Consider the Lilies

SUNDAY GATHERING Readings and MESSAGE 21st June 2015



Camas Lilies By Lynn Ungar

Consider the lilies of the field,

the blue banks of camas opening into acres of sky along the road.

Would the longing to lie down and be washed by that beauty abate if you knew their usefulness,

how the natives ground their bulbs for flour,

how the settlers' hogs uprooted them, grunting in gleeful oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you - what of your rushed and useful life?

Imagine setting it all down - papers, plans, appointments, everything - leaving only a note:
"Gone to the fields to be lovely.
Be back when I'm through with blooming."

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass from their tender blue eyes.

Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake.
Of course your work will always matter.

Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

The economy of life, by David E. Bumbaugh

Say what you will about the economy of life,
the serious nature of evolution,
Flowers are irrefutable proof of nature’s extravagance.

Everywhere you look, in every nook and cranny, during this season of life, the flowers are there.

Spilling down a bank from a shopping mall parking lot, buttercups display a shower of gold for drivers who speed by too quickly to grasp the glory poured out freely for all to see.

Along forest paths,  In dark and shaded lanes, 
Where few people ever walk,
Purple and white flowers on tall stalks proclaim the glory of life.

In vacant fields where not even a worn path exists to suggest human passage,
white daisies mimic the sun high in the sky

So long as the sun is strong, the flowers come and bloom for their season and are replaced by others:

Crocus to daffodil to tulip,
Azalea to dogwood to rhododendron,
Lilac to peony to iris to rose,
Daisy to chicory to aster to goldenrod,
One after another,
Filling our world with a riot of color,
With beauty we cannot create
    Or earn,
        Or deserve

The flowers, you see do not bloom for us.
They do not care whether or not we see them.
They grow and bloom because they are full of life,
They display their glory not to the world
but as part of the world because the world would be incomplete without the wild abundance of blossoms that expresses nature’s voiceless joy in life

It is true that flowers are fragile; Their lives are short.
Sometimes a wild flower taken from its root by a small, hot hand does not survive to reach the kitchen door.

What was a proud blossom has become a wilted shadow by the time the child presents it –
a token of love, to a parent.

Even when left to live out its cycle the flower is soon gone, reminding us that nature knows nothing of permanence,

That our lives like that of the flower, are part of an endless cycle, of many endless cycles, but only a part.

Perhaps that is why we love flowers with a bittersweet love.
We know they are a gift of grace, softening the harsh edges of reality.

They invite us to seek the beauty in each moment;
They encourage us to find fulfillment in life
and the living of it;

And they remind us that nothing is forever, that each moment, with its beauty and fulfillment
passes on into another moment with gifts to be discovered and savored.

One cannot keep the moment any more than one can keep the flower.
One can only rejoice and give thanks for the grace which makes this world,
our home, a setting of beauty and delight, 
where we, too, may be lived by life, with nothing to gain,
        Nothing to lose,
            Nothing to prove

Message - By Andy Pakula at the New Unity Flower Festival

Today’s “flower festival” has deep symbolism. It also has deep roots.

Norbert Capek, the Czech Unitarian minister who, with his wife, created the flower festival service was trying to escape the oppressive Catholic hierarchy and tradition that dominated the religious environment in his homeland. He wanted a ritual that was natural - that included only miracles of the everyday kind that fill our world with beauty.

He also wanted to speak about the enormous power of inclusion - the kind that we here have made the centrepiece of who we are at New Unity. We believe that diversity can be better than sameness. We believe that in diversity there is a greater potential for individual learning and growth whilst sameness can be dull and so comfortable that we are never urged to change and grow.

And we believe it is important to create a model of what can and must happen throughout humanity. We must learn to love across and even because of our differences.

The flowers stand before us – beautiful in all their wild variation.  It’s easy to arrange flowers if they're all the same – as it is easy to be in community and in connection with those who are just like us.  The challenge is to create beauty and harmony amid diversity – to have diversity without divisiveness.

When you've finally got a beautiful arrangement of flowers, it can disrupt the whole thing when a new flower comes sauntering in and says “add me too”. Diversity means change – it means that there will always be new differences to face.   

This radically inclusive community is not about sameness!  It is about embracing diversity and embracing change.  This is our radical position.  We insist that sameness is worse than boring – it inhibits us from achieving our potential. We know that from our differences and contrasts, something magnificent can emerge. We know that peace and justice can grow only if we all learn to embrace differences.

We commit ourselves to struggle with the discomfort of welcoming and loving those who are different from us – to coming together in community and striving to enter into true communion – true interdependence – with one another.  

