THE MYSTERY OF HOME Rev. Charlie Tyler December 4, 2016
This morning I'd like to invite you to a mystery. The mystery of why home is so vital and yet so very elusive.
I'm not exactly sure why this is important to me. Perhaps because of a childhood filled with constant moves. 11 different houses by the time I was 13. A third grade in 3 different schools, 2 different states all of which included a 6 week stint in a Thunderbird motel in Jacksonville, Fla. I know it sounds like I grew up homeless. However all those moves were due to a father that was working as hard as he could to provide for his family. We stayed in that motel 6 weeks while a house was being constructed. I also know that many of you had similar lives of moving and inconsistency and have adjusted just fine.
But that's my life experience and it shapes me. So...I ask myself about 'home' and where is it and why is it so elusive, why such a mystery. And...during this holiday season, whatever your faith base or absence, most of us are turning our minds, thoughts and eyes toward 'home'. Some among us have a physical ability to either 'get home' or 'stay home', but it's real and accomplishable. Others among us will only have 'home' as a suggestion, a wish, a hope. There is inside of me, and perhaps it's important to you too, a desire to know 'where I come from'. I have been able to walk on the soil, the dirt of a middle sized antebellum home in eastern NC. Built in the 1840's by a man born in the latter part of the 1700's whose middle name came from a woman born in the 1600's. Perry Cotten Tyler established a few thousand acres of low country farmland...and over 2 dozen slaves, and a small fortune. 2/3s of his name is my name. The Great Depression dismantled all that, but it's special for me, just me, to walk on the ground upon which my ancestors walked.
But that family history does not satisfy me, for some reason it doesn't answer the question for me; where am I from and where is my home?
As a child I was intrigued with all things old. Not necessarily antiques, or old people. However I am very interested in both. But as a 7 or 8 year old I was intrigued by the great ages of rocks. One of my earliest sentient thoughts that I remember is picking up a small stone in our driveway. In hindsight it was nothing more than a thumb sized bit of driveway gravel. But I remember and still can feel the coolness of that stone in my hand, and taking that stone to show it to my mother and pronouncing that that granite stone was millions of years old and I, I, I had just discovered it! And wasn't that amazing!
In my late teens and 20's my theological journey took me deep into conservative evangelical Christianity. Great ages were forbidden. A young earth was mandatory. And for decades I embraced willingly and at times unwillingly a world view absent of the wonders and the mysteries of millions, billions of years and distances measured only by the speed of light. Through an unexpected process, a journey I have only just begun to find my way back to my childhood wonder of all things ancient...and in that journey, I have become suspicious I have, perhaps, found home.
Question: HOW many of you find yourself utterly lost watching a fire in a fireplace, or a camp fire? I do, many of you do too. Why? What is it about the flame, the shifting images in the fire and the coals, what is it that's so...transfixing? Scientists have found that there is a 5% drop in blood pressure by most people who are exposed to the fire and the crackling sounds it makes. May I suggest to you, as I have allowed myself to receive just such a suggestion, you are looking at early imprints of our first home.
As I have shaken off the constraints of my conservative prison I have now been allowed to sit at the feet of science and scientists who have come to understand that over the last million years or so it was around the 'fire' that the unique essence of who we are as humans was born. It was at the fire that desperate beings drew comfort from each other and from the warmth of the flame and the transformation of raw meat to a more digestible form (medium rare). Even more importantly scholars tell us that it was at the fire that our ancient ancestors created speech, words, and the ability to communicate, organize, tell stories, pass on knowledge.
In an article taken from the online Smithsonian Mag Harvard biologist Richard Wrangham believes that fire is needed to fuel the brain that makes possible all the other products of culture, language included. It seems it is at the fire, over enormous expanses of time we were transformed. And I'd suggest that transformation was embedded into our DNA. Vestiges of the significance of that transformation lays sleeping in our souls...until we walk by a fire. And we stop, and we stare and oddly, perhaps, have a feeling of something far deeper than our street address. We, I may well be sensing...home. Actually I believe the mystery of our hearts content at the fire place...is home. Or at least one of the sources of our sense of home...
