Sermon by Sue Browning
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton
Adapted slightly from a writing by Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the spirit that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The tradition in most Unitarian Universalist congregations is to have a specific Sunday each year to talk about stewardship and collect pledges for the upcoming year. Pledges are future promises for monetary commitments. Yes, we talk, albeit a bit in circles at times, about money and generosity. Yes folks, this is that Sunday.
A personal goal of mine this year has been to communicate more directly with my family, friends, colleagues, the congregation. It’s my own version of living boldly.
In that spirit, let’s dive in. How much do I hope this congregation collects in pledge commitments this year? This is my own bold, audacious number, not reviewed with the Finance Committee or the Board.
My dream is that UUFE will collect commitments for $125K in pledged income for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Here’s the basic math: If $125K were pledged, and you add in a plate collections, rental income, and a grant or two, and we could cover our $130K budget. That is the budget for basic salaries, the mortgage, building upkeep and supplies – the piece parts that make ‘doing church’ possible.
Are the budget preparers cringing? I’m guessing so. You see $125K is a big leap number. Three years ago the pledged income was $111K; two years ago it was down to $107K, and last year it was down to $103K. The answer to “Why the decrease?” –“Our historically big donors aren’t here any more.” That is true. But not a full answer. See, we are here, and it’s our torch to carry.
What if in this crazy year that is 2017 we create our own new normal? Just what if we pledge in the spirit of love and care $125K? And to put icing on the cake, let’s make Janet and the Stewardship Team’s lives easy – let’s do so on the forms they offer and in accordance with the schedule they provide.
Feel free to jot the goal number down – $125K in pledges 2017- 2018. Be bold.
So what of this ‘living boldly?’
What’s your image? What do you picture when you hear’ living boldly?
Maybe an images of folks in bright colors? Flashy nail polish? Crazy hats? A week at Mardi Gras? Rolling the dice big in Vegas. (Or for some of us maybe making it onto Jeopardy – and saying, “Alex, make it a ‘True Daily Double’”)
Do you picture more a bossy bold? Someone sharing their views loudly and aggressively?
Maybe ‘living boldly’ is about being adventurous and daring? The Doughtys in Antarctica last month? Or trying out for the school play?
Maybe you see a ‘living bold’ that is resolute and confident? Elegantly being interviewed on the news?
Maybe bold manifests for you as animated, engaged and energetic?
A few weeks ago Bill and I spent the day at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The scale of the place was amazing – 220 square miles on the coast of Florida, with museum sections miles apart from one another, and wildlife refuge areas on the grounds.
Bold possibilities were claimed in the clear, shared vision of the space program – the moon. (For us say $125K.) And from that vision ‘bold’ emerged and was lived out in the tiniest of details. Meticulous care went into every aspect of the planning, equipment and training. Imagination was at every step.
The space program didn’t always go well. While I recall the excitement of launches in my childhood and young adult life, I too recall the tragedies. As I walked the museums at the Space Center, the minister in me anticipated there would be a tribute to those lives lost.
I did find this section. In the shuttle museum, there was a corner where the lives lost were honored. Tasteful. Reverent. For those shuttle astronauts who had died during missions each had a glass display case with their picture and three or four items of memorabilia. These men and women were not only astronauts, but had other deep passions. Their habits of living boldly carried through their whole being. As busy as they were, they had interests from wildflowers to wood carving to scout leadership.
They had souls infused with a readiness for commitment.
One astronaut’s display had a quote that stuck with me. It was something like, ‘May my light burn brightly in my sphere of influence.’
In this morning’s reading we heard,
“We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the spirit that is within us.”
Poet Mary Oliver asks something similar in a slightly different way, “Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
Life comes in chapters, and living boldly may look and feel different by chapter, but do we ever want a time in life when we’re breathing just a little?
Speaking of life’s chapters, Robert Fulgrum in his book It Was On Fire When I Lied Down It starts one of his essays with this story:
(Voice from above.) “Young man, this tree is occupied.…Dismayed am I. As much by being called young man as by having a tree I was about to climb turn out to be inhabited.
Dutifully returning to the ground, I peered up through the branches. Sure enough, there was an old lady up there. Way up there. Hair tied in a dark yellow bandana, outfitted in blue jeans, sneakers, and leather gloves. An elderly tree spirit was settled into a high wide fork in this great elm. She wasn’t coming down either. “Find your own tree” – friendly, but quite firmly, “Yes, ma’am.”
