For those of you who didn’t attend, or even those who did, here is a copy of my last UU service at The Onion in North Hills.
Thank you all for being here today.
I appreciate that I have this last time with you this morning and I hope I can impart something of value to your thinking and your being.
I have a mentor that I think the world of. And there have been times in my life where things haven’t gone exactly as I’ve planned and I would get resentful and angry. I had a job once where I hated going into work and one of the co-workers there REALLY got on my nerves. I would call my mentor to “discuss” this co-worker’s behavior and she would tell me to go into work with the thought of giving love and service. Love I said? Can’t I go in and just give service? No she said, you need to go in with an attitude of love and service. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t like this person so I certainly didn’t want to love her. But my mentor had never steered me wrong and so I decided to take that action. What I discovered was that when I gave service with a loving attitude, it changed me somehow. I found out that to truly give service to someone, I could not judge them, I could not be cruel to them, I could not be resentful. It took the power away from me to be anything else but kind. For when I gave service unconditionally, I felt love. I became a neutral being giving something to someone else without any pre-conditions or expectations. I just did it. And when I did this, I really did begin to feel better. I decided to try it on other parts of my life. I decided I needed to be accepting of others, no matter what I thought of them. I decided to be kind to Republicans. I knew this was going to be hard, for they did not reflect my views at all. But when I took this principle, which is also a principal of Unitarian Universalists – our 4th one actually – Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth and I applied this to the outside world, not just to our congregation, that would have to include Republicans. I discovered that I became more tolerant of others, no matter what their beliefs, and began to look at them as human beings, just like me. That is not easy to do, and I know I don’t do it on a daily basis, but isn’t that what our 4th principle stands for? I am reminded of a quote attributed to Zig Zigler ,which says “When I speak, people often say, ‘Zig, I like what you had to say, but for me motivation doesn’t always last.’ And I tell them, ‘Bathing doesn’t either. That’s why I recommend it daily.'” I think this can also apply to love and service. I may not do it daily yet, but I can create a habit of giving service and eventually work towards doing it daily.
So the love part became a little easier. I also discovered some issues with my service part. One day driving to this very sanctuary, I passed a woman at the exit who was begging for money at the stoplight. I looked in my purse and saw 3 dollars and thought to myself, I haven’t gotten my unemployment check yet, so I don’t have any money to give her. I drove on when the light changed, but I couldn’t get her out of my mind as I drove here. Because the truth was, I did have money. I had a retirement account, I had a small savings account, I even had a mutual fund with funds for my tuition in it. I chose to believe I didn’t have money to give her, because I didn’t want to give her what I had left, my 3 dollars. I easily could have done this. And since it was a Sunday, I didn’t need any other money that day and if I did fall into dire straights within the next 24 hours, I could get my hands on money. I allowed my deprivation thinking to affect my behavior in the present moment when I was really living in the future. Truly giving service is to not fear giving to others no matter what. I had been in fear to give her the 3 dollars in my purse and I blamed it on being on unemployment and thinking I was poor in that moment. I wasn’t poor. I had shelter, a car, food at home, a loving spiritual community to support me and friends and family. I allowed fear to enter into my behavior and I didn’t help another person in need. Now I’ve heard some people tell me they never give to people begging on the street, because they are probably scamming everyone and are just not working. They want it easy. Well I’ve seen some folks standing in 100o weather begging for hours for a few dollars and I’ve never thought of that as easy work. It’s humiliating work. It’s degrading work. And I can’t imagine any human being choosing that to earn a living instead of working in any air conditioned building, whether it’s a bank, or K-Mart or a 7-11, or somewhere else with more dignity. I firmly believe that these folks don’t choose this lightly. They are desperate and cannot see another alternative. I think it’s difficult for us to look at it this way, because it hurts to think another human being is in that dire of need. So we look away and go on. At Christmas time I gave a woman a 20 dollar bill at the stoplight. And she was shocked and I said Happy Holidays and she grinned with a half toothless smile. This woman felt she had no where else to go but to beg at a freeway intersection. I doubt that she would choose that as a vision of what she would see her life become. When I was 27 I lost my job and I found a temporary job one weekend selling green carnations at a street corner for St Patrick’s Day. I made 50.00 that day in 1982 and it felt like a thousand. It was a hard 12 hours, sometimes fun, sometimes gratifying, when it started to rain, sometimes miserable, and I can have just a slight inkling of what the woman at the exit went through. But I did it for work and she did it to just survive. When she stands there, others judge her and call her lazy. I may not give every person who begs money when they ask for it from now on, but I will not choose to do it based on what is in my wallet. I will do it because I really believe that person needs it more than I. And that I believe is included in our first principle – the inherent worth and dignity of every person. To see each human being as a person just like us.
