Harold Babcock's Sermons

May 26, 2013

Memory and Hope

Filed under: Uncategorized — newbabcock @ 2:47 pm

Hear the sermon

May 26, 2013 

“For if you find hope in the ground of history, you are united with the great prophets who were able to look into the depth of their times, who tried to escape it, because they could not stand the horror of their visions, and who yet had the strength to look to an even deeper level and there to discover hope.”
– Paul Tillich 

The purpose of a civic education, wrote Paul Gagnon [Why Study History?], “is to prepare people for bad times.”  Gagnon was responding to the question, posed by students and school committees alike, “why study history?”  His simple answer was a single word: judgment.  We study history so that we can exercise good judgment, especially during bad times.

One can see that this logic applies just as well in the personal realm as in the public.  A knowledge of history—whether private and personal, or communal and public—can help us to exercise good judgment in hard times.  Indeed, I believe that both kinds of knowledge are necessary.  Together they can make the difference between life and death.

It has always seemed to me that one of the most important purposes of religion is also “to prepare people for bad times.”  Traditional believers use “sacred” history—the history of God’s saving acts as found in the Bible—as a hedge against bad times.  God has acted before, God will act again: so the argument goes.  No matter how bad things seem today, they will get better, because God is a God of history.

Those of us who do not share that faith in the supernatural aspects of sacred history must look elsewhere for our saving history: to secular history, with its own heroes and heroines, perhaps; or to the history of our heterodox Unitarian Universalist religious tradition, with its emphasis on this world rather than on some other-worldly promise.

Beyond these histories—the sacred, whether orthodox or heterodox, and the secular—there is yet another place where we look for wisdom to sustain us through the bad times, and it is close at hand.  It is to our own, personal history: the journey not only of our own, individual lives, but that of our families and of the various communities of which our lives and their lives are, and have been, a part.

We underestimate the healing power of memory, both our own memories, and the memories of those with whom our lot is most closely cast in life.  In our own experience, which is unique and yet part of the collective experience of the human race, we have the resources to weather the bad times.  As Gagnon says of history in general, “tragedy, comedy, beauty, and paradox” are there.  I believe that memory can help us to overcome despair and to look to the future with hope.

There is a familiar story from the Buddhist tradition about the mother who was so broken by grief over the death of her child that she sought help from the Buddha, the Compassionate One.  The woman’s private grief, it seemed, was beyond healing, so that she was not even sure that she could go on living.  So the Buddha suggested that the woman go door to door until she found a house which suffering had never visited.

And you know what happened: there was no home which had not known suffering, either in the present or in remembered time.  The woman’s grief did not go away, of course, but her loneliness did.  She was able to continue living her life, and later others in her family and community sought her out for advice and counsel, for she, too, had become wise.

Without history we would have cause for despair.  Without memory—without history writ small—we are cut-off, adrift.  We cannot place ourselves in a proper context, whether of suffering or of joy.  Without memory we cannot have a proper sense either of our insignificance or of our importance.

It is hard to imagine where we can find purpose and meaning for life if we are cut off from our past.  Certainly, contemporary culture by itself cannot give us adequate purpose and meaning.  We are still participants in a story, but we can only locate ourselves within it if we know what has come before.  We may not know where we are going, but we can have a pretty good idea of where we have been, and thus of where we are.

My observation is that too many of us are unaware of where we have come from historically and culturally.  We know neither our own personal history nor the history of our people.  As a result, we do not know where we are heading.  The future is a blank.  Make this a societal problem rather than an individual one, and it’s a recipe for disaster: politically, religiously, culturally, and environmentally.

With no adequate vision for the future, we become mired in the present in a completely negative sense.  We live only for the pleasure or the moment, and have no resources to sustain us when tragedy strikes.  As the prophet Isaiah said, “Without a vision, the people perish.”  The evidences of this truth are all around us.

It is good to live in the present moment as long as we have given thought to what consequences it may hold for the future.  But I don’t think our patterns of conspicuous consumption are what the Buddhists have in mind when they advocate for living in the “here and now.”  Indeed, many of the things that we do for the pleasure of the moment actually keep us from appreciating the here and now, and endanger the future for all who shall come after us.