Question: Who here is an 'ocean' person? Millions, perhaps billions, flock to the water's edge, all over the world in very many divergent ways. Some come to relax, some come to make a living, some come because it's where they live. But most of us connect with that 'other worldliness' of the ocean, of water. There is something mesmerizing about being at the ocean. What is it? What inner tug draws so many. What wordless whisper says to our spirits, 'come'.
Science has told us for a long time that we are 70% water. Human fetuses still have 'gill slits' structures in their early stages of development, we spent the first 9 months immersed in the watery environment of our mother's womb. Our brains are 80% water, our bodies as a whole are almost the same density as water (it's why we can float). The cells in our body contain contain water that is the same mineral composition as the water in the sea. Science writer Loren Eisley once described human beings as 'a way that water has of going about, beyond the reach of rivers'.
We are transformed in the presence of water, particularly the sea, hearing it, smelling it, playing in it, walking next to it, painting it, writing about it, photographing it. Wallace J. Nichols refers to the peacefulness that water/ocean creates in us as 'Blue Mind". Harvard biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson coined the term 'biophilia' to describe his thought that humans have an ingrained bond with nature and the living organisms we share the planet with. We are as connected intuitively to nature who birth us as to our mothers who birthed us.
And as science has unfolded our DNA we have discovered that, in fact, we are ocean born. Billions of years ago life first emerged from that watery nursery. All life owes it's existence to H2O.
Alan Watts (whom I love) said 'you don't come into this world. You come out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here". There are few statements that rearrange my world. That one is one of them.
So I offer to you another mysterious home. You and I, I believe, are no closer to our home than when we are at the sea, at the lakes, at the rivers. There is something of a home-coming every time you are there.
The fire, some million years ago. The ocean, some 4 billion years ago. But yet I'm going to suggest an older home, an even more ancient source of life.
Question: who among us still lays in the back yard, staring into the expanse of space with that sense of wonder and peace, question and contentment, longing and fear.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young wrote, "We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden'.
This is not meant to be a platitude or sticky sweet attempt to paint lipstick on a pig. It is truth and fact. And it brings all things to a single connecting point. We are stardust, and it brings all of us home.
"The cosmos is within us' writes Carl Sagan 'we are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself. "
Drs. Karel and Iris Schrijver write in their book "Living With the Stars: How the Human Body Is Connected to the Life Cycles of the Earth, the Planets and the Stars" that everything that 'is' us comes from the debri of exploding stars. As a matter of fact everything that 'is' is composed of the debris of exploding stars. The building blocks of 'us' are the remnants of stars...we are stardust. And it's on going. The scientists mentioned tell us that 40,000 tons of stardust continue to rain down on planet earth every year. Some of it is used to make the fabulous person you are.
Lawrence Krouss writes in his book 'A Universe from Nothing'. "The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And the atom in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded, because the elements- the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution, were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enought to explode."
"You are', says Alan Watts 'an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself".
So, for me, and here is mystery and here is faith, and here perhaps, is myth. Because I cannot empirically prove to you that this is true, but I cannot help but believe, mostly by faith, that the components of the DNA which is me looks back out of my eyes, the aperture which is me at the universe which is around me and KNOWS that there too, is my home. There is the UNIverse which is my original birth place. And that explains the longing I feel for...there. There is the 'all things' to which I am connected, you are connected, we are connected.
And that explains, for me, the longing I feel at the fire and at the ocean...there are my homes. There is your home.
And, I'll maintain, there is a reason this is so very important. It's because this makes us each, family. Give me a few more moments to show you why this connection is so important.
