Engaging with the Wider Community

“Engaging with the Wider Community”

Service for Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, Illinois

August 27, 2017

the Rev. Jennie Barrington, Interim Minister

 

*Chalice Lighting and Call to Worship [adapted from Deuteronomy 6:11]:

 

“We build on foundations we did not lay

We warm ourselves by fires we did not light

We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant

We drink from wells we did not dig

We profit from persons we did not know.

This is as it should be.

Together we are more than any one person could be.

Together we can build across the generations.

Together we can renew our hope and faith in the life that is yet to unfold.”

First Reading: [the words of Luisah Teish]

“There are times when I look at what human history has been and I say, Oh, OK, there have always been people like us who get a momentum started and then it dies down and nothing becomes of it.  And it’s a hundred years or so before those thoughts are resurrected. But there’s a little voice in my ears that insists that I continue.  It insists that something really important is happening here, something that is going to have an effect here for years. Something that is going to make a significant change in the world.”

Second Reading: adapted from, “Prophets of a Future not our Own” [which was written in honor of Archbishop Oscar Romero]
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.

The [Beloved Community] is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the

magnificent enterprise that is [the work of that which is divine].

Nothing we do is complete… ,

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the [whole mission of our congregation nor our denomination].

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

 

This is what we are about.

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,

and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and do it very well.

 

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for [divine] grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference

between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders,

ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

 

Special Music: [Kimberly and MarySue]

 

The Morning Sermon:

 

“Captain’s log, Star date 45944.1. Following a magnetic wave survey of the Parvenium system, we have detected an object which we cannot immediately identify.”

 

Whoops.  Let me back up a minute. I was supposed to start this sermon talking about the wonderful insights I have gleaned from the conversations I’ve had with so many of you, about this congregation’s values–  and how we can convey those values to the wider community, so that they will live on. Those conversations have been a joy–  And I look forward to having many more of them. I’ve talked with members who are doing social justice work, and welcoming and engaging new members, with board members and the nominating and leadership committee, with our consultant, the Rev. Scott Aaseng, who has worked with us on community organizing, and I’ve met with the Strategic Planning team, to begin to envision what we want 2U to be like several years from now.

 

These conversations have been about what is at the core of our work, here: to be a religious voice that is liberal, progressive, humane, compassionate, and accepting. Those elements are at the core of 2U’s mission, and purpose, and way of being in right-relationship with each other and our wider community. That’s a tall order and a profound mission for us all to reflect on this morning, and every day.

 

My favorite episode of Star Trek Next Generation is called, “The Inner Light.” In that episode, the community of Ressik, on the planet Kataan, has to distill what of their way of life they want to preserve, and has to find some way for their civilization to outlive them, for the most dire of reasons– Their sun is becoming increasingly hotter– It is destined to go nova–  All life on their planet is going to cease to exist. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is the only hope they have to be remembered, and remembered well. How do they convey what is worthy about their way of life to him?

 

Wondering about that question, and reflecting on the conversations I’ve had about 2U’s core values, led me to reflect on four models of ways a congregation conveys its values to the larger community. They are in the book by Alice Mann called, Raising the Roof – The Pastoral-to-Program Size Transition. She is citing the work of “church sociologists” David Roozen, John McKinney, and Jackson Carroll. I offer the four models to you this morning in light of the ways this congregation has, throughout its history, lived out its mission and purpose.

 

The first model is an activist culture. This congregation certainly has activism in its history, including speaking up for people who are marginalized, and for environmental issues, and for racial minorities, and for refugees and immigrants. In the 1950s and 60s, this congregation’s membership was dwindling. It was served by two student ministers, who led the church in social activism in response to the political conflicts of the times, including taking part in demonstrations around the 1968 Democratic National Convention. And in the 1980s, when the church was served by the Rev. Charlie Kast, Rev. Kast and members provided help, comfort, and advocacy to people who were gay, during the AIDS crisis. Rev. Kast also officiated civil union ceremonies for gay couples.

