From the Minister, Thu Oct 4

In January 2007, LoraKim and I were living in Gainesville, Florida, so of course we watched the NCAA football championship game that month, and of course we rooted for the home team Florida Gators against the Ohio State Buckeyes. When Florida, slight underdogs going into the game, won 41-14, I was glad. All around me the town was celebrating. Post-game shows seem to like to include fan reaction segments -- don't ask me why. They cut to a scene in Columbus, Ohio and showed a woman bedecked in OSU red and white. She was dejected, of course. In fact, she was crying. The broadcast cut back to a Gainesville bar, and two young men who had just seen on the bar TV the shot of the Ohio woman crying. The young men gleefully jeered and mocked her.

That was the moment I lost interest in college football. I'd been a football fan all my life, and I understood that jeering and mocking the opposition before the game -- and a certain amount of gloating afterward from partisans of the victor -- were to be expected. Yet I was unprepared for the delight I saw being taken in another's pain: the evident pleasure in cruelty for its own sake. The brief shot of those celebrating Gator fans haunted me. As I processed my horror, a more extreme example of the same phenomenon rose to mind: the photos I'd seen from the 1920s of smiling, celebratory white faces at the lynching of a black person.

All of this came back to me this week as I read Adam Serwer's article, "The Cruelty is the Point," and Lili Loofbourow's "Brett Kavanaugh and the Cruelty of Male Bonding." Cruelty, directed toward women, apparently functions as a bonding mechanism for some men, a means "for intimacy through contempt." Oh, dear God.

Political theorist Judith Shklar is credited with saying "liberals are the people who think cruelty is the worst thing we do." I am quick to distinguish a religious liberal and a political liberal, recognizing that many people are religiously liberal and politically conservative. I don't know if viewing cruelty as "the worst thing we do" is actually any less prominent among political conservatives than political liberals, but Shklar's point resonates with me as a characterization of religious liberals. Moreover, I have always appreciated that Shklar's way of putting it avoids claiming that liberals actually are less cruel -- just that, when we are, or discover that we have been, we think of it as "being at our worst."

My life as a Unitarian Universalist has kept me in the company of people with an intuitive revulsion to cruelty -- people who see cruelty as, indeed, worse than, say, betrayal, dishonor, subversion, or desecration -- which, of course, are also unfortunate. I'm so grateful to all of you who keep this place going, who give your lives to sustaining a liberal religious community, who see cruelty as the worst thing we do and therefore see care and kindness as the best and who keep lit the flame of care and kindness as the supreme value. During these times when cruelty -- and, perhaps more distressing, the celebration of cruelty -- seems to be ascendant, the only hope I see is . . . you -- the people who side with love. Thank you. You're lifesavers!

Gratefully, so gratefully yours,

The Liberal Pulpit / New this week:
Index of past sermons: HERE. Index of other reflections: HERE. Videos of sermons are on the Liberal Pulpit Youtube Channel: HERE
Practice of the Week: Rethinking Genesis / At Genesis 3:17 God curses the Earth. The soil is literally cursed, and Adam must then struggle to extract a living from it. Instead of experiencing Earth as holy, which was (and is) the norm for indigenous cultures around the world, the cultural heirs of Genesis viewed the Earth as a vehicle for punishment, an enemy, a cursed thing, filthy and corrupt. The Earth-as-enemy idea became less overt but the underlying paradigm remained. Total mastery of the Earth became a driving vision of the Enlightenment and subsequent Industrial Revolution....READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Follow Your Bliss / "Follow your bliss" is Joseph Campbell's phrase. Campbell explained:
"If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time."
To discern your bliss requires sacred space,
"a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen."
Your true "employers" -- the true bosses of your life, in whose service lies your authentic vocation -- is that which is alive in you, simultaneously universal and unique.

Think of something you do -- something that is both as ordinary and as magnificently special as a robin singing in an oak tree. That's it. That's your bliss. It might not have seemed like much, but that's it. Follow it.

Grandma was chatting with Turkey at Vinecot, when Granddaughter made a surprise visit. That evening after supper, when they had caught up with each other's news, Granddaughter said, "Now that I've finished school, I don't know what I will do next."
Grandma said, "Follow your bliss."
Granddaughter said, "That sounds selfish."
Grandma said, "Your employers don't all have desks and files."
Next evening, Turkey asked Raven about Grandma's advice.
Raven said, "It's like Brown Bear said: 'The Robin sings in the oak tree; the finch sings in the madrone.'" [See Raven 5]
Turkey did not respond.
Woodpecker asked, "Aren't they distractions?"
Raven asked, "From what?"
Turkey seemed to come to herself, and gobbled.
Raven said, "Like that."
What makes a distraction?
The brain doing something,
Then thinking it shouldn't have?
I'm not saying your inner moralizer
Might not have a point,
just that maybe there's
Another angle.
What the brain did,
It did pursuing
its need and bliss.
Distraction isn't following
the wrong thing
But following
At a distance.
Case by Robert Aitken, adapted; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon

Zen at CUUC: Oct 5-11

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