Living a Liberation Story


My message this morning begins with a story. One day, two friends were
walking down the sidewalk of a busy city street during rush hour.
Noise engulfed them: wind blowing, cars whizzing past, horns honking,
people talking. In the midst of all this noise, one of the friends
turned to the other and said, "I hear a cricket!" To which
her friend responded, "No way! How could you possibly hear a
cricket with all of this noise? You must be imagining things. Besides,
I've never seen a cricket in the city."

But the first friend insisted and said, "No, really-I really did
hear a cricket. Look, I'll show you." At which point she led
her friend across the street to a big cement planter with a tree in
it. Pushing back some leaves, she found a little brown cricket,
resting there on the topsoil. And, to her friend, this was simply
amazing. She couldn't believe it. "How did you do that? You
must have superhuman hearing! What's your secret?"

Here's what the first friend said in response: "There's
nothing superhuman involved at all. Look, I'll show you. Watch
this." And she reached into her pocket, pulled out a handful of
loose change, and threw it on the sidewalk. Instantly, the heads of
everyone within thirty feet swiveled towards the sound of falling
money. Amid all the noise of the city-the cars whizzing past, horns
honking, people talking-people heard it. "See," said the
first friend, "it's nothing superhuman. It's all just a
matter of what you are listening for."

And that's the story. It's simply a way of conveying the
meaning of what we are about today, here in this ingathering service.
From east, from west, from north, from south, we come to this place,
and I join you as your new Senior Minister, and together we pause for
a brief moment to survey the territory that spreads out before us. It
is nothing less than a new future. Nothing less than that. This fall
is new, the program year we enter into is new, and here is what I want
to promise: that amidst all the inevitable noise, there's a
cricket out there chirping away, chirping refreshment and chirping
renewal, and it's got your name on it and it's got my name on
it.

Isn't that a wonderful image in the story? The little brown
cricket. It brings to mind a passage from an essay by Ralph Waldo
Emerson, in which he says this: "There is a soul at the center of
nature, and over the will of every person, so that none of us can
wrong the universe. It has so infused its strong enchantment into
nature that we prosper when we accept its advice; but when we struggle
to wound its creatures, our hands are glued to our sides, or they beat
our own breasts. The whole course of things goes to teach us faith. We
need only obey. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly
listening we shall hear the right word." That's Ralph Waldo
Emerson, one of our Unitarian Universalist preachers and prophets,
saying in poetic words what the cricket out there with your name and
my name on it represents: a right word to bring us more fully into our
humanity, a right word to bring us back into the grace of life and
back into a way of being where our hands are NOT glued to our sides
but are free, and where they do NOT beat our breasts but are lifted up
in joy. The cricket represents all that and more. It represents
guidance for each of us that will come to us when we need it, and it
will say exactly the right thing if we have the ears to hear and the
eyes to see.

That's what the story is saying. Trust life. Enter into life
fearlessly. Enter into adversity with hope. A new future commences, a
new fall begins, and we can enter into it anticipating something
wonderful. We really can.

And yet there is that issue of having ears to hear and eyes to see.
Stuff can get in the way, and we do well to reflect on this honestly.
"It's all just a matter," says the friend in the story,
"of what we are listening for."

As we begin a new fall, I invite you to consider a question.
"What are you listening for?" What are you listening for in
your personal relationships, in your family, in your job, in your life
as a citizen of Atlanta and Georgia and these United States? What are
you listening for in the congregational life here at UUCA?

As the story suggests, our attention works somewhat like a net, and
the holes in that net can at times be too small to admit the most
important things. The song of the cricket, chirping out vision and
gratitude and generosity and a sense of mission-all that is strained
out, and what gets caught is just the mundane sound of coins falling
on concrete. That's what gets caught by the net of our attention.
So we get caught. We get caught and tied-up and twisted-up. We get
locked within time-crunched, dog-eat-dog lifestyles in which
there's no room to breathe. A mindset of scarcity and fear
dominates. The noise of the city penetrates into our very souls and
becomes a constant noise inside us which we can't get away from.
No inner silence, no inner poise, no inner peace. Suddenly we are the
ones that Emerson is talking about, people struggling with the world,
struggling with our relationships and our lives, and our hands feel
glued to our sides, our hands are beating our breasts. Injustice rages
without, and within is hopelessness.