 

The second model in Alice Mann’s book is a civic culture, which “promotes the public good through involvement with existing social and economic institutions.” And there are many ways that members of our congregation have influenced other institutions and organizations in this neighborhood, in Chicago, and beyond. Did you know that, in the late 1800s, this congregation once started a school for the children of immigrants? It turned into a community center, basic education and employment training were provided, as well as meals, and there was a day care center. In the late 1930s, the community center merged with the North Side Boys Club. Can you imagine ways 2U could support and collaborate with schools, community centers, and day care centers, now?

 

The third model is an evangelistic culture. And I know that that word does not sit well with some of you. But as I said a minute ago, in the conversations I’ve been having with so many individuals and groups, I am hearing a lot about reaching out more to the wider community. And a main way that we spread our UU message is through the way we are in relationship with everyone–  our respectful way, of being tolerant and accepting of diversity. Whenever we are in the wider community in our yellow Standing on the Side of Love tee shirts, we are spreading our UU values, even if you don’t want to use the words “evangelizing.”

 

The fourth model for “doing church” that Alice Mann cites is the one that may feel most comfortable to you. It is when the congregation sees itself primarily as a sanctuary, in which members experience “transcendence over the trials of daily life.” Indeed, many of you view 2U as a home, a haven, a safe place, an oasis within a larger community which is troubling, a place where we do not have to pretend that we are someone we’re not, a place where we do not have to say we believe something we do not, and a place where we are among like-minded people. That’s a beautiful thing. I would even say that that is a sacred thing. And I never want 2U to lose that quality of being a safe haven. And I also believe that we can be, not just a sanctuary, but a beacon. We can keep finding was to proclaim to the wider world who we are, what we stand for, and why we are here.

 

 

Wondering about these questions also led me to recall a book I read in seminary. The book, by Christian theologian H. Richard Niebuhr, is about several ways communities of faith convey their values into the secular culture around them. So I recalled the book as being titled, “Church and Culture.” But I recalled the title wrong; it’s actually called, “Christ and Culture.” I propose, for our purposes this morning, we take Niebuhr’s models and adapt them to call them, “Unitarians and Culture.”  That way we can assess how we might best make our values live on in society after we’re gone.  To begin with, what does Niebuhr mean by “culture” anyway? He means that which human beings superimpose onto that which is natural; he means “language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values.” [p. 32] He calls all that the “social heritage” that we inherit, contribute to during our lifetime, and leave behind us.  “Social heritage” is the result of human achievement, including “speech, education, tradition, myth, science, art, philosophy, government, law, rite, beliefs, inventions, and technologies.” [p. 33] All of these things have been created as the end result of specific values human being were trying to convey. We preserve and recreate our social heritage as a way of trying to make our values live on.  The first way Niebuhr describes is people of faith against culture, i.e., viewing secular culture as suspicious or sinful– something to do battle against. This tendency isn’t normative for Unitarian Universalists.  The second way we could call “Unitarians of culture.” This way, there is no great tension between the ethics of the faith community and the norms and laws of the wider community. So people of the faith community can become influential leaders in government and community organizations, and we know that Unitarians do.  We could call the third way “Unitarians above culture.” That would mean we believe our principles and beliefs are what the world needs in order to be saved. Niebuhr feels that the danger of thinking this way is that a faith community becomes too institutionalized– It begins to think too highly of itself and its members– to worship them, even– Its main purpose becomes to maintain and sustain itself, rather than serving a greater good. And I think we need to be careful that 2U is not just maintaining and sustaining itself, but is also focused on serving a greater good. We could call Niebuhr’s fourth way “Unitarians and Culture in Paradox.”  This may be how many of you feel in trying to speak and practice our beliefs in a time in our nation when we see such harsh treatment of people who are vulnerable due to their race, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation or identity. When we Unitarian Universalists watch the national news, we see resistance and opposition to our values. Niebuhr feels the danger with the “in paradox” model is that it becomes too static. There is the danger that we will do nothing to try to change those we perceive as resistant or in opposition to us.

