Sunday, 31 January 2016: Grace, Gratitude, and Privilege


Prelude:
Let Her Go – Passenger

Welcome

Chalice Lighting May We Look With Gratitude Upon This Day – Michael R. Leduc

May we look with gratitude upon this day, for the beauty of the world, for the first radiance of dawn and the last smoldering glow of sunset.

Let us be thankful for physical joys, for hills to climb and hard work to do, for music that lifts our hearts in one breath, for the hand-clasp of a friend, and for the gracious loveliness of children who remind us of the wonders of life.

May we be appreciative above all for the concern and love of those around us; for the exceeding bliss of the touch of the holy which suddenly awakens our drowsy souls to the blessed awareness of the divine within us and within others.

For all of this, and for the countless other blessings present in our lives, let us be grateful. Amen.

Song: Come, come, whoever you are
Wandererer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again come (5 times)

Principles of Unitarian Universalism:

Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles:

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Story for All Ages: King Midas (Katie Welch)

Offering and Response (Unison)

For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.

Reading: The Goodness of the Earth – Koran (HCL 333)

Music: Grateful: A Love Song to the World

Responsive Reading The Canticle of the Sun by Francis of Assisi (HCL 334)

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

Lesson: Grace, Gratitude, and Privilege (Lisa deGruyter)

Perhaps Amazing Grace was an obvious song to have included today. All of us, whether we were raised Christian or not, have heard it many times in many settings, and may know the story of its writer, John Newton, a slave trader who eventually became an Anglican priest, and, long after that, an abolitionist.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Grace, in this hymn, is the grace of God, God’s unmerited favor, love, or help. A lot of Christianity interprets grace as something that you just get from God, and that that is how you are saved – by the Grace of God. All you have to do is believe in that Grace, and you are saved. Another thread of Christianity believes that grace is necessary, but not sufficient – God gives you the means, but you have to use them to save yourself. But Jesus said:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the heathens run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

It seems to me that he was saying what the Buddha said: that what we have in each moment is sufficient, and that it is our telling ourselves that it is not, or worrying that we will lose it, is what causes our suffering. So it seems to me that the real grace is our ability be mindful in each moment of our blessings, and also to seek what Jesus calls righteousness, and what Buddhism calls the Eightfold Path – both of which essentially involve being mindful of the consequences of our actions and living ethically. Notice that this is not just a “Don’t worry, be happy” philosophy – it requires taking care of yourself and others.

Gratitude is another word from the same ancient root. Grace kept several meanings from the root – not only God’s grace, but also favor, esteem, and pleasing qualities such as elegance and virtue, and a prayer we say in thankfulness before meals. On the other hand, gratitude only has one meaning – thankfulness. We are grateful when we receive grace – and it seems to me it does always carry the idea of being thankful for things we didn’t earn, at least not entirely. We are seldom thankful for having things we think we deserved, or that we see as having worked for. When we feel entitled, we are not as grateful for what we receive.

Interestingly to me, at least 😉 is that the word translated in the New Testament as “grace” was “charisma” in the original Greek – which was from the Greek root for favor or grace – which came from a different ancient root meaning to like or to want. The Eucharist, or communion, meant “thanksgiving.” So perhaps when Jesus told the disciples to share bread and wine in remembrance of him, perhaps he was really saying to have a ceremony of thanksgiving.

A good bit of research has shown that people tend to believe that if they achieve something or do something good, it is because of their talent, skill, and hard work – but if someone else does, it is because of luck. On the other hand, we tend to believe that if someone is poor or does something wrong, it is because they didn’t work hard enough, or are just bad or evil. But if we fail, it was just bad luck.

Which brings us to the relationship between grace, gratitude, and privilege.

The dictionary definition of privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”

Peggy McIntosh, who wrote a famous essay on privilege in 1988, said “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”

We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned, or conferred by birth or luck. School graduates are reminded they are privileged and urged to use their (enviable) assets well. The word “privilege” carries the connotation of being something everyone must want. Yet some of the conditions I have described here work to systemically over-empower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance, gives permission to control, because of one’s race or sex. The kind of privilege that gives license to some people to be, at best, thoughtless and, at worst, murderous should not continue to be referred to as a desirable attribute. Such “privilege” may be widely desired without being in any way beneficial to the whole society. ….

We might at least start by distinguishing between positive advantages that we can work to spread, to the point where they are not advantages at all but simply part of the normal civic and social fabric, and negative types of advantage that unless rejected will always reinforce our present hierarchies. For example, the positive “privilege” of belonging, the feeling that one belongs within the human circle, as Native Americans say, fosters development and should not be seen as privilege for a few. It is, let us say, an entitlement that none of us should have to earn; ideally it is an unearned entitlement. At present, since only a few have it, it is an unearned advantage for them. The negative “privilege” that gave me cultural permission not to take darker-skinned Others seriously can be seen as arbitrarily conferred dominance and should not be desirable for anyone.

