Since this is the first Sunday of the New Year, I thought this might be an appropriate as well as traditional time to have a look at ourselves. As individuals and as a congregation where we are, how we got here, and where we’re going from here. The congregational conversation we had on December 2 and the one we will have today are, indeed, about that.
Sometime during this year all of us will click through another birthday, getting uncontrollably older. Plato (born Greece 428 BCE) said that youth and old age are equally a burden. Socrates (born Greece 470 BCE) said that the secret of age is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but building on the new.
A couple months ago Linda and I went to the Nickelodeon to see a movie about Winston Churchill. He had just had a stroke and was looking in the mirror, imagining himself as a boy, and asking himself “Whatever happened to that boy?” It was a reference to the effects of aging and the passage of time.
I was born when I was very young to parents who were older than me; that’s what makes me this old. I say this jokingly, but with some of seriousness. I was the first of my generation, the first child, the first grandchild, the first nephew.
I thought it would take me longer than this to get this old. At my next birthday I’ll turn 75 (That’s June 15, in case any of you want to make a note.). Now 75 doesn’t seem too old to those of you who are 105, or 95, or even 85, but to my three children, eight grandchildren, two great grandchildren, it’s getting pretty ancient.
Getting old is indeed not for sissies; you don’t welcome it but you accept it because you have to. And in the midst of this aging process you start to realize some things. I’m going to tell you about these things, things that apply specifically to my age group, but the rest of you may find an application here somewhere. How this relates to New Year’s resolutions and the real topic of my talk today is as follows: This is about examining yourself in your own mirror and having a reviewing discussion with yourself, and maybe planning a course correction.
The next part of my assembled thoughts has to do with where you are now based on my personal frame of reference. If you’re close to my age you can relate, if not, put it on your “maybe later” shelf. So here are five “things” to think about.
Thing One: You realize that time contains you; time has no pity on you. Every day you’re older than you ever have been before. It helps to become proud of your age, reach a point where you can brag that wisdom comes with age.
Thing Two: You have awakenings, sudden epiphanies that contradict what you believed as a child. You realize that Clark Kent really is Superman, that Santa Claus may not live at the North Pole, and that politicians are not always truthful. Gradually you have to admit that you have more hair in your nose and ears than you have on your head. The only natural curl is in your eyebrows. You notice that you’re not as tall as you used to be, nor as erect. Your eyes cause you to squint; your poor hearing, as Judy Turnipseed told me, enrolls you in the “WHAT?” generation.
Thing Three: You learn more and more how to compensate. One of my favorite stories is about these four old guys who have been playing golf for years, when one of them dies and the group needs a replacement. The other three advertise for a replacement, but insist that he must be someone with good eyes, because the duty of the guy he would replace was to follow the balls hit by the others and see where they went. They interviewed a lot of people, and finally found one who said he had great eyes, “eyes like an eagle.” They were satisfied and went out to play the first round. After the first ball was hit, they asked him if he saw where the ball went. “Of course I did, I have eyes like an eagle, eyes like an eagle.” Well, well, where did it go?” (pause) “I forgot.” Personally, my memory now is unbelievably short-term.
Thing Four: You really start to grasp how much you appreciate the finer things in life like art, music, drama, and you wish you had pursued them more when you were younger. You wish you could water paint, you wish you could play the bagpipes; you wish you could be a great tap dancer. Then you discover that it’s not as easy as it would have been when you were younger.
Thing Five: You realize how much you depend on the things that maintain you physiologically. Our medical routines define our days. You pry your eyes open with eye drops, then apply an assortment of creams, lotions, ointments “as directed by your physician.” Then you hope you remember to take different color and different shaped pills that you have separated in a seven-day box by AM and PM. George Burns observed that you know you’re getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and you wonder what else you can do while you’re down there.
Following those “things” there’s a big thing, a thing that gets on a one-item list because of its importance and relevance to being a Unitarian Universalist. As part of your resolutions, as part of your clarifying and re-directing, you consider what you believe about the mysteries of life. You continue on in your quest about who God is, but finally settle on the most reasonable answer, or at least the answer that works for me, is that God is a construct and simply the answer to that set of questions for which otherwise there are no answers. You may even realize that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation is not the place for you because they/we have more questions than answers. And as a compromise between having none of the answers and having all the answers you might learn to be content to be in the twilight about some things. I like what Neal Jones said on Facebook a few weeks ago: “I am a Unitarian Universalist. The bedrock of my faith is the unshakable belief that your guess is as good as mine.” There is no guarantee that you are allowed to live with the full knowledge of everything. There are a lot of mysteries out there; accept them and move on. Another one of those big questions is whether you have had control of your life or whether you’re just on a big bus with an assigned seat.
Anyhow, that’s my list of age-related “things” that you have to deal with, to compensate for, or just accept. AND that you will never have all the answers to everything, no matter how old and wise you get.
Now let’s move on from my list of “things.” You hear people say that age is only a number, or that age doesn’t matter, or that age is a state of mind. Saw a book title not long ago “What’s Age Got to Do with It?” The book inferred that age is not a variable; but I’m here to tell you that just isn’t so. Our oldest daughter, who is sneaking up on fifty years old, believe it or else, still insists that the mind can make the body do anything at any age. I think she’ll soon learn otherwise.