A PROPHET TO OUR OWN SOULS Rev. Charlie Tyler September 11, 2016
It’s 9/11. When I saw that I was asked to speak on this date, I almost refused. I am choosing not to direct this message to this 15th anniversary of this horror and tragedy. Not because I’m apathetic. But because I know as a spiritual people you have been on a 15 year journey. It would neither fair nor wise to drop myself into your pathway. I’d like to join you in that journey but to speak to it belongs to those who know you best.
But for this moment, may I acknowledge the dreadful scare on our history, the thousands of lives lost, families fractured, children growing up without the parents that went to work in New York, Washington, got on planes that stopped only in Shanksville.
In February of 2002 I wanted to take my youngest daughter to see the ruin at the Trade Center site. It was a brutally cold and windy day. We stood on the overlook for the 5 minutes that our ticket allowed for. I told my daughter I wanted her to see this thing ...and in 50 years, bring her children, and perhaps her children’s children back to this site and see again.
Defence link Casualty Report states that as of October 1, 2015, there have been 2,325 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,083 American service members have also been wounded in action during the war
Nor can I turn my face from the CDC reports: in the period 2001- 2013, 406,496 people have died following firearm injury. Of these 237,052 were suicides. Over 50,000 per year for 2014 and 2015 bringing gun deaths to approximately one half million Americans.
Financially, I can’t even begin to get my head around the impact on the US economy or world economy in the years after 9/11. I don’t really know what the word ‘trillion’ looks like. But most financial reports about the post 9/11 world use that number...a lot.
And I cannot turn my face from the apparent nauseating greed which led to the Great Recession of 2007 and the years which followed. And again the word ‘trillion’ get used a lot.
SO, I’m not the guy to speak to this date...except to grieve. I’m not a whole lot of fun to have around when people want to pick sides and play Red Rover, Red Rover, send Charlie right over.
More often than not I’m more focused on what I can do to cause a “better Charlie” to show up. To THAT end I’d like to speak this morning.
First let me tell you a bit about me.
Like many of you I love music. And I have a favorite style. The first time I heard Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, I knew I had found my musical home.
In the mid to late 60’s it was very hard to hear this music on the radio. There was primarily AM radio. These guys were NOT on their AM play list.
I lived in Cincinnati at that formative time. And I’d heard about an FM station, WEBN FM. It devoted 2 hours on Friday night 10-12 to ‘underground music’. It had, at the time, a broadcast radius of what seemed to be 2 miles. So myself, Jimmy Crabb and Robby Trinon would climb the scaffolding of the Methodist church’s new sanctuary, pull out that long antenna on my am/fm battery-powered radio and listen to these guys. (please don’t tell anyone I did this, I’m still worried I’ll get in trouble.) It was through this station that we’d heard about a gathering of musicians in upstate NY. And that’s how I became one of 500,000 people that was going to go to Woodstock...only my mom wouldn't let me go. I was the essential rebel.
That helps you understand my own response a few months ago when I was exposed to the video of the remake of Simon and Garfunkel's “Sounds of Silence” by a group called ‘Disturbed’.
I, personally, was stunned by it. I watched over and over. I was very tempted to play it today but I’d rather you experience it on your own if you’ve never heard it.
Now, I need to pause here and tell you about someone that has become very important to me. She’s here with me this morning...mortified that I’m even speaking to this. She is deeply insightful, compassionate, one of the smartest people I know, only qualified by the fact she spends time with me. She has a deep faith which I admire and from which I learn.
However my taste in music and hers are wildly divergent from each other. So I was hesitant to share Disturbed’s remake. But we sat on her couch together. And at the conclusion she simply stated ‘the original is poet, that is prophet’.
There are times in my life when people say things to me which I cannot let go. I’ll hold them close and try to grow them. THIS statement is one of those times.
In this remake no words are changed, the message is essentially the same. But when you hear, the barely noticeable but ominous changes in the notes and the intensity of the music, the power of the song, the insistence that the message of the poet be heard...you’ll understand why the exact same song is now prophet.