We live between the poles of the remembrance of things past and the hope for things to come.  In between, there is the present moment, the here and now.  Without the past, without history, without memory, it is hard to imagine how we can understand the present where we find ourselves.  Without memory, we are cut-off from meaning and purpose.  We cannot see where we are going or why we should go there.  The future is filled with foreboding, and we are become like children in a fairy tale, lost in the deep, dark forest without knowledge of where we have come from or where we are going.  The inevitable result is that we will be suckers for the first gingerbread house we happen upon.

That gingerbread house can take the form of a negative political ideology or of a fanatical religious philosophy.  Either way, if we are not careful it can end with our destruction.

To look with hope to the future, we must know from whence we have come.  We must have thought about what it means to come from that particular place and people, and to be where we now find ourselves.  It worries me that so many people are ignorant about history and literature, for history and literature are the bearers of information about who we are and about how we must act if we are to survive as individuals and as a community.  Such ignorance can leave a void for lies and falsehood to fill.

Knowledge of our roots will not protect us completely from taking wrong turns along the way, but it can keep us going and prevent us from getting stuck, which is the beginning of despair.  An adequate knowledge of history and memory; a healthy sense of who we are and where we have come from, and why we are on this particular path, can carry us beyond despair and move us toward a chosen goal.  The memory that other tragedies have been endured, other losses experienced, other problems overcome—even though at tremendous cost—this is saving knowledge.  It brings desperately needed hope.

My past is precious to me.  My memories are precious to me.  Not all of them are happy ones, but they are what sustains me during my bad times.  When I cannot see beyond what in Pilgrim’s Progress is aptly named “the Slough of Despond,” I can at least look backwards, along the path that brought me here.

That path has twists and turns, of course.  It is only in hindsight that it appears to have a direction at all.  But there are always lessons along the path.  And most important, there are people: some living, many dead.  There are some I never knew, but of whom I know.  I carry them all with me in memory.  They continue to guide me along my path.

From my place in the Slough of Despond, I might conclude that my situation is hopeless, and I that I cannot go on.  But as I look back over the path of my life, I realize that there has been tragedy and despair there before, and that it has been endured and overcome.

On Memorial Day—set aside originally for remembrance of the Union dead of the American Civil War—I like to recall that my great great uncle Sewell Bowden was killed at the Battle of Bull Run in 1861, and that his younger brother Frank died at the Battle of Gettysburg two years later as a result of wounds and an amputation.  Two brothers from one family, killed in the same war, almost exactly two years apart.  The tragedy of those deaths for their immediate family can hardly be imagined, how they would have tried to make meaning of the deaths of those two sons.

That private tragedy has long since been taken up into the collective experience of the whole American people.  Though they may well have seemed meaningless at the time, those deaths have meaning for us because they were part of an event which helped to shape, and continues to shape, our nation.  And those deaths also have meaning because all private grief, as the Buddha taught, is universal.

From our limited perspectives, our own lives may also at times seem devoid of meaning.  How do we keep from succumbing to that potential despair?

Through my parents and grandparents, I have been able to participate in a more recent past, one which I of course did not experience myself.  The lesson I have learned is that mine is not the first generation, and I am not the first person, to have experienced hardship and despair.  For me, this insight is a wonderful source of hope for the future.  People before me have endured and overcome.

Without such knowledge, I would be hopeless.  I doubt that I would be able to go on.  For like the bereaved woman with her private grief, I could not go on if I believed that I was the only one to have experienced such a loss.  But I know that I am not the first, and that knowledge helps to keep me going.

Knowledge of the past can remind us that there is also joy in life.  True, it cannot protect us from our sadness, of from a profound sense of grief for the shortcomings of the human race.  But joy is not necessarily the end we should seek, or the end we need.  Rather, what we should seek for is hope.  For there is no guarantee in the future, as countless persons in generations before ours have learned.

As long as we have hope borne of memory, we can move forward into that uncertain future, and perhaps even have a positive impact on the direction that that future may take.

I know that my life has been guided by the people I have known and the experiences I have had, and I believe that we can influence the course of history as long as we do not succumb to hopelessness and despair.  We may not get out of this alive, as one comedian has suggested, but even the dead have lessons to teach.