So, like Churchill, look in your own mirror and ask yourself “Who is that boy in the mirror? Who is that girl in the mirror who is now a mother, a father, a grandparent, a retired person? Do you recognize him/her as the older version of the younger version that had plans for what he/she would be as a grown-up? Is it too late to frame some resolutions that can make that happen; make that older version be what you wanted him/her to be? It’s a new year.
Here’s a broader and relevant question about your role as a member of this congregation: Who do you want to be as a Unitarian Universalist? Do you internalize AND operationalize UU covenants and philosophies? Do you recognize the value of The Seven Principles and adhere to them? Think about this new year, about where you are, about where we are, and relate that to where we are now and where we resolve to be in the coming year. I’m going to comment on our principles as found on the back page of your Order of Service, on our website, even in the front of our hymnals.
Principle One: The inherent worth and dignity of every person. Each person is entitled to his own opinion. Respect that; challenge only politely and through channels. Make your conversations about the other person, not about you. Compliment people; send thank-you notes. When you’re really sorry for things like being late, or hurting someone’s feelings, mean it, and don’t do it again. Recognize gossip, and avoid it. When disagreements boil over, take a breath, consider your reactions. Give people room. Remember that you may never know what burdens people bear.
Principle Two: Justice, equity, and compassion in human relationships. Avoid racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other phobias that choke us. Today’s social/political climate often pushes people over the edge. Be aware of the disparity between those who live in affluence and those who live in poverty. Nelson Mandela reminded us that relieving poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice.
Principle Three: Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth in our congregations. Appreciate and listen carefully to the variety of Sunday morning sermons and lectures that instruct and inspire. Learn about other faiths, and take value from their precepts. This may be, for example, your year to discover the value of meditation.
Principle Four: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Engage in and promote discussions on other viewpoints, even a polite debate. The Internet and Wikipedia are valuable libraries, but still own your own opinions, your own philosophies.
Principle Five: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and society at large. Become involved in, and contribute to any of our social action programs like immigrants, Black Lives Matter, Food Not Bombs, Transitions, Harvest Hope, Share the Plate. Get involved with Laura and our Social Action Committee to learn about efforts in our own community. Go to rallies and town meetings; be exposed to local, state, and national politics. Know your government officials and don’t hesitate to contact them. Stay registered and vote at every opportunity, knowing that your vote does count. You are fortunate to live in the United States, a country that has been the gold standard of Planet Earth. Evaluate what our leaders say; do not accept them or their version of the truth blindly. Be careful of fake or misleading news. Know the difference between FOX and CNN.
Principle Six: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Educate yourself to understand global politics and cultures. The guarantee of human rights belongs not only to Americans. Be aware of the issues on immigration, the Mexico wall, and health care. Remember that what affects this planet also affects you.
Principle Seven: Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. I have a t-shirt I wear frequently that says “There is no planet B.” Linda and I were in Greenland last summer and witnessed how the melting ice floes increasingly limit the sustenance of the polar bears. Express your own opinion on global warming, foreign wars, the nuclear threat, and biological warfare. Do your part to keep our planet green. Join Kevin and the Green Team. In the social hall be careful about which can to place your garbage in. Remember that the fossil fuels we use to power our lives are in limited supply.
If you proclaim yourself a Unitarian Universalist, you need to pay REAL attention to these principles. Not only should you be able to quote them, but to integrate them into your life. Further, remember that you are not only a Unitarian Universalist, but a citizen of Columbia, of America, and of this planet. The real essence of the Seven Principles is Community—world community, national community, church community. We are interconnected AND interdependent. WE ARE the UUCC.
Live long and prosper (hand), go in love (hand), go in peace (hand). Amen.
OTHER ELEMENTS OF THE SERVICE
Summary for website: The first of a new year is a time for reflection, planning, and resolutions. In your individual lives and as a member of the UUCC, have a look in your mirror; ask that face where it’s been and where it’s going.
Opening Hymn: 360 “Here We Have Gathered”
Opening Words: Aging [Oprah Winfrey] My talk today is about two things that relate. Aging, which is about what we old guys think about in a new year as another year passes, and about resolutions, appropriate for this time of year related to us as Unitarian Universalists. Both have to do with assessing and redirecting our lives. This is from Oprah Winfrey: “The best way to look at aging is to see it as an opportunity to leave what didn’t work behind and step boldly into a brand new future.”
Children’s Story: “I Love Old People.” Do you know what a resolution is? How old are you? [Show baby photo of me]. You don’t know who this is, do you? Well, that’s me at one year old. I was once the age you are now. Dr. Ron was once your age. Your parents were. Your grandparents were. How old does somebody have to be before you think they’re getting old? Do you think that one day, a really, really long time from now, that you might be as old as your parents or grandparents?
Do you like people to be nice to you? Do you think people older than you like it when you’re nice to them. Be nice, be courteous, let them know you love them. How about let’s make that our resolution for this new year?
Responsive Reading: #544 “New Year’s Day”
Closing Hymn: 350 “The Ceaseless Flow of Endless Time”
Closing Words: Based on our seven principles, and our traditional resolutions for the new year as individuals and as a congregation, here is a quote from Winston Churchill, the boy in the mirror: “There is nothing wrong in change, if it is in the right direction. To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.”