My intention is not to elevate the members of this group to some spiritual higher ground. I have not a clue as to their spiritual life or absence of it. But I know that at least in this piece, something transcendent happened. And I hear the prophets of past cultures insisting that we pay attention. Poet to prophet with the same poem, the same craftsmanship.
One morning, during the Christmas season 2000, my oldest daughter, getting ready for her senior year came down the hall with a look on her face that was urgent. She was NEVER urgent about anything at that time of the morning. I thought something was wrong so I went quickly to her room. She pointed to the radio, and we both listened, for the first time, to Trans Siberian Orchestra's ‘Carol of the Bells’. (This too is another piece of music that I’d urge you to listen to in the privacy of your living space.) When it was over I went straight to the computer, looked up the group and ordered the CD. Trans Siberian Orchestra's arrangement is a blending of “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” and it is anything BUT. It is to me haunting, transcendent, thunderous, resentful, and painful. It grabs me by the shirt and says ‘listen to me, you must listen to me’. There is a subtitle to the piece, “Christmas Eve; Sarajevo”. Researching what drove the musicians to ‘birth’ this thing I discovered the motive...the true story of the Cellist of Sarajevo. Do you know the story?
Regularly playing his cello in ruined buildings during the siege of Sarajevo, most notably performing Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, Smailović caught the imagination of people around the world. In his honour, composer David Wilde wrote a piece for solo cello, The Cellist of Sarajevo, which was recorded by Yo Yo Ma Smailović also played at funerals during the siege, even though funerals were often targeted by snipers. He escaped the city in late 1993 and has since been involved in numerous music projects as a performer, composer and conductor.
Smailovic took the beauty of his instrument into the insanity of the siege of Sarajevo and played against the ugliness. When his story came to musicians of Trans Siberian Orchestra they took the poetry of those pieces and turned them into a message of the prophet. Again insisting that I not look away, insisting that I see!
8 am Aug 18, 1969 Jimi Hendrix closed the over 3 days of Woodstock with his version of the National Anthem. When I first heard it I wanted to turn my head. It felt sacrilegious, scandalous, irreverant. The VietNam war was at its peak. Our nation ethos was dislodged. John Kennedy was dead, Robert Kennedy was dead, Martin Luther King was dead. As a young teen I and a generation were unmoored. And I experienced my first poet to prophet performance...and I did not like it.
NOW, somebody in this room should be asking themselves...where is he going with all this.
Here is a truth statement. Each of you, sitting here right now are a poem, and song, a sonnet. You have been being written on by life and by a universe that has brought you to this point and place in your being. You are poetry. And if so, you may also be a prophet to your own soul. In the same way the poets’ messages in the songs I have mentioned became prophetic it also lays in us, me, you to allow our own poetry to become our own prophet.
How? First: Know your own soul. Know its rhythm and rhyme. What makes you tick, what matters to you, how do the answers to those questions fit into your consistent view of the world. If you are not sure, ask people you trust. Ask them what they see and hear and observe and see if that rings true to your own spirit.
Second: Allow yourself to become a prophet to your own soul, not the souls of those around you. You might be inclined to think that the guy across from you REALLY needs your prophetic truth, but that’s a good sign you need your own soul’s prophetic voice.
How? Acknowledge complacency and become determined to move past the inertia that complacency produces. Each of the pieces of music that I suggest have moved from poet to prophet moves the hearer from complacency to action. Each demands the hearer listen and move. Movement might be physical or emotional but one cannot remain the same. Take what you know to be true in yourself and in the world (poetry) and let that poetry become prophecy. Let your song, your poem become the prophet back to yourself. Allow what YOU know to be true to grab you by your shirt and demand that you listen. Let the song that is your life unrelentingly and intensely urge you to respond.
NOTE: It is not up to me, or your spouse or your friends to make those demands. It is not up the me or them to even give you the examples. The examples rest inside you, me, us right now! They are the words and the principles of the poem that is your life. Let them become prophets to your own soul.