In April I did a service on the power of one and I’ve been thinking about the book The Power of Half ever since. In this new adventure I’m embarking on, I will be living in half the space I am now. I’m selling some things, giving away others, throwing away a lot of paper products and downsizing to about 500 square feet of space. What I’ve discovered is, I am choosing to look at this as not downsizing. I did at first, and I felt like I was losing something. I’m not selling my condo however, I’m renting it out, and will be renting a small apartment in my new city by the Bay. So I’m choosing to look at the fact that I’m gaining 500 square feet. The 1200 I won’t be living in I’ve chosen to let someone else live in. Unitarian Universalism has helped me to change my thinking in this respect. It’s not how much I lack, it’s truly how much I have. Now I’m not talking about the other kind of thinking our country seems to experience frequently. The thinking that “I’ve got mine, so they can get theirs”. There is a part of our culture that feels that somehow people should make it on their own. That for anyone to help them would detract from the American tradition of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. That if the government or an agency helps a person in need, it’s charity and that’s degrading. And that’s certainly not capitalism and the American way. I don’t agree with this. That flies in the face of the definition of service. Dictionary.com defines service as an act of helpful activity and Webster’s uses the definition, a contribution to the welfare of others. These definitions are worded in the best interest of the other person. In no way is service denigrating to a human being. It is the exact opposite. It shows us our own humanity. When we give service to others, we are elevating that person to a dignified state equal to our own. Isn’t that the first principle of Unitarian Universalism? Aren’t we here to value each other on a daily basis as being worthwhile and dignified? How did our society become so unbalanced? Robert Reich writes in The Nation that in 1928, a year before the Great Depression, 1 percent of the richest Americans held 23.9 percent of the wealth. By the 1970’s due to the expansion of the Great Society, the top 1 percent held only 8 to 9 percent of the annual American income. But by 2007, due to various political influences, the richest 1 percent once again were living like in the past and holding 23.5 percent of the total wealth. FDR’s Great Society was once again demolished to pre-depression era living. Where is the equality in that? How is that the American way?
So when I hear some folks talk about how we have free enterprise in this country and how everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and they should just do what others do regardless of circumstance, I think to myself, but where is the service in that? I don’t believe that Wall Street would have collapsed if they were truly giving service. I don’t think the housing market would have collapsed if they were truly giving service. Their mindset has become one of, how much money can I make with the least amount of work and effort. How much more money can I make by taking advantage of others. That is not service. So I look at our great country, and yes, I am so lucky to be living here and grateful every single day, but I think to myself, what would this world be like if we all gave service to someone else? No one would be in need. Every single person would have another person taking care of them in some way. Even those with no food could give service to someone maybe needing a yard raked, or a car washed. And I actually think that even the wealthy would not be the poorer from it as I think they fear they would be. There is a robbery that occurs when someone cannot experience the act of service. Both from the point of giving service and from receiving service. For when I’ve given service to someone else, I’m not sure who received more joy. I got as much joy from giving to someone as I think they got from receiving it. In fact I think I got more. I felt a part of this planet. I felt a part of the human race and a part of this whole cosmic world. Now I’m not turning into Jerry Brown, but I feel I have to speak in superlatives to describe what that feels like. And for those folks out there who never give service, they are missing out of all this glorious joy.