 

Lastly, we could adapt Niebuhr’s fifth model to read, “Unitarians transforming Culture.” You can tell by the slant of the writing that this fifth model is Niebuhr’s favorite. It describes a faith community with a hopeful optimistic view of secular culture. The faith community’s affirmative outlook on humanity and all life motivates it to work for justice, beauty, and truth. In Niebuhr’s conclusion, he reminds us of the larger community of souls on whose behalf we labor. He calls that community “God’s Kingdom.” He was, after all, writing in 1951.  But what if we adapt what Niebuhr was trying to describe so it suits Unitarian Universalists today? Instead of “God’s Kingdom,” we can say, “Beloved Community.” Or what if we think of that larger community of souls as our long rich Unitarian Universalist heritage– all the Unitarian Universalists who have lived before, and all the ones we hope will carry on our values?  Or what if we think of that community of all souls as what Karl Jung described as the collective unconscious? If we adapt, somewhat, Niebuhr’s conclusion to his book, it reads: “To make our decisions in faith is to make them in view of the fact that no single person or group or historical time is the [beloved community]; but that there is a [beloved community] in which we do our partial, relative work and on which we count. It is to make [our decisions] … in view of the fact that the world of culture  –humanity’s achievement– exists within the world of grace…” [or, I might say, within the world of the collective unconscious, that place where everything of worth that we have learned and experienced abides eternally]. Might that be a way of being “humanistically religious” that our whole congregation could embrace?

 

Alice Mann gave us four models for living out 2U’s mission: activist, civic, evangelistic, and sanctuary. And Niebuhr has given us five choices of how to be in relationship with our wider community– But one way is not an option in his book: the congregation apart from culture. He presupposes that there is always something of a relationship. Therefore it is up to us to be mindful of how we are in relationship with people who do not share our beliefs, and how the legacy of our lives will be in relationship with posterity.

 

And now to get back to that episode of Star Trek Next Generation, called, “The Inner Light.” Captain Picard suddenly finds himself in the community of Ressik, living the life of a man named Kamin. He feels as if he is dreaming, but his experience is as real as his life on the Enterprise felt. His life in Ressik, which continues, day after day, year after year, is immensely satisfying. He has friends; a respected voice in political decisions; a wife and two children; work, as an “iron weaver;” and the hobbies of exploring the hillsides and charting the stars.  The community is gracious, caring, and optimistic. They are agrarian, perhaps entirely vegetarian, and they celebrate the arts. Theirs is a kind and gentle way of life. Though not as sophisticated as the world from which Picard has come, they are trying to expand their scientific knowledge of why their atmosphere is becoming hotter and hotter. In defiance of the drought, they plant a tree in the town square as a symbol of hope and affirmation of life. They keep it alive by each contributing some of their water rations to it.  By the time Picard, living the life of Kamin, becomes 85 years old, the drought is so severe that crops can no longer be sustained. He tells the municipal authorities that extinction is inevitable. They tell him that there is a plan to save some piece of their civilization. Throughout his life on Ressik, Picard plays a small flute. [Though in his whole former life on the Enterprise, he had never done so at all.] Doing so brings him a simple but real pleasure, helps him think through problems, and provides him with meditative time. He becomes skilled enough to write and play a haunting melody for his son’s naming ceremony. His son grows to become proficient enough to be a professional musician.  Though filled with love and pride for his children and grandchildren, Picard, as the eighty-five year old Kamin, is brokenhearted that their future looks so brief.  Then his family surrounds him and draws his attention to the launching of a probe. The spirits of his deceased wife and best friend reappear and explain to him that the probe is being sent into the future. The community’s hope is that it will encounter someone, a teacher, to whom they can convey what they were, and how they lived. “Oh, it’s me… [Picard says] I’m the someone. I’m the one it finds.” They say to him, “If you will tell others about us, then we will have found life again.”