Life makes us no promises.  Our wars and our holocausts should assure us of that.  But as holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminds us, memory is a powerful tool.  We are the ones who must give the dead life; it is our sacred trust.  To remember is often painful, but to forget is to doom ourselves to a futureless present.  To forget opens the doors to tragedy and despair, but to remember is to have hope.  As an old hymn puts it, 

Standing in the living present,
Memory and hope between,
God, we would with deep thanksgiving
Praise thee more for things unseen.

Amen.

 – The Rev. Harold E. Babcock

Reading: from The Shaking of the Foundations, by Paul Tillich

Advertisements

May 12, 2013

Be Swift to Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — newbabcock @ 3:16 pm

Hear the sermon

May 12, 2013 

“What truly matters, beyond all our accomplishments and acclaim, is that we be swift to love.”
– William Schulz 

“What truly matters, beyond all our accomplishments and acclaim, is that we be swift to love,” writes former UUA President Bill Schulz.  I know just enough about my chosen subject of the day to confess at the outset that my knowledge has come mostly from the good fortune of being on the receiving end of love.  I know what it is to be loved.  I know that I could do better on the giving end.  But then, I suspect that many of us feel that way. 

Be swift to love.  By the way, this is not meant to be an exercise in guilt, which the late Erma Bombeck once characterized as “the gift that keeps on giving.”  Nor is it meant as yet another trivialization of love, something with which we are all too familiar.  As an elderly friend once put it, after being introduced as having been “happily married” for forty-three years, “Anyone who thinks you can be happily married for forty-three years doesn’t know much about marriage.”  Or, we might add, about love.

I don’t have any illusions about love being easy.  But I think that’s what many people want: cheap love, the kind of love that doesn’t cause us any problems, the kind of love that doesn’t demand anything too strenuous of us, certainly not the kind of love that might cause us to shed any tears.

The theologian Danial Day Williams once wrote, 

Love does not put everything at rest; it puts everything in motion.  Love does not resolve every conflict; it accepts conflict as the arena in which the work of love is done.  Love does not separate the good people from the bad, bestowing endless bliss upon one, and endless torment on the other.  Love seeks the reconciliation of every life so that it may share all the others.

“The not so simple subject of love,” my colleague Charles Stephen once called it.  What is love, anyway?  It’s not so simple to define.  Just about everyone who’s ever put pen to paper has made a stab at definition: there’s no shortage of literature and theory and music on love.  Love is a very popular subject.

In his widely read book of two decades ago, Dr. M. Scott Peck offered the following definition of love: Love, he said, “is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”  What does this mean?

First, love has a purpose and goal, which Peck defined as “spiritual growth.”  It is not self-gratification, though it may lead to self-fulfillment.

Second, love is an evolutionary process: it does not rest content with the status quo.  When one successfully extends oneself and one’s limits, one grows or evolves.  One is no longer the same as before.  This growth happens even when the purpose of our love is to enable someone else’s spiritual growth.

Third, love includes both self-love and love for the other.  As Peck says, ‘Since I am human and you are human, to love humans means to love myself as well as you.”  We must love ourselves before we can love another.  Perhaps that is what is meant by the biblical injunction to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is more difficult than it sounds.

A Buddhist monk I once heard used the following story to illustrate the difficulty of loving oneself.  Think of the mind or spirit or soul as a dog, he said.  If we are constantly yelling at and beating on the dog, we should not be too surprised when it bites someone.  But if we treat the dog with kindness and affection, with forgiveness for it foibles and flaws, it will respond with love and devotion.  How can we be loving if are always beating up on ourselves?  If we want to love others, we must first be kind and forgiving and loving to ourselves.

Fourth, love takes effort, because it takes effort to extend one’s limits, to grow.  Love is hard work.

Fifth, love is an act of the will.  We must choose to love.  As theologian Carter Heyward wrote in the morning’s reading, “Love is a choice—not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile.”

The ultimate implication of Peck’s definition is that “true love” is always a religious experience.  Too often, though, our selfishness gets in the way and prevents us from truly loving anyone.  The only way that spiritual growth can take place (as any mystic from any religious tradition will tell you) is to extend oneself beyond the boundaries of the self.  With that paradox, I leave the attempt at definition.

