And we gather to be something more than individual
We gather to strengthen what is best in ourselves
We gather to grow what is best in one another
We gather together to transform and be transformed
By this signal light, may we be, together
A place of comfort in times of suffering
A place of growth toward our best selves
A place of strength to prepare ourselves for the work that must be done
And a place of commitment to make our values real in our troubled world
Being the best
Making a difference
Live A Life That Matters - Author Unknown
Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours, days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear.
So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won't matter where you came from,
or on what side of the tracks you lived.
At the end, whether you were beautiful or brilliant, male or female,
even your skin colour won't matter.
So what will matter?
How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built;
not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched,empowered or encouraged others.
What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew,
but how many will feel a lasting loss when you're gone.
What will matter is not your memories,
but the memories that live in those who loved you.
Living a life that matters doesn't happen by accident.
It's not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters
Message, by Andy Pakula
Today, we continue in our 3-month long theme of ‘values into action.’ We’ve been talking about how we and others can put our values into action. Two Sundays ago, we talked about Emmeline Pankhurst and the bold action she and other undertook secure voting rights for women.
Last Sunday - on the 88th anniversary of his birth - we talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. King fought for full and equal civil rights for African Americans - and he gave his life in that struggle.
When we talked about Pankhurst and King, we focused on the ‘action’ part of ‘values into action.’ We talked about strategies and skills and motivation and character. We know that deep values must have lain beneath the actions of Pankhurst and King. Today, our focus will be more on values.
If these two activists were to catalog their values, we can assume that equality would have been a word that would have ranked highly for both. Their times and places and contexts were very different, but both had a strong sense that people - despite their great differences - all deserve equal rights, representation, and treatment.
We might glean other aspects of their values from the lives and words of Pankhurst and King. Even if we hold the same values, the relative importance we assign to specific values will vary amongst us. It is almost certain that Pankhurst would have valued observing the law and respecting the property of others, and yet she led a window-breaking and arson campaigns as she sought women’s suffrage. For her, values about equality were more important than values about property.
Martin Luther King no doubt valued his own safety. He valued the safety and happiness of his wife and his young children. And yet he put safety at great risk in the interest of equality.
Our values are the intangibles that we hold to be important. They are guides we use to as we measure and assess what is good and what is not. They come into play in every part of our lives - in public and in private - in large ways and small.
Some of these values we have examined and tested. Others have slipped in unnoticed along the way and cause us to make judgement and choices without clarity about the standards we are applying.
We hold some values to be more important than others. That is crucial, especially as our values inevitably come into conflict with one another. Our living continually involves a trade-off of one value against another. Almost any value that we hold is - at some point - held in opposition to another.
When you heard the list of values earlier, you may have rejected a few of them but most of them would have seemed at least somewhat positive. And yet each day will bring choices about whether to focus more on one or another.
Values - in a larger sense - are an important part of this community. When people hear that we are not based on some common supernatural belief, they often say - with some astonishment - something like ‘But if you don’t all believe the same thing, what holds you together?’
That’s not a simple question, but certainly part of the answer is our shared values. There are concepts and ways of being that we hold very dearly indeed.
Most of us would probably put justice and freedom and equality and respect and care and inclusion and love in that list of New Unity’s shared values. We would probably not include values like piety, wealth, purity, temperance and perfection, in that shared list, although such values may be important to us individually.
There are also many mundane values that come into play in our community - values that - like all values - may come into conflict from time to time. Those value clashes may occur between people. They often take place within us as individuals, as the various values we hold pull us in different directions.
We value resting on the weekend and we value coming here on a Sunday. For you - coming here won today. For others, the lie-in was higher in the list this week.
Most of us probably value finishing Sunday Gatherings on time, but we also value giving everyone who wants to a chance to light a candle and share their joys and sorrows.
We value the environment and trees but we also value having a piece of paper in our hands to know what’s happening this morning and in the coming week.
We value diverse music but that value can clash with other values that guide what we individually consider to be good music.
And we each probably find that our values can clash in more profound ways too. We may value spending time with our families and find that it’s hard to balance that with the value we place on work.