 

Back on the Enterprise, Picard’s dream state finally ends. He emerges from it physically fine, but disoriented as to what time period he is in now. The crew tell him that no more than twenty minutes has actually passed. And they tell him that the civilization on Kataan has been gone for over a thousand years. When they open up the probe, the crew finds only a small wooden box, which they bring to Picard. He opens it to find the flute he so loved playing in his dream life. He clutches it to his heart, then lifts it to his mouth to find that he is still able to play his haunting melody.

 

We can only guess why the story is called, “The Inner Light.” My guess is that the increasingly oppressive atmosphere of Kataan’s world was not what matters in the end. What matters is the gifts and graces within each person. For some, that was planting or planning or cooking or studying– For Kamin it was musicality illuminated by a flute. It was only by reaching out that the Enterprise crew and the people of Ressik came to understand and empathize with each other. Since they did, all that was worthy in Kamin’s ancient world became part of Picard’s new world. It is only from reaching out to others that we learn what their inner light is. At first glance, some people’s values can seem so different than ours.  But I believe we must try to reach out to people who seem to be in another galaxy than us. I believe I must keep trying to reach out to people who seem to be in another galaxy than I am. Imagine if the most important communities for Unitarian Universalists to reach out to seem to be in–  “Space– the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise: its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

 

Live long and prosper.

 

*Hymn #1018 “Come and Go with Me

 

Offering:

This morning, and every Sunday this month, we are sharing our offering with UUANI, a Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network throughout Illinois, that trains leaders to build power for congregational social action.

 

*Closing hymn #1064 Blue Boat Home

 

*Parting Words [W.E.B. DuBois, his last statement to the world]:

 

“One thing alone I charge you. As long as you live, believe in Life! Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life. The only possible death is to lose belief in this truth simply because the great end comes slowly, [simply] because time is long.”

 

Reflections on Neighborhood

“Reflections on Neighborhood”

Inaugural Sermon for

Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, Illinois

August 20, 2017

the Rev. Jennie Barrington, Interim Minister

 

First Reading: from, Grounded – Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution, by Diana Butler Bass [from her chapter on, “Neighborhood,” p. 222]

 

“In the twentieth century, Jewish theologian Martin Buber explained that most arenas of human activity  –politics, economics, and education–  actually alienate us, because they treat human beings as objects. Modern culture has trained us to distance ourselves from one another, seeing others and the world itself as something to be observed, examined, and critiqued. Essentially, we view everyone and everything as problems to be fixed. When we know others only as objects, what Buber called the ‘I-it’ relationship, it precludes the possibility of community. There is, however, an alternative. If we encounter our neighbors with empathy, remembering that others are subjects, we can enter into an ‘I-Thou’ relationship. Seeing others as ‘Thou’ opens the possibility of real affection and mutual responsibility. True neighborliness can be described as being mutual subjects, acting toward one another with respect and understanding. Buber said that modern society is an ‘it’ world. But he also claimed that a ‘Thou’ world, of connection and compassion, was the only path toward a healthy human future. Buber’s vision easily translates to the possibility of neighborhood–  ‘Thou’ is another way of talking about empathy, a connective source for community. If we want good neighborhoods and to be good neighbors, we must be able to treat both places and people as subjects, not objects.”

 

Second Reading: from, The Spirit of Community, by Amitai Etzioni

 

“Some time ago I was driving home in snow that had snarled Washington, D.C., and was forced to abandon my car and hitch a ride with someone whose car had four-wheel drive.  When I finally arrived at my home in Bethesda, Maryland, neighbors were standing in my kitchen–  crying.  I found out that my wife had been in a serious car accident.  My young son had been taken to an emergency room with her.  Two of my neighbors offered to drive me to the emergency room, despite the icy roads (we did spin out of control on the way), and others simply stated that they were going to stay in my place to wait for my other sons to arrive.  My wife did not survive the accident, and in the weeks that followed, my neighbors took care of me.  They brought over food; one couple spent the entire evening with me, although it was one of two evenings their son was home from college.  Another dedicated his only day off from work to go to the car wreck and retrieve some documents, a task I could not face.  They called on me frequently for weeks on end.