If we are fortunate, we have or have had wives and husbands, partners and friends, parents and children who love us in spite of our shortcomings, who put up with us at our worst, who allow us simply to be, frightening as that possibility sometimes seems.  If we are lucky, we are affirmed in spite of our flaws.  If we are really lucky, we are loved for what we are.  For as Goethe wrote, “To be loved for what one is, is the greatest exception.  The great majority love in another what they lend him, their own selves, their version of him.”  That is a very scary thought, for it suggests that many of us are very, very lonely.

But love is no panacea, either.  C. S. Lewis has written that, 

. . . to love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

We invite the possibility of tragedy by our love, be it for our children, for our wives and husbands, for our lovers and friends, even for our pets.  As author Norman MacLean writes with truth in his novel A River Runs Through It, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”  The greatest act of courage, after all, is not to sacrifice our own lives, but to love other people.  Love is the greatest act of courage we can undertake, for we must undertake it in what poet Wendell Berry calls the “forethought of grief.”

As Edmund Morgan, a writer on grief, has written, “Love means grief, in time.”  The Elizabethan poet Ben Jonson struggled with this reality of love in his eulogy, “On My First Son”: 

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy:
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O could I lose all father now! for why
Will man lament the state he should envy,
To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage
And, if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and asked, say, “Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.”
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.

To love is to risk the pain and grief of loss.  So William Blake warns us in “Love’s Secret”: 

Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind doth move
Silently, invisibly.
I told my love, I told my love,
I told her all my heart.
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears.
Ah!  She did depart.
Soon after she was gone from me,
A traveler came by,
Silently, invisibly:
He took her with a sigh.

Even loving a pet can bring us to grief, as you animal lovers know, and as Robert Herrick wrote in his poem, “Upon His Spaniel Tracy”:                  

Now thou art dead, and no eye shall ever see,
For shape and service, spaniel like to thee.
This shall my love do, give thy sad death one
Tear, that deserves of me a million.

Being swift to love does not guarantee that our lives will be easier or that all the world’s problems will be solved.  Howard Thurman writes in Disciplines of the Spirit, “The experience of love is either a necessity or a luxury.  If it be a luxury, it is expendable; if it be a necessity, then to deny it is to perish.  So simple is the reality, and so terrifying.  Ultimately there is only one place of refuge on this planet for anyone—that is in another’s . . . heart.  To love is to make one’s heart a swinging door.”

The bottom line, of course, is that time is wasting.  That is why the poet counsels us to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”  For always at our backs we hear “time’s winged chariot draw near.”  A modern poet, Katherine Anne Porter, revisits this ancient theme in her poem, “Variation 1001: To the Foolish Virgins Who Aren’t Gathering Roses”:

Ladies, why idle you here
Wasting the cool of the morning?
I’ve come to sing you a song
And bring you a warning.
 

Let me sell you a rhyme
For a bright penny—
Now is a better time
To love, than any!
 

Loving is not for long
The bright day is flying—
Ladies, there’s only a breath
Between living and dying!

“Life is short,” wrote Amiel, “and we never have too much time to gladden the hearts of those traveling the dark journey with us.”  Or for gladdening our own hearts.

On a day when we celebrate the love of mother and child, it is good to be reminded of all this.  It is good to be reminded of the brevity of life, and of the necessity of love.  I have to believe that love can make a difference, that it can even help to create the world of justice and peace that we dream about.  “To make love is to make justice,” wrote Carter Heyward.  It sounds ridiculous on the surface, but I want to believe that it is true.

John Marks Templeton wrote, 

The more love we give away, the more we have left.  The laws of love differ from the laws of arithmetic.  Love hoarded dwindles, but love given grows.  If we give all our love, we will have more left than he who saves some.  Giving love, not receiving, is important; but when we give without thought of receiving, we automatically and inescapably receive abundantly.

Be swift to love, make haste to be kind!  Gladden the hearts of those traveling the journey with you.  That is my message for this morning.  Time is short.  Think about it.  Amen. 

– The Rev. Harold E. Babcock

Reading: “Our Passion for Justice,” by Carter Heyward

May 5, 2013

Membership and Meaning

Filed under: Uncategorized — newbabcock @ 2:09 am

Hear the sermon

“In our experiment in religious community we are saying:
|begin with acceptance, begin with the openness which is a form of love,
begin with the love that lets others be who they are—
then personal growth is more likely to follow and truth—
living, relevant, personal truth—is likely to follow, too.”
– Roy D. Phillips 

Over the years, I have spoken to you many times about the meaning of membership in our church, and, frankly, I’m not sure that I have much that is new to say on the subject.  So this morning I want to take a somewhat different and more personal tack, and talk about the meaning which comes from membership.  Perhaps what I have to say will be self-evident and resonate with you.  I rather hope so.