We know it is hard. We know we are imperfect. If I am white and you are black, if I am poor and you are rich, if I've earned a Ph.D. and you haven't studied past secondary school, if I am straight and you are gay, if I am transgender and you are cisgender, we may look at each other and see only our differences. We may see an unbridgeable gap between us.

Fear of the unknown and the different is so strong that we may fail more often than we succeed.  "Radically-inclusive" doesn't mean we are perfect. It speaks to intention and it speaks to our willingness to accept our failures and try again.  This, if anything deserves such a label, is a sacred purpose.

The necessity of this purpose has been made painfully clear yet again this week in South Carolina in the United States. There, in the city of Charleston, a 21 year old white man went into a traditionally black church and - after spending an hour in bible study side-by-side with members of the congregation - he pulled out a gun and began shooting.

When he was done - having reloaded his pistol five times - eight people were dead. A ninth died later in hospital.


Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof

Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof

When one of the victims pleaded with him to stop shooting, the killer revealed the kind of thoughts that drove him. He replied "No. You've raped our women, and you are taking over the country ... I have to do what I have to do."  He has also said that he aimed to start a “race war.”

This is the shocking face of racism. A young man who comes to believe that people who look different are a threat to him and to other white people. He didn't make these horrible claims up on his own. The idea that black men are sexually dangerous to white women has been a persistent pretext for violence against black people in the US. It was often the false claim that resulted in lynching of young black men.

This, and the idea that black people are taking over the country, are lies that are spread by people infected with the disease of racism.

Racism is not in any way simple. It is not binary - the notion that one is either racist or good is nonsensical. And racism can not be eradicated by condemnation or by legislation or even by education alone.

And racism is not only about skin colour - it is about culture and differences in values, education, money, and more, all wrapped in a package denoted by a label of skin colour.

The face of racism does not usually look like a 21 year old white man who kills black worshippers at random. If it did, it would be easier to challenge. Racism is usually much more subtle and less angry. Often, white people perpetrating racism are not aware they are doing it. Most of them would never do violence, but they support a system that disadvantages people who are non-white.

Truly, it comes naturally to us to want to be with those who look, act, talk, and think as we do. As powerful as our intentions are - as symbolised by the flowers we’ve brought together today and the words we say - we too struggle to connect with those who who are different from us.

What if everyone who embraced our radically inclusive ethos felt equally welcome here? What if nothing but that orientation toward the world affected how welcome one felt in this place?

We are not there yet.

Unless there is a skin colour that is less radically-inclusive than another, we would be a closer match to the population of Hackney. Nearly half of us here today would be non-white.

Unless education or lack thereof is closely associated with being radically-inclusive, less than half of us would be qualified at degree level or above.

The fact that these things are not true does not mean we are racist. It can mean many things but mostly, it means we are human. It means that, no matter our intention, we struggle to welcome or signal our inclusiveness sufficiently to attract a demographic that more closely matches those who live nearby.

Must we? Of course not. We can choose how we will be.

But if we aim truly to be  radically inclusive, we have a way to go still. If we aim to live ever more fully into our words, we need to enter into the discomfort of discovering more about our neighbours, their needs, their suffering, and their perspectives. We need to understand the ways in which the messages going out from this place and what is found in this place signal something less than “whoever you are - there is a place for you here.”

The world needs places and people who demonstrate radical-inclusion. It needs communities that show that the possibility of a world where diversity is a source of energy and inspiration, rather than a reason to hate one another.

Norbert Capek introduced the flower communion in 1923 in the Unitarian church he founded in Czechoslovakia – a church that eventually grew to over 3,000 members to become the largest Unitarian church in the world.  After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by one of the most potent sources of racism in history - the German Third Reich - Capek remained in his homeland.  He would not be silenced by the Nazis and, although he knew that his life was in danger, he would not abandon his people even when those close to him begged him to leave.  

Capek died in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. To the end, he remained grateful for his blessings – a source of strength and consolation to those around him.  He never lost his faith.  Shortly before his death, he wrote these words:

"It is worthwhile to live and fight courageously for sacred ideals. Oh, blow, you evil winds, into my body's fire. My soul, you'll never unravel. Even though disappointed a thousand times or fallen in the fight, and everything worthless seem, I have lived amidst eternity. Be grateful, my soul. My life was worth living. "

May we be guided by the knowledge that in diversity is beauty, possibility, and hope.  May we learn to welcome interdependence.  And may we never lose our faith in the great vision we hold so dear.