 

I know, as clearly as one can ever tell about human motivations, that they did not calculate how much I had done for them in the past or would do for them in a future moment of need.  It was quite evident that they did what they could to help out of a sense of compassion.  True, there is, quite properly, in any relationship or community some vague sense of appropriate reciprocity, of the need to contribute to a climate of mutuality.  But basically people help one another and sustain the spirit of community because they sense it is the right thing to do.” [p. 145]

 

Musical Message “Won’t you be my Neighbor,” by Fred Rogers

 

The Morning Sermon: “Reflections on Neighborhood”

 

Good morning, and welcome, and may I say again how honored and delighted I am to be starting up as the interim minister for your very caring and fun congregation, in this beautiful neighborhood known affectionately as Lakeview. While I was considering coming here to be your new interim minister, I talked with many people familiar with “2U” and Lakeview. Those people included ministers and seminary students, and other Unitarian Universalists who once attended here, or who have family who either attended here, or lived here. I also talked with realtors, and people from the moving company, and I googled a bunch of things. All of the feedback said some variation of: it’s a wonderful congregation, with a long, rich history, and what a great neighborhood! I had an especially helpful conversation with the long-time staff person from your congregation’s UUA District and Region, the Rev. Ian Evison. He told me how nice you all are, and talked about the ups and downs 2U has had over the decades–  how there were a few times when the number of members dwindled, and the congregation might have closed its doors, but it rallied, and asked for and received help from other Unitarians and Universalists, and rose up to flourish once again. And they he said, “It’s a really hip neighborhood!” Another person I talked to, shortly after I said yes to coming here, was your Congregational Administrator, Andrew. I told him that I had begun looking into possible apartments, some of which would necessitate talking the El or the bus every day. Andrew said, “I think you should live in this neighborhood. Everything you’d need would be within walking distance.  It’s a great neighborhood.” So that’s what I decided to do, and happily so. I also wanted my first sermon for you to be about something that you could relate to, and which would feel meaningful to you. And everyone says that “Chicago is a city of neighborhoods.”

 

Both of the authors of the two readings we heard this morning have reflected deeply on the concept of neighborhood. Diana Butler Bass, in her book, Grounded – Finding God in the World, devotes a whole chapter to “Neighborhood.” Some of her other chapters are called, “Roots,” “Home,” and “Commons.”  At the beginning of her chapter, she writes:

 

“The English word ‘neighbor’ comes from the Old English words neah (or nigh) for ‘near,’ and gebur, meaning ‘dweller.’ By 1600 or so, the word ‘neighborhood,’ which had meant the ‘state or condition of living in a neighborly fashion,’ came into its modern usage as a noun for a community of people who dwell near one another…  Put simply, people create neighborhoods when they gather together beyond family ties, live close to others, and choose to share certain resources (in the contemporary world, those resources include, for example, electricity, schools, roads, places of worship, stores, and often a park or some other commons). Neighborhoods are born when people settle in a certain geographical space and turn it, in common effort with others, into a habitable place.”

 

There’s a delightful example of people “living in a neighborly fashion” right in our neighborhood. I pass it as I walk between my apartment and the church. It’s the Margaret Donahue Park. If you don’t know who Margaret Donahue was, you should look into her and her remarkable life and career–  especially since she was a Cubs Fan. She started out doing secretarial work for the Cubs, back in 1919. But she soon rose to working for the Cubs in an executive capacity, and became their vice president in 1950–  the first woman in that role in the major leagues. She introduced many innovations to the way baseball was managed, including reduced price tickets for children. The Margaret Donahue Park was created in our church’s neighborhood through a collaboration with the Chicago Park District, the School Advisory Council, and the Chicago Cubs. I love seeing all the lively activity brimming over in that park every time I walk passed it. There is sharing of healthy food, attention to physical health, healthy competition, friendships being nurtured through social networking, anti-bullying initiatives, and understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity. And the adults in the park are engaging in all of those things, too :)! Our congregation should notice, nurture, and support hubs of multigenerational interaction and enrichment like the Margaret Donahue Park.