When I was first working on this, it seemed to me the relationship between grace, gratitude, and privilege was obvious, but the more I worked on it, the less obvious it became. It seems to me now that perhaps grace is what all of us are granted as a birthright – the sun, moon and stars and the abundance of the earth, the air and water, that St. Francis and Muhammad talk about and the long legacy of human development, knowledge, and community that we inherit – as well as the “inherent worth and dignity” of our first principle.

Privilege is the grace that we grant to each other – and that we currently do not always grant equally, as a birthright, but condition on something else – on our ideas of who is deserving. After all, privilege is not something we are born with, although we may be born into a place, a family, a skin color, a gender, a sexual orientation, or some other condition that is privileged, it is not the law of nature or of a God that then gives us that privilege. It is us, and the people around us, who behave differently toward others according to our circumstances. We have learned to believe we are entitled, and that at least some others are not. Some people may say that our tendency to believe we are responsible for our own success, our tendency to think other people are lazy and bad, and our favoritism toward people in “our” group and the “othering” of outgroups, is in-born and natural. But even if that is so, if it doesn’t lead to good results, we can change it. Our grandchild is just learning to eat solid food, and he does it with his fingers, and not neatly. That is natural – and something that his parents are going to train him not to do.

Which brings us back to gratitude. It seems to me that being consciously and deliberately grateful helps us with recognizing grace and with recognizing that our privilege is not entitlement. I started thinking about gratitude when I ran across a video retreat with Gregg Krech, who wrote a book some years ago called Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection. Here are some quotes:

“To live a life of gratitude is to open our eyes to the countless ways in which we are supported by the world around us.”
“Open your eyes and see how many gifts there are to unwrap. Notice the presence of your presents. It’s not your life that is disappointing: it’s your mind.”
“Today a potato, a tomato, some wheat, lettuce, rice, a banana, and blueberries lost their lives for my sake.”

He also shared several maxims in the retreat:

Gratitude disappears in the shadow of entitlement

Easier to notice obstacles and problems than what we have been given

Your experience of life is not based on your life, but what you pay attention to

Naikan is a Japanese meditation technique that developed in Pureland Buddhism. Krech gives Seven Principles for Cultivating Gratitude:

  1. Gratitude is independent of our objective life circumstances
  2. Gratitude is a function of attention
  3. Entitlement precludes gratitude
  4. We often take for granted that which we receive on a regular basis
  5. Gratitude can be cultivated through sincere self-reflection
  6. Expressing gratitude, through words and deeds, enhances our experience of gratitude
  7. Our deepest sense of gratitude comes through grace, with the awareness that we have not earned, nor do we deserve all that we’ve been given.

Naikan means “seeing within” (Krech, 2002). Naikan therapy, as traditionally practiced, asks you to reflect upon three simple questions:

What have I received?

What have I given?

How have I caused difficulty for others?

The first question asks us to see and acknowledge how we have benefited from the actions of others. It asks us to become aware of all the ways that people in particular and the Universe in general support and nurture us in small and not so small ways each and every day. The second question, then, asks us to reflect upon how we have or have not responded in kind. Finally, the third question demands from us a rigorous self-examination as we hold ourselves accountable for all the ways we have invariably acted that have brought pain, suffering, and difficulty for others.

So now, I would like us to take some time to do this. The practice is to focus on the previous 24 hours, which you are more likely to be able to remember in detail, and will not get either overwhelmed or thinking in general terms. Let us reflect first on “What have I received in the last day?”

Now let us reflect on “What have I given in the last day?”

And finally, now let us reflect on “How have I caused difficulty for others in the last day?”

Song: Here on the Paths of Every Day 180 (HCL)

Here on the paths of everyday, here on the common human way,
Is all the stuff the gods would take to build a heaven, to mould and make
New Edens: Ours the gift sublime to build eternity in time.

We need no other stone to build our temple of the unfulfilled,
No other ivory for the doors, no other marble for the floors,
No other cedar for the beam and dome of our immortal dream.

Joys and Sorrows

If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it;

or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.

…..

For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.

These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.

Silent Meditation

Song: Go Now In Peace (3 times)

Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go

Closing: The Work Continues by Martha Kirby Capo

Our time together is finished, but our work is not yet done:
May our spirits be renewed and our purpose resolved
As we meet the challenges of the week to come.
The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.

Go now in peace.

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