Third: Be a gentle prophet to your soul. Once I find the courage to let the poem become prophet it’s tempting to me to become harsh with myself. It is the way the human condition readies itself for unworthiness. And if there is anything that is destructive to the human spirit it’s the suspicion of unworthiness. Also, harshness is successful for a short time. And during that time of success, the harsh prophet will become harsh to those around them. There’s a reason the prophets of old lived in caves and ate locusts. Last: When you are ready, apply your personal prophetic voice to your own soul publicly. What on earth does that mean? Share your personal journey from poet to prophet. Model your own journey so that others may see and know that it’s possible. When appropriate talk, about your discoveries, your failures, your goals and joys and griefs.
I am persuaded whatever the ills of our world...and they are legion, there is healing inside of me, you, us. And it’s already there. Let us allow ourselves the wonder of taking the poetry of our lives and becoming a prophet to our own souls.
WHY LIBERAL VALUES MATTER Rev. Manuel Holland June 19, 2016
The primaries are finally over and when the conventions are held we will know who the official candidates for President will be. We also know that there will be candidates on the ballot for a number of other offices. It is our challenge to let all those who seek our votes know that liberal values matter. This morning I be will referring to a number of experiences from my childhood which I think may help to show why liberal values matter so much. Among the values that matter are those of the 2nd principle supported by Unitarian Universalists; justice, equity and compassion. Some of you will have heard me mention some of my childhood experience and I hope you will forgive my repeating them. Out of curiosity, I will ask how many of you were NOT here on September 23, 2011, almost five years ago. On that day I mentioned some of the experiences I will talk about today. My father was born in 1900 about seven miles out of Franklin, N.C., between Highlands and Franklin. He was the first of 14 children. He was 19 when he and my mother were married. From 1921 to 1936 they had 8 children. I was born in 1930.
In his late teens my father learned how to set dynamite charges and began a career as blaster. Most of his work was in mining; he did some construction work. In 1925 he was on Stone Mountain, GA preparing the site for the sculptures which are now the Confederate Memorial. In 1937 his application to work at Star Gold Mines in Grass Valley was approved. At that time we were living in a cabin near where he was born. He hastily built a plywood shelter for the bed of a Ford B-Model Pick-up. One of Dad’s brothers and his wife and two children joined us. Both families crowded into the pick-up along with some of their possessions. Dad, my mother, a one year old daughter, and a three year old daughter rode in the cab. It took over two weeks of long days of driving, often going into the night, to get to our destination. My uncle and his family were dropped off where he had a job waiting for him and we continued north to Grass Valley. We arrived toward the end of April. My 7th birthday was the 9th of May.
Things went well for a few months. Then the medical supervisor of the mine told Dad that he could no longer work at the mine. Eighteen years as a blaster in mines and other sites had virtually destroyed his lungs. There was no choice but to look for work as migrant laborers. We loaded up our few possessions and headed south on the main highway.
From August 1937 to October 1938 we traveled from Grass Valley as far south as Bakersfield. We gathered walnuts, picked prunes, picked cotton, cut huge bunches of seedless Thompson Grapes put them on trays to become sun dried raisons, to name a few of the crops we helped to harvest. Mother and Dad kept me and two of my older brothers in public schools. We changed schools seven times that year. My oldest brother was 16 and he and Dad worked in the fields while we were in school. Often we joined them after school and always during weekends.
Increasingly Dad’s health deteriorated. In August a doctor in a clinic in Bakersfield told him that he had only a few weeks to live. His lung capacity was less than 25% of what it had been. We were preparing to return to school, even though we had almost completely worn out our clothing. Word got to the Salvation Army and one of their workers arrived at the tent we were renting in a migrant labor camp and presented us with a large bundle of clothing which had been freshly laundered and ironed. It was a wonderful gift to us. Among the clothes was a pair of coveralls which almost fitted me. I proudly wore those coveralls on the first day of school. Compassion matters. In the last migrant labor camp where we stayed there was a family in a nearby tent with a number of children and a very warm and generous mother who did her cooking on an inverted oil drum fueled with wood gathered from nearby orchards. When her children gathered around for burritos she often included me as if I were another member of the family. She knew about Dad’s health and that was one way for her to express her compassion. Compassion matters.
