First Unitarian Church of Providence
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Every Moment a Gift
A homily by Rev. Charles Blustein Ortman, delivered at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, RI, November 22, 2015
(There is no written text for this week's homily. See below for readings & skit.)

Click here to download the audio recording, or use the audio player below to listen.

Our ancient reading is a quote attributed to the Buddha, Gautama:
Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.

Our modern reading is from Parker J. Palmer, who is a weekly columnist for On Being with Krista Tippett. He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, the author of several books and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. Palmer writes:
Generosity does not require material abundance. When I think back on the many people who have been so generous toward me, I never think of money or "things." Instead, I think of the way they gave me their presence, their confidence, their affirmation, support, and blessing — all gifts of "self" that any of us can give.

And where does generosity come from? Perhaps from another life-giving virtue, the one called gratitude. When I take the time to breathe in my life and breathe out my gratitude for the gifts I've been given, only one question arises: "How can I keep these gifts alive?"

I know only one answer: "Become a giver yourself, pass your gifts along, and do it extravagantly!" As Wendell Berry says, "Every day you have less reason/not to give yourself away.

STORY FOR PERSONS OF ALL AGES: Lives of the Cowboys: Lookin' Out fer Others
An Introduction to Guest at Your Table, by C.B. Ortman

Piano and horse clopping sound effect: begin "loping" along and then continues with diminished volume... ANNOUNCER: Welcome once again to "Lives of the Cowboys." (Pause text for a couple of bars of slightly louder music, which then fades) This week's Episode, "Guest at Your Table," is brought to you by the good folks over at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the UUSC, where the unofficial motto is, "You can make a difference." (Another brief pause of text with continued soft piano and clopping)

As we join our Western heroes, Cathy Sue and Dusty Lou are camped out on a cattle drive leading them to the stock yards of greater metropolitan Bodacia, Tx. They've just finished their dinner and the S'mores they toasted for dessert. After a long pause in conversation, each of them having been lost in their own thoughts, (Music gets a little louder and then tapers off altogether) Dusty Lou turns to Cathy Sue...

DUSTY: Ya know, Cathy Sue, sometimes when I look into the beautiful leaping flames of a campfire, like this, it reminds me of the Flaming Chalice back home in my Unitarian Universalist Church.

CATHY SUE: Well, Dusty, you always were one for seeing things that not everbody sees. But I see what yer talkin 'bout. Sometimes, in my church, those flames in that chalice can really get to dancin' around. It can be mesmerizin', a lot like this campfire. Kind of nice to think of those folks back home at church sometimes, id'n it? Bein' out on the trail, I kinda miss seein'em. Ya missed being at church these last few weeks, Dusty?

DUSTY: Yah... I been missin' it, okay. One thing that's kinda helped though. Is I got a General D'livry news letter from the UUSC the other day when we stopped by, over there in El Paso? Kind of helps me feel connected, ya know?

CATHY SUE: I'll bet it does. Glad ya told me about it, Dusty. I'd like ta take a look at it when yur done with it, if you don't mind?

DUSTY: No, no... I don' mind. I gotta warn ya though, Cathy Sue, there some scary stuff they're talkin' 'bout in that newsletter. I'd be curious ta know what you think about some of that stuff. Kinda scary for me.

CATHY SUE: Dusty, the UUSC has been 'round for a while and they do a lot of good work in some scary places. They like to git right in there where there's trouble and try to help make things better for folks. Kinda makes me proud to be a UU. And I pay my dues to the UUSC ev'ry year 'cause I want to make sure they keep gittin' in there and doin' that important work. Tell me 'bout what ya saw that scared ya.

DUSTY: Well, they were talkin' 'bout stuff happennin' to kids. It always scares me when stuff happens to kids.

CATHY SUE: Like what kind of stuff, pardner?

DUSTY: Well... like... When you was a kid, Cathy Sue, did you ever have ta have a time-out when you was misbevin'?

CATHY SUE: Sure, Dusty. I 'spect ev'rbody's had that. I betcha if we were in a room full of people, ev'ry last one of 'em would'a prob'ly had a time-out. That's not so scary, is it?

DUSTY: Time-out isn't fun, is it? And sometimes, it feels like it's not fair at all. Think about it; did you ever git a time-out when you didn't do nothin' wrong... at all?

CATHY SUE: Yer right! And I didn't like it one bit!