What I know about this topic mostly comes from my experience of being part of a family, of growing up in a small town in Maine, of being a lifelong Unitarian Universalist and of ministering to a variety of Unitarian Universalist churches over the past thirty-one years, and, more recently, of my participation in the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council, my work as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Ambassador to the Transylvanian (now “Hungarian”) Unitarian Church in Romania, and, more particularly, of my relationship with our congregation’s Unitarian partner church in Ujszekely in Transylvania.

My knowledge is, therefore, less theoretical than experiential.  It is less about definitions and concepts than it is about matters of the heart: about love and about the mysterious sense that the journey of our lives actually has had a direction, even though that direction is sometimes hard to chart.

During my most recent visit in Transylvania, Borika Jakab, whom many of you will remember from her visit here in 2005, or from your visits to Ujszekely (Borika is the wife of the minister, for those who may not know), and I were speaking about the problems of many of the people in the congregation there and of friends and colleagues of Borika and her husband Zsolt.  It was obvious that there are many problems there, and at one point we agreed that there was no such thing as a perfect family.  Mental health issues, addiction, marital problems, wayward children, abuse, and disappointments of all stripes are the common currency of family life no matter where you live.  There is no such thing as a perfect family, neither here nor in far-off Romania.

And yet, we also know that much of the meaning that we take from life comes from that primary familial relationship.  It is the first place where we begin to form our identity and from which we may gather a sense of purpose in life.  If we are lucky, those initial familial relationships are sound enough that we gain a mostly positive sense of membership and the meanings that it can bring.  The family is the first place where we “belong,” the first place where we are made aware of the benefits of belonging.  It is where we begin to understand who we are, and who we are in relation to the world.

My strongest sense of belonging after my family came from my upbringing in a small town on the coast of Maine.  There was little question that I “belonged” in Castine, Maine.  My grandfather was the physician in the little hospital which he and my grandmother, a registered nurse, had established there.  My mother was a teacher in the local elementary school.

On her side of our family, our roots go back at least eight generations in that place.

Castine is situated on a peninsula.  You have to want to go there.  It was, in addition to being a beautiful place, a relatively secure and self-contained little world in which to grow up.  It was from there that I learned that one’s understanding of one’s place in the world, of one’s identity, and of one’s participation in a larger whole, can bring rich rewards in the form of knowing who we are and can perhaps even help to give us a sense of why we are.

I grew up in the Unitarian, and after the 1961 merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, the Unitarian Universalist church.  It was literally a stone’s throw from my house.  I attended Sunday School there until the eighth grade, when I left town to attend boarding school in another part of the state.  I attended church there with my parents and my paternal grandparents.

It was there that I first explored the great questions of life, death, and in between.  Even sex was a not-taboo subject!  It was there that I first considered entering the ministry.  Little did I know that my membership there would provide me with a lifetime of meaning and identity and an even deeper sense of belonging, with experiences I could not even have imagined at the time, and with relationships and friendships that have been profoundly impactful on my life.  (If you have children here, you should consider this possibly lifelong benefit for them of having a church connection.)

After a typically dissolute youth and graduation from college and graduate school at the University of Maine, I finally decided to follow my early inclination and curiosity and enter into theological studies at Harvard Divinity School.  In both of those places, Maine and Harvard,  I had a strong sense of belonging and membership.  I made friends who helped to give my life meaning by helping me to understand more deeply who I am in relation to the world and taught me things I could not otherwise have known, things which have brought beauty and solace and joy to me life.  I was with people who shared common goals and a common outlook on life.  Even in my darker moments, I always knew that I was not alone or isolated, but that I was surrounded by people who cared about and supported and loved me.

