Rev. Laurie Bushbaum
Call to Worship: by Maureen Killoran
Holy are the places of memory, the places which have formed us,
where we store the icons of success and shattered dreams
and gather threads and pieces of what we would become.
Holy are the places of memory.
Holy are the places of the dream, the places over the rainbow,
where all children are (safe) and all people are fed,
where colors are the source of celebration
and youth and age come to the table as one. . .
Holy are the places of the dream.
Holy are the places of change and pain, the places of our struggle,
where the rivers of our lives run white and fast,
and we hold on, hold on and grow. . .
Holy are the places of change and pain.
Holy are the places of connection,
the places where we risk our selves
where hands touch hands, … souls, … minds…
Holy are the places of connection.
Blessed is the ground on which we stand. Holy — and whole-making— is this place.
Lighting the Chalice: We light our chalice this morning in honor of this Holy Place: place of memory, place of dreaming, place of changing and connecting.
Reading: Map of the Journey in Progress, by Victoria E Safford
Here is where I found my voice and chose to be brave.
Here’s a place where I forgave someone, against my better judgment, and I survived that, and unexpectedly, amazingly, I became wiser.
Here’s where I was once forgiven, was ready for once in my life to receive forgiveness and to be transformed. And I survived that also…
This is the place where I said no, more loudly than I’d thought I ever could, and everybody stared, but I said no loudly anyway, because I knew it must be said, and those staring settled down into harmless, ineffective grumbling, and over me they had no power anymore.
Here’s a time, and here’s another, when I laid down my fear and walked right on into it, right up to my neck into that roiling water.
Here’s where cruelty taught me something. And here’s where I was first astonished by gratuitous compassion and knew it for the miracle it was, the requirement it is. It was a trembling time. And here, much later, is where I returned the blessing…
Here’s a place, a murky puddle, where I have stumbled more than once and fallen. I don’t know yet what to learn there.
On this site I was outraged and the rage sustains me still; it clarifies my seeing… Here’s where I was told that something was wrong with my eyes, that I see the world strangely, and here’s where I said, “Yes, I know, I walk in beauty.”
Here is where I began to look with my own eyes and listen with my ears and sing my own song, shaky as it is.
Here is where, if by surgeon’s knife, my heart was opened up—and here, and here… These are the landmarks of conversion.
Sermon: Follow the Yellow Brick Road Rev. Laurie Bushbaum
One of my all-time favorite cartoons is one that shows a tired and scraggly Ziggy sitting at the breakfast table, downing his first cup of coffee, still pretty out of it. He cocks his head towards the toaster from where he hears a voice say, “Gee, Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Sometimes the whole landscape of our lives changes and we find ourselves in new territory.
Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is not the only famous character to remark on such a situation. Listen to Alice, just after she arrives in Wonderland, Dear, dear! How queer everything is today. And yesterday everything went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think: Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, ‘Who in the world am I?
My sermon this morning is about changes and life transitions, about the journey each of us makes from birth to death and constancy of change. In his book Transitions, William Bridges tells about an adult education class he was teaching on the same topic. Most of the participants were in their 40’s and 50’s. On the first evening the youngest member, only 23 said, It’s okay to be messing around when you’re my age, but I plan to have it all together by the time I’m your age. Bridges recounts how they all knowingly nodded their heads, for that had been their plan, too.
But life usually isn’t so neat and tidy and predictable. And neither are most of us. We change, sometimes by choice; sometimes by circumstances that push us, kicking and screaming. Winston Churchill said, People occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry on as if nothing happened.
This sermon is for those who are interested in taking a longer look at the truth over which we occasionally stumble. This is for those who want to stop and think about it, and are willing to let it take them in a new direction.
The subtitle of Bridge’s book is Making Sense of Life Changes. For indeed, often change is confusing and frightening, even change that is intentionally sought and planned for can unleash unforeseen twists and turns. But understanding the psychological / spiritual pattern of change can go a long way in alleviating some of the fear and anxiety in the midst of transition. So, if there is a pattern in what sometimes seems to be the chaos of change, what is it?