DUSTY: And when you were in school, did ya ever have to go to detention, and just set there, doin' nothin'? I ask ya, how does it feel when you're forced to stay somewhere ya don't want to stay? How about for a reason you just don't even think is fair?

CATHY SUE: I see where yer goin' with this, Dusty. There's been a lot of times in this ol' world, when one group of people forced another group to stay or go someplace they didn't want to go. And I know it's happenin' now, right at the doorstep of these here United States.

DUSTY: There's children, just like those sweet ones back home in our UU churches that're bein' forced to leave their homes, there in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, all over Central America and over there in Syria, too, 'cause it's not safe for'em to stay there. They gotta leave in a hurry. Don't even have time to pack up a suitcases or bring a coat or a favorite toy or most anything. I ask ya, is that fair?

CATHY SUE: Ya know what a lot of people in Central America, in the Middle East and all around the world think about the United States of America, don't ya? (Wait for a bit...) When they think about the good ol' US of A, they think 'bout freedom - home of the free! Freedom for ev'rybody. So maybe a lot a families wanta come here to be free from danger and sadness?

DUSTY: I gotta think that's what a lot of these immigrant children and families are trying to do. But there's a big wall down there on the Texas border. And then they got jails beyond that.

CATHY SUE: I know, Dusty, There's families that only want to come here to be free. And they're gittin' put inside those jails, jist 'cause they's strangers, far as I can see. They didn't do nothin' wrong. They jest don't have the money to get outta jail and a lot of'em don't speak English good, like we do, and so they can't ask for help.

DUSTY: It's cold in the jails, too, Cathy Sue. Barely any food or water. The jails are dirty; kids and their parents aren't taken care of. Can you imagine your whole family being in time-out, in a strange country, and not enough food or water? When all you were askin' for was safety? It's not fair.

CATHY SUE: Dusty, when yu were a kid did you use ta watch Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood?

DUSTY: Heck, Cathy Sue, when I'm home, I still watch it sometimes... Why would you ask that?

CATHY SUE: Well, Mr. Rogers says, "When you see scary things, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." those poor families have got some helpers down there on the Texas border. Those helpers are tryin' to get those families outta those jails, and to tell the ones that's puttin' them in jail that what they're doing is wrong.

DUSTY: Yah, the UUSC newsletter mentioned somethin' 'bout The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. That's a big name so they call'em RAICES. They work with our UU Service Committee by visitin' those families in jail and helpin'em to git out. They speak Spanish with'em and help with the forms our government makes'em fill out. They bring food, water, clothes, and toys, too. And when the families finally get out, RAICES gives'em beds to sleep in and bus tickets so's they can go find their friends.

CATHY SUE: Dusty, this all kinda makes me think about our first principle of Unitarian Universalism. Ev'rybody knows what that is, right? It's about "The inherent worth and dignity of every person." That's a lot of big words. I trust you know what it means?

DUSTY: I think so, Cathy Sue. It means ev'rybody deserves to be treated well, no matter who they are or where they come from. Doesn't sound like those families down there on the boarder are being treated with much dignity, does it?

CATHY SUE: No, it doesn't. And sometimes it can feels like there's nothin' you can do to help. They're all the way down there, and we are all the way out here. Maybe we can't go there ourselves and gettem out of jail, but at least there's already helpers doing that.

DUSTY: So, what do ya think we can do to help those helpers and ta thank'em for what they're doin?"

CATHY SUE: Well, Dusty, we can remember the first UU principle: that everyone has worth and dignity. No matter what. Keepin' that in mind and treating everyone as well as we can, we can help create a world outside those jails that welcomes everyone with open arms. And if we can teach ev'rybody to believe in the worth and dignity of every person, I'll bet that soon there wouldn't be no jails at all.

DUSTY: So we gotta remember this — there's always a way to help, even from far away. We can help the folks who are helping those little kids and their families. And we can be kind to ev'rybody, too. By golly, that's somethin' we can all do.

PIANO AND CLOPS: Starts in gently and continue.

ANNOUNCER: (Over the light music) That's it this time for, "Lives of the Cowboys" This week's episode has been brought to you by the good folks over at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the UUSC, where the unofficial motto is, "You can make a difference." Be with us next time when you might hear Dusty Lou ask Cathy Sue...

Very brief pause in music:

DUSTY: So Cathy Sue, what do you make of the metaphor of the flaming chalice, anyway?

MUSIC: Crescendo and fade...

Eighth Graders introduce the details of the program and pass out the boxes.