that comes before deer-spottings, at least in our family. The rainbow that we wear proudly as a Welcoming Congregation is a source of inspiration and wonder for me. It means we have stood up and marched forward, that we have broken, if not a Guiness World Record, than at least a wall of darkness of the sort I've often found myself stumbling into. It is an extension of the flame of our chalice, the light which, left hidden inside, will burn up the bushel that covers it, rendering the bushel basket useless to carry the bread and the manna out into our world.

If I had it, I would play a CD by Judy Collins right now; if I had a voice, I would sing it. The words go like this:

Open the door and come on in, I'm so glad to see you my friend. You're like a rainbow coming around the bend. And when I see you happy Ah it sets my heart free. I'd like to be as good a friend to you as you are to me.

What I want is a door that opens in as well as out, that lets people into a safe, warm house with a kitchen as well as out into a free, safe world where they can catch glimpses of roses and rainbows.

Rev. Baumberger reminds us how we can help make this happen. She says, We know how to let love guide us from greed to giving with those closest to us, our family, partners, and close friends. If we expand the circle of such loving embrace to draw in the wider sweep of humanity, we can learn to practice a broader giving, to become like the rain that falls down everywhere. Where your heart is, there your treasure will be.

What I want is a new dance. One in which we are standing up together, at least as we are willing and able, and are in constant, gentle movement. One in which our arms move out and in, enfolding the world, and learning to open, open, open, wider and wider, our generosity stretching ever wider and broadening the circle of our compassion. Let it be a dance, our dance, and let us all be partners.


Offering:

To invite your offering, we offer you words of poetry and music. These words are from Paul L'Herrou:

We give thanks for this day and for these people and all the people who have enriched our lives.

We give thanks for the gift of life with all of its pain and its joy, its struggles and its triumphs.

We give thanks for love, which created us, which revivifies us and links us to others in struggle and in joy. We give thanks for eyes to see and ears to hear, the ability to feel and the imagination to see beyond the obvious.

We give thanks for the spirit of creativity that inspires and encourages, that brings novelty in the midst of familiarity and risk in the midst of comfort, that surprises in the midst of the commonplace.

We give thanks by giving to others in return for all that we have received.


Call for Action: Based on info. from Guest at our Table.

Poverty: buy local, and struggle for a living wage. Information about global disasters such as Katrina and the widespread increase of working hours in average households.


Closing Words:

May the joyful, grateful dance of our harvest time have the intricate, beautiful balance between drawing in and reaching out. May we, from the bounty that blesses us, give in ways that help to make our community one in which we can live with dignity. May we bake and break bread together, and also take the time to find rainbows as we stand side to side with those who hide in cold houses or sleep in the rain. May it be so.