Bridges breaks the transition experience into three parts:
Endings, The Neutral Zone, and Beginnings. His point is that most beginnings start with an ending of some sort. Then comes the neutral zone, a time of emptiness or confusion, or a fallow time for reentering. And out of that grows a new beginning. It’s a cycle of life, death, and renewal. And contrary to the young woman of 23 who is going to have it all together once and for all when she grows up, life offers us continuous opportunities, sometimes demands, for change. UU’s have always said, Religious education is a cradle to grave process.
Literature is full to heroes and heroines who, like Alice, illustrate in their quests this pattern of transition and its variations. The pattern is in ancient myths, sacred texts of the gods and goddesses, folk tales, literature and movies. Think of Harry Potter and Star Wars as classic examples. My favorite protagonist is Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. And the point of the here’s journey, or course, is to teach us
something about our own.
Joseph Campbell, the great Scholar of mythology wrote, It has always been the prime function of mythology… to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward… The purpose and effect is to conduct people across the difficult thresholds of transformation that demand a change in the patterns not only of conscious, but of unconscious life. In his book, The Hero with the Thousand Faces, Campbell documents how, despite the multitude of variations in myths, there is a core of deep similarity among them – something he calls the monomyth. And the basic pattern of this monomyth corresponds with William Bridges three stages of transition. Whereas Bridges talks about Endings, The Neutral Zone, and Beginnings, Joseph Campbell labels the three basic parts of the hero or heroine’s journey as: The Call to Adventure, The Road of Trials, and Return.
Let’s begin with The Call to Adventure. It can come in a variety of ways. For Dorothy, it all started out because the crabby old neighbor lady is going to take away her beloved Toto. Toto escapes but Dorothy decides to run away from home. She meets the traveling fortune-teller and he subtly convinces her to go home. By the time she gets back to the farm, a storm is raging. She is hit on the head by a loose board – and off she goes – the house whirling in the air, until it drops in Munchkin Land.
For Lewis Carroll’s Alice, The Call to Adventure is almost accidental. As Alice is sitting by the bank of the river with her sister, she gets bored. Suddenly a white rabbit runs by, muttering to itself while looking at a watch. Alice is so intrigued by this rabbit that she follows it down the rabbit hole, and thus, into Wonderland.
In a Native American story, The Call to Adventure comes as a young woman tries to catch a porcupine. The porcupine runs up a tree. The girl follows, higher and higher for she wants the quills. Each time, just as the porcupine gets to the top of the tree, the tree lengthens. The young woman leaves her life behind and follows the porcupine into the upper world. For First UU Wausau, the previous minister takes a new job, an Interim arrives, and a new process begins. That process will soon come to a close. You will call a settled minister and the process begins again.
The Call to Adventure: it can be a casual fascination that leads one unexpectedly along a new path; it can be an accident or tragedy such as the end of a relationship, a death, a defeat, a mistake made with serious consequences, an illness. On the other hand the Call to Adventure can be a planned event that ends one life stage and ushers in a new one, such as accepting a new job and moving, getting married, having a child, joining a church.
One call in my life came this way. When I was fifteen my parents decided to sell the house and nearly everything in it, buy a 50 foot sailboat and spend a year sailing in the Caribbean. As a fifteen year old, I was not entirely convinced that being stuck on a boat with my older brother and my parents was the perfect social scene. After 10 months, I decided to jump ship and return to normalcy a few months early. I returned to small town Minnesota to live with my best friend and her family. Much to my surprise, when I did return, I disliked my former best friend, my school, and the provincial, small town. I had changed so much in my new life, that I couldn’t really return. So I found a job in town and saved enough money to buy a train ticket to Oregon where my oldest sister and her family ran an organic goat farm.
A few weeks into my stay, my sister asked me what I was going to do with my last two years of high school. All I knew was that I was not returning to rural Minnesota. She pulled an old National Geographic magazine off the shelf and looked in the back at the ads for private schools. I found one in the Utah mountains that captured my interest, and wrote away for information. By the time my parents returned to the states, I had applied and received a scholarship. That September, I went to Wasatch Academy.
It was there that I met John Buzza, the campus minister. It was his guidance and mentoring in my life as a loving, intellectually and spiritually challenging role model that woke me up to my own call to ministry.
The Call to Adventure; the familiar horizon starts to change. Literally, or symbolically, we are in a strange land. What next? It would seem wise to heed the Munchkins’ advice to Dorothy and Follow the Yellow Brick Road.
