“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Aug 14, 2011 Homily from Lake Harriet Bandshell Service by Justin Schroeder

I tend to be pretty upbeat, but lately, if you ask me how I’m feeling about the state of the world, I’d say, “Not so good.”

I see politicians name calling and fighting.

The economy on the edge of another recession, more and more people unable to find work, or losing their jobs or their homes. Corporate profits on the rise and personal incomes on the decline; people working two or three jobs to stay afloat; others filing for bankruptcy

I see racial disparities growing.

So how am I? Struggling. I’m not sure that we’re up to the challenge of building bridges of compromise, compassion, and love -- bridges that connect us in common purpose.

How about you? How are you feeling about the state of the world? The news from Somalia? Or the riots in London? Or the billions of dollars we continue to pour in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya?  

Or maybe you wonder about the state we live in, as violence against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender people is on the rise. Maybe you’re thinking about the Constitutional Marriage Amendment that will be on the ballot next November and your heart is heavy.

 Maybe you’re concerned about the earth and climate change - and have noticed just a few records being broken - and wonder, how do we build a bridge to a sustainable future? You worry about the world your our children will inherit.
Or it’s the stock market that has you unsettled.
Or maybe you’re in your own dark place right now - in grief, or struggling with something and you don’t see a way out.  

If you’re feeling anything like that, you’re not alone. In every time and age, the world has seemed terrible, unbearable, broken beyond repair.

And that is why it is critical, in moments like this, to turn to the wisdom of religious teachers. And person I want to turn to today is a man named Jalaladin Rumi, or more simply, Rumi.Rumi was a Muslim Mystic, a Sufi. He wrote poetry meant to wake up the human spirit, to help point the way to connection with the Beloved. "Be a lamp, a lifeboat, or a ladder,” he wrote, “help heal someone’s soul." 

I’d be surprised if you weren’t wondering, what does it mean to help a soul heal? What is it healing from? What’s the wound?

Think back to the beginning of this message and the sense of frustration and despair we can so easily find ourselves in.

And quite simply, I think that’s the wound - the wound is despair, isolation, fear.The wound is a sense of unworthiness, separateness, of being unacceptable.  The wound can be the sense that the world (our own personal world, or the larger world) is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s not much we can do about it.

In response to that wound, we can retreat, get cynical, despair. In short, we fall into soul sickness…we forgot our inner light.

And I suspect Rumi could relate to this soul sickness, which is why we must pay attention to his words. In his own life, 800 years ago, Rumi suffered the terrible loss of his soulmate and teacher, a man named Shams. I’m sure his grief was real and deep, but Rumi didn’t get stuck in despair. In fact, what Rumi returns to again and again in his poetry is this essential theme: “Be a lamp, a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help heal someone’s soul.”

Here’s what I think he’s really getting at. And it relates to the song, “All Blues,” that we just heard. The song suggests we’re all blues...different shades and hues, but blues none the less. Blues is more than a color - life is blues...life is the pain, loss, strife of this world, mixed up with beauty, 
joy, and love.

That’s the blues. That’s the baseline. That’s what connects us. We’re all in pain sometimes, we’re all suffering sometimes. (And that pain can sometimes extinguish our own light.)

And Rumi realized this.
And in the face of this reality, he suggested this: we need, and need to be, lamps, lifeboats, and ladders to one another.

We’re all worried, and funked out, and scared some of the time. We’re all trying to make sense of life and build bridges of meaning and love, and we can’t do it alone. It’s just too dark, the seas are too rough, the holes too deep, to go solo. We need one another.
That’s what Rumi is saying.

So imagine, taking this idea really seriously – really being a lamp, a lifeboat or a ladder, helping to heal someone’s soul.

How could you do this with a friend or your partner? Is your partner struggling, overloaded? Is there something you could do that would be like a lifeboat, give them a chance to stop thrashing and catch their breath? How about with your children?

Or your workplace - imagine if you looked around your workplace, or your neighborhood, or community, and thought, how can I be a “lamp, lifeboat, a ladder,” what might you do?
What kind word, or project, or connection, could be soul healing?

This doesn’t have to be complicated. You may not realized it, but being a lamp, or lifeboat or ladder, just means being real and authentic. It might mean talking about the “blues” in your life. Having the courage to speak honestly:

”I’m going through a divorce…”
“The business is closing…”
“I’m filing for bankruptcy…”
“My house is in foreclosure...”
“Our daughter is struggling with addiction…”

You being “real” like that is a signal flare, a bright lamp, that tells someone else that whatever it is they’re holding in the darkness, it doesn’t have to stay there. And the funny thing about this is that as you help heal someone’s soul...you’ll heal your own…as we connect, in the blues, with another.

Rumi had a vision of this, of all of us dancing in harmony with the Beloved, healing love light flying everywhere.

So, imagine if we stopped cursing the dark and starting lighting more candles and lamps. Imagine if we embrace Rumi’s vision...and First Universalist becomes the place where we get to practice this, as we give and receive, and grow together!
Imagine we all become lamps, lifeboats, and ladders, instruments of healing and love, because that’s what the world needs now. 

Does this seem abstract or far fetched?

Think for just a minute of all the ways your soul has been healed by those who shared their light, who reached out to you, strangers and friends alike. When your own flame had gone out, they found a way to re-ignite it.

We might be in dark times right now, but our work is clear.
In the midst of the messiness and despair in the world - we must forge our faith in the fire of our commitment to do what we can in the Spirit of Love, so that despair fades, and healing can begin.
         May it be so. Amen.