 

Dr. Butler Bass’s description helps us visualize the many positive attributes at the center of a lively and collaborative neighborhood. But what do the edges of a neighborhood look like? And how are they defined? A bit later in her chapter, she writes about her neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. She says that she found a web platform that helps neighbors share and communicate. What her neighborhood’s formal association had been using was a list of people’s email addresses. She talked with the administrator of that list. He was open to the idea of using the web platform instead. He sent out email requests to the people in the neighborhood association inviting them to join. But Dr. Butler Bass wanted to include households on streets that were adjacent to the association. She wanted “all those who considered themselves neighbors to be able to access the platform.” The administrator of the list raised concerns about people’s safety and privacy. “’What [he asked] should be the appropriate boundaries of the neighborhood?’ [Dr. Butler Bass wrote] We needed to find a balance between inclusion and order, between welcome and security. We finally negotiated a map of neighborhood that best fit with my desire to include and his need to trust.”

 

In next week’s sermon, I’ll expand on the concept of neighborhood, to reflect on ways we engage with the wider community. Between now and then, we can give some thought to who the people in our neighborhood are  —all the people in our neighborhood. And we should give some thought and have some conversations about that. It’s always harder to notice the people around us who have less power, privilege, and voice–  people in need of our support and advocacy. I welcome hearing your thoughts on who, in our church’s neighborhood, we might notice more, learn from, and form friendships with.

 

The author of our second reading, Amitai Etzioni, describes the concept of neighborhood at its very best, and most compassionate. In 1993, he wrote his book, The Spirit of Community – the Reinvention of American Society.  Dr. Etzioni is a communitarian.  I would interpret that term to mean he is part of an organized effort to urge communities to live in a more intentionally compassionate and principled way.  I heard Dr. Etzioni speak at a Unitarian Universalist General Assembly several years ago. He was the distinguished Ware Lecturer. And I still recall how moved I was by his address.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with all of his ideas. But it is a fact that his ideas about building better communities have been very thoughtfully researched, discussed, and developed.  In short, he writes that community life has deteriorated in the United States, and we cannot expect communities that are caring and responsible to simply pop up on their own.  Facilitators of many types of community groups should be trained to lead those groups well. That takes time, money, and other resources. But it is necessary to end the isolation and neglect of so many people’s needs.  I think he is simply saying that we all must take more responsibility for both ourselves and for others. In Dr. Etzioni’s view, first of all, “people have a moral responsibility to help themselves as best they can.” He then says, “the second line of responsibility lies with those closest to the person, including kin, friends, neighbors, and other community members.”  He feels that “as a rule every community ought to be expected to do the best it can to take care of its own [and] Each community must be expected to reach out to members of other communities that are less well-endowed and hence less able to deal with their own problems. The ways are almost endless, from sending food, blankets, and volunteers when a neighboring community is overwhelmed, housing ‘refugees’ from a hurricane or earthquake, to sharing equipment such as snow plows.  Last but not least, societies (which are nothing but communities of communities) must help those communities whose ability to help their members is severely limited.” [pp. 144-147]

 