The second stage of Campbell’s monomyth is Initiation or The Road of Trials. He writes:
Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he ( or she) must survive a succession of trials. This phase of the myth-adventure has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper … or it may be here that he (or she) discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere… in support of this superhuman passage.
The second stage of the journey, The Road of Trials, is the one in which the hero or heroine is to ingeniously outwit all kinds of creatures who are larger, or to perform impossible tasks, or find some hidden treasure. This is where Dorothy heads off to Oz. She has been given the ruby slippers by the Good Witch to protect her on her journey. Along the way she finds companions in the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion. Initially, they thought that all they had to do was to get to Oz. Once there, though, the Wizard demands they earn his favor by bringing him the broomstick of the wicked witch. By combining their talents, the task, of course, is accomplished – but just in the nick of time and not without employing large doses of compassion, wit and bravery.
Sometimes the hero or heroine’s task in this stage is not to rush out and do the impossible, brandishing swords and slaying dragons. Sometimes the test, instead, is a test of patience and faith. Consider the story of Hansel and Gretel. The witch has taken Hansel and Gretel captive in the gingerbread house; she makes Gretel work for her, and Hansel she locks up to fatten. Finally, in her own impatience,
after waiting weeks, the witch decides it’s time to eat Hansel. She tells Gretel to stick her head in the oven to see if it is hot enough. But Gretel plays dumb and whines. I don’t know how. Indignant, the witch says, Like this stupid, and sticks her own head in, at which point Gretel gives her a shove and closes the door.
Unlike Dorothy’s conquest to get to Oz and get the witch’s broomstick, Hansel and Gretel’s test was to be patient, keep their wits about them, and wait until just the right moment to act. Paradoxically there are some things which can only be won by waiting. On this second stage of the journey, the spiritual emphasis is on discovering the task now before us, and to either accomplish it with the help of others, or wait astutely until the next step is revealed.
Finally, we get to what Campbell calls The Return. Remember Dorothy missing the balloon ride back to Kansas, sad that she’ll never be able to go home? In floats the Good Witch and tells Dorothy that all she has to do is close her eyes, click her heels together three times and say, There’s no place like home. She wakes up and is home. She tries to tell everyone about her adventures and all the strange things she has seen and done but they don’t understand. And in life, that is often the case when we try to share with others some profound experience of personal transformation.
In many mythic quest stories, the hero or heroine returns with a tangible object that is a gift to the community. If not some material treasure, then it might be the gift of revelation or insight. Think of Moses up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the Knight and the Holy Grail, Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream. What has First UU found on this Interim journey that makes you clearer, stronger, wiser, transformed?
In her book Quest, Kathy Fuson Hurt says of the returning stage:
What the return accomplished for the seeker, as he or she is led back to the point of the beginning, is a joining of the two worlds of the quest: the everyday world with its distractions and petty grievances and competitive struggles; and the other world, the realm of dragons and glittering treasures. Once the hero or heroine returns, closing the circle of the journey, these two opposite, utterly different worlds become of a piece. And so it ends, our quest for truth. We have sought and found… until the next time when we feel again that certain restiveness of spirit… Our successful completion of one quest, represents an end that becomes a beginning, forming the starting point for the next journey.
You might say, but this is all myth and fairy tales. I remind you of the maxim, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. I think of
some of the chance meetings in my life, the strange coincidences, the trials and turns in the road, the way things turn out unexpectedly, and the cycle of the quest seems to fit reality. A friend told me recently how his nephew, an aimless and irresponsible young man, went on a three week trip in the wilderness with Outward Bound and literally came back a changed human being.
My guess is that each of us has at least a handful of experiences that stand up in comparison with the mythic journey stories. And remember, these stories were created out of the collective human experience to reflect back to us, a picture of our own story, to provide a kind of road map.
The next time you see a rabbit with a pocket watch or a neighbor threatens to call the dog catcher – BEWARE. Your life may be in for some changes. Certainly we are already living in a very new and strange and frightening political time in this country. The model of the journey tells us to stay awake, to pay attention to what that is at hand. We are to look for the helpers and companions along the way and to join our skills to theirs. The task is to see what we need to learn and learn it. The task is to be faithful and courageous.
Remember that once you head out on the journey, nothing will ever be the same, but if you are faithful to the journey, you will be the bearer of a new gift.