In 1982, in a little prairie town in southwestern Minnesota, I embarked upon my ministerial career.  I could not have chosen a more spectacular place to serve my first church.  Hanska, Minnesota sits in an ocean of corn.  On a little hill (called Mt. Pisquah after the mountain on which Moses stood to gaze into the Promised Land into which he would never enter—an amazing metaphor for life!) stands the Nora Unitarian Universalist Church.  It is a beautiful setting, if perhaps a bit isolated.  Founded by Norwegian immigrants, it is about as opposite to our usual UU demographics as you can get.  Most of the members were farmers.  Most had never attended college.  Some still spoke Norwegian.

Of course, I bumbled through my three years in Hanska, totally embraced by that small and loving congregation in spite of all I didn’t know.  Those people taught me much about why one ought to belong to a church.  I watched as they supported one another through heartbreaking loss and occasional tragedy.  I watched as they worked and had fun together.  I watched as they struggled with family issues and with an economy that was not kind to farmers in the early 1980’s.  I simply cannot imagine my life without that experience and without those people.  A piece of my heart will always belong there.  No matter what self-doubts I may have had about my ability to become a minister, they put their confidence in me.  I owe them much.

After that early experience in Hanska, I served five other churches before coming to Newburyport.  I spent six years in Attleboro, Massachusetts, in a larger congregation in a very different kind of place, a declining manufacturing town, and in a church with roots in the Universalist side of our tradition.  Though not the happiest period in my life, still I was embraced by the congregation there, and, though I was having some second thoughts at that time about remaining in the ministry, I continued to learn from the experience of belonging to a community striving to provide a spiritual home for themselves in challenging times and to make a difference in an often troubled world.

As in Hanska, there were profound and tragic events from which I continued to learn about the vicissitudes of life, its joys and its sorrows, and to count my blessings, to grow, and to learn more about myself.  Again, those people taught me things I could not have known about life had I not been a part of their community, and which I hope helped to make me a kinder and more compassionate person.  I received far more from them than I ever gave.

After a two year hiatus from ministry, during which I returned to the community of my childhood, I re-entered the ministry as an interim in the Rockland, Maine UU church, followed by a year as a circuit riding interim in three small congregations in the Oxford Hills region of western Maine.  In all of these congregations I met people who taught me important lessons about life and death, people who remain dear to me though I no longer see them, and whom I shall never forget, people who made me feel that I belonged in their midst.

Through all these changes, my identity and membership as a Unitarian Universalist was part of the glue that kept my life together and gave me a sense that I had a place in the world.  My many relationships across the Unitarian Universalist universe are actually a perpetual surprise and joy and even a mystery to me.  It is hard, when you are so deeply involved in something over so many years, not to feel how empty your life would be without that amazing web of relationships and experiences, relationships and experiences which have of course been enriched tremendously during my increasingly lengthy tenure as your minister!

In 1995, after coming here to the First Religious Society, which had already established a partner church relationship with the church in Ujszekely under my predecessor  Bert Steeves, I began to get involved in the work of international partnership.  This work has led not only to now fifteen trips to visit our partners in Transylvania and even a trip to visit our Unitarian brothers and sisters in northeastern India, but it has given me a more global and I trust less parochial view of the world in which I live.  It has given me a much deeper sense of our Unitarian Universalist faith and the ways that it can help sustain very different kinds of people in very different kinds of places.  That work has profoundly deepened and enriched my own spirituality and, I dare to hope, at least a few of yours as well, either by direct experience or if only by hearing about it second hand.  In short, this work has changed my life.

I sometimes say that I have a second family in Transylvania, and it is true.  Not in my wildest dreams growing up in a small town in Maine during the Cold War could I have imagined such a possibility, and yet, it has been one of the most meaningful blessings of membership and belonging of the many that I have received in my life.

In short, I cannot imagine my life at all without those friendships and experiences, and without all the meanings that membership–in my family, my community, and particularly in a Unitarian Universalist church–have brought to my life.  Whatever it may mean to become a member of a church, it is clear to me that membership in all its forms can bring incredible meaning to our lives.  What that meaning is will vary from person to person, but I can almost guarantee that it will be there if you make the effort and commitment to become part of a striving religious community like ours.

That, at least, is my hope, for each and every one of us, on this day of new member recognition, and in all of the days of belonging still to come.  Amen. 

The Rev. Harold E. Babcock

 Reading: on membership, by the Rev. Donna Morrison-Reed

Blog at WordPress.com.