General Assembly 2008 Event 3002
Rev. Fred Muir, of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Annapolis, lit the chalice this morning for the hundreds who gathered for Friday morning worship. He invoked the flame in anticipation of the day, in the hope that those we will greet we will serve well.
Sarah Dan Jones led the hall in "Where Do We Come From?" This hymn, whose words are by Paul Gaugin and music by Brian Tate, was chosen to bridge today's service with Thursday's, when the hymn was introduced.
Rev. Muir congratulated those assembled for making it past the halfway point of General Assembly. He wondered if anyone had pondered E. B. White's dilemma, "the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world." He framed every convention-goer's choice: to save or to savor.
Indeed all participants came to General Assembly (GA) to feed their souls and energize their spirits with the myriad opportunities offered here. But Muir issued a challenge to mindfulness. "Step back from all this busyness," Muir asked, "and rethink your remaining days of GA." He admonished us to "make the best of these precious moments."
Muir said we can do this with presence, civility and imagination.
We've exhibited presence simply by showing up. The gift of presence is exemplified by an excerpt in Kate Braestrup's Here If You Need Me. Braestrup, a UU minister serving as a state park chaplain in Maine, relates a story: a friend remarked, "It's so cool that the warden service has a chaplain to keep us from freaking out." She replied that she's not meant to keep people from freaking out, merely to be there while people freak out—a ministry of presence, if you will. The anecdote was received with warm laughter from the audience.
Muir explained the notion of civility with an anecdote about a young monk. He took a vow of silence, but could speak two words every five years. After the firsts five, he said, "Cold food." After the next five, "Hard bed." Five more and he said, "I quit." And the master said he figured as such, since all the monk had done was complain. Those gathered appreciated the humor in this old story, and understood Muir's message that a willingness to trust and demonstrate generosity are what give civility its meaning.
Imagination is also required, to envision something new and unanticipated. Muir quoted biblical historian and theologian Walter Brueggmann, who spoke during Ministry Days earlier this week. Brueggmann asked, "not whether [something] is realistic or practical or viable, but whether it is imaginable."
In summary, Muir charged us with whispering to ourselves tonight, "Today, because I showed up, because of my trust and generosity, because of my willingness to imagine, because of these I helped to create abundance of life for those around me, for those on earth."
Sarah Dan led the closing hymn, "We'll Build a Land" by Carolyn McDade and Barbara Zanotti. Sarah Dan acknowledged that, while this song is troubling to Native American UUs, she hoped it could be sung in the spirit of the justice-seeking texts it was based upon.
Muir delivered closing words, intoning the theme of his sermon.
Reported by Toby Haber; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.