If we stop and think about it, I’m sure we all could recall being on the receiving end of a neighbor reaching out to help us, and selflessly so, out of their ethical believe that it’s the right thing to do. I’m recalling a time when I received such help and support, a little less than two years ago. Shortly after I moved to Columbia, South Carolina, to serve as interim minister of the UU congregation there, our area experienced historic floods so severe they only happen once in one hundred years. Roads and bridges were becoming washed over, and flood gates and dams were straining, especially around the apartment complex where I lived, a neighborhood called, Forest Acres, through the center of which runs Gills Creek. My next door neighbors were a young adult couple, Chris, and his fiancé, Jennifer. They had a little dog named Optimist, so we called him, “Opti.” Fortuitously for us, Jennifer worked at the office of the Water District, so we were more up to date on the developing floods than some people were. On Monday, October 5th, we really thought that the storm was moving away from our area. But instead it stayed over us and just kept raining and raining. Then Chris knocked on my door and said residents of Forest Acres were being advised to evacuate. I remember he pointed to our neighbors down the hill a ways and said, “See, over there–  Those families are packing their vehicles up to evacuate.” So I thanked him and went inside to begin to pull together some essential things. I had just gone to the Department of Motor Vehicles a couple days before. So I had my personal I.D. papers all together in a big envelope. I started putting a raincoat and sweater in a bag when Chris pounded on the door again, really loudly this time. I opened the door and he said, “We have to evacuate, now. They are saying that the Forest Acres Dam is about to breach. If it does, there will be water rushing all over this whole area. You have to get in your car and drive out of here, now.” I told him that I didn’t even know which direction I should drive in. He said, “You should drive toward Lexington. Then you’ll be out of the path of the water.” He then patiently and clearly talked me through which roads to take to get onto the right highway to drive to Lexington. I thanked him again, threw some things in my car and jumped into it, and started driving. I did have a GPS, but I still felt really shaky about it all. I wondered if I could find a hotel room, but I doubted it. While I was driving, our Student Minister called me on my cell. She’d heard that our area had been told to evacuate. She was checking to see if I was okay. I told her which highway I was on, and which direction I was driving in. And she said, “You should just come stay with us.” Then she talked me through how to get to her home. And I spent two days with her, her husband, and their three young children, who were delighted and excited that their minister was visiting them.

 

Of course I will be forever grateful to our Student Minister, and her family, for taking me in during those historic floods. But it’s the way that my young neighbor, Chris, reached out and helped me, that still fills me with a sense of awe. Why did he do that? Why did he take the time and care to make sure I would be okay? Why didn’t he just get himself, his fiancé, and their dog into their truck and drive to safety as fast as he could? He did it because he was raised with the ethical sense that helping your neighbor in a time of need is the right thing to do. One of the most inspiring things in my lifetime, to me, is when people do something that they do not have to do–  something charitable, an exhibition of higher responsibility, consideration that extends beyond their own needs to that which would support, nurture, and comfort some of their neighbors on this planet earth. What my young neighbor, Chris, did for me that stormy day gives me hope for younger generations, and for our world.

 

I’ll close this morning with a true story of the awe and joy a person can feel when witnessing good neighborliness. It’s from New York Times Columnist David Brooks’ essay of June 2nd, 2017. Mr. Brooks writes, “People are attracted by goodness and repelled by selfishness.” He cites N.Y.U. social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who “has studied the surges of elevation we feel when we see somebody performing a selfless action. Haidt describes the time a guy spontaneously leapt out of a car to help an old lady shovel snow from her driveway. One of his friends, who witnessed this small act, later wrote: ‘I felt like jumping out of the car and hugging this guy. I felt like singing and running, or skipping and laughing. Just being active. I felt like saying nice things about people. Writing a beautiful poem or love song. Playing in the snow like a child. Telling everybody about his deed.’”

 

Let us all do our part to make our “City of Neighborhoods” a City of Neighborly Love.

 

Hymn #1021 Lean on Me

Offering (Share The Plate with UUANI)

Closing Hymn #1017 Building a New Way

 

Benediction [William R. Murry]:

 

“Now let us go forth with the faith that life is worth living, that defeat and adversity can be transformed into victory and hope, that love is eternal, and that life is stronger than death.  And may that faith inspire us to live our lives with dignity, love, and courage in the days and weeks ahead.”