I thought of that mother some years ago when I read Mother Theresa’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in which she told the story near the end of the address about her taking some rice to a very needy family of the Hindu faith. She gave the rice to the mother who then divided it in half and took one half with her as she went out the back entrance of their shelter. When she asked what she had done and she gestured to the Muslim family next door and she said “They are hungry, too.” Compassion matters.
Liberal values matter. Compassion, justice, and equity matter and we will be challenged to defend them in the months ahead. Compassion must over-ride the fear and paranoia which would keep us from welcoming thousands of refugees. Compassion and justice must overcome the prejudice and intolerance which would encourage the deportation of millions of undocumented persons. Compassion, Justice and Equity must prevail in the efforts to have a national minimum wage of at least $15.00 an hour. Liberal values matter.
In October of 1938 Dad died. A California Social Worker visited with Mother and, after determining that our relatives in North Carolina would assist us if we returned, she arranged for the State to pay for our transportation and some other expenses and we returned to North Carolina. Not long after we returned my oldest brother was accepted in the Civilian Conservation Corps, another wonderful program of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration. It permitted my brother to send by government check a monthly allotment to my mother, the only income she had. When President Roosevelt chose the members of his Cabinet he had the wisdom to choose Francis Perkins to be Secretary of Labor. She was the first woman to serve on a President’s Cabinet. Under her leadership came the formation of the Social Security Program, the minimum wage and many other programs based on liberal values. So much was accomplished in the midst of the worst depression this nation has ever known. Credit also must be given to labor union leaders John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, Philip Randolph. It would be wonderful to have Francis Perkins and those leaders come back and tell us how vital liberal values were to their efforts.
It would also be wonderful to have my father come back. Even though I only remember a few years of his life, I can imagine what he might say. He might say:
For 19 years I practiced my trade as a blaster. From Copper Hill, Tennessee I helped remove copper which may have been in the bright pennies you put in your children’s stockings on Christmas morning. In Clinch Valley Tennessee I helped mine zinc which was essential for the bronze in so many statues you have admired. I helped clear the way for the memorial on Stone Mountain which millions have visited. Near Hazleton, Pennsylvania I worked deep underground breaking loose the hard coal which burned so brightly and so cleanly and which gave off much more heat than soft coal for homes, locomotives and power plants. At the Star Gold Mines in Grass Valley, California, for a few precious months, I broke loose the rocks which bore the gold which may be in your wedding rings. Then it was over and without pension, without medical benefits, without Social Security for my family, for the next 15 months I and my sons attempted to provide as best we could for a mother, four sons and two daughters.
On the last day of my father’s life he began to hemorrhage violently. Mother, with the help of my older brothers, took my sisters and ran to the little camp store and rental office where there was a telephone. They left me in the tent with Dad. After a few minutes Dad got up from his bed and stumbled by me, saying as he went by “Make something of yourself, Son.” He fell to the dirt floor of the tent, struggled for moments and died.
Make something of yourself. Is not that the spoken or unspoken aspiration of most fathers and mothers and grandparents? Liberal values matter because they make those aspirations more likely to become realities. Pre-school programs for all children, universal health care, tuition–free college education all could make it much more likely that many children would make something of themselves. Liberal values matter. Why have I spent so much time discussing what happened almost 80 years ago? Simply because millions of Americans face problems as challenging, or more so, as my family faced. From Hilton Head Island to all parts of our country there are those who live in extreme poverty in spite of their best efforts to improve their lives. Our second principle challenges us to show compassion, to seek justice, and to work for equity. As individuals and as a Congregation may we accept that challenge.