We may value justice but find that action there can conflict with the value we place on our safety. We may value charity but need to weigh that value against our valuing of a comfortable home to live in, leisure activities, and other uses of money that make our lives more liveable.
So, we may hold many different values, those values vary in importance, and our values can - and regularly do - come into conflict with one another.
I’ve several times been in workshops where the leader gives out a list of values like the one we heard earlier and instructs the participants to make a list of their own values - say the top 20. That’s a hard thing to do. It’s hard because it forces you to choose amongst values that seem equally high.
It’s challenging too because you have to admit that your values are not all as lofty as you might like them to be. I suspect that most of us feel a little guilty when we’re honest about what we value, but this is part of being human. None of us is completely self-sacrificing and altruistic.
Of course, in the workshop if the lists are going to be shared, it’s amazing that everyone in the room turns out to be worthy of sainthood. Private lists tend to be a lot different and a lot more realistic.
When everyone is done with their top 20 list, the leader says to reduce it to ten or to five. Everyone groans because it’s so hard to measure one value against another.
The idea is that if we value everything we wind up valuing nothing - or at least acting on nothing more than anything else. Yes, you may want success and want justice, and want to spend all your time with your family, and devote yourself to writing a novel. And you can’t do all of those - or at least you can’t do all of them without compromising all or some of them.
But this narrowing is also a false choice because there are values in those lists that you don’t have to choose between. You can value love and justice and equality at the same time because they are united - they can be part of a single fabric of your life.
So, what do you value? What do you really value? How can you tell what you really value?
Gloria Steinem said ‘We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs.’
Steinem is poking us in what she sees as our hypocrisy. She is implying that if we aren’t putting our money or our actions in service of a value, then it isn’t really a value. It’s a lie.
But there is a serious error in this notion. We are human beings and we do not always act according to our deepest values. We simply don’t. There are demands on our time that may have little to do with what we really value.
I spend a lot of money on taxes. I spend money on food and clothing. Are those my highest values? Our lives are organised by us and by those around us in ways that take our time and energy and treasure away from our deepest and highest ideals.
Some would say that we can tell our values by reflecting upon our lives. The times when our values and our actions are attuned, they might suggest, are times when we feel calm or peaceful. And to that, I say nonsense.
In reality, because we invariably have conflicting values, acting in accord with the highest one may make us anxious and uneasy. Acting in accord with our values may make us deeply unhappy in the moment. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Martin Luther King was probably in great distress to know that acting for equality was putting his family at risk. Two values in conflict.
A better measure of what our values are is not comfort or pleasure, but satisfaction - and especially satisfaction in retrospect. The best measure may be how an action feels as you look back upon it now. It may be judged as you imagine yourself approaching the end of your long life and looking back. What will be a life that matters from that - hopefully distant - perspective?
I want to absolve you of the guilt you may feel that your actions have not met your values - or even the sense that maybe your values are not what you think they are because you haven’t done enough.
You are not hypocrites or lazy. You are living with the very real fact that living our values is hard. That it inevitably brings closely held values into conflict. And that the very powerful influences of our culture lure us toward actions that may not be well attuned with our values.
As is so often true, the path forward requires knowing ourselves - knowing what it is that is pulling us in one direction or pushing us in another. Only when we can appreciate the full landscape of our values can we move forward to live those that are most aligned with what we value most and who we long to be.
And finally, I want to say that values are not like eye or skin colour. They are not encoded by your genes and they are not set for life at the moment of your conception.
Values change. Just think what your values were as a child. What is good? Toys, ice-cream, sweets, not sharing… And even as adults, our values can change enormously. Mine certainly have. As we grow and mature and experience throughout our lives, our values change. We can change our values consciously too through our thought, through our actions, and through our relationships.
Part of why we come together in community is to grow as people, and that growth includes changing and shaping what we see as good and important in life - focusing and shifting our values.
Your life is shaped by your values, and your values can be shaped by your experiences and the relationships that touch you.
And so, we must engage with ourselves and with one another to know what it is that we have come to see as of greatest value. Doing so opens the door to growth and to action - to lives of meaning - to lives that matter.