At this point, a phrase comes to mind: "self-fulfilling
prophesy." If resentment narrows the holes in the net of our
attention, then all that we will see are things to resent. If the
hurts and failures and disappointments of the past dominate our
vision, then the new future that spreads out before us won't be
new at all, and will just repeat the past like a broken record. The
lessons of the past are there to be learned, and then, wiser than
before, with a heart full of forgiveness, we move forward.

Which takes me to the title of my little homily today, on this
wonderful day of ingathering: living a liberation story. Living a
story in which we come to recognize, with openness and humility, ways
in which our sense of possibility and vision might be limited. Living
a story in which we learn how to transform all that and to grow larger
lives, lives as large as joy, as large as creativity, as large as
action, as large as love.

My own ministry is all about inviting as many people as possible into
just this kind of story. And this is the story I want us to live here
at UUCA. It's what I see, as I survey the territory that spreads
out before us and as I look into our new future together. Inviting
people into liberation. Inviting people into honest self-knowledge
which leads to largeness of spirit and life. Each and every person
coming within these walls, listening for the cricket that is always
already chirping for them. Each and every person listening for the
revelation of hope and truth that is theirs. There's absolutely
nothing superhuman about this. This is our precious human birthright.
That's all it is.

And it's already happening here at UUCA, in so many ways. In our
small groups, for example. One of the reasons why I value them so much
is because they invite people into a discipline of listening. People
bond in groups of 8-10, they share the journey of life together in a
deep way, and then they get to take this discipline of listening and
of friendship into their lives at home and at work. It's the
trickle-down effect of congregational life at its best.

Living a liberation story. Besides small groups and a hundred other
things, there are a couple of specific events coming up this fall that
I want to call your attention to, for in each of them I hear that
cricket chirping, I sense wonderful possibilities. And at this point I
ask your forgiveness if I sound too much like an advertisement.
I'm just excited about what's coming up. One of these events
is scheduled for Saturday, September 29. A truly amazing teacher,
Helen Bishop, will be spending Saturday with us, exploring the ins and
outs and wherefores and hows of healthy relationships. Very practical,
very relevant. Good stuff.

And then there's the entire month of October. In October, in a
variety of ways, we'll be focusing on the issue of stewardship.
How is generosity a life-changing every-day practice? What does it
mean to be a good steward of the gifts of life? How can we spend our
time, talent, money, and energy in ways that more closely approximate
our highest values? As I see it, this is a central spiritual
discipline, and so we're going to explore it in worship as well as
in the context of our "Weaving the Tapestry" annual
stewardship campaign.

Finally, the third event to keep in mind. On the afternoon of October
28, I'm going to join religious leaders from more than 20 other
Atlanta area churches and organizations, in an event sponsored by a
group called Atlantans Building Leadership For Empowerment, or ABLE
for short. This event is about people with progressive social and
religious values from all sorts of different places all getting in the
same room and looking around, realizing that we are not few and we are
not alone, but that we are many and we are united and we are strong.
Strong enough to influence the policy makers and legislators when it
comes to decisions about such issues as health care and education and
immigration. We are many and we are united and we are strong. No more
hands glued to our sides; no more hands beating our breasts in anger
and sorrow at injustice. But action and freedom and the sweet
knowledge that we are many and we are united and we are strong. Again,
something not to miss.

All ways of living that liberation story. We pause on the cusp of a
new fall and new year, and, I promise you, greatness awaits if this
congregation is like the first friend in the story, listening for the
cricket chirping opportunity and possibility and hope. Listening for
this, and inviting all who come inside our doors to listen as well, in
just this way. Amen.