So let’s start a movement. Let’s begin by doing things for other people and NEVER expecting anything in return. Maybe we could start for one day a week. Say on Mondays (or if that’s a bad day for you, Tuesdays) we could do something kind for someone, whether you know them or not, who needs a kindness and then eventually build it up to 2 days a week, then 3 days a week… etc. Pretty soon we would be doing a little something nice for someone else every day. Can you imagine how that would change the world? If I fed my neighbor one meal a week when they didn’t have any food, then maybe another neighbor could take another day of the week. Even if it was just one meal. Eventually we could almost eradicate hunger in our own local area here in North Hills. Then maybe North Hollywood could do it, then maybe West Hills could do it, then maybe even Wasilla Alaska could do it. If we could change the way we treat each other on a PERSONAL basis, would this not affect others outside our sphere? And maybe that’s the key. We need to SEE each other. It’s easy to not help someone when we view them as a “collective” someone. But when it’s Simon down the street, it’s harder to ignore. We have become a nation who twitters and texts our way through communication, never sometimes actually using a human behavior like our voice or touch or sight to communicate with another human being that has a voice and sees. I want to get back to our humanity. And I really believe that giving service will help to achieve that goal.
Now comes the hard part. I need to take a moment at this service to say goodbye. At the beginning of this year, I never would have thought I would be moving out of LA. I was very settled, living in my condo for the last 12 years, earning a living, singing at karaoke, belonging to this beloved community, enjoying moments with dear friends. I never thought that my life would have changed like this. And all of sudden it did. Within one week I had lost my job and had major surgery. And I was the happiest person on earth. For all my excuses as to why I couldn’t do what lay in my heart had suddenly disappeared. This journey I’m beginning has already been fraught with miracles. It was a miracle that I got laid off during the Obama stimulus package and have the government paying 65% of my COBRA payments. I wouldn’t have healthcare right now otherwise. It was a miracle that Starr King School of the Ministry gave me an extra week to apply for their Master of Divinity program and that I got all my paperwork in exactly when they needed it. I have to relay this one miracle to you. I had forgotten to request my transcripts until the day before they were due to Starr King. I woke up in a panic that morning, went to the website, couldn’t request them on line, called Admissions, they said, “We don’t fax transcripts,” but they transferred me to the transcript department anyway. I gave the woman my social and she looked at my name and said, “I know you.” Now I haven’t been on this Illinois campus for 25 years. I said you do? She said I’m Ellen! I said, I’m sorry I don’t remember you. She said you were a friend of Cindy Kaman’s. Cindy had been my best friend in college. I said yes I was. She responded, oh I can go ahead and fax these for you. They might be hard to read, but they’ll know you went here.
What are the odds of that happening? My phone interview for Starr King was the day before the committee met. Every step along the way opened up and I have progressed slowly but surely to the point I am at this morning. The Universe has gently carried me along. I had Barrie and Garry and Al and Mary Pat and my dear friends Spencer and Marianne all help me pack and load and carry my belongings and I’m over half way ready to depart. I have others committing to packing up the moving van on Tuesday. I have been the recipient of great amounts of service and am so very, very grateful to you all. I have found love and friendship and joy in this congregation that, I almost feel, I will never find again. I know that’s not true, for there are Unitarian Universalists all over this country and I CERTAINLY plan on coming back to visit. You have given me a shoulder to cry on, a team to work with, causes to work on, bright eyes to laugh with and a feeling that we are together that will be very, very hard to replace. You, this congregation at the Onion, which by the way, I will always say and continue to explain to others why this is called the Onion, have enriched my life immensely. During my interview for admission to Starr King, the Reverend asked me where I thought I needed improvement. I said well, I’ve never been a spiritual leader. I don’t know if I can do this or not. Who am I to think I can be a spiritual guide to others? What can I give them and where will I get the knowledge and resources to do this? Reverend Wood said, that’s called humility. As long as you stay humble, you can reach out to anyone. It will be so easy to remain humble, for all I have to do is think of all of you.
I hope you all go out and give service to someone in need today.