Walked over to where a park workman was pruning bushes, but before I could ask he gave me my answer: “Yes I know there is an old lady up in that tree over there.” He went on to explain that she was about sixty-five, retired, lives in an apartment down on Federal Avenue. Come spring and summer, she takes to trees in the park. The workman thinks maybe she’ll have to be peeled out of her roost by the fire department someday, but in the meantime she seems to know what she is doing and doesn’t bother anybody doing it. The lady just likes climbing trees.”
I’m not sure calling an ‘about sixty-five’ lady an old lady draws me to this story, yet it’s a good example of someone living boldly. At least for her.
Who here climbed trees at some point? Who has been up a tree recently? For others, why did you stop? (ok, Rhetorical). For those here with children, do you let your kids climb trees?
Yes, living boldly comes with risks. We could fall. We could look silly. We could be arrested. There are not guarantees.
Or maybe we can consider living boldly a bit more closely to the ground, where risks are less obvious – situations where we are tentative and even fearful… breathing just a little.
In her book, The Bold Life, author Tess Marshall finds, “Some people live in fear because they believe the change involved will mean big leaps. Her advice, “We only need to take penguin steps!” Marshall says, “A bold life doesn’t depend on interests and personalities…a bold life is when a person does what it takes to speak their truth, walk their talk, and use their gifts and talents with joy, passion and meaning. For example, it’s just as bold for a 10 year old to stand up to a bully as it is for someone to bungee jump for the first time.”
Living boldly can be imagining a dream and moving in the right direction.
Or it can mean taking off our superhero suits and risking to pare back. As we’re pulled in many directions, we can boldly making space and time for focus. Often in this version living boldly includes a bold (risky feeling) trust in others who will help with the load.
Living boldly leads to a clearer sense of purpose in life and in turn joy.
Where might a declaration to ‘live boldly’ take us when it comes to making commitments? Aspiring to ‘live boldly’ does come with a mixed message when comes to making meaningful commitments.
It’s possible to hear ‘live boldly’ as cautionary regarding commitments. Be wary of commitments, especially to others, or to groups or institutions. Guard your time and resources. Keep options open, always being prepared to jump on the next great opportunity. Be ready to live boldly, and to do so stay in control.
I know this version. (A side note – I’m not talking about the need we have to claim control now and then to rebalance. In our crazy, overscheduled worlds, taking stock and even jettisoning some activities is at times needed. Such a periodic regroup is different than a life mantra to hold tight to control all the time.)
When we’re always holding back and planning to be ready to ‘live boldly’ soon, it is different than ‘living boldly’ now. Do we want ‘live boldly’ to be reserved for the next chapter in our lives, or are we ready to claim it now, in the form that makes sense for each of us now?
Another way to hear ‘live boldly’ is as encouragement to take a chance on commitments – or to take the chance on at least one commitment. Even with fear, or a sort of paralyzing reluctance about commitment, does a ‘live bold’ stance encourage us to give deeper commitment a try?
Marshall shares, “All acts of courage count and they’re incomparable. What a bold life means to me may look different than what a bold life means to you.”
Living boldly is often about the courage to live connected lives – to step into the risks of relationship and a promise to show up for another, and to do so with a generous spirit. This goes beyond commitments to partners and families. Courage is needed to join and then to stay in a community. We give up some certainty and control when we commit with our hearts and heads. We do so for the chance to belong, to create and participate with others, and here in a congregation to walk through joys and through the hard stuff together.
My take is that living boldly is about timing. It’s about not living life in a waiting pattern or in a guarded stance. When we live boldly we dare to risk a fall from a tree, or a disappointment, or some conflict. We have less predictability in some ways, and more in others. We live boldly to feel whole and vital in a world that needs us to shine every bit of light we can for ourselves and for one another.
Today is your chance to live boldly and make your pledge to UUFE. This year we are calling this Stewardship 2017-2018. Stewardship is defined as “managing something entrusted to one’s care.” Stewardship is about caring for something you want to be around for a while, and doing so with a generous spirit. We are entrusted to care for this community that has been a presence on the Eastern Shore for 57 years. Generosity and sharing are at the heart of Unitarian Universalist values. Generosity is a form of living boldly.
Each Member or Friend of UUFE has a different current financial situation and future. The invitation to financial stewardship is extended knowing these are personal decisions.
Look into the other faces that collectively are the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton and ask: How can I generously serve you? How might you generously serve me? How will we live boldly together?
May we do this work of commitment in gratitude for the spirit of abundance that